Friday, December 29, 2006

Live from Cafe Beaubourg

I'm sitting with Mrs. Octopus and the brothers Octopus in a cafe just next to the Pompidou Center. I am making slow progress on my French pronunciation: I still feel distinctively uncomfortable saying "eau", "oeuf", or "un". They just don't sound like real words to me -- more like weird involuntary grunts or something.

See you back in L.A.

Monday, December 25, 2006

2007: Smells Like Bacon

And all through the house, not a creature was stirring -- only a sullen octopus.

Hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas Eve. I am standing guard by the fire place, lying in wait for Santa: I plan to really give him a hard time if he does not deliver my wish for world peace this year.

I am working on my New Year's Resolutions and 2007 Reading List and will post those soon. I know that you just cannot wait.

We're off to Paris tomorrow (my first time there), so posting will be spotty.

Happy Year of the Fire Pig!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Saturnalia

Hope you are enjoying the longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere). The days only get longer from hereon out, until June 21 of next year.

This is the third Winter Solstice for Octopus Grigori. This very bottom of the year is always a time to reflect on the past year. In many ways, I'm glad it's over. Certain segments of this year were pretty hellish.

I want to say that I'm looking forward to the New Year, but I don't know if I am. The President has apparently decided that we will not begin to bring back troops from the unmitigated disaster we have created in Iraq; instead, the President -- so obviously and fully controlled by Cheney and the neocons at AEI, JINSA, The Weekly Standard, et al. -- has decided that, to attempt to make the neocons' wet dreams in Iraq come true, we must sacrifice more American lives to the deity of the neocon's insatiable appetite for warmongering. More war is obviously the answer. You think otherwise, you stupid antiwar, peacenik, irresponsible, appeasing Neville Chamberlains?! You simply do not understand the complexities of the Middle East and the simplicities of the Arab Mind. (How many times can Thomas Friedman prove himself to be a racist moron before the readership of the Times rises up and finally demands that he be demoted to a bi-weekly blog at The New Republic or something?)

And now we are deploying aircraft carriers and destroyers toward Iran, as a show of force to send Iran a message -- presumably that we are ready (and eager?) to blow them up. Many believe that the President has swallowed whole -- just as he swallowed their brilliant advice to invade Iraq -- the neocons' fervent and overheated screams to bomb/destroy/kill many people in Iran. Yes, the neocons are right: more war is the answer. Bomb another Muslim country. Work your way down the list of Israel's most hated enemies, one by one, till the neocons are satisfied.

Attacking Iran will not make America safer. Attacking Iran is not in America's interest. Other countries may want Iran destroyed. (Strike that: one other country.) Iran has no connections to Al Qaeda or 9/11. Iran does not fund terrorism against America. We do not have a reason to attack Iran and set the region on fire. We will raise up against us China and Russia. We will even further inflame the Middle East. We cannot do this. We have to stop the coming attack on Iran. America must be saved from what this Administration is turning it into. We are not a stupid, cretinous machine of murder, to be deployed to kill hundreds of thousands in the interests of a treacherous band of ideologues.

Go ahead, attack this criticism of the Administration's belligerence -- which has already killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq and may soon kill hundreds of thousands more in Iran -- as somehow bigoted or conspiracy-minded. I just don't care about that type of bullshit, formulaic, prefab criticism any more. I am so sick of watching our country spiral downwards into an aggressive, vengeful, paranoid, dying empire, lashing out at the world. Our Administration, in thrall to the theories of the neocons, is out of control and appears on the verge of taking us from the greatest strategic mistake in the history of our country into an even more profoundly dangerous and horrible mistake.

What can we do to stop the Administration's apparent plan to invade Iran? Will the Democrats in Congress stop the Administration? Haven't the American people sent as clear a signal as possible that they want no more war?

Here's the crazy Octopus blogger theory: the Administration and the neocons want to create a regional war in the Middle East. They want our troops to be committed there for a decade or more. They want this country to be in a state of war, which will perpetuate Republican power, and will keep the warmongering ideologues who control this President in position to steer future Administrations, just as they have so wisely steered this President.

Yeah, I was happy about the November elections. But Bush is still President, and short of impeachment, I don't see how we are going to stop this Administration from plunging us even deeper into war and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of more civilians. But we must try to stop this. We must petition our representatives. We must flood newspapers and the media with opposition. We must exercise our Constitutional rights of assembly and gather to protest more aggression. More war is not the answer.

Our nation's founding fathers knew these days would one day arrive: "Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." Federalist Papers No. 10 (James Madison). May God give our nation the strength to survive these dark days.

God bless America.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The View from the Tank: Waiting for Guffman (1996)

I’m a bit more than ten years late on this one, but I finally saw Waiting for Guffman tonight. It’s definitely funny, but I felt a bit uneasy, sitting in my place in Los Angeles, enjoying this film about rubes in some small town in Missouri.

Is it the prerogative of smart people to mock dumb people?

I guess this was one of the questions raised by critics of Borat. It’s pretty easy – and predictable – for people in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco to sit and laugh at depictions of rubes in the Heartland. While I found Guffman worlds funnier than the puerile and monotonous Borat, I found that Guffman had a similar heartless quality. All of the characters are losers. They are losers because of where they live. They are losers because they are dumb and poorly educated. They are losers because they didn’t make it in New York and had to flee to some small town in Missouri. (Implied message: you, viewer, sitting and enjoying this film in Los Feliz or the West Village, are a winner.)

The rube character says “ironical” instead of “ironic” and we snicker in the Castro or Brooklyn.* Never mind that Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy have written this stuff in the pseudo-documentary: we eat it up because it is what we expect, it caters to our prejudices. It makes us feel smart and superior to watch and laugh at the provincial morons: we went to Wesleyan and UPenn and Vassar; the rubes in the movie took taxidermy correspondence courses.

It’s sad, though, and predictable. (I feel like this post is also predictable, but I’ll leave that point for a different critic.) Sure, people in New York or Boston are probably, on average, more cultured and better educated than the general population of a small town in Missouri. What’s the point in a movie that revels in this? What’s the point in a send-up of small-town community theater? The Netflix movie description said something about “a hilarious satire that shows why some talent never gets discovered – for good reason.” That really does capture the spirit of the movie, and it’s just simple, self-satisfied, smug meanness.

Erroll Morris set some of his early documentaries outside major urban centers, in rural California and Florida, for example. In Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida, Morris documents the silly and somewhat pathetic lives of some of the people that live in these Heartland-like places, but he never seems to want to portray them in the meanest and harshest possible light, as Sasha Cohen does in Borat, or Guest does with his fictional Missouri characters in Guffman. Morris allows the individuals he tapes enough time to reveal themselves as full human characters, with flashes of moving insight or individuality, among all the rest of the expected rural “idiocy”.

