Saturday, July 15, 2006

Back when Christianity was halfway cool

One of the great things about New York, or the trendier parts of Brooklyn anyway, is that you can find just about any book that’s ever been printed for 50 cents or a dollar at a stoop sale. Today I picked up a beautiful leather bound collectors edition of The Confessions of Saint Augustine for a buck in Red Hook. I’ve only read a few pages of the introduction but thought I would share this little piece of knowledge about the early Christians that is not widely discussed today.

Back in Augustine’s time (early 400’s) Christians were generally not baptized into the faith until they were in their mid-thirties or so. It was taken for granted that young men were too horny to be proper Christians . Augustine kept a concubine who bore him a child, but marriage to such a person of low social stature was, of course, out of the question. Although some may be shocked at such apparent hypocrisy, it’s really just another example of the more things change the more they stay the same. No one expects Rush Limbaugh to marry any of the whore’s he fucks on his Viagra-fueled sex vacations to third world countries. That doesn’t make him any less of a saint, at least to his followers.

Augustine later repudiated his early indiscretions and claimed to be celibate, so that made it all okay and he was eventually canonized. Knowing what we know now, it’s probably safe to infer that “celibate” was synonymous with either “impotent,” or more likely “only wanted to have sex with young boys.” He is, after all, one of the most influential personages in the Catholic faith.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fuck a bunch of silly words

Chuckling doesn’t feel like writing tonight. It’s been a long day with many words done gone.

Just look.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A time for restraint

The prominent neo-conservative Robert Kagen argues convincingly in today’s Washington Post that he should put in a straight jacket and held incommunicado in a padded cell where he can do no more damage to himself or others.

Kagan, whose advice and predictions regarding the invasion of Iraq we now know, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been mind-bendingly stupid, demonstrates in today’s article that he has lost touch with the final few strands of reality that he was still able to grasp.

The article begins as one of the typical “If George W. Bush were me instead of out riding his bike” pieces:

Let's imagine, and this is purely hypothetical, that President Bush has already decided that he will not leave office in January 2009 without a satisfactory resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem.

He then proceeds with the typical projections that all who write these “If George W. Bush were me” articles make:
“Let's imagine that he has already determined... that he has resolved... that Bush had made such a decision... he might be engaging... he would have learned... would be sincere... would also know... would genuinely like to avoid... would send his diplomats... would not be bothered by press reports... would be patient... would know he can be patient... would know very well... would know that... would also know...”

And to prove the old saw that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, Kagan ends his delusional fantasies regarding George W. Bush’s thought processes with:
“would be able to choose the military course.”

Yep, Surprise, surprise, Robert Kagan, yes that’s the Robert Kagan who had so much to do with getting us into the Iraq quagmire of death and destruction and its attendant boon for terrorists and authoritarian governments everywhere, wants us to attack Iran.

At this point one might note that perhaps it is the Washington Post that is institutionally insane and in need of restraint. The people making the decisions there are intellectually and morally irresponsible to continue to publish the calls to war of a raving lunatic with a history of catastrophic failure. As we know, there are a good number of idiots, and idiots who control the government, who are easily influenced by that sort of insane warmongering. It’s like advertising booze and cigarettes to first graders. At their stage of mental development, they are all too susceptible.

But back to Kagan's article, get this:
Let's imagine that he has resolved not to end his two terms in office the way Bill Clinton ended his, by leaving every major international crisis -- from Iraq to Iran to North Korea to al-Qaeda -- for his successor.

Yep. For kicks, insert Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and every president who failed to go to war with the Soviet Union or communist China for Bill Clinton. Then imagine that you are the type of person who is unable to conceive of long range goals, plans, or consequences. What would you call yourself if you were that kind of person? Stupid?

Well, yes, but Kagan goes beyond stupid and not just in the fact that he is advocating another stupid war that would exponentially increase the damage he and his coterie have already caused this country and the world. No, Kagan begins by criticizing Clinton for leaving major international crises to his successor and then ends by advocating that George W. Bush bomb Iraq immediately before he leaves office. Just imagine that Bush takes Kagan’s advice and starts a major war just days before the next president is sworn in. Talk about leaving an international crises for your successor!

