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Monday, April 28, 2008
Man Contemplating Monkey Contemplating Man
From time to time on this blog I re-use photos that I've picked up somewhere on the Internet. One of them is a photo of a sculpture -- an ape sitting on a stack of books, thoughtfully contemplating a human skull.

I didn't think much about this particular photo until I ran into a reproduction of the sculpture in an antique shop a month or so ago.

Needless to say I bought it immediately. The people behind the counter seemed quite impressed; they hadn't seen the sculpture before. "Well," I said, "we'll see if my wife likes it."

I felt sure she would. The lovely Mrs. Uncle Mike is, after all, an extraordinary woman, amazingly tolerant of my obsessions. However, I wasn't quite prepared for her reaction when I dramatically presented the sculpture to her, theatrically pulling it from the grocery bag provided by the antique shop.

Mrs. Uncle Mike screamed.

All right, perhaps she's not quite as tolerant of my obsessions as I imagine. So I took the figurine with me to our finished basement, where Mrs. Uncle Mike is less likely to encounter it.

This whole process got me interested in the sculpture itself: who had originally carved it, and who was producing all the knockoffs?

It turns out that the original instigator was a 19th century German sculptor named Hugo Rheinhold. Rheinhold's work, "Affe einen Schädel betrachtend" ("Monkey Contemplating a Skull"), was exhibited at the Groβe Berliner Kunstaustellung (Great Berlin Art Exhibition) in 1893. A local foundry, Gladenbeck, began producing reproduction bronzes a decade later, and since then a number of companies have made reproductions and knock-offs, legal and illegal, in materials ranging from bronze to plaster to resin.

The copy I have is not completely true to the original; it most closely resembles the top photograph. This ape does not hold the caliper in its foot, as the more accurate reproduction on the bottom does. While my copy has the word DARWIN across the spine of one of the books, it does not have the Latin phrase ERITIS SICUT DEUS written across one of the pages. This phrase comes from Genesis III, when the serpent tempts Eve, saying And ye shall be as God; that is, she will know good from evil as God does.

Very few of the original Gladenbeck bronzes can be found; they are quite sought after, being especially popular display items in medical school libraries (the library at Boston College Medical School has one, as does the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinborough). I have heard there is a very large outdoor version of the statue somewhere, though I haven't been able to find a photograph. If I do find one, I'll let you know.

Because I know you're just dying to see it.

What Right Do You Have To Vote?
Today we learn that the Supreme Court has voted to uphold Indiana's "Republican-inspired" voter ID laws.

This of course is no surprise. The court majority has a "strict constructionist" view, which means it votes to uphold the constitutionality of whatever's in the GOP platform.

Anyway, David Freddoso is cheered by the news:

Considering that one cannot board a plane or buy a beer without identification nowadays, it hardly seems unreasonable to require ID at the polling place.
It would be churlish of me to point out that , unlike voting, buying beer and boarding airplanes aren't rights guaranteed under the constitution, so I won't.

I will say, though, that I don't think this is a big deal. The voter ID laws are generated by two factions within the Republican party: paranoid anti-immigrantionists who believe there are legions of illegal aliens swarming to the polling places every November in order to vote for Democrats; and Rovian cynics who see a way to suppress the vote among a demographic that is likely to vote for Democrats -- namely, the urban poor and the elderly. But the number of people who will be turned away from the polls is really quite small -- too small to make any difference in most elections. So while this is unfortunate, it's not a disaster by any means.

Sunday, April 27, 2008
Meet Your New Cephalopod Masters
A video is circulating around the Internet showing how an octopus has been successfully trained to open a jar. That's right, unscrew a jar and remove its contents. Right now the content consists of shrimp and crabs, but you know how this is going to end, right? That's right: you and I will be the metaphorical crab inside the metaphorical jar of human self-assurance. The octopus, however, won't be metaphorical.

Marine biologists don't get this. They think it's just soooo fascinating to teach octopi to do such things.

Very clever, egghead. Congratulations. You'll feel differently about it when the octopi use their new knowledge to unfasten locks, open doors, drive military vehicles, run heavy machinery, shoot rifles and eventually overthrow and enslave the human population.

At that point they will have to fight the evil, sentient robots for control of the Earth.

Friday, April 25, 2008
Will The Sunnis Make Nice With The Maliki Government?
According to the New York Times, it might happen:

Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a boycott that lasted nearly a year, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move.

The Sunni leaders said they were still working out the details of their return, an indication that the deal could still fall through. But such a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk.

