Monday, August 31, 2009

Msueum of Animal Perspectives provides just that

I'm enchanted by this set of videos from the Museum of Animal Perspectives, most particularly this video of an armadillo foraging and a wolf quite deliberately hunting a squirrel. Though animal rights-conscious individuals may balk at the prospect of fixing animals great and small with cameras and setting them loose, I'd like to think that such a treatment actually drives their point home more carefully and completely than any awareness campaign - that animals are real individuals with real lives.

I wish these videos were longer.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Doomsday Horse

Actual headline on Drudge: "Inferno May Take Out Los Angeles Media Towers"

My preferred headline: "Demented Doomsday Horse Begins the Final Cleansing"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Highlights from the Big Book o' Pretentiousness

Some silly art from my 2005 Big Book o' Pretentiousness (click images to enlarge).

This one's "Epoxy Lateralus".

And this little fellow's "Hemogoblin Mounts the Borealis".

I was going to do more, but the Big Book o' Pretentiousness didn't write itself, unfortunately.

Chumbawamba covers The Beatles' "Her Majesty"

I was charmed silly at this expanded version of The Beatles' Her Majesty, performed by Chumbawamba. Yes, that Chumbawamba.

One of the best-kept secrets in music is that Chumbawamba, the anarchist punk band best known for the misunderstood "party anthem" Tubthumping (you know the song) is actually really good. It's sad that they got pigeonholed so thoroughly by a massive hit, but there are worse fates. Here's another good one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Apple explains why AT&T had nothing to do with (everything to do with) Apple's rejection (non-rejection) of Google Voice for the iPhone

Those looking to read a nice duplicitous release could do worse than "Apple Answers the FCC's Questions", in which Apple trips all over itself attempting to explain how its rejection (though Apple denies the term, saying the App has not been rejected, just not approved, and that Apple "continue to study" it) of Google's communication service Google Voice meets the needs of its consumers and, not coincidentally, the telecommunications giant which has the exclusive deal to provide service to the iPhone. Naturally, they then begin to explain exactly what AT&T had to do with the rejection (uh. . . everything):

Answering the question "Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications?"
Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T about whether or not to approve the Google Voice application. No contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T have been a factor in Apple’s decision-making process in this matter.

Then answering the question: "Does AT&T have any role in the approval of iPhone applications generally (or in certain cases)?"
There is a provision in Apple’s agreement with AT&T that obligates Apple not to include functionality in any Apple phone that enables a customer to use AT&T’s cellular network service to originate or terminate a VoIP session without obtaining AT&T’s permission. Apple honors this obligation, in addition to respecting AT&T’s customer Terms of Service, which, for example, prohibit an AT&T customer from using AT&T’s cellular service to redirect a TV signal to an iPhone. From time to time, AT&T has expressed concerns regarding network efficiency and potential network congestion associated with certain applications, and Apple takes such concerns into consideration.
Slick, Apple - slick.


Relevant editorial: Apple's Animal Farm

Indefensible - Lowlights from the Inspector General Report

After writing and rewriting this introduction dozens of times, I realized that I've already opined on torture at length so it may be best to let this reading speak for itself.

Those who defend the use of torture as "enhanced interrogation" should read the selections posted by Salon's Glenn Greenwald of actual methods used by CIA interrogators.

The entire article reads like a sort of twisted set of Mad-Libs. Remember, "terrorists" (really just a blanket term for Arabs in many circles) couldn't destroy our freedom or our values no matter how much they supposedly hate them. Still, we've done a pretty good job of making the whole war moot by trying to beat them to it.