Guffman is a funny movie, sure. I loved the acting, and the “Life on Mars is Boring” bit is hilarious. But, after laughing so much during the movie – and perhaps precisely because I did find myself enjoying the movie so much – I didn’t like the taste in my mouth. I really wish we could see more movies sending up the pretentious, self-satisfied, self-regarding, self-absorbed, “progressive”, insecure, hipsters who eat up movies like Guffman, Borat, The Life Aquatic, Kill Bill, etc. I wish someone would document our desperate attempts to efface our indelible suburban white bread roots and values (no matter the color of the skin under the Patagonia or Carhart), our upper middle-class yearnings and insecurities, our reflexive and unthinking racial and cultural condescension, our belief in the centrality of our own values, our reliance on various social safety nets, our profound conventionality, and our vicious need to feel superior to others.

I recognize that I may have completely missed something: someone explain it to me if I have.

* Although, my Webster's allows "ironical" as an alternative to "ironic". Wonder if Guest and Levy had looked it up. Doubt it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Re that Fall

Hasn't happened yet. But there's still time.

It's real good soup weather here in L.A. right now. Toddy's blog helped remind me that I could go for some soup. Corn chowder, mmm.

Maybe they should have recommended dishes or beverages with the weather. So today in L.A. would be "Clear, 55 degrees, Egg Drop Soup"; summer weather would be like "Muggy, 87 degrees, Black Milk Tea Boba - Iced".

Monday, December 18, 2006

Joseph Barbera (1911-2006), R.I.P.

Joe Barbera, of the Hanna-Barbera team that brought the world Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Yogi Bear, Captain Caveman, The Jetsons, Grape Ape, Space Ghost, the Superfriends TV series*, and Huckleberry Hound, among other immortal characters, died today in Los Angeles, at the age of 95. His longtime partner in cartooning, William Hanna, died in 2001.

* The characters in the Superfriends were, of course, originally DC Comics characters.

Thanks for the memories, guys.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Before the Fall

Things are too good right now: I'm headed for a fall. The Fates are jealous and nasty: nothing raises their ire quite so much as the spectacle of someone temporarily happy and without worries. Shakespeare alluded to the medieval concept of the Wheel of Fortune in King Lear: one who is sitting pretty and happy at the top of the Wheel will soon be crushed in the shit at the bottom -- and totally unable to buy a vowel.

I don't mean to be fatalistic or pessimistic, but I find that whenever I am in one of these good spells, where I'm neither working to death, nor fraught with anxiety about something or other, it is inevitable that I am setting myself up for a world of hurt soon to follow. It's as if I am building up the coming bad times and vibes with every laugh and smile. It's like that Rob Base song, "Joy and Pain/Like sunshine and rain".

All the signs of imminent doom are present: a complacent and dopey feeling of well-being, sleeping at least eight hours a night, fuzzy optimistism, excessively good cheer. Yeah, I am going down soon. My giggles and grins are but stormy petrels, harbingers of a pain unrelenting and long.

Texas Bill Introduced to Allow Blind People to Hunt

I don't know, seems like a bad idea. But then, blind people couldn't really do much worse than Dick Cheney, who thought his 79 year-old hunting buddy Harry Whittington was a quail.

Don't worry about a thing. These guys will be able to swim when the world is flooded and we've nuked each other to smithereens.

Maybe if they hurry up and become self-aware already, they'll put us all out of our misery.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Everybody Hates Jimmy Carter

Because, like Desmond Tutu, Carter is clearly a deranged anti-Semite who must be stopped. He's committed one of the ultimate sins in American politics, and, as a result, in a somewhat ugly and transparent, but sadly predictable reaction, people are out to tear down his legacy and to soil his name for history.

Carter apparently doesn't care too much: "'I feel completely at ease,' said Carter, about his commitment to the book, which accuses Israel of oppressing Palestinians. 'I am not running for office. And I have Secret Service protection.'" (from Ha'aretz)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Simple but frightening thought

Every now and then we can forget, but it's really sort of terrifying to consider that the people in charge of the United States government and the most powerful military in the world have no fucking idea what they're doing.

This is important to consider. As "experienced" as our Representatives and Senators and the Wise People of the Baker-Hamilton Commission are, none of them has any experience dealing with the spread of global terrorism. These people are just making shit up as they go along.

(As an aside, I think it's clear to everyone that George Bush would have a hard time convincing any major U.S. corporation to let him be its CEO; Google, GE, or Disney could not be so stupid. Yet, somehow, we've allowed this joker to run the United States of America -- straight into the fucking ground -- for the last six years.)

World War I, defeating Germany and Japan, outspending the Soviets in a Cold War arms race, etc. -- none of these things is analogous to the confrontation with terrorism and no American leaders have any experience with the type of situation we face today. It is vital to keep this in mind as we go blundering forward in Iraq and Afghanistan and God knows where else, carrying out, in dark places, terrible things that may never come to light: no one has any idea what they're doing and we are not required to slavishly obey and accept the "expertise" and "wisdom" of these people. A majority of the American people swallowed whole the truckload of bullshit rammed down our throats about the "imminent threat" of Saddam, the "smoking gun of a mushroom cloud" we would face if we didn't invade Iraq, yadda yadda. You'd think we'd all be a hell of a lot more skeptical these days.

But in some ways, we're all still like scared little children, looking anywhere (after losing all faith in our Father-Figure-in-Chief) for someone -- anyone -- to tell us in an authoritative and grandfatherly voice whom we must smash or defeat, what we must do to finally make us totally, completely safe. The Baker-Hamilton Commission offers several valuable ideas, and it should not dismissed out of hand, but we cannot forget going forward that none of these people have any idea how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. It's fair to say, I think, that at this point, they don't even quite know what Humpty Dumpty is anymore.

The lesson, I think, is that any dogmatic insistence on the "only way" or the "absolutely necessary" act that we must take to "win" the War on Terror must be taken with a grain of salt the size of the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. As the Iraq debacle shows, too many people will take the current situation as an opportunity to carry out the agendas they've been carrying around for years. Certitude and overwrought insistence on a course of action should raise red flags for all of us.

On the bus

Some old crazy guy just said something to me on the bus after I cleared my throat. He's still muttering to himself. He appeared to be upset that I had cleared my throat. He's now pointing to his watch and raving, gently, about something to the guy sitting next to him, who is doing his best to humor him.

