car headlights and the implied horizon (long)

I have a long list of modern-world-anthropology topics that I want to get to. This post is about fear and about how our experience of daytime itself is changing.

Here in the USA, many people are now driving with their headlights on in the daytime, even if it is sunny. They call what they are doing 'daytime running lights' (DRL). They say what they are doing is safer. Others doubt the cited research. I summarize the arguments I have seen about this new instrusive part of the American landscape:

  1. the DRL studies were largely done in countries close to the Arctic, countries with different daytime light conditions than the USA, and too much reliance is placed one one study done in the USA decades ago

  2. if most vehicles have DRLs, it's harder to spot those who do not. Not to mention the pedestrians!1

  1. DRLers say the single study done in the USA is enough evidence for them

  2. some DRLers want what they call a 'DRL mandate' - a law which would make it illegal to drive in the daytime without your headlights on

the DRLers

There is unquestionably more going on than driving-safety concerns. Before getting into the cultural issues I will highlight the key question of headlight type. I would have thought this would be an obvious talking-point.

Years ago most cars were equipped with what were just called 'running lights'. These were used to make the vehicle more visible in bad light conditions like fog, dusk, and dawn. They did not illuminate forwards, and were almost always amber. The lack of projection and the color was designed to ease the eyestrain on the oncoming drivers.

DRLers do not seem to be very interested in seeing if the old-style running-lights would produce the same safety statistics found for DRLs in far Northern countries (and yes, maybe in the USA too). This is not very scientific of them, and it's a clear indication that driving safety is not their only concern.

Following DRL logic to its end, switching the amber brake-lights on the backs of their cars to high-beams would make sense. Maybe a study in Siberia could be done showing this reduced rear-end collisions! [sarcasm]

Just look at the extreme DRL trends. Some drivers add extra banks of headlights which they use in the daytime. Some even drive with their brights (high beam headlights) on all the time.

There are sufficient numbers of these true-believers that Honda apparently will be selling 2006 Civic and Accord models whose high-beams go on when the engine is turned on. Or you can buy a kit for this purpose.

DRLs can be annoying

An opponent of DRLing writes:
“Good bloody hell, so (most of) you're the murderous scum using headlights during the day. The idea is simple, make sure that YOU are seen but in the process make it harder for anyone else to be. Just part of the reinforcement of the concept that it's a right, not a privilege, to drive--drunk, drugged, blind, or extremely stupid. "Put your headlights on and you can safely make it home from the bar." ... I consider Charles Manson a saint compared to you evil pea-brains.”  [ellipted]  from 'putrid'

But people have always been selfish2, so the trend cannot just be about selfishness any more than it can be just be about driving-safety3. This is clear from the timing of the trend in the USA (right after the 9-11 attacks here).

it's about the horizon

In my opinion DRLers are trying to communicate to others that they do not feel safe, and they want the others not to feel safe either. It's an unconscious political movement, designed to increase the collective protection against all dangers.

I believe they are trying to hide the implied horizon.4 Simply by the act of driving back from the shopping mall the DRLers are wiping out the implied daytime horizon for everyone.

What I do not get at all, is why progressives do not oppose DRLs with all their might.
Over millions of years 'nothing from here to horizon' has been felt as meaning 'all is safe'. And much of the USA is flat. When driving thru these parts (in the daytime), the sky itself might make a driver feel relaxed and safe.

It's not that DRLers specifically want to eliminate this natural nurturance - it's just that they want .. something. Something done by collective will that will result in themselves feeling safer.

Which means .. goodbye to the pleasure of experiencing the daytime sky.

other wild possibilities

Before I decided this I considered a lot of other possibilities. The DRLers postition seemed that irrational to me. Among the idea I considered:
  • with so many working two jobs the USA no longer is so much a dayime-working culture. Could that be related?
  • do DRLers feel their headlights give them power in a God-like kind of way?
  • is it that they don't want to be so visible thru their windshields?
  • is it like a moth thing (with tranference), because they are lonely?
  • Could be related to the Rapture movement ('end times') .. DRLs do produce a kind of antiChrist ambience, right?

this is serious, folks

Even if half of this is wrong - even if driving safety is all DRLers are looking for - the use of these daytime headlights is profoundly changing the culture. In my opinion.

