Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Women on The Tonight Show



Sometimes, the best bits of cultural relevancyend up appearing in places where you would never expect to find them:


There's an interesting point to which she refused to appear on the Johnny Carson show because of how women were portrayed on his show. Ride explained to NASA that she wasn't interested, then took off for California to lie low. She didn't explain herself; she just acted.


Women were treated horribly on the Tonight Show; if you were beautiful or old enough to be Johnny Carson's grandmother, you could expect to get on. And even when you did get on, there would be no chance for anything reasonable or enlightened to happen.

The fact that Sally Ride turned down Carson is significant because she was part of a very vocal minority that complained about how women were depicted and treated on the show.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Save Your Own Treasures





















None of this belongs to the West. And yet, you'd think it did:


ISIS' seizure of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra early Thursday intensified fears that the 2,000-year-old site's archaeological treasures would become the latest to face destruction at the hands of militants.


The extremists' wanton carnage has also reignited debate about whether precious relics are best housed in their country of origin or stored — and in some cases protected — in overseas museums.


Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim warned Wednesday that Palmyra looked likely to suffer the same fate as Nimrud in northern Iraq, the 3,000-year-old city which was bulldozed by insurgents in March as part of a campaign to eliminate relics that they consider heretical.


The destruction of history is tragic in and of itself, but the loss of life even more so. We lose sight of that fact when we bemoan the loss of a pile of ancient stones and ignore the slaughter of thousands. The misery of the Syrian people is more important than any historical site. And yet, as far as Iraq and Syria are concerned, these are matters of self pride and self-survival. If they truly want to stop the looting and the destruction, they're going to have to do it for themselves. We cannot send 25,000 troops and do it for them and we should get out of the nation building business.

If the Syrian and the Iraqi people, who number in the millions, can't figure out a way to solve their internal problems and protect their own cultural heritage, then there's nothing that can be done for them. This is the moment where they need to build their own nations on a foundation of not tolerating this way of life. They have to reject the ideology of ISIS and the creation of a civilization that would, effectively, take tens of millions of people back into the Middle Ages.

The U.S. interference in Iraq unleashed these forces, but their essential root was in the original Ba'ath party infrastructure left over from the Iraq War. These are the decision makers, using money from their backers, to drive the destruction of people, property and infrastructure. This is a clash of haves and have-nots--at no point have the people been allowed to profit from or have any pride in the treasures now being ground under the bulldozers. What connection would they have with sites that ended up in their laps because the borders of their countries were drawn by British diplomats?

The mistaken belief that deposing Saddam Hussein would lead to stabilization turned out to be wrong. But re-invading Iraq and then invading Syria would just compound the problem. These are Iraqi and Syrian problems, and they are driven by proxy interests in Iran and Saudi Ara bia.

Someone has made up their minds to tear the region apart and blame it on Israel and America. There is nothing in the Middle East worth the life of a single American service member, and there never was. The people have to save their treasures and I believe they can if they want it badly enough.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ignoring the Debacle of the Iran Contra Affair





















I took notice of a small bit of intellectual dishonesty wedged into a review of a new hagiography of Ronald Reagan.


Similarly, Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker was a “gift” from his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. Volcker curbed inflation, leading to economic growth at “just the right time for Reagan.” Reagan’s overall economic policy and its ongoing impact merit more examination, as do the intricacies of the disastrous Iran-Contra affair.


Fewer than ten words for the single defining scandal of the Reagan era? Really? And how many words did Brands waste on Ollie North, he of the shredder and the office hottie? The fact that Oliver North still appears on television in anything but a prison jumpsuit is proof no one remembers what actually happened and that there has never been a real accountability moment for the Morning in America crowd.


This is quite relevant. In our modern political discourse, Reagan is accorded virtual sainthood and his conservative bonafides will be cited relentlessly in the 2016 election cycle.

What this amounts to is a virtual whitewashing of history. Reagan traded arms for hostages, and the arms went to the regime in Iran. He ignored the will of Congress. He was never held accountable for it, and President Bush pardoned nearly everyone who should have gone to jail.

Change Obama with Reagan, and he would have already been impeached. I laugh when they call Obama a tyrant because, brother, the real tyranny has been right under your nose for decades and no one has done a proper accounting for what went on.

This is an icon worth celebrating? Did any of these people actually live through the 1980s?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Art and Social Conscience


This is a bit of a pipe dream:


When the world is convulsed by a financial disaster, it seems only right that the arts should engage with it. Just to continue with its own concerns, shut away in its little world of galleries and concert halls would seem indecent, while millions are being thrown out of work or onto the street.

History offers an inspiring example of how art can help heal the social wounds brought on by a financial crisis. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, the arts in America took on a new tone, epitomised in the career of Aaron Copland. He foreswore the nose-thumbing modernism of his youth and set about creating a ruggedly populist language, epitomised in such works as the Fanfare for the Common Man (later incorporated into the 3rd Symphony) and those wonderful ballets such as Billy the Kid.

Like the Depression-era artists such as Ben Shahn and playwrights such as Clifford Odets, Copland knew that to be politically effective, art has to speak in terms its audience will understand. In the Thirties, artists themselves often suffered from the same poverty as the Okie farmers and unemployed factory workers depicted in their art. That's why it has such a stirring sense of conviction; it was born out of social solidarity.




You would think that because our ability to exchange information has improved dramatically since the 1930s that the art of today would be more relevant in terms of commentary. It isn't, precisely because the technology and the context is too easy to ignore and misunderstand.

I think thinks were more straightforward in previous eras. There is always subtext, and sly humor, and satire has been ever-present, but the impact of Depression-era art is greater because you could hit people over the head with scenes of pathos and desperation and not be readily accused of manipulation and dishonesty.

What you see above is a distressed piece of euro currency. So, the artist doesn't like money or the design of the money? This is supposed to be a unique and biting piece of social commentary? Really? He colored on and chopped up a large denomination bill. Hey, that's original.

Snark, in other words, has undermined everything in the art world. These images of pathos you're displaying--are you for real or are you being ironic or are you juxtaposing things in order to make people laugh? That's why the impact is greatly reduced.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The BBC Has a Jeremy Clarkson Problem




Somebody did somebody wrong at the BBC:



With Clarkson being an already heavily contentious media personality in the U.K. following remarks over the past few years that have been deemed racist and xenophobic, the news has made headlines nationwide, sparking widespread debate over his future and that of the show, which airs in more than 100 countries and brings in some $220 million for BBC Worldwide.


Within minutes, an online petition calling for the BBC to “Bring Back Clarkson,” was posted online. It has been signed by more than 250,000 people as of Wednesday morning London time.


On announcing the suspension, the BBC also confirmed that the episode of Top Gear due to air this Sunday would not be broadcast. A spokesperson has now confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the following episode, the penultimate one of the current season, has also been canceled, while they haven't yet decided on the final installment. "It's a moving situation," they said.

If you were of the opinion that Clarkson is an out of control asshole who brings in hundreds of millions of dollars for his employer, you'd probably have a lot of soul mates at the BBC. They are caught between the liability this man brings to their venerable business and the profits generated by a show that, quite frankly, could be successful if the right person were to appear.

Why not do it with Jason Statham or Clive Owen? Why not give Liam Gallagher a call? Hell, you could do it with Bez and no one would notice.

On second though, yeah. They would notice. Clarkson is almost irreplaceable, giving him a lot of power. He'll come out the other side of this with offers if they fire him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tearing Down Ray Bradbury's Home




Ray Bradbury House, LA Times


Well, this is sad.

Author Ray Bradbury (he was more than just a "sci-fi" writer), lived in the same California home for fifty years before he passed away in 2012. Efforts to save and preserve his real legacy--his papers and whatnot--have been successful. Sometimes, you don't get a chance to save things like that, but Bradbury was prominent enough for this to happen.

His house, however, wasn't worth keeping:

The home, which was purchased in June for $1.765 million, is being demolished. A permit for demolition was issued Dec. 30, Curbed LAreports, and a fan who visited the house over the weekend found it in the process of being torn down.

A home built in 1937 isn't that old, especially if it has been remodeled or upgraded since then. The value of the lot was, apparently, more than that of the house. Whatever they put there will be a separate and distinct property. I don't fault the nostalgia for an old writer's house, but his printed works and accomplishments are worth more than the built-in bookshelves that held them.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jessica Roy Enriches the Language




The new term is manslamming:

there’s a helpful new word in the man-as-prefix lexicon. Meet “manslamming,” which New York magazine’s Jessica Roy uses to describe the behavior that is, on a sidewalk, refusing to yield to a fellow pedestrian such that a collision inevitably ensues. More broadly, Roy says, it’s “the sidewalk M.O. of men who remain apparently oblivious to the personal space of those around them.” It is (usually) done by men, (usually) at the expense of women. It is (usually) done unconsciously.

Awful behavior. I instinctively give way and get out of the way when I'm in public. I abhor the possibility of causing injury to someone else. That's more Minnesota Nice than it is anything else. Maybe I picked it up in the Army, which is where you have to get along with people or find yourself in peril. Who knows?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Message From Mars







The brilliant efforts of film restoration experts yields a weird treasure--the first sci-fi film shot in Britain:


A Message from Mars (1913) is the first full-length science fiction feature in the history of British cinema. It stars the leading comedy actor of his day, Charles Hawtrey, as a selfish man who is taught a series of valuable lessons by a visiting Martian.
The stakes are high, for the Martian will only be permitted to return to his home planet if he is successful in his mission to instil a change of heart in his subject.


The film was based on a popular stage play which saw many revivals over 30 years in Britain. It features the first on-screen imaginings of Martians by a British film-maker, as futuristically clad members of the Martian court.


The film survived in the collection of the BFI National Archive as two shortened versions with significant imperfections in the third reel and a number of missing scenes.

You could shoot this today with only a minor change here and there and it would probably work just as well, so long as you injected an anti-hero with super powers into the mix.