He's clearly ill and in need of help. It's always a little jarring to be confronted with insanity during your morning commute. But there are plenty of mentally ill people out there that manage to keep it together to some degree, hold jobs, etc. They obviously need to get around like everyone else, and it's probably better when they ride the bus -- rather than acting out at the wheel of a car.

The crazy guy got off the bus in Chinatown and walked off purposively across Hill Street, carrying a small package.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Spin This

Russ Feingold is a noble and valiant force for good in this nation. From his MSNBC interview on the Baker-Hamilton report:
The fact is this commission was composed apparently entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place, and did not have the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism. So that's who is doing this report.

Then I looked at the list of who testified before them. There is virtually no one who opposed the war in the first place. Virtually no one who has been really calling for a different strategy that goes for a global approach to the war on terrorism. . . .

This report does not do the job and it's because it was not composed of a real representative group of Americans who believe what the American people showed in the election, which is that it's time for us to have a timetable to bring the troops out of Iraq.
Via Atrios.

In a similar vein, Paul Krugman drives home today that while the neocons and their ilk were dead wrong about Iraq, there were plenty of honorable Americans who were nastily dismissed before the war because they very rightly and correctly opposed the war:
Unlike The Weekly Standard, which singled out those it thought had been proved wrong, I’d like to offer some praise to those who got it right. Here’s a partial honor roll . . . .

Al Gore, September 2002: “I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.”

Barack Obama, now a United States senator, September 2002: “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.” . . . .

Senator Russ Feingold, October 2002: “I am increasingly troubled by the seemingly shifting justifications for an invasion at this time. ... When the administration moves back and forth from one argument to another, I think it undercuts the credibility of the case and the belief in its urgency. I believe that this practice of shifting justifications has much to do with the troubling phenomenon of many Americans questioning the administration’s motives.”

Howard Dean, then a candidate for president and now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, February 2003: “I firmly believe that the president is focusing our diplomats, our military, our intelligence agencies, and even our people on the wrong war, at the wrong time. ... Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.”

We should honor these people for their wisdom and courage. We should also ask why anyone who didn’t raise questions about the war — or, at any rate, anyone who acted as a cheerleader for this march of folly — should be taken seriously when he or she talks about matters of national security.
From NYT

Supporters and cheerleaders for this war were absolutely dead wrong, no matter how elegant their spewing of bullshit in support of this war. I think it's important to know who was for the war -- here's a partial list to help you remember: Thomas Friedman, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Hillary Clinton, The New Republic, The Washington Post Editorial board, David Remnick, Dissent Magazine, John Edwards, Robert Kagan, Peter Beinart, Kenneth Pollack, et al.

Particularly loathsome to me was Remnick's self-regarding and smug "analysis" of the pre-war debate, neatly and easily dismissing objections to the invasion by making vague allusions to Saddam as bogey-man:
We are reminded, too, of Saddam's vision of himself as the modern Saladin, the modern Nebuchadnezzar II, who (after massacring the Kurds, invading Kuwait, and attacking the marsh Arabs of the south) vows to "liberate" Jerusalem, vanquish the United States, and rule over a united Arab world. Saddam is not a man of empty promises. His territorial aggression is a matter of record, his nuclear ambitions are clear.
From The New Yorker.

Yeah, David, Saddam's "territorial aggression" was a matter of record and a total menace to the safety of the planet. (Who will protect Kuwait?) We really had to stop him from sweeping across the region imposing a new Iraqi empire. He's the new Hitler! No, wait, Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler! Hold on, there's a parade of Hitlers and Neville Chamberlains! Everywhere! It's always again just before World War II, but now only a timely invasion, bombing, and occupation of another Middle Eastern country and the deposing of another Hitler can avoid a repeat of World War II.

Have we not all learned to tire of these silly and predictable rehearsed and hackneyed rhetorical gestures? Why shouldn't these gung-ho supporters for what Al Gore has very rightly called “the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States” be called to account for their fantastic misjudgments, and their continued spewing of political "genius" on the Middle East be dismissed totally out of hand?

You cannot contain the Octopus

Octopus escaping through 1" diameter hole. Sort of like a spatial limbo.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hello, Vicious Cycle

The SF Chronicle reports that new research shows that the warming atmosphere and oceans are leading to a drop off in the population of phytoplankton in the oceans. Big hooforaw, you may say. However, phytoplankton are apparently responsible for removing a huge amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Because of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, the climate and oceans are warming. Because of the warming, phytoplankton are dying, and thus, less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. Welcome to our descent towards a dead planet:
When the climate warms, there is a drop in the abundance of the ocean's phytoplankton, the tiny plants that feed krill, fish and whales, according to scientists who say new research offers the first clues to the future of marine life under global warming.

Ocean temperatures have generally risen over the last 50 years as the atmosphere warms. And now nine years of NASA satellite data published today in the journal Nature show that the growth rate and abundance of phytoplankton around the world decreases in warm ocean years and increases in cooler ocean years.

The findings are crucial because they show a consequence of the changing global climate at the most fundamental level. Scientists estimate that phytoplankton is responsible for about half of Earth's photosynthesis, a process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it into organic carbon and oxygen that feeds nearly every ocean ecosystem.

Fewer phytoplankton consume less carbon dioxide, aggravating a cycle that can lead to even more warming.
See also New Scientist.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Music Recommendations -- Just In Time For the Holidays

It's been some time since I solicited music recommendations here (nearly two years, in fact). Last time I did, I got some fantastic suggestions, which I am still enjoying.

Here are the best albums I've heard this year (I may need to update this list when I remember albums I've forgotten):

1. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

2. The Roots - Game Theory

3. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming

4. Subtle - For Hero For Fool

5. Donuts - J Dilla

Please share your favorite albums of 2006 (or any year, for that matter).

Unprompted Update: Forgot to give the mysterious HH props for recommending Sunset Rubdown to me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

We Are Never Ever Ever Ever Wrong

From the people that brought you the unending glory of the Iraq War, condescending criticisms of any suggestion that we should leave.

Yes, Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, you, after urging us into Iraq with your brilliant understanding of the Middle East, democracy, and the Arab Mind, you are exactly whom we should be listening to now.

Glenn Greenwald makes exactly this point about the execrable Thomas Friedman:
Someone e-mailed me several days ago to say that while it is fruitful and necessary to chronicle the dishonest historical record of pundits and political figures when it comes to Iraq, I deserve to be chastised for failing to devote enough attention to the person who, by far, was most responsible for selling the war to centrists and liberal "hawks" and thereby creating "consensus" support for Bush's war -- Tom Friedman, from his New York Times perch as "the nation's preeminent centrist foreign policy genius."