And not a value-free change, either. DRLs produce a daytime experience that meshes with authoritarian ways. Seriously. Think of the the cliché of baving a bright light on you as you are questioned by sinister police, or the cliché of having a bright light on you as you are trying to escape from prison. These are veridical, they are about fundamentals in human experience.

Or -to go on a tangent- think about the late Johnny Carson, 20th century America's most popular late night talk show host. Carson grew up in Nebraska and had a sunny dispostion characteristic of many from the region then. My claim is his friendliness in part came from being nurtured day after day as a child by the then-magnificent Nebraska sky and clear horizon. My claim is even that Carson transfered this sky-nurturance to the nightime 'airwaves' when his show was on. People felt safe when they watched his show.

If we allow DRLs as they are now it means no more Johnny Carsons. That's my opinion.

about the progressives (lwers)

What I do not get at all, is why progressives do not oppose DRLs with all their might. Popular progressive bloggers understand the relationship between collective fear5 and the popularity of authoritarian govts. The entire lw spectrum in America sees a cultural, authoritarian abyss opening up under their feet. So why don't they get the relationship between fear and DRLs?5

DRLs threaten the day itself, guys!

If you agree with what FDR said, that 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself6- then logic impels you to be afraid of DRLs, if you also think DRLer's driving-safety fears have merged with other fears they have.

other relationships

That is pretty much what I have to say on this in basic terms. The rest is more abstract. Right now I am confident that:
  • DRLs are somewhat for the same reason they have been a tradition for funerals: someone is dead / people are reminded of their mortality / they want to remind other poeple of their mortality

  • the DRLer subset of the populartion has some interesting correlations that we don't know about since academics are not bothering to check .. Easy would be the prediction that DRLers roughly consist of some of the same people that believe SUVs are safer. The craziest correlation I will predict is that DRLers might roughly be those adults who did not ever try marijuana

  • the Rapture movement religous belief originated in places that had too much visible horizon relative to real dangers [Crime and empty landscapes is a weird combination]. Look at it this way: heaven-arriving formally matches horizon-arriving in the form of daytime headlights. . It is possible 'end times' operates at a cognitive level, a concept born from attempts by the animal to balance out the information coming in in terms of light itself [see also my post about Don McLean's famous song]

More could be said, but that will have to wait for another day.

the extended notes

  1. Not just the pedestrian statistics - accidents not involving DRLs (but possibly because of them) do not get recorded that way. An account of a car accident in North Carolina in 2004(?)
    “I *think* I'm OK, but was in a pretty serious car accident this morning.

    I was on my way to meet my wife at our son's new pre-school, was traveling about 40 mph down a hill in an area where I had unquestioned right of way. There was no traffic light, no yield, I was simply on a straightaway. There were several pickup trucks stopped at a stop sign ahead of me and to my right. They had been sitting there as I came down the hill, and all of a sudden as I got close, the lead truck pulled out to turn left in front of me (crossing in front of me to turn into the opposite lane). I *could not* believe it, I was going, as I said, 40 mph and was at this point *very* close to him. I have no idea what he was thinking. Anyway, I slammed on my horn, my brakes and tried to swerve around his backside to miss him... and I did. However, the pickup truck who had been waiting *behind* this genius at the stop sign decided to ALSO pull out in front of me to turn left into the lane opposite mine - he followed the original pickup so closely and without hesitation that it was almost as if he thought he was at a light and it had turned green.

    I slammed further on my brakes, but there was no where left to attempt to steer to to miss him - I hit him head on, perpendicular to him, in the bed area of his pickup. In the second before the impact, I thought 'Oh God, this is going to be realllllllly BAD.

    BOOM! The hood in front of me collapsed like an accordian, and both airbags deployed, and the windshield was cracked, but no blood, no cuts - my legs were not crushed as I expected them to be. ... The doctors think I have a concussion, but I feel ok so far.”  
    [heavily ellipted]
    The driver did not associate his mysterious invisibility on the road with his not having his headlights on. I remember someone asked him this later on and he said he did not have them on.

