Other Voices of Truman Capote

Truman CapoteOn this day in 1882, the physicist Hans Geiger was born. He is remembered today as the co-inventor of the Geiger counter. But he is actually important for the Geiger–Marsden experiment which showed that atoms are kind of like planetary systems with a big nucleus and electrons spinning around outside. Ah, it brings me back to high school when I was confused about those wave equation illustrations of electron densities.

The great film director Lewis Milestone was born in 1895. He directed some really fine movies like All Quiet on the Western Front and one of better versions of The Front Page. He also directed the Burgess Meredith Of Mice and Men, the Sinatra Ocean’s 11, and the Marlon Brando Mutiny on the Bounty. He died just 5 days short of his 85th birthday—by that time forgotten by an industry that should have heralded him as a god.

Johnny Mathis is 78 today. He does have a distinction voice, but I only bring him up today so I can present one of my favorite American Music Club songs, “Johnny Mathis’ Feet”:

Other birthdays: French singer Mireille Hartuch (1906); the great jazz drummer Buddy Rich (1917); puppeteer Fran Brill (67); actor Eric Stoltz (52); comedian (who reminds me of my sister) Kathleen Madigan (48); and actor Tony Hale (43).

The day, however, belongs to the great writer Truman Capote who was born on this day in 1924. All the great southern writers like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor seem to have existed only to allow Capote to be created so that at last we would have a writer of great ability who was not focused on depressing us. Despite everything, Capote’s work is hopeful. In his later years, he allowed his celebrity to harm his work. But going back to his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms through In Cold Blood, he was fabulous.

Here he is on the Dick Cavett Show being his usual charming self:

Happy birthday Truman Capote!

Great Political Analogy, Terrible Film

The RockYou may remember two weeks ago, I compared John Boehner to General Hummel in The Rock. The point was that Hummel threatened to kill 80,000 people in San Francisco, but when his bluff was called, he was unwilling to do it. In the film, he is killed and his subordinates try to do it anyway. Although Boehner clearly does agree with everything his crazy caucus is pushing for, he’s a seasoned enough politician to know that a government shutdown is at best a dangerous move. Well, all of that got me in the mind to watch the movie.

I saw the film in the theater when it was first out and I was not pleased. It seemed boring in the extreme; I absolutely did not care about the characters, so I spent most of the film noticing how the filmmakers seemed to think that people were only ever burned by flames—a person could survive fine in a 500° oven, as long as the flame wasn’t currently on. But I was willing to give it another try. Maybe I had just been in a bad mood when I saw it before.

It turns out that I was right about the characters. In fact, the characters only seem to exist as glue to hold together Michael Bay’s ridiculous (And long!) action sequences. But there is a much bigger problem with The Rock. The script over-explains everything. Worse still is the absolutely terrible dialog. General Hummel says, “Then you probably have no idea what it means to lead some of the finest men on God’s earth into combat and then watch their memories get betrayed by their own fucking government.” It’s perfect: half Moses on Mount Sinai and half whining high school student.

If I could bear it, I would go through the film and provide you with the quotes. It is hard to know who exactly to blame. The film was originally written by David Weisberg & Douglas Cook, the team who brought us Double Jeopardy—a bad film, but not nearly so bad as The Rock. Then it was “reworked” by a number of writers. And, of course, there was the requisite director’s hissy fit when his friend didn’t get screen credit. (Funny thing that. Most people just do their jobs for money. These screenwriters are extremely well paid even though they have very little talent. Yet such a big deal is made of credits. Most of these guys should be glad they aren’t working at Starbucks.)

There is lots else that is wrong with the movie. There’s lots of Christianity thrown in randomly. There is obsessive praise of the military, even though the film is about a bunch of rough military people involved in a terrorist blackmail scheme. That’s another interesting thing: war and the Prince of Peace go together so well in American mythology. Oh, and there is the quite serious suggestion that everyone’s favorite conspiracy theories are correct. Womack says, “This man knows our most intimate secrets from the last half century! The alien landing at Roswell, the truth behind the JFK assassination.” John Spencer shows he’s a great actor by delivering those lines without laughing.