This would be a big deal for the Maliki government if it comes to pass. It could represent the beginning of a viable, stable Iraqi government. But I'll believe it when I see it. There have been a lot of false dawns in Iraq, and the people in charge are seasoned fuck-ups. They're professionals.

Thursday, April 24, 2008
Darwin Vs. Darwin

Over at Playing Chess With Pigeons, Troy Britain takes on the grueling but critical task of debunking the "newest" creationist claims against evolutionary biology.

Of course, these claims are not new at all, just reheated, repackaged and tossed up on the companion web site for Ben Stein's movie Expelled.

Britain does a superb job dismantling each and every charge that the creationists bring up. One of the most oldest and most pernicious is an out-of-context quote by Charles Darwin himself:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.

Hmm, Darwin seems nervous. Is he worried that his theory's about to fall apart? That's certainly what the creationists would like you to think. What they don't want you to see is the full quote:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to the theory, there has been much extinction. Or again, if we take an organ common to all the members of a class, for in this latter case the organ must have been originally formed at a remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms, long since become extinct.

We should be extremely cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional gradations of some kind. Numerous cases could be given amongst the lower animals of the same organ performing at the same time wholly distinct functions; thus in the larva of the dragon-fly and in the fish Cobitis the alimentary canal respires, digests, and excretes. In the Hydra, the animal may be turned inside out, and the exterior surface will then digest and the stomach respire. In such cases natural selection might specialise, if any advantage were thus gained, the whole or part of an organ, which had previously performed two functions, for one function alone, and thus by insensible steps greatly change its nature.

Britain's takedown of creationist blather doesn't break any new ground, but it reminds us of something we must never forget: the creationists are the most patently dishonest debaters you are ever likely to meet. They will not shrink from distortions, cherry-picked quotes, deliberate misrepresentations and out-and-out lies to get people to follow them.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Insert "Fowl Play" Joke Here

The big news in this morning's paper was that the Saint Paul Police Department busted a cockfighting ring that was operating on the city's east side. This was a bit startling to me, because cockfighting is big in Mexico and the deep south, and while you hear about it happening in the north, you don't hear about it often.

But based on the names of the men arrested, it's at least possible that this is something transplanted from southeast Asia (the Twin Cities having the second-largest Hmong population in the country).

You have to wonder, though, what these guys were thinking.

A neighbor reported about 20 people carrying chickens into a home on St. Paul's East Side. When officers went to the home, they were told nobody was fighting chickens inside.

But officers heard roosters crowing. They went into the basement and found about 50 men gathered around a makeshift rooster fighting ring. One man was carrying a rooster under each arm, and another 35 or 40 birds were nearby.

People, people! Must I run your illegal operations for you?

I mean, really - could you be any more obvious? Roosters crowing in your house all day long? 50 people huddled in your basement? Guys running in and out of the house with chickens under their arms? If you lived on 80 acres, that'd be one thing (though I'd insist the birds live out in the coop). But your two-bedroom bungalow in the city? The neighbors will notice things like this, lads.

The only good to come out of this story is the opportunity to mention an underrated little movie called Cockfighter.

It's a Roger Corman produced flick that starred Warren Oates as a old pro in the business who travels the cockfighting circuit in the deep south. It's a sneaky little film in that it was designed as a cheap exploitation picture but ends up being much greater than the sum of its parts: it is a very interesting portrayal of the offbeat characters who inhabit the strange world of this "sport".

Oh Yiminy, I Wish I'd Said That
Here I am, all gloomy and pessimistic, partly because it's Wednesday, and along comes Mark Stoller, hosing everybody down with sunshine:

Don't get distracted by noise. It's fun to bite your nails and fret about how Democrats are tearing themselves apart, which of course I heard plenty of on the various cable shows. But whatever. Obama's probably going to take the nomination as Clinton doesn't have enough to win, and her annoyed supporters will move to Obama after she endorses him.

And then macro factors, the economy and Iraq, and McCain's general insanity and old crazy man persona is going to hurt him badly. No one likes Republicans, even in R+10 districts.

You're a better man than me, Stoller. I admit it.

Worst Case Scenario
Andrew Sullivan, who's been following the race in Pennsylvania as closely as anyone, sees the potential for an irreparable rift within the Democratic party.

In Sullivan's view, last night's results represent...

...the worst possible result for the Democrats: a nine point win for Clinton. It doesn't change the race's dynamic or the math; but it will give Clinton just the tiniest sliver of an argument that she should not drop out. But what is striking in the exit polls is the polarization on three lines: gender, race and age. It was dead even with men; but a massive advantage for Clinton among women. The racial difference is obvious as well. But what really leaps out is age. Obama lost every cohort over 40; Clinton lost every cohort under 40. Race also affects the generations in turn: 67 percent of whites over 60 voted for Clinton - a massive 24 point advantage. Among the younger generation, there is much less racial polarization: under 30, whites split evenly. This is a fascinating result. It appears to me as the future struggling to overcome the past.

