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It’s what Ann Coulter would have wanted…

[ 24 ] June 3, 2008 |

I’ve been off in some kind of alternate universe for the past several days, so forgive me for being quite probably the last person on the planet to drop his jaw at the wonder-working power of the occupation:

At the western entrance to the Iraqi city of Fallujah Tuesday, Muamar Anad handed his residence badge to the U.S. Marines guarding the city. They checked to be sure that he was a city resident, and when they were done, Anad said, a Marine slipped a coin out of his pocket and put it in his hand.

Out of fear, he accepted it, Anad said. When he was inside the city, the college student said, he looked at one side of the coin. “Where will you spend eternity?” it asked.

He flipped it over, and on the other side it read, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16.”

Next week: the US announces the appointment of Brother Jed as “special religious liaison” to the Iraqi people.

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SaTC and The Bechdel Test

[ 28 ] June 3, 2008 |

Lis Riba asks:

In 1985, Alison Bechdel created the Mo Movie Measure (also known as the Bechdel Test) evaluating films by whether they:

1. have at least two women in it, who
2. Talk to each other
3. About something besides a man.

So, can anybody confirm or deny:

Does Sex and the City pass the Bechdel Test?

Does anyone know?

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I’ve Said it Before, and I’ll Say it Again…

[ 12 ] June 3, 2008 |

I am pleased that I resisted the temptation to trade Josh Hamilton straight up for Derek Jeter.

Incidentally, what kind of mojo was applied to the ink of the Hamilton-Volquez deal such that both became MVP-caliber players as soon as the deal was done?

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Not Morons

[ 0 ] June 2, 2008 |

In response to Dan, channeling James Fallows:

The Clinton team doesn’t worry about hurting Obama’s prospects of winning in the fall, because they assess those prospects at zero. Always have. Obama might not win if he leads a bitterly divided party, but (in this view) he was never going to win. Not a chance. He would be smashed like an armadillo in the road by the Republican campaign machine, and he would be just about as ready as the armadillo for what was coming.

Others have made similar assessments of the Clinton mindset.

Here’s my question: how objectively stupid does someone have to be to come to this conclusion? Forgetting about the candidates for a second, the current political and economic environment suggests a clear Democrat victory this November.

They’re not stupid; they’re just blinkered. Bill and Hillary have taken note of the fact that the only victor in a Democratic presidential race since 1980 has been a Clinton, and moreover than the 1976 race (coming on the heels of Watergate) was an aberration. In 2000, Gore ran a Clinton-esque campaign, but couldn’t win because he’s not, well, a Clinton. The Clintons are convinced that only they, running with the coalition they assembled, and with the strategy that they mastered in 1992, can win a Presidential election as Democrats. Moreover, this is not an insane position to hold; it has some empirical support, and it fits into a larger media narrative about the history of American politics since 1968. The Clintons, one might say, are proud citizens of Nixonland; they believe that the Democratic Party can only win in modern America when it’s on the defensive.

Like Dan, I think that they’re wrong, but that doesn’t mean they’re either stupid or insane. Hell, they might even be right; Barack Obama might lose to McCain in spite of the enormous advantages that the Democrats currently enjoy. Of course, one of the things that made Barack Obama attractive to me was the chance to escape this blinkered and limited view of the role that the Democratic Party could play on the American political scene; I don’t doubt that Hillary would have made a fine President, but she would operated with a much narrower understanding of the possible than Obama.

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Tombstone hand and a graveyard mind

[ 16 ] June 2, 2008 |


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This sounds like something from a dystopian movie or novel (a la Children of Men). And yet, somehow, our country may be managing to compete with even the bleakest that Hollywood can produce.

(via Lindsay)

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Where Are All The Women Moviegoers At?

[ 33 ] June 2, 2008 |

I’m very ambivalent about the smashing opening weekend of Sex and the City. On one hand, it is likely to mean multiple future film versions of a show that I found entirely devoid of aesthetic merit or interest. On the other hand, maybe it will stop idiotic stories about whether a movie that primarily appeals to women can make money. The fact that Hollywood studios make relatively few movies with women in the lead and then when some (like most pictures) aren’t hits blame the women is about as naked as sexism gets.

M. LeBlanc — while conceding many of the aesthetic demerits that I can’t get beyond — had a good post about this recently. Since even most fans of the movie aren’t claiming that it’s better written or acted that the show, I don’t plan to see it and would probably dislike it if I did. But aesthetic quality is beside the point of these kinds of discussions; plenty of comic book and Bay/Rattner style action movies have writing and acting that makes Sex and the City look like Chinatown but I don’t recall any articles using them to agonize over whether movies that appeal only to men are capable of making money or executives saying they’ll stop spending so much money on them when they flop.