Further readings:

Judge Andrew Napolitano: Five Things You Should Know About the ‘Torture’ Memos

Musicians to press Obama on end to "sonic torture"

Gitmo detainees released with sneaky, infuriating language

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Stewart schools McCaughey on the health care bill (Resulting in her resignation)

The following Jon Stewart interview with an increasingly-hysterical Betsy McCaughey is one of the best treatments of the healthcare debate that I've ever seen. Her alien logic and nervous laughter gets uncomfortable after a few minutes, though Stewart's "fake" news show as usual does a better job of providing context and evenhandedness than any of the major networks. Maybe when this stupid line of argument falls by the wayside we can actually consider the bill on its own terms.

And yes, she did resign her post the next day.


We don't support the private option, just high rates and bad care

Let's see who's really for individual freedom and private sector choice: The New York State Insurance Department is twisting the law to force an NYC doctor offering affordable health care to raise his rates. When will we accept that these bureaucracies aren't even in the business of health?

And when have trade groups or bureaucracies ever looked out for consumers?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"I want everybody to remember WHY THEY NEED US!"

(No, my frame of reference for tyrants does not end at this movie, but the visual appeal is undeniable.)

So yes, now it's pretty much official that the Bush Administration pressured Tom Ridge to raise the terror alert for Bush's reelection. If the potential for this sort of thing to happen (and the fact that it did happen) isn't Exhibit A in the case for the uselessness of this manipulative system, nothing oughta change your mind. Bush already capitalized on American fear of the foreigner and perceived weakness to bust pretty much anybody he wanted to connect with trrrism, but there's never been clearer evidence that manipulation was so conspicuously hard-coded into his policies.

No matter how angry we get at Obama for trying to insure the uninsured, remember this.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Synopsis: "After seeing Geppetto die at the hands of vampires, Pinocchio swears revenge in this darkly funny graphic novel. As the vampires plot the enslavement of mankind, only a one-puppet army stands in their way. But will a wooden boy and his endless supply of stakes—courtesy of plenty of lies and his elongating nose—be enough to save the day?"

The comic series is published by Slave Labor Graphics, who also released the incredible Hsu and Chan. Even if the execution doesn't match up to the idea, that's one doozy of an idea. Now we just need the Shrek crew to film an Army of Darkness sequel.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thoughts on movies from an erstwhile movie snob

Why do we have so few movie sequels that really continue a narrative? We're far more likely to see a new group of characters, maybe with a couple of return parts for novelty, go through the motions of the first movie in a series rather than continue the evolution of a character.

The best we can usually hope for is something like Harry Potter, where characters and their interrelationships are developed by being consistently thrust into similar situations over a long period, with enough variation and cinematography flashiness to keep from getting stale. Building up the mythos of a world is what passes for storytelling in a world of focus groups and demographics, and I'll usually stand for it.

But imagine if sequels really took their characters seriously as characters and not props for a plot, for example if Stallone's Rocky Balboa had been permitted to develop the way an individual might rather than getting roped into a series of increasingly unlikely fights for every sequel that rolled around. After all, the story was really about "Hey Adrian!" and the disconnect between being a nice guy and not really knowing what to do (or often being forced to do the wrong thing, for example muscling debtors for a loan shark). Why not pursue what fame adds to the mix rather than ending every flick with a setpiece fight? I mean, other than the fact that even the creators of the film feel that Rocky was a boxing movie.

What happens if James Bond gets fired, loses his access to awesome technology and has to work out a budget? Characters don't really grow unless you change the dynamic under which they're tested, and this doesn't happen if they keep meeting and besting the same challenges over and over.

I don't mean to say that movies don't do this. The Dark Knight took the invulnerable superhero mystique of the first film and destroyed it by making Batman essentially powerless, and, from what I've heard, Babe 2 subverted audiences and market expectations to deliver a truly thought-provoking story (bad move - the movie tanked). And, despite the gaudy horror of the cloying, unwatchable Toy Story 3 trailer, the crew seems genuinely dedicated to closing the "dramatic arc" of sorts of a toy who had been in denial of, and finally comes to grips with, his own mortality (though to be fair they'll probably just introduce a couple of new characters and have another adventure with a few calculatedly somber moments, which is pretty much what we're looking for anyway).