I tend to be a bit gloomy on Wednesdays, but I can't help thinking that it's going to be difficult for the Democrats to unify behind a candidate. Any candidate. It's early, and by October this whole thing may be forgotten. But I wonder.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
News From The Front
Here is a bit from Pollster.com's reading of the latest tea leaves. It would appear that there is, as of election day, no real consensus in the polls:

The Zogby rolling average tracking shows the Clinton margin growing from one percentage point (46% to 45%) to ten (51% to 41%). However, other surveys that have tracked twice over the last week to ten days show no consistent trend. As the table below shows, both SurveyUSA and ARG showed essentially a trend in Obama's favor over the last week, while four other pollsters showed essentially no change. On average, these "apples-to-apples" comparisons so Clinton's percentage increasing by less than a point, Obama's by roughly two. Ignoring statistical significance, four polls showed movement in Obama's direction, two in Clinton's direction and one showed no change in the Clinton-Obama same margin.

There may be -- just may be -- some slight last-minute movement toward Obama. But it seems as though Hillary is poised to win by more than 5 points, which will give her just enough momentum to keep this going a while longer.

You Guys Don't Know Goofy Like I Know Goofy
While I'm grateful that Entertainment Weekly now has an online gallery of the 22 Goofiest Movie Monsters (what took them so long?), I must object to their parochial tastes in "goofy monsters". I object!

First of all, the ants from Them! (1954) were not goofy or low-budget. They were state of the art for that period in time -- and, I like to think, a whole lot more convincing than many of the flat, cartoonish CGI-generated monsters we run into these days.

Second, it's a pretty obvious list. The Ro-Man from Robot Monster, the giant crabs from Attack of the Crab Monsters, or the CHUDs from C.H.U.D. -- that is just the low-hanging fruit. A much goofier alien was found in another Roger Corman picture, It Conquered the World.
What a creature! So goofy was this squat, sneering turnip from Venus that it's rumored that actress Beverly Garland had enormous trouble keeping a straight face during her scenes with the monster. That, my friends at EW, is a goofy monster.

But perhaps the goofiest monster in movie history is the "antimatter bird" from the 1957 opus The Giant Claw. The bird in question is transcendently, sublimely ridiculous.

Jeff Morrow has said that he and the other members of the cast were literally laughed out of the theater during the premiere. Every glimpse of the bird sent the audience into hysterics. Now that's a goofy monster.

Stick around, EW -- you guys might learn something.


Here's a cool use of cyberspace that I haven't seen before -- at least, not quite on this scale.

Radiohead, which has already been experimenting with the business model of music sales, has now made the stems -- that is, the basic tracks -- of their new single "Nude" available on Itunes.

Anyone can purchase the stems, then use GarageBand or any old desktop music application to do a remix.

Once you've done your remix you can post it up on Radiohead's site, and fans can vote on the results.

What's cool about this is that it's not only creative and playful, it's also sensible from a business standpoint. Radiohead is probably going to sell tens of thousands of downloads of the stems alone, and generate enormous buzz for the song "Nude" at the same time.

This seems very true to the original concept of the Internet - collaborative, creative, organic and free-wheeling. And it puts in sharp relief the things the Internet isn't good at: erecting barriers and jelously protecting copyrights.

Sunday, April 20, 2008
Hey, There's Nothing Wrong With A Little Honest Smear Campaign
Mark Steyn, who, like most of his compatriots at the Corner, likes to play fast and loose with the facts, has this to say when a British reporter has the temerity to challenge the GOP's quadrennial smear campaign that's dressed up as a discussion of "character":

Well, why shouldn't they vote on "character"? Barack Obama has no accomplishments, no legislative record, no nuthin'. So if you don't want to vote on character (ie, his condescension to crackers too boorish to understand how sophisticatedly nuanced it is to have a terrorist pal and a racist pastor), what else is left?

The issues, maybe?

Saturday, April 19, 2008
When Dandys Attack

Jonathan Chait nails it:

Barack Obama's comments about the white working class have thrown the political campaign into a particularly comic spasm of pretense and hypocrisy, but I was planning to let it go, I really was, until George F. Will decided to leap to the defense of the proletariat. Yes, that George F. Will. The fabulously wealthy, bow tie-wearing, pretentious reference-mongering, Anglophilic fop who grew up in a university town as a professor's son, earned two advanced degrees, has a designated table at a French restaurant in Georgetown, and, had he dwelt for any extended time among the working class, would be lucky to escape without his underwear being yanked up over his ears. Will devoted his column to expressing his displeasure at Obama's "condescension" toward the working class.