So just for reference, I’m embedding the important scene from the movie here. You really don’t want to waste your time watching The Rock.

If It Happened There…

Joshua KeatingSlate has introduced a new feature, “If It Happened There…” It is reporting on things happening in the United States the way we would report on them if they were happening in some other country. It’s a great idea, but I’m not sure that Slate is quite the right outlet for it, because as good as they are, they are dedicated to a pretty typical mainstream outlook on thing—as dedicated as they are to the #SlatePitch. But more to the point, it depends greatly what country that we are talking about. I find the mainstream media’s coverage of foreign affairs to be extremely biased based upon whether the country is a “friend” or “enemy.” For example, coverage of the same event in Venezuela and Israel would be radically different.

Bearing this in mind, consider the first installment by Joshua Keating, The Government Shutdown. If it were Israel, we would get a very objective treatment with a discussion of the different sides and little notion that one side or the other was right. “These kinds of disagreements happen in the best of governments and it will all work itself out.” Had it been Venezuela, however, the article would get a much more harsh treatment about the corruption of Maduro government. The whole thing would be told from the perspective of the opposition and some mention would be made of the fact that the opposition has never accepted the last election results (despite the fact that all the international observers have). “What do you expect from a socialist country that nationalized the oil industry?!”

What Slate provided was more or less the “friend” country version. And here’s the shocking thing: it is actually a lot more informative than what the American press has offered. In a fundamental sense, it is a whole lot more objective and less “even handed” than we normally get. Here is the meat of it:

The capital’s rival clans find themselves at an impasse, unable to agree on a measure that will allow the American state to carry out its most basic functions. While the factions have come close to such a shutdown before, opponents of President Barack Obama’s embattled regime now appear prepared to allow the government to be shuttered over opposition to a controversial plan intended to bring the nation’s health care system in line with international standards.

Most of the article is downright poetic. Keating’s writing transcends the parody—many try, most fail at such style. He only really goes for humor in the last two paragraphs. First, he writes, “While the country’s most recent elections were generally considered to be free and fair (despite threats against international observers)…” And he links to a Courthouse News Service article, Texas AG Threatens to Arrest European Election Observers. In American, the humor writes itself!

The last paragraph is a wonderful jab at Thomas Friedman:

Americans themselves are starting to ask difficult questions as well. As this correspondent’s cab driver put it, while driving down the poorly maintained roads that lead from the airport, “Do these guys have any idea what they’re doing to the country?”

That’s how the enormous mustache would put it!

Afterword

Something occurred to me while writing this. Friedman’s whole thing about “I talked to a cab driver in X” is really an elitist ploy that says, “All cab drivers are represented by this one.” In other words: the little people are all in agreement, or as I like to say, “All Indians walk in single file, at leas the only one I ever saw did.” But my experience is that the “little people” actually do have strongly held opinions and they are all over the place. There is no such thing as “Joe Six-Pack.”

When Is Not Yielding to Extortion as Bad as Extortion?

Boehner with Uncle Sam as HostageJonathan Chait has an excellent article about recent Republican history that has brought us to this moment, The House GOP’s Legislative Strike. In it, he talks about the Republican retreat after the Fiscal Cliff fiasco. The result was “The Williamsburg Accord.” It basically said that the Republicans were going to take their ball and go home. At that time they decided that they would no longer negotiate with the president. But it was later expanded to not negotiating with the Senate as well. To sum up, “The way to make sense of it is that Republicans have planned since January to force Obama to accede to large chunks of the Republican agenda, without Republicans having to offer any policy concessions of their own.” And that leads us here.

