January 15, 2009 - January 8, 2009
[Our tour guide] gathered us in front of the bulletproof glass the Pieta is behind and talked about it for a good 20 minutes. I stared fixedly at it the whole time; I simply couldn't take my eyes off of it. It is so beautiful. I'd seen pictures of it before and only ever thought, why is Mary so young? Fool! That doesn't matter. What matters is that this sculpture can make even an atheist choke up with tears. I'm completely serious.
I do not believe Mary had a virgin birth or that Jesus was the son of God or died for our sins. But this representation of that story brought tears to my eyes. I knew for the first time in my entire life why people might have religion and why they hold some things so sacred. Because it was impossible for me, an atheist, to look at this work made by human hands and not truly, deeply feel that there was more to it than that. How could a man have created this thing all by himself? It's just a simple thing, a shape chiseled out of stone, a little bigger than life size, but it looks alive. I watched it, waiting for Jesus to slide off Mary's lap. You have to see it in all three dimensions to know what I mean - it looks impossibly dynamic. Does that make sense? It looks like it is actively disobeying the laws of physics.
. I wouldn't call it a Pyhrric victory, but did it have
to be New York? If you're tempted to pretend this is a triumph of an
. I don't know if anybody happened to see it, but we're
diehard football fans in New Jersey, and so we couldn't resist tuning
in to the Tom Petty Concert in Arizona yesterday to watch the scrimmage
between the NFL Champion Giants and an AFL team from somewhere in New
It went about the way you'd expect. The NFL's Eastern Division is the toughest and hardest hitting in professional football, and the kind of pure passing attacks they favor in the pitty-pat league are sitting ducks against real defensive linemen.
The crowd seemed to enjoy the show, though, especially when a game but overmatched Patriot team briefly took the lead in the fourth quarter. After that it was the inevitable close we're so used to seeing: the bigger, more talented, more aggressive team stormed efficiently down the field for the oh-so predictable winning touchdown.
If you can catch a replay sometime on one of the back channels of your cable or satellite hook-up, it might be worth your while to give it a look. Manning, Tyree, and Burris got some good additions for their highlight reels, and there were some equally good efforts on the defensive side from Strahan and Umenyiora.
No big deal, really. I just wanted to make sure somebody covered it. You know how it is. Tiger gets all the attention when he's playing, and he played yesterday. And won, obviously. But you knew that.
We've gotten our fair share of amusement out of the BBC show Top
Gear, which consists of three superannuated adolescents playing
(usually) dangerous games with automobiles. We like it when they do
things like push a Bugatti
Veyron to its 253 mph top speed and talk various Brit actors into
humiliating themselves with a timed lap on a race course.. But we've
also been dubious about them at times. In particular, host Jeremy
Clarkson has shown an occasional tendency toward mean-spiritedness,
which when you're messing around with cars can be dangerous indeed.
Nearly killing the youngster of the bunch, Richard Hammond, by filming
and then capitalizing on his very near fatal jet car crash seemed
close to the line even for cold-blooded reality TV ratings. On a far
less dire but still irritating note, there's Clarkson's penchant for
bashing America at regular intervals, particularly when his celebrity
guests are actors who (almost all of them?!) live in Los Angeles. "Why
don't you want to live in a civilized country?" he asks every time, as
though he has just thought of a new joke.
The U.K.'s delusional fancy that life there is better than life here has become increasingly commonplace, and it's hardly a surprise in any event. Or at least not a surprise to InstaPunk, which has noted contemporary Brit affectations of superiority here, here, here, here, and here, for just a few examples).
Which brings us to an episode of Top Gear that will be shown tonight on BBC America at 9 pm Eastern Standard Time. Here's an Aussie-Brit fan of the show summing it up for us:
We urge you all to watch the episode. Not because it's about us. But
because it's about them. It's hard to imagine any people but the
English who would travel to a foreign country for the purpose of
filming a long road trip and make no attempt whatever to speak with the
natives, learn anything about (or, gasp, from) the natives, or do anything
at all but contrive cheap stunts to confirm their lowest preconceived
notions of the natives. That's unquestionably why the English invented
the word 'wog' as a name for all non-Brit peoples subjugated under Brit
rule during the days of empire.