This brand of sneaky upper-crust hypocrisy is, of course, really nothing new. The gang over at The Corner -- themselves mostly scions of privileged families, often Tory expatriates -- are always waxing poetic about the flinty virtues of "real" Americans, but I can't think of any one of them who has ever lived in a small town, fired a gun, or done an honest day's work.

Friday, April 18, 2008
The Chicago Way
The Democrats have a problem this fall, and his name is Joe Lieberman.

It has been Joe's own business, of course, to cheerlead the Iraq war, to run as an "Independent Democrat" after losing the Democratic nomination for his Senate seat in Connecticut, and to clear his throat loudly while speculating about jumping to the Republican party, his business even to praise Rush Limbaugh while campaigning for John McCain.

Irritating? Yes. Aggravating? Certainly. Disloyal to the party? I would say so, especially considering that he was the VP nominee only seven years ago. It's not as if he's been treated as a backbencher.

But there are lines here that one shouldn't cross, and Lieberman crossed it the other day, when he essentially invited himself to be the keynote speaker at the Republican nominating convention.

The first impulse among Democrats seems to be what it always is: get into a defensive crouch and hope the damage isn't too bad. Lieberman will certainly make a great deal out of the fact that he was Al Gore's running mate, and gosh, how the Democrats have changed since then, and how he's now an independent, and gosh, wouldn't John McCain be a better choice than that closet Marxist Obama?

But the truth is, by volunteering to speak at the Republican convention, Lieberman has officially thrown in with the Republicans. And that should absolutely not go unpunished.

The Democrats are not helpless here. When Lieberman was vetted as the VP candidate in 2000, you can be sure that a great deal of research was done on him. The Democrats know every potential controversy that might have come up, every questionable quote, every shady association that the guy ever had.

It's time to pull that file off the shelf and dust it off.

It should be the Democrat's holy chore between now and the Republican convention, to destroy Joe Lieberman. Not rough him up, not raise questions about his veracity or sincerity. No -- destroy him. Destroy him professionally and personally, in just the same way his Republican buddies are already trying to destroy Barack Obama: through rumor, through innuendo, through twisted quotes and hearsay. Take what they're giving Obama, and spoon-feed it down Lieberman's throat. That, as one would hope Barack Obama would realize, is the Chicago way.

Headline: GOP To Use Gas Stations To Target Their Message
My first thought: they have a message?

Reich: Hillary Ads "Nadir Of Mean-Spirited, Negative Politics"
According to the New York magazine, former Labor secretary Robert Reich will endorse Barack Obama this afternoon.

No one expected the diminutive, smooth-talking Reich to endorse Hillary -- he's been quite outspoken in his disgust and dismay at the tactics coming out of the Clinton camp -- but why endorse Obama now? Or at all, for that matter?

"I saw the ads" — the negative man-on-street commercials that the Clinton campaign put up in Pennsylvania in the wake of Obama's bitter/cling comments a week ago — "and I was appalled, frankly. I thought it represented the nadir of mean-spirited, negative politics. And also of the politics of distraction, of gotcha politics. It's the worst of all worlds. We have three terrible traditions that we've developed in American campaigns. One is outright meanness and negativity. The second is taking out of context something your opponent said, maybe inartfully, and blowing it up into something your opponent doesn't possibly believe and doesn't possibly represent. And third is a kind of tradition of distraction, of getting off the big subject with sideshows that have nothing to do with what matters. And these three aspects of the old politics I've seen growing in Hillary's campaign. And I've come to the point, after seeing those ads, where I can't in good conscience not say out loud what I believe about who should be president. Those ads are nothing but Republicanism. They're lending legitimacy to a Republican message that's wrong to begin with, and they harken back to the past 20 years of demagoguery on guns and religion. It's old politics at its worst — and old Republican politics, not even old Democratic politics. It's just so deeply cynical."

She may well eke out a win in Pennsylvania and live to scorch the earth another day. But my feeling is that her strategy will backfire -- and I hope quickly enough that she loses Pennsylvania. If she does, it's over. The trickle of uncommitted supers jumping to the Obama camp will become a flood. She would be under enormous pressure to drop out of the race. Not that she'd need to -- Obama could safely ignore her at that point.

