Saturday, December 06, 2008

My Idea! Pardon Prevention

I see from the TPM that Cong. Nadler has put in legislative words and idea I hafd for some time:
Nadler, who two weeks ago introduced a resolution demanding President Bush not issue 'pre-emptive' pardons of officials in his administration, said his amendment would bar presidents from pardoning members of their own administration for official acts. The president would retain the power to pardon the secretary of state for, say, beating his wife, Nadler said, but not for actions taken in an official capacity.
The presidential pardoning is a scary thing and especially for a criminal like Bush. Considering that his father was able to exonerate all his Iran-Contra co-conspirators is proof enough that we should be worried.

[Update from 11-11-2009 - I am still shocked, til this day, that Bush didn't actually cheese out and pardon everybody. My main theory why he didn't was to contrast with Clinton; i.e. people are still angry - from the Left, nukh - over Clinton's pardons, which tainted an otherwise remarkable presidency. Bush knew he was in trouble with the critics and craven pardons probably would have unleashed a vindictive backlash. As we see, he's has managed to avoid a lot of the opprobrium in the past few months, because he has lain low. Not so for Cheney...]

Backpost, finished Nov 11, 2009. Pic from here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Onion and Lame Duck Bush

I am not a fan of George Bush, as you may have surmised, but I guess I'm an amateur compared to the Onion staff writers who have had a series of "news" stories of brutal maimings of the lame duck President: here, here, here, and here.

The concept is brilliant, as usual for the onion: it's probably criminal to describe fantasies of the president being killed. That'll get the Secret Service up (or down?) your wazoo in a heartbeat. But it's no crime to want the president to be maimed by outside events, is it?

Anyway, some are so brutal, they are hard to read. Yet, I am a fair blogger (much like Fox News), so I'll report, and you decide:
Bush Dragged Behind Presidential Motorcade For 26 Blocks
DECEMBER 4, 2008 | ISSUE 44•49

KANSAS CITY, MO—President Bush sustained serious head injuries, massive internal bleeding, and a broken left leg Monday morning after being accidentally dragged behind the presidential motorcade for a period of 15 minutes. According to Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan, Bush's necktie became caught in the trunk of the motorcade's second vehicle at 4:13 p.m., shortly before the driver accelerated. The president was dragged down 175th Street for 26 blocks and through four stoplights, leaving a trail of blood more than a mile long. Upon hearing shouts emanating from behind his vehicle, the driver abruptly applied the brakes, causing the third car in the motorcade to run over the president's left leg at a speed of approximately 25 miles per hour. President Bush is resting comfortably in Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Bush Passes Three-Pound Kidney Stone
NOVEMBER 28, 2008 | ISSUE 44•48

WASHINGTON—President Bush collapsed in the Oval Office after spontaneously expelling a 3-pound kidney stone from his bladder, sources reported Tuesday. According to witnesses, the president was attending his daily Iraq War briefing when he suddenly began shrieking loudly and clutching his abdomen, a mixture of blood and urine pooling rapidly around his feet. Bush was able to maintain consciousness through more than 20 minutes of excruciating pain, even after the jagged, grapefruit-sized crystal aggregation shredded his urethra and dropped from his left pant leg, finally rolling to a stop on the presidential seal in the middle of the Oval Office carpet. Bush is resting comfortably at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Crocodile Bites Off Bush's Arm
NOVEMBER 19, 2008 | ISSUE 44•47

HOMESTEAD, FL— A 14-foot crocodile bit off President Bush's left arm at the shoulder Monday, a White House memo reported. Bush, who was reportedly standing waist-deep in a swamp at Everglades National Park when the crocodile struck, also sustained severe puncture wounds and torn flesh in his hip and upper thigh. According to witnesses, Bush attempted to fend off the large reptile with his left arm, but the crocodile latched onto it above the elbow, dragged the president underwater, and ripped his arm from its socket. Bush's severed arm was unable to be recovered. Doctors confirmed that he will be fitted with a prosthetic limb in a procedure Friday, and that he is currently being treated for sepsis. Bush is resting comfortably in Annapolis Naval Hospital.