  2. Some people argue that selfishness has been increasing since the Reagan years.In my opinion even if this were true it would still not be enough to suddenly blossom into banks of high-beam headlights in the daytime

  3. Not to mention the complexity how people displace risk has never been widely understood. Properly understood, this also works against the use of DRLs. See the discussion of 'risk compensation' here or read this:
    “The key principle is that any safety feature will produce changes in behaviour: most people, as natural risk managers will barter some of the increased safety with perfomance enhancement, thus either negating the safety benefits or transfering the increased danger to other players.”
    From memory, one of just many instances of this was when NYC mandated its taxis get airlock brakes and accident rates went down -but only for a few months (eventually the drivers drove faster, since they felt safer with their new brakes). This effect is seen universally and will apply to DRLs.

  4. the implied horizon: In my opinion, when there are visual obstacles to the horizon modern humans make up an implied horizon, where it would be if the obstacles were not there. I am no expert but I think we feel comforted by a vista even while standing in a small town in the Midwest (minus the headlights). Even though there are buildings, the implied horizon is there as a universal comforter. This is why I inlude the 'implied'.

    Also I do not know if the symbol is at all passed from generations. ASFAIK for some of the ancient past humans lived on the savannah. During those epochs safety consisted of scanning the horizon for predators. This line in the distance -by my amateurish guess- has been internalized. Over millions of years 'nothing from here to horizon' is felt by us as meaning 'all is safe'. I do not know if each generation entirely relearns this.

  5. historical note: FDR said this on March 4 1933 on the radio, in his 1st inaugural address. I have seen it written that FDR said this two days after Pearl Harbor was bombed. But it is not in a transcript of his 12/9/1941 radio speech. So it does not seem FDR repeated himself. In 1933 was FDR talking in coded terms about authoritarianism? ..Read up on the period and make up your own mind.

  6. Nurturance is not political-spectrum neutral. And most progressives believe this. Often mentioned a semi-famous academic paper by George Lakoff, comparing the liberal 'Nurturant Parent' model to the 'Strict Father' model.



dig in (long)

This week is Thanksgiving holiday in the USA.

It may be our most natural holiday. Daylight hours are getting shorter, it's getting colder, and now we celebrate a sharing of food. Most people even get the day off. The Thursday(!) national holiday is on the short list of things that keeps the USA sane (without also damaging it in some other way).

The holiday is about a lot of things. I am going to try to circle around the topic by writing about these:

  • a popular tech site called digg
  • In the UK a chef recently recieved complaints for slicing a living lamb's throat on TV.  The lw and rw UK tabloids spun the story the same way
  • video of a Christmas lights display on a residential house, set to music (heavily blogged)
  • recent Rolling Stone profile of one of the US capitol's most efficient behind-the-scenes warmongers, with a significant clothing description:
    At fifty-six, Rendon wears owlish glasses and combs his thick mane of silver-gray hair to the side, Kennedy-style. He heads to work each morning clad in a custom-made shirt with his monogram on the right cuff and a sharply tailored blue blazer that hangs loose around his bulky frame.
  • a man just rowed across the Pacific Ocean! w photo of boat
These are examples of people trying to relate to nature, and to others. Their attempts are themselves related to each other. They are peripherally about what Thanksgiving is peripherally about. It's a cluster of meaning coming to focus at this time of year in the Northern hemishere.

we dig

Around 1970, the most most wildly-admired musical group wrote two songs with the word 'dig' in the title.

The entire lyrics of Dig It:
'Like a rolling stone // like a rolling stone // Like the FBI and the CIA // And the BBC… // BB king, And Doris Day, Matt Busby. // Dig it, dig it, dig it, Dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it.'
Some of the lyrics of 'I dig a pony':
"I dug a pony // Well you can syndicate any boat you row // Yes you can syndicate any boat you row"

To use dig the way John Lennon and millions of other did means more than enjoy. It means more than enjoy naturally. At the risk of sounding banal or ridiculous, to say 'I dig it' means:
'I am for the planet converting to a settler/agricultural culture (away from a hunter-gatherer culture), and what you are doing (and my experience of what you are doing) is part of the positive, natural trend'.

the crux of the matter

I myself dig. I am a digger. I want humanity to make the transition (and I believe many political conflicts will resolve themselves in the wake of the change).