Similarly, Rick Groen asserts that it “seems uniquely bad; this one is a threshold-breaker with a different sound, the crack of rock-bottom giving way to a whole deeper layer of magma.” Maybe so. But almost everything he then cites in defense of this claim is utterly banal for Hollywood product. Hype? Please, the new Indiana Jones movie (which looks pretty awful in its own right) has gotten at least as much. Length? I agree that 2 and 1/4 hours seems hellishly overlong for a mediocre-at-best sitcom, but it would actually be pretty lean for a Bay-era action movie. The inexplicable, tedious bloating of unambitious genre pictures is a phenomenon that far precedes Sex and the City. Window-dressing male characters? Not only would negligible female characters be so common that it would belabor the obvious to cite examples, but plenty of Michael Manns acquire very lofty artistic reputations despite little ability to create interesting female characters.

So I don’t see anything uniquely problematic here. Women deserve crappy Hollywood product too.

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Serious Question

Is this how some (many?) men see labor?

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One Solid Way to Ensure Inequality

There’s news today that major private banks are refusing to give loans any longer to students at community colleges and at “less prestigious” universities. Led (not surprisingly in many ways) by Citibank, some of the big private banks are pulling their loans, even though the loans are guaranteed 95% by the government.

And I have to say, I can’t think of many more effective ways to ensure continuing inequality between the rich and the poor. Making it harder to afford college, and the community colleges that so often catapult kids to 4-year institutions, means that kids who need loans will have a harder time getting BAs and thus a harder time getting jobs.

Happy Monday, everyone.

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[ 0 ] June 2, 2008 |

Sorry for the light blogging, as along with a massive pile of Real Work I’ve been at weddings and conferences in Montreal and Michigan, which may at least lead to relevant blogging. To come full circle, however, I found out that a hot dog with some kind of meaty sauce in Michigan is called a “Coney (or Koney) Island,” while I was reminded that in Quebec it’s called a “Michigan.” If Nathan’s can just start selling “Fleur de lis” dogs or something it will all come together…

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Sunday Book Review: From Beirut to Jerusalem

[ 20 ] June 1, 2008 |

Back in the late 1980s, a journalist named Tom Friedman worked as a Middle East correspondent for the New York Times. He served in both Israel and Lebanon, and near the end of the 1980s he wrote a book. Later in his career, he wrote several more books. These later books are all unspeakably horrible, as is the column that Friedman currently holds down at the Times. Because of this, I have never been able to believe that the first book, called From Beirut to Jerusalem, could actually be worth reading. Having now read From Beirut to Jerusalem, I am forced to conclude that there was not one, but two Tom Friedmans, and that they collaborated on this first book.

The good Tom writes compellingly about the death in an artillery attack of almost the entire family of a close Lebanese friend. The good Tom writes insightfully of the IDF practice of bringing wealthy American donors to the front in Lebanon, equipping them with flak jackets, and enabling them to follow the course of the artillery bombardment. The good Tom writes of the chaos that afflicted Lebanon during the 1980s in a manner that is clear-headed and sensible. He recognized the presence and strength of sub-national organizations, the dangers of identity-based conflict, and the peril associated with the collapse of national institutions. The good Tom wrote about how the chaos of civil war inevitably produces a perverse incentive structure that kills commerce, civil society, and culture. It is difficult to imagine how anyone who read those pages, much less the man who wrote them, could have ever considered the invasion of Iraq a good idea. The good Tom wrote, as even-handedly as imaginable, about the peril felt by the Israelis and the loss of dignity felt by the Palestinians. Moreover, the good Tom was a fine writer and journalist; he understood that depositing himself judiciously within the narrative made the story more compelling and understandable.

But then sometimes the bad Tom reared his ugly head:

The rhythm of life in the Arab world was always different. Men in Arab societies always tended to bend more; life there always moved in ambiguous semicircles, never right angles. The religious symbols of the West are the cross and the Jewish star- both of which are full of sharp, angled turns. The symbol of the Muslim East is the crescent moon- a wide, soft, ambiguous arc. In Arab society there was always some way to cushion failure with rhetoric and enable the worst of enemies to sit down and have coffee together, maybe even send each other bouquets.

The bad Tom also mucked around with noodling about solutions in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, and wandered into the kind of self-important analogic swamp that has characterized Friedman’s writing since the early 1990s. The bad Tom is definitely in From Beirut to Jerusalem, but the good Tom, for the most part, holds him at bay. Sadly, the bad Tom murdered the good Tom sometime in 1993. I suspect that the bad Tom beat the good Tom to death with a blunt object, probably the very same National Book Award that the good Tom won for From Beirut to Jerusalem. Jessica Fletcher is on the case. Anyway, we’re far enough down the road now to recognize that the good Tom ain’t coming back, but not so far as to feel no sorrow for the fact that all we have left is the self-parody.

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Crowdfunding Reporting

[ 1 ] June 1, 2008 |

In association with Guerrilla News Network, David Axe is raising money for a month long expedition to Chad. It’s a good subject and he’s a fine reporter, so drop a quarter in the cup if you have a chance.

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