Bush Tumbles Wildly Down Washington Monument Staircase
NOVEMBER 12, 2008 | ISSUE 44•46

WASHINGTON—President George W. Bush sustained 24 broken bones, massive internal hemorrhaging, and a severe concussion Monday after falling down the entire staircase of the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument. According to White House press secretary Dana Perino, Bush was making his weekly climb to the monument's observation floor when he lost his footing on the top step, slipped, and struck each of the obelisk's 897 stairs with the back of his skull during an uncontrolled descent to the base of the structure. President Bush is resting comfortably in Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tags; Misanthropic Entertainment

When Blogger first introduced 'tags' I went nuts and started labeling posts with single-use tags. I thought it was fun. Even though I was only 3 years younger than I currently am, I am embarrassed by my doofusness (doofosity?). Making one use labels was cutesy for the writer (me) but not for a reader. Especially since each blog on Blogger(tm) has a search window in the upper-left corner that allows the reader to search for odd phrases, rendering such single-use tags as unnecessary clutter.

One reason I'm back in grad-school, and in the social sciences, is because I'm a deep lexicographer at heart. I instinctively divide and analyze experience and knowledge into categories. I do it as part of how I understand the world but also to teach others how to understand the world.

The blogger-tags are like subject headings in a library. And I need to treat them as such. So I clearing them up; cleaning up single-use tags and introducing big categories. There were some before (e.g. "Our Broken Press") but now I'm trying to make that the norm.

An example is the last two posts which are part of a new category: misanthropic entertainment. Even though this post contains those words, the topic isn't about that subject... a lexicographic nightmare.

Myths of Good Criminals

Based on my outrage from the misanthropic "Law and Order" I will bring up another potential case - that of the heavily advertised TV program of rainbow-coalition gentlemen thieves "Leverage". The tagline: "Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys."

I have to emphasize here: Bad guys can make the best good guys? No, no they can't.

While I like "Ocean's Eleven" as much as the next guy, criminals are not foppish gentlemen thieves. Notice how the "Ocean" movies always have the victims be criminals (or casinos, same diff). So yes when "bad guys" attack other bad guys, we can cheer because in the end, bad guys are being schmeitzed. But the "Ocean" team were not actually bad people in almost any decent definition. They were thieves, but only from other thieves. Uh, boo? But "Ocean" guys were loving friends, loyal to each other, generous to the needy, righting wrongs and generally well-dressed and courteous. Why then are they "bad guys"? Show me them doing something bad.

Well, they break the laws. And I guess implicitly there's a belief in the writers that The Man will believe that laws are 'good' even when unjust. So to fight for justice, you need to break laws, which means being Just is bad.

There may actually be pea-brains who believe that. Southern Jim-Crow enforcing sheriffs circa 1955, or the members of the Bush administration, but generally this is a perversion of morality. And people instinctively know it. Which is why the story/archetype of Robin Hood requires a good governor (Richard) being replaced by a bad government (John, Sheriff of Nottingham). Robin is considered 'bad' because the sheriff is in fact the bad one. Were a righteous government in place, and Robin were still mugging strangers at the crossroads, then we'd no longer want to read about him favorably.

I have no problem, though with Robin Hood stories as long as they make the 'evil government' distinction clear. They lap into misanthropy when they refuse to distinguish between "bad" guy and bad-guy.

The lack of distinction can be a result of simple laziness. TNT can't be faulted for calling the group of Mission Ocean's Impossible dudes in "Leverage" a bunch of "bad" guys because they are most likely being lazy lazy lazy. And while laziness ain't good, it also ain't truly bad (maybe not even "bad.")

However, there are those who buy into the Robin Hood image as being necessary and good against every government, good or bad. They see the gentleman-thief as a precursor to the revolutionary. It's one reason why pea-brains have posters and T-Shirts of Che Guevara: he was a revolutionary and they're good because government is bad.

That myth is perpetuated by those who believe that bourgeois "laws" are in place by The Man to keep undesirables in place.

I'm currently suffering through one of the very worst classes I've ever taken; it's all about 'classical sociological theory' (read: stuff nobody reads or uses any more). And the professor decries the 'conservative' theories like Weber and Durkheim because they don't advocate revolution. Or something. But Marx and Foucault, lovely. Foucault is a hero to these pinheads (more on just how much I hate him later) especially because he claims laws are bourgeois inventions to keep the marginal figures in their place. Or whatever.

Let's be clear about "Che" - he killed many innocent people. He was a terrorist. A murderous scumbag. Only a schmuck can claim that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," because attacking innocent people, civilians, for the sole purpose of killing/maiming is evil no matter who does it. And no matter for what ends. The Mumbai terrorists and Che Guevara are equivalents.

But even outside of the terrorists and murdering 'revolutionaries' the Robin Hood myth wants to create a morality among thieves and con-men. Let's be clear about one thing - the gentleman thief is a kid's story, a myth. They don't exist. (I will confirm this by asking Cecil Adams... stay tuned).