In a sane world there would be a rubber room with Kagan’s name on it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Separation of church and state

Although newspapers are constantly attacked for their politics, very few people outside the newsroom actually understand how American newspapers work. The key concept is referred to as the separation of church and state. The editorial pages are the church and the news pages are the state. Institutionally, there is a wall between them which cannot be breached. Those on one side o the wall cannot tell the other what to think or write. They are completely independent entities. Thus it’s not unusual for facts presented in news stories to be uncomfortable for the pundits on the other side of the wall. This is true whether the editorial pages lean to the right or to the left.

In today’s New York Observer, Gabriel Sherman writes an excellent and informative article about a church/state conflagration at the the Wall Street Journal. His description of the way a newspaper actually operates is enlightening:

The wall between news and opinion has traditionally been a tall and sturdy one at The Journal—with missiles lobbed over it. The editorial side has never been afraid to pick its own facts to support its arguments, even if those facts conflict with the ones reported in the paper’s news columns. Nor has it been reluctant to attack Journal reporters for writing stories that disagreed with its editorial premises, as when it downplayed the Enron scandal while Journal reporters were documenting the corrupt energy giant’s downfall.

The current dust-up occurred when the editorial page all but accused one of the news side’s top reporters of being a White House toady:
The initial wound came June 30, when The Journal’s editorial page praised reporter Glenn Simpson’s handling of the news of the Bush administration’s secret program of tracking international bank transfers. The editorial described Mr. Simpson, unlike the perfidious reporters of The New York Times, as having received the story from the Treasury Department, which was willing to “offer him the same declassified information”—because, the editorial conjectured, the administration “felt Mr. Simpson would write a straighter story than the Times.”

True, the editorial side went a bit beyond the pale in this case, but these minor turf battles between church and state are not all that unusual. But from my experience in newsrooms, which is considerable, the contempt that the WSJ’s news side holds for the editorial side is unprecedented.
“They’re wrong all the time. They lack credibility to the point that the emperor has no clothes,” said one staffer whose reporting has been at odds with an editorial crusade...
“To have Paul Gigot as our captain is bullshit,” one staffer said. “It’s not for real.”

So there you get the straight story from objective reporters at the highest level of the traditional journalism. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and by extension, the idiots in the White House, are “wrong all the time. They lack credibility to the point that the emperor has no clothes.” And Paul Gigot is full of shit.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ongoing issues

I was feeling artistically inclined and unusually motivated, so I took my laptop over to the park to work on my 16 part philosophical treatise on Studio Ghibli and the work of Hayao Miyazaki. On my way, I was truly inspired. My head was filled with profound ideas and clever ways to phrase them. I realized I would have to deal with Kurosawa, that old fucker, but the way around the problem was clear.

Then I finally get there and find a nice spot by the lake, start the computer and my writing application, and all I can think about is the reflection of the clouds on the lake and how Miyazaki would handle the challenge of depicting that scene in an animated sequence. I tried to tear myself away from such wasteful speculation and get to work on the treatise, but my eyes kept straying from the screen to the lake and then to the sky. Finally, I realized the connection. The foundation on which I would build the entire 16 volumes was right there in front of me. It wasn’t a rock, it was a lake. No it wasn’t a lake, it was a reflection on a lake. It was something ephemeral yet tangible like drops of water, whether they be part of the cloud or spray from the idle splashing from the waves against the breakwater. Nearly an hour and a half had passed as these thoughts ripped feverishly around my mind. When I was ready to type, the computer’s battery was dead. Ha ha, I thought, I am not one to be defeated by technology. That's why I kept a pen and paper in my backpack, but the fucking pen was broken and my pack soaked with blue ink.

So anyway, I’m thinking I might write a few words about Princess Mononoke here, though not now. It is a very interesting movie and I need to weigh my thoughts carefully. If you haven’t seen it and would like to understand what I will be talking about, I encourage you to rent it. If you are into literature and film, it will give you a lot to think about, whether you ultimately like it or not.

In other news, I bought the Thom Yorke CD today because I liked the song that played over the credits of A Scanner Darkly. I was foolishly hoping for a suite of songs that would maintain that mood, but that has not proved to be the case. Black Swan is great, but my recommendation is to save yourself $9 and buy the single on-line. But before taking my advice, keep in mind that I do not like Radiohead. Your tastes may differ.

And finally, I’m still in training at the new job along with a couple of other new hires. The first week of training is general so we are all together. After that we will break out into our specialties. My new colleagues are not like me. Burt (recall that I will not be using anyone’s real name) is a software developer and Helga is in sales. The training so far has been very abstract and intellectual. We are learning about data mining and business intelligence and how the two can be combined to paint a socio-economic portrait, so to speak, of any particular individual. A lot of our time is spent playing a game that the company has developed in which we take various pieces of information about a person’s demographics and buying habits and analyze various marketing campaigns and how the may or may not work for that individual.

You may think bad of me for taking this kind of work. I could plead that I need the money, and I admit that the money is good, but I’m doing it for more than that. I have a rare opportunity to feed in the belly of a beast and the things I learn will help me better understand both the actions of individuals and large organizations. It’s a bit scary though. The company has an attitude, an air of superiority that they do a poor job of disguising. They think they know us better than we know ourselves. And from what I’ve seen so far, they are not altogether wrong in projecting that attitude out on the general population.

Update: If you are interested in a positive review of Thom Yorke's new CD, go here.

The basics of storytelling

Whatever happened to Michael Moore? He seems to have disappeared from both the mainstream media and Left Blogostan. Did the right succeed in marginalizing him? Or is he just hard at work on a new movie? Probably both.

I notice his website is still active and Cindy Sheehan is prominently featured. Maybe that’s where marginalized people go to occupy their time? They probably spend a lot of time together talking about how much they care about so many people being killed and maimed. I know, I know, a lot of people sit around talking about how much they care, but Michael and Cindy seem like they really do care, and they dedicate a good portion of their lives trying to do something about it. Something beyond typing I mean. And that’s not cool. It makes us feel uncomfortable, even as we type.

Anyway, I trust Michael Moore will be back because he is such a good storyteller. That’s what made me think about him. The left, in general, doesn’t tell an effective story and they should take a few cues from the best among them.

Everybody thinks of Iraq when they think of Fahrenheit 9/11, but you may recall that Moore began the movie by telling the story of the 2000 Republican coup d’état that installed George W. Bush as president. And he is right to begin the story there. All the stories, all the outrages – all the day-to-day talking points that we debate for a day or two until the next outrage and its accompanying talking points – all of those stories begin with the stolen election of 2000.

When the United States ceased to be a legitimate democracy the end of the rule-of-law in was a fait accompli waiting to happen. All it took was a couple of plane crashes to start the dominos falling. But even without the plane crashes, it would have been something else. The precedent was set. The law does not apply to George W. Bush. And we have no opposition party.

Historically, when a nation is the victim of coup d’état things are not just going to return to normal any time soon, no matter how successfully the people avoid the facts of the matter. Well, we will see. The United States today provides the first real test of that theory. Never has a coup d’état been so totally ignored by such an overwhelming majority of the population. Normal people, all of the major news media, the (nominal) opposition party, even the election’s actual winner – all of them meekly acquiesced and even supported the coup. Even today, as an illegitimate, beyond the rule-of-law government has us barreling towards Hell in a hand basket, there is rarely, very rarely, any mention of the coup. And without putting the coup at the beginning, the story just doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps you’d think that those on the left might consider taking a lesson from the best story tellers among them, but Moore has, alas, been successfully marginalized. He’s so far out of it he could probably change his name to Noam Chomsky and not be any further from the minds of the American media, left-ish blogs included.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Seasons change and so does Chuckling

Chuckling was created in the early days of the popular internets, when web browsers first became sophisticated enough for regular people to surf and a few pioneering Internet Service Providers were offering affordable access with custom content. As an experiment, my original ISP provided forums and encouraged people to discuss and debate the day’s news. This noble experiment began well with educated people having interesting nuanced discussions but quickly came to be dominated by the insane, stupid mean right wing nutcases. As we know, it’s been that way ever since.

