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Find them! Make them say the words!

[ 66 ] July 19, 2012 |

After a series of answers in which Speaker Boehner distances himself from Michele Bachmann’s paranoid concerns about the infiltration of our government by agents of the Muslim Brotherhood, this exchange occurs:

Q: Would you consider taking her off the Intelligence Committee? Congresswoman Bachmann?

JOHN BOEHNER: I don’t know that that’s related at all.

Nor do I. It’s not like the Intelligence Committee is tasked to oversee “the intelligence and intelligence-related activities of 17 elements of the US Government, and the Military Intelligence Program.” It’s not as if a person on said committee sending a letter full of undocumented slanders and strange accusations of cultural capitulation has anything to do with intelligence — either in its governmental or colloquial sense. It’s not like the letter to Inspector General Charles McCullough contains material lifted from the splash page of this website or anything. It’s not as if the letter to Acting Inspector General Lynne Halbrooks demonstrates a “serious concern” about how the government labels things. Except the Halbrooks letter demands an investigation into:

The failure of the Army in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre to characterize the jihadist motivations of the alleged shooter, a self-declared “Soldier of Allah” Major Nidal Hassan. This was compounded by the after-action investigation which did not even describe the incident as an example of “violent extremism” — the government’s approved euphemism for obscuring jihadism.

The use of euphemisms, this letter contends, “may even pose security risks for this nation, its people, and interests.” This makes perfect sense: if I say nothing when they come for my language, I won’t be able to complain when they impose shariah law because they already took my language. Policing language is very important to the authors of these letters, as evidenced by a demand for a

corrective action, consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States , to ensure that no Muslim Brotherhood associated entity or individual is placed in a position of honor or trust within the programs and operations of the Department of Defense unless he or she has publicly condemned and disclaimed previously stated goals of the Muslim Brotherhood.

They must “publicly condemn.” They want to make some unnamed (and all future) people prove they’ve uprooted some thoughts from their heads. In words. (Presumably before the Brotherhood takes them away.) Failure to do so might “unnecessarily expose U.S. personnel [in Afghanistan] to hostile action and diseases.” They must be made to say the words, or Our Troops might catch diseases. The vector of these hypothetical diseases? Doesn’t matter. It could happen.

If none of this makes much sense to you, consider it a compliment, because none of these letters make sense. The boilerplate questions that conclude all of them can be summed up thus:

  1. Is anyone under you a Secret Muslim, and if so, has he or she publicly renounced their commitment to “civilization jihad”?
  2. What is the current relationship of your Secret Muslims to the Muslim Brotherhood?
  3. Have you taken the “corrective action” described above against your Secret Muslims yet?

Follow the logic! Some Representatives are asking various Inspector Generals to root out the Muslim spies in their respective organizations, but this activity is “unrelated” to the House Intelligence Committee, because it’s only about a secret plot to destroy the United States by “civilization jihad.” Would Speaker Boehner have us believe that spying is “unrelated” to intelligence?

Apparently so.

Why Bane? No, why Bain?

[ 84 ] July 18, 2012 |

By now, you’ve already heard too much about this ridiculous story:

Have you heard this new movie, the Batman movie, what is it, The Dark Knight Lights Up or whatever the name is. That’s right, Dark Knight Rises. Lights Up, same thing. Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in The Dark Knight Rises is named Bane, B-a-n-e. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran and around which there’s now this make-believe controversy? Bain. The movie has been in the works for a long time. The release date’s been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious fire breathing four eyed whatever it is villain in this movie is named Bane?

To answer the question that’s asked, it’s no coincidence at all, because of this:

But that’s beside the point. The real question — the one that no one seems to be asking — is why Bain? I know the real reason is ego cheap and clean, but it boggles the mind that these titans of industry decided that their public face should be the homonym of a word which means, according to my Oxford English Dictionary,

1. A slayer or murderer; one who causes the death or destruction of another.

2. a. That which causes death, or destroys life. b. Poison. Also in comb. in names of of poisonous plants or substances, as in Dogbane, Henbame, Leopard’s Bane, Rat’s Bane, Wolf’s Bane, etc.