But now we are left with the usual idiots in the mainstream media completely falling for the Republican gambit. Think of it as follows—and note that I do not think this is an exaggeration. Imagine two guys own a paper towel business. One of them decides that the business should stop making paper towels and instead make paper napkins. So he refuses to pay the employees unless the first owner agrees to change the business. Now, maybe they should change the business. But that has nothing to do with paying the employees who have been and currently are working for them.

Many (Too many!) in the mainstream press would have us believe that both of these owners are being unreasonable. The first guy should give some ground and the second guy should take less (like maybe half their operations changing to paper napkins). But that’s a false choice. By this argument, the first guy could say that he wants to change the business to making toilet paper or the employees don’t get paid. So these “why can’t we all just get along” pseudo-journalists are saying that whoever behaves badly and makes unreasonable demands should be appeased. “Hitler wants Poland so let’s give him Czechoslovakia!” Of course, when it is put that way, these same people would call foul.

The situation could not be any clearer. The Republicans are extorting not just the Democratic Party but the people of the United States. The Republicans did not get what they wanted through the normal democratic processes, so they have resorted to blackmail. And notice: this is nothing nothing nothing to do with the budget. The House Republicans big demand is that the medical device tax be eliminated from Obamacare. This means that the federal deficit will increase! And stupid me: I thought that the Republicans wanted to reduce the deficit. (Just kidding; I never thought that!)

I still don’t think that this is going to end well for the Republicans. But thus far, it is all going according to plan. The Republicans have refused to negotiate with the Democrats and so they’ve created the crises they desired. And now much of the media are cursing both sides as though not giving into extortion is as bad as extortion itself. But I think that the people of the United States are smarter than these so-called journalists. I keep going back to the vice-presidential debate last year. Ryan claimed that Obama cut Medicare. Biden countered with a great line, “Folks: use your common sense! Who do you trust on this?!” The same holds here. When all is said and done, the people will know who to blame for the government shutdown because they know which party hates the government: the Republicans. They are very clear about their hatred—at least when it is helping anyone but the rich.

Afterword

To answer the question in the title: not yielding to extortion is as bad as extortion when you are a reporter who cares only about being even handed and not at all about being objective.

Update (30 September 2013 1:45 pm)

I’m way behind on my Matt Yglesias reading, so I just came upon a great short article of his, If Vladimir Putin Threatens To Nuke Houston, Should Obama Negotiate With Him?

The whole reason Obama neither will nor can negotiate with John Boehner is that Boehner has the equivalent of the The Bomb. He’s threatening the destruction of the American financial system unless Obama implements policies that he favors. The government of Iran doesn’t have the power to make a similar threat, but the government of Russia does. Vladimir Putin could hold a press conference tomorrow and say that nuclear-armed ballistic missiles will destroy Houston, Chicago, and Indianapolis tomorrow unless Obama agrees to his list of demands.

Would it be reasonable for Obama to open a negotiation on those terms? Of course not! The content of the demands isn’t even relevant. The threat is too crazy to indulge. You simply observe that such an attack would trigger a counteract and lead to tragedy on a global scale. Then you have to hope the Russians come to their senses, because if they don’t something awful is going to happen.

I couldn’t say it better myself. And I didn’t!

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The End Is Near!

The End Is NearI was thinking about Elvis Costello’s “Waiting for the End of the World” this morning. With the government shutdown coming and all, it just seems natural. But I’m especially focused on the lines, “Dear lord, I sincerely hope your coming; ’cause you really started something.”

Christianity is an apocalyptic religion. It is all about the destruction of the world and how God will then reward the good little girls and boys who believed in him. So it isn’t surprising that Republicans, who would be better named the Christian Conservative Party, are interested in other apocalyptic visions. Government shutdown! Debt default!! Nuclear war!!! It all brings us closer to the time when Jesus comes back to kick some unbeliever ass.

On a smaller scale, I do hope that the Republican elites are going to show up to these two (shutdown and default) fights. It is clear that the elites don’t want these fights, but they did start something. Ed Kilgore suggests that the conservative movement reached a critical mass of craziness during the Bush administration and we are still living with the consequences. But this just puts a history on top of the general observation that this is the Republican base getting out of the control of the elite’s power.

The main thing is what I harp on here: that the Republican base believes the exact same things that the elites have claimed to believe for many decades. As Kilgore puts it: “the same old torch of resistance to the New Deal and Great Society and the decline of the patriarchal family, passed on from generation to generation.” The conflict we are seeing in the Republican Party is just one of tactics. The base is tired of waiting and the elites know that the conservatives do not have the power to get their utopia qua hellscape.

But let’s be clear: the elites don’t actually want what they’ve been agitating for all these decades. In fact, the base doesn’t want it either. The same was true of the Democrats when they truly were a liberal party. Extremists push for ultimate solutions, but what they really want is just to push society in their ideological direction. Both the libertarian and socialist extremes would be terrible places to live—even for the “winners.” In general, I think the elites know this. The base voters, unfortunately, have deluded themselves into thinking they would love a world where everyone protects their own property with their own guns and there are no public parks or public roads. But just like the conservatives who only support gay rights once they find out their children are gay, these conservatives would change their minds in the cold light of reality.

So I imagine there are a lot of Republicans sitting around anxiously awaiting the government shutdown just as they await the second coming of Jesus. It appears to be a conservative thing.

Yet Another Woman’s Worst Nightmare

Dove is sending mixed messages. One commercial implies that my face may actually be more attractive than I think it is. Talk about a morale booster! Watching the reaction of those women as they saw how attractive a forensic artist would imagine them as he drew their missing person posters gave me real hope. It gave me the courage to look in the bathroom mirror, with its “accurate” reflection and horror lighting, and see myself for the acceptably presentable middle-aged woman I probably am. A marketing victory.

Dove followed that with a big but…

“Your face is okay, but that underarm discoloration is pretty gross”. WTF. (Disclaimer: Being under the age of fifty allows me to use current youth code without hesitation nor embarrassment.)

Now I need beautiful underarms! I NEED them. Loss of skin elasticity and insidious gray hairs I can cope with, but off-putting dark spots in my armpits? There’s only so much I can bear before I give up and buy a burka.

The forensic guy wasn’t available so Dove created a dramatization of the pearly, yet unsightly, dark marks that can become visible after shaving.

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Now I’m not stupid. I know that, even though Dove Clear Tone antiperspirant has the effective solution, it isn’t a miracle cure. We need to take personal responsibility for our appearance, not become dependent on an easy fix, so here are a few suggestions:

Solution 1: Don’t shave over the sink with a dry razor.

Solution 2: Wear sleeves.

Solution 3: If you must wear sleeveless tops, keep your arms down. Know the answer? Clear your throat and raise a feminine forefinger. No need to hold up your arm and make ooh-ooh noises. You aren’t five! Unless you are, in that case you should see a doctor about your need to shave.

Solution 4: If you don’t want anyone to see the hideous – and probably visible from space – spots on your nervously perspiring pits, don’t fondle your underarms in front of anyone. Ever. It’s weird.


I have to admit that this is an educational commercial. I learned that I’ve been pronouncing calendula incorrectly in my head every time I’ve read it. It isn’t kal-en-doo-luh, it’s kuh-len-juh-luh. Thanks Dove.

Back to Homeschool

GirlwithTabletonBooksWell, we are a few weeks into the new school year. With all the school work and homeschool group kick-off events, it’s like we’ve hit the ground running. Besides the weekly park days, we’ve had afternoon bowling and farewell to the beach day, field trip sign-up night, moms’ craft night (very therapeutic, by-the-way), and tomorrow we are joining our group for a field trip to an historic garden and art collection. Well I guess we’ve got the social interactions covered.

And how are we doing on school work? Over the summer, I worked very hard with my research, and got some advice from other parents about which curriculum I should pick for my son for each subject. I’ve chosen a bit of this and a bit of that, and most of it is computer-based. Here is what I’ve come up with:

*MathTeaching Textbooks: This has been great! The program includes both computer-based as well as written instruction. Students can use either one or the other. My son uses only the CD-ROM lessons that come with the program. Each one takes 10 to 15 minutes and is very interactive. There is a little instruction, followed by a problem or question, follow by a little more instruction, and another question, and so-on. There are a few practice questions after each lesson. My son doesn’t object to doing the teaching textbooks, and it is something he can do while I’m making breakfast. We can check it off our list in the first part of the day. We love it!

*Language ArtsThe Brave Writer Program: This, admittedly, has been slow going, but it is by design. The philosophy is to take a gentle approach and follow the child’s lead. There are a couple of main elements to the program.

For writing we have Partnership Writing for my son’s age-group and abilities. It includes one project per month, as well as some free-writing, and fun activities like poetry tea times.

The literary elements, grammar, and spelling are learned as we read literature in a program called The Arrow. Right now we are reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. There are weekly lessons that correspond to the reading. My son is also required to do copywork. It is just copying a chosen passage from the reading. It is a great activity for children who have difficulty writing. I just have my son do as much as he can in one sitting and don’t push him to do more. It is just like exercise. If you do too much, you can get really turned off to it.

Because of the gentle approach, so far Brave Writer is really working for us.

*ScienceScience Fusion: I’m not so sure about this one, yet. As with the Teaching Textbooks, there are both written and computer-based lessons. The student can do either or both. Some of the computer-based lessons have virtual labs so you don’t have to gather materials in order to complete them. I thought this would be something my son would enjoy, but it turns out they are kind of boring to him. He would rather perform actual experiments. We have also found the virtual labs to be a bit glitchy, as well. For this reason, they are sometimes difficult to use. Because the virtual lessons that don’t have labs are relatively engaging, I will continue to have my son do these. The corresponding labs will no longer be done on the computer. So that is the plan for science. We’ll see how it goes.

*Social Studies-Primarily Chester Comix: This program includes a series of history books in comic book format. This appeals to my visual kid. So, so far, so good. Teaching guides in pdf can be found on the website for most of the lessons. These include activities and review questions. One of the activities we’ve done is make paper after we learned about life on the Nile and how Egyptians made paper out of papyrus reeds. This coming week we will be making dye from red cabbage and dying some shirts. These are the types of things that are fun and enriching, and my son actually likes to do them. They reinforce information he is learning.

Supplementally, for social studies, we are also using BrainPop and various educational software like Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?. We also have fun with Stack the States, which is an app for the iPad.

*Foreign Language-Swedish (that’s what he wanted to learn): We are using Rosetta Stone. It’s great! I just have him do a few minutes a few days a week. It works for him.

*Typing: We use Type to Learn 4. Again, I just have him do a few minutes a few days a week. It is basically a game. The student gets to be a secret agent who needs to use typing accuracy in order to unlock levels.

*ArtCreativity Express by Mapcap Logic: We really like this. My son does about one lesson a week, which includes videos with engaging, animated characters, online activities, and a choice of two possible projects. My son really likes art, and he enjoys the videos. This program is a hit!

*EnrichmentBrainware Safari: This is software that has games that, supposedly, train your brain. I’ve actually purchased this for my husband and me, as well. It’s supposed to help with focus, memory, and such. The games are fun, if nothing else. I like my son to use Brainware Safari at least 15 minutes, three days a week.

I know all of this sounds really expensive, but I am a member of Homeschool Buyers Co-op. As a member, I get major discounts on curriculum. Some educational materials are just a fraction of the original price. Homeschool Buyers Co-op has been a great resource for me and other homeschoolers I know.

(Image provide by FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stockimages)