Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

And to all a good night. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Homeward Bound

After one last Japanese-style Holiday party, I'm on my way home for three weeks, spread out between New York, Philly, Ithaca, and Charlotte, with other stops possible depending on the time - in addition, my girlfriend will be meeting my parents for the first time. Oh, and the decade is coming to a close. Should be an eventful three weeks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Reality TV

Jonah Goldberg is more of a classical conservative than I consider myself, and in his more strident writings he sometimes cross the line between provocateur and jackass, but he is a smart, well-read guy who often has a sharp, on-point take on things from the conservative viewpoint, and his latest column in the National Review is definitely worth checking out.

As much as a generally libertarian outlook appeals to me, one aspect of the philosophy with which I've always found myself uncomfortable is the glib ease with which it ignores the less appealing aspects of the free market system - among them the fact that, without social or cultural mores in place to regulate them, they often end up peddling products which appeal primarily to the lowest common denominator - base instincts which humans, even the best of us, share.

This is of course a problem in traditional marketplaces, as the comparative ease with which Doritos outsell health food will attest, but it is no less so in the realm of entertainment. Reality television is, for the most part, cultural garbage - a sort of carnival freakshow in which viewers are invited to gawk at the stupidest, shallowest, vainest, pettiest, and most venal and selfish people among us, and revel in their exploits. Even if we are not ourselves cruel, or vindictive, or duplicitous, or violent, we generally find people who are fascinating to watch - just look at the commonness of gangsters, killers, bandits, and other similarly immoral types in our fiction, as opposed to their rarity in real life - and whatever our reaction to them, be it hatred, contempt, or hidden aspiration, we can't look away.

That's not a new observation, and people have been using it to posit that fiction (in the broad sense of all imaginative art and literature) is fundamentally immoral since the time of Plato, if not before, and that fiction that depicts immoral behavior is particularly dangerous. As a lifelong aesthete I've of course never bought that argument, and I still don't, but it does have a bit more traction for me when applied in the case of reality TV, because there is an important distinction between fiction and reality TV. We can watch or read about the exploits of a thoroughly villainous fictional character - say, Milton's Satan, or Long John Silver, or Michael Corleone, or Dr. Doom - and enjoy the experience, without any real danger that our indulgence in fantasy will perniciously affect the way we lead our real lives. As appealing as we may find those characters, we can't ourselves become fallen angels, or pirates, or mafia dons, or supervillains, so assuming we are not psychotically deluded into believing otherwise, the immorality of their actions is unlikely to act as an impetus to bad behavior ourselves. That's not so in the case of the moral pygmies of reality television. The message the medium sends is that you, too, can become (relatively) rich and famous by being a backstabbing, cheating prick a la Richard Hatch of Survivor, or acting like the empty-headed, narcissistic twats on The Jersey Shore. That is really not a good message to send. While I don't like the air of classism inherent in the formulation of Arnold Toynbee that Goldberg cites, that a society thrives when the common people aspire to the mores of the upper classes, and decays when the inverse is true, I can't help but agree that there's something seriously morally amiss with a culture that adopts the debauchery and self-absorbed idiocy of preening, IQ-challenged lunkheads as one of its foremost forms of entertainment, or elevates those self-same lunkheads to the status of quasi-celebrities. Society suffers when real people act like that, and anything that encourages them to do so ought to be viewed with suspicion.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said of the experience of watching gladiatorial games "I come home greedier, more ambitious, more inclined to venal pleasures, crueler and even more inhuman, because I have been among human-beings." I feel the same way about watching reality TV, and I wish it a swift death.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Well, yeah...

President Obama has announced that without a health care bill, the U.S. will go "bankrupt" because of high medical costs. There's no doubt he's right about that - Medicare is a massive fiscal sinkhole that's only going to get deeper and wider as a greater share of the population ages into retirement. The problem is, he hasn't made a convincing argument that the bill that's on the table - or any bill that contains enough goodies to placate a sufficient majority of the various relevant special interests to stand a chance of passage - won't also cause us to go bankrupt. I am deeply pessimisstic about the possibility of some kind of sane reform - it's looking increasingly likely the problem won't be fixed until the service output end of the system stops working, and thanks to the miracle of irresponsible government borrowing that could be quite a bit farther off than the failure of the revenue intake end of the system is likely to be. We're not about to stop digging until this particular hole gets quite a bit deeper, I'm afraid.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'll be home for Christmas...

In less than two weeks, no less. This weekend has been dedicated to Christmas shopping and some last minute preparations (cleaning house and whatnot), and I'm still busy, but - soon enough it's back to the U.S. for the holidays. Much as I enjoy traveling, and exploring new places, Christmastime is not my favorite time to do it - all things considered, I'd much rather be at home for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The first step to reducing CO2 emissions? Stop holding summits on how to reduce CO2 emissions

Apparently, transportation for the ongoing Copenhagen climate summit, the so-called "summit to save the world", is being provided for by, among other things, a fleet of 1,200 limos and 140 private planes. There are not enough limos in the country to meet demand, so they're being driven in from places hundreds of miles away in Sweden and Germany, and the airport in Copenhagen doesn't have enough space to park all the planes, so they're shuttling off to other airports in the region when they're not ferrying about VIP passengers. Suffice it to say, all of this requires quite a lot of fuel - the carbon footprint for the eleven-day event is expected to be the same as that for a city of 150,000 over the same time period, for a summit that will not even produce any sort of binding agreement on how to deal with climate change, just a "statement of intent". Maybe I'm being too harsh, though - everyone knows it's impossible to actually accomplish anything unless you first form an intent to do so, and then, more importantly, state that you have formed an intent to do so, and intend to act on that intent. Besides, maybe they'll all be buying carbon offsets.

Snark aside, while it's easy enough to rake people like these over the coals for their hypocrisy and self-satisfaction, and they certainly deserve it, this story does shine an interesting light on what is, from the perspective of the developed world, an under-explored aspect of the anti-climate change movement - privilege. It is almost exclusively a movement of well-off people in well-off countries, i.e. people who can afford the luxury of a massage to their moral vanity via activism on long-term issues that may or may not be problems years down the road (and, in the wake of revelations like the recent Climate-Gate data fixing scandal, the threat presented by rising CO2 levels is less clear than ever). For people in India, or Brazil, or China, or Vietnam, or any of the many other nations that have recently begun to stabilize the precarious and uncertain nature of existence in a pre-industrial agrarian society via the wealth- (and CO2-) generating processes of industrialization and urbanization, it's much less clearly the most pressing issue in the world today. I tend to agree with people in the developing world. Human-induced climate change may indeed prove to be a serious problem in the decades to come, and even if it doesn't, we should still be striving to reduce the amount of carbon we consume in order to conserve fossil fuel. But global poverty is a serious problem right now. It's true that people in poor countries may suffer from malnutrition, disease, and starvation in the year 2050 as a result of risen global temperatures. Guess what - they're suffering from malnutrition, disease, and starvation right now, because they're poor. Now that, in at least some parts of the developing world, that seems to be changing, rich white people want to tell them to knock it off, because the carbon they're producing manufacturing our luxury goods is un-PC? Something tells me that's not going to fly.

Monday, December 7, 2009

That Sinking Feeling

Yesterday I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), a worldwide exam administered by the Japanese government to recognize and certify accomplishment in the language. This was, to put it bluntly, a wipeout. I took level 2, the second highest, which consists of three sections - vocabulary and knowledge of kanji (Chinese characters), listening comprehension, and grammar/reading comprehension. The first two were okay - not great, but with a pass/fail line at only 60%, probably good enough. The third section, however, was murder - rather than the structures that Japanese generally uses, the ones I've actually learned over the last few years, the test mostly covers obscure and little-utilized aspects of the language, for which I, having begun studying them far too recently, was, to understate it somewhat, ill-prepared. I'll definitely be taking the test again next year - this time with a lot more preparation.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Moral Improvement Through Moral Failure, Tiger Woods Edition

Personally, I don't think there's much point in commenting on the Tiger Woods scandal - he's far from the first celebrity to rampantly cheat on his wife, or to conceal a rather scuzzy personal life behind a stone wall of inaccessibility - his role model as a sporting/global marketing icon, Michael Jordan, beat him to that by at least twenty years, and if you'd put a gun to my head and asked me for a yes-or-no answer as to whether I believed Tiger had ever cheated on his wife, cynic that I am would have bet "yes". Certainly I think less of Woods as a person in the wake of these revelations, but I don't really want to waste any more oxygen thinking about it, and it's certainly true that I don't want to read hypocritical, sanctimonious screeds condemning his behavior in the paper.

What I also don't need to read, however, are pieces of apologeia like this. For a man with a wife and child, getting caught screwing his way through a parade of cocktail waitresses, club bunnies, starfuckers, and other assorted bimbos, and being forced to apologize publicly because you were caught, is not an opportunity for personal growth. It's a forced end to a pattern of egocentric, self-entitled, and frankly disgraceful behavior that it seems likely would have gone on had it not been uncovered. Tiger may mean it when he says he's sorry, but I suspect what he's really sorry about is getting caught, and it's as easy to read his apology as self-serving as sincere. If he really felt all that bad about betraying his family, he wouldn't have gone on doing it again and again, would he? If a normal married guy engaged in this kind of behavior, most people would consider him childish, irresponsible, and self-centered at the very least, and more likely a complete asshole. So please, Mr. Reilly, lets not wrap this turd up in a nice Hallmark bow and try to sell it as a learning experience or an endearingly human flaw that makes a superb athlete less distant from the rest of us, shall we?