What a strange political season this has become, when the "politics of personal destruction" -- which the Clintons decried 15 years ago -- is now the main weapon in their arsenal. They have become everything they once fought against. It would be a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions, if there wasn't quite so much comedy in it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008
In Defense Of George Suckshillaryscockanopolous

A few people have asked me my opinion of last night's ABC debate, which was moderated by This Week host George Suckshillaryscockanopolous.

In spite of the juvenile rantings of the left-wing blogosphere, the questions he asked were mature, pertinent and fair.

The fact that George Suckshillaryscockanopolous used to work for Hillary Clinton is no reason to believe that he cannot be fair or impartial while moderating a debate. So I think it's time that the Obama supporters take a deep breath and realize that questions about flag lapel pins and former Black Panthers are legitimate issues, much more legitimate than questions about the economy or the war in Iraq.

So please, people, let's give George Suckshillaryscockanopolous the benefit of the doubt.

He's earned it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
It's Not Racism, Just Good Old-Fashioned Name-Calling
Here's a post (entitled "You Can't Win") by Roger Clegg on NRO's blog, The Corner:

From an L.A. Times op-ed today, about why it’s racist to call Obama "elitist": "`Elitist’ is another word for ‘arrogant,’ which is another word for ‘uppity,’ that old calumny applied to blacks who stood up for themselves." Of course, "humble" is another word for "subservient," which is another word for "slavish." I guess it’s best not to say anything about Senator Obama, but isn’t ignoring someone because he’s black something that racists do, too?

You tell me, Roger -- you're the one who works for a magazine with a long racist pedigree.

Of course, you guys at National Review could always try something crazy, like talk about the issues.

Notes From An Alternate Universe

Yesterday, someone named Douglas E. Schoen , who apparently lives in an alternate universe, wrote a Washington Post column about Hillary Clinton. It's interesting mostly as evidence that there are alternate universes and that, once in a while, newspaper columns filed in alternate universes find their way into the newspapers here.

Apparently, in this other universe, Hillary Clinton is running a positive campaign. The paramount concern of alternate-Hillary is the good of the Democratic party in November! The only fault anyone can find with alternate-Hillary is that she is too sunny and nice; she has to start going negative on Barack Obama if she wants to win the nomination:

Although voters and the media look favorably upon a positive campaign message, and Clinton is acutely conscious that too much negativity and too many personal attacks will hurt her party in November, a positive message is simply not enough to alter the race at this point. It is too late for Clinton to wait for Obama to make another mistake.

I'm wondering how I can get to this alternate universe, since it sounds like a nice place to live. Also, I'm wondering if we can trade our Hillary for the other one, since she seems to be just the sort of woman Schoen is looking for.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Crossing The Rubicon
She has done it, Hillary Clinton has. She has finally, really done it: something that no other Democratic presdidential contender could do, not in my entire adult lifetime.

She has made it impossible for me to vote for the Democratic nominee for President.

That is, if the nominee is her.

Note that I'm not saying it would be difficult to vote for her, or problematic for me to vote for her, or that I would be reluctant. No.

I will not vote for Hillary Clinton if she becomes the nominee of the Democratic party. Come hell or high water, I won't do it.

She has betrayed us. She has sold us out. And I cannot forgive her for it.

What was the straw that broke the donkey's back? This:

"...I think his comments were elitist and divisive. And the Democratic party has been unfortunately viewed by many people over the last decades as being elitist and out of touch,” Clinton said. “I mean we have waged elections over that and you don’t have to think back too far to remember that good men running for president were viewed as elitist and out of touch with the values and the lives of millions of Americans. So I think this is a very significant concern that people have expressed"

I have no doubt that she would have referred to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" if she thought she could get away with it. She began these remarks, by the way, by referring to Obama's speech in San Francisco, and the sneer in her voice was pretty damned obvious. So tell me: who's the one being divisive?

And John Cole, that recent refugee from the House of Rove, is suitably appalled:

The woman is a moral black hole- soulless, empty, calculating and nasty all the way to her core (I know, I know- I just don’t know the “real” Hillary, who is charming and friendly and down to earth and likes pizza and beer). While her super-human ambition is admirable, it is not grounded in a sense of decency, and she knows no boundaries. Watching her the past few days has been a real eye opener, and watching her campaign the past few months should be a clear enough indication what America has to look forward to if she should win the election (although, I simply can not conceive how that happens). While she runs around lying about Obama, allowing her surrogates to portray him as unelectable, she fails to mention how she is going to win the general election when she can not even convince a majority of her own party to choose her.