I'm not a snob, and I like most quality sequels even if they don't blaze much new territory (read: the stylish, fun, but mostly unmoving Hellboy II), though I'd like to see some major league sequels really shake up the dynamic of the story and not leave recontextualization to parody comedy shows and webcomics. The whole "reboot" thing (read: a sequel in practice but without the work of having to come up with a completely new plot) is getting old, and sequels that exist only to rehash the plot of the first movie (National Treasure 2: Blah of Blahcrets) are still safely ignorable, so we have plenty of time to turn Hollywood around before the novelty of CGI explosions even comes close to wearing out.

A final caveat: My apology if my points of reference seem to be mainly sci-fi, fantasy and superhero movies. Granted, they comprise the majority of what I watch, but not a controlling one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day [X] of the Healthcare Smokescreen

Yesterday Sarah Palin mounted a surprisingly coherent defense of her "death panels" comment, taking a step back and arguing that doctors with an incentive to counsel patients about "advance directives" (read: decisions made during periods of incapacity such as stroke or prolonged unconsciousness) will have more of an incentive to pressure senior citizens into accepting "pull the plug" plans that they may not be prepared for:

Now put this in context. These consultations are authorized whenever a Medicare recipient’s health changes significantly or when they enter a nursing home, and they are part of a bill whose stated purpose is “to reduce the growth in health care spending.” Is it any wonder that senior citizens might view such consultations as attempts to convince them to help reduce health care costs by accepting minimal end-of-life care?
Now, calling Palin's defense "coherent" is merely an acknowledgment that all of the words in her article, when strung together, make a form of sense. This is truly phenomenal for Palin, and I wish her only the best in her newfound pursuit of lucidity. Unfortunately the ideas are a little murkier. Here's Palin's original statement:

". . . who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Oh. Palin's original comments have nothing to do with her more recent regrouping. Now we see the problem; for even if allowing elderly people the option of discussing with their doctor what to do if they become vegetative can be somehow compared with images of death squads and grandmamas and papas on the chopping block, Palin's poor little baby is quite safe from Obama's Stethoscope Stormtroopers unless the bill takes a dramatic turn.

Unfortunately it's clear that this is just another volley of Palin hypocrisy and an exploitation not only of her child but impressionable faux-conservatives everywhere on this particular issue - Palin supported "advance directives" as early as last year.

Is this a surprise? No. Should we feign Olbermann-style outrage or think Palin a grandma-killer? No. But this isn't a debate, nor is it a group of principled Americans standing up against a behemoth-in-the making. The "ideas" and principles these people purport to stand by are the result of lies, corporate posturing and the exploitation of the well-intentioned and hungrily patriotic by the cold gears of cynical posturing of the political machine.

It's politics - mere words and soundbytes divorced of context or principle, celebrity clashes of ego where sensational statements are reported as if they form a valid rebuttal to unpleasant facts. If you really believed what you purport to belief, outraged Right-wingers, you'd have better reasons. And if we're going to debate this, let's do it honestly.

UPDATE: Context comes back to kick us all in the back, including, not unexpectedly Glenn Beck. Funny how "the nightmare that is our healthcare system" turns into a chocolate gurney and licorice defibrillator utopia in just a year's time. . .

Of course, cable commentators and politicians are from a world where context and consistency are mere afterthoughts, where moment-by-moment indignance (whatever the target!) carry the day. So, in a way, it's perfectly understandable for these weasels to slag off our healthcare system when playing off of working class distrust for authority, then turn around and praise it literally months later when the Tide of Outrage moves in that direction. Provided you're a goldfish whose memory reboots every three seconds, that is.

UPDATE UPDATE: And this type of doubletalk leads to some awkward moments.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Copying your own DVDs is a personal right, but also illegal. Wait - what?

In Chapter 573 (or maybe not, I lose count) of the gradual erosion of consumer rights in the name of corporate profits and control, judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled that DVD-copying software is illegal.