Whenever there's a scandal of this sort in entertainment or sports, journalists who cover those fields seem to split into three camps - the titillators, the scolds, and the apologists. The titillators report every lurid detail they can uncover with barely concealed glee, the scolds issue sanctimonious lectures on how we shouldn't be titillated, and the apologists write puff and spin aimed at rescuing the tarnished image of the celebrity in question. None of these are useful journalistic functions and the fact that they are so prevalent is one of the main reasons the mainstream media in these fields, for lack of a better word, sucks. I don't expect entertainers or athletes to be model human beings, and most adults I know (especially those who've actually had encounters with celebrities) don't either. When a celebrity has done some scummy things in his or her personal life and it becomes news as in this case, or as in the Steve McNair case earlier this year, I can form my own opinions on it. I don't need the mainstream media to admonish me for thinking a guy who runs around cheating on his wife left and right is a scumbag (and I might add, I wouldn't be as inclined as I am to articulate that "judgmental" opinion if the media didn't adopt "hero worship" as a default attitude toward its subjects and place these people on pedestals to begin with). And I also don't need a load of warm-and-fuzzy horseshit about how the experience of being exposed as a scumbag makes you a better person. Just put a sock in it, please.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Baby Boomer Cultural Irrelevance Watch

With the 00's nearing their close, every blogger, pundit, and pop culture enthusiast with a keyboard has been posting their "Best of the Decade" lists of movies, music, and the like, and blogger Will Bunch is no exception. Today post is a reflection on U2's 2000 hit "Beautiful Day". I've got no truck with including it on a "Best of" list - it's a good, maybe great song, U2's best of the last ten years, it transcends Bono's late career tendency towards over-the-top rock-and-roll Messianism to be genuinely moving, and its themes and message do have a great deal of relevance to recent history, as Bunch notes. What I take issue with is this statement:
I'd have to very much agree with most people that on the whole the 2000s
was a pretty weak decade for most kinds of music, certainly when compared with
the glory years of rock 'n' roll.

Who are these people he's talking about? As someone with a keen interest in music, who's listened to a lot of it over the past ten years, I'd say that this decade's output is on par with all but the best since there's really been such a thing as popular music. Tired genres like grunge and gangsta rap were supplanted by newer, fresher variations of rock and hip hop respectively, and the garage band spirit of the 60's beat stronger than it has in any decade since, with bands like the Hives and the White Stripes proving it's still possible to write a great rock song with nothing but three guitar chords, a microphone, and a drumkit. R&B and hip hop musicians took their genres in bold new directions (looking at you OutKast) rather than opting for classic revivalism, but the quality level was much the same. In my opinion 2000-2009 has easier been a stronger decade musically than was the 90's, the other decade on which I'm fully qualified to comment - while they started with great promise with the advent of Nirvana and the like, by 1996 or so it had petered out into a sea of alternative saminess, and by the end of the decade slick, saccharine, and utterly soulless pop from the likes of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys was the soundtrack of the culture. 1996-1999 was a terrible time to be in high school for a fan of music. It was also markedly better than the 80's, which though it produced its fair share of great bands and landmark albums also unleashed a landslide of overproduced, synthesizer-and-drum-machine-dominated crap. The 70's? Wasn't around then, but based on the fact that the definining genres of that era were disco, glam rock, and prog rock, I'd take the 00's over that one too.

I suspect that the real issue for people like Bunch is that they've reached the age when the youth zeitgeist, the font from which creative energy and pop cultural relevance flow, is no longer possible to perceive as anything more than a distant, haze-shrouded vision. Rock and all its offshoots are fundamentally young peoples' genres, and once you age out of that demographic (and at thirty, that process has begun for me), it's no longer possible to feel what's relevant or vital in your bones the way you do when you're young. That doesn't mean that older music is bad - the Beatles are still awesome, for me even more awesome than they were when I was younger and didn't appreciate all the things they accomplished musically or culturally. It also doesn't mean that new music is necessarily good - the decades of my musical coming-of-age have produced plenty of crap. It just means that you're no longer the one with the finger on the pulse of youth culture needed to form relevant or well-founded opinions. Again, that's not a shot at the Baby Boomers per se - every generation will take the rituals and totems of youth culture from their parents and reinvent them as their own, and I fully expect the day to come when my own kids are listening to stuff I think is significantly worse than what I listened to when I was young.

Once I take my Japanese proficiency exam next week, the one which has been sucking up most of my time of late, and get back to blogging regularly, I expect to write a lot about these sorts of things over the next month - there's lots to say, and lots to take issue with, whenever anybody starts making lists. There's a reason they're a great conversation starter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day

To everyone in the U.S., I wish a very Happy Thanksgiving - it's one of my favorite holidays and missing it year after year has been one of the hardest parts of living abroad. This year my friends and I rented a cabin for the weekend and cooked up a turkey and all the fixins, but it just wasn't the same without the comfort of home.

As it is every year, the holiday is a good time to reflect on things for which we're thankful. I'll be the first to admit that such reflection often results in much sentimental pap, but even things said out of genuine gratitude can come across as insincere or perfunctory, particularly to those with ears that have been pickled in the toxic brine of cynicism and irony that is so often a by-product of modern life. A simple "thank you" to whatever deity or cosmic force we may believe in (or not believe in, as the case may be) is the essence of the holiday - it's something everyone ought to do on a daily basis, but at least on Thanksgiving if they can't manage that.

With that out of the way, the things I am thankful for, in no particular order:

1.)parents who have always loved, supported, and sacrificed for me,
2.)a brother with whom I'm very close,
3.)my awesomely sweet and loving girlfriend,
4.)the opportunities I've had, to travel, to learn, and to redress my mistakes - opportunities it pains me to have learned so well that many never have,
5.)being alive now, in a world that is not and will not ever be perfect, but has its share of beauty, joy, and happiness all the same.

No snark from me today. It would violate a sacred creed of mine.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quote of the day

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein

Nothing in particular brings this to mind, just a run of several idiotic things I've heard recently. As much progress as humanity has made in understanding the world and our place in it (and we have made a lot), we will always be handicapped by our own idiocy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Leggo my Eggo!

America is hit with a shortage of Eggo waffles. Can the Republic survive?

Monday, November 9, 2009


As anyone reading this may have noticed, I've been going through a bit of a writing slump recently - something that always seems to befall me this time of year. It hasn't helped that I've been busy of late dealing with various work-related bothers and planning a trip home for the winter holidays - hopefully when those are out of the way I can snap out of it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Well, it's over...

...and the Yankees have won the World Series. As a Phillies fan, I'm disappointed, but not dissatisfied - they got back to the Series to defend their title from last year, which is difficult enough that they were the first team this decade to do so. But if they had to lose, I would have preferred it not been to the Yankees. They are among the most despicable teams in major American sports. With the exception of A-Rod, who IS a tool, it's not the players I dislike - Derek Jeter has always been a classy professional and several of the Yankees' current regulars seem like decent guys. It's the fans. Like fans of the Lakers, Cowboys, and Maple Leafs, their counterparts in the other professional sports, Yankees view a season without a playoff appearance as a failure and decade without a championship as a travesty. To anyone who's spent a lifetime rooting for perennial losers who fail spectacularly when they do manage to make it to the big stage - say, someone from Cleveland, or before last year, Philadelphia - that sort of sense of entitlement is pretty tough to stomach. This is particularly true in the case of baseball, in which rich teams like the Yankees can buy the best players off of their poorer competitors, in addition to paying to make their mistakes go away with impunity. From a baseball perspective, the Yankees aren't the best run organization in MLB - just the one with the largest margin for error. They're a team for Wall Street hedge fund managers whose firms are "too big to fail" - people insulated from the consequences of their actions. Unless you were born and raised in New York, and have a blood-branded loyalty to them, as my father and much of his family were, they are impossible to root for.

I'm already looking forward to next year. Hopefully, the Phillies can regain their title, though I'd settle for the Yankees losing theirs.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Socially Acceptable Child Abuse Alert

In the wake of the Jon Benet Ramsey murder case and the success of the pageant-themed black comedy Little Miss Sunshine, the view that childhood beauty pageants are profoundly creepy exercises that prematurely sexualize young girls and are likely to be harmful to the process of healthy psychological development has become widespread - and rightfully so. In my opinion, anyone who enters their daughter in such a pageant is committing child abuse. Why, though, is a five year old weightlifter any more acceptable? The linked article takes the "wacky human interest story" angle on the boy, with no more than a nod at the elephant in the room (the line about how weightlifting "may be unhealthy" for a five year old).

I'm not a pediatrician, but even I know there's no "may be" about it - lifting heavy weights is not a healthy activity for a young child to engage in. It's bad enough for an adult - whose bones are fully grown, whose joints have hardened, and whose soft tissues have reached their adult strength. For a child whose body is still growing, it runs an intolerably high risk of serious injury, and if it's continued, is extremely likely to cause serious health problems later in life. And that's without even getting into the psychological effects being involved in such a ruthlessly competitive activity at an early age may have. Is this kid taking his Juicy Juice laced with HGH? Will his next round of shots include a cycle of anabolic steroids in addition to polio and tetanus vaccinations? Seriously.

