Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beatles 3000

This is genius - ostensibly a look back at The Beatles from a thousand years in the future, it basically becomes a loving critique of historical specials and unverifiable "experts":

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Authoritarian Mindset

Bob Altemeyer puts together a free and fantastic critique and analysis of authoritarian behavior and thought, identifying just what causes this mindset which is driven so insistently by principles but ends up ultimately as corrupt and self-serving as any philosophy.

As somebody who has dealt with the authoritarian mindset (and has finally been spurred by this book to label his political mindset as "anti-authoritarian"), I've asked many of the questions identified in the book's introduction:
The last reason why you might be interested in the hereafter is that you might want more than just facts about authoritarians, but understanding and insight into why they act the way they do. Which is often mind-boggling. How can they revere those who gave their lives defending freedom and then support moves to take that freedom away? How can they go on believing things that have been disproved over and over again, and disbelieve things that are well established? How can they think they are the best people in the world, when so much of what they do ought to show them they are not? Why do their leaders so often turn out to be crooks and hypocrites? Why are both the followers and the leaders so aggressive that hostility is practically their trademark?
This book ought to appeal to anybody who has struggled with an abusive and irrational boss, or marveled at the disgusting behavior of crooked politicians who pay lip service to high ideals while working against those same ideals, fully supported all the way by their constituents.

I'll be frank - I think that this personality is damaging as well as illogical, and that people with highly authority-minded personalities, however illogical, tend to be more successful than people who aren't willing to play a broken game. This book seems to be the cure to this type of behavior - to identify authoritarianism as a whole, if not as a mental illness, as negative behavior, outlining its characteristics. Just identifying the fallacies behind these people's behavior is enough, I feel, to de-legitimize much of their behavior. This is pretty much why I'm going into sociology as a field.

Read the book
(also, link to Altemeyer's site)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Adopted man searches for birth father, who turnes out to be CHARLES MANSON


"You call me daddy. You call me whatever you like! We call each other daddy but it's all in our MINDS!"

I find this story strangely delicious despite the trauma involved.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Important things need to be rhymed for children to remember

"If the monkey's in a rage, hands out of the cage."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Two presidents' accomplishments

I found the following two lists fascinating - two lists from very friendly sources of "President Bush's Accomplishments" (1994, Free Republic) and "90 Accomplishments of Pres. Obama Which The Media Fails to Report" (2009, Daily Kos).

Obviously the Bush list is fairly old, meaning that entries praising Iraq and Afghanistan as resounding successes now have quite a bit more history tainting them. An President Obama's term is still fairly new, meaning that much of his list has to do with things in progress - "announcing," "ordering" and "beginning" things.

Now, Free Republic is infamous for its far Right stance, while calling Daily Kos card-carryingly liberal wouldn't quite sell just how left-wing they are, so keep in mind that most sources will be biased in their selections. I find most of the Free Republic list pretty alien. However, the Obama list, albeit referencing fairly new events, has quite a bit to feel good about - protecting American troops, some commitment to governmental openness, and some commitment to common sense over ignorant posturing (removing some of the restrictions on travel to Cuba to allow people to visit their families). Some entries lack context and the writer obviously struggled to hit that "90" mark, though both lists give a good impression of the accomplishments of two presidents as told by those who support them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Announcement

For my sanity, the sanity of any readers I may have and because these stories are irrelevant, I will not be posting any more about Sarah Palin (that is, she will not be the primary subject of a blog post). Note that she continues to do and say monumentally stupid things, make torrents of excuses for her behavior and earn quite a bit more attention than she has ever deserved. That has not changed and will never change, and she is no being added to my Blood Pressure Ignore List (BPIL).

One caveat: Unless she runs for president. The stupid is still flowing fast and frequently every time she speaks, something I can ignore for now.

The hawk fallacy - how "protecting" America could lead to its downfall

Glenn Greenwald is soon becoming one of my favorite civil libertarians. In today's Salon he does a fantastic job of summing up the malady affecting neoconservatives in our modern era - the stunning hypocrisy of purporting to be the unabashed saviors of democracy and freedom while in fact working against those ends in both domestic and international policy.

Using a Weekly Standard rant on the ACLU's well-known support of due process for U.S. prisoners he poses the question:
Between (a) an organization that works tirelessly for basic due process and Constitutional liberties for everyone and (b) a political movement which demands their rejection, does it really take any effort to see which side is vigorously defending core American principles and which side is waging war on them? And given how due-process-free imprisonment is one of the most potent recruiting tools for Islamic extremists (as reported by David Rohde, Johann Hari, Gen. McChyrstal, and even the Pentagon's own 2004 Task Force) -- to say nothing of the endless aggressive wars cheered on by The Weekly Standard's play-acting warriors -- does it take any effort to see who Al Qaeda's "useful idiots" and stalwart allies truly are?
Hawks on national defense who treat human rights loosely have proven time and time again that protecting the United States from "terrorism" in the name of "freedom" results mainly in the continued application of terror in our name against freedom, human rights and Constitutional government. Every time The United States proves itself willing to resort to illegal and inhumane practices, it weakens our nation and its laws in very real ways and leads to a perpetuation of external terrorism around the globe.