That criticism immediately struck me as valid, and so I spent the day yesterday and today reading every Tom Friedman column beginning in mid-2002 through the present regarding Iraq. That body of work is extraordinary. Friedman is truly one of the most frivolous, dishonest, and morally bankrupt public intellectuals burdening this country. Yet he is, of course, still today, one of the most universally revered figures around, despite -- amazingly enough, I think it's more accurate to say "because of" -- his advocacy of the invasion of Iraq, likely the greatest strategic foreign policy disaster in America's history.

This matters so much not simply in order to expose Friedman's intellectual and moral emptiness, though that is a goal worthy and important in its own right. Way beyond that, the specific strain of intellectual bankruptcy that drove Friedman's strident support for the invasion of Iraq continues to be what drives not only Tom Friedman today, but virtually all of our elite opinion-makers and "centrist" and "responsible" political figures currently attempting to "solve" the Iraq disaster.

In column after column prior to the war, Friedman argued that invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam was a noble, moral, and wise course of action. To Friedman, that was something we absolutely ought to do, and as a result, he repeatedly used his column to justify the invasion and railed against anti-war arguments voiced by those whom he derisively called "knee-jerk liberals and pacifists"
From Unclaimed Territory.

Morons, all of you.

Neocons always know best.

Peace on Earth

Pope Benedict prays with Muslims in the Blue Mosque in Turkey.

I was surprised to see Pope Benedict make the gesture of praying with Muslims at the Blue Mosque in Turkey during his recent visit. This unprecendented act will surely send a powerful message of reconciliation and tolerance across the Muslim world:
Damage control undoubtedly was on the agenda of his first visit to a predominantly Muslim country. But his comments to President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on his "particular esteem" for Muslims were noteworthy even if scripted. He repeatedly made the point that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God. Proving the point, his hosts embraced his expressions of goodwill.

Among such gestures of reconciliation, however, Pope Benedict's unscripted prayer during a visit to Istanbul's spectacular Blue Mosque along with the grand mufti, Mustafa Cagrici, was a hallmark. The pope's own deep meditation, facing Mecca, marked the first time a pope had prayed in a mosque with a Muslim imam. As they emerged from the mosque, he told the grand mufti that the visit "will help us to find together the means and paths of peace for the good of humanity."

None of that means the pope should stop agitating for religious freedom as a fundamental human right. Still he hardly could have picked a better place to stand against ignorance and intolerance, and to signal that the Crusades are finally over, than in democratic, secular and overwhelming Muslim Turkey, a bridge between Asia and Europe, east and west.

Those who would continue demanding an apology for the pope's September comments instead should be demanding that the world understand how far from upholding the standards of their faith were protesters when, in retaliation, they murdered an Italian nun in Somalia and attacked churches in the Middle East.

The prophet Mohammed can receive the regard from Christians that Muslims hold for Jesus and his mother, Mary, only through the respect, dialogue and understanding that Pope Benedict urged in Turkey. He showed again that good human relations usually trump religious one-upmanship.
From the Palm Beach Post

Monday, December 04, 2006

What Would Jesus Do?

I am going to venture out on a limb and suggest that Jesus would not do what Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Dick Cheney would have him do:
The president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, which has long served as a model for activism for the religious right, has stepped down, saying the group resisted his efforts to broaden its agenda to include reducing poverty and fighting global warming.

The Rev. Joel C. Hunter, pastor of a Florida megachurch, was named the group’s president-elect in July. He was to have taken over the presidency in January from Roberta Combs, who is also the chairwoman of the Christian Coalition’s board. Mrs. Combs will continue in both positions now.

Over the last few years, Dr. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., has gained a reputation as an evangelical leader seeking to expand the agenda of conservative Christian activists from issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. . . .

The author of “Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won’t Fly With Most Conservative Christians,” Dr. Hunter has argued that a large number of conservative Christians feel that right-wing religious groups do not represent them, because they focus their energies too narrowly on what he calls moral issues, often to the exclusion of economic and environmental concerns.

He said that many evangelical leaders hewed to narrow moral issues because they were “deathly afraid of being labeled a liberal by other Christians, the media, talk radio.”
From the godless NY Times (via The Colbert Report).

See also Matthew 19:23-24 and What Would Jesus Drive? (Answer: Jesus would take the bus.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Military Commissions Act of 2006: Tyrannical and Un-American

The more you look at the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the more freaked out you get.

Under this act, anyone, citizen or alien, may be detained if found to be an "enemy combatant" by the executive branch. And under the MCA's incredibly broad "offering material support" provisions, an individual that donates to charity (or perhaps offers web links?) to an entity or organization the administration deems a terrorist organization faces designation as an enemy combatant.

And, oh yeah, the MCA has no sunset provision. It'll be around forever unless we work to repeal it. Write your representatives in the new Congress and urge them to repeal the dangerous and utterly un-American MCA. Urge them to support the legislation introduced by the good senator from my home state, Christopher Dodd, that would help to repeal dangerous elements of the MCA. (Go ahead and take a wild guess at the "independent" Lieberman's position on the MCA.)

Better Check Your Papers

I haven't been paying enough attention to the recent enemy combatant, military tribunal, habeas corpus decisions and legislation, and it's far past time to remedy that. I started tonight with the Supreme Court's opinion with Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), where the Court found that the President did not have the authority to hold citizens designated as "enemy combatants" indefinitely without a fair opportunity to challenge their status and detention:
Moreover, as critical as the Government’s interest may be in detaining those who actually pose an immediate threat to the national security of the United States during ongoing international conflict, history and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others who do not present that sort of threat. See Ex parte Milligan, 4 Wall., at 125 (“[The Founders] knew—the history of the world told them—the nation they were founding, be its existence short or long, would be involved in war; how often or how long continued, human foresight could not tell; and thatunlimited power, wherever lodged at such a time, was especially hazardous to freemen”). Because we live in a society in which “[m]ere public intolerance or animosity cannot constitutionally justify the deprivation of a person’s physical liberty,” O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U. S. 563, 575 (1975), our starting point for the Mathews v. Eldridge analysis is unaltered by the allegations surrounding the particular detainee or the organizations with which he is alleged to have associated. We reaffirm today the fundamental nature of a citizen’s right to be free from involuntary confinement by his own government without due process of law, and we weigh the opposing governmental interests against the curtailment of liberty that such confinement entails. . . .

Striking the proper constitutional balance here is of great importance to the Nation during this period of ongoing combat. But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear or to the privilege that is American citizenship. It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad. See Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U. S. 144, 164–165 (1963) (“The imperative necessity for safeguarding these rights to procedural due process under the gravest of emergencies has existed throughout our constitutional history, for it is then, under the pressing exigencies of crisis, that there is the greatest temptation to dispense with guarantees which, it is feared, will inhibit government action”); see also United States v. Robel, 389 U. S. 258, 264 (1967) (“It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties . . . which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile”).
From the Supreme Court's opinion in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) (emphasis added).

