The Starry Night

OrionThis is an image of most of the Orion Constellation. It is without a doubt the most recognizable constellation in the night sky. Everyone knows the Big Dipper, but most can’t find it without a lot of work. Orion blazes in the sky; there is no missing it.

And I hate it. I go outside most nights and look at the stars—even when I don’t go out during the day. And Orion is always there. It taunts me. Not the whole thing; just the belt. It is pretty close to a straight line. But it isn’t quite straight. Aesthetically, I find it aggravating. And it brings out my mostly latent obsessive-compulsive behavior. It needs to be fixed and yet I am powerless to do anything.

Orion is also a useless constellation. It doesn’t tell me anything about the rest of the night sky. It just sets there daring me to adjust its belt. Compare it to the Big Dipper, which is responsible for all of my star gazing knowledge. I know where three stars are thanks to it. If you follow the handle, the first bright star you come to will be Arcturus. I remember this because I follow the arc of the dipper to Arcturus. Following along further, you come to Spica. For whatever strange reason, I imagine the arc ending in a spike. And perhaps most useful of all: if you follow the front edge of dipper up, you will come to Polaris or the “North Star.”

You could use this knowledge to navigate by, but I never have. I always figure it’s easier to pull over and ask someone. But it is very useful in romantic encounters. And my knowledge level seems optimal. Most women find it charming when a man points out two or three stars. More than that makes them feel that there may be a quiz at the end of the evening.

So there you have it: two constellations, three stars, and my nightly struggles with OCD.

Afterword

I absolutely hate this song:

It isn’t that I don’t like Vincent van Gogh, although he is not exactly a favorite of mine. And it isn’t that I don’t like Don McLean, because he definitely had his moments. But this is sentimental crap. Just because van Gogh was a great artist does not mean that he was some great guy. He wasn’t trying to set us free. He was trying to sell some paintings. What most bugs me about the song is the last line, “They’re not listing still, perhaps they never will.” Oh yeah, coming a hundred years after van Gogh when the artist’s paintings sell for millions, Don McLean makes a bold claim about how “they” (that is: those idiots who are not Don McLean) will never understand him. As van Gogh would say, “Oy vey!”

This is so much better:

Antonin Scalia

Antonin ScaliaAntonin Scalia is 77 today. There are other people born today who have made the world better, like the great American composer Carl Ruggles. Scalia has made it worse—much worse. But I can’t get past the man today.

On one hand, Scalia is a proud iconoclast. I’m an iconoclast. I love iconoclasts. But on the other hand, Scalia is evil. Like Hitler, he combines iconoclasticism with villainy. And that is always a recipe for disaster when such a person gets power. And Scalia sadly has power and has had the annoying tendencies to outlive Hitler by 21 years (minus 10 days). (That’s right: I’m counting the days.)

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with conservatives on the court. There are 8 of them on the current Supreme Court and I’m fine with 3 of them. And 2 more are not totally reprehensible. Unfortunately for Scalia, he is a member of the Totally Reprehensible Three (TR3). I can’t decide if he is worse than Alito, but shocking though it may seem, he is certainly worse than Thomas. Thomas at least is fairly consistent. I don’t agree with where he’s coming from but I at least understand it. I don’t have a good take on Alito, because he hasn’t been there that long. He is, however, clearly a racist and sexist asshole. Sadly, that doesn’t really say much about how he stacks up in the TR3.

In the old days, Scalia had a brilliant mind. But no more! All he has to offer now is arrogance and abuse. He seems to stay on the court primarily to continue his long running protest against modernity.

Corey Robin explains Scalia well in his three part series on the colorful judge:

Scalia’s conservatism, it turns out, is less a little platoon than a Thoreauvian counterculture, a retreat from and rebuke to the mainstream, not unlike the hippie communes and groupuscules he once tried to keep at bay. It is not a conservatism of tradition or inheritance: his parents had only one child, and his mother-in-law often complained about having to drive miles and hours in search of the one true church. “Why don’t you people ever seem to live near churches?” she would ask Scalia and his wife. It is a conservatism of invention and choice, informed by the very spirit of rebellion he so plainly loathes—or thinks he loathes—in the culture at large.

I don’t want to think about the man. I am just counting the days before he has a massive stroke. But I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Dying would be a kind thing to do for our country. Scalia doesn’t do kind.

Afterword

A salve for our woes:

Update (11 March 2013 7:48 pm)

I found this comment by Alex Bailin to Corey Robin’s review of American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the London Review of Books. It gets more at my thinking regarding Scalia than Robin’s:

I was intrigued by Corey Robin’s analysis of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s adherence to constitutional originalism; in particular his conclusion that Scalia ‘reflects rather than refracts the spirit of the age’ (LRB, 10 June). Unfortunately, the reality is rather more prosaic. Scalia has applied his constitutional theory with varying rigour depending on the political context. In Bush v. Gore, for example, he jettisoned originalism in reaching the majority decision which gave George W. Bush the presidency. The original constitution plainly gave each state the power to decide its electoral vote and that ought to have meant that the Supreme Court had no power to intervene in the Florida courts’ consideration of Florida’s vote. The lasting damage that judgment did to the court’s standing led Justice John Paul Stevens to conclude: ‘Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.’

And that is what I find so troubling with Scalia. He decides what he thinks and then comes up with something to justify it. He may have had a brilliant mind but he was never a brilliant jurist.

Django Unchained Not Racist But Not Good

Django UnchainedI finally got a chance to see Django Unchained without even indirectly putting any money in Quentin Tarantino’s pocket. That’s very important to me, because as much as I think that Tarantino is a very talented guy who at times makes fine movies, I am also convinced that he is a total dick—symbolic of everything that is wrong with Hollywood as an institution.