I don't object to this being a news story, but it should be reported as what it is - a case of irresponsible parenting bordering on abuse - not a cutesy "kids get involved in the darnedest things" throwaway piece.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The High Cost Of Glory

Findings like the ones detailed in this Malcolm Gladwell article, which have become ever more frequent in recent years, make me glad I quit playing football in high school. While I never suffered a serious injury, I did get my bell rung a few times, and that was playing against players who were mostly smaller than I was and not particularly fast. I shudder to think about how I might have damaged myself if I'd stuck with football through college, as my coaches wanted me to, and spent four years banging heads against larger, faster players.

I have a feeling that football is headed for trouble in the future. Modern training methods have produced players that are far larger and faster than those who played in the old days, and it's probable that a full-speed collision between Ray Lewis and Brandon Jacobs produces more concussive force than one between, say, Jim Brown and Dick Butkus would have. The improvements in protective equipment that have been made in the interim have thus been at least partially erased. Sports medicine and concussion awareness have both increased dramatically in recent years, but that hasn't reduced the number of players who suffer head injuries each year, and I don't doubt that thirty years from now we'll be reading stories about the sad fates suffered by some contemporary players. The fact is, no matter how much lip service is paid to the issue of brain injuries in football, they will persist unless serious structural and/or rule changes are implemented. And with more people than ever playing the game nowadays, their number is likely to increase.

There are two primary mechanisms for this, one psychological and one economic, and the higher the level of competition, the more powerful they become. The sport's built-in warrior ethos, which the article explores at length, is certainly a factor - it's a punishing game and any player without a high pain tolerance won't last long in it, even at the high school level. It's also a game in which success demands rigid discipline and teamwork. Toughness and and a military-like sense of devotion to the team are among the most prized attributes a player can have in the culture of football, and every player feels pressure to fight through physical setbacks so as not to wimp out or let down his teammates. Combine this with the delusions of immortality common in young men, and the fact that the sort of brain injuries cited in the article may not be noticed when they are incurred because of the delayed or subconscious nature of the symptoms, and it's unlikely we'll convince players to start taking themselves out of the lineup just for taking a hard shot. In the NFL, where careers are short, contracts are non-guaranteed, and getting labeled as "soft" or "injury prone" is pretty much a death knell for a player's prospects of striking it rich, it'll be pretty much impossible. The sad but true reality is that most athletes who are driven enough to make it to the professional level will risk their long-term well-being for the sake of a ten million dollar signing bonus and a brief few years in the spotlight, and with a few exceptions are happy to do so.

So, assuming banning football is off the table (which as a multi-billion dollar business it is for the forseeable future), what options are there? Certainly we ought to continue to promote awareness. Guidelines dictating medical care that puts the well-being of players first and enforces strict standards for allowing recovering players to return to action, of the sort the NHL has implemented in recent years, are a good idea at all levels of football. Recent rule changes prohibiting even inadvertent blows to the head of an opposing player are also an improvement. And making it mandatory for players to wear the most effective headgear possible should have happened yesterday. But I have a feeling even these steps may not be enough - we may need to think more radically, imposing weight limits or limiting substitutions to reduce the amount of high-speed mass on the field. One thing we should not be doing, as the NFL is considering, is increasing the number of games in a season.

Football is probably, all things considered, my favorite sport, and I'd hate to lose it. But the enjoyment I derive from it is tainted by the thought that despite the compensation the players receive it remains a bloodsport as it is played right now. I have no doubt the Romans found the spectacle of armed slaves fighting each other to the death fantastically entertaining, but they ultimately concluded that the practice was immoral and discontinued it. I hope that we will not have to do the same with football.

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's Super-Freaky

Super Freakonomics, the sequel to the 2005 best-seller Freakonomics, is getting quite a drubbing in the press and the blogosphere for its shoddy statistical analysis, and it would appear rightfully so (as Matthew Yglesias points out, it's really not that difficult to fact check something as simple as the color of a typical solar panel). As someone who found Freakonomics provocative in spots, but prone to the same sort of logically dubious contrarianism being pointed out in these posts, I'm wondering what took so long. Many of the conclusions Leavitt and Dubner put forth in their first book were, at best, debatable, and I was surprised reviewers and pundits didn't pick them apart more vigorously back then. Better late than never, I suppose - one of the biggest dangers of mistaking science for a body of established facts rather than an ongoing process of inquiry, something to which our culture seems increasingly prone, is the possibility of elevating poorly reasoned and weakly supported supposition to the status of gospel truth just because it's uttered by a respected public figure with a high profile and lots of advanced degrees. This is particularly true of disciplines which have acquired all the authoritative sheen of science without any of the pesky falsifiability, such as economics, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology. Intense intellectual scrutiny ought to be de rigeur for any book making conclusions as sweeping as those presented in Freakonomics, and while I'm skeptical such a standard will ever be met (I doubt very much that the slipshod logic here would have drawn such attention were it employed in making the conventional case in favor of the climate change hypothesis, for instance), it's an ideal worth shooting for.

Along a similar line, this is a reminder that reflexive contrarianism can be just as dangerous to clear thinking as going along with the crowd - on any given issue, the conventional wisdom is the conventional wisdom for a reason, and at least some of the time that reason is a good one. If we are really dedicated to seeking the truth, we ought to be as skeptical of our own intuitions as we are of those of other people.

On a lighter note, the whole thing reminds me of the old joke about economics:
A physicist, a chemist, and an economist are shipwrecked on a desert
island. Starving, they find a case of canned pork and beans on the beach, but
they have no can opener. So, they hold a symposium on how to open the cans. The
physicist goes first:
"I've devised a physical solution. We find a pointed
rock and propel it at the lid of the can at, say, 25 meters per second
The chemist breaks in:
"No, I have a chemical solution: we heat the
molecules of the contents to over 100 degrees Centigrade until the pressure
builds to --"
The economist, condescension dripping from his voice,
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, I have a much more elegant solution.
Assume we have a can opener..."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pointless Link Of The Day

Cool retro-style movie posters. I particularly like the 1930's-esque "Spider-Man", the Cubist-style "Dark Knight", and the "Wizard of Oz" a la Stalinist-era Soviet propaganda.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Question Of The Day

Should blackmail of the sort attempted against David Letterman be illegal? My initial instinct is to say "yes", but this article in the New Yorker did make me think.

Oh, Democracy...

Memo to everyone involved in the healthcare reform debate: it's rather hard to take anything from polls that show that "a majority of Americans favor a public option" when it appears that barely 50% have even a vague idea what a public option is.

Perhaps we ought to focus on educating the public about its government first?

To Be Fair, "Irony" Is An Awfully Big Word For A Guy Like That

Andrew Sullivan notes that one of the perpetrators in an assault on a gay man in Queens who has the "thou shall not lie with a male" quotation from the Book of Leviticus tattooed on his arm apparently couldn't be bothered to read the next chapter of it:

“You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks
upon you; I am the LORD”

You can't make this shit up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The New York Sports Media Strikes Again

In anticipation of the MLB League Championship Series, New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden offers up this truly inane column opining that baseball needs a Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup to take the game back to its roots and "recover a portion of the trust" that it has lost in the wake of the P.E.D. scandals of the past several years. Say what?!?!? Even for a member of the notoriously egocentric New York media, this statement boggles the mind. How, pray tell, would a matchup between teams starring Alex "A-Roid" Rodriguez and Manny "I was just trying to get pregnant" Rodriguez, two of the biggest fish yet netted in the steroids crackdown, restore trust in the integrity of the game? If anything, a series featuring two superstars who were just busted for using THIS YEAR would remind viewers of MLB's disgraceful recent history of ignoring and/or tacitly enabling steroid abuse. I'm not naive enough to believe that no player on either the Phillies or the Angels has ever used steroids, but as far as I know neither team has a player who's publicly known to have been busted, which is not the case with the Yankees or Dodgers.

Furthermore, Rhoden ought to realize that outside of New Yorkers of the Baby Boom generation or older, nobody gives a New York subway rat's you-know-what about having a World Series that hearkens back to the so-called golden era of the game, when subway matchups between New York teams were a regular event. The 2000 World Series, the one featuring the Mets and the Yankees, was one of the lowest rated on record, which certainly suggests that sports fans outside of New York don't care about New York teams nearly as much as New Yorkers seem to think they do. If the matchup ends up being Yankees vs. Dodgers, it will likely get better ratings than a Phillies-Angels series would, but only because 1.)it would involve the nation's two largest media markets, and 2.)lots of people outside New York (including me) despise the Yankees and will tune in to root against them. History will have nothing to do with it.

As a Philadelphian, of course I'd like to see the Phillies against either A.L. team over Yankees-Dodgers, but even failing that I think I'd rather watch a "Three-Hours-In-Hellish-Freeway-Traffic" Series between the Dodgers and Angels than have to suffer through the orgy of self-indulgent New York baseball nostalgia a Yankees-Dodgers tilt would engender. As for restoring my trust in the sanctity of the sport? I fear that horse has left the barn, but if it is possible, it'll take a lot more than a historically resonant World Series matchup to do it. Like, say, publicly identifying every player who has been caught using performance enhancing drugs since testing was instituted, and banning players who test positive from making All-Star teams, winning postseason awards, being eligible for the Hall of Fame, or otherwise being recognized. I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, I am rooting passionately against both the Yankees and the Dodgers, and, thus, I guess, against the best interests of the game, as well as purity, mom, and apple pie. Oh, well. Go Phillies!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Orwell Was Right...