Jeffrey Toobin reports in the current issue of the The New Yorker on Congress's recent enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 ("MCA") in September, which deals an unprecedented blow to the right to habeas corpus.

The frightening MCA also allows the government to hold citizens designated enemy combatants indefinitely -- i.e., forever.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Post In the Time It Takes To Make a "Dr. Robeks"

I'm at Robeks, wasting my money trying to defeat my cold with smoothies and "Nutritional Boosts". A "Dr. Robeks" apparently "[s]upports immunity with fresh-squeezed orange juice, rasberries, strawberries, raspberry sherbet, ice + Immunibek & Vitabek [two Nutritional Boosts]". I've been getting this, at $4.99 a pop, for the past few days, with little effect: my cold remains. Yet I return every day, hoping that this next smoothie will be the one that returns me to health.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Charlie Brown Christmas

I read on Wonkette that ABC was airing A Charlie Brown Christmas tonight at 8 p.m. and got all excited about it. I hadn't seen it in years. It seemed just right for the sleepy, exhausted, sniffly mood I'm in right now. I'm in one of those moods where you put your head down a lot. I've got this cold that's slowly growing in intensity, I'm constantly exhausted, I wonder about old friends from elementary school, I wear winter hats indoors.

My brother and I used to get very excited for Charlie Brown specials, and got all fired up when they ran that spinning rainbow-colored "SPECIAL" graphic before the show. The specials were a break from the standard pattern of things, a cousin of the news flash interrupting regularly scheduled programming. When the special aired, it made the holiday more real somehow, if that makes any sense. Halloween became all the more real when the Great Pumpkin special aired, etc.

Anyhow, I had forgotten that in the middle of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, Linus gives a long and solemn speech, intended to remind Charlie Brown of the "real meaning of Christmas," where he talks about the Lord sending down "a Savior, Christ the Lord" to the "City of David," bringing peace and goodwill to all men.

After Linus's speech, Charlie Brown walks home under the very big stars over the very flat anonymous Peanuts town carrying his sickly, pathetic Christmas tree, hearing Linus's words echo in his heads. He realizes, out loud, of course, with the stars twinkling brightly and significantly overhead, that Linus is right, and Christmas is about so much more than the vulgar commercialism that has gripped Snoopy, who is trying to win a big cash prize in a neighborhood Christmas light and decoration contest, Sally, who dictates a letter to Charlie Brown for Santa, where she says that she "only wants what's coming to" her, and suggests that, to make it easier, Santa could send her money, "preferably tens and twenties", whereupon Charlie Brown goes "AUGHH" and throws up his hands, and Lucy, who, in one of the weirder scenes in the special, goes into a reverie after Charlie Brown deposits a nickel in the can at her psychiatrist's booth, shaking the can and raving about how she loves the "tinkle of cold hard cash".

Strangely, Charlie Brown's feeble and measly Christmas tree is "rescued" at the very end of the special when the Peanuts gang takes the lights and decorations from Snoopy's doghouse and spruces up the tree, making it look like a conventionally -- and commercially -- beautiful Christmas tree, somewhat undercutting the major theme of the special. (Linus is deployed to explain the transformation: "All the tree needs is a little love.") After this, Charlie Brown and the gang gather around the rescued now conventionally pretty tree and sing a song to it.

The voices of the character were comforting, as always -- even the unsettling and weird timing of the dialogue, with odd pauses in between, was comforting. The repetitive, cycled animation, sometimes in silence, was also unsettling, but similarly comforting. (Why, you may ask, am I in need of so much goddamned comfort?) There was a newer Charlie Brown Christmas Special that came on immediately afterwards. This one looked as if it were made in the 80's or 90's: the colors were more vivid and stable, the lines were cleaner, the backgrounds were brighter, and, most disturbingly, the voices were different, and the weird pauses between dialogue were gone. I couldn't watch it for more than five minutes.

I need to apologize to a friend. This post is mostly cribbed -- from memory -- from a letter I just wrote him, which sort of depersonalizes the letter in some way, I fear. Sorry, Tom.

UPDATE:Apparently, about 13 million viewers tuned in to watch this 41st telecast of a Charlie Brown Christmas. It seems many of us are in need of the comfort of an old, boring, but dependable classic cartoon. It makes sense, with the world spiralling beyond comprehension into a frightening future: many of us want to put on pajamas and watch a story about a sickly Christmas tree.

Sometime I'll have to do a review of Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown and how scary a movie that was.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sneezing Panda

Apropos of nothing, but worth a few seconds of your time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

On the way back to Burbank Economy Lot A

Thanksgiving break is over. We're at Bush Int'l Airport in Houston waiting for a shuttle to Dallas; from there we'll catch a flight to Burbank.

The trip was fun. We saw tons of family and ate truckloads of food. Thanksgiving, as usual, was an interesting mish-mash of cuisines: one of the turkeys we cooked was a spicy, curried turkey. I had some of this on my plate along with stuffing, cranberry sauce, biryani, and a spicy/sour eggplant. There I go, getting all Jhumpa Lahiri on you.

We also played a lot of touch football and had a bunch of races. I faced another sign of the ravages of time as my baby brother (he's in college) just barely edged me out in a (roughly) 100 yard dash. That would not have happened two or three years ago. It's okay, because old age has taught me acceptance.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Octopus Keeps His Baggage Attended at the Bob Hope Airport

Coming to you live from Gate B3 of the Bob Hope Airport. The long-term parking lots were sort of full, but the check-in lines were absurdly, risibly short. I can't imagine the agony and gnashing teeth going on across town at LAX right now.

So the trip is going smoothly so far. The plane is at the gate and everything is ready to go -- we're just waiting for a flight attendant who's apparently stuck in traffic.

Oop -- apparently the flight attendant has arrived, because they just announced pre-boarding. I'll try to compose a sky-post for you en route to Dallas.

Happy Thanksgiving

Blogging from the Buena Vista branch of the Burbank Public Library. It's very nice in here. It's an interesting crowd, the people that hang out in public libraries on weekdays while most people work. A lot of housewives with kids in tow, retired-looking folk reading military novels, students, some people that look like they might be working on screenplays for television pilots, and various assorted weirdos.

I'm trying to do some work here in the library, before picking Mrs. Octopus up from her office her in Burbank and driving over to the delightful Burbank airport for a flight to Dallas. I've never been to Dallas before -- my dad's side of the family's having a sort of mini-reunion at an uncle's house there. (Let me know if you have any suggestions on things to do in the Big D. From what I understand, a popular activity is eating a lot of meat.)

