Saturday, March 25, 2006

Well, someone's reading!

I just found that I was cited on a a website called on an entry I wrote awhile back about a Facebook debacle at Northwestern. The chief irony is that the site's political leanings appear opposite of my own. The blogosphere really makes the world seem smaller, eh?

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Seventies: When Americans became dumb?

One of the great paradoxes of our age is how the US can be so dimly complacent and so sharply fearful in the same breath.--James Wolcott

On my flight home from Orlando, Florida last night (I was visiting a friend), as I was opening my airplane reading, historian Bruce Schulman's The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics, the woman in the seat next to me opened a Rush Limbaugh newsletter. Not fully believing my eyes, I glanced over surreptitiously at the articles every so often, only making myself more disgusted as I saw headlines like "Why Joe Wilson is Wrong" and clearly made-up quotes attributed to Bill Clinton and Al Gore (when will Rush get over his obsession with Clinton, anyway?). As a result of forces that have polarized our society, such as commentators like Rush, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter who get what seems like unlimited airtime to spew their usually unsubstantiated invective, people like me have tuned out of much of what passes for debate within the mainstream media. In a way, I live in a state of denial: I flip past Fox News as fast as possible, I live in a college town where even (most) Republicans scoff at O'Reilly, and I certainly don't meet a "dittohead," a person who listens to Rush and unquestionably accepts what he says as the truth, very often.

As I sat staring at The Seventies, I wondered how the United States has become a land within which two separate worlds exist: an educated, socially liberal world with faith in science and the less educated, socially conservative world with faith in religion. More importantly, how has the latter world become the more influential in politics and culture? In Schulman's book, I found part of my answer. In The Seventies, it is argued that as a result of frustration with the lack of progress of integrationist movements like Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Leadership Conference (SLC) and traditional feminist movements like the National Organization for Women (NOW), activits increasingly agitated against American social and political structures that they had once used to try to win equality. As an example, compare then-lawyer Thurgood Marshall's successful efforts in Brown v. Board of Education to prove that legally separate institutions could by definition never be equal circa 1954 to Stokely Carmichael's "black power"movement where he urged "a complete rejection of American society." With this distrust in the ability of America's public structures to achieve equality came a larger distrust in a government that had up to then been relatively successful at achieving its aims since the 1930s: aims of fighting depression, winning a war, and creating prosperity. In the late '60s and early '70s, however, the war in Vietnam and finally Watergate fomented distrust of government not only among minorities and women but among Americans who hadn't felt as disaffected during the civil rights era.

This, however is where things get muddled. Why, for instance, didn't Americans connect Watergate more directly with its perpetrators rather than with the entire federal government, and why didn't it become a lesson against invasvive government and the accumulation of executive power? Well, I believe it was a lesson against these things for awhile, but soon became a justification for Republican power in a contradictory sense: Republicans claimed they were the party against government and therefore were able to accumulate governmental power and do very corrupt things with it. In the meantime, as The Seventies suggests, Americans were looking to individualist experiences to define their being, their meaning. Schulman suggests that with public institutions in question, traditional organizations that fostered civic belonging waned in membership while membership in New Age movements and evangelist religions took off. This is also where Rush Limbaugh, in my view, could gain his following: from a bunch of people desirous to distrust government, to blame all of their problems on forces far from them, and to try and understand societal upheavals today.

In a recently published book called Retro vs. Metro by John Sperling, et al., the thesis is in part that the U.S. is currentlymade up of two distinct, polarized regional political mindsets (the former being the South, Midwest, and Mountain states, the latter the more populous East and West coasts and Great Lakes states): "one traditional and rooted in the past, and one modern and focused on the future." However, there are a few attributes of so-called "Retro" or red-state, suburban sprawl America that are nothing if not anti-traditional. The almost hedonistic belief in doing everything first and foremost to please oneself, the yes, liberal attitude towards our natural resources that come with driving SUVs and H2s and living in areas that are un-walkable, the unhealthy diets that lead to Type 2 diabetes and obesity: this is a red-state America. I'm not saying there aren't Democrats of this lifestyle or Republicans not of it, but that it is almost synonomous with the ideals of the New Right, which are in a nutshell: me, me me. Distrust of education based on an uninformed cynicism towards scientific reason is a fundamental attribute of the New Right and is in part behind our country's low achievement rankings in education (for instance, in 2003, 15-year olds in America finished 24th out of 29th in math and problem solving abilities).

