Monday, December 18, 2006

Religion of Love Watch

Two of Virginia's most prominent Episcopal congregations have voted to sever ties with the Episcopal Church and join the Convocation of Anglicans, led by Nigerian Anglican bishop Peter Akinola.

Why would they make such a drastic, seemingly-counterintuitive move? Apparently they strongly identify with Bishop Akinola, "who has called the growing acceptance of gay relationships a 'satanic attack' on the church."

It's just the latest in a long series of answers to this burning question: Who Would Jesus Hate?

Worst. Issue. Ever.

The sages at Time magazine have put their brain-packed heads together and decided that the "Person of the Year"! How unbelievably stupid is that? The "you" refers to anyone who either produces or consumes electronic media (blogs, YouTube, etc.), so I guess Donald Rumsfeld is in there somewhere, and Ahmadinejad is a blogger...

I think Time missed the boat here. Considering Michael Richards lashing out at blacks, Mel Gibson lashing out at Jews, Britney and Paris lashing out against basic human decency, Sunnis murdering Shiites, Shiites immolating Sunnis, Republicans hating Democrats, Democrats kicking the asses of Republicans, Sen. Allen dissing macacas, Palestinians resenting Israelis, Israelis suppressing Palestinians, Palestinians oppressing other Palestinians, everybody oppressing the Lebanese, "Merry Christmas" people crying out against "Happy Holidays" people, evangelical people condemning gay people, evangelical people becoming gay people, Time's choice for person of the year shouldn't have been 'you'—it should have been 'them'.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hitch Not a Stitch

In 1945, George Orwell published an essay entitled "Good Bad Books" devoted to the idea that "one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one's intellect simply refuses to take seriously..."

The "supreme example" of the Good Bad Book, in Orwell's estimation, is Uncle Tom's Cabin.
It is an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous melodramatic incidents; it is also deeply moving and essentially true; it is hard to say which quality outweighs the other.
In reading Christopher Hitchens' latest offering in Vanity Fair, I can't help but think it's a supreme example of the Bad Good Essay, though the scales in this case tip further in the direction of the ludicrous than they did for Ms. Stowe. I'm tempted to say it generates more heat than light, which numbers among Hitchens' least favorite phrases, fond as he is of reminding his readers that there is no source of light but heat. Instead, I'll simply observe that the 'light' he generates is of a decidedly garish and unfriendly hue.

"Why Women Aren't Funny" is, as with all Hitchens essays, expertly written. It's wry, knowing, sly and deft, but it is—and here's the cardinal sin for any who would attempt to editorialize on the subject of humor—not funny. Indeed, no essay that quotes approvingly and authoritatively from the works of Rudyard Kipling can be.

The central argument of this essay is some biological/evolutionary claptrap about how men are funnier than women because they have to be in order to attract the eye and affection of the gentler (but less uproarious) sex.

Certainly, he concedes, there are funny women, but he dismisses them as being invariably "hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three." Therefore, one must conclude, not real women. Taking the first two as self-evident, Hitchens elaborates on the third. "...[B]oiling as it is with angst and self-deprecation," he opines, "[Jewish humor] is almost masculine by definition," which certainly marks the first time anyone has ever referred to Woody Allen as masculine.

It would be something of an understatement to note that Hitchens is guilty of dabbling in stereotype. I'm sure he's well aware of that. What's so much more troubling is that he's being uncharacteristically imperceptive in the process. There is some truth to the claim that humor finds those who need it most, to be sure. The sexualization of this tendency, however, is arbitrary. The unpopular, the ungainly, the unusual, the unlovely, the unappreciated, the unwanted—these are the true kings of comedy. It develops not as a biological imperative designed to get guys laid, but as a cultural weapon awkward children of both sexes learn to harness against the true enemy: the cool kids.

I've met plenty of humorless people in my time, both men and women. While there's great variety, these mirthless souls tend to be well-adjusted, reasonably attractive people who claim to have actually liked high school. Physically and/or socially gifted people in our society can get away with a tremendous amount, from humorlessness (ooh, he's brooding!) to outright stupidity. The rest of us make ourselves feel better by making fun of them.

