Sunday, October 24, 2004

News From the Relativity-Based Community

The latest hard-won confirmation of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity came recently when physicists used careful measurements of satellite orbits to show that "frame-dragging" -- a localized twisting of space-time caused by the rotation of a massive body, such as the Earth -- really does occur. More details for those so inclined (which I hope is all of you). This effect is a direct prediction of General Relativity, and was first worked out in 1918, but has never been observed before.

Enjoy this triumph while it lasts, Einstein fans. If George W. Bush is re-elected, our government's attack on science may continue to the point that our cosmology jumps backward in time from relativity to Newtonianism to a pre-Copernican worldview. Maybe even Flat-Earthism! It's GOP elephants all the way down!

Friday, October 22, 2004

Philip Glass Gets Minimal on GOP Ass

Well, sort of. According to the New York Times, Glass is suing the makers of the pro-conservative "documentary" Celsius 41.11 for using his music without permission in TV ads for the film. Glass claims that the GOP propagandists lifted music from his soundtrack to Powaqqatsi for two different commercials.

The hidden irony here -- hidden from the producers, that is, but no doubt hilariously obvious to Glass -- is that it would be difficult to imagine a series of films more antithetical to the Republican view of the world than the three -qatsi documentaries that Glass scored for filmmaker Godfrey Reggio (the other two are Koyaanisqatsi and Naqoyqatsi). Virtually every image in the triology is an indictment of the smug, corporatist and violent way of life cherished by the right wing (though not only by them -- plenty of the rest of us are guilty too). Go Phil!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Bush Voters Really, Truly In Denial

Opposing sides in hard-fought election campaigns tend to demonize each other. "Those people" can't possibly be so wrong on important issues, goes the thinking, unless they are ignorant, deluded or just plain stupid. (Or evil, but we'll leave Karl Rovevich Rovesputin out of this discussion.) Then some wise talking head will come along and suggest that no, it's unfair to conclude that one side is dumber than the other, and that sometimes the problem is that people simply disagree about fundamental issues.

Well, not this time. All the Democrats and apostate Republicans who wonder how any sane person could support a president with such a self-evidently dismal record of failure and ineptitude now have good, hard data to support their feeling that something is wrong with the Bushies. A stunning report from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) proves that when it comes to the most important issue in the 2004 presidential race -- the war in Iraq -- Bush supporters are just plain wrong about the facts.

I won't go into detail on the statistics generated by PIPA's survey of voters, but the bottom line is unambiguous. Here are some of PIPA's own statements of its conclusions:
Bush Supporters Still Believe Iraq Had WMD or Major Program, Supported al Qaeda
[Bush supporters] Agree US Should Not Have Gone to War if No WMD or Support for al Qaeda
Bush Supporters Misperceive World Public as Not Opposed to Iraq War, Favoring Bush Reelection

It doesn't matter how many exhaustive reports are issued showing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no capability of making them; a majority of Bush supporters want to believe in the myth of WMD, so they do. It doesn't matter that there is zero evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda -- that the absurdity of suggesting a link is so obvious that Dick Cheney felt compelled to lie during the VP debate and deny he'd ever claimed a link existed -- a majority of Bush supporters want to believe in the link, so they do.

PIPA apparently leans toward denial, rather than ignorance or stupidity, as the most likely explanation for the Bushies' persistence in holding false beliefs. Steven Kull, the director of PIPA, put it this way: "To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance, and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq."

This is not an election in which both sides have equally clear-eyed views of the facts, and just disagree on priorities or values. One side is mostly wrong about what it thinks it sees.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

If Jane Austen Wrote The X-Files

No, I'm not so mired in fangeek nostalgia that I'm still writing X-Files parodies in late 2004. This piece is actually from my glory days as a self-appointed X-Files humorist in the mid-90s. In that era I didn't have a blog, so everything I wrote was simply posted to Usenet, making it onto the Web only through the occasional intervention of an enthusiastic reader. "If Jane Austen Wrote The X-Files" was probably my most popular work, perhaps because there was a pretty substantial overlap between the Austen audience and the X-Files audience. You may call it recycling, but I prefer to think of it as stubbornly repeating myself until everyone gets the message. By the way, the parenthetical references below are part of the original piece.

Fox by Jane Austen [abridged version]

Fox Mulder, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence, and had lived nearly thirty-five years in the world with very little to distress or vex him, save the occasional disappearance or demise of a close relation or trusted confidant.

He was the oldest of two children of a most affectionate, indulgent mother, and had, in consequence of his sister's interplanetary elopement, been master of his house from a very early period. His father had left too long ago for him to have more than an indistinct remembrance of his presence, despite hypnotherapy, and his place had been supplied by an excellent man as guardian, who had fallen little short of a father in affection, though he tended to wallow in a fondness for tobacco that knew no satiety.

* * *

Pendrell was standing at one of the windows. Fox turned round to look at him in consternation and hastily said, "Have you any idea of Agent Scully's returning your affection?"

"Yes," replied Pendrell modestly but not fearfully, although his trousers were soiled, "I must say that I have."

Fox's eyes were instantly withdrawn; and he sat silently meditating in a fixed attitude for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making him acquainted with his own heart. A mind like his, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress; he touched, he admitted, he acknowledged, the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Pendrell should be in love with Agent Scully than with Deep Throat? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Pendrell's having some hope of a return? It darted through him with the speed of an arrow that Agent Scully must marry no one but himself!

How long had Agent Scully been so dear to him, as every feeling declared her now to be? When had her influence, such influence begun? When had she succeeded to that place in his affection which Deep Throat had once, for a short period, occupied? He looked back; he compared the two -- compared them, as they had always stood in his estimation, Scully a little shorter, from the time of the latter's becoming known to him -- and as they must at any time have been compared by him had it -- oh! had it, by any blessed felicity -- occurred to him to institute the comparison. He saw that there never had been a time when he did not consider Agent Scully as infinitely the superior or when her regard for him had not been infinitely the most dear, well, except perhaps for the occasion on which he had abandoned her to the wiles of the gentleman with the sharp stylus. He saw that in persuading himself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, he had been entirely under a delusion, totally ignorant of his own heart -- and, in short, that he had never really cared for Deep Throat at all!

Agent Scully and Pendrell! It was a union to distance every wonder of the kind. Such an elevation on his side! Such a debasement on hers! And yet it was far, very far, from impossible. Was it a new circumstance for a woman of first-rate abilities to be captivated by very inferior powers? Was it new for one, perhaps too busy to seek, to be the prize of a man who would seek her? Was it new, at least since Roswell, for anything in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous -- or for chance and circumstance and massive conspiracies to direct the human fate?

[the manuscript becomes illegible at this point]

Coming next: Sixth Sense and Sensibility

Monday, October 18, 2004

Elmer Fudd Endorses Bush

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania tossed Ralph Nader off the state's presidential election ballot last week because the nominating petitions submitted by the Nader campaign contained thousands of phony signatures, including those of Mickey Mouse and Fred Flintstone.

Not to be outdone, Bush campaign strategist/masseur/Muppetmaster Karl Rovevich Rovesputin announced today that the Bush/Cheney ticket has earned the endorsements of an impressive slate of cartoon characters.

"America's top toons recognize that George W. Bush is a resolute man of iron and that John Kerry is an accursed Bolshevik deceiver," said Rovesputin. "Even the celluloid community is backing the Czpresident over that verminous Trotskyite princeling. Oops, gotta run -- I've got a Black Mass at noon."

The cartoon characters endorsing President Bush include (with comments leaked by one of Rovesputin's disgruntled serfs):

Elmer Fudd -- Inspires Second Amendment true believers; no wascally Democwats will confiscate his 12-gauge unless they pry it from his cold, dead, three-fingered hands. Helps shore up W's low-IQ base. Stridently supports anti-gay marriage amendment in order to camouflage closeted attraction to wabbits in drag.

Brutus, a/k/a Bluto -- Fires up Big Energy as he roars in rage at anyone who would stand in the way of his lust for Oyl. Loves to launch sneaky low blows against sailors who eat their vegetables, but always pays the price in the end by absorbing savage paunch-pummeling.

Yosemite Sam -- A rootin' tootin' jingoist who will wholeheartedly and halfheadedly back any military misadventure. A staunch advocate of the Bush doctrine: "Shoot foot first, ask questions later."

Scrooge McDuck -- As key Bush economic advisor, helped develop master plan for deficit reduction, jobs creation and economic growth: Fill large room to ceiling with shiny gold coins. Invite wealthy friends over. Dive in!

Wile E. Coyote -- Support from this well-known supergenius and outdoorsman should increase the President's standing among both eggheads, i.e., those who can read, and cactus-hugging environmentalists. His "ACME Instant Desert Tree-Dissolving Bomb" touted by Bush administration as milestone in healthy forests management.

Dick Dastardly -- No need to endorse Bush; is already on the ticket.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Screamin' Jay Sells Jeans

Most advertisements for blue jeans are either moronically sexual -- e.g., a young, jeans-clad couple faces a herd of buffalo stampeding through the city -- or embarrassingly banal, e.g., people go for a hike or go fishing while wearing jeans! But I admit that my attention is always riveted when I see (or hear, more precisely) the new Levi's ad featuring the song "I Put A Spell On You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. The spot is mysterious, slightly creepy and slightly amusing at the same time, and even the fraction of the song heard is mesmerizing. Makes me want to add Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise to the Netflix queue for a reviewing.

Guide to Cool Contemporary Rock

Here is a guide to notable releases in the '00s by a selection of up-and-coming rock bands. What these groups have in common -- besides hype -- is a rejection of the evolving grunge/nu-metal/emo aesthetic of the '90s in favor of older styles from the '60s, '70s and '80s: garage, punk, new wave, and postpunk (and Southern rock in one case!). For purposes of comparison, I've also included ratings for three suddenly resurgent '80s bands: Mission of Burma, Sonic Youth and The Cure.

Exceptional, possibly great (time will tell)
Drive-By Truckers, Decoration Day
The Hives, Veni, Vidi, Vicious
Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights
Mission of Burma, OnOffOn
The White Stripes, Elephant

Enjoyable and entertaining
The Cure, The Cure
Drive-By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera
Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
The Hives, Tyrannosaurus Hives
Interpol, Antics
The New Pornographers, Electric Version
Sonic Youth, Sonic Nurse
The Stills, Logic Will Break Your Heart
The Strokes, Is This It
The Strokes, Room on Fire
The White Stripes, White Blood Cells
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell

Forgettable or annoying
Hot Hot Heat, Make Up the Breakdown
The Rapture, Echoes
Spoon, Kill the Moonlight
Stellastarr*, Stellastarr*
The Vines, Highly Evolved

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Bush's Crusade Destroying Christians

If God sent George W. Bush to Iraq, as Bush and his fundamentalist Christian supporters believe, then God shot himself in the foot.

A report on CNN today makes clear that Bush's crusade in Iraq is having an unintended but disastrous side-effect: the destruction of the Christian community in Iraq, one of the oldest in the world. The recent spate of church bombings in Iraq is only one of the attacks against Iraqi Christians, who are being persecuted for their perceived closeness to Western culture and their non-Muslim dress and cultural habits. Christians are coming increasing pressure to renounce their religion. Now, I can testify from personal experience that renunciation of religion can be truly liberating, but being forced to give up one's faith is to suffer one of the worst crimes that our species can commit.

For many Iraqi Christians, it appears that staying in the country is no longer an option. People are just trying to survive long enough to emigrate. This is the hell that Bush's war has unleashed on his co-religionists. The fact that the bombers and persecutors are evil does not relieve Bush of his own responsibility for their crimes, since he chose to unleash the forces in Iraq that are now ravaging the country.

Bringing chaos instead of order, destruction instead of justice, persecution instead of tolerance -- these are the accomplishments of a leader?

Amphibian Armageddon

The most frightening news of the past week -- worse than the continuing calamity in Iraq, the lousy economic prognosis or the fact that millions of Americans still plan to vote for George W. Bush -- was the release of a study concluding that almost one-third of all known amphibian species worldwide are "threatened," i.e., going extinct rapidly or going extinct a little more slowly. They're all about to croak! Something in the environment has gone horribly wrong, and we have only the beginnings of guesses as to what it could be.

This is the kind of announcement that, if we had a decent government, would be met with a slightly panicky but resolute determination to get to the bottom of the problem and do what is still possible to reverse the decline. Too bad it's also the kind of announcement that elicits nothing more than a dismissive snort from the current administration. "Toads?! Ooh -- eye of newt!" Of course, biologists have been issuing warnings about amphibians' mysterious difficulties for 10-15 years but have never gotten any traction in Washington.

When most people think of the biosphere -- if they think of it at all -- they probably picture it as a sort of gigantic mosaic, with each species of animal, plant or microorganism represented by a single tile in an array of millions. If a species goes extinct, it just leaves a tiny hole. Even if a large group of species disappears, the only problem is an empty patch that's still relatively small compared to the picture as a whole. The mosaic still "works."

The terrible flaw in the mosaic metaphor, obviously, is that its simplistic representation of life fails to convey the huge degree of interconnectedness of species, and the chaotic nature of the biosphere. At some point, removing a species or a group of species does more than leave an unsightly but tolerable vacancy -- it causes many other neighboring species and groups of species to come tumbling down in a cascade of death and disaster. And we have no idea what that point is. The next salamander squished could be the salamander that breaks the biosphere's back, and takes us along with it.

Steal This Meme!

George Washington: Couldn't tell a lie.
Dick Cheney: Can't tell the truth.
George W. Bush: Can't tell the difference.

Actually, please give me credit since this is a brand-new blog that needs to find its way in the world, out among the "Internets."