The recent conservative outrage against Obama's bow to the Japanese emperor - an action which does not demean the one bowing but shows respect - seems to remove any question: much of the modern Right sees U.S. courtesy and diplomacy as a weakness, somehow damaging in and of itself, while excusing blatant assaults against liberty under the guise of pragmatism. The pillars of modern hawkishness - illegal, indefinite detention of prisoners without charges, torture and inhumane treatment and frequent, half-justifiable action against foreign nations in these circles is seen as strength, while the rule of law, respect for human rights and diplomacy is seen almost as treason, actions taking to weaken the nation rather than bolster its image and shake the message of anti-American terrorists around the globe.

Rather than see "terrorists" as human beings recruited to a misguided, foolish cause, this type of policy sees them as a force of nature, one that cannot be reasoned with or made to see the benefits of freedom by its actual application. No, by treating insurgents (even ones who have perpetuated terror attacks) as less than human and unworthy of the treatment we give even our worst citizens, we reinforce our image around the globe as the enemy of Islam in the minds of those misguided enough to see this as a holy war. By waging endless wars without end we become what we purport to fight against, and the noble goals of our nation's founding serve no purpose unless they are actually lived up to.

No, a hawkish, violent and arrogant foreign policy appeals mainly to those without the subtlety to appreciate virtue, relish ideals and respect the founding U.S. principles of populism, human rights and liberty. As Greenwald states powerfully in his closing paragraph (which I won't summarize here because this powerful article is powerful reading), the very people who have championed themselves the saviors of America are, through their hubris, leading quite directly both to its moral and physical destruction.

Read the article

Monday, November 16, 2009

My feelings on the modern equivocation of socialism and communism...

In response to an individual's feelings that perceived encroaching U.S. "socialism" (with a small 'c') is merely communism with a small 'c', my feelings:

I don’t think Marx even thought that true Communism would be possible without a violent revolution. The whole point was that the exploited proletariat would eventually realize that they were being exploited and rise up against their salmon eatin’ managers. Marx and other classical Communists wouldn’t agree with income redistribution, social programs and the like, because it neglects the formal thesis of Marxism. Which was that the workers ought to control the means of production as well as doing the actual, y’know, producing.

“Fabian” socialism would never lead to actual Communism, the classless society that true adherents to the philosophy wished for. From this perspective, giving a couple of bucks to beggars outside of the supermarket is one of the most selfish things I can do – it assuages my conscience a little without dealing with the social structure that created beggars and college students with flat screen TVs in the first place while people are starving in Sierra Leone.

All of this is just to say that whatever “socialism” we have in the United States is merely weighted capitalism. There is little common ground between attempting to compensate for privilege in a market-based society and “common ownership.” Whether or not compensating for perceived economic, racial, or other injustices does anything to fix social problems and inequality, “small ‘c’ communism” and socialism are two different philosophies. They’re no more similar than capitalism is to authoritarianism, though radical leftists often see them as one and the same. Orwell was a stalwart socialist and a rabid anticommunist – it’s only in modern times that many of us have begun to think of them as one and the same.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Veep on the Brink

The Barnes and Noble special edition cover of a certain former Alaskan governor's masterwork has finally made it into my office. Frankly I prefer it to the standard cover. Anybody who endures hundreds of pages of misguided victimhood, historical reinvention and self-aggrandizement oughta at least get a funny cover out of it.

EDIT: Here's what I said awhile back on Palin's book:
In other news, Sarah Palin is going on Oprah to promote her printy-book Going Rogue: An American Life. Get ready for the book to contain embarrassing selections and Palin to sputter in interviews before blaming her ghostwriter and finally swearing off liberal interviewers who insist on context.
Palin three weeks later: "Boo! People researching my mistakes is exactly what killed me in the campaign! Why should the AP employ 2.5% of their researchers fact-checking my book, one of the major news stories of this week, when they could be investigating Nancy Pelosi!"

You understand this is only going to get more fun, right? Like, in that you-feel-dirty-but-you-laugh voyeuristic reality show TV way, right? People like Sarah Palin, who inflate reality and demonize others with invented bias, would do great in a world without memories or Google. Unfortunately for Sarah Palin, we have memories and Google.