Bottom line: I've met criminals and their ilk; these people are criminals not because they are rebelling against the system but often because they are stupid and selfish to a level that you probably won't recognize if you've lived your whole lives in middle class safety.

And note, similar to Weber and Durkheim, I *like* middle-class safety. The best things in the entire world have been created because there was widespread middle class safety. MCS is the cause of civilization.

Criminals are usually very stupid. And unreliable because of that. And also because to a person criminals are self-absorbed and often hateful of others. Hence why they break the law, steal things, hurt people, etc.

The concept that a bunch of 'outlaws' will be your crime-fighting force is ludicrous in a civil democracy. A real criminal will be completely unreliable and will hurt his 'teammates' and run off to get stoned.

But it's a trope of pop-fiction: that the bad guys can actually be good! That professional killers are nice folk; that they were just born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Good TV shows that show a reality in crime - the Sopranos, The Wire - emphasize my point well: criminals are selfish, petty, stupid and will hurt you. That's why they are bad and to confuse bad with good, which is what this misanthropic entertainment wants to do, is a perversion of morality. And I'm against that.
Lego Che image from here.

Law & Order

Since moving to Boston, we inherited two televisions with the house. Each is connected to cable (a necessity here). One TV is in the basement and is pretty much permanently affixed to PBS-Kids (and/or a running loop of Thomas the Tank Engine videos). The second TV is in our bedroom (remember, we inherited this setup) and is also permanently affixed to a station, in this case TNT. Why? Because my wife looooves "Law & Order." Luckily, it can be broadcast three or four times a night and since it's been on TV since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there's plenty of episodes to show.

We watched the show often, since our time in NYC. However in recent years I've found the show to be harder and harder to watch. The formula has become tiring. First of all there are the factual implausibilities: the level of murder in L&O-Land makes Manhattan look like Baghdad, the DA's staff have only two prosecutors, and the fact that the late seasons had the Manhattan DA (who has been a liberal Jewish Democrat for the past 300 years) as a cornpone Tennessee Republican cracker.

But the formula goes as such: (1) Before the opening credits is some grisly murder 'torn out of the headlines' (which is OK as a premise, I'm not criticizing this part as much as categorizing); (2) the police procedural which ALWAYS has a red-herring. Always. Jeez! The cops go after some generally skeevy dude and it's always wrong. Finally the real culprit is unearthed and it's often tendentious (it's the way cheap mystery writers create the sense of the unknown by either defying logic or by not giving you enough info). The green herring (as opposed to red), the real culprit, is usually a B-list movie star - a quick hint for the fourth wall viewer (3) The DAs are brought in and since the perpetrator is clearly guilty (sporting swastika tattoos on their forehead or what have you) the case must be made artificially suspenseful by having a major piece of the evidence thrown away on some technicality ('suspense' in L&O in the "Order" portion is as fictive and false as the 'mystery' is in the "Law").

This part generally causes me to leave the room in frustration. I just don't like being force fed images of stupidity. It's almost equivalent to the parts of late Dirty Harry style 80s films when the judge allows the serial-rapist to go free because the arresting officer read him his rights while hepped up on Twinkie filling.

The 'Suspense' is fake, false, and insulting... and the rest of the case proceeds from that handicap; the ADA needs to prove the killer shot his grandmother but the gun was ruled inadmissible because it was made out of pressed-together Korans. Whatever. The 'suspense' also violates the basic rules of narrative: a story makes sense for real reasons.

The L&O from the other night was a beaut: (1) the death is of a woman who was stoned to death (religion? maaaybe). (2) The red-herring was a set of Albanian Muslims who were known to be violent against immodesty (the victim was an art show producer who was showing pictures of Muslim violence against women). (3) The herrings are given an airtight alibi by the FBI (who have put the group under watch) but who happened to be investigating the murder victim because of NSA warrantless wiretapping; ya see, she was talking about "jihad" over the phone (and that was the theme of the art show, har har). However, lucky break! The FBI wiretap overheard that the victim was having an adulterous affair with the Muslim artist whose work she was going to show! Aha!

Now, so far, the writers have developed three very provocative plot directions but since we're in the throw away section of the show, none of these will be used again. Some people could look at this as a sign of the salubrious artistry of the screenwriters. But smart people (like you and me) will recognize that each part is salacious tabloid exaggeration - things that just don't really exist in real life and especially in close proximity to each other. No matter. It's all in the bin, for now we find out that the victim's son is the culprit.

