Archive for December, 2006

December 22, 2006

That’s the Daily Show’s new word to describe the Iraq War, and I’d say it works pretty nicely. But to understand just how big a catastrofuck it was, you need to look not just at what it did to Iraq and America, but also what’s starting to happen between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Considering this administrations close ties to the Saudi royal family and our reliance on Saudi Arabia for oil, and considering our antagonist history with Iran, this is truly frightening stuff. And yes, it is also an enormous catastrofuck.


December 22, 2006

Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein both late out a pretty good case, to which I would only add that this argument is going to become extremely important just as soon as we begin to understand how expensive undoing all of the damage Bush has done will be. Compared to things like combating poverty, rebuilding New Orleans providing the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with the equipment they need until we can get them out of there, things which will all be really expensive, the deficit should be a very low priority.

December 22, 2006

Dammit, Ezra Klein is right. A good book is a good book regardless of when it comes out, and it’s hard for me to find recommendations for good books that didn’t come out this year outside of my circle of friends.

I really wish I could do a best of 2006 book list, but unfortunately when it comes to books I’m much less organized than when it comes to music. For one thing, I don’t really pay that close attention to new releases – how I choose what book I’m reading next is pretty random. Also, I can’t really remember all of the good books I read this year, since I tend to go through a lot of them and I have a bad habit of just rushing through a book and then jumping to the next one like a junkie.

That being said, I have read some good book this year. This is the year that I finally sat down and read all the way through a book by Gene Wolfe, something I had attempted a few times before earlier in high school, with minimal success. I don’t know what’s happened between now and then, but my sophomore year he seemed painfully boring, and now he seems absolutely brilliant. I’ve heard people refer to him as the greatest living English-language writer. I’m suspending judgment there, but it’s plausible.

Right now I’m re-reading Latro in the Mist. It’s a book that deserves to be read twice so you don’t miss out on the richness of the historical detail. Wolfe, who I’m pretty sure knows some Latin and Greek, tries to immerse readers in the storyline by literally translating place names, and he leaves it to you to figure out what the hell he’s actually talking about. So, for the record, Thought is Athens and I’m pretty sure the rope makers are Spartans. Still no idea what the hell Cowtown is, though.

Regardless, it’s an amazing book.

Speaking of historical fiction, I, Claudius is also a brilliant book. It takes some liberties with the personalities of the emperors from that time, but it’s still the best novel of Ancient Rome ever written.

Also, Kafka on the Shore was fantastic. It’s a book that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while, and I wasn’t at all disappointed. I can’t wait to read some more stuff by Murakami.

Meanwhile, my favorite new fictional universe that I discovered this year is definitely the world of New Crobuzon. Perdido Street Station is a real masterpiece of world development, and some of the strangest, edgiest fantasy I’ve ever read.

I can’t say I liked the ending of Company as much as I did Max Barry’s first novel, Syrup, but at least for the first half or so this is the sharpest satire he’s ever written.

In the nonfiction department, I finally read some Hunter S. Thompson this year, namely Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail. So much praise has already been heaped on both of them over the past few decades so I’m not going to bother adding even more except to say every good thing ever written about these books is true.

Same goes for The Boys on the Bus. A great book for anyone interested in journalism, where modern political journalism came from, and why it’s gotten as bad as it has.

And on that note, another great book for understanding modern politics is Understanding Power: The Noam Chomsky Reader. I can’t say I’m too fond of anarcho-syndicalism, but when it comes to Chomsky’s critiques of government as an organ for business, and the media as an organ for the government, he’s spot-on. And it’s difficult to argue with him regardless of whether or not you agree with him, because he’s one of the most persuasive and intelligent political thinkers alive today.

While we’re on the subject of books, in middle school I really loved Ender’s Game, so it’s particularly disappointing for me to now discover that Orson Scott Card is completely off his rocker. If anyone wants some good leftist sci-fi antidote to this stuff, I’d recommend the aformentioned Perdido Street Station and as much Richard K. Morgan as you can get your hands on.

December 21, 2006

The winner of the eagerly-anticipated Stephen Colbert versus The Decemberists rock-off is … Peter Frampton. Obviously.

The fact that Colbert somehow got Henry Kissinger on the show to moderate a rock-off was pretty surprising, but what really caught me off guard was that apparently the lead guitarist of The Decemberists can apparently bring the metal. Who knew?

Best Some Really Good Music From 2006
December 20, 2006

(In alphabetical order, because that’s better than no particular order)

The Black Keys, “Magic Potion”
The formula is pretty simple here; there’s nothing really profound about the lyrics, and there’s no real technical wizardry going on in the background. In fact, the only thing even remotely innovative about the Black Keys is how simple they keep it. One guitarist, one drummer, and some really good, dirty blues.

The Decemberists, “The Crane Wife”
When I finished listening through this album for the first time, my first thought was, “Who the hell are you and what have you done with The Decemberists?” It sounded like they had completely abandoned everything that made them unique and interesting for a new, incredibly dull prog-rock frontier.

It took a good couple of months before the album really warmed up to me. The Decemberists really embarked into some unfamiliar territory here, but the core of their music – the whimsy, the literary references, the occasional burst of epic grandeur – they’re all intact. It was like listening to The Decemberists for the first time all over again – it takes a while to get used to, but it’s some really damn good stuff.

Flogging Molly, “Whiskey on a Sunday”
The other really good Irish punk band out there (besides the Dropkick Murphys) goes a little less punk and does some acoustic versions of some of their classic songs. Does it work? Hell yes. What in lesser hands could smack like a tired retread of old material instead sounds so good that I wouldn’t hesitate to call it the best album they’ve put out.

Greg Graffin, “Cold as the Clay”
Is there anything Greg Graffin can’t do? Seriously. The frontman of Bad Religion, one of the greatest punk bands of all time, and one of the few surviving punk bands that doesn’t suck, tries his hand at some folk music. While that sounds counter-intuitive, it works, maybe because Graffin manages to find the common ground between folk and punk – they both have their roots in the same kind of disgust with the established order and glorification of the little guy. Worth buying for the first track alone.

The Hold Steady, “Boys and Girls in America”
Not just my vote for greatest album of the year, but also one of my favorite albums of all time. These guys are absolutely incredible.

Mastodon, “Blood Mountain”
The eagerly anticipated follow-up to Mastodon’s last concept album about Moby Dick, this one is a concept album about climbing up a mountain. And something to do with some kind of sasquatch/cyclops hybrid that can see into the future. Or something. That’s all kind of beside the point, though. The point is that this album rocks, hard.

MC Lars, “The Graduate”
There’s something really appealing about the idea that some geeky smartass with a laptop can make his own one-man band. As it turns out, the result is pretty damn good, too. MC Lars has a great sense of humor, and he does a great job of skewering crunk, emo and Hot Topic in his search for sincerity and originality in today’s soulless music market. The fact that this album even exists is at least a good sign.

Mogwai, “Mr. Beast”
Instrumental bands generally annoy me. As somebody who plays guitar myself, I have a huge amount of respect for those who have truly mastered the instrument, but too often instrumental bands, or even just very instrumentally-based bands like The Mars Volta and Dream Theater strike me as being essentially soulless musical masturbation.

Mogwai’s not like that at all. The guys in this band are all clearly technically skilled, but they don’t seem to have the need to show off how awesome they are. None of the tracks on this album have that irritating “hey, check this out guys,” quality to instrumentals that pisses me off so much. Instead, they have actual, you know, soul.

Mr. Lif, “Mo’Mega”
Hard, uncompromising hip hop. Mr. Lif has a sharp eye for hypocrisy, and his political rants are some of the best in hip hop today. The lyrics, especially on “Brothaz” and “Collapse” deserve some really close attention, and songs like “Murs Iz My Manager” show off Lif’s sharp sense of satire.

Oh No, “Exodus into Unheard Rhythms”
Creating an entire album by sampling from only one artist sounds like an interesting idea in concept, but does it actually work? If you go by the name Oh No, then the answer is an extremely emphatic “yes.”

The Sword, “Age of Winters”
What? Another metal album? I’m as surprised as you are. But these guys are a throwback to classic metal, Black Sabbath-style. These guys just really appeal to the massive Dungeons and Dragons-playing nerd inside of me. The song “Winter’s Wolves” in particular makes me want to break out the twenty-sided die and start scoring critical hits.

The Thermals, “The Body, the Blood, the Machine”
Another band besides Bad Religion out there trying to prove that punk isn’t dead. That alone makes them really noteworthy – punk as a genre is more necessary than ever in today’s political climate, but more than any other genre it’s been pummeled into oblivion by the record labels. The point is, I’d really like to see these guys win in a fight against Green Day. That would be really intensely satisfying.

Anything I’m missing here?

December 19, 2006

So after some very careful deliberation, the president is starting to formulate some “central proposals.” God only knows whether or not any of those proposals involve actually leaving Iraq at any point. Right now it seems that at the very least, the administration has decided that they can no longer stay the course.

So the proposal they’re particularly partial to? Stay the course, just with more troops.

Remember, this is after some very careful thought and strategerizing. Bush even furrowed his brow and looked introspective and everything. He sat in meetings, meetings with people who ostensibly know something about Iraq. So this proposal is based on the consensus of a large number of experts.

Except that the Joint Chiefs unanimously oppose the idea. Oops. I guess somebody should have asked them first.

The political aspect of this whole thing is pretty interesting. First of all, I may be wrong about this, but it seems pretty rare for the Joint Chiefs to unanimously and openly oppose as self-proclaimed “war president.” But what’s more interesting is that this is the same kind of proposal being floated by people like McCain and Lieberman as a particularly cynical piece of political triangulation.

The logic basically goes like this: politicians who were prominent supporters of the war are now in a political quandary, particularly if they’re already running for president. On the one hand, the only people who are still swallowing this “stay the course” are the guys who came up with it in the first place. So if these people want to seem even halfway electable, they can’t go along with that.

On the other hand, they’ve spent most of the time since the war first started tarring and marginalizing the anti-war types. McCain and Lieberman certainly can’t switch now and pretend to be anti-war, especially when they dug themselves this deep. They would alienate their conservative hawk base, and end up in the same camp as the people they painted as dirty hippies.

So the way to mediate between those two issues is by calling for an increase in troops. That way you look reasonable for calling for a slight change of course, but you still get to look all tough and warlike at the same time.

Now Bush is doing the same thing. Except in his case, it’s not just the vapid babbling of another vote junkie. This guy’s already the commander in chief of the military, and that means that unless the Joint Chiefs take him down on this, it could lead to actual policy. Policy that would lead to the loss of thousands more in Iraq.

But somehow I don’t think Bush is even thinking ahead that far. Right now, the “add more troops” idea is just a way for him to just barely keep his head about the water politically. It is, if possible, even less of a serious policy suggestion than any other idea they’ve floated.

December 17, 2006

TIME Magazine: Welcome to the end of your arduous journey, Billy. The 2006 person of the year is right behind that curtain.

(Pause, as Billy pulls the curtain away, revealing a mirror.)

Billy: I … I don’t understand. A mirror?

TIME: That’s right, Billy. The person of the year was you all along.

Billy: Really?

TIME: Really.

Billy: What happened to Ahmadinejad?

TIME: He doesn’t have a MySpace.

Billy: So?

TIME: So if we spotlighted him it wouldn’t be a last-ditch effort to try to appear relevant in an era when mainstream print magazines are becoming obsolete.

Billy: That’s kind of retarded. Anyway, TIME, you’re not going to become obsolete as long as you continue to provide high-quality, in-depth, intelligent reporting. So … yeah, you know what? Never mind.

The Decider Shows Some Indecision
December 14, 2006

So let’s see if I’ve got this straight. When the country’s debating whether or not to go to war based on a few scraps of faulty intelligence, we don’t have any time for careful deliberation and it’s time to go act as quickly as possible. In fact, it’s so urgent that we don’t even have time to draw up a real strategy, or any kind of plan for reconstruction and withdrawal.

On the other hand, after we’ve been in that war for three years, and tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of people have died, when the situation is rapidly detiorating and pretty much everyone agrees we need a change of strategy before another thousand people die – that’s the situation where we need some really careful deliberation.

Okay, fine. But what does careful deliberation entail? Apparently, it entails only listening to the people that already agree with you.

It’s amazing that after six years this stupidity still has the ability to render me completely speechless.

December 12, 2006

New committee assignments are in. Here are a few that I particularly want to draw attention to:

Financial Services, Barney Frank (D-MA)

Government Reform, Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Intelligence, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX)

Judiciary, John Conyers (D-MI)

Ways & Means, Charles Rangel (D-NY)

I can’t say that too familiar with a lot of other names on the list, and so far I’m unimpressed with Reyes (but grateful, because it could always be worse). But Frank, Waxman, and Conyers are all solid choices, especially Conyers. By putting these guys in prominent positions, Pelosi is signalling that she’s serious about giving Congress a pretty drastic overhaul.

I wish I knew a little bit more about the people in charge of Appropriations, Armed Services and International Relations. Those are going to be some committees to watch extremely closely in the next session, because the first one is going to be absolutely crucial in cutting down on the constant stream of pork being funnelled through the House, and the latter two are going to be important in fighting the President on Iraq.

December 12, 2006

Jim Rutz has some really interesting ideas on where gay people come from.

I have nothing against an occasional soy snack. Soy is nutritious and contains lots of good things. Unfortunately, when you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you’re also getting substantial quantities of estrogens.

Estrogens are female hormones. If you’re a woman, you’re flooding your system with a substance it can’t handle in surplus. If you’re a man, you’re suppressing your masculinity and stimulating your “female side,” physically and mentally.

Yes, that’s right. Soy turns guys homosexual.

This kind of argument, crazy as it is, doesn’t actually surprise me too much. Conservatives have long hinged their homophobia on the assumption that homosexuality is some kind of choice, or better yet, a disease. So they’ll blame it on things like abusive parents, evolution, or, in this case, diet. Read and be amazed:

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That’s why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t homosexual.” No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can’t remember a time when excess estrogen wasn’t influencing them.

Now that right there is a tightly constructed argument. See how quickly he rebutts the “homosexuality is not a choice” argument with a simple but elegant, “no, you’re wrong.” Touché, sir. Now you may ask, “How do you know that soy contains estrogen? For that matter, what’s the connection between estrogen and liking other guys?” And by asking that question, you’ve already fallen into his carefully laid rhetorical trap. See, all of that stuff is irrelevant – the point is that there’s estrogen in soy, and estrogen is a science word. He wouldn’t use that word unless he totally knew what he was talking about.

But soy is even more sinister than you could have possibly imagined. For example:

Research in 2000 showed that a soy-based diet at any age can lead to a weak thyroid, which commonly produces heart problems and excess fat. Could this explain the dramatic increase in obesity today?

That’s right. Research showed that. It was proven. With research. But any fool could see it for themselves, anyway. Fast food companies are pumping their products full of soy and tofu to make a cheap buck, and kids are just weakly flapping their pudgy little arms and screaming for more of it. Also connected to obesity: water, exercise, and sunlight.

Okay, so soy is responsible for gayness, shriveled genitals, impotence and fat kids. Anything else?

Worse, there’s now scientific evidence that estrogen ingredients in soy products may be boosting the rapidly rising incidence of leukemia in children. In the latest year we have numbers for, new cases in the U.S. jumped 27 percent. In one year!

There’s also a serious connection between soy and cancer in adults – especially breast cancer. That’s why the governments of Israel, the UK, France and New Zealand are already cracking down hard on soy.

Jesus Christ! Cancer, too? I don’t care where Rutz gets the numbers that he vaguely alludes to – this is serious! We need to take drastic action, now. From now on, everyone should only eat manly things. Like delicious Hungry Man meals.

Yum, yum. That’s one meal that won’t turn you gay, shrink your testicles, make you overweight, give you cancer,turn you into a Communist, get you high, make you like Nickelback, etc.

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