As making personal copies of your own software, music and DVDs is completely legal, you'd expect that software intended to fulfill that purpose should also be legal. Not so. Patel's justification:
"While it may well be fair use for an individual consumer to store a backup copy of a personally-owned DVD on that individual's computer, a federal law has nonetheless made it illegal to manufacture or traffic in a device or tool that permits a consumer to make such copies."
The law in question is a tenet of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits the circumvention of copy-protection (such as that found on DVDs), regardless of whether or not any copyright infringement has actually taken place.

Judge Patel is a good judge. She's not rewriting law to suit her own opinions (whatever those may be). I personally like a little activism in my judiciary, but she's in her 70s and I'll cut her a little slack.

The law itself is the real matter. It's clear that we've moved in a bad direction as a society. When media conglomerates actively move toward restricting the legal right of consumers to copy their own media, and actively seek to rewrite law to make it illegal to bypass these restrictions, these corporations are actively working by definition as oppressors, seeking to restrict the freedoms and legal rights of individuals in the singleminded pursuit of profits. As the passage of laws like the DMCA shows, the United States has proven particularly susceptible to the arm-twist of these megacorporations and trade groups who work hand-in-hand with our elected leaders to restrict consumer freedom. When copyright law is viewed as a two-way agreement, it's tough not to argue that these corporations are themselves infringing copyright, and ought to be kept in check for the public good.

The RIAA and MPAA already control much of the discourse on this issue, and for all of their sanctimonious prattle about "artist's rights" it's clear that they couldn't care less about the actual talent behind the industry.

Labels are already becoming (but haven't quite become) irrelevant as new technology allows consumers to learn about and share media more efficiently than ever and artists to take a higher and higher share of the profits reaped from the music they produce. But as it becomes clear how rabidly anticonsumer these labels have become, pushing for stricter and stricter controls and punishing legal applications of their product without any recourse for citizens, it's difficult to pity them.

They're a reactive organization, not a proactive one, and new media and channels of information will quickly bypass them and leave them in the dust, unless they find a way to shackle every device we own. Can you imagine a world in which media giants had successfully blocked the release of the VCR due to copyright concerns? (They tried.) What about MP3 players, or recordable CDs, or independent music and movie players for computers? These corporations aren't fighting for artist's rights, or intellectual property, or anything quite so noble. They might think they're fighting for their bottom line, but all they're doing is killing the proverbial golden goose and sealing their own demise. Let's make sure that they don't seal our own with it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Today's dose of irony. . .

Disrupting town hall activist's injuries not covered by insurance, seeking donations for medical expenses.

This spur-of-the-moment image of mine seems appropriate:

Next up, your retarded babies.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Is it a crime to be poor?

When Jim Crow laws in the United States segregated whites and "coloreds," many on the supporting side of the issue argued that the laws were not inherently damaging to any one group. The fallacy of "separate but equal" allowed states to create policy with the expressed intent of separating blacks from white society, which had the effect of limiting blacks' access to well-funded education, connection-building with the white power structure and limited blacks' ability to get decent jobs. In effect these laws perpetuated slavery in essence, keeping a large number of U.S. citizens separate, but certainly not equal.