He's discovered through another set of tendentious links. The victim's husband failed to mention to the cops that his son is a paranoid psychotic who has been brainwashed by an Evangelical pastor (played by a B-list Movie Star, Samwise Gamgee and/or Rudy depending on your age) into believing he was a messiah. The pastor convinced the killer to stone his mother to death because she committed adultery (bad) with a Muslim (badder).

OK, so basically, in the real world the killer and his pastor will be arrested and put behind bars. But not in Law & Order! Ya see, the killer claims he has visions from God and has a psychiatrist prove that his brainwaves change while he's under prophecy and the judge accepts this proof to say that the killer can't be held guilty while he's acting our prophecy.

Uh, yeah. Sure. Why is this even put on television? Well, after the regrettable few years of Fred Thompson as the Manhattan DA, the ultra-liberal writers are able to explain over and over that Americans hate Muslims so much, and love Christian wackos so much, that anything Christians do - especially violence against Muslims - will be considered acceptable to a Manhattan jury.

Maybe, maybe, if the show were set in Lubbock, Texas I'd have an easier time accepting that premise (as well as the huge yearly body count). But not in Manhattan. And you can say that I'm taking this too seriously. I am, I guess, but only because I watched it with my own eyeballs and I'm taking out vengeance for it's insult to my cranium. However, the response to people who accuse me of 'too seriously'-ism, you have to answer why fiction should be allowed to be not only stupid and incoherent (which I can basically live with) but also to teach bad moral lessons? To suggest that the world is actually much more of a hateful place THAN IT ACTUALLY IS.

I remember my reaction to the horrid little film "Wag the Dog" which indicted all Americans as credulous and easy to fool. Some even have put the proof of this movie on the Iraq war, to say that we bought those lies just as the movie predicted. NO! People bought the Iraq War's lies because (a) we had just been attacked on 9/11 and so people were jumpy about enemies, especially known psychopathic ones, (b) the government made the case using false information that Iraq was both responsible for 9/11 and that Saddam was preparing nukes against us... and the Press helped pass along these lies, (c) when the lies became clear (in 2005 or so), the nation moved firmly against the war (cf. the 2006 & 2008 elections).

Wag the Dog was evil back in 1997 because of the mean-spirited lies that it claimed were truths; for the accusation that people are scum. Law & Order, in its worst episodes (they're not all bad, only in the last few years when they ran out of ideas), does the same thing.

In the above episode, the court case proceeds against the pastor and - luckily enough - the police are given hours of incriminating videos of the organization which just happen to have been taped by one of the pastor's camp-counselor. Ya see, the pastor has been running a Christian-style madrassa that teaches 8-13 year old kids to fight a war against Muslims (even showing the kids in camouflage clothes and camo face-paint). And two kids went along with the killer and helped stone the mother to death. And in the full court the pastor starts screaming about how holy-war against the Muslims was necessary and that he agrees with what the killer did.

Yet he's acquitted. Why? Because Americans hate Muslims because Americans are so totally Christian. Proof? One of the jurors was caught reading the Bible for help in the deciding the case and he's dismissed as a juror!

The lessons learned are infuriating and insulting. Accept better.

Update Postscript: It's this same misanthropy that makes me also hate "slasher" horror films. The whole genre just hates people, and so do shows like this.

And I had a spare moment and found the name of the cruddy L&O episode I tore apart above: "Angelgrove." And to show you what I'm up against, here's the comment of some doofus IMDB member:
the story of a boy stoning his mother was compelling. I knew the Christofascists had Jesus camps in this country, but I never suspected that we could have Islamofascist-type Madrassas to indoctrinate the youth into killing for Christ. One would have to be completely clueless to suspect that a jury would convict in this case. Of course, the prejudices of the average juror would compel them to let this wacko go.

Four Old Styxes (Update)

I found a bunch of my old files and have been struggling to convert them from Mac to PC. Back in '99 I was unmarried, ungraduated but working as a rabbinic intern in a big shul and it's striking that many of my core ideas have remained fairly consistent. But it's also striking that I have forgotten how many issues that used to fill me with interest and emotion no longer live in my brain. That could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Anyway, I've decided to reprint excerpts from the original Life in the Styx (most over 10 years old), in one way to show that I was blogging before the internet was much off the ground - emphasizing my claim that The Styx is truly the Oldest Blog in the World (tm).
  1. Styx v4n29 (March 5, 1997) Topics include: domestic terrorism, spending time in the Queens Jewish Community, Atari 2600, and Rabbi Avi Weiss.
  2. Styx v4n12 (Oct 31, 1997) Excerpt topic: collecting Beanie Babies.
  3. Styx v4n40 (May 15, 1998); topics were the death of Sinatra, the end of Seinfeld, nuclear India, and Palestinian violence.
  4. Styx v6n24 (May 20, 1999) Topics: 1999 Israeli Elections and William Faulkner

Year of Flops: Where Rabin is Wrong

Nathan Rabin, the genius behind My Year of Flops, reviews of the Shadow (1994) and the Phantom (1996, I-W) are totally wrong; but even when he's wrong, he's still a great read.

Rabin and I differ on a number of fundamental film issues - for example, he likes the whole genre of 'uncomfortable humor' (e.g. What About Bob, or the oeuvre of Albert Brooks); he's sanguine (har) about horror films, and he just doesn't seem to get the fun brilliance of action-spoofs. He gives doofus reviews for City Heat, Hudson Hawk & Mystery Men - because he just cannot understand what's going on. It's weird, but after 4 such reviews, it's clear that despite his erudition, eloquence and intelligence, he may not have the necessary subtlety to get parodies. I wonder what he feels about Evil Dead II/Army of Darkness. Likely, he ain't on board.

So while he hates the Phantom (which is as fun a movie, though not quite as good, as Mystery Men, Hudson Hawk etc), the film he does like, The Shadow, is pretty terrible. Yet here's Rabin: "Where The Phantom is a second-rate film about a third-rate superhero played by a C-list actor, The Shadow is an even more frustrating proposition: a second-rate film about a first-rate superhero played by a brilliant, perfectly cast actor."

Baldwin has gotten better in his old age - mainly because he's better at comedy, especially playing a rich dork, than he was at action. The Shadow is pretty terrible, the Phantom good, and Rabin is funny but wrong. Then again, I owe Nathan for clueing me into "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." So maybe he only understands parodies if (a) the spoof is tattooed on the back of their necks, or (b) it's about music.

Backpost, finished on Nov 11, 2009.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Wiki Gestapo

Feeling guilty, I tried writing a Wiki page for Rabbi Rackman (see below) and after 20 minutes of work - trying to find all the wacky and stupid rules that Wiki requires for their articles - it was finally done. And then just as swiftly deleted by some inane monitor. Anyone who looks at the Wiki and says that it's just a pile of 15 year old authors who decide to place anything they want online... think again. I know I won't be writing a page any time soon. Frickin' gestapo.

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman a'h

Rabbi Rackman passed away today. Here's part of the message I received from my former shul in NY: "[We regret] to inform you of the passing of Rabbi Dr. Emanuel Rackman, a leader of Modern Orthodoxy, president of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, rabbi of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and a man who held many other important posts during his long and storied life. Funeral services 12:00 noon on Tuesday, December 2nd, at Fifth Avenue Synagogue, 5 East 62nd Street (just off Fifth Avenue). The family will be receiving condolences there beginning at 11:00 a.m. The interment will be in Israel, where the first two days of shiva will be observed. The mourners will return to New York on Friday, December 5th, and observe shiva through Tuesday morning..."

I'd link to the Wiki page about him but, sadly enough, there hasn't been one made (and I'd make it, but with two 3 hour seminars to prepare for, there's no time. Maybe manana). His bio from this article from the YU newspaper shows how impressive a leader he was: (
Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, RIETS '34, earned his law degree and PhD in political science from Columbia University and was the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaaray Tefila of Far Rockaway and of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. In 1947 he began teaching political philosophy and jurisprudence at Yeshiva College and in 1970 was named a university professor of political science. Rabbi Rackman received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Yeshiva in 1961, and was provost of Yeshiva University from 1970-1976. Rabbi Rackman has served as the president of the New York Board of Rabbis, president of the Rabbinical Council of America. A former colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve, during World War II he was chairman of the commission on Jewish chaplaincy in the United States Armed Forces. After leaving Yeshiva, Rabbi Rackman became president (1977-1985) and Chancellor (since 1985) of Bar Ilan University
I met Rabbi Rackman many times when I was working at KJ (see below) and he was one of the best pulpit rabbis around, a great pastoral leader. He taught me many lessons of how to take care of congregants that I could only aspire to (e.g. after shul on Shabbat he would go to the houses of the home-bound in order to make kiddush for each and every one). He is probably best known to many of you for his work in recent years in the struggle to free agunas.

His passing is a great loss.