I really love traveling on Thanksgiving. I know it's almost always a pain, and it sucks very hard if you get bumped off your flight or placed on standby, but I really enjoy being among the throngs of people rushing home or back to their families, across the country. Perhaps it's the feeling of shared purpose and the shared holiday: everyone knows what everyone else is doing and why everyone else is struggling through baggage check lines and security checkpoints -- we're all trying to get back to the people we love for our one true American holiday.

I think that might have been the cover squib for the VHS tape of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which, I will admit, I loved.

The Octopus wishes you a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pynchon Dweeb-Fest

A confession: I went to a "book party" last night at Skylight Books in Los Feliz to celebrate the release of Thomas Pynchon's latest book, Against the Day.

I am fully aware that taking part in such an event fairly opens me up for charges of pretentiousness and total dorkiness. As Mrs. Octopus very rightly commented as I left the house at 11:30 for the event, "Enjoy your dweeb-fest."

Okay, so it was totally ridiculous. What can I say? I genuinely loved Mason & Dixon and Gravity's Rainbow. I've read them both several times. A friend of mine, whom I respect very much, once noted that people who read Pynchon often tackle his books to finish them as some sort of badges of merit or achievement that they can proudly display. I may be open to that charge. But I also know that I love Pynchon's works for their fantastic riffs on science and faith, sympathy for the underdog, disdain for self-important and abusive authority and power, stupid songs, and dumb jokes. He often seems to me to be our most American writer: who else manages to blend nuclear bombs, Plasticman, King Kong, Pavlovian responses, Malcolm X, organic chemistry, rocket science, and toilet humor so brilliantly and entertainingly?

Anyhow, it was a strange scene at the bookstore last night as we passed the time until midnight, when the bookstore clerks could legally hand us our copies of Against the Day. There was a table with wine and cheese, some snacks, and there were efforts to get people to socialize, but the die-hards who showed up at 11:45 at night didn't seem to be the most socially gifted people in the city. A few people wondered whether Pynchon was still alive. Someone wandered into the bookstore and asked a few people assembled there what the big deal was: Why were people so into Pynchon? Was it his use of language? His storytelling? His character development? No one really had a ready answer. A young group of poets had wandered into the bookstore near midnight, apparently up for any literary event they could find in Los Angeles. They seemed dressed as if for a club, except in a kind of Rushmore way (i.e., plaid skirts, etc.). One of them asked someone if Pynchon always wrote in the third person. A good question: a few of the self-identified Pynchon diehards had to think about it, before venturing a half-hearted "yes". There was a lot of lurking about by solitary Pynchon fans (like the Octopus), sipping soda and avoiding eye contact in the Gardening and Architecture aisles, while anxiously gripping receipts for their pre-paid copies of Pynchon's latest (and last?).

Altogether, a very interesting event for L.A.

Most reviewers appear to agree that the book is too long, baggy in places, with flashes of brilliance, but generally exhausting in its scope, digressions, and cast of hundreds.

Here's my question: when did these reviewers get this book, and how long have they had to read the 1085 pages? I'd probably be cranky too if I had to race through a doorstop like Against the Day to meet a deadline for a review.

I'll check back in with a review of Against the Day in three to four months.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Another really funny guy

Your friend and mine, Jackie Mason. From a 2004 article of Mason's in the Jewish World Review:
. . . . Islam: religion of oppression, discrimination, violence, terror, war, superstition, intolerance and prejudice. . . . followers of a religion of hate . . . .

America must learn it cannot negotiate or reason with people who consider us infidels. It must recognize that the enemy is often among us and all the exposure available to them in Western civilization with its tolerances and respect for individual rights will not affect their seething anger at imagined wrongs, injustices, and illogical sense of entitlement.

Historically, use of strength, swift and certain punishment, and resolve of purpose are all that is left us to effectively deal with their primitive madness.
Yup, Mason is a man of many talents: comedian, rabbi, foreign policy expert, historian. I think we should follow Mason's prescription and use strength, swift and certain punishment, and resolve of purpose to effectively deal with primitive madness such as that exhibited by the Octopus.

Oh, but he's a lovable old guy. Maybe an ugly, hate-mongering racist and bigot. But so avuncular and lovable.

Does anyone care that Mason makes such hateful statements? Nope. He's a star peddling his lovable racism and vicious bigotry across the country's airwaves.

Lovable old Kramer

Here's Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld, losing his fucking mind and lashing out in a racist tirade at L.A.'s Laugh Factory this past Friday. He was apparently reacting to hecklers but went just a bit over the line. He tries to make a joke about how "fifty years ago" the black hecklers would have been lynched for heckling him.

A revealing glimpse into the sick and thoroughly fucked up mind of lovable old Kramer.

The video is extremely offensive and full of Richards's racist trash and is inappropriate for workplace viewing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

UCLA Student Brutally Tasered

Further adventures in America's public relations with the world: the video above, taken on a student's camera phone, shows an Iranian-American UCLA student Mostafa Tabatabainejad getting shot with a taser at least five times in a UCLA library for "failing to show student ID". The video is pretty fucking disturbing.

For those who say the guy should have just left? Try doing that as you're getting tazed.

This apparently happened on November 14. I had no idea about this until my brother, who's at college on the East Coast, told me about this. Gives you some idea about how much press coverage this has received in the MSM. Meanwhile, the virtual community on the internet, across the world, seems pretty outraged about the video.

The incident is disgusting. Tasered multiple times for failing to show student ID on a random ID check in a library? I want to think that the wild spread of this video through YouTube augurs a new era of accountability, but imagine the videos not shot, of the acts of Americans in secret, dark places we don't even know about, and may never know about.

Oh, and don't worry, there are those who are making sure no one gets the idea that this incident had anything to do with Tabatabainejad's race. In fact, one finds David Lazar, Vice-Chairman of the UCLA Republicans, blaming Tabatabainejad for the incident:
In my opinion, he was asking for it.

When Mostafa Tabatabainejad refused to present his BruinCard in Powell Library when asked during a routine check by Community Service Officers, scoffing at them and police, it created an uproar, the fallout of which has graced airwaves and prompted headlines internationally.

Whether or not the police used excessive force, there is no doubt that the student showed a blatant disregard for UCLA's regulations and police authority. . . .

We now know, in hindsight, that Tabatabainejad was not dangerous, but he might have acted in such a way to make the police worried about potential danger. People should take this into account before jumping to conclusions.

