Star Trek Utopia

May 7, 2009 at 10:46 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

Most of the reviews and features surrounding the release of the new “Star Trek” movie use the word “utopian” at some point.

The “New York Times” review by Manohla Dargis, for instance, goes like this:

“Initially appearing in 1966, the original “Star Trek” is a utopian fantasy of the first order, a vision of the enlightened future in which whites, blacks, Asians and one poker-faced Vulcan are united by their exploratory mission (“to boldly go”), a prime directive (no intervention) and the occasional dust-up.”

For the record, I’m not much of a utopian, but I always liked Star Trek, both because and in spite of Gene Roddenberry’s hippie-dippyness.

Here’s a piece that boldly goes to the utopia at the core of the series. Among other gems, you meet this one, from “psychologist Joseph de Rivera, director of the Peace Studies Program at Clark University in Massachusetts,” addressing whether we as a global community can find a way to resolve conflicts without war:

“I’m hopeful for two reasons,” de Rivera said. “1.) Most people don’t like to be dominated by the powerful. 2.) Although we don’t have aliens to fight against we do have nasty viruses and global warming that we have to unify to deal with.”

I wonder what sort of global unity is going to cure swine flu. I’d think keeping apart from one another and waiting for the research labs (all of them centered in the citadels of “the powerful,” I might note, and with reason) would do better than drum circles.

The movie looks like good fun, however. I might actually go see it. Which would make it the first film I’ve seen in a theater since 2004.

-Miles Lascaux

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We Hate Us for Our Us-ness

May 7, 2009 at 7:40 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

What explains the widespread simmering hatred of Israel among Western elites? It is easy to blame it on anti-Semitism. I think that is wrong. Rather it, is a product of entrenched academic anti-Westernism and its intellectual products. It’s not Israel they hate so much as their own hectic heritage. This article sums it up well, I think:

“This paradigm can be reduced to four propositions: Western societies are inherently evil and unjust in their economic order; they are inherently racist both as successors to European colonialism and in their treatment of their own racial minorities; their knowledge is inherently false, they labour under false consciousness; and they maintain global hegemony through military and financial power.

It is easy to see where Israel fits in this analytical grid, and why it has a starring role. It is capitalist, Western, an ally of the US and uses military force when necessary to maintain its security. It rules, if temporarily, over an occupied Arab population and despite its own racial diversity is a mostly non-Arab population in a predominantly Arab region.”

-Miles Lascaux

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Blog for Bling

May 6, 2009 at 8:38 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

Is this the elusive “future of blogging?” And if blogging is the new media, is this the future of journalism?

 “In a disclosure at the bottom of her Web page, Ms. Smith notifies readers that she accepts compensation for blog posts, but says, ‘We always give our honest opinions.’ Still, in an interview, Ms. Smith said she never writes anything negative about products she is asked to review because, ‘I choose not to be critical.’

“Other mothers who initially welcomed merchandise and the occasional $20 gift card in exchange for product mentions say they were dismayed by the messages some companies expect them to deliver, disguised as their own words. Their experiences made them question what they were reading elsewhere, sandwiched between cute tot photos and advice on curing hiccups.

” ‘To say mommy bloggers should be independent like Consumer Reports is crazy. We are not professionals,’ says Shannon Johnson, who blogs about her life raising three children in Utah. ‘But bloggers should be honest about what they are getting. How can you possibly not be biased if you are receiving a gift card?’

“In one of Mr. Murphy’s recent campaigns, Sears Holdings Corp. offered bloggers $11 to briefly spotlight an apparel sale as a fabulous bargain. Mr. Murphy also has hired bloggers for other recent Sears offers.

Blogger Jessica Gottlieb of Los Angeles accepted $250 to steer her readers to a recent Sears promotion: ‘For all you Moms like me who are having a mini (or maxi) meltdown due to the economy, let me give you the best tip ever,’ she wrote. In the post, she is pictured wearing a $39 Sears dress.”

 What would you think about a newspaper or network reporter covering the automotive beat who owned a free car from GM, but who thinks that doesn’t undercut his objectivity? Is it even possible to get an honest opinion from such a person?