The Top Gear trio journeyed from Miami to New Orleans in this hour-long English masturbatory fantasy of a show. They sought out the poorest sections of Miami in which to buy junk cars for less than $1000, and their only communications during the purchase process were with camera-happy pawns only too delighted to play to their prejudices about the prevalence of guns, violence, and murder in the American south. Clarkson described his own $800 purchase as a vehicle made when all American cars were "rubbish" and "put together by idiots." (Oddly, he seemed to regard it as a personal triumph when his totally trashed 19-year old Camaro still did 0-60 in 7.9 seconds on the racetrack.)† Then they leaped into their cars and drove all the way to New Orleans without talking to anyone but one another. They didn't try to see any sights, they didn't try the local food -- in fact, they plunged into some sick Brit twist on Deliverance by pretending they were going to dine exclusively on roadkill (which we never saw them eat, by the way), they didn't explore the local history or architecture, and for their grand climax, they chose to incite violence against their own persons by defacing each other's vehicles with graffiti like "NASCAR Sucks," "Country & Western Music is Rubbish," "Hillary for President," and "Man-Love Rules."
When they stopped for gas in a small town in Alabama, they were melodramatically terrified by the fact that their inflammatory fender art drew a hostile response and fled wide-eyed for the Louisiana border. (Exeunt chased by crackers. Good-Oh.)
Where the mean-spiritedness stopped. Upon entering New Orleans, they momentarily ditched their puerile japery and became America's older, wiser, disappointed uncle. "How can the richest nation in the world see this [post-Katrina] devastation and do nothing?" Clarkson asked, almost as if he gave a flying fuck about the miserable black wogs of the Big Easy. So moved were the Top Gear crew that the junkers which were supposed to be sold to lowlife American suckers were instead donated outright to ungrateful Katrina survivors, one of whom threatened to sue because the promised 1991 Camaro was only a 1989 model. (Even the most downtrodden of our nation know what to do when confronted by a condescending limey prick.)
Safely back in their Brit studio, Clarkson intoned the lessons to his adoring audience. One, it is possible to buy rather than rent a car for a foreign road.trip. Two, stay away from America at all costs.
A few points. One, these jackoffs were never in America. They were inside their own cock-eyed impression of the evil, Christian, Bush-loving, deep south America, and they never attempted for even a moment to peek beyond their own perverse inventions to the real place they were insulting as ugly Britannians. Two, it's incredibly unlikely that any two-decade-old vehicles "put together" in the U.K. -- including, especially, Jaguars-- would have made the same trip without breaking down catastrophically before reaching New Orleans. Three, our guess is that even Brit bookies would bet on the relative nonviolence of Alabama NASCAR civilization versus British football hooligans civilization. Four, the Brits can lecture us about how long it should take to repair the ravages of extreme weather when their tepid island actually experiences some weather; maybe this is the best reason yet discovered to hope the Global Warming fundamentalists are right. And five, Top Gear's sick insistence on chasing roadkill (which is admittedly closer to English cooking) over down-home southern food deprived these gits of perhaps the one opportunity in their sorry-ass lives to eat something good.
Was the show, as it was no doubt intended to be, funny? Yes indeedy.
Watching a born asshole prove it in a different context is always
hilarious. But there was also disappointment. A really good punchline
is best driven home by a really good pratfall. And these nancy Brits
deprived us of the Big Laugh they seemed to promise -- they got out of
Alabama without getting killed. Pity.
TONIGHT AT 9:00 PM ON BBC ANTI-AMERICA. Watch it. It's good for a chuckle if not a true American belly laugh.
are times when the naif is smarter than the experts. This
might be one of those times. Yesterday, I read comments about McCain at
a leading rightish blog. The battle raged back and forth between those
who swore they'd rather see Hillary in the Oval Office than compromise
their principles and those who argued the philosophically less
glamorous point that half a loaf is better than none.Today I read a
slighly different perspective, notable both for its uncompromising
posture and its primitive approach to politics. It's okay to be
primitive as long as you don't make too much of a virtue of it, and
Rachel Lucas seems to have a
becoming awareness of the crudeness of her
Let me put that more plainly. Rachel is a 35-year-old woman who is, for all intents and purposes, six. Here, for example, is an excerpt of her views on economics:
She belongs to no political party. Her views are too pure for that:
Well, not completely pure. When she decided to run her dog Sunny
for President (we demurred
by the way), she sounded way less than liberal in her views on abortion:
So, actually, she's like all of us are when we're not trying to be
completely rational and consistent. She's -- what's the word? --
spontaneous. Which suggests that like a willful child she also has the
ability to cut straight to the heart of the matter on occasion,
unhindered by self-destructive intellectual traps of the sort students
of various sophisticated disciplines fall prey to. If you were six, how
would you view the current
presidential race? Something like this perhaps?