Regardless of whether or not the police used excessive force, we should all agree that Tabatabainejad is at least partially to blame for his less-than-brilliant behavior. . . .

There is even a protest planned for today, taking issue with the police handling of the situation. On the Facebook page he created for the event, third-year business economics student Combiz Abdolrahimi calls for the protest on grounds that racial profiling was responsible for the situation.

But attempts to paint this as an issue of racial profiling really stretch the facts. I – who by no means look middle Eastern – have been asked to produce my BruinCard by CSOs.

If I then refused to comply with the directions of the CSO – being asked to leave – I would fully expect to be treated somewhat roughly by the police. . . .
This has got to be one of the most idiotic, insane, and thoroughly repellent editorials I've ever read. "[H]e was asking for it"? Young Republicans are apparently drinking deeply from the cup of Ann Coulter's wisdom.

If you feel like discussing the article with the bright-eyed young and conservative Lazar, he can be reached at

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tom Cruise Kills Oprah

Brought tears to my eyes.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Yes, this is how you encourage moderate Muslims to participate in the political process

This kind of shit is unbelievable, but pretty much par for the course these days:
On the November 14 edition of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck interviewed Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN), who became the first Muslim ever elected to Congress on November 7, and asked Ellison if he could "have five minutes here where we're just politically incorrect and I play the cards up on the table." After Ellison agreed, Beck said: "I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.'"
From Media Matters

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Octopus Lex

A legal spin-off has begun.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

At the Bus Stop

It's seven p.m. and the bus stop for the 81 downtown is pretty bumping. Some old pals are chatting in Spanish on the bench next to me about "la buena gente." All sorts of buses other than the 81 keep stopping here. I just got a faceful of exhaust from the 94 as it left, on its way to San Fernando.

L.A. is generally a lame place in which to try to get into any type of holiday spirit. The sunshine and the palm trees are just not conducive to it. It appears that they've tried to light the top of the Library Tower in special holiday colors, but they have chosen, for some reason, red and blue instead of red and green. Perhaps they just recycled the July 4th lighting? Or the guy in charge was slightly colorblind? Or spoke a language that did not have separate words for green and blue?

Someone just asked me what time it was.

It feels very good to be back on the bus, walking to the stop in the morning, down the Angels Flight steps at night. It would be perfect if the bus would just show up on time. (Still waiting.)

It's okay. I think riding the bus is a good way to learn a little patience. You can't step on the gas, weave through traffic, or lean on the horn -- you have to wait with everyone else, and listen to the nice discussions about the good people.

Ha. That would've been too fey an ending, so the post continues. I would like to share with you that I've been spending an inordinate amount of my time thinking of new directions for this blog or for spin-offs to this blog. My first big idea was that I would start a regular puppet segment. I'd make the puppets, probably from socks or those brown lunch bags, and do short segments on topics such as Islamic history, political analysis, and movie reviews.

(Sorry - I just tried to negotiate with the driver of the 84, which just stopped here at the bus stop and which runs a route tantalizingly similar to the 81's, to take me to my stop in Eagle Rock, but it was too far off her route.)

I was very excited about this puppetry idea, but I need to get a video camera first. Look for this to pop up during the holidays.

The other idea I was toying with was starting a spin-off legal blog, which would focus mostly on trademark and copyright law issues and developments, with other miscellaneous legal coverage. I figure that such a blog may actually be useful in my professional life some day. It will probably be supremely dull for 98% of you, but the remaining 2% are going to love it. If you have any requests or suggestions for areas of law the Octopus legal spin-off blog should cover, please let me know.

The 81 is finally here, and it is packed.

From the preface to my favorite dictionary

"Today much slang originates with narcotic addicts, spreads to popular musicians, and then gains vogue among the young, while falling into disuse among its inventors."

- Raven I. McDavid, Jr., "Usage, Dialects, and Functional Varieties", in The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition (1975).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Octopus Killjoy

Yes, yes, everyone must now line up and take turns declaring how hilarious the "Borat" movie is, and how Sacha Baron Cohen is a comic genius. And it is true that parts of the movie are hilarious. Cohen is undeniably funny.

But I have one question: Would a "Borat" equivalent depicting an idiotic and "comic" Muslim-hating Jew -- say, a settler from the West Bank -- ever screen in any movie theater in the U.S.?

I don't think so. In fact, I am certain the answer is No. Such a character would rightly be denounced as anti-Semitic.

But Borat? He's hilarious.

(I am now prepared to hear how I just didn't "get it". And thanks to chanchow for opening this discussion.)

Octopus Thought for the Day

I was paying closer attention than usual this weekend to the various thoughts running through my mind as I went about my way, and many of these thoughts were pretty ridiculous. I am very glad that this internal dialogue isn't all immediately vocalized. And luckily for you, I am not yet liveblogging every errant thought that bubbles up in my mind. If I were, this page would be even more filled with self-doubt, paranoia, narcissism, envy, despair, and a constant irrational optimism.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The World Needs More Puppets

Make sure to watch through till you get to the George W. Bush puppet. The stupid interview at the beginning doesn't last long.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Save the Planet

Some of the post-election euphoria is fading for me as I consider the situation the Democrats have inherited:
  • A complete disaster in Iraq with no good options. We can stay and continue to lose men and women fighting an unending insurgency while trying to prop up the Iraqi government, which will be seen as our puppet. We won't be pulling out immediately, and the danger is that the Democrats will now be seen as responsible for the total mess in Iraq, which will likely continue to deteriorate.

  • A slim majority with a president Congress won't be able to work with much. Not much will get done in the next two years -- especially as the 2008 race has already started -- and this Democratic Congress may be seen as ineffectual.

  • A nation more vulnerable than ever to attack, and all the more likely to be attacked precisely because of this administration's policies. I fear that a large attack, possibly carried out by individuals inflamed by our actions in Iraq, (or our failure to prevent the destruction of much of Lebanon, or this administration's total lack of evenhandedness in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or our support for dictators in Egypt and Pakistan, or some combination of all of these) will send the country rushing into the arms of the far right wing once again. The Republicans launched an idiotic war and fanned the flames across the world. Years later, the nation woke up and tried to change control of the government. I really hope that it is not too late, and that our transformed government will be able to take steps to show the world that there is still reason to believe in the possibility of America.
I've been thinking about the "War on Terror", the deficit, the tax cuts, health insurance, abortion, gay rights, and a few of the other issues that have been driving American politics over the past several years, and it seems to me that there is one issue that really has to be at the forefront of our minds: We must save the planet from the apocalyptic effects of global warming.

Terrorists will never be able to take away our way of life, but it is entirely possible that the ravages of global warming could. For too many years, we have entertained a false debate about whether this was even going to happen. That debate is over. Global warming is real.