When I look back on all the support I gave the Clintons, all the money and time I spent, all the hours I spent defending these people from exactly the same bullshit charges from the right wing, I see red. Samantha Powers was right: Hillary really is a monster. The hell with her, and the hell with her supporters. They're cynical culture-war bullshit artists. And they have no place in the Democratic party.

Friday, April 11, 2008
Let's Not Get Carried Away, People
The latest viral frenzy to hit the Internet: a widely-circulated photo of Dick Cheney, grinning in typically sinister fashion while what appears to be the body of a nude woman is reflected in his sunglasses.

The White House spokesdroids say there's no truth to the rumor and I believe them. There is, of course, no way that a nude woman would be reflected in Cheney's glasses. Cheney's ritual sacrifices are never older than twelve.

Had the reflection been that of a red, demonic head rising up from the smoky depths of Hell, then I would have bought it.

Friday Creature From The Black Lagoon Blogging

Why Didn't She Just Join The Keyboard Kommandos?
Over at The Corner, K-Lo relates the sad story of a 25-year-old Navy recruit who leaves her two crying children behind with their father when she leaves to begin her military service. Lopez wonders aloud:

How can a civilized people have mothers leaving their crying babies to possibly, ultimately go off to war? It's their choice to sign-up, I know, but it's just such a disturbing and unnatural image. Am I wrong?

Well, not wrong exactly, Kathryn, but somebody has to go fight in Iraq, and if you chickenhawks at NRO won't do it....

Thursday, April 10, 2008
This Shouldn't Even Be Close
Having just posted about Condi Rice and the improbable scenario of McCain picking her as VP, a new Marist College - WNBC poll finds a reason to believe it might not be so crazy after all.

According to the poll, a McCain/Rice ticket beats both Clinton and Obama in the bluest of blue states, New York.

Now, one statewide poll in April obviously doesn't seal the deal for McCain, but it does make me wonder.

Polls consistently show that the American public is fed up with George W. Bush and wants to get the hell out of Iraq. So why would a McCain/Rice ticket -- which is about as close as you could get to a third Bush administration -- have so much appeal with voters?

And as long as we're on the subject, how can McCain, who promises a continuation of Bush's disastrous foreign policy, be running slightly ahead of either Democratic candidate in the polls?

This is not what I would imagine happening with a candidate who brags about keeping troops in Iraq for 100 or 1000 years.

You may argue that the Democratic race is unsettled and that gives McCain a leg up. Perhaps. But it seems to me that there's something wrong here; this race shouldn't even be close. The days of picking the candidate you'd most like to have a beer with should be over. The American people should have learned that lesson in 2000.

But maybe those days aren't over. Maybe the American people haven't learned their lesson. It seems incredible, but it might just be true.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Condi Rice: What's Not To Like?

Kate Sheppard tries to fan the flames of Condi-mania:

Grover Norquist is endorsing Condoleezza Rice for McCain's VP spot. Apparently she spoke at a breakfast meeting of his Americans for Tax Reform a few weeks ago, her first appearance before the group, and came across as mighty presidential. "If her goal was to convince everyone she would be a good president and, therefore, a good vice president -- she hit it out of the ballpark," he told the Post. His comments, as well as some from other influential conservatives, have sparked a surge of rumors that Condi is "actively" lobbying to be McCain's No. 2. I have to say, the idea of her as a VP candidate is alluring, if only because I find her a completely fascinating figure: Stanford professor. Accomplished pianist. One-time Democrat. Football fan. Adorer of all things Bush. She's a much more interesting individual than McCain, and of course putting her on the ticket might add a whole new dimension to the race in November.

Setting aside the alleged wisdom of choosing a VP candidate who's "a fascinating character" rather than, say, well-qualified (are piano-playing, Bush-adoration and football fandom really useful attributes for the presidency?) the only reason I can imagine for McCain picking Rice would be the same reason Illinois Republicans drafted out-of-stater Allan Keyes to run against Barack Obama: as a cynical bit of identity politics counter-programming. In the case of Keyes, it was pretty blatant: So your candidate is an eloquent black Harvard graduate? We got one of those too!

This, it would seem, is the appeal with Rice. She's black, plus she's a woman! She's a two-fer!

The truth is, Rice has done nothing whatsoever to suggest that she would be a capable president. As National Security Advisor, she served as Bush's most craven toady and enabler, cheerfully spreading stories of Iraq's fearsome arsenal of mass destruction -- stories that she knew were false. As Secretary of State, she has failed to meet even the most modest diplomatic goals she has set out to achieve. One might blame this on the contempt with which the United States is now held in the international community -- except that Rice, along with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, is largely to blame for that too.

