Saturday, May 12, 2007

Grapes of Wrath

Before Dallas starts banning landlords from renting homes to illegal immigrants, they might want to study up on Brazillian favelas. Sad but true, but migrant workers don't just go away when you treat them like shit.

It's been a while since the US has had a favela-like slum. They used to call them Hoovervilles during the Great Depression. Maybe they'll call them Dobbsvilles nowadays. Tancredovilles? O'Reillyvilles?

At any rate, I'd rather have an illegal family living next door (which describes my current situation) than in a shanty on the outskirts of town.

Speaking of the Great Depression and migrant workers, I recently finished listening to an unabridged audiobook version of The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. A few notes:

1) I can see how the book won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize. It's an excellent book, well-written with timeless themes. Steinbeck is an American master.

2) Dylan Baker is not only a good character actor, but he's also a master reader. If you listen to his reading, take careful note of his characterization of Tom Joad. That's called "channeling Henry Fonda."

3) As I listened to the vivid descriptions of Depression-era hardships, I was also vaguely aware that less than two decades later, in the 1950s, we were living in a much different, more prosperous society. How did such a dramatic shift occur? Friedmanesque free market capitalism or the New Deal? You decide. (My money's on the latter.)

4) The story of the "Okie" Joads migration westward to California could be updated convincingly to be the story of the "wetback" Rodriguezes migration northward. Like the Okies, Mexican immigrants are just looking for work. Like the Okies, they're not asking for much; they'll take what they can get. Like the Okies, there's a lot of them.

And like the Okies...they're not going back home.

On Smoking, the Nanny State and Censorship

I see that Minnesota is the latest state to succumb to the anti-smoking Nanny State. Mike Maguire of the American Cancer Society puts the ban in stark terms, "This is where the country is going."

That's the understatement of the year. It's only a matter of time before there's a movement to ban smoking period. This is just the start.

In other smoking news, the MPAA is going to start considering smoking when it doles out movie ratings. You want to get an R rating for your film? Include a breast, a bloody murder and/or mutilation, one of the 7 words you can't say on TV, or...a smoker. That, my friends, is absolutely ridiculous.

If you wanted to ask me, the entire ratings system is a joke. For one, parents don't pay attention to it. (Scroll down for my rant on a dumb ass parent who thinks the theater chain and its advertisers should do the "Parental Guidance" part of a PG-13 rating.)

For another, the ratings are incredibly arbitrary and secretive. (There's a documentary called "This Film is Not Yet Rated" that explores all that.)

But here's the main reason, I would say. Many movies are now released "unrated" on DVD, especially sex comedies and horror films. If the ratings system did what it was intended to do (that is, to alert audiences to potentially offensive content), there would be no need for an "unrated" version.

Instead, when you buy an "unrated" version, you know it's not a movie that skipped the review process at the MPAA, but instead a film that has been censored by them before its theatrical release.

And I don't support censorship at all, not by the government, not by corporate America, and certainly not by the MPAA.

Camera Phone Art

Yeah, I'm no LaChappelle or Nachtwey, but I think this picture is pretty cool compositionwise.

Cry Me a River

Yesterday after work, I met my brother and cousin downtown at Confluence Park for some tubing fun. If you'll remember, I blogged about the chutes on the Platte last year, including my brother's near death experience in the "real" river. The Platte chutes aren't nearly as hairy, but just as fun.

On the way, I got a call from my nephew (who had been invited, but couldn't make it) not to go tubing unless we had a life jacket. (It was on the news.) Normally a life jacket wouldn't be required on the chutes as they're no more dangerous than your average water park ride, but I know from experience that getting into a real river without a life jacket is suicidal.

Last night the Platte looked like a real river. Spring time snow melt raised the level of water several feet, completely washing out the path on the east bank of the river. The rapids and pools were like boiling cauldrons of death. Broken bones and scraped knees were all but promised for any hapless tuber brave enough to take that first drop into the maelstrom.

Needless to say, we didn't hop in.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Kickin it Old School: The Way It Should Be

Here you go, torture monkeys. A letter from General Petraeus, commander of the Iraq Multi-National Force (courtesy of Andrew Sullivan. He writes:
"Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we—not our enemies—occupy the moral high ground."
There's more:
Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.
You have no idea how relieved I am to have the General in charge of Iraq actually state, with zero qualification, that torture is a) illegal (in other words, wrong), b) not very useful, and c) unneccesary.

Understand that this isn't an about face. This is the proud United States tradition sullied by Bush and company...and those who make excuses for them.

He continues:
We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect.
Got that? The General has spoken.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Keystone Cops

Did you hear about the Terrorists Next Door? So many things about this story warrant a mention.

First, I heard it reported that they were Bosnians. Apparently that's not true, as they are ethnic Albanians. For folks who routinely can't tell the difference between Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, and Afghanis, I don't expect that to really mean much.

Second, it was reported that they were illegal immigrants, which appears to be true, but the implications may not be what they seem. For instance, two of the six arrested, brothers, have been in the United States for twenty years (pre-9-11 for those of you who can't count), and rather than crossing the Rio Grande, they (or their families, as they were small children at the time) over-stayed apparently legal visas. (Now there's one immigration problem that won't be solved by building a wall...overstaying visas, but hey, symbolic solutions is what our government is all about, right? I digress...)

Third, and this is the most important thing, these six guys were planning on attacking a military base. Six guys. Attacking a military base.

If their goal was to kill themselves, that would accomplish it. If their goal was to inflict casualities and terrorize the American public, attacking a military base just isn't going to cut it.

This isn't going to sound right, but try and get my meaning here:

We need more terrorists like this.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


That's how much value my house lost since last year.

The good's all paper value. And I pay less taxes.

Nothing But Al Sharpton

So when Al Sharpton says something bigoted, whose radio show does he appear on during his "I'm Sorry" media tour?

As for Mitt dislike for the dude is well-documented...but I think this statement from his spokesman is ridiculous and I'm going to call it such:
"Bigotry toward anyone because of their beliefs is unacceptable."
I disagree, Mitt.

To be bigoted toward anyone because of their skin color, their gender, their sexual orientation, sure...that's all unacceptable. But questioning another's beliefs is entirely acceptable and not at all inappropriate.

Take for instance, the belief that Allah wants you to blow yourself up, along with anyone else in the vicinity, in an act of jihad...that I'm not going to respect. Sorry.

The belief that kiddie porn hurts no one as long as it stays on your hard drive...nope, not going to give that any credence either.

If you believe that you become invisible if you close your eyes, I'm going to laugh at you...even if you call me a bigot.

And those are just three examples I hope that everyone (except jihadis, pederasts, and little kids under five, that is) can agree with. Imagine if I dipped into my bag of anti-Christian, anti-Republican rhetoric! (No doubt, I'd be labeled a bigot if I did.)

Speaking of Al Sharpton, I was reading about a debate on God he had with Christopher Hitchens yesterday. Hitch, as you may know, just came out with a book in the Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins vein eviserating the concept of God and our all-too human reliance on it.

So says Sharpton:
“If there is no God and if there is no supreme mechanism that governs the world, what makes right right and what makes wrong wrong?” Mr. Sharpton asked. “Why don’t we just go by whoever is the strongest in any period in history?”
My answer to both questions is:

We do.

We determine what's wrong and right, through our moral codes, both of the ones inately sensed and the ones codified in our upbringing.

And we already "go by whoever is the strongest in any period in history." It sounds Darwinian, but it predates his theory by millenia, all the way back through to the beginning of mankind. The winners won and the losers were wiped out. As Jared Diamond would say, Guns, Germs, and Steel (and geography).