...War Is Peace.

With impeccable timing and an exquisite sense of irony, the latest Nobel Peace Prize winner has approved a modest increase in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. I'm not sure what would constitute a prudent policy in regards to that country - the place is a mess and if there is such a thing as a prudent policy, it's quite likely it would be impossible to pick it out from what look like at present a very bad set of options without the benefit of a functional crystal ball. But there's no doubt that escalating the American military presence in the country is going to result in a longer war and more people, Afghan and American, getting killed. If these are the actions of the man who's done the most for the cause of world peace in the last year, the cause of world peace is in serious trouble.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Am I Missing Something?

Not to be the turd in the punchbowl or anything, but what, exactly, has Barack Obama done to merit a Nobel Peace Prize, other than be beloved of the international demographic of cosmopolitan liberals that decides the award? The Prizes awarded to Jimmy Carter and Al Gore may have been (alright - were) dubious, but at least those two were devoting a good deal of their time to something that could be construed as conducive to world peace. Obama has not done so. He has not figured out how to pacify intransigent regimes in Iran or North Korea, nor made any headway in getting the Israelis and the Palestinians to stop blowing each other up, nor resolved the Mexican standoffs over Kashmir, Taiwan, etc., nor really accomplished much of anything on the peace front. That's not to fault him - these problems have persisted for decades or centuries despite the best efforts of lots of smart, dedicated people for the reason that they're incredibly difficult to solve - but I hardly see how one even begins to justify giving him a Nobel Peace Prize. The award is especially hard to fathom when one considers that with few substantive differences from George W. Bush, Obama has continued to prosecute the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in some cases more aggressively than his predecessor did. Bush was pilloried as a war criminal and the biggest threat to peace since Hitler by the very same liberal European elites who have now deemed Obama the person who has done the most for the cause of peace this year. What gives?

It all makes sense as soon as one acknowledges that in the court of international opinion the criminality of an action is determined not by whether it actually violates law or morality but by whether the party responsible has the right political allegiances. See also Polanski, Roman. I love the smell of rank liberal hypocrisy.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ridin' the storm out

Sendai (along with the rest of Japan) is currently undergoing a severe battering from a typhoon, by some accounts the strongest in more than a decade. The storm did not result in the cancellation of classes at my school (in fact very few students were absent), but it did crumple the cheap plastic umbrella I took out into it this morning like a piece of plastic wrap, as well as shut down the trains for the day after I'd arrived at school (it's home by bus today). Looks like I won't be doing anything outdoors tonight or tomorrow - maybe I'll finally get around to uploading the rest of my photos from Indonesia.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wanker Alert!

British writer Sebastian Horsley has over the course of his adult life slept with more than 1,300 prostitutes, at a cost of more than 115,000 pounds, a personal history he reflects upon in this rather annoying blog post. There are very few forms of writing I find quite so grating as an overwritten personal essay, and this one (like so many essays on the topic of sex) is overwritten in every sense of the word, with dubious ideas expressed in bloated, inapt metaphors conveyed in prose so purple you could dye a violet with it. Case in point:
In English brothels you shuffle into a seedy room so dim you can only meet
the girl by Braille. But in New York last year I sat on a four-poster bed while
10 girls paraded in front of me one by one, like bowls of sushi on a carousel.
“Hi,” they would say, “I’m Tiffany”, “I’m Harmony”, “I’m Michelle”, and I would
rise and kiss them. It was so touching, so sweet, so kind. There should always,
no matter what, be politeness. It is the way the outside world should work,
selfishly but honestly.
Everything about this paragraph irritates me, to the point where I don't know where to begin in criticizing it. While I suspect that Horsley chose to compare the women he was scrutinizing with sliced-and-diced raw fish precisely because of the de-humanizing ick factor, self-lacerating irony doesn't make him sound any less like a serial killer. And while I agree with his conclusion that prostitution is a selfish-but-honest act, to assert that this is how every interpersonal relationship ought to work is absurd. It says more about Horsley's personal limitations and hangups than it does about society, intimacy, or any other topic that might be worth the reader's time.

This latter problem plagues the entire essay. A good personal essay explores through the window of firsthand experience a situation into which any reader can project sympathies. A bad personal essay is an exercise in smug navel-gazing, and despite Horsley's self-denunciation as a "sleazy bastard", that is precisely what his tract is. It is rather irritating when self-satisfied "family values" types lecture society on the topic of sexual mores, but no less so when a man who's never quite managed to discover the connection between sex and love that exists for most well-adjusted adults asserts that the rest of society is full of shit because it goes on acting as if such a connection is real and doesn't engage in the same disreputable activities he does in order to reject it. Unlike Horsley, I haven't found women with whom I've been involved interchangeable, nor does the prospect of actually communicating with a sexual partner fill me with horror, and observation tells me that this is the case for most people - very few people, after all, eschew pursuing real relationships, with all their talking and companionship and flowers and other aspects which Horsley finds so distasteful, so that they can instead cultivate a taste for hookers. While quite a few people seem to have trouble remaining faithful to their partners, it's never been an issue for me, and though sex for its own sake has its appeal, I find it ultimately a rather empty and transitory pleasure and not one I've ever been motivated to pursue at the expense of all others. The experiences of people like Horsley are obviously different, but the fact that he personally finds monogamy difficult, emotional bonding impossible, and casual sex something worth spending thousands of dollars in pursuit of does not mean that everybody does. And yet from one narcissist's quite obviously anomalous experiences, grandiose conclusions about the state of society and the nature of humankind emerge.

Even more troubling is Horsley's dismissal of the idea that prostitution might just be exploitative with a glib "I don't believe this", and his accompanying wish that it remain illegal so that he can continue to enjoy the thrill of being a bad boy. Obviously he's never taken a break from screwing to talk to the women he's paid to be with, or he might have been given cause to wonder to himself why so disproportionately many come from backgrounds of abuse and dire poverty. And for a self-proclaimed connoisseur, he seems awfully ignorant of the means by which his favorite product is produced and brought to market, with not a single word acknowledging the fact that prostitution is one of the main drivers in the persistence of human slavery, nor even a nod to the abuse, violence, and psychological ruin that social science suggests inevitably come with it. It is every bit the "squalid power game" he claims it isn't - he's just paid to avoid having to see the squalor or struggle to exercise the power.

It's fine and well to question social norms, and I happen to think there's a credible argument to be made that paying a prostitute to get no-strings-attached sex is less immoral than deceiving a woman in a dating situation to get it. "Less immoral" is not equivalent to "more moral", however - in my view the dishonest seducer and the john are both cads worthy of contempt, with the question at issue being who deserves more. There is a good reason that prostitution elicits disgust from a good portion of the population in even the most tolerant of places. Horsley might have enough self-awareness to understand why his behavior marks him as a dirtbag, but he obviously hasn't given much thought as to why it that the vast majority of society frowns upon it. Writing about prostitution as if it were nothing more than a payment scheme to get him out of the responsibilities that come with intimate relationships or a parlor game that allows him to play the role of an authority-flouting social rebel betrays both deep ignorance of the subject, and an inexcusable indifference to its moral implications. Horsley imagines himself a no-B.S. truth-teller, but what he actually is is a sad and deluded manchild with a pathetic addiction of which he is nonetheless proud. Why did he sleep with 1,300 prostitutes? I don't care nearly as much as he seems to expect that I should.

Friday, October 2, 2009

David Letterman's Very Hot Seat

On the one hand, David Letterman's admission that he's had sex with female employees of his show, a confession forced by the alleged blackmail attempt of a CBS news employee who'd obtained proof of the affairs, is hardly surprising - as we're all well aware by now, lots of powerful people have zipper problems, and while it's certainly not the case that all celebrities cheat on their spouses, you don't have to be a hardened cynic to believe that there are lots of rich and famous people who observe their marital vows somewhat less than scrupulously. That said, it is surprising when certain classes of celebrity whose power and standing depends on their reputation get themselves embroiled in such affairs, and late night talk show hosts, like politicians, are one of these classes. David Letterman has made a living ridiculing powerful people, often for their sexual improprieties (see his tiff with the Palin family from earlier this year), so when he gets caught with his pants down it has a particular whiff of - well, hypocrisy's not quite the right word, but - irony. As is often acknowledged and I've said before, America is certainly a forgiving culture, particularly when it comes to the foibles of celebrities, but I have a hard time seeing how Letterman's career rebounds from this. The next time a John Edwards or a Mark Sanford gets caught sticking his penis where it doesn't belong, Letterman is put into a huge bind. There's no way he can joke about it without reminding everyone watching of his own misdeeds, and that sort of elephant in the room kills comedy. But if he doesn't touch it in favor of sticking to safe subjects, his humor loses its bite and topical relevance. He's really placed himself in a pickle.