The first half of the film is very good. I don’t see what the big deal was about racism. Tarantino’s use of the word “nigger” is more appropriate here than it ever was in any of his other films. As for the content, it is “Tarantino does the antebellum south.” With a notable exception that I will discuss in a moment, the film is a fantasy. And what’s more, the portrayal of the slaves in generally fairly accurate. It is a welcome salve after the “We jus’ loves bein’ slaves” of Gone With the Wind. And Tarantino does a good job of making each slave an individual rather than a representative of a class.

If there is a problem here, it is with the whites, who seem like a bunch of yahoos created by a man whose only knowledge of the south comes from watching Hee Haw as a kid. Still, I can justify it. We do tend to see only the whites who are most vested in the slave system. But we know from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass that not all whites on the slave farm were hate-filled psychopaths.

The only problem with the first half of the film is that it uses a number of flashbacks to establish Django’s character. These scenes are distinctly realistic. And they are jarring compared to the main narrative that is full fantasy. They remind the viewer that the subject is no joke—there were real people suffering real torture and real lifelong servitude. And this is a real buzz kill when you’re just trying to watch a fun western where the evil slaveholders get their due. I’m afraid that their inclusion in the film is indicative of the problems that Tarantino has understanding real life. He probably put those scenes in the film because he didn’t want to be attacked for making light of the subject. But is just made it worse. This is not Schindler’s List; such a film could be made, but certainly not by Tarantino.

The second half of the film is where it all falls apart. It moves from fantasy to brainless action movie. Characters act in ways that are determined entirely by the dictates of the plot rather than their actions up to that point. What’s more, it all gets very predictable. And boring. I think that Tarantino is very often confused. He thinks he’s Sam Peckinpah when he’s really more Michael Arndt. And the less talking, the more boring his films are. Oh: the film is also about an hour too long.

But Django Unchained is not a racist movie. It is a Quentin Tarantino movie. And that means a whole lot: both good and bad.

Afterword

One thing that really struck me in the first half of the film was the way that the heroes talked about playing a part in real life. This reminded me of the commode story from Reservoir Dogs, where the undercover cop has to learn a script to use in his work. We get the same thing here. It is interesting, because I think there is a lot of truth to this. In fact, Marlon Brando used to say that there was no big deal about acting—everyone did it everyday in real life.

When Satire Becomes News

Paul KrugmanWe all make mistakes. But the tendency for conservative media outlets to fall for hoaxes and to assume that satire is straight news is amazing. But it is no accident. In David Brock’s book Blinded By the Right, he describes himself not so much as a political extremist but as a journalistic amateur. His turn from conservatism was more about his learning how to do the job. The watershed came when he was writing The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. It was the first time he did enough research to get a full picture of his target. In his earlier Real Anita Hill, he only talked to people who said bad things about Hill and so that was the narrative he created of her. (He has since repudiated the work.)

I think this is more generally the problem with conservative media. And it is why they often get stung. They are so keen to slime anything that is not conservative that they do not stop and do the most basic research. I am no journalist, but when I find an article by an unknown writer or news agency, I research them. When I discovered Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm, I spent much more time trying to figure out if she was for real than actually writing about her. This is basic “I don’t want to look like an idiot” work. The conservative media do not seem to have any such concerns.

Last Wednesday, The Daily Currant published an article, Paul Krugman Declares Personal Bankruptcy. That seems a straightforward enough title. But check out the lede:

Economist and columnist Paul Krugman declared personal bankruptcy today following a failed attempt to spend his way out of debt.

I understand that not everyone is as interested in economics as I am. But you don’t have to know much to smell something fishy here: no individual attempts to “spend his way out of debt.” But that line is a common canard that conservatives use to mis-characterize Keynesian economics. Krugman is a Keynesian so it is very funny to report that he got into trouble by applying his macroeconomic theory to his personal finances.

Things got weird when a straight news story about this appeared on Boston.com. According to an editor there, “The story arrived deep within our site from a third party vendor who partners on some finance and market pages on our site.” The editors were quick to take the page down after they found out about it. I think this means that this third party vendor they use (Finance and market?) is a conservative outlet, more akin to a lobbying firm than a news source. Sadly, this is more and more common at newspapers.

Larry O’Conner at Breitbart.com didn’t miss a beat. He saw the article and ran with it. He published an article this morning, “Krugman Files for Bankruptcy.” It has since been taken down but Business Inside helpfully provides a screenshot. He wrote:

Paul Krugman, the economic darling of the left, has filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, according to Boston.com. Krugman has been the leading advocate for increased deficit spending as the only solution to turn the US economy around. He believes that President Obama needs to be even bolder with continued trillion dollar stimulus programs driving our nation deeper and deeper into debt.

Apparently this Keynesian thing doesn’t really work on the micro level.

See it? He falls entirely for the original narrative. Those stupid liberals don’t think; they just have their prejudices; blah blah blah.

Of course, The Daily Currant is a satirical news site—a competitor of The Onion. Its top headline right now is Sean Penn Praises Chavez, Calls George Washington a ‘Loser.’ But who would know? This information about the true nature of The Daily Currant is cloaked in secrecy—unless you visit obscure websites like Wikipedia. Or you could click on the “About” link on the site, which takes you to a page that says, “The Daily Currant is an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media.” But to do that, you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of any webpage on the site! What do they think: journalists have all the time in the world?!

There is an important issue here I think. Both the sites have taken down these articles. I think that’s harmful. They should keep the articles up so that when people go back to the site they see a correction (preferably at the top of the article—that’s what I do). Simply deleting the page only confuses readers. And it does not hold the outlet and writer accountable. What’s more, it just sets up another opportunity for silly pseudo-journalists to mistake comedy for news.