I can't imagine McCain being stupid enough or cynical enough to pick Rice as his running mate, but if he does, Democrats shouldn't be afraid to call her out. She has a record, a clear one. And it ain't pretty.

Monday, April 07, 2008
You Gotta Admit, This Headline Has Just About Everything
Formula One Boss Denies Nazi Theme in Hooker Orgy

Sounds like the title of a Troma film.

Sunday, April 06, 2008
Looking For Love, Lost Citizens?

You may have noticed that small ad banners now appear on the comments section of this blog. Nemo used to scare them away by writing the word ORNITHOPTERS again and again. However, I am not that resourceful.

For the most part I ignore them, but tonight I noticed that one of the advertisers is an outfit called Anastasia International, which features a photo of a young woman who is, erm, in a bit of a Glamor Shots pose.

Clicking through to the site, I discovered that it's a delightful 1990s era Russian Mail Order Bride operation, promising lonely American men a beautiful, modest and compliant Russian companion for only a nominal fee. Knowing that the lovely Mrs. Uncle Mike was upstairs and asleep, I selected one (Marina, who yearns for "a man who has a good sense of humor, who has aims in life, who is kind and sincere. If you think that its just about you, write me as soon as possible!!! I am waiting for you!(preferable age: from 25 to 60))"and I wrote her his email:

Dear Marina

I have a blog called The Lost City, and I have noticed that Anastasia International is an advertiser. I would love to further promote Anastasia International on my site, so if you could pass along an endorsement -- just say a few words about how much you enjoy reading it -- I can feature that on the site and promote Anastasia International at the same time!

You can find The Lost City at www.thelostcity.blogspot.com

An example of such an endorsement might read like this:

"I am a faithful reader of The Lost City. It's where I turn for the latest in political and pop-culture ruminations. I never miss Uncle Mike's quirky take on reality, and I would recommend the site anyone looking for an insight into the real America."

I hope that everything in Nikolaev, Ukraine is going well, and hope also that you'll be able to read the blog when you find time in your undoubtedly busy schedule.

Thanks and best,

Uncle Mike

Unfortunately, when I tried to send the email I learned that I needed to purchase "credits" which would be used to contact the lovely women of the site. One $7.99 credit allowed you to send one email. Now, if I worked for Slate or the Atlantic, I could expense quite an interesting story out of this. However, this is The Lost City, where we must rely on our imaginations and our own sense of irony. However -- as Anastasia International is still an advertiser on The Lost City -- please turn to them for all your Russian Mail Order Bride needs.

Ladies And Gentlemen, Your Mainstream Media

Working 24 hours a day to make certain that no white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 110-pound 22-year-old will be missing for long.

Charlton Heston, 1924 - 2008
Every once in a while, you hear about the death of a celebrity and you are surprised in spite of yourself. That was the case for me when I read of Charlton Heston's death this morning.

The man was 84 years old and in poor health; yet in spite of that he was, well, Charlton Heston, who cheated death on the big screen all the time.

Of course in the movies, Heston's luck always ran out at the end; there was always one last bullet he couldn't dodge.

There was something quintessentially American about Heston, which came through even when he was playing Moses in The Ten Commandments or Miguel Vargas, the noble Mexican crime-buster in Touch of Evil. He embodied the swagger and confidence of mid-twentieth-century America, and perhaps it is only fitting that his career didn't really last long into the 1970s and the rise of indie films and antiheroes.

He was a movie star in the classic sense; you knew what to expect when you saw him on the screen, just like you knew what to expect when Humphrey Bogart or Errol Flynn was on the marquee.

On a personal note, I can give Charlton Heston part of the blame for my mother's 11-year boycott of the movies. In 1973 she'd received a couple of free movie passes at a local cineplex. She wasn't familiar with any of the films playing there, but one starred Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson, actors with whom she was familiar, so she went in. But so appalled was she after walking out of Soylent Green that she never went to another movie until 1984, when Romancing the Stone offered moviegoers a much more old-fashioned time at the cinema.

Saturday, April 05, 2008
I Don't Care What People Say, Rock N Roll Is Here To Stay
I was, once upon a time, a big fan of Liz Phair, who vaulted onto the rock n' roll stage with her album Exile In Guyville. When someone asked me what her sound was like, I replied that she was kind of like Suzanne Vega, if Suzanne Vega had actually possessed talent.

That was, I admit, unfair to Phair as well as Vega. Most people would probably laugh at such a comparison anyway. In my own defense I was probably thinking of Phair's slow, meditative "Stratford-On-Guy", rather than, say, "Fuck and Run" when I made that statement; and I think what I meant was that Phair possessed Vega's wit and gift for storytelling without the cloying preciousness.