Yeah, you can snipe all you want. She's in favor of eugenics and she
thinks Alito is too
conservative. I didn't say she was actually smart. I said she had a
knack for cutting to the heart of the matter, and she does. Here's what
she's got right. And don't any of you forget it.
Politicians are crooked, bought and paid for, every damn one of them. (Yeah, I, too would like to think that Reagan was an exception, but I'm old enough to know that if he was, the exception was partial and mostly a miracle.) Voting for any politician is a deal with the devil; you're just hoping against hope that the one you vote for has some tiny remembrance of the idealism he confronts in the faces of his supporters when they gather to admire him.
When you vote, you're always choosing the lesser of two evils. And there are degrees of evil. The corrupt, lying, narcissistic, power-mad idiot you vote for just might be marginally better than the corrupt, lying, narcissistic, power-mad idiot he's running against. Especially if one of them is the depraved wife of a depraved ex-President or a snot-nosed cipher too in love with himself to realize that two years of national office doesn't qualify you to run the most powerful nation in the history of the world.
I'm not saying the conservatives shouldn't carp. But Ann Coulter is being an ass. And so is every other conservative who would rather turn the country over to Hillary Obama for four or eight years than vote for a nasty old fart who doesn't hate America as much as every single Democrat in the United States.
I told you how to prevent this. You didn't listen. I told you it would come to this. You didn't listen. I also told you I can't stand him. Now it's time to be a grownup and quit dreaming about what might have been. It's time, in short, to cut the crap and be six.
Are you up to that mighty challenge? If EloiseRachel can do it, you sure as hell can.
How many of you are going to watch the Super Bowl this
weekend even though the prospect of seeing the Patriots cap a
season-long blowout makes you sick to your stomach? All of you?
Come on. Let me remind you there's a whole world full of things to do, and even on Super Bowl Sunday, most of them are still available.
Take, oh, me, for example. I'm headed to the Baghdad Theater (named back when the city had the exotic allure of, say, Timbuktu) for a weekend of Supertrash. If your sad life landed you someplace other than Portland, and you'd like a taste of the fun I'm going to have (of course you would; I'm younger, sexier, and happier), do your best to understand this article. It's written for kids my age, who don't have to interrupt for clarification of every word. If that's not you, you're welcome to eavesdrop. I guess.
All these flicks made this list because they're unavailable on DVD, so downloading them for free is fair game. Therefore, not every movie I wanted made the cut. Notably, I wanted to put the USA Network classic Gymkata on here, but wouldn't you know it, someone had the vision to re-release it. Don't crash Amazon logging on to buy it all at the same time, everybody.
My stiff, half-dead predecessor moved his dried hand, w/ crooked pointer finger stuck extended, and waved his arm around the keyboard enough to post the trailer, which has the basic gist: In the far-flung dystopian future of 2008, global warming means there's a foot of water everywhere, and there's a renegade maverick cop who plays by his own rules but gets results. Rutger Hauer has to defend London OF THE FUTURE against a Predator-like beast that "has the DNA of all his victims". Also, Rutger wants revenge against the creature. It sounds generically bad, but it's exquisitely bad. The DVD is long out of print.
It's the Big Trouble in Little China of the 90s. Two brothers, one white, one Mexican, compete in karate tournaments in dystopian New Angeles-- L.A. after the big quake. Since it's 2007, Madonna is married to Tom Arnold, the L.A. river is flammable, and street gangs RULE THE NIGHT. It's got Robert Patrick, who by all rights shouldn't have worked after this. Mortal Kombat is still the Citizen Kane of video game movies.
Yeah, the Schwarzenegger flick from the 80s. This one's Donnie Brasco meets Commando, with Arnold in the Johnny
Depp role. For some reason it's out of print, so go nuts.
Two men. One has no arms, the other withered legs. They learn kung-fu. They get the bad guys. The filmmakers used real cripples, a la Tod Browning. So old and foreign, it's gotta be in the public domain.
I wanted to put Three the Hard Way here, but
it's not even available to download. If you ever come across it, snatch
it up immediately. In the meantime, the aggressively awesome Black Samurai, and the more-highly
regarded Black Belt Jones,
both starring the black guy from Enter
the Dragon, will have to do.
Grizzly Adams in a Santa suit vs. Nazi midgets. If that isn't incentive enough, you're probably hopeless.