In a way, the modern world is about the watershed decision to 'dig' or not. These centuries ARE resolving the conflict between vegetarians and gun-owners. And this IS the context for Thankgiving.

chew on this

But the holiday is intended to demonstrate metaphoricaly an extremely important political point - that this conflict is never, ever a crisis.

[Our teeth exemplify this. We have sets to chew meat and a different set to chew vegetables. Both the holiday and our pearly whites say humanity can -if it wants to- transit from a hunter modality to an agricultural one. Or not. {Human beings once lived in the rain forest, but also for past epochs the species lived on the savannah.}]

'dig to plant' / 'dig to bury'

Dig refers to both uses. As such it is linked not just to the concept of food, but also the concept of heaven.

[Death is both too boring and too scary to take part in metaphors that exist in our imagination. Its conversion into heaven in our culture (our shared imaginations made real) is helped by our pre-conscious (constantly projecting the rainforest part of ourselves into a vague hypothetical future).]

veggies -eat that turkey!

I am vegetarian who eats meat that other people prepare. This is the natural way. For you vegans out there, I want to stress this. Because archetypally my friends might be hunter-gatherers, even as I identify with the plant-farmers.

[I have no dispute with the chef that cut that lamb's throat on TV ( And neither did most right-wing groups, and neither did PETA).]

cooked on a fire

The growing trend in the USA for extravagent Christmas displays is the modern equivalent of the ancient sharing of the campfire. It proves people naturally want to share a campfire. So much so they are willing to spend time and money for the electric, colored, heatless fire where they now live.

These displays, btw, utterly refute the thesis of history displayed in Quest for Fire. This famous movie isn't just profoundly unThanksgivingish, its basic premise is false [long story - basically, people probably gave away flaming twigs].

Dress-up, but not like Ranford

Do dress up, but don't wear anything like what the warmonger wears. He is a professional whose job it is to push the hunter/gun culture [which nowadays seems to means a war culture. There arent a lot of forests around]. This man must wear the appropriate iconography.

His sartorial problems are that he must wear cloth from ... gasp! .. plants. And that he is fat from eating a lot of food he does not hunt for.

His solution is elabarate tailoring to mask his desk existence, monograms to simulate hunter/gathering clothing, a mane of hair, and glasses-frames that simulate wood.

I repeat, do not dress like this for Thanksgiving. Wear your granny glasses instead and cheerfully chew that meat!

row row row the boat

I mean, the gravy boat.


photo shows why younger generations like rap

In a few years, this kid will not be listening to lyrical, romantic music. It will be something like Eminem.

Since Generation X, kids in the West are getting exposed to sexual material too early. As teens they don't feel sex as a mystery, and thus they are not as soothed by melodies & lyrics as their parents had been.

Already, the kid's shirt shows signs of spiritual unease. It's red with a bug-eyed animal and the word SMASH on it (it might even be the kids favorite, the one he chose for the big day on center court).

Add the way text is inflicted on them in school and you get a rapping generation.

My point is that the rapping takes the role of psychiatry, teenagers talking about childhood events they weren't ready for, so much so that they mask the universal, non-relative voice that good music holds.

I say this extra part because I believe the various elements of music are non-relative, that they link up aspects of nature.

  • recent Dennis the Menace cartoon (for families!)

  • rap video in which a young man wants to float.
    Sorry, dude, but your childhood is gone.

  • Piercing is related to this issue. examples: 1  2 I more-or-less agree with a quote from 'Teenagers detachment from Self':
    'If a teenager can feel a steel bolt through her tongue move whenever she speaks, at least she knows she inhabits her own body, even if she doubts her own soul.'

modified: 2007-09-21


2 days after a football game in San Francisco

On Sunday Nov 6 a US football game was played in San Francisco. The game was in the daytime and the broadcast at one point showed a picturesque blimp shot of the hill Coit Tower sits on. The lingering shot was used to mark the difference between the commercials and the game, and show the sponsors' logos.

While watching the game I was surprised. I have seen many sports games televised from the city before, but never seen a blimp shot of that particular landmark. Flashing thru my mind then was the thought that some football fans would misinterpret it.

Wouldn't you know it, but two days later Bill O'Reilly remarked that he wouldn't mind if the tower was attacked by terrorists! Blogs all over the place are mentioning this, but I haven't seen any mention of the football game broadcast (one of the teams was from the NY-area and O'Reilly is too).

Whether he saw the game or not, I agree with this majikthise poster as to the likely reason O'Reilly picked out the tower for his fantasy...

important point

I am not saying O'Reilly is homosexual. I don't think he is. Not that there is anything wrong with being gay. But a man having a virulent reaction to a building that reminds him of a penis - that is the way many rw closet-cases behave.

tacked on 11/16: I should add that O'Reilly said this on nationally- syndicated radio on election day. He was on the east coast and his show starts at 5pm (but this is only 2pm in California and polls there close at 8pm).

The timing of the statement, then, was due to it being election day (not because of the game). But O'Reilly's picking out a landmark few have heard of, I would still guess was due to it being shown during the game 2 days before. Also it is possible that O'Reilly doesnt care about the shape of the tower, but demagogue-sensed some of his listeners might (and might have seen the game).

Basically, a man went on the radio and directly addressed people 3000 miles away -who might easily have been driving to the polls- they might be killed unless they voted the way he wanted them to. All of O'Reilly's really crappy aspects are involved here - fear mongering, contempt for the political process, chickenhawkism, worship of centralized state power.

Real conservatives do not behave like this.


the political urge to use noun phrases

It's too much to go into here, but reality is more like verb phrases than it is like noun phrases.

Nevertheless young USA Republicans have produced wallpaper for your PC [via], featuring a very long noun phrase.1
I'm a Freedom Fighter Protecting Freedom from the Authoritarian, Granola-eating, Elitist, anti-American, Socialist Do-gooders, Statist, Enviro-freak, Leftist, Power-hungry, Truthless, Left-wing status quo force fed on today's American Campuses.”
In case you have trouble reading that, the modified noun is 'status quo'.2


As it happens, Christopher Hitchens loves noun-phrases, too.

From last year, all in just one page from him:
'prisoners' dilemma',   'angry abstention',  'triangular calculation',  'banal,  unexciting assumption',  'two-party oligopoly',  'irony of history',  'underlying stipulation',  'formal quarrel',  'racist janjaweed death squads',  'pitiable, deep-seated Muslim grievances',  'near-impeachable irresponsibility',  'hypertense refusal',  'degraded, mendacious populism',  'self-imposed quandary'.

Could it be Hitchens has moved into alliance with these guys because they share his grammatical urges? Could that be part of it?

[I am wavering between this and the guess that Hitchens was treated rudely in Persia on one of his visits by locals who misunderstood his purpose there.]

  1. In case the image goes away: the wallpaper has a muted blue background. Below the text is the YAF logo. There is a line break after 'Freedom Fighter'.

  2. It is possible they don't capitalize 'status quo' because they don't think status quos are intrinsically bad.



chicken Chicken Little

Chicken Little is a classic story. Last year I predicted a 200M gross for Disney's animated version.

The movie is out. Now it looks like the pros were right and I was wrong1. The movie will be no Shrek (it has managed to cross the road).

The studio has crassly reversed the meaning. In the original the foxes of the world take advantage of naive conspiracy-theorists hens but, thank God, are themselves controlled by noble hunters.

One would have thought that would be a sufficiently authoritarian fable for Disney.

But no. Now the sexless hen turns out to have been right - The sky is falling. The studio has its young hero finding a little square blue piece of sky and then, after everyone ignores this warning ... dangerous aliens land.

Far from their Chicken Little being a welcome diversion from these paranoid times, the company made it as part of these times. They have made a War of the Worlds for kids2. And so far they are not making the money they expected3.


I am particularly offended by Disney's linkage of the sky itself with danger.

I have a work in progress on the how people experience the sky & the horizon (update: here). The gist here would be that our planet's canopy has been for millions of years an invaluable force for healing. Thus any company believing in family values (as Disney fancies itself) would never introduce a childrens' story with such a sky (a sky introjected with devilry, signifying danger).

What's next from the staggering and manic-compulsive industry dinosour? A kids movie where milk & cookies everwhere are poisoned but a clever band of youngsters manage to save the city after only some die a painful, puking death?4

  1. I did not know Disney was making the movie all by itself (with no help from Dreamworks or Pixar). These days the company has as much chance of solo marshalling sufficient creative juices for a crossover kids CGI blockbuster as Quentin Tarantino has of making an impact on the culture without a torture scene. You are who you are (almost always).

  2. That Tom Cruise vehicle was probably in overlapping production, and the suits may have been afraid to compete. They may not have wanted to aim at children what amounted to an expansion of fear, but that was their market so what else could they do?

    For whatever reason, Disney chose not to add to Chicken the usual amount of adult trim jokes/verbalisms. The most cynical possibility is that they sensed most grown ups are fed up with the story of dangerous aliens landing, and expected to do better than War of the Worlds (since they had a more gullible audience).

  3. Coincidentally or not, the content is apparently awful. Steve Rhodes:
    “Our packed audience of kids and their parents was clearly not impressed. The comedy uses gags such as having Chicken Little being forced to run around in his tidy whities, much to his brief embarrassment, and showing small animals talking in mass on their cells phones. About the best that the movie can come up with is a barbell made out of two donuts and a pencil. If I ever smiled during the movie, I don't remember it.”

  4. Done in CGI, called 'Cookie Monster', with the bad guy voiced by Tom Sizemore?

updated: 2007-07-25


top 10 movie titles streaming into consciousness

The current top 10 movies in the the USA, in order:
Chicken Little     Jarhead  
Saw II     The Legend of Zorro
Dreamer     Good Night, and Good Luck
The Weather Man     Shopgirl

Streaming into consciousness are the shared themes:

A little chicken is a semi-frightened chicken which is a stupid chicken which will soon be a chicken with its head cut off (which is like someone with a jar on their head). Speaking of cutting flesh, saw's do it in II, and so does Zorro (in three neat strokes).

Less surgically and more optimistically, with good luck on a good night all of us manage to be dreamers. For instance, a weather man could make love to a shopgirl (in the unlikely event many sunny days are forecast and no killer sales are planned which would swamp the department store where she works).

The deep secret is that we all plan to flee these 'memes' but are always thwarted, as these days are all about many-digited numbers (and the chances the lottery lands on ours is the same as the chances ours is a prime).


the Star Wars movies compared to the Thousand-Hand Guan Yin

An explanation and video of a dance called the 'Thousand-Hand Guan Yin'  [faster download]

In the dance the Goddess is made up of many women. The eyes on the many hands represent her ability to see suffering in a lot of places. The hands represent her compassion.

human hands vs movie frames

Compare the hands of the dance to the frames as collected on a Star Wars fan page
“I trimmed 81 frames from the beginning of AOTC, 49 frames from ROTS, 25 frames from ANH, 25 frames from ESB, and 26 frames from ROTJ, so the first frame of the Star Wars logo in each movie coincides.”

When assembled by the human eye in both cases the ephemera merge into a being (or beings) that is a powerful friend with special powers.

Notably, even assembled both the dance and the movie use the theme of elegant coordination.1 Someone who unconsciously wants to know if he really has such a friend -and experencing that theme- might easily be compelled to study the orginal frames.2.

The Star Wars student goes so far as providing photos of the frames in order to demonstrate that 'The first appearance of Palpatine in TPM and AOTC is ON THE SAME FRAME'. He finds this one of many 'funny and cool coincidences'.

roughly speaking

  • The context of deafness -- The women in the dance are all deaf. And Lucas is so well-known for his tin ear, he once joked about another director, "before I met him [Francis Ford Coppola], I couldn't write a word, and now I'm the King of Wooden Dialogue".

  • the context of regeneration -- the Guan Yin bodhisattva represents 'a being who is enlightened and ready to transcend the cycles of birth and death'. While Lucas 'force' also passes thru these cycles by being carried in a priveleged family (Luke, his Dad, his sister, and so on).


This post is not commenting on the relative or absolute values of Buddhism or the Star Wars movies.

  1. In the case of the movie I refer to the use of light sabres.

  2. The ancient bodhisattva dance is more overt in this regard. Part of the reason, I guess, is because film has not always been around.



zombies agree to have their life story patented!

The USA issued its first patent to a storyline on Thursday, apparently.
Either someone is being witty, or the specific storyline and title is an ironic coincidence:
“Knight's story, The Zombie Stare, tells of an ambitious high school kid, consumed by the anticipation of college admission. He prays one night to remain unconscious until he gets the good news from MIT. The letter arrives - 30 years later, due to a postal error - and he wakes up. He soon discovers that, to all external observers, he has lived a normal life. Thus he endeavours to regain 30 years’ worth of memories, lost as an unconscious, philosophical zombie.”
I say much of the leadership of the US govt are themselves 'unconscious philosophical zombies' whose state also comes from being terrified of not being in the elite.
Agreeing that this is a terrible trend:
 -Most Slashdot posters
 -novelist/blogger 'storytelling' [details]

about MSNBC Jarhead review quote

A MSNBC review of Jarhead starts by quoting the book:
“All Vietnam films were pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended … [They] watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills ... Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man.”

from a novel by Tony Swofford,
based on his own experiences [ellipted]

The reviewer says this new movie -in its way- keeps true to this by having no battle scenes (thus being more effectively antiwar).

The reviewer then moves seamlessly from this subtle lw deconstruction into statements implying a rw reality!
  • it implies there are lots of exciting, honorable battles going on in Iraq that could have been put into the movie

  • it compares the movie to bad sex


lawyer joke

it speaks for itself:
“Not all of the justices admit to being so nervous, however. Asked to assess his prospects for losing his virginity within the next two months, a confident Scalia lifted his judicial robe and quipped, "Res ipsa loquitur".”


quick note: economics seminar

If you live in Washington, DC. and are into economics, You might want to go to a Dean Baker seminar on November 3. No charge.
[Videos of the series are online]

Baker's economic chops are considerable. And he does not a priori decide which conclusions he will come to before doing research.
[See for instance 'The Relative Impact of Trade Liberalization on Developing Countries'].


vile Spartan

The man that made 2004's Spartan seems to have decided that if he sipped expensive scotch and wrote the most depraved script possible, then he would make a lot of money.

The violent first reel of the movie may have prevented the movie from being a hit. Box office history shows that if -in the first 30 minutes- you show torture, suicide, and shotgun blasts to the chest then few wives or girlfriends will be willing to watch. Which means couples won't go.

Even if she agrees with the politics, she wont go. She wont be drawn in by droning, robotic music, either. Or by one dark, asphalt set after another.

Evil movies like Spartan tend to slip under the cultural radar. It's only later --when a teenager from nowhere commits a horrific suicide-shooting spree, leaving a note that says that viewing the movie in question a few years before had inspired him-- that people even begin to wonder if it wasn't so wholesome, after all.

The hinge of the plot

The stereotypes in Spartan are political, and the movie amps them up to a level usually seen only in satire.

The US President's daughter disappears and is now probably in the hands of sex-slavers. We see a Secret Service agent tied to a chair and beaten. Then we see this agent's brains on the floor, an apparent suicide. With this turn of events someone has to take charge, right?

..In stalks a man scowling so ostentantiously we know he is top dog (and used to it). This stereotype pulls out a photo of the young woman in a Catholic-schoolgirl outfit. He shows the photo to the assembled flunkies. He asks them what will happen to this precious person (besides being drugged and gang-raped, that is).

A flunky dutifully responds that since the President's daughter is famous for having red hair, the young woman will be killed because she has just dyed her hair blonde and cut it short, and thus the sex-slavers will not realize whose daughter they have got.

This is a script contrivance of unusually-high decadence. The script uses the line 'when her hair grows out'. I am convinced the writer intended that some of the movie-goers would switch the meaning of this line. That some will get a particular image into their heads, and the secret of her real hair color will be out in another way (since the woman has been sold into sex-slavery).

the script's depravity

Q: what is the most reactionary plot possible in a movie?
A: nothing is more exploitable than a script involving sex slavery

Q: how do you adjust a movie script that involves the kidnapping and raping of women to make it as manipulative as possible?
A: write it so a rich person's daughter is a victim

Q: what are the most cynical plot turns that could be added next?
A: Adding race issues would do it

Writer/director David Mamet does all this, and worse. He writes is so the young woman's father is the President of the USA. He writes it that she goes to a famous elite college. He symbolizes virginity by making her red-haired. He adds degraded 911 subtext to the topic it is exploiting: it turns out that the sex-slavers are  [drumroll please]  Arabs!

Mamet sells these plot-choices as color-blind and realistic. You decide if they are (but first read up on it).

I have never hated a movie more. Spartan is insulting to the victims of the world sex-slave trade and to their families. It's fake story exploits and twists any possible recognition of these tragedies evilly.

I mentioned the race-baiting, the Arab sub-plot. This piece of crap movie also includes a black sidekick who is shot and badly injured ... twice. Yet who has a loyalty to the white hero like a puppy-dog.

what other people think

Depressingly, the movie was critically well-recieved in many places. IMDb members currently rate it 6.9 out of 10.

==>Liberal USA reviewer Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars. His review has this:
“The particular pleasure of "Spartan" is to watch the characters gradually define themselves and the plot gradually emerge like your face in a steamy mirror. You see the outlines, and then your nose, and then you see that somebody is standing behind you, and then you see it's you -- so who is the guy in the mirror? Work with me here. I'm trying to describe how the movie operates without revealing what it does.”
I think Mr. Ebert's mirror stayed a little too steamed-up that day (he is an under-rated critic, though).

==> A site calling itself Culture Vulture - choices for the cognoscenti ends its review with this
“Always rooted in thoughtful ideas and graced with irony, his stylized dialogue has the effect of focusing attention on what is being said, as contrasted with, say, more ordinary thrillers in which the dialogue is generally little more than a series of plot-moving cliches. With that stylization, Mamet balances on the narrow line separating reality and a theatrical abstraction. ... It's all enhanced by his sense of visual style (a very dark palette, lots of saturated blues and greens here), his ability to draw out the best from his actors, and his devilishly imaginative way with Byzantine plotlines.”  [ellipted]
You are right, dude, you are a vulture. And the movie is devilish.

edited 11/28/2006


McLean was singing about the Rapture

Don McLean first performed American Pie in 1971. This link includes the lyrics, which probably have been more discussed than any other song in pop history.1

Referring to the repeated line 'the day the music died', the sites say the song is about the death of rock 'n roll.2. What's interesting is that these websites give scant attention to three lines that are sung over and over again:
“And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye,
Singing, 'This'll be the day that I die.
This'll be the day that I die.'”
In these lines, it's the good old boys that are preparing for death.

I believe McLean had sensed that the new music (rock 'n roll) added to some people's feeling that the end of the world was coming. I believe he was singing about the American Rapture movement (whether he knew it or not).

This would help explain the song's title. The 'pie' could be an allusion to heaven, and derived from the phrase 'pie in the sky'.

Heaven, of course, is where people hoping for 'end times' imagine they will go. This as part of their hope that everyone in the world dies simultaneously, causing everything to end.

The song does highlight one thing that will die -rock music- like a movie might focus only one character as they approach the end of the world. Apparently what makes it resonant for McLean is this character (rock 'n roll) isn't just a spectator to the 'end of times', it's an actor as well.

But once the 'end times' aspect to it is seen, it could even be argued McLean's lyrics describe an apocalypse that is suddenly, horribly revealed not to be a Rapture! that the song itself is a commentary on such wishes - that is makes the argument people should not wish for the end of the world.

For instance, here Mclean jokes the  Catholic Trinity bails out on the (Midwest) rapture at the last minute:
"The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.
 They caught the last train for the coast
 The day the music died"
and that is why Satan was chuckling
"'I saw Satan laughing with delight The day the music died"
Of course, the meanings are inexact.

My point is that in 1971 McLean might have been observing a cultural trend that is now stronger.

What is 'the Rapture?

A belief with its roots in US Protestant fundamentalism. Bill Moyers has just written about it. See also this George Monbiot piece from last year. Here is a current site by believers.

  1. Whiter Shade of Pale 2nd?
  2. a New Age piece written this year is an exception