But like a lot of people I soured on Phair's later work; Whip Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg were okay, but nothing from either album stood out. And by the time she released Somebody's Miracle, she was a cheerful and unapologetic sell-out: even her songs about sex (and most of her songs are about sex) had gone from being rueful and ironic to simply being chipper and radio-friendly.

But I must admit I liked her thoughtful review of Dean Wareham's rock n' roll memoir Black Postcards, which appeared in today's Times. And it made me realize how much I missed her.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Ikarie XB1

I collect nutty old movies as a hobby, and one film I'm particularly proud to have in my collection arrived a couple of weeks ago from the Czech Republic, by way of England. It's a snappy little sci-fi film called Ikarie XB1, from 1963.

Ikarie XB1 was seen in the U.S. -- when it was seen at all -- as Voyage To the End of the Universe, re-cut by Roger Corman to avoid the faintest whiff of communist propaganda (even the eastern European names were westernized; for instance, director Jindrich Pollach was credited as "Jack Pollack".) I obtained a copy of Corman's AIP print of the movie a few years ago, but now I have the original, struck from a magnificent print, in widescreen, and subtitled.

The movie is about the first interstellar voyage: a crew of 40 men and women are traveling to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, in order to explore a recently discovered planet that is believed to be habitable. Because they are traveling at near-light speed, the trip will seem to be only 18 months to them. But to the people they leave behind, the voyage will last 15 years.

The weight of this separation from Earth is pivotal to the plot of the movie; and more than anything else Ikarie XB1 is a movie about the fault line that runs between human ambition and human frailty. It's a startling movie in that it is sci-fi for grown-ups, an extremely rare commodity in 1963. And today as well.

How To Give Feminism A Bad Name
The caricature of feminists that's bandied about by Rush Limbaugh and his talk-radio ilk -- that of humorless, man-hating harridans -- has always been designed to cancel the conversation about feminism itself. In spite of the best efforts of the right-wing, though, feminism has made serious progress in changing the most egregious gender inequalities that we face. A lot more work still needs to be done, a lot more barriers need to come down, but most women would probably agree that our current society is a better place for women than any other society in the history of the world.

Unfortunately, there are a few feminists out there who live out the worst stereotypes of feminism. There are a few who are simply unhappy people who long ago soured on life. There are a few -- not many, but a few -- who really believe that all men secretly hate women, that all relationships between men and women are inherently exploitative and destructive, that human society is irredeemably brutal. I know this because from time to time I have met such people. And because one of them wrote a jaw-droppingly crazy essay on Joss Whedon's TV series Firefly.

Violence is a part of the landscape throughout the whole series and Mal is often the instigator. He is constantly rubbing himself up against other men, and punishing wayward women, proving and solidifying his manliness through bashing the shit out of anyone and everyone.

Zoe, the token black woman, acts as a legitimiser. Her role is to support Mal’s manly obsession with himself by encouraging him, calling him ‘sir’, and even starting the fights for him. Zoe is treated as a piece of meat by both her husband (Wash, another white male) and the Captain. Wash and Mal fight each other for Zoe’s attention and admiration, both relying on her submission to them to get them hard and manly. In fact there is a whole episode, War Stories, devoted to Wash and Mal’s ‘rivalry’. By the word rivalry, I mean violent, homoerotic male/male courtship conducted over the body of a woman.

....Zoe, of course, is meant to be our empowered, ass-kicking sidechick. Like all sidechicks she is objectified from the get go. Her husband, Wash, talking about how he likes to watch her bathe. Let me just say now that I have never personally known of a healthy relationship between a white man and a woman of colour. I have known a black woman whose white husband would strangle and bash her while her young children watched. My white grandfather liked black women because they were ‘exotic’, and he did not, could not treat women, especially women of colour, like human beings. I grew up watching my great aunts, my aunty and my mother all treated like shit by their white husbands, the men they loved. So you will forgive me for believing that the character, Wash, is a rapist and an abuser, particularly considering that he treats Zoe like an object and possession.

The author's assumptions about people's motivations have become so extreme and so concretized that everything begins and ends in the same place for her: men are always brutal, always treat women as property, always despicable. Women are always brutalized, always treated as property, always helpless. The author's anguish, her rage, her fear, her self-pity, her scapegoating, her prejudices: they bubble up out of this essay, and by the end it's simply a crazed, nearly incoherent rant. And it's terribly sad to read.

The Damage Doesn't Look So Bad From Out Here
Lisa Schiffren: There's no recession, it's just a media-created hoax designed to help the Democrats in November.

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