3. Murder, death, destruction.

4. That which causes ruin, or is pernicious to well-being: the agent or instrument of ruin or woe, the ‘curse.’

5. Fatal mischief: woeful or hapless fate.

6. A disease in sheep, the ‘rot.’

Which means that a group of seemingly intelligent people — at least as judged by their inherited wealth — sat around in a board room one day and decided to christen their corporation with a name whose most positive association is “[a] disease in sheep, the ‘rot.’” The fact that any of their failures could be accurately described as having been “the agent or instrument of ruin or woe, the ‘curse’” never seems to have passed their respective minds. It’s the equivalent of opening a company called We Exploit Child Labor for Great Profit, then wondering why no one seems to want to buy your jeans. And yet one of the minds responsible for this feels himself qualified to serve as the Executive Brand of the United States of America?

He’ll homonously be the bane of America as much as he and his party literally are.

Is it even possible to have this conversation …

[ 103 ] July 16, 2012 |

… without proving Kathleen wrong?

Bloggers who have been at it for a while have noted a recent decline in commenting, and while that decline may have begun with the popularity of RSS feeds (which abstract the content of blog posts from their web presences, encouraging reading without interaction), it has accelerated with the privatization of discussion on platforms like Facebook. When a friend shares a link there, it’s only natural to discuss the link with that friend, in that environment, rather than discussing the text with the author, on the author’s site.

I’d start it, but I’m not a commenter, strictly speaking, so I don’t know. (Or am I one? I try to “tend the garden” beneath my own posts, but I don’t comment on other sites all that often anymore.) One thing I will note is that both Kathleen’s post and the one to which she links have a slightly melancholic tone, and it’s understandable why: once upon a time bloggers measured their worth by their ability to generate comments. (And mostly still do.) This worth doesn’t accrue when accomplished cheaply — as through deliberate provocation or daft contrarianism — but when a blogger invests five or six thoughtful hours in a post, seeing comments snaking below it makes the investment feel worthwhile.

This isn’t the case so much anymore, though, because the conversation’s have disappeared: if you link to something I write on Facebook, the uptick in traffic alerts me to the fact that I’ve written something that’s being read, but I can’t participate in the conversation, which not only strikes me as a strange — inasmuch as I’m being excluded from conversations I’ve started — but also creates an occasionally inhibiting paranoia. I know people are talking about something I’ve written, but I’m structurally excluded from that conversation. I like to imagine that if I wanted to join it, I’d be welcomed, but only because it’s a comforting thesis that I can’t disprove.

But this post is about commenters and I’m a blogger, so I’ll stop yammering and concede the floor to you.

Every fancy must one day run amok.

[ 112 ] July 5, 2012 |

If you know any conservatives, you’ve likely come across this “witticism” recently:

Food stamps

The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us to ‘Please Do Not Feed the Animals.’

Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.

This ends today’s lesson.

It originated, as best as I can tell, as a letter sent by Billy Fleming to the Miller County Liberal on 13 June 2012, but in the three weeks since it’s been shared over 29,000 times and extensively cited with praise by conservative bloggers. I’m not going to link to the sites individually because the appeal of Bill Fleming’s logic is obvious: it validates the belief that people who find it difficult to feed themselves during one of the worst economic downturns in American history are no better than wild animals. If poor people are like wild animals, this argument insists, they deserve none of the sympathy reserved for the suffering of human beings, nor do they deserve succor from the taxed income of upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming.

Read more…


[ 33 ] June 28, 2012 |

Copyright (c) 1980, 1982, 2006, 2012 Sekocom, Inc. All rights reserved.
DISBELIEF! is a registered trademark of Sekocom, Inc.
Revision 23 / Serial number 8940729

West of Apartment Complex

You are standing in an open field west of a white apartment complex, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

> e

The door is locked. There is evidently no key.

> kick down door

You are in the kitchen of the white townhouse. A table seems to have been used recently for the preparation of food. A television tuned to CNN sits upon it. A passage leads to the west, and a dark staircase can be seen leading downward. The President is Black. To the east is a small window which is open.

> wait what?

You are in the kitchen of the white townhouse. A table seems—

> no president part

The President is Black.


You are standing in an open field west of a white apartment complex, with a kicked-in front door. There is a small mailbox here.

Read more…

Concerning Brett Kimberlin, Patrick Frey, Aaron Worthing, etc.

[ 133 ] June 26, 2012 |

As you can tell from the fact that I wrote one post in May (albeit quite a good one), wrapping up the school year took the majority of my time and energy, so some stories slipped through the cracks. Let me rephrase that: some stories were too complicated for me to understand in the time I had available to think about them, so I put them in the “To Read” pile, and there they sat until summer.