But Hitchens misses this boat entirely. Instead, he goes in for a naive "biology is destiny" argument that would have earned him a swift backhand from his ex-colleague Katha Pollitt. Women, says Hitchens, wield tremendous power over men. Not only do they take center stage at the end of the miraculous procreative process; they play gatekeeper at its only-slightly-less miraculous beginning. Too busy with the solemnity of womanhood—and, to Hitchens, it's synonym, motherhood—women just don't have time for humor.
For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing. Apart from giving them a very different attitude to filth and embarrassment, it also imbues them with the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which men can only goggle.
Women have children; men act like children. Hitchens is at turns vulgar, rude, scatological and childish. It is clearly his intention to elicit a deluge of letters from unamused women, which would allow him to declare his point proven. The fact that his essay is so unfunny proves that humor is more than a mere list of ingredients—it needs a chef's touch.

"Why Women Aren't Funny" is declared by the magazine—as disclaimer and alibi—a "provocation", and with good reason. Unfortunately, while it easily provokes disbelief, disappointment and, no doubt, anger; it is singularly unlikely to provoke thought.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

All Tapped Out

The curtain fell too early for this Hollywood giant. For your viewing pleasure, one of the funniest scenes in movie history, from Young Frankenstein:

Goodbye, Peter Boyle.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Touch of Evel

Evel Knievel is suing Kanye West over the rapper's star turn as "Evel Kanyevel" in his "Touch the Sky" video.

The AP story, which misidentifies Evel Knievel as "Evil" Knievel in its headline, says that the 68-year-old ex-legend believes that the images in the rap video "damage his reputation". That reputation, in case you don't know, is of a batshit crazy half-wit daredevil who likes to jump over crap on a motorcycle.

"That video that Kanye West put out is the most worthless piece of crap I've ever seen in my life," said Knievel, "and he uses my image to catapult himself on the public." Get it? Catapult? Golden.

It might bear mentioning that Mr. West was already wildly popular before the release of the "Touch the Sky" video. In fact, West garnered less attention for the video than he did for his drunken outburst at the EMAs after it didn't win the Best Video award.

But that's Evel Knievel for you, always jumping to conclusions.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Justice Denied

Augusto Pinochet, one of the great monsters of the 20th Century, died yesterday at the obscenely ripe age of 91.

The Chilean dictator, known for decades of brutal rule marked by murder (including a brazen assassination in Washington, D.C.) and widespread torture, goes to his grave never having fully paid the price for his crimes.

Today there is sadness for those in Chile who will never see the butcher of their loved ones sentenced in court—and shame for the America that made Pinochet possible.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Britney's 'Soul' Laid Bare

The Daily Mail quotes Bette Midler as calling Britney Spears a "wild and wooly slut", thanks to the recent pantsless antics of the ex-sex symbol and new 'mother'.

Bette scores on two out of three, but it's quite clear that Brandine could benefit from a bit more 'wool'.

A shrewd observer might wonder whether Brit-Brit's no-knickers nights are just advance press for the sex video Kevin Federline is said to be preparing for release. Stay tuned—if you have a strong stomach, that is.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rush(ing) Water on Mars

I, for one, wasn't surprised yesterday when NASA announced strong evidence that there has been liquid water on the surface of Mars in the very recent past.

Taking a few liberties with the Law of Conservation of Matter, my theory is that this is just all the water that Rush Limbaugh no longer has to carry for the unworthies in Congress. It certainly would have been enough to cut a canyon or two and it had to go somewhere.

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is the second birthday of (parenthetical remarks). It's kind of arbitrary, since I actually first posted in late November of 2004, but Dec. 7 is the first day anyone other than myself had a look.

Thanks, first and foremost, to the hearty handful of regular readers, and thanks as well to all the folks who randomly land on this page while searching Google for something disgusting I never wrote about. I love you all.

Oh, happy Pearl Harbor Day, too.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Lost in Translation

Here's Tony Snow responding to the Iraq Study Group's criticism that the government lacks sufficient Arabic translators:
You don't snap your fingers and have the Arabic speakers you need overnight.
Two points. First, it's been over five years since 9/11, which hardly qualifies as "overnight". Second, the government would actually have a better stock of War on Terror translators if they hadn't spent the past eight or so years systematically purging their ranks of homosexual linguists.