Is the same thing happening now to the poor? In a Times article dated yesterday, Barbara Ehrenreich makes the compelling case that our current legal system creates a similar dynamic for the poor, with misdemeanors that target the destitute and are intended to separate them from the rest of society:
A grizzled 62-year-old, [Al Szekely] inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington — the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Fu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972. He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until last December, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants. It turned out that Mr. Szekely, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs or curse in front of ladies, did indeed have a warrant — for not appearing in court to face a charge of “criminal trespassing” (for sleeping on a sidewalk in a Washington suburb). So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail. “Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Mr. Szekely. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless.”
As recent events have shown, there is more than a little ambiguity about what is and is not appropriate to say and do in front of a police officer. For people who deal with the police in a more antagonistic capacity, often spurred by laws that target the poor (particularly poor minorities) in greater numbers, the chance of a misunderstanding or police power trip shoots through the roof:
Flick a cigarette in a heavily patrolled community of color and you’re littering; wear the wrong color T-shirt and you’re displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighborhood can mark you as a potential suspect . . . If you seem at all evasive, which I suppose is like looking “overly anxious” in an airport, [Author Paul] Butler writes, the police 'can force you to stop just to investigate why you don’t want to talk to them.” And don’t get grumpy about it or you could be 'resisting arrest.' '"
While laws against "loitering" and "public trespassing" and no-nonsense law enforcement policies allow elected officials to talk tough against crime and gain support among their citizenry, these policies in essence begin to criminalize poverty and homelessness in a society that still prefers to see both as a personal failing, and those forced to live in such situations as a societal sickness or matter of local color rather than struggling people with real concerns. By criminalizing or harshly punishing “crimes that are not a risk to public safety," we have turned some of our grittiest cities into social battlegrounds, enforcing the class order and punishing the poorest among us in a society ostensibly committed to propping up the downtrodden.


Further reading:

NYPD Officer Suspended After Refusing to Arrest Homeless Man

Dozens protest homeless sweeps with City Hall camp-out

Stop the Sweeps

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Roger Ebert Reviews "G.I. Joe"

Have fun at G.I. Joe, Middle America.

"G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" is a 118-minute animated film with sequences involving the faces and other body parts of human beings. It is sure to be enjoyed by those whose movie appreciation is defined by the ability to discern that moving pictures and sound are being employed to depict violence. Nevertheless, it is better than 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.' " - Roger Ebert


Much of the context for this amazing quote can be taken from Paramount's marketing strategy for the movie:

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" opens Friday, but Paramount Pictures isn't screening the blockbuster for critics beforehand. . . Instead, the studio says it's intentionally aiming the movie at the heartland, at cities and audiences outside the entertainment vortexes of New York and Los Angeles. . . While appealing to a sense of patriotism nationwide, the plan also is inspired by the disparity that existed between the critical trashing "Transformers: Rise of the Fallen" received and the massive crowds it drew at the box office.

"`G.I. Joe' is a big, fun, summer event movie — one that we've seen audiences enjoy everywhere from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to Phoenix, Ariz.," said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. "After the chasm we experienced with `Transformers 2' between the response of audiences and critics, we chose to forgo opening-day print and broadcast reviews as a strategy to promote `G.I. Joe.' We want audiences to define this film."

Translation: Paramount knows you're shallow but they'd love a shot at your wallet.

This final quote from Ebert's review was too previous to pass up:

There is never any clear sense in the action of where anything is in relation to anything else. You get more of a binary action strategy. You see something, it fires. You see something else, it gets hit. Using the power of logic, you deduce that the first thing was aiming at the second thing.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Thesis and Evidence

Thesis: Megacorporations censor the news and restrict reporting on their shady dealings, effectively keeping Americans in the dark about policies that affect them and the world while walking hand in hand with Washington.

Exhibit 1: Fox News and MSNBC coming to an agreement to mutually censor both Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann in order to protect the megacorporations that run these networks.

Watch this incredible now-banned SNL sketch for the more general gist of what's going on. (On a related note, NBC is particularly diligent about keeping this sketch out of circulation, citing their own copyright.) When a few major corporations seek to control our nation's flow of information, it's particularly easy to make the independent media look like alarmist nuts for reporting stories and taking perspectives the more mainstream media will never touch.

EDIT: I'm very glad to be wrong, barring a continuation of the conspiracy theory. Let's hope Bill follows suit on the paltry bit of good reporting he was doing.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Mama, get the rah-fle

Poor American South. They try so hard. At least they mostly stay out of the way.

(From the Washington Monthly)