EDIT CODE RED: This gets better. In a segment where Rush Limbaugh calls the best questions he gets asked "the ones I ask myself," he calls Palin's book "One of the most substantive policy books I've read." Frankly book-reading doesn't really mesh too well with that whole "The first thing I come up with on an issue is the unvarnished, immalleable truth" thing that opinion leaders have going, which frankly calls into question the extent of Rush's home library, but what the hey. If Rush calls your marathon the "best he's ever run" or your space shuttle the "best he's ever piloted," who are you to argue with the endorsement?

I guess I'll have to keep an open mind. The Limbaugh Book Club hasn't failed me before. I've almost finished "Hop on Pop: How to Defeat Tyrrrny and Trrrism" and I'm glad I picked it up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Motives and Masking

After reading Orson Scott Card's treatise on Where the Wild Things Are, which basically branched into another critique of art cinema, I'm prompted to ask:

Can depth exist in a film beyond that which is spelled out and apparent? Are the only motives that a story is allowed to include the ones that are opened in front of you? Card's quibbles on the film are pretty clear:

[I]t's an art film -- which means that it is deliberately strange and unexplained. Things happen, but the writers and director go to some pains to conceal motive and reaction.

Oddly enough, the decision not to explain what's happening is usually regarded as a way to make a film "deep," but the opposite is the truth. When we are given no clue to the real motivations and intentions of characters, we have no choice but to settle for the most obvious -- the cultural cliches.

Orson Scott Card has made a highly successful, respectful career out of writing stories with very human characters who constantly explain (either through internal monologue or conversations with other characters) what they are feeling, exactly why everything is happening the way that it is and why they are doing what they are doing. And he's done this for the most part without sacrificing depth or meaning. But this is by no means the only way to create.

Movies don't have the benefit of pages of internal monologue, and real life has ambiguity. You can't always read somebody's emotions, and people often behave in odd, unpredictable ways that even they don't fully understand. Art cinema is clearly influenced by much of modern thought - that which recognizes and even relishes some ambiguity in daily life. It's also been the only modern "genre" to really incorporate ambience successfully, something that we've lost as a society in our slam-bang thrillers and blah dramas. In his musical and literary tastes Card definitely leans toward traditional forms - traditional singers and stories - over later, more postmodern stuff that learned to incorporate the dissonance and ambiguity we see in real life to great effect.

Is writing a film with deliberate structural engineering designed to underscore something really that bad? Surely there's room for films with subtle elements you can't grasp immediately, and the existence of such is not necessarily a blaring klaxon designed to alert us to pretension or hackery. Even as a lover of straightforward stories some of my favorite films have been exceedingly dry affairs with a lot of subtext, with things both intended and unintended to think about after the film ends and catch on subsequent viewings. (It took me ages to realize the irony of No Country For Old Men's Anton Chigurh getting into a sudden car accident, and it blew my mind. It was a deliberately contradictory element and I loved the implications.)

I've always defined "art" as that resonant feeling you get when you appreciate something but can't necessarily verbalize exactly why. I love that feeling, as I also love straightforward stories. I kind of wish that more people could learn to appreciate well-engineered experiences without impugning the motives of those who created them.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Stewart on Beck

A week ago I overhyped a Daily Show clip on Fox News. I may have gone overboard in my endorsement, though despite the proximity to the last post failing to highlight this spot-on parody of Glenn Beck would be unfair. This is clearly just The Daily Show having fun, not juxtaposing clips of hypocrisy but merely doing a parody of both the mannerisms and analysis of an individual who is himself beyond parody.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mstoc site announcement - music reviews, bacon, free happiness for life and more!

This is just a brief announcement that I've become a contributor to music reviews/interviews site Mstoc, a joint project with a good friend of mine that's still more-or-less in its infancy. We're still working out the list of contributors and building a body of content, though I'm actually pretty stoked and I like the initial look of the site (though we'll certainly be making improvements as soon as we have enough work to really showcase). I've completed three reviews so far under my name [Dustin Steinacker] - check it out if you wish, keeping in mind the whole "the site is still in its infancy" thing.

Regular readers may know that I'm something of a music fan. For some time I was a regular contributor to, an uneven writer who contributed dozens of reviews and was delighted to see them gain hundreds of thousands of hits, often dwarfing the reviews of the staff writers who, I presume, actually got paid for what they did. I even had a lower-key weekly album retrospective on this site which took too much time from my studies and was hence discarded.

I'm pretty excited for this opportunity to work as part of a larger community, doing basically the same thing I was doing but for something quite a bit snazzier, polished and more consistent than throwing music-related blog posts into my usual stream of non sequiturs and populist political ramblings.