Some things are just worse than terrorism, I suppose.

Rewarding Bad Behavior

The Bush administration is balking at the prospect of opening up talks with Iran and Syria about the crisis in Iraq on the grounds that it would be "rewarding bad behavior".

How about a little walk down memory lane:
  • December 14, 2004: George W. Bush awards the Medal of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet, whose agency failed to prevent 9/11 and who was ultimately responsible for the horrible intelligence that got us into Iraq in the first place. Bush said, "He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people." The president accepted his resignation some months before the ceremony, on June 3, 2004. Tenet said he was going to "spend more time with his family".

  • April 21, 2005: George W. Bush gives the thumbs-up to John Bolton, his choice for Ambassador to the UN, despite the latter's long history of stubbornness and even physical violence in the workplace. He called Bolton "a good man". In August of 2005, Bush gave Bolton a recess appointment to the post, ignoring the fact that Congress would not vote to confirm him. The president accepted his resignation on Monday.

  • September 2, 2005: George W. Bush praises FEMA chief Michael Brown with the immortal words: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." This is five days after Hurricane Katrina swept ashore, leaving death and massive destruction in its wake. On the 9th he was relieved of his duties as head of the Katrina relief effort. On the 12th, President Bush accepted his resignation.

  • November 1, 2006: George W. Bush lauds Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, saying "both those men are doing fantastic jobs". He would accept Rumsfeld's resignation one week later. In December 2004, after the Abu Ghraib abuses had come to light, the president praised Rummy thuswise: "He's doing a really fine job." And, "I know Secretary Rumsfeld's heart ... He's a good, decent man. He's a caring fellow."
In Catch-22, Colonels Korn and Cathcart are trying to decide how to punish Yossarian for cowardice during a bombing run when they stumble upon an idea that works to their personal advantage: why not give him a medal and a promotion instead? Think of all the publicity. Korn says, "You know, that might be the answer - to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That's a trick that never seems to fail."

The Bush administration has no trouble rewarding bad behavior. In fact, they do little else. The real reason they don't want to talk to Iran and Syria is because they are intensely stubborn and have the most inordinately difficult time admitting any error, no matter how small. In their eyes, engaging Iraq's neighbors is a sign of weakness, and such a sign can never be shown—even if the weakness is real.

All truth is relative at the White House.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Duh Factor

According to the AP, Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates "conceded...that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and warned that if that country is not stabilized in the next year or two it could lead to a 'regional conflagration.'"

No kidding.

Drudge has this headline in his bold red font, which he usually reserves for earth-shattering news and, of course, hurricane updates.

Republicans, meet reality. Perhaps you can be friends.

Another Good Man for Bush Clan

Hearings on the confirmation of Robert Gates as Defense Secretary begin today. Seeing as how he's an ethically questionable character and an inveterate yes-man with a history of politicizing intelligence, he should fit right in with Bush and his administration.

The president has already given Gates the kiss of death, saying he "will be a fine defense secretary".

Monday, December 04, 2006

Shoots, Fails, and Leaves

Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows to spread this message: "We have not failed in Iraq."

And he's right.

So long as we remain in Iraq, we haven't failed. We are failing. If the action [war in Iraq] continues into the present, it is grammatically improper to use either the past tense [we failed] or the present perfect tense [we have failed], both of which are for events or situations that concluded in the past.

In a case such as the Iraq war debacle, it is imperative to use the present continuous (or present progressive) tense, employed to describe an event or situation that started in the past and continues through to the present.

There's no real consensus on whether we started failing before or after the mission was "accomplished", but there's little argument that we're failing right now. It's nice to see that we've finally got a decent grammarian in the national security adviser position. How can we chart a course to the future, after all, without a firm grasp of the past and the present?

Here's hoping that Hadley and his crack staff can come up with a new, more muscular grammar for Iraq, although it's looking more and more like the third conditional is the only remaining option.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Ice Storm

Here are some photos I took near my house in St. Louis this morning. The good news: it's melting and we have power. Enjoy.

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