“Independent” and “unbeholden” were supposed to be among the very few virtues of the new media. That and being able to cuss a lot.

Of course, it turns out, even the independents and unbeholdens among the old media icons were sometimes anything but:

 “The documentary record shows that I.F. Stone consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938. An effort was made by Soviet intelligence to reestablish that relationship in 1944-45; we do not know whether that effort succeeded.

“To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy.

That Stone chose never to reveal this part of his life strongly suggests that he knew just how incompatible it would be with his public image as a courageous and independent journalist. His admirers, who have so strenuously denied even the possibility of such an alliance, have no choice now but to reevaluate his legacy.”

-Miles Lascaux

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They Hate Us for Our Drum Solos

May 5, 2009 at 8:42 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

Professors of “ethnomusicology” have weighed in denouncing the use of music by the U.S. military to harass and torture enemies in combat or in captivity.

“The [Society for Ethnomusicology] is committed to the ethical uses of music to further human understanding and to uphold the highest standards of human rights. The Society is equally committed to drawing critical attention to the abuse of such standards through the unethical uses of music to harm individuals and the societies in which they live. The U.S. government and its military and diplomatic agencies has used music as an instrument of abuse since 2001, particularly through the implementation of programs of torture in both covert and overt detention centers as part of the war on terror.”

Referring to the source document cited by this policy statement, we learn that the exposure to the music (Eminem, Christina Aguilera, and Barney are on the list) was torture not because, or merely because, it was loud and constant. It was torture because it was a forced exposure to American musical hegemony and to lyrics not indigenous to the culture of the prisoners.

“Human Rights Watch posted brief first-person accounts of detainees released from a secret prison in Afghanistan, many of whom asserted that part of their experience included being held in a pitch-black space and forced to listen to music that they described, variously, as “unbearably loud”, “infidel”, or “Western”.”

Now, ponder for a minute the apparently unconscious irony of this protest coming from a class of academics who make their money requiring students from Western backgrounds to listen repeatedly to music from other ethnic and cultural settings.

Suzanne G. Cusick, the author of the piece, has seen the comments on LGF and Free Republic to the effect that people who live in inner cities or in college dorms are frequently subject to aural assault, so so what? She’s having none of it. This is torture for no more reason than that the music comes from America and it is being played to Muslims. And those commenters who said it’s like living with an obnoxious neighbor? They’re just lashing out from their “feminized” chickenhawk natures. Never mind that some of them were women.

“I’ve been thinking that the scene, both as drastically real for interrogators and detainees, and as virtual for filmgoers, press readers, bloggers, and me, bears thinking about as an artifact of the global war on terror, itself an artifact of the US’ newly unabashed effort to project itself as global sovereign. I’m struck, for instance, by the fact that “no touch torture” using music to dissolve others’ subjectivities has been imposed on persons picked up in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Indonesia, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, including British and Canadian citizens. Thus, the performative scene in which music is the medium of ubiquitous, irresistable power that touches without touching has been imposed on representatives of the entire Muslim world. Music, then, is not only a component of “no touch torture” but also a component of the US’ symbolic claim to global sovereignty–but in a way that is almost the polar opposite of the Louis Armstrong “good will ambassador” tours of the 1950s. At the same time, however, the US has given the detainees thus treated over to its own soldiers as scapegoats, toward whom their choice of music linked to working-class masculinities can channel their rage at the economic and political forces that make them–like their captives–human beings that the state allows to be killed with impunity. Moreover, because media representations on the one hand and the technologies of “new media” on the other allow the scene to be widely imagined and responded to at home, the US has, perhaps inadvertently, given the same detainees over to a certain swath of the homefront, where they can be scapegoats for a different kind of rage. Believing they cannot be killed with impunity, the homefront bloggers at littegreen footballs and freerepublic do more than express their rage at the feminized position they occupy as non-warriors in an increasingly warrior-worshipping public culture. They create (and occupy) as homophobic, racist and misogynist the subject position of virtuous, justified torture–a subject position identified with, and occupied by, the global national security state that has, in its most recently passed law on the treatment of detainees, declared itself exempt from international law. All the while, the scene–at least as one can currently know it–allows certain kinds of repertoire to stand for the violence of “Western”, “infidel” conquest, leaving repertoire that is more likely to be valued by elites both innocent and intact.”

