Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Talk Like a Pirate Day 2015

As is traditional for Talk Like a Pirate Day, I'll be using a English-to-Pirate translator on a scalliwag. This year, it's Sarah Palin and her latest childish, taunting word salad. The original can be heard or read here. (Rachel Maddow played it and said, "Tell me what it means.") Rendered into pirate, it's:

So up thar in Alaska, across t' way Russia. You know thar be a name for this takin' advantage o' America. There be a Russian name for that. And it be called 'fortushka.' And that means Obama's window o' opportunity. So as Obama leads from behind t' skirt o' his starboard-hand man, Valerie Jarrett, then it's up t' Congress t' close that window. He may propose. You dispose, Congress. You gotta be in it t' win it because we want peace. With unapologetic mighty red, white, and blue, will have peace.

That might actually be more coherent.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Labor Day 2015

Happy Labor Day! I've featured this one before, but this is a great rendition of one of the best tunes for the day. It's from the Pete Seeger 90th birthday concert.

My most in-depth post for Labor Day was this 2011 post.

If you wrote a post celebrating the day, feel free to link it in the comments.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Experiential Pagan's Book Reviews

Over at Experiential Pagan, syrbal-labrys has started a series of book reviews. She has an interesting and personal take on Go Set a Watchman, the Harper Lee book recently released with some controversy. Regardless of the book's origins and publication history, it's sparked some good discussions. (The review is hard to excerpt without spoiling it, so I won't.) Syrbal-labrys also provides a short review on Angela Carter's work. Check 'em out.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Independence Day 2015

Happy Independence Day!

The history of the United States of America contains some shameful chapters as well as moments that merit legitimate pride. It's far better to view the country as a work in progress instead of something unimpeachable. I've often featured E.J. Dionne's framing of these dynamics from 2006 in "A Dissident's Holiday." An excerpt:

...The true genius of America has always been its capacity for self-correction. I'd assert that this is a better argument for patriotism than any effort to pretend that the Almighty has marked us as the world's first flawless nation.

One need only point to the uses that Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. made of the core ideas of the Declaration of Independence against slavery and racial injustice to show how the intellectual and moral traditions of the United States operate in favor of continuous reform.

There is, moreover, a distinguished national tradition in which dissident voices identify with the revolutionary aspirations of the republic's founders.

As usual, here's a mix of videos. First up, here's the Declaration of Independence, read by an interesting and somewhat odd collection of actors:

This piece incorporates some great quotations, many pushing for social progress:

I've featured the Muppets before, but here's their new piece:

Finally, it's hard to top Pete Seeger singing his pal Woody Guthrie's most famous song:

Have a good Fourth! Feel free to link any appropriate pieces in the comments (and I may update the post as well).


Digby has a piece up at Salon about The violent history of "real Americans."

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Courage to Make Others Suffer

On the eve of war in Washington, journalists and others gathered at a cocktail party at the home of Philip Taubman, the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times. . . . Judy Miller was one of several Times reporters there, and she seemed excited. Another journalist present asked if she was planning to head over to Iraq to cover the invasion. Miller, according to the other guest, could barely contain herself. "Are you kidding?" she asked. "I've been waiting for this war for ten years. I wouldn't miss it for the world!"

Hubris, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn (via Jon Schwarz).
“I must say, I’m a little envious,” Bush said. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.”

“It must be exciting for you . . . in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks,” Bush said.

– A 2008 videoconference between Bush and U.S. military and civilian personnel.
In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic.

Richard Cohen, looking back on the Iraq War in 2006.

There's a breed of pedigreed dolt endemic to Washington, D.C. They determine their opinions socially, not empirically; what "everybody knows" trumps facts any old day. Their notion of tough, hard-nosed realism invariably entails that other people should suffer, from the blithe imperialism that cheers on unnecessary wars to the 'sensible centrism' that insists that unnecessary cuts to the social safety net are absolutely imperative. (The occasional safely contrarian view offers some novelty and the gloss of independence without truly challenging the establishment framework.) They remain cheerfully cloistered from the effects of their pronouncements about what the less privileged should be doing (and should be having done to them).

Among this crowd, going to war – or rather, sending others to war – is not a matter of careful deliberation; it is a matter of fashion.

Supporting and opposing war are not automatically respectable and equally valid positions; requiring a high threshold for war is the position of basic sanity, akin to a doctor making sure that amputating a limb is actually necessary before proceeding. A truly unavoidable conflict can be argued for with evidence and reason. If instead a war advocate lies, or constantly shifts rationales, or routinely exaggerates and fear-mongers, or slanders the patriotism of skeptics, or seems eager for war… it's cause for grave concern. Human beings will die in a war; death cannot be undone. Inevitably, not only supposed villains will suffer. Someone who can't be bothered even to pretend to treat war with the appropriate weight should not be trusted.

With a new presidential election cycle starting, we've seen many politicians, pundits and supposed journalists make revisionist claims about how the Iraq War started. It's crucial to remember that it wasn't an honest mistake nor was the case for war honestly made. Fighting against memory hole efforts are Digby, Paul Krugman (one and two), James Fallows, Josh Marshall, Greg Sargent, driftglass (one, two and three), Steve Benen, David Corn, Duncan Black, Matt Taibbi, the Columbia Journalism Review and The Daily Show, Balloon Juice, and I'm sure many more I've missed. (It's worth noting that the revisionism started almost immediately, and generally went unchallenged.)

Some war advocates had reservations; far more were largely uncritical of the Bush administration's case for war. There was a disturbing (if sadly unsurprising) trend of treating war skeptics as unpatriotic or even traitors. The key problem with belligerently cheerleading war (at its worst, gleeful bullying), wasn't that such people were socially obnoxious, although they were – it's that they helped create a climate where authority wasn't questioned, and skepticism was pilloried. They increased the chances of an unnecessary war. They increased the chances of unnecessary death and destruction. Avoiding those consequences – requiring a high threshold for armed conflict – is the entire point of war skepticism. It's not a game. Likewise, the reason to point out that the Iraq War was sold dishonestly, and that war advocates were wrong (or dishonest), is not for social bragging rights, but to prevent unnecessary wars in the future.

All of this should be completely obvious, but among the political class, it isn't. Far too many war advocates then and now treat such decisions as an issue of status and face, an abstract, intellectual game or "a low-stakes cocktail party argument" (to borrow a phrase from Jamelle Bouie). A few former war advocates have learned something profound, but for most of them, a true self-accounting would be too painful (and deep reflection has never been their nature anyway). Cloistered dolts rarely suffer for their careless decisions. And for many advocates, whether delusional or coldly clear-eyed, war was and is profitable. In Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, the instigator often suffers the effects of his own hubris, and it can lead to reflection, redemption, or at least recognition – for the audience if not the character. In politics and warmongering, hubris characteristically entails that someone else pay the costs.

(For more, see a 2013 post, "The Dogs of War.")

Thursday, April 30, 2015

National Poetry Month 2015

April is National Poetry Month. As usual, I'll link the wonderful Favorite Poem Project.

For this year, I wanted to feature a lovely poem that I wasn't familiar with before this year. (At a memorial service for my favorite professor, one of his daughters read it.)

Monet Refuses the Operation
By Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Feel free to link or post a favorite poem in the comments.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Blog Against Theocracy 2015

Over at Mock, Paper, Scissors, Tengrain has a stellar roundup for 2015's Blog Against Theocracy.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Fool's Day 2015

Happy Fool's Day! This year, here's Eddie Izzard at his witty, silly best:

The 2012 installment covered a study of the most popular jokes by nation.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kurosawa's Birthday 2015

Akira Kurosawa would be 105 today.

Tony Zhou has put together a superb video on Kurosawa called "Composing Movement." (Zhou has a Tumblr blog, Every Frame a Painting, and a YouTube channel of video essays.)

Kurosawa buffs will find much of this material familiar, but it's well-organized and features some excellent clips (no surprise):

Meanwhile, here's a list of Kurosawa's 100 favorite films.

(My most extensive post on Kurosawa is this one.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day 2015

I've featured this song before, but here's Dead Can Dance (with Lisa Gerrard singing) performing a striking rendition of the 19th century Irish tune, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley":

My copy of the The Irish Songbook says:

This is an excellent example of many songs that serve both as love lyrics and rebel song. The scene described refers to the 1783 rising. The words are the work of Robert Dwyer Joyce, a professor of English Literature at Catholic University at Dublin. In danger of arrest for rebel activities, Joyce fled to the United States. He later returned to Ireland and died in Dublin in 1883.

Wikipedia gives some more information, including a nice list of the many bands who have recorded the song. (Ken Loach's 2006 film takes the song for its title.)

Feel free to mention or link any favorite Irish songs or poems in the comments. Happy St. Patrick's Day!