We need to harness this nation's energy and genius and take the lead in finding energy sources for the future. It is past time to press full ahead with development of solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and fusion energy. We must change the way we live and work. The era of mass reliance on the personal automobile must come to a close. Our towns and cities must be planned for a new sustainable reality. These required changes are no longer just idealistic pie-in-the-sky. This is about our survival on this planet. The oceans are dying. We are running out of clean drinking water. Entire nations may be devastated by rising oceans. We're not going to be able to blast off and colonize other planets anytime soon. We must get to work immediately on salvaging the only place hospitable to life in the universe that we know of.

Al Gore for President.

Vehicle Voltron!

Ah, fuck yeah! Vehicle Voltron was the bomb! Lion Voltron was bullshit. Vehicle Voltron the toy was also incredibly complicated to assemble -- so many freaking cars and trucks and submarines and planes and helicopters. That shit was awesome. Someday soon, it's going to show up on "The Antiques Road Show" and I am going to have to deal with some issues.

(I will never get anything done again.)


Holy shit! I used to love this show, which ran as "Battle of the Planets (G-Force)" in America. I distinctly remember finger painting their red and blue spaceship in first grade. I had to explain G-Force to my friend as I finger painted.

Octopus TV

Chimp plays Ms. Pac Man. If there was ever any doubt that chimps deserved greater rights, this pretty much ends that debate. If necessary, I will find evidence that chimps can also play Zaxxon.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Future Starts Today

Riding the bus home in a new America.

The Octopus and most of his contemporaries have, probably, about 40 or so years left on the planet. What are we going to do?

It's easy, when you're up close to them, not to be able to make out the historical significance of events you're living through. This was not a problem when I watched the Twin Towers fall with my own eyes on September 11. But watching the returns come in on my computer screen, on my Blackberry, cell phone, and TV, it was a bit harder to be hit with the visceral impact of what was happening.

The American people are a fundamentally decent people. We do not love war for war's sake. The American people have no appetite for long military adventures abroad, especially when the goals are murky, and our cause is not just. This war was rotten from its inception, and Americans have figured this out.

Iraq is a mess, and we need to extricate ourselves, but that will not be enough. This election shows us just why we must defend this great country. Our democracy is imperfect, but it works. I believe in America, and I believe it must be protected. The fact is, large segments of the world are seething with anger toward our country. There is no denying that there are terrorists out there that want to do us harm. There is no denying that North Korea has nuclear weapons, and that they may be willing to sell them. We can never allow a weapon of mass destruction to be used against Americans. It is clear that we will not be able to bomb and shoot our way to safety. We must show the world just why America can represent the greatest possibilities of human potential and why the world should treasure America and its enormous potential, not fear or resent it.

My parents came here with nothing and managed to give my brothers and me everything. They taught us that anything was possible in this country, and I still believe that is true. Tuesday night showed me that there is still every reason in the world to believe in this country.

What do we do now?

Let's work to save the world from the apocalyptic effects of global warming. Let's put American genius into creating the next generation of clean and renewable energy sources.

Let's work to make sure that all American children have health care and the finest educations in the world. No American child should ever go hungry.

Let's work in peaceful ways to integrate the countries Middle East into the world community. There does not need to be a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. To that end, we must work to create peace for the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Let's work to save millions in Africa from the ravages of HIV and malaria.

And let's work to eliminate all nuclear weapons everywhere. There is no place for nuclear weapons on this planet.

(I know, I know. Might as well add "Let's win the World Cup in 2010". But humor me at this emotional moment.)

Thanks, Howard

Rahm Emanuel has been claiming all the credit for the Dem's big victory, but we should not forget that Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean pushed hard for the Democrats to invest in a 50-state strategy that sought to expand the scope of the party into regions that had traditionally leaned Republican.

The results of Dean's bold strategy, which was criticized by many, including Emanuel? The Senate will be won in Montana and Virginia, hardly traditional Democratic strongholds. Indeed, the Dems have won House seats and Governorships across the country, in all regions -- just as Dean had hoped.

This is the biggest Democratic victory in many decades, and it comes under the leadership of Dean, and on the strength of the message he so powerfully presented way back in the 2004 primaries: We were misled into starting this utterly unnecessary war in Iraq, and it has become an unmitigated disaster for our country.

Dean was right, and his party and the nation have finally caught up to him.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Congratulations, America

My faith in the nation has been restored.

Truly Astounding

In the current edition of Foreign Policy AEI's Josh Muravchik presents his "Operation Comeback" for the Neocons:
Neoconservatives have the president’s ear, but they also have lots of baggage. To stay relevant, they must admit mistakes, embrace public diplomacy, and start making the case for bombing Iran.
(emphasis added.) You read that right: the neocons have driven this country into the greatest foreign policy disaster in its history, leading to untold thousands of civilian deaths, thousands of U.S. casualties that continue to mount daily, and worldwide hatred and scorn for the U.S., all without making anyone any safer; in short, neocon theories and ideology have been shown to be utterly, dangerously, false and worthless, so to fix things . . . let's bomb Iran! In case you didn't quite get it the first time, Muravchik fills you in on a little "reality":
Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office.
Yup, it's a done deal! We're bombing Iran. Just a matter of how and when, and how to tamp down the inevitable whining and effete European protesting that will accompany the already decided-upon deed. (For good measure, he throws in an endorsement for Lieberman for the 2008 Republican ticket.)

Just how stupid do the neocons think Americans are?

See skewering of Muravchik's "Operation Comeback" at Matt Yglesias and Brad Delong.

Neocons Disown Iraq

From the consistently excellent Glenn Greenwald on the new claims of some neo-cons that they did not support the invasion of Iraq:
Michael Ledeen -- a so-called "Freedom Scholar" at the warmongering American Enterprise Institute and a Contributing Editor of National Review -- is one of the neocons included in the much-discussed Vanity Fair article publicized yesterday. That article reported that numerous leading neocons have now turned on the Iraq war by heaping all the blame on the President, Don Rumsfeld, and in essence, everyone else but themselves.

Several of the neocons -- including Richard Perle, David Frum, Michael Rubin and Ledeen -- petulantly complained yesterday that the VF press release publicizing the article mischaracterized their views, took them out of context, etc. etc. But in National Review, Ledeen went further than that. Much further.

In contesting the accuracy of the VF article, Ledeen not only denied that he ever supported the invasion of Iraq, but further, he affirmatively claimed that he opposed the invasion. And that is just an outright lie. Here is part of what Ledeen wrote yesterday at NRO's Corner (I encourage anyone to read