In addition, he's now wide open to counterattacks from his targets, as well as sniping from his rivals (no doubt Sarah Palin is smiling a frightening smile of satisfaction on her plasticine face at this very moment, and I'd be surprised if Jay Leno isn't already writing jokes at Letterman's expense right now). I feel bad for Letterman's wife and five-year-old son - nothing makes a tawdry family affair more fun like having millions of people find out about it just after you yourself do. For Letterman himself? Not so much. I've intermittently enjoyed his humor over the years (though I'm far from as big a fan as some people), but it often had a mean-spirited edge that made it uncomfortable, and if that rebounds upon him now, he has nobody to blame but himself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Not So Fast

So Nike says they haven't signed an endorsement deal with Michael Vick after all, only that they're providing him with free equipment. This leads me to wonder - was the initial report in error, or did someone at Nike re-think the public relations implications of hiring a convicted dog-killer to endorse their merchandise?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Worst Movies of the Oughts

I don't generally make a habit of seeking out movies reputed to be awful (I'm kind of like this guy in that way), so I haven't seen any of the films that came in behind it, but it's hard for me to believe that Battlefield Earth was only the 27th worst movie of the past decade. I rented it with some friends back in college, when I was still into the idea of watching things because of the "so bad it's good" factor, and despite the spectacle of John Travolta in stilt heels and a Rasta wig belting out lines like "you must be out of your skullbone, puny man-animal!", that movie more than any other proved to me the existence of an entirely different kind of terrible. It was quite literally painful to watch - by the time the end credits mercifully rolled, I had a pounding headache from listening to the soundtrack, and my neck hurt from trying to follow action that was almost entirely filmed, for some reason, at a 45 degree angle. That other people who suffered through the experience of watching Battlefield Earth could find 26 movies made in the past ten years that were WORSE than it was (2.6 such stinkers per year if you're keeping track at home) makes me shudder.

Other notes:

1.)The list seems to be dominated by movies from three genres - action, lowbrow comedy, and thriller. There's no doubt that these genres do contribute more than their fair share of crap to the cinematic cesspool, and I realize the list was compiled merely by ranking films according to which had the lowest Tomatometer score, pretty much precluding anything put out by a highly-acclaimed filmmaker from "charting". Nevertheless, my own list would include a few prestige epics, Oscar bait dramas, and ill-conceived indies as well. Crash and Eyes Wide Shut would be strong contenders for my own top-10 list of the worst movies I've seen this decade, but since one won an Academy Award and the other was directed by the great Stanley Kubrick, there's no chance they'll receive the accolades (decolades?) they deserve on this sort of list.

2.)Dependable crapmeisters like Uwe Boll, Larry the Cable Guy, and the "(insert movie type here) Movie" guys unsurprisingly feature prominently on the list. But where's Michael Bay?

3.)Unfortunately for them, acclaimed performers like Robert de Niro, Ben Kingsley, and Diane Keaton also show up - De Niro twice. In fact if there's one thing that this list reminds me of, it's that good actors make bad movies with surprising regularity.

4.)Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li (#44) was really bad (it was the third part of a Trans-Pacific triple feature, for the record), but according to the list it's not even the worst video game adaptation of the '00's. Ouch.

5.)Producers should probably avoid pairing Lucy Liu and Antonio Banderas in another movie for at least a decade.

The full list is here.

Next, We Light The Sears Tower With Iran's Colors To Honor The Ayatollah Khomenei's Birthday

I've got to agree with the protestors on this one - we should not be doing anything to honor the current government of China beyond what is demanded by the protocol of international diplomacy. We cannot help but deal with the CCP, as it rules arguably the world's second most important country and its cooperation is necessary in dealing with the global financial crisis, trade, North Korea, Iran, and almost every other pressing international issue. And as we cannot deal with it without respecting its power, we must respect its power. But lighting one of our iconic buildings with its colors on the anniversary of its takeover of the country does more than express respect for its power - it is a tacit endorsement of its legitimacy. Given that this is a regime which has imprisoned, killed, and tortured millions of its own citizens, forcibly occupies and oppresses the homelands of several non-Chinese peoples, conducts its foreign policy in a fashion determined solely by glaringly amoral self-interest, and continues to restrict the rights of its citizens to freedoms of speech, assembly, conscience, and religion, nobody ought to be endorsing its legitimacy.

Whoever made this decision - boo to you.

Unhinged Right Watch

This column imagining a military coup to prevent Obama's "Marxist takeover" of the U.S. is quite a hoot - an entertaining mix of febrile right-wing fantasies and Tom Clancy-inspired thriller clichés. If there's one thing I'd forgotten during the years of the Bush Presidency, it's just how loony the extreme right can be.

Unfortunately, the possibility that another Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph may be out there, nursing similar delusions and plotting his or her own response to the "Obama problem", makes it hard to laugh without simultaneously grimacing.

Is Nike Trying To Expand Its Sportswear Empire Into Dogfighting?

I happen to think that Michael Vick deserves a second chance. He has paid his debt to society by spending two years of his prime in federal prison and being driven to bankruptcy, and he has stated his contrition and his willingness to atone for his crimes by doing charity work and advocating for the humane treatment of animals. Personally, I am not yet convinced of his sincerity, but if as a society we really believe in redemption, we ought to give him a chance to prove it. Furthermore, I don't have a problem with him returning to the NFL. I would have preferred it had it not been with the Eagles, my favorite team, as I don't like the cognitive dissonance that comes with rooting for people who have done despicable things to succeed, but again - if we really believe that felons can be rehabilitated and become productive members of society, we ought to afford them a chance to employ their talents to produce for society in whatever capacity they are best able. For Vick, that's as a football player, so - give him a shot.

All that said, this is too much. Nike signing Vick (who has yet to accomplish much on the field in his NFL return, incidentally) to an endorsement deal sends a really terrible message - that if you fall from grace, you won't have to work to redeem yourself and make it back to the top if you were talented and glamorous enough before you screwed up. That forgiveness is pro forma if you make the flimsiest and most cursory attempt to make amends. I suspect the rush to strike this deal is partially a result of America's cultural obsession with redeeming lost souls, and partially simple corporate greed on Nike's part, but I think we really ought to wait a bit longer to see how Vick handles himself before restoring to him his lost laurels. Getting out of prison was the first step of a long climb back to respectability, and he's still at the bottom of the mountain - not the top. If - and I hope this is not the case - it proves that Vick has not actually changed, I hope Nike's business suffers mightily as a result of their haste to embrace him.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Petition to Hollywood Polanski Sympathizers: Drop Dead

A group of more than 70 Hollywood directors, incensed that law enforcement officials in the U.S. would have the temerity to have the great Roman Polanski arrested for absconding from justice before he could be sentenced for a crime he admitted to committing, have signed a petition demanding his immediate release. And I quote:
"It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying
homage to one of the greatest contemporary film-makers, is used by police to
apprehend him."
Oh the humanity! This event was used by police to apprehend Polanski because he is a fugitive from justice. If a person is a fugitive from justice, and the police know where he or she is or will be, they are obligated to apprehend him or her. It doesn't matter if the person is attending a wedding, or handing out soup to poor people at a soup kitchen, or watching their kids' little league game, or even being feted at an "international cultural event". Furthermore, his standing as one of the "greatest contemporary film-makers" is utterly, totally irrelevant - something I don't think these people would have trouble seeing were he wanted for drugging and sodomizing one of their children. Polanski is an admitted rapist who has not paid for his crime. Plain and simple. The gall behind this press release is unbelievable - what these people seem to be demanding is nothing less than a different set of rules for themselves, special obeisance from the law for the new, self-appointed creative aristocracy. The lack of commitment to liberal principles of egalatarianism and equality before the law is repugnant, particularly from a group of people who enjoy hectoring the common man with ill-informed left-wing agitprop nearly as much as they enjoy making movies. Generally I think the right's bashing of Hollywood celebrities as self-righteous, pompous, hypocritical, libertine windbags out of touch with mainstream American values is overdone - but I've got to say that in this case such criticisms are dead on. At least it's nice to see that Woody Allen has declared solidarity with his fellow jailbait-craving sniveling dirtbag.

Along the same lines we have this little nugget, courtesy of eminent criminal justice scholar Whoopi Goldberg:

"I know it wasn't rape-rape. It was something else but I don't believe it was
rape-rape. He went to jail and and when they let him out he was like, 'You know
what, this guy's going to give me a hundred years in jail. I'm not staying.' So
that's why he left."
Actually Whoopi, yeah, it pretty much was "rape-rape", as you'd know if you'd read the case details. But leaving that aside, what exactly demarcates "rape-rape" from "rape" from what Polanski did in your mind? If I were to ply a thirteen year old relative of yours with Qualudes and champagne, and then proceed to force her to have oral and vaginal sex despite her repeated protests, and finally sodomize her, again against her will, would you consider that "rape-rape", or just plain old "rape"? How about if I used champagne but no Qualudes, and left out the anal sex? Maybe that's just "ra-rape", or "rap-rape" at the worst. If I did to your putatitive relative what Polanski did to his victim, how many years in jail would I deserve? If I feared the sentence would be too lengthy for my liking, and I jetted off to Europe before it could be handed down, would that be okay by you?

I hope that the Swiss authorities don't cave, and at this point I half-want to see Polanski dragged back to the U.S. in chains, just so I can enjoy a bit of well-deserved schaudenfreude at the expense of these people.

Say what?

Some climate change activists are fretting because global temperatures have not continued to rise as predicted over the past four years. What happened to rising global temperatures being an imminent threat to human civilization? The activists say that they are concerned because plateauing temperatures create a sense of complacency that makes strong action on greenhouse gas emissions difficult, and perhaps this is so. I can't help but wonder, though, if there isn't, deep down, some anxiety that what climate change skeptics have been saying - that permanent global warming, if it is indeed happening, is due to something other than human activity - might turn out to be true. If that were the case, pretty much the entire scientific community, not to mention every major international environmental organization and Al Gore, would have some serious egg on their faces. Whatever their devotion to truth and rationality, scientists are no less vulnerable than the rest of us to the assorted biases, reasoning errors, and blind spots of human cognition, nor the associated failings of pride and intellectual vanity.

I'm not a climate change skeptic per se - I do think the theory climatologists have articulated about the role of human activity in rising global temperatures makes sense, and there is certainly evidence of rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. I do, however, find the more outlandish predictions of doomsayers - New York and other coastal cities inundated by rapidly rising sea levels, regular super hurricanes laying waste to areas in the tropical storm belts, etc. - rather dubious. And I am not convinced that we won't at some point discover that climate change is driven to a greater extent than we currently suppose by things over which we have no control - astronomical cycles, changes in solar activity, etc. Scientific theories that were once widely credited have after all proven wrong before, and more than once. Theories are particularly likely to prove inaccurate in areas of inquiry in which it is difficult to gather data or falsify hypotheses - such as the study of the climate of an entire planet. As the prophets of climate change have staked much of their credibility on the correctness of their diagnosis of this problem and the urgency of their proposed solution, it would hardly be surprising if they found any observable trend which threatened to undermine their claims highly upsetting. Nevertheless, if they are truly concerned for the planet, they ought to be happy about the possibility of their hypothesis being incorrect - after all, if they're wrong, we're avoiding a global cataclysm, and all we'll have to give up for it is a few bruised egos.

The motivations of politicians in regards to this issue are, I suspect, somewhat different. I find it hard to believe that at least some of their sense of urgency in regards to seeking action on climate change NOW derives not from concern for the African children who will starve as a result of the Great Drought of 2050, but from the fact that at the moment they have the opportunity to create a massive, byzantine federal bureaucracy, with all the opportunities for pork, cronyism, and political backscratching that entails. After all, the starving African children of the future are rather an unreliable voting bloc compared to newly minted government employees in your home district, being non-American and juveniles and yet to be born and all that. If the current public perception that climate change is an imminent crisis weakens, the opportunity to create this second class may pass.

If we're going to attempt to reduce carbon emissions (and I think we should, for several reasons), an across-the-board carbon tax is the way to do it. This would require a much smaller bureaucratic apparatus than cap-and-trade or similarly complex administrative schemes, and as it would continually provide revenue said apparatus would be partially if not fully self-funding. It would also allow the markets to work unfettered on answering the question of how to reduce carbon emissions, and save individuals and businesses everywhere a lot of paperwork and lost productivity. The fact that it's a simple resource based tax would it relatively easy to enforce, with none of the special pleading or graft that will undoubtedly occur in an auction for government carbon permits. In short, the carbon tax would accomplish much of what we want, with lower overhead costs and less likelihood of perverse unintended consequences, and if climate change or fossil fuel depletion turn out not to be the threats they are currently perceived to be, it would be easy to alter the tax or abolish it, which methinks would not be the case with an entrenched federal bureaucracy. Granted, a carbon tax wouldn't create opportunities to hand out political patronage, provide government pencil-pushers a hammer with which to distort or profiteer from economic activity, or create additional loyal voters and special interest lobbies, all serious issues for your typical distinguished Congressperson. But hey, no proposal is perfect.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Polanski Redux

I've already thrown in my two cents on the Roman Polanski situation, but the reactions I've seen to it from various people deserve further comment. The French culture minister, Frédéric Mitterand, has declared himself outraged that such a talented artiste could be persecuted and "thrown to the lions" by a sexually puritanical, fascistic U.S. justice system. Let me not mince words with my rebuttal: Fuck you, asshole. Maybe you think it's okay for sleazy old men to DRUG and RAPE CHILDREN, or maybe you just think it's okay for them to get away with DRUGGING and RAPING CHILDREN if they're rich, famous, well-connected, and happen to have directed some well-regarded movies. If so, by all means enact laws in France that legalize RAPING CHILDREN. Then declare that day "National CHILD RAPE Day" and let the merrymaking and CHILD RAPING begin. In our country, popular consensus holds that is morally wrong to RAPE CHILDREN, so we've made a law against CHILD RAPE. When someone RAPES A CHILD, he or she is arrested in accordance with the law against RAPING CHILDREN. In this particular case, the sleazy old man in question DRUGGED AND RAPED a CHILD in our country, so he's going to have to face justice under our system, in which it is illegal to DRUG AND RAPE CHILDREN. This case is not analogous to those of Oscar Wilde (who was persecuted for the "crime" of being gay) or that of Alfred Dreyfus (persecuted, in your country I might point out, for the "crime" of being Jewish). So stop making odious comparisons and apologies for a man who RAPED A CHILD. Let me close by reiterating the thesis statement of this paragraph: FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE.

Almost as disturbing as the spectacle of one morally degenerate Frenchmen making excuses for another, but more surprising, is the degree to which Polanski's apologists elsewhere have attempted to downplay the magnitude of his crimes in their efforts to defend him. Case in point: the Orwellian attempt to re-brand what he did as "unlawful sex". He drugged a 13 year old girl, then repeatedly forced himself on her despite her continual pleas for him to stop. That is not merely "unlawful sex". That is RAPE. R-A-P-E. Given the age of the victim, the use of drugs to incapacitate her, and the fact that she repeatedly and clearly objected, it likely meets the legal definition of aggravated rape. Let's call a spade a spade. Even more disgusting? Apologies for Polanski like this one making arguments of the "she looked older", "she was asking for it", and "her mother pimped her out" variety. Really? Is this the flower of feminism, Huffington Post? I can't help but think defenses like these would be (rightfully) decried by the likes of Joan Shore were the rapist in this case a Sigma Chi frat brother, Greenwich investment banker, scion of the Bush family, or some other emblem of WASPy male Republican privilege. Apparently misogyny, patriarchal exploitation, and sexual violence are still okay, as long as you're a European sophisticate whose art is beloved of cosmopolitan latte-sippers everywhere.

As I said in my previous post, I'm sympathetic to the wishes of the victim in this case to be left at peace rather than being forced to once again re-live a painful part of her history by the spectacle of a celebrity court case. If the case were dismissed out of respect for her wishes, I wouldn't be outraged. But it is absolutely beyond the pale to attempt to defend or excuse Polanski's actions - talented artist and charming conversationalist or not, the man is scum and committed a horrible crime. Anyone who attempts to deny that has forfeited any claim to moral or intellectual credibility.

P.S. - Salon, to their credit, has a pretty comprehensive takedown of all the garbage being peddled by Polanski's defenders.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

With Friends Like These...

Hot on the heels of Jimmy Carter blathering about motivation to the Obama Presidency being motivated largely by racism, Bill Clinton has decided to join the chorus of Democrats saying asinine things. Clinton has declared that his erstwhile bête noire, the fearsome "vast right wing conspiracy" that framed him for draft dodging, forged a bunch of fake documents implicating him in shady real estate dealings, bribed Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey to accuse him of sexual harassment, and programmed the Manchurian Bimbo, Monica Lewinsky, to seduce him before planting his semen on her dress, is now out to get Obama. Their sinister agenda? "Wanting him to fail". Horror of horrors! It's not as if we live in a democracy - you know, that quaint form of government in which, if someone whose policy goals you vigorously oppose is elected, you're allowed to declare your opposition to them and attempt to prevent them from being realized. Obviously conservatives who don't agree with Obama's agenda didn't get the memo that states that failure to approve of the Dear Leader's plans with sufficient enthusiasm has now been deemed Thoughtcrime. Perhaps a mix-up at the post office prevented timely delivery of their magical unity ponies. Whatever the problem, there's no need to worry - Bubba's on the case.

Obama's one of the few partisan politicians I genuinely like. I voted for him and haven't yet regretted that decision, despite the fact that I disagree with him on many issues and he has enacted policies of which I disapprove. Nevertheless, I want him to fail at many of the things he is keen on trying, not because I am part of a conspiracy, but because I think that they are bad ideas and I am opposed to them. This is the way democracy works. Only a malignantly narcissistic egomaniac like Bill Clinton would see members of an opposition party wanting a President to fail as some kind of sinister force. Well, unless the opposition party in question is the Democrats and the President is George W. Bush. In that case wanting the President to fail is a patriotic duty.

For once, it appears we don't have such a malignantly narcissistic egomaniac in the White House. Obama has at times responded to his opponents forcefully, but he has not imputed base motives to their opposition or implied that it is tantamount to disloyalty. Unfortunately for him, with high-profile loose cannons like Carter and Clinton rattling around the Democratic ship, he doesn't have to for the tone of political debate to continue to sink ever lower.

The Curious Case of Roman Polanski

The Academy Award winning director/notorious lecher has been arrested in Switzerland on a warrant issued for his admitted statuatory rape of a 13 year old girl in 1977 (rather a dumb move there, Roman, to book your flight to Zurich without first checking to see if Switzerland shared France's lenient attitude toward sexual immorality or reluctance to extradite criminal suspects to the U.S.). The thing is, his victim doesn't want the case to go forward, and understandably so - it's perfectly easy to see how a high profile court case in which her name will be bandied about in the press and the details of her long-ago victimization recounted again and again will only bring additional and unnecessary pain and hardship for a woman who's long since processed the trauma she suffered and moved on with her life.

I am of two minds about this case. On the one hand, I think that Polanski is a scumbag who has for far too long escaped justice for his crime, and I'd like to see his debauched, shriveled ass spend the rest of its time on earth rotting in a dank prison cell (and perhaps being violated by a large, tattooed cellmate, just so he can know what it's like to be on the other end of that stick). On the other, I sympathize wholeheartedly with his victim's claim that carrying out justice against him will cause her further harm, and her wish that the case should therefore be dismissed. Rape is a crime that raises a very thorny question in regards to the philosophical underpinnings of our justice system. It is a crime of violence, and like all crimes of violence it does victimize society by fostering anxiety about personal safety. Furthermore, it's the sort of crime very likely to be committed repeatedly by the same offender. As such it is hard to argue that the state does not have a legitimate interest in punishing it, and doing so harshly. However, unlike assault, armed robbery, or the like, rape is a deeply personal crime as well - an assault on the victim's autonomy and volition that is likely to cause significant and lasting psychological harm extending far beyond the heightened anxiety that victims of other sorts of violent crimes might experience. Forcing a rape victim to re-live the experience undoubtedly retards the healing process, but that is precisely what our justice system requires in order to mount a successful prosecution. In order to punish an offender for harming his victim, and ensure he does not harm others, the courts must compound the harm he has done. When we consider furthermore that character assassination of the victim is an extremely popular tactic for those defending accused rapists in court, and that being a known rape victim carries a social stigma that is hard to erase, it is little wonder that many victims conclude that pressing charges is more pain and trouble than it's worth. Two imperatives of the law - punishing offenders and protecting innocent people from harm - come into conflict here, and it is not at all clear which should receive priority.

In some cases of interpersonal victimization (adultery and the like), we have decided that the rights to privacy and dignity of the individual are paramount, and consequently removed the government from the equation. In others, e.g. child abuse cases, prosecution is generally pursued even if victims are reluctant to press charges. And in still others, we leave it up to the victim to decide. In most such instances, that's not a very difficult decision for a majority of people, and even if it is - as is often the case with domestic violence - it's relatively easy to argue that by declining to press charges a victim endangers nobody but themselves. This is not so with rape, which is more similar to robbery in its randomness - if a rapist is not charged for raping victim A, there is a not-insignificant chance he will target victim B. It is therefore necessary to lock him up to protect potential victims. But how do we weigh the government's need to protect its citizens from the predations of violent criminals against the right of an individual not to have painful personal experiences laid bare against his or her will?

Our current answer to this question - to handle rape much as we do a bar brawl, and leave it up to the victim to decide - leaves me deeply unsatisfied. For me, sympathy for the wishes of a rape victim outweighs desire to see the offender suffer for the crime, but I find it unacceptable to contemplate letting people with dangerous and violent criminal proclivities go unpunished - particularly when I think about the possibility of someday having a daughter who might fall victim to one of them. I can't help but wonder if rape is one instance in which our "civilized" legal regimen really hasn't improved all that much on the model of those hunter-gatherer tribes who deal with rape in an eye-for-an-eye fashion by letting a victim's male relatives hunt down and kill or otherwise punish her rapist.

In any case, regardless of how Polanski's case plays out, I hope never to see him in the U.S. again unless it's for a court date, and I won't be shedding any tears when he finally drops dead.

RIP William Safire

The longtime NY Times columnist is dead at 79. The vast majority of his career was before my time, but I read enough of him to see why he was so highly regarded, and to know that any fan of smart, prickly, libertarian-streaked conservatism or adroit use of the English language will miss him. One hopes that in the age of cable news and Twitter, when poor reasoning and ill-articulated prattle are more common than ever in the media, carefully crafted argument and precise use of language of the sort that were Safire's trademarks will not go by the wayside.

Question of the Day

Should Palinite Republicans oppose President Obama's plan to increase instruction hours in U.S. schools? After all, it gives his minions in the teacher's union more time to brainwash them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Life Begins At 30

Well, I've hit the big 3-0, and surprisingly, it doesn't feel like the milestone I'd always thought it would be. Perhaps it's because I've already spent a lot of time contemplating the passage of time and where I was in life on previous birthdays (particularly the last few, on which 30 grew closer but had not yet arrived), or perhaps it's because I've matured enough that at this point the prospect of exiting my twenties no longer frightens me, but - that's how it felt - just another day that passed uneventfully. When I reflect back on my twenties, I see a decade that went really well on the whole, and left me with a wealth of experiences I will always recall fondly and deepened relationships with a great many friends and loved ones I will always cherish. I can't complain. And if the next decade is as happy as this one was, I will be truly blessed.

I had a five day vacation until Wednesday, and spent the majority of it hiking with my girlfriend and some friends in the fabulously beautiful Japanese Alps, which further distracted me from any sort of fretting about getting older. I will post pictures on Facebook and Flickr shortly (I hope). Please check my pages out if you wish to see them, and I'll be back to posting regularly shortly.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gone Hikin'

For the next few days, I'm off for one final bout of outdoorsmanship for the season - a camping trip in the Japanese alps. I'll take lots of pictures, and post again when I get back.

It Takes One To Know One

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists that three American hikers who accidentally crossed into Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan over a poorly marked border must be punished because they "trampled the law". I suppose if there's anybody in Iran who knows a thing or two about trampling the law, it's old Ahmadi, isn't it?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

List - The Ten Biggest Douchebags In Popular Music

Kanye West’s recent stunt at the Video Music Awards got me thinking of a conversation I had with my roommate on this subject a few months ago. For some reason, the recording industry seems to attract musically talented people and assholes in almost equal measure, which got us thinking - who ARE the biggest d-bags in music? Here, in no particular order, is the top-10 list we came up with, plus one special mention:

1.)Morrissey. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Smiths. They’re one of my favorite bands of the eighties, and there’s no denying that Morrissey was a big part of their greatness. That said, there's likewise no denying his douchiness. Firstly, there’s the lots-of-smoke-but-no-fire accusations of racism. Secondly, there’s the hypocrisy of a proselytizing vegetarian who loudly declares that “meat is murder” wearing leather goods because synthetic materials are “no substitute” for the real thing (I feel the same way about my cheeseburger, asshole). Then there’s his never-ending quest to wind up the public by making outrageous proclamations and declaring himself asexual, pansexual, or whatever-sexual every time he's interviewed. And finally, there’s the fact that his former bandmates all hate his guts and won't even speak to him, unsurprisingly since he's tried to freeze them out at every turn during and after the Smiths' breakup. His whiny, I’m-utterly-unloved-woe-is-me-waah-waah-waah lyrics are the icing on the cake.

2.)Noel and Liam Gallagher, formerly of Oasis. The self-applied Beatles comparisons were entertaining at first, insofar as they inspired “are they kidding?” meta-arguments about Oasis’ stance toward musical celebrity. As the band’s career has ground on through the years, however, the cement-headed adolescent churlishness and egotism of the brothers Gallagher has gotten harder and harder to endure. There’s no denying they do have some talent – a lot of second-tier alt-rock bands made it big in the 90’s, but few proved to have the staying power or knack for catchy hooks of Oasis. “Some talent”, however, is as far as it goes – they seem to be afraid of composing anything that has more than four chords, too many of their songs are bloated and self-indulgent, and their lyrics are poorly written even by the semi-literate standards of rock-and-roll, as Blender pointed out a few years ago. Certainly they do not merit nearly the opinion they seem to have of themselves, and their constant bickering, fondness for taking childish potshots at other bands in the press, and habit of carping about how people don’t get their genius (hint guys – maybe we don’t get it because it’s not there) are really, really tiresome.

3.)Kanye West – he assured his place on the list long before his encounter with Ms. Swift. He’s talented for sure – in my opinion he’s released some of the best mainstream hip-hop of the decade – but even in a genre in which egomania, crass materialism, and utter self-absorption are prerequisites for the job, his egomania, crass materialism, and utter self-absorption stand out. “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” was the all time low point – it takes a lot of balls to write a song about how you’re so talented and awesome you sell enough records to make it rain diamonds. Especially when you entitle it, apparently without any awareness whatsoever, with a name that to anyone who’s followed world events over the last ten years brings to mind civil war, child soldiers, mass rape, etc. And, then, to top it all off, when someone points out to you the offensiveness of what you’ve written, by way of easing your conscience you release a re-mix of the song with new lyrics declaring that yeah, it’s horrible that some African kid got his arms hacked off with a machete because of conflict diamonds and all, but hey, you gotta be real and keep blingin’it, because did you mention, you're awesome and you sell a lot of records? Thanks, Kanye. I’m sure that makes the war orphans feel a lot better.

4.)Puff Daddy – perhaps Kanye’s only real competitor for the title of “biggest ego in hip-hop”, he’s even more grating because he’s almost completely lacking in talent. He was the biggest star of the late 90’s and early 00’s in the genre (not coincidentally the lowest period in hip hop history) but I can’t think of a single great song that he performed or produced – and apparently he wasn't in the habit of writing them either. In addition to being thoroughly full of himself, there was no boundary of taste or decorum he wasn’t willing to cross to further his career – not even exploiting the death of much more talented collaborator Notorious B.I.G. by ripping off the Police in that awful tribute single.

5.)Adam Duritz of Counting Crowes – a douche of the whiny, well-off white suburbanite variety. His band was wildly popular for a long period, and when he wasn’t busy making music or counting his money he was shagging some Hollywood starlet or other, yet all he could sing about was how much his life sucked and how people didn’t understand him. I even heard him quoted once as saying he couldn’t write about other people, because “it’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you spend so much time getting your own to fit”. Waaah waaah waaah. I feel for ya’, buddy. Now drop the guitar and get yourself a shotgun.

6.)Sting – Artistic pretension, I have met thee, and thou art a mediocre middle aged bleach-blond adult contemporary musician from England. The Police were a great band, but not because Sting’s lyrics were all that profound. Nevertheless, he seems to have really taken seriously the idea that he’s some kind of messenger from the realm of pure aesthetic bliss sent to our world to lay bare the emptiness of working in a cubicle, and living in the suburbs, and stuff. That attitude might be tolerable if he’d made a decent record in the last twenty years – unfortunately, he hasn’t. His New Agey obsessions with tantra and the like don’t help, nor does the sanctimonious tone with which he lectures the press about respecting his family’s privacy, while simultaneously parading himself before the paparazzi and letting anyone with earshot know about his sexual proclivities. He also likes to carp about music critics – who, after all, get paid to do it – criticizing his music, and having the temerity – gasp! – to dislike it. Perhaps going solo went to his head, or perhaps he was always this bad and Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers held him in check – who can tell?

7.)Bono – I love U2’s music – they’re one of the bands that really got me into rock and roll – and unlike a lot of celebrities who prattle self-righteously about social issues, he puts his money where his mouth is and really does try to help the children. That said, he’s got a messiah complex that’s difficult to stomach at times, and sometimes I wish he’d just go away.

8.)Lars Ulrich of Metallica – Ulrich had a right to take issue with services like Napster that made it easy for people to download his music illegally, but coming out in the press and essentially declaring that poor college kids who nabbed a free digital version of “Enter Sandman” were taking food out of his kids’ mouths was a pretty douche-y way do it. Then, he refused to shut up about it and went on a courtroom and public relations crusade against music piracy, culminating in a legal action against Napster forcing it to ban users who had downloaded Metallica’s music (but only Metallica’s music – apparently its okay for other millionaire musicians’ kids to starve). The fact that he comes across as a needy whiner in the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster doesn’t help.

9.)Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit - sure, his band made a career of churning out a juvenile, obnoxious and pretty thorough-goingly awful hybrid of hard rock and hip hop that combined the worst aspects of both genres. That alone is not enough to put him on the list, however. He makes it thanks to his incessant boasting about his prowess at 1.)nookie, and 2.)fucking people up. It's a shame using his brain and shutting his mouth aren't on the list of things he's good at.

10.)Scott Stapp of Creed - Ridiculing the music of Creed, the bane of rock radio listeners everywhere for a short period in the late 90's and early 00's, is too easy. It's not so much shooting fish in a barrel as in a shotglass. But for a guy who liked to bellow about how much God and Jesus loved him, and how important it was to him to lead the life of a good Christian father, Stapp did an awful lot of sinning. His habit of assuming crucifixion poses in the band's videos elevates him to douchedom of near sacrilegious proportions.

(Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award) – John Lennon. In keeping with a theme of the list, he’s perhaps the ultimate example of someone who was both a great musician and an utterly shitty human being. He was controlling and abusive of his wives and girlfriends even as he cheated on them with impunity - it takes an almost incomprehensible degree of sexual egocentrism to put a subtle boast about one's extramarital exploits ("Norwegian Wood") and a psychotic death-threat against a woman who even thinks about stepping out with another guy ("Run For Your Life") on the same album. Lennon was also neglectful of his children, particularly his first son Julian, and a dick to his bandmates. As talented as he was (and he was the most talented of the Beatles – no small feat), he was desperately insecure and jealous, begrudging people around him their successes for fear that they might upstage him. And, just as he is arguably among the most influential figures in the development of modern rock music, he is inarguably the most influential figure in the development of the insufferably-preachy-rock-star complex. Without treacly message songs like “Imagine” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas” it’s possible we wouldn’t have had to listen to “Heal The World” or put up with Bono’s more obnoxious antics. For this reason alone, if I ever get the funds to open up a Douchebag Musician Hall of Fame J.L.’s the first inductee.

Any other suggestions?

Someone get Jimmy Carter a muzzle

Is Jimmy Carter a courageous advocate of racial equality, or a senile old man? The fact that Carter repeated his claim that opponents of President Obama are motivated by racism after Obama himself rather pointedly downplayed the role of race in opposition to his policies begs the question. The instances of hateful speech Carter cites - of people likening Obama to Hitler, or claiming he should be buried alive with Kennedy - are indeed beyond the pale, and have no place in civilized political discourse. They are not, however, substantively different from similar things said about George W. Bush by irate liberals. For Carter to suggest that these sorts of comments, unhinged though they may be, are motivated by racial animus, without any proof thereof, is inflammatory and irresponsible. It is also deeply unfair. Congressman Joe Wilson behaved in a boorish and uncivil manner when he heckled Obama during the healthcare speech, and was rightly rebuked for it; given that he has never exhibited any sort of racist behavior in the past, and that he has since apologized for his outburst, it is tantamount to slander for Carter to accuse him of being a bigot.

It is certainly true that there are still racists in America - but I think the country has gotten to the point where the racist vote is such a small portion of the electorate that any mainstream politician who exhibits racial prejudice is likely to lose more non-racist votes than they are to gain racist ones. This seems to be true even in the south - after all, many people attributed George Allen's stunning defeat in the Virginia Senate race in 2006 to his "macaca" moment. While race is undoubtedly a factor for at least some people who oppose Obama's agenda, it should not be assumed that if one despises the policies of the first black President one therefore despises black people. If it is, we have not come as far as I'd like to think we have. I find it reprehensible that people like Rush Limbaugh are willing to resort to open race-baiting in the name of ratings - it inflames prejudice and poisons the political discourse. I don't think it's any less inflammatory or toxic for Jimmy Carter to intimate that people who are a tad too strident in their rhetorical opposition to government-run healthcare belong under the same white tent as the local Klan wizard.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Keep your hands off my friends' cigarettes

I see that New York busybody-in-chief, er, mayor, Michael Bloomberg, as is his wont, is hot on extending a smoking ban again, this time to publicly owned outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches. The logic being, of course, that everyone in a public place has a right to clean air. Guess what? If that's the case, then, as William Saletan points out in this article, we ought to ban smoking on private property as well, not to mention lighting the grill and driving cars.

I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about Bloomberg's 2002 ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, but at least in that case a sound argument could be made in favor on the grounds of public health. This is different. There is no evidence that secondhand smoke in outdoor places causes harm to other people, and even if there was, there are numerous ways to deal with the problem short of intrusive government restriction of private behavior. I hate smoking. I think it's a vile habit, I can't stand the stink of burnt tobacco, I feel an immediate and overpowering need to shower after I return home from spending time in a smoke-filled place, cigarette butts are my least favorite form of litter, I consider ashtrays fouler than toilets, and a smoking habit is one of the few things that's always been an unnegotiable and immediate deal-breaker for me with the opposite sex. And yet, people smoking on the beach or at the park has never bothered me. Truthfully, I can't even recall an incidence of it happening, but if there was one, I probably just moved to a different spot elsewhere in the park or a bit further down the beach, the same way I'd respond if I came across someone in one of those places who was talking too loudly or playing music I didn't like.

In my ideal world nobody would smoke tobacco, but I find the idea of the government attempting to enact that ideal by passing laws restricting the rights of my fellow citizens odious, no matter how widely shared by the populace or scientifically justifiable anti-smoking attitudes may be. That's doubly true when smokers are not bothering anyone else by pursuing their habit, which as far as my experience goes is the case here. Saletan quotes a NYC official who claims that smoking on the beach or at the park has "no redeeming value". Why doesn't he let the good people of New York, many of whom smoke, make that determination for themselves?

Denmark, Kingdom of the Slutty Blonde Sex Valkyries

Tourism authorities in Denmark have pulled an ad they had previously posted on YouTube because citizens complained that it implies that Danish women are ready and willing to have casual sex with tomcatting male tourists.

A few takeaways:

1.)The ad does more than "imply" the message in question - it pretty much flatly states it.

2.)It's obvious that despite their (somewhat deserved) reputation for irreligiosity, sexual liberation, and lax social mores, Danes don't enjoy being stereotyped as libertines or having their women marketed as disposable sex toys. Even in the most liberal corners of the world, social conservatism lives - after all, only 10% of Danish children are born out of wedlock, as opposed to something close to 40% in the U.S.

3.)There's an interesting double standard at work here, I think. This ad seems to have come under attack most from social conservatives in the U.S. (Fox News is all over it), whereas the most common liberal response I've seen is to laugh it off. If a poor country with a reputation as a destination for sex tourism - say, Thailand or the Philippines - attempted to market itself with a similar video implying its women were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to service foreign tourists, I suspect the liberal response would be very different. Sure, one can argue that because Danish women are comparatively much wealthier than Thai or Filipina women, they aren't as vulnerable to sexual or economic exploitation, and this is true in the sense that it's probable that very few Danish women are forced into actual prostitution by dire economic circumstances. But for those Danish women who don't wish to engage in promiscuous casual sex with random foreigners (of whom there are apparently many), is it really any comfort to know that they won't have to actually have sex with any of the American fratboys, English stag-doers, or other horny, obnoxious foreign men this ad attracts? Their sexuality is still being sold for money against their will. Sexual exploitation is sexual exploitation, full stop. There are only degrees of difference.

4.)There are some people working at this particular Danish tourism agency who should probably be in another line of work. Producing porn trailers, perhaps.