Chuck was born to torture these nutcases and was very good at it. He was not one to beat them into submission with logical argument. He would toy with them, draw them into traps, show them for the total fools they are, often with great élan.

Perhaps Chuck’s greatest accomplishment was carrying on a political argument with a particularly vitriolic nutcase using George Eliot as his screen name and using nothing but quotations from George Eliot, the female English novelist. And to make it interesting, I began the project with the express goal of getting him to call George Eliot a fag.

Our exchange followed the classic right wing nutcase pattern. When they are confronted with someone who politely questions their beliefs and is seemingly sincere, they trip over themselves to be nice and sincere in return. But going from quotes like “Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand,” to “We hand men over to God’s mercy and then show none ourselves,” and on to the likes of “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving in words evidence of the fact,” quickly causes them to crank up the vitriol. Unfortunately, the real quotations I used and the true nature of the exchange is lost in the misty html of the past, but it only took about six rounds before he called her a fag. When someone had mercy on the poor soul and pointed out that George Eliot had been dead for some time and I revealed myself as Chuckling, it resulted in a thinly veiled threat against my fictional person, which I counted as bonus points.

Ah, but that all took place in the heyday. Chuckling, alas, stumbled from his lofty perch of detachment and was forced to call it quits. Constant interaction with mean stupid people is unhealthy even for the best of fictional characters, and Chuck was never among the best of characters. And when that interaction with genuinely nasty idiots is no more sporting than poking the brain damaged in the eye with a stick, it takes a moral and karmic toll, which I paid in full. So except for rare appearances, that Chuckling is gone.

But Chuck is just like anyone else. Take away so much of his raison d'être and he develops an identity crisis. If he cannot torture right wing losers as he was born to do, what else is there?

Well, you may say, writing about politics is a big part of torturing right wing nutcases. That’s true, and I have some experience writing about politics under another guise so the interest and ability are there. When Chuck came out of retirement and began haunting the comments section at Alicublog, that was mostly what he did.

But now that he is serious about his own on-line magazine, it is not so simple. Many fine people are writing about politics these days, saying the things that Chuckling would say, so I find it difficult to take that road. Responding to someone else’s writing in someone else’s comments is something else – something easy. As time goes by I will share more photos and video work, but haven’t been much in the mood lately. Creating original literary content that anyone is interested in reading is much more of a challenge.

We’ll see. As noted in other posts, I enjoy finding and showcasing good writing from obscure blogs, writing that somehow illustrates some kind of emotional depth in the human condition, but that doesn’t seem like something I can maintain on a daily basis. And I’ve been enjoying doing art and lit reviews, but that’s never been my forté and, again, there’s no way I can keep it up on a daily basis. So if any of the ten or so people currently reading this on-line publication have any suggestions on content or style, please let me know. Chuckling takes requests. And if there is anyone out there who would like to contribute to Chuckling, get in touch and we’ll talk about it. I’m open to having people contribute, either under their own name, or if the vibe is right, as Chuckling.

Anway, I guess I’m feeling a bit introspective today because I’ve taken a new job and it is something of a break from the past, to say the least. I will be managing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) projects for customers from all across the business and public sectors. I will work with these entities to collect and aggregate every conceivable bit of data about their customers and their competition in order to help them better understand the needs of the marketplace and their place in it, and ultimately, to sell their product. Of course there are some cases in which there is no product involved, at least not in the common sense of the term, but I won’t go into that now.

I have a lot to learn and maybe I will share it with you as long as I am comfortable that I can keep my anonymity. So names will be changed and situations I describe slightly altered so as to be unidentifiable should someone from the company happen across this little publication. The possibility of any of my colleagues or clients coming across this site is next to zero Still, I will have to take precautions. As long as I keep it to terms that won’t show up in a Google search, I should be okay.