If all the above is Greek to you... well, I'm not going to take the time to lead you out of the darkness of technological illiteracy. I will, however, give you some hints in the form of the half-finished guide below. I have faith you can figure out how to work the Magic Typing TV if you give it the slow, deliberate thought it needs. Just don't forget you're learning, you know?
For the Uncle Zoni Awful and Awesome Movie Party Pack, you'll need:
- a home computer (try this on your work computer at your own risk).
- ÔŅĹTorrent, which is for downloading files called torrents.
- a DVD burner. If you don't have one and don't want to buy one, follow these instructions to hook up your computer to your TV (you'll still need to buy some equipment, but it'll be a lot less expensive). Again, if you're thinking about panicking, don't. Just follow the guide. If you get hung up on a word or term, Google it and look for definitions.
- DVD conversion software, like the bundle offered by VSO.
So now there's no need to feel trapped in the great overblown pageant that's going to put half the country to sleep on Sunday. That's what I'm here for. Public Service.
If the big picture polls are right, the Democrats are right on
the issues, which means that a majority of you really are in favor of
what Hillary Obama is calling "Universal Health Care." Apparently, you
adore declarations like this one:
Never mind that eastern Europe's 72 year experiment with central
government control of everything proved that the only thing such
governments excel at is building a huge and powerful military. Which,
if you thought about it, is the one truly massive societal function
that specifically regards the human components of the system as
The whole notion of universal health care is, in fact, one of the better ways of seeing the danger inherent in government that claims to care about everyone. Because caring about everyone is not synonymous with caring about you in particular. That's the paradox of the Nanny State. Very large bureaucracies are intrinsically incapable of the simple human function of emotion. In systemic terms, caring has to be defined mechanically, as "budgeting," "processing," "managing," and "controlling." Caring can make it into the private sector, because where there's more than one provider, quality of service is a competitive factor. But the glorious term "universal" means "one." It means there is really only one provider, the government which decides everything for everyone. There is no alternative source which competes for market share by finding a better way. And that means we all become units to be processed, managed and controlled. If there's nobody left to care about you in particular, that's tough.
These aren't bland and hazy assertions. Most of the rich, liberal democracies in the world have committed themselves to a version of the "universal health care" you seem to want. The United Kingdom -- which recently boasted that it now possesses a higher standard of living than the United States [HA!] -- has had its National Health Service for a generation. Here's the latest news from them.
Sounds kind of military, doesn't it? Like battlefield triage. What
governments are good at. When we tell them to care for everyone, we
become conscripts. They get to tell us how to put the least strain on
the system. We grant them the right to lay down the law about what we
can eat, smoke, drink, breathe, drive, and even how we can fornicate.
(No condom, no care for STDs?) Will there still be separation of church
and state when health has become the secular religion?
Is there any theoretical limit when that occurs? If your right to life depends on avoiding behaviors deemed bad by the state, what will you do when the beneficent health czars decide not to treat the very people whose behaviors are most likely to result in specific care needs? People who listen to loud music aren't entitled to hearing aids. People with more than "n" speeding tickets aren't entitled to emergency care after an automobile accident. People who read too much or spend too many hours at their computers aren't entitled to ophthalmic services. People with too many prescription medications in their health care histories aren't entitled to expensive diagnostic services when their bodies finally crash. People who get cancer aren't entitled to treatment because holistic studies show either that your genetics or your "negative" lifestyle choices make you undeserving.
And worse than that. Say, you really do conform all your behaviors to the risk-averse mandates of your universal health care system. You survive all the waiting lists in the rationing system that replaced the bad old days, and you reach the ripe old age of 80, which is the Parcheesi-style "home" all the nagging is driving us toward. But the actuarial tables still say there's only a very limited lifespan left to you. You no longer qualify for medical treatment because the cost-benefit equation just doesn't add up.
There's the Nanny Paradox writ large. You're not supposed to live daringly, sensually, adventurously, or unusually in the first place. And even if you obey all the rules against living, when you become prosaically and mundanely old, you're so unexceptional that your life can simply be thrown away to comply with some federal budget cap.
Who will look stupid then? The people who lived like sheep so they could be slaughtered like sheep? Or the vile and venal rebels who drank, smoked, speeded, screwed, and ate their way to an early and far more dignified grave?
The only thing universal about universal health care is tyranny. Just try to wrap your head around what the government means when it says, "Everyone."
Got it? No, I suppose you don't. Because how on earth could they ever
fail to care about you?
UPDATE. My favorite Paulista informs me that the great winnowing has already begun. Take a look at this.