Religion has become the "opiate of the masses" only because there are large segements of the population today who are unwilling to believe anything else. These are the same people who criticize the ideal of diversity, but when they argue that creationism should be taught in schools, they are employing the exact principles that they are purportedly against by suggesting a diversity of "views" must be taught. By appeasing this group of people and shying away from criticizing their lifestyle in fear of being called "elitist" or "liberal" can only lead to further decline in the direction of our country.

Professors take note

Plagiarism is a practice adopted by the lazy or faint of mind, and it has now been made easier (though also pricier) than ever by a group called The Paper Experts. The Paper Experts' description of what they do is especially humorous in its attempt to foil potential plagiarism of their product:
First, you can't submit this paper as your own. But what you can do is use the paper we write as a guide or model to write your own. The term paper we write will contain research and a bibliography. It's just like looking up a book in a library that deals with your exact topic.

The brilliance of this service may be that--unlike other plagiarism strategies, for instance, where a friend's old paper is used--someone is being paid to write an original copy, making it hard for a professor to get to the source of the paper. However, many papers are already written, anticipating the essay topics ahead of time. These ones cost less than the custom-written papers (a 5-page paper on how the American Revolution contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution is 24.75, 5 dollars per page).
The Paper Experts emphasize their eminent qualifications as justification for their rates:
Services that offer rates of $10 a page or similar prices are based out of Pakistan and provide substandard papers. Remember, people can earn a PhD in a developing country but that doesn't mean that they can write in English properly like Native English speaking writers. People write the way they speak. We have nothing against them personally; we just feel that it would be absurd to give your paper to someone who writes at a lower level than most college students.

Hey, if you're already paying around 3,000 per class, why not pay a little extra not to do any work in that class? After all, who goes to college to learn anymore?

Republicans for Bill Clinton?

I just found the best website ever. If only more Republicans could be this honest about their party:
And when you look at the issues Republicans stand for and then compare our elected officials to our beliefs, President Clinton is the one who is delivering what traditional Republicans are looking for. To me it's more important what a candidate does and what he stands for than what party label he runs under.

The government and the Republican Party are here to serve the people, not the other way around.

And when you look at President Clinton's Record, you'll see a record that would make any Republican proud.

I am tired of the right wing extremists and the Moonies trying to redefine what a Republican is. Republicans are not moving away from the party. The party is moving away from Republicans.

I'm creating this page to put the Republican Party on notice that America comes first. We will no longer tolerate our party putting it's self interest ahead of the citizens of our country. We will no longer tolerate petty partisan political bickering. We are not stupid and we deeply resent what our party is doing and the direction the party is heading.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Vote this Tuesday!

In many states, primary elections are taking place this Tuesday, March 21. Voting in the primaries is at least as important as voting in the general elections, because they determine which candidate will have the party's nomination in November.

I will just briefly list which candidates I'm supporting on the Democratic primary ticket in contested elections and provide links to their websites and endorsements.

Governor, Illinois:
Rod Blagojevich
(official website) (Blagojevich talks gun control in visits to churches) (Top Federal Officials join Rod Blagojevich) (Pioneer Press endorsement) (State education board bans junk food in elementary schools) (Nurse's hold out hope for governor's plan) (Area schools' finances look on the mend)

President, Cook County Board:
Forrest Claypool
(official website) (Voter's task is to focus on what's at stake) (Another loopy Stroger add) (Commissioner takes on the powerful--Again) (Chicago Tribune Endorsement)

Representative, 10th District to the United States Congress:
Dan Seals
(official website) (Democrats get rare primary in 10th District) (Chicago Tribune Endorsement)

Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District:
Debra Shore
(official website) (Sewage board seat a hot ticket) (Party voters to get their say Tuesday) (Daily Southtown endorsement)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"It takes a screw and a nut!": This is a sermon?

Call me naive or oblivious, but when I first heard the audio recording of a sermon given by Reverend Willie Wilson of the Union Temple Baptist Church in SE Washinton D.C. from July 3, 2005, I didn't think it real. In it, Wilson says that "Lesbianism" is rampant because of this little tale of woe:
My son in high school last year tried to go to the prom. He said, 'Dad, I ain't got nobody to take to the prom because all the girls in my class are gay. Ain't but two of 'em straight, and both of them ugly.'

The example is ridiculous to begin with, but apparently Wilson made up this scenario (according to the investigative work of the Washington City Paper, Wilson's only high school-age son had a girlfriend at the time of the prom, and he was a junior when this senior's-only prom occurred).

I first heard the explosive sermon over winter break and harkened upon it again this past week when I wanted to prove how nutty evangelicized sermons are. In the recorded excerpt, Wilson's only reference to the bible as evidence that homosexuality is unnatural is to say that "god made them male and female." On the contrary, his prime way of proving that it is unnatural is by scrutinizing presumed gay sexual practices (I won't quote Wilson here, but you can go to this website to hear his explicitness or just click here for the audio file). If Wilson hadn't been so concerned with detailing sexual practices, he could have referenced a more specific part of the bible that condemns or at least questions homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22), but he would also have to acknowledge that there are bible passages which support stoning as punishment (see here) and that sanction slavery (which the pro-slavery movement in the U.S., like Jefferson Davis, used as their backup).

The most fascinating thing about Wilson's spewings is how ridiculous it makes his religion look. For people like me, who know little about Baptism, we may open our newspapers one day to read quotes from a sermon that seem much more like the ramblings of a crazy man than any sort of reflection on teachings of the Christian faith. Having taken a few seconds to watch televangelists beg for money, sweat profusely, cry, and "heal" congregants while flipping channels, I can only but continue to be amazed at what people in this country call worship. All of the insanity suggests even more that those who are truly the most holy and honorable people are the ones who are most quiet about their religious beliefs.

Monday, March 13, 2006


A state-owned company based in the emirate of Dubai has dropped its bid to run six U.S. ports after concern expressed by the Congress along with a strong resolution against the deal. One thing that bothered me has been the interpretation of this decision. The Chicago Tribune said this deal signified the Democrats first chance to look stronger on national defense and they took it. This therefore becomes a cynical attempt by the Democrats to capitalize on Americans' negative associations of the Middle East. Lest we forget, however, that it is the media that has done so much to promote the myth that Republicans are stronger on national defense. Read most any article analyzing Democratic and Republican strengths, and it is suggested that national security is firmly in the Republican corner, notwithstanding that Osama Bin Laden remains at large, the U.S.'s port security still doesn't inspect almost all of the cargo passing through, various assessments indicate the U.S. is still very susceptible to a terrorist attack, and the security situation in Iraq is disastorous. So if media outlets like the Tribune are going to accuse Democrats of cynically exploiting the ports issue (which I must disagree with because Congressional Republicans were as vocal as Dems on the issue and Democrats were most worried about why the UAE-based company didn't get the usual background check before approval, which is a reasonable expectation), then they should stop promoting the equally cynical myth that Republicans are stronger on national security because they yell louder about our enemies.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Good for you, Dave Chappelle

No, I'm actually not talking about Chappelle's return from the wilderness, but rather his decision to no longer use the "n" word in his comedy (and in general, I'm presuming). According to this article on Campus Progress, Chappelle told Oprah that
he was concerned that in using that term and other provocative material in his sketches he was playing the buffoon to his large white audience.

Also, according to the article,
In the interview, Dave distanced himself from some of his edgier racial comedy that caused the dropping of thousands of n-word bombs over the past years.

I say bravo to Dave for a number of reasons. First, I have always been uncomfortable with the use of this deragatory term that has in the past been used by racists. I understand the argument for using the term is so to "reclaim" it from those who disseminated it in the first place, but such campaigns inevitably alienate and divide. Take for instance the small uproar that occurred here at Northwestern last month when the student group who performs the play Vagina Monologues put fliers throughout campus on which there were various unflattering words for vagina written in big, bold letters. Rather than inspiring otherwise like-minded feminists to embrace the word, as was intended, we were divided amongst our ranks, as some made the valid point that the free use of these words legitimizes their use by in this case, men. Also, the Vagina Monologue people opened themselves up for criticism from the right, as can be seen here.

Secondly, I just support the principle that we should not call ourselves epithets which we wouldn't want others of a different race/ethnicity/gender to use towards us. Here's an example from that Campus Progress article of the effects of bring the "n" word back into the lexicon:

Recently, a white teacher at Valley High School in Jefferson County, Kentucky, referred to a black student as a “nigger” or, as the teacher claims, a “nigga,” while asking him to sit down in class. The alarmed student responded by calling the teacher a “nigga” as well. The teacher, who is currently appealing his ten-day suspension, defended his linguistic decision by explaining that the use of the “nigg-a” ending as opposed to the “nigg-er” ending prevented the term from functioning as a racial slur. He went on to argue that several students at the high school use the word as a term of camaraderie and he was using it within that context.

I know that the integrationist ideal can be hard to put faith in when considering our country's history of race-based injustice, but if we look at the policies and people which have most contributed to increased racial harmony, it have been those who encouraged integration. This is to say that integration by no means should mean assimilation (though I believe, for instance, when one immigrates to a country, it is in their own interest to assimilate in certain ways, like learning their new country's language, etc).

Finally, I think shock value comedy has run its course. It's not only those like the old Chappelle who maybe meant well in trying to reclaim a word by uttereing such insulting epithets as part of shock comedy, it's utterly tasteless people like Andrew Dice Clay who employ insulting epithets because supposedly it shocks people and thus makes them laugh. Remember when people had to be clever to be funny (or, make steam come out of your ears, if you were the Three Stooges)?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"I have more pictures of [Newt] than I have of my wife."

So Jack Abramoff is blabbing about who he knows, and it's not pretty. Of course, expect him to become the pariah of the Republican party, but with every Republican Senator voting down the Democrats' reform bill today, they cannot expect people to believe that they have any regard for ethics in government.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Jon Stewart: Oscar host failure?

I woke up today to find that Jon Stewart, who I thought was very funny last night, is being lumped in with Chris Rock and David Letterman as an Oscar failure, or at least with the crowd inside the Kodak Theater. The crowd outside of the Kodak Theater, including myself and the people with whom I watched the Awards, loved Stewart. Here's what Andy Dehnart has to say about this discrepancy:

Despite the fact that Stewart (like Rock and Letterman) did an admirable job, the audience didn't seem to like him.

Coming back from one break, Stewart pretended to be in mid-sentence. "And that is why I think Scientology is right, not just for this city, but for the country," he said, clearly mocking some stars' commitment to Scientology. Hollywood sat silent.

An admitted and unashamed progressive himself, Stewart later made fun of the film industry's perceived liberalness, telling viewers the Oscars are a chance to "see all your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic party." Our favorite stars barely chuckled.

Instructing the audience to not pirate films, Stewart referred to the rich and lavishly dressed audience and said, "These are the people you're stealing from." Those people did not find his remark funny.

As with many of Stewart's lines, the laughter for these jokes was mostly distant, perhaps coming from the high balconies, far away from the celebrities. When we saw the faces of the stars, they were blank, or awkwardly smiling, perhaps pretending to chuckle.

A few got it: the cameras kept returning to Jamie Foxx, probably because he was laughing along with viewers. By comparison, Joaquin Phoenix looked dreadfully constipated every time a camera found his face, completely unmoved.

Unfortunately, the celebrities seemed to have gotten the biggest kick out of Meryl Strepp and Lily Tomlin's dull and meandering introduction speech to Robert Altman:

But the audience laughed most uproariously as Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin introduced honorary Oscar recipient Robert Altman. They pretended to go off-script, offering meandering dialogue in an Altman-style tribute/joke. The theater's audiences of celebrities laughed almost too hard, as if to prove that, finally, there was some intelligent, sophisticated humor for them to appreciate.

And here's the article writer's thoughts on why Stewart didn't sit well with the Hollywood set:

Exposing hypocrisy while being self-depreciating is what Stewart does best; in fact, it's basically all he does. Those who believe "The Daily Show" is actually "fake news" don't understand either satire or the exceptionally smart, informative humor that the show invokes on a daily basis. Stewart and "The Daily Show's" team emphasize and demonstrate the importance and gravity of the day's news by making fun of it.

But that sort of contradictory, somewhat nuanced humor didn't work well for the Oscars' audience. The theater audience's lack of laughter was judgmental and was at odds with viewers who were laughing because this was the funny Jon Stewart we know from cable.

...The real way that Hollywood is out of touch has to do with its inability to laugh at itself, and the Academy Awards are the best example. Films are important, whether they are everlasting works of art or audience-pleasing thrillers. As Jon Stewart demonstrates every Monday through Thursday evening, appreciating something's consequence and weight while laughing at it is possible, just maybe not for an audience that is too caught up in its biggest moment.

My post-Oscar Show

Well, more like post-Oscar analysis. First off, I want to present a list of people who I think should be banned from the Oscars, so to make it a more credible awards event.
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • 3 6 Mafia
  • Charlize Theron
  • Will Smith (mainly because I don't understand why he's been at every Academy Awards show in the last 10 years when he hasn't been in a decent movie in the last 15)
  • John Travolta (okay, he was good in Pulp Fiction, and he was excellent in Saturday Night Fever, but the latter was 30-years ago. And why must he always slick his hair down to his skull?)
  • Tom Cruise (that man should never be invited to anything)
  • Sandra Bullock
  • Hillary Swank (or at least stop her from announing one of the big awards every year. And why has she won Oscars twice for playing manly women?)
  • Jennifer Garner (I missed why she was there in the first place)
  • Reese Witherspoon (Okay, so she co-starred in a biopic about Johnny Cash, but she was in Legally Blonde, one of the worst movies of all time!)
Unfortunately, I was a paltry 3/8 in my Oscar predictions. I mainly just guessed correctly on the obvious wins like Reese Witherspoon. Here's my question about her win, though: what is it with this pattern of young women, who have been in a string of bad movies or TV, winning the Oscar year after year? Think Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts, Halle Berry.

Lastly, but not least, George Clooney was looking as attractive as ever tonight. If only we could all age so well, and if only George Clooney, who is apparently smart and funny as well as incredibly good-looking, could be mine.

And of course there's Jon Stewart. He also looked good in his suit and made some clever jokes. Here's one:
I have to say it is a little shocking to see all these big names here, these huge stars. The Oscars is really I guess the one night of the year when you can see all your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party. And it's exciting for the stars as well because it's the first time many of you have ever voted for a winner.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Currently Reading and the Oscars

Well, I just took a look at my blog and realized I haven't been "currently reading" the Clinton Wars for a long time. Every quarter I try to read for leisure, and every quarter--beyond reading articles in The New Yorker and other blogs-- it is a bust. I am anticipating my Florida vacation in two weeks, however, because I am planning on reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. I saw Capote, starring the eminently brilliant actor Philip Seymour Hoffman a couple of weeks ago and was left thoroughly fascinated with the story behind Capote's In Cold Blood. Capote's prolonged contact with two men accused in the horrifying murder of an upstanding Kansas family is as unnerving as any exercise where one tries to get in the mind of a criminal. And of course, a person like me who has never seen the real Truman Capote talk will wonder, did he really have such an odd voice, but from all accounts, Philip Seymour Hoffman does an excellent job replicating it. As for Catherine Keener's portrayal of Harper Lee, I didn't even realize it was the Being John Malkovich actress until the credits. I think this may be the best set of Oscar-nominated films that I have seen in a longtime. Although I have only seen two, I am interested in seeing Crash and I guess Brokeback Mountain, as well. It's also kind of refreshing to have all of the Lord of the Rings epics out of the way, though I think The Constant Gardener should replace Munich as a nominee. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen Munich).

To close, I'll list my own Oscar hopefuls along with who I think is going to win:

Best Picture
ME: Capote
ACADEMY: Brokeback Mountain

Best Actor
ME: Philip Seymour Hoffman
ACADEMY: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Best Actress
ACADEMY: Reese Witherspoon

Best Supporting Actor
ME: George Clooney (though I'll admit that his is the only performance I've seen in this category)
ACADEMY: Jake Gyllenhaal
Philip Seymour Hoffman: my newest actor crush.
Don't ruin it for me like Jude Law did, Philp!

Best Supporting Actress
ME: Catherine Keener (tough choice between her and Rachel Weisz, though Rachel Weisz's performance was not really supporting, it was one of the two central roles in the movie)
ACADEMY: Michelle Williams

Best Direction
ME: George Clooney, Good Night and Good Luck
ACADEMY: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain

This efficient smoothness of Good Night and Good Luck
makes it my favorite for Best Direction. Can it also
an Oscar for most rehabbed-looking Robert Downey Jr. flick?

Best Adapted Screenplay
ME: Capote

Best Original Screenplay
ME: Squid and the Whale
ACADEMY: Good Night and Good Luck

The Squid and the Whale

Glad all of my favorite movies of the year are being recognized for something! (including Syriana, Squid and the Whale, Constant Gardener, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck)