Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for December, 2006

In the prime of life?

Posted by metaphorical on 18 December 2006

My cousin writes to congratulate me on being 17—for the third time. In gratitude, I offer him another way to be less than elated about one’s age.

My next prime number age is 53. The one after that is 59, a six-year gap, as was the gap between 47 and 53. The gap between successive prime number ages generally gets larger as we get older. (I’m doing this mostly in my head, so I might miscalculate) but there seem to be 4 two-year gaps before 40, and only 2 after that, all the way to 100. There are only 2 six-year gaps before 40, after that there are 4.

The hidden message is that anyone 53 should savor his last two days of it. That means you, cousin.

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Audience, ambiguity, and the five stages of editing

Posted by metaphorical on 17 December 2006

First, a bit of background: This semester, my writing workshop is with Susan Bell, who’s an editor, not a writer, which is, I think, a unique circumstance in my creative writing program. The class is devoted to rewriting, that is, editing oneself. Bell recommended, but didn’t require us to read, the book “The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film.”

Walter Murch is a music and film editor. The movies discussed in the book include Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, The Conversation, and the Godfather movies. Murch also did all the editing for the re-cut of Apocalypse Now. He also edited the re-cut of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (which I’d like to see because the original release, which I’ve seen and didn’t think much of, was a result of a studio edit done without Welles’s involvement). Murch also worked on THX 1138, American Graffitti, Ghost, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain.

The book is set up as as aggregated interview of Murch by Michael Ondaatje, who wrote the novel “The English Patient.” The similarities and differences between film and written work in general really interest me these days, so I’ve been reading the book pretty carefully and slowly. Murch is interesting on a thousand different topics; one of them is the involvement of the viewer (or reader) with the work.

Murch says that editing a movie is a multi-staged, multi-layered process.

Every stage leaves a residue of unsolved problems for the next stage—partly because the particular dilemma you’re facing cannot be solved in terms of the medium you’re working in right then. For instance, at the script stage there may be issues that have to be left undecided, so the actors can have a fruitful ambiguity to work with. It would be deadly if you did solve all the problems in the script—because then everything subsequent would be a mechanical working out of an already established form.

The acting, the shooting, the editing, and the sound may all blend into one another, but in fact there are five stages in a film’s life: the script stage; the pre-production stage, where you cast and choose locations; the shooting; the editing; and then the sound and music stage. Each is fateful in its own way.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The origin of life?

Posted by metaphorical on 17 December 2006

Harry at the Infinite Bliss factory found this the other day. From the current Journal of the American Chemical Society:

New insights into the origin of life on Earth

In an advance toward understanding the origin of life on Earth, scientists have shown that parts of the Krebs cycle can run in reverse, producing biomolecules that could jump-start life with only sunlight and a mineral present in the primordial oceans.

The Krebs cycle is a series of chemical reactions of central importance in cells — part of a metabolic pathway that changes carbohydrates, fats and proteins into carbon dioxide and water to generate energy.

This is potentially a very big deal. Scientists and philosophers have worried for quite some time about the paradox that you need enzymes to make enzymes.

Jacques Monod, who won the the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965, wrote a book in 1971, Chance and Necessity, that convincingly laid out the case against all design arguments and in favor of chance, or randomness, as the basis of evolution. In it, he carefully and inconclusively considers the enzyme question as the last remaining puzzle about the origin of life.

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You are in a maze of twisty little paragraphs, all alike

Posted by metaphorical on 15 December 2006

The path ahead of you is littered with sentence fragments, left broken and twitching at your feet as their pathetic spaniel eyes implore you to put them out of their misery. Dangling modifiers loop happily through the branches overhead. In the distance, that sound of undergraduate feet has turned into a heavy, erratic thwump – swoop – THWUMP you recognise immediately – it’s a badly-indented long quotation, and it’s coming closer.

A teaching assistant in a creative writing program gets caught in an old-world game of Adventure. Brilliant!

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Has Microsoft lost its way?

Posted by metaphorical on 14 December 2006

David Pogue of the NY Times seems to think so. Both in print today and in a video, he says that Vista “broadly, boldly [and] blatantly” borrows from Mac OS X. “You get the feeling that Microsoft’s managers put Mac OS X on an easel and told the programmers, ‘Copy that’.”

And a couple of days ago, there was this story in Computerworld:

Windows development chief: “I would buy a Mac if I didn’t work for Microsoft”

December 11, 2006 (Computerworld) — Longtime Windows development chief James Allchin wrote in a January 2004 e-mail to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and company co-founder Bill Gates that the software vendor had “lost sight” of customers’ needs and said he would buy a Mac if he wasn’t working for Microsoft.

In my view, we lost our way,” Allchin, the co-president of Microsoft’s platform and services division, wrote in an e-mail dated Jan. 7, 2004. The e-mail was presented as evidence late last week in the Iowa antitrust trial, Comes v. Microsoft Corp.

“I think our teams lost sight of what bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean, what security means, what performance means, how important current applications are, and really understanding what the most important problems our customers face are. I see lots of random features and some great vision, but that does not translate into great products.”

[...]

The case, filed in February 2000, charges that Microsoft used its monopoly position to overcharge Iowans for its software. Held in the Polk County District Court in Des Moines, it is one of two remaining antitrust cases — the state of Mississippi’s case is the other — brought by the U.S. government and multiple states against Microsoft starting in the late 1990s.

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No more Ohios?

Posted by metaphorical on 14 December 2006

If you’re wondering whether a Democratic Congress might finally get rid of paperless electronic voting machines that don’t leave anything to recount, remember that the guy who’s been sponsoring e-voting reform for three years now, Rush Holt (D-NJ), is now a member of the majority party.

But there’s more. John Conyers, one of the few members of Congress to stand up and challenge the Ohio 2004 presidential vote is now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In January 2005, an investigation he chaired as the ranking member of minority party issued a report that went nowhere.

We have found numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousand of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards.

… we find that there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

The full report is here. Perhaps with the full weight of the committee, something might have actually happened.

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All the news, religious or not

Posted by metaphorical on 12 December 2006

Why do some religous organizations insist on spinning news to fit their world view? A more natural question might be, why would they not? It’s hard not to think of Christianity except as an enterprise that, at its heart, has for 2000 years insisted on a particular interpretation of a set of putatively historical events. I don’t mean that in a pejoritive sense, it’s just how religion works — it asserts a core set of beliefs.

The remarkable thing is that there’s even a single religious organization that is interested in the news for its own sake.

Consider this case. It is 1907. An elderly New England woman finds herself being targeted by Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. She is 86 years old and holds some unconventional religious beliefs that she expounds in a book. The book becomes a bestseller, making her wealthy and a well-known public figure.

The New York World decides she is incapable of managing her own affairs and persuades some of her friends and her two sons to sue for control of her estate.

Although Boston and New Hampshire newspapers and major wire services interview this person and find her competent, the New York World is unrelenting. The lady in question finally is taken to court where the case against her is dropped.

And the next year this woman, Mary Baker Eddy, founds The Christian Science Monitor.

– The Christian Science Monitor’s Washington bureau chief, David Cook, in “About the Monitor”

Furthermore, the Monitor apparently never considers unspun news to be threatening in any way:

A newspaper whose motive is “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind,” as its founder charged, would have a “leavening” effect on society, as well as on individual lives — to use a metaphor Eddy herself appreciated and used. The idea is that the unblemished truth is freeing (as a fundamental human right); with it, citizens can make informed decisions and take intelligent action, for themselves and for society.

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The emperors fight back

Posted by metaphorical on 12 December 2006

My friend Andrew seems hopeful that the Iraq Study Group will help the administration change its course. (Smackdown: George Bush gets some much needed adult supervision)

But it’s not clear the intervention is working. Thursday’s headline in the NY Times was “Bush Backs Away From 2 Key Ideas of Panel on Iraq” and Sunday’s was “Bush Aides Seek Alternatives to Iraq Study Group’s Proposals, Calling Them Impractical.”

What seems to be going on is that some sort of immunological response by the politicos has been triggered. Here, it’s with an outside advisory group, but it’s really the same thing that happens when the Bush politicos clash with the careerists (eg, with the career diplomats at the State Department, or the career lawyers at Justice).

I’m reminded of Bob Park’s comment back in 2002 in his venerable What’s New weekly newsletter. “When asked about an EPA report acknowledging the climate is growing warmer, President Bush said he had ‘read the report put out by the bureaucracy.’ If you’re wondering who the bureaucracy is, the White House signed off on the report.” (What’s New, 14 June 2002)

Posted in language, politics | 1 Comment »

What do prisons and the military have in common? They’re not Christian enough

Posted by metaphorical on 12 December 2006

I recall reading somewhere that in the run-up to the 2006 elections, extreme right-wing Christian Republicans were upset that the Bush Administration hadn’t done enough to break down the barriers between religion and government. The U.S., after all, is a Christian nation, isn’t it?

Only a true fanatic could be disappointed in the “progress” being made breaking down the barrier between church and state.

Yesterday’s Washington Post had a story, “Inquiry Sought Over Evangelical Video,”

A military watchdog group is asking the Defense Department to investigate whether seven Army and Air Force officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization.

In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military.

And just the day before, the New York Times reported on evangelical Christian missions into prisons. A program in Iowa offers prisoners who are sufficiently Christian enough “real wooden doors and doorknobs, with locks. More books and computers were available, and inmates were kept busy with classes, chores, music practice and discussions. There were occasional movies and events with live bands and real-world food, like pizza or sandwiches from Subway.”

But the only way an inmate could qualify for this kinder mutation of prison life was to enter an intensely religious rehabilitation program and satisfy the evangelical Christians running it that he was making acceptable spiritual progress.

The state has literally established an Evangelical Christian congregation within the walls of one of its penal institutions, giving the leaders of that congregation, i.e., InnerChange employees, authority to control the spiritual, emotional and physical lives of hundreds of Iowa inmates, Judge Pratt wrote. There are no adequate safeguards present, nor could there be, to ensure that state funds are not being directly spent to indoctrinate Iowa inmates.

Why should prisoners have to choose between books to read, or palatable food, and their religous beliefs (or lack of them)? Why should military officers have to choose between fitting in, and their religous beliefs? Freedom is Slavery, as the author of 1984 would have said.

Posted in politics, religion | 1 Comment »

Britain drops phrase ‘war on terror’

Posted by metaphorical on 11 December 2006

In the “Words Matter” department comes this story from the UK Guardian:

Britain stops talk of ‘war on terror’

Cabinet ministers have been told by the Foreign Office to drop the phrase ‘war on terror’ and other terms seen as liable to anger British Muslims and increase tensions more broadly in the Islamic world.

The Christian Science Monitor reports,

Senior British politicians and counterterrorism experts have for some time believed that the phrase allowed militants to use the sense of war and crisis, and the “clash of civilizations,” to recruit new and younger supporters. They see words like “war,” “battle,” and “war on terror” as being ultimately counterproductive.

Two things give one pause as we prepare to celebrate this minor-key return to reality-based thinking. First, the British are not abandoning the term because it makes no sense, even though it doesn’t (as many have pointed out, you can’t declare war on a concept), second, the phrase continues to be embraced in the U.S.

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If Afghanistan is liberated, why are teachers getting killed for teaching?

Posted by metaphorical on 10 December 2006

Two teachers and three other members of their family were killed by Taliban gunmen this weekend. According to an AP article, “Teachers receive a warning, then a beating, and if they continue to teach must be killed.”

Rule No. 24 forbids anyone to work as a teacher “under the current puppet regime, because this strengthens the system of the infidels.” One rule later, No. 25, says teachers who ignore Taliban warnings will be killed.

Taliban militants early Saturday broke into a house in the eastern province of Kunar, killing a family of five, including two sisters who were teachers.

The women had been warned in a letter to quit teaching, said Gulam Ullah Wekar, the provincial education director. Their mother, grandmother and a male relative were also slain in the attack.

The two sisters brought to 20 the number of teachers killed in Taliban attacks this year, said Education Ministry spokesman Zuhur Afghan. He said 198 schools have been burned down this year, up from about 150 last year.

The 30 Taliban rules also spell out opposition to development projects from aid organizations, including clinics, roads and schools.

“If a school fails a warning to close, it must be burned. But all religious books must be secured beforehand,” rule No. 26 says.

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Pleased no violations of the law were found? Pleased?

Posted by metaphorical on 10 December 2006

As we wait for the Democrats and the 110th Congress to begin in January, let’s remember that in the 109th, the minority party didn’t exactly abstain from earmarks, boondoggles, or ethics violations.

So when we look at this, are we seeing the dying gasp of Republicans, putting their own malfeasances to bed while still the majority party, or is it a harbinger of demoralizations to come? Here’s a clue, 110th Congress. We didn’t elect you to make sure laws weren’t technically violated. Start doing the right thing, or you’ll go the way of the 109th.

Panel blasts Hastert in Foley scandal

WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Mark Foley was described as a “ticking time bomb” for his sexual come-ons to male pages, but Republican lawmakers and aides for a decade failed to protect the teenagers vulnerable to his advances, the House ethics committee concluded Friday. Despite that finding, the panel said no rules had been broken and no one should be punished.

The committee harshly criticized Speaker
Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., saying the evidence showed he was told of the problem months before he acknowledged learning of Foley’s questionable e-mails to a former Louisiana page. It rejected Hastert’s contention that he couldn’t recall separate warnings from two House Republican leaders.

Hastert said he was pleased the committee found “there was no violation of any House rules by any member or staff.”

Hopefully we the voters can’t be so easily pleased.

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When “oversight” means “overlook”

Posted by metaphorical on 9 December 2006

If you enjoyed the Orwellian absurdity of Newt Gingrich using an event dedicated to the freedom of speech to argue that we scale back our right to free speech in the “war” on terrorism, recently mentioned here, then you’ll be a big fan of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that apparently sees its job as that of explaining to the public that no oversight is needed. This, despite the NSA’s unknown number of warrantless wiretaps an unknown number of American citizens. Wired News reports:

Bush ‘Privacy Board’ Just a Gag

WASHINGTON — The first public meeting of a Bush administration “civil liberties protection panel” had a surreal quality to it, as the five-member board refused to answer any questions from the press, and stonewalled privacy advocates and academics on key questions about domestic spying.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which met Tuesday, was created by Congress in 2004 on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, but is part of the White House, which handpicked all the members. Though mandated by law in late 2004, the board was not sworn in until March 2006, due to inaction on the part of the White House and Congress.

The three-hour meeting, held at Georgetown University, quickly established that the panel would be something less than a fierce watchdog of civil liberties. Instead, members all but said they view their job as helping Americans learn to relax and love warrantless surveillance.

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When is a murder not a murder? When it happens in Iraq

Posted by metaphorical on 9 December 2006

Does the American media overreport bad news coming out of Iraq? It’s hard to say, when the main source of information underreports the bad news. The magazine Editor & Publisher notes that

the Iraq Study Group report [asserts] “there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq” by the U.S. military. “The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases,” the report continues.

Looking at one day, the report found undercounting of violent attacks by more than 1000 percent.

“A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack,” the report explained.” If we cannot deter mine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence [officially] reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence.

“Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.”

Orwell would put it more strongly: Whoever controls the news controls the policy.

Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, politics | 1 Comment »

Smugness, Thy Name is Bennett

Posted by metaphorical on 8 December 2006


In all my time in Washington I’ve never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority.

– William Bennett, National Review Online

This, from a man Joshua Green once dubbed “The Bookie of Virtue”? Bennett asks, “Who are these commissioners and what is their expertise in Iraq — or even foreign policy?” Um, Bill, did you not notice that James Baker, a few chairs down when you both sat at the Reagan Cabinet table, subsequently served as Secretary of State, while the closest you ever came to foreign policy was as drug czar?

But after a shaky start, Bennett stands tall and high on his hobby horse:

James Baker opened his thoughts today by saying Iraqis “have been liberated from the nightmare of a tyrannical order only to face the nightmare of brutal violence.” So much for any moral distinction between a terrorist sponsoring dictatorship and an embattled, weak, effort toward self-government. The distinction between permanent darkness and days of light and darkness both, and a hope for dawn was lost.

It’s clear that Bennett, never the master of his prose, has completely lost the morning’s battle with it. So let’s go to to Dr. Orwell, and see if we can’t get a diagnosis.

(From Politics and the English Language, of course:)

The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of WORDS chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of PHRASES tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

Or, to put it more simply, Bill, you’re breaking Rule #1:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

I can’t say that on first blush that the Iraq Study Group looked like it went all the way when it came to telling truth to power, but watching the neocons flail like a prickle of porcupines thrown into the deep end of the pool (Rush Limbaugh, apparently, is calling it “The Iraq Surrender Group”) makes me wonder if maybe they did a decent job after all.

Posted in language, Orwell, politics | 1 Comment »

It don’t mean a thing

Posted by metaphorical on 8 December 2006

Does understanding the inner workings of art enhance our enjoyment or detract from it? For me, it’s a big plus. Hence this note, via Newswise, about some music tech.

Ray Charles Really Did Have That Swing, According to New Analysis

From the news release:

Ray Charles was really good at snapping, says musical acoustician Kenneth Lindsay of Southern Oregon University in Ashland. According to a new computer analysis, Charles’s snaps that open his famous song “Fever” with Natalie Cole are timed so well that he is never more than 5 milliseconds off the tight beat, a new study shows.

Lindsay presented his study at an acoustics conference Honolulu last week.

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Buggywhips and copyrights

Posted by metaphorical on 8 December 2006

Coincidentally, Francis McInerney of North River Ventures commented on a matter of music & copyright in his blog yesterday. Specifically, he takes one of the major record labels to task.

Universal Music is suing MySpace for allowing MySpace users to post videos from its artists on their spaces. Doing this, Universal has made one of the most elementary mistakes anyone can make: it is penalizing its customers for using its products.

McInerney is maybe the smartest guy I know at the intersection of finance and technology, and he gets it right here, as usual. NVR doesn’t have a great blogging system, so the link will likely become somewhat inaccurate soon, but the blog entry should stay on the left-hand menu for a while. Anyway, McInerney has this to say in general.

Trying to force copyright laws on people today is like telling them where to water their horses in Manhattan. We drive cars and the horse watering laws are moot. This is just common sense.

Posted in politics, technology, the arts | 1 Comment »

Copywrongs and copyrights

Posted by metaphorical on 7 December 2006

In a surprisingly gratifying turn of events, the story about Ian McEwan is spinning back into control. The NY Times has a good article about it.

Novelists Defend One of Their Own Against a Plagiarism Charge

LONDON, Dec. 6 — A basic indignation underlies the letters of support gathered here on behalf of the novelist Ian McEwan, who has been accused of plagiarizing from a historical memoir in his novel “Atonement.” If he can be so easily charged with lifting someone else’s work on the basis of such scant evidence, the other authors declare, than what about them?

The letters — from heavyweights like Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Updike, Zadie Smith, Martin Amis and, in an unusual gesture for a man who shuns publicity, Thomas Pynchon — were published here on Wednesday in The Daily Telegraph, which reported that a campaign of sorts had arisen in defense of Mr. McEwan. Most of the writers said that they were intimately familiar with what Mr. McEwan had done, having done the same thing themselves.

Because linking to the Times is often of only limited utility, here’s the UK Telegraph’s excellent take on it. Let’s also note that Lev Grossman, among others had a nice jeremiad about it last week in Time, even before the recent letter-writing campaign.

Of course it’s hard not to think about the controversies in the music world concerning the same problem of borrowingfor example attempts at extending older works, as Alice Randall did in The Wind Done Gone or Danger Mouse’s brilliant Grey Album, which literally swirled, like vanilla fudge ice cream, Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album.

The definitive study of this is Siva Vaidhyanathan 2001 book Copyrights and Copywrongs. The whole book is remarkably available here and his views are nicely summarized in an interview here.

Back in February 2002, in an article that (of course) borrowed heavilly from the ideas of Vaidhyanathan, Jessica Litman, and others, I wrote (in an article that ironically is not available for free):

“We can insist on individually compensating the hundreds of rights holders whose work is included in even a two-minute rock video, or the thousands for a full-length movie, which will stymie the creativity of the next generation just as lawsuits over sampling in the early 1990s defused the rap music revolution. Or we can work toward a more rational system, one that recognizes the necessary role played by the primordial soup of mass culture, out of which all new cultural works emerge.”

Wouldn’t it be great if Pynchon, Updike, Atwood, Amis, Smith, and Ishiguro (and the IEEE, which owns my 2002 article) went on to write letters to their publishers and Congress saying they thought we should go back to the Copyright Act’s original deal of 28 years (with an additional 28 years if you file for it)? It wouldn’t have solved Danger Mouse’s problem, but it would have been all that Alice Randall needed. It would be a start.

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“Bush Is No Conservative”

Posted by metaphorical on 7 December 2006

The categories “conservative” and “liberal” not only don’t map at all to “Republican” and “Democrat,” but they were never very good in their own right. Leo Strauss, for example, in an icon of conservatives, but called himself a liberal. And which is John Stuart Mill?

Paul Craig Roberts has a good, quick explanation of why the term “conservative” is particularly problematic in the Bush era. Who is this guy? Among other things, Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration.

Bush Is No Conservative

by Paul Craig Roberts

The conservative movement in the United States has been stamped out, not by liberals but by neoconservatives. Conservative philanthropic foundations, conservative print media, and conservative think tanks have been taken over by neoconservatives, who have exiled real conservatives to voicelessness and joblessness.

Neoconservative translates as “new conservative.” However, there is nothing at all conservative about neoconservatives. The name is a misnomer of the first rank. Neoconservatives believe that the US can deracinate foreign cultures and remake foreign countries in America’s image. True conservatives, following Edmund Burke, do not believe that a country can be shorn of its social, political, economic and cultural ways and made anew from the ashes.

Roberts then compares the neoconservatives to the Jacobians, the Bolsheviks, and Mao. I’ll quote his conclusion, but the article isn’t long and is well worth reading.

Bush is America’s first Jacobin president. He is as far from a conservative as it is possible to be.

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Star Wars = Apocalypse Now?

Posted by metaphorical on 5 December 2006

Star Wars fans, is this generally known?

I’m reading The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje.

Ondaatje is the novelist who wrote The English Patient, as well as Anil’s Ghost, Running in the Family, etc. Murch is a film and sound editor who went to film school with George Lucas at USC, in the 1960s. (Francis Coppola was across town at UCLA.)

Murch talks about his film and/or sound editing on such pictures as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Redux, American Graffiti, THX 1138, and The English Patient, through which he and Ondaatje met. The “John” in the passage below refers to John Milius, who wrote the original Apocalypse Now screenplay.

Originally George Lucas was going to direct [Apocalypse Now], so it was a project that George and John developed for Zoetrope. That was back in 1969. Then when Warner Bros. cancelled the financing for Zoetrope, the project was abandoned for a while. After the success of American Graffiti in 1973, George wanted to revive it, but it was still too hot a topic, the war was still on, and nobody wanted to finance something like that. So George considered his options: What did he really want to say in Apocalypse Now? The message boiled down to the ability of a small group of people to defeat a gigantic power simply by the force of their convictions. And he decided, All right, if it’s politically too hot as a contemporary subject, I’ll put the essence of the story in outer space and make it happen in a galaxy long ago and far away. The rebel group were the North Vietnamese, and the Empire was the United States. And if you have the force, no matter how small you are, you can defeat the overwhelmingly big power. Star Wars is George’s transubstantiated version of Apocalypse Now.

The Conversations, p.70

Posted in language, politics, screenwriting, the arts | 4 Comments »

 
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