The audacity of it freezes my brain. But a couple of thoughts bubble up: What other art can also be a form of torture? And one wonders if a more effective form of torture might not be modern “Serious” music, with its deliberate atonality, jarring dissonances, and shocking bursts of screech? It is interesting, as Cusick notes, then bunglingly shoehorns into her anti-American article, that the same music used to torture the Muslims is the music the U.S. soldiers play, loud, for pleasure, over and over, to themselves.

-Miles Lascaux

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Marilyn French

May 5, 2009 at 5:15 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

has died.

Five years ago I bookmarked this amusing article from the Grauniad, on a poll of women readers who chose the books that most influenced them and the righteous, feminist, socialist, left-wing Guardian’s attempt to fit the results into its worldview.  Amusing on many levels. Here’s their take on French:

The Women’s Room

Hugely influential when it was published in 1977, Marilyn French’s book now reads more as a fascinating period piece than as a timeless feminist tome. It depicts the joyless marriage between a middle-class woman and her bullying husband, and includes the infamous line “all men are rapists, they rape us with their eyes, their laws, their codes”.

-Miles Lascaux

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Picture of the Day

April 30, 2009 at 11:03 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

Griddle Virgin Mary

-Miles Lascaux

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No Bonuses for George

April 30, 2009 at 9:46 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

“When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed; and being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself any share in the personal emoluments which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive department, and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the station in which I am placed may during my continuance in it be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.”

From George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, Thursday, April 30, 1789. One Two hundred and twenty years ago today.

-Miles Lascaux

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Insert “Specter is Haunting ____” Pun Here

April 29, 2009 at 8:58 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

I’m embarrassed to admit that Arlen Specter has always been pretty much my idea of what a modern U.S. Senator should be. As a lifelong Pennsylvanian, I’ve had a chance to vote for him every time, and I never passed it up.

Mind you, I never did it with enthusiasm, either. He’s an arrogant man who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. He’s not likeable. Well, so what? There are certain job categories that ought not to be filled based on likeability. Senator is one of them.

But it makes him a poor patron saint. Which is why Republicans who are of an independent stripe, lik me, probably won’t ever have one of those.

His switch of party means nothing, in terms of his politics. He’ll keep voting the same way. I am sure he realizes he is in his last years, so he will pursue his remaining agendas — most of them harmless or beneficial to the nation as a whole — using the power of his political fulcrum.

He switched to get re-elected. He knows this state from stem to stern, having long ago transcended Philadelphia. Only Tom Ridge could stop him now.

When the Senate was set up, it was meant to be in large part above the fray and the popular tumult. The section of the Federalist devoted to it (about #62 through #69, I think) gives me the strong impression that Hamilton and Madison would have wanted it kept from the sweaty hands of party machines. They made no explicit mention of party machines because there were none then.

Specter, Mike Mansfield, Calhoun, that sort of person, who is secure enough and ornery enough to do and say what he senses is right. Who has devoted his leisure not to getting re-elected every few months, but to deepening the study of law and government and humankind. Who has an eye on the long-range good of the country, not the expedience of the party.

Do they all fail at that ideal? Of course! That’s the point of the Constitution. We’re not electing saints or philosophers. If there’s one thing the Founders knew, that was it. Everything in balance. The idea was to get great work out of elected men while they were chasing their venal and selfish ambitions. It was a good trick, while it lasted.

-Miles Lascaux

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April 23, 2009 at 10:48 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

laws-of-physics analysis of a Warner Brother cartoon baseball game.


-Miles Lascaux

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So, Knowing What You Know …

April 23, 2009 at 8:20 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

… would you rather spend the next year in detention in Guantanamo Bay as a falsely accused terrorism suspect, or in the typical state penitentiary in the U.S. as a falsely accused drug dealer or rapist?

-Miles Lascaux

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