One of those stories involves a convicted felon named Brett Kimberlin, who would prefer, among other things, that people not refer to him as a convicted felon. There seems to be an entire conspiracy of people committed to withholding that information from the public record, including, but not limited to, Neal Rauhauser and Ron Brynaert. What happens if you mention the fact of Kimberlin’s incarceration in public? If you’re Aaron Worthing, Kimberlin drags you into court for violating a “peace order” of dubious legal standing, then has you arrested for daring to question its dubiousness. If you’re Patrick Frey, Kimberlin’s companions spoof your home telephone number, dial the police and, while impersonating you, claim that you’ve shot your wife. That’s correct: they anonymously send SWAT teams to your door because of things you said on the Internet.

In fact, the aforementioned Aaron Worthing got a taste of the Frey treatment shortly after a judge modified the “peace order” in a way that annoyed Kimberlin and his cohorts, being that it allows him to post about Kimberlin and his cohorts on the Internet. Are there another hundred twists and turns to this case that I don’t fully comprehend? Without a doubt. But the fundamentals are simple: people who write about Kimberlin and his extended family tend to find themselves at the wrong end of frivilous lawsuits or SWAT teams.

Why are Kimberlin and his conspirators so interested in moving conversations from the (relatively) friendly confines of the Internet to the messier realms of legal proceedings and illegal impersonations? Why risk being dismissed as a serial litigant or arrested for abusing the stretched resources of local police departments? I can only come up with two reasons:

The first is that they are children increasingly impressed with their ability to do things to people they dislike. They are bullies. They have no politics, only petty vendettas against perceived authorities, and the fact that they have largely targeted conservatives indicates who they believe their mother and father proxies to be. It says something that being the generation of re-directed aggression is the most charitable reading I could muster. The only problem with the charitable reading is that it simply isn’t plausible.

The second, much more likely, reason is that Kimberlin et al see in the world a mirror of their own conspiratorial thought. They coordinate their criminal enterprise because they still see a representative of the Man behind every suit. They assume their ideological opponents must belong to similarly organized social construct, such that an attack against one Man constitutes an attack against the Man himself. The transcipts of their secret communications—by which I mean, “the images of their Twitter accounts,” many of which can be found here—leave the impression that Kimberlin and company consider themselves to be the last guardians of a failed Left. Who they decide to harass and SWAT seems less a function of coherent plan than the actions of a paranoid ideology. They believe that harassing a lawyer who helped a friend fight a case (Worthing) and having SWAT teams sent to the houses of innocent men (Worthing and Frey) constitute victories against the Man and the System, two entities that only exist as a function of their own paranoiad thought.

But whether Kimberlin and Rauhauser and Brynaert belong to an amorphous group of aggreived childen lashing out at their parental proxies, or whether they represent a paranoid organization devoted to using any means necessary to silence critics—both real and imagined—it is thunderously obvious that they ought not be allowed to set the terms of the debate. Because this is not about politics. They shouldn’t be plauded by those who share their specific aims nor meet with the silent approval of those who support their general goals. They should be shamed, because that’s what this should be about: shaming people who have proven themselves willing to escalate when escalation suits their needs. As the number of avenues available to them dwindle in number and efficacy, it should surprise no one that their tantrums are increasingly taking the form of sending SWAT teams to the houses of their critics.

What can we do about Kimberlin and company? Weeks of attention at the hands of conservative bloggers indicates that sunlight isn’t an effective disinfectant here, as Kimberlin et al seem to adore the attention of the court, if only for the money they can bleed from those they baselessly attack. Shame only works so long as they remain in the sun, but criticism drives them back to their impenetrable Twitter dens, where they’re free to continue conspiring 140 characters at a time. Coordinated action could vindicate their paranoia and lead to further escalation of the sort already witnessed or of a tactical variety. (I’ll leave imagining the unimaginable to the kind of experts who respond to legal difficulties with SWAT teams.) So what can we do about Kimberlin and his ilk?

Continue to argue, in principle, against the principles they hypocritically claim to uphold. Continue to note that criticism that results in frivilous legal actions acquires greater rhetorical power by the fact that the response is disproportionate to the perceived offense. If I say “orange,” for example, and you respond by filing a court order against me, everyone knows that you’re trying to hide something about “orange.” You have made yourself look very suspicious when it comes to “orange.” If the court rejects your claim and allows me to say “orange” and you respond by sending a SWAT team to my house, everyone knows not only that you’re hiding something about “orange,” but that whatever “orange” is, it must be incredibly important to you. At this point, I’m not sure what Kimberlin’s “orange” is, or why he’s created a network of like-minded “orange” paranoiacs to defend it, but given that that defense threatens to impinge upon the rights of everyone to practice free speech, I think it’s in all our interest to figure out what “orange” is.

And now I’m talking about “orange” when I should be talking about outrages. I’m still not sure what we can do to put a stop to Kimberlin and those who anonymously abet him, but it’s a conversation we ought to be having. As someone who’s been harassed in the past—and is facing a new wave of harassment at the present moment—I think it’s incumbent on the left to listen to and contribute to the conversation going on across the blogs on the right. Because dumb luck trumps ideology in the sweepstakes to determine who Kimberlin or the like targets next, and tomorrow may be your “lucky” day.

Mad Men: “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten,” it’s “The Phantom.”

[ 11 ] June 26, 2012 |

(Clearly another installment in this never-ending series.)

My previous post, on “The Wheel,” discussed in great detail the relationship of Don Draper to his past via the fading photographs of him and Betty and the children. “Nostalgia,” Draper says,”literally means pain from an old wound.” The “twinge” Don describes to the Kodak Eastman people is tinged with sadness—the life projected on the wall is one his actions have destroyed—but it is also a pain that’s tempered by the knowledge that it can be compartmentalized. The Kodak Carousel is more than a projector: the titular wheel effectively functions as a container for captured moments that can be opened and re-experienced at a whim or it can be a simple storage device for memories a person wants to know are safely preserved. This second person doesn’t necessarily want to re-experience their lives one twinge at a time, but the thought of being unable to do so could cause a pain unmitigated by memory. This would be a powerful pain, a constant reminder of itself by virtue of its absence. In “The Wheel,” Don feels remorse for transforming the family projected on the wall into something that evokes no more than the twinge of memory. He claims that twinge is “more powerful than memory alone,” but clearly it isn’t.

In the fifth season finale, “The Phantom,” directed, like “The Wheel,” by Matt Weiner, the problem with Don’s definition of nostalgia is immediately challenged by, of all things, a toothache:

Mad men - the phantom00037

But his toothache isn’t an ordinary toothache. As his dentist informs him later in the episode, his tooth had formed an abscess, which means that its core has become rotten and the tooth must be pulled. It’s an absence that can only be treated by the creation of a larger controllable absence. Early in “The Phantom,” the abscess functions as a physical manifestation of the guilt Don feels about his complicity in the suicide of Lane Pryce in “Commission and Fees.” Weiner signals as much in the form of the phantom that accompanies Don’s pain:

Read more…

Vote for me! [UPDATED.]

[ 4 ] June 22, 2012 |

You can’t actually vote for anyone other than me, but given that a lot of what I published over there also appeared over here, I thought it’d be wrong to disenfranchise you folks in this most important matter. Vote early and often, and via whatever means suits you best (comments, emails, those other services on the Internet, or whatever). The first round’s winners can be found here:

You're a winner dr sek

Mad Men: Nostalgia, forestalled, and “The Wheel”

[ 9 ] June 22, 2012 |

(Being the first of many of these I’ll be producing this summer.)

With summer here and only some online teaching duties to attend to—meaning that I can put the 2½ hours I don’t have to commute to and from campus to better use—I’ve decided to address short scenes from something compelling on a daily basis. This is the first such post, and as the title suggests, I’m not exactly working out of my comfort zone yet. (That will change.)

Before I can discuss Mad Men‘s fifth season finale, “The Phantom,” in any detail, I need to look back to its first season finale, “The Wheel,” because it contains a scene that subtends the most pivotal moment in “The Phantom.” If you recall, in the first season Don’s position in the firm is that of a star employee: trusted, but always expected to perform; necessary, but not irreplaceable. Or it was, before he reimagined Kodak’s “Projector of Poorly Framed Unprofessional Photographs” into a “Carousel” that transformed photographic imperfection into a dead letter office overstuffed with reclaimable memories. Only Matt Weiner, pulling double-duty as both writer and director here, doesn’t seem to believe the power of Don’s pitch, despite its seemingly self-evident efficacy. (That link will take you to the entire scene, in case you want to compare my reading of its constituent parts to the amalgamated whole.) On what am I basing my claim that Weiner’s trying to undermine Draper’s ostensibly successful pitch?

Glad you asked. Let’s start with the context. In “The Wheel,” Betty’s discovered incontrovertible proof of one of Don’s many infidelities, and Don’s decided not to spend Thanksgiving with the in-laws because he recognizes, rightfully, that his family is falling apart. His situation makes the substance of his appeal to Eastman Kodak all the more difficult to deliver, because it consists of images of his formerly happy family interacting in a manner they never will again. In short: Draper pushes the “nostalgia” angle because, at this point, his family consists of the memories he has of what they’ll never be again. He’s lost the right to say that’s “his” wife or “his” children being projected on the wall, but he has to sell the fact that, by virtue of Eastman Kodak’s marvelous new technology, they can always be “his” again, on celluloid if not in life. To wit:

Mad men - carousel00001

Weiner begins with a long shot, center on Don, with his colleagues flanked to his right and his customers to his left. (“Duck,” the firm’s intermediary with the clients, is positioned appropriately enough between the Eastman Kodak cartel and Don.) It’s a well-balanced shot, with the windows frame-left balanced by the painting frame-right, not to mention the diegetic lights emenating both from behind and above Don that signal (in case you somehow missed it) that he’ll be the focal point of this scene. All of which is only to say that this scenes screams of hierarchy—of a controlled environment in which professionals will do what professionals will do. Of course, in this case, what professionals do is manipulate impressionable clients by appealing to the inherent sentimentality of the American people, which is why Don opens with technology, but moves on to:

Read more…

Because really important news always involves bikinis.

[ 83 ] June 21, 2012 |

Do you mean to tell me that the same folks who write things like this would willingly participate in a contest like this? I’m shocked that otherwise intelligent people can’t understand that there’s no downside to objectifying women on your blog. It’s not like these folks make their students read their blogs or anything …

One year later, it’s still the greatest novel in the English language.

[ 27 ] June 16, 2012 |

At 8 a.m. on the morning of 16 June 1904, two men woke up.  One shaved for class and breakfasted with his usurper and an anti-Semite.  The other, a Jew, purchased a pork kidney, ate it, then stared at his wife in the same bed in which she cuckolded him.  He left to pick up a letter from his secret sweetheart and chatted with the people he met on his way to the baths.  Once clean, he attended a funeral and saw a mysterious man.

After the funeral, he tried to place an advertisement in a local newspaper but decided more research was required, so he scooted off to the library where, unbeknown to him, the first of our two men was disquisiting on Shakespeare.

Many people walked around, including our Jew, who decided to follow his morning kidney with an afternoon liver.  He ogled the barmaids and thought about his wife who, if his suspicions were correct, would soon be cuckholding him again.  So he exited the bar with the pretty reminders of his pain and entered another full of anti-Semites.  Fists and cans were thrown.

Troubled by thoughts of wife and ancient grievances, he wandered seaside way and publicly co-masturbated with a cripple.  He later attended the birth of a child and the English language before following our first man into the red-light district.  He caught up with him, himself, himself-in-drag, his dead grandfather, Nobodaddy, a giant green crab, a talking hat-stand and ducked out when the police arrived.  Chastened, the two men entered a dive and met a drunken sailor.  They absconded to the home of the Jew and bonded while urinating under the stars.

As 16 June 1904 came to a close, the Jew returned to his troubled marital bed and asked his wife to serve him breakfast in it tomorrow.

She considered his request but never decided one way or the other.

(Happy Bloomsday, sorry about the spoilers, and I’ll return to my regularly scheduled posting about popular culture shortly.)


What did W. ever do to Joffrey?

[ 64 ] June 13, 2012 |

Apparently something:

As you well know, I’m opposed to violent rhetoric on principle and should be offended, but honestly? A second-long Easter egg that no one notices until the producers point it out in the DVD commentary doesn’t really qualify as a pointed rhetorical statement. Not that it won’t be spun into one as soon as someone emails that link to Jonah Goldberg or Jeff Goldstein—both of whom will point out that it’d be considered both violent and racist if it were Obama’s head—but it’s still an Easter egg, which by definition limits its appeal to the Bush-hating, Martin-loving, DVD-commentary-watching crowd, which likely numbers in the tens.

That said, I don’t buy the producers’ claim that it wasn’t “a choice [or] a political statement. We just had to use whatever head we had around.” The scenes in King’s Landing were filmed in Malta, so I find it difficult to believe they happened to have a plastic replica of W.’s head just lying around. Unless there’s a booming Maltese trade in eerily life-like effigies of which I’m unaware, that Easter egg was planted there purposely.

Rhetoric aside, there’s all sorts of fun to be had with this, including (but not limited to) questions such as “What’s the sigil of House Bush?” I contend it’d be this:

A root-rotten shrub surrounded by all the weapons of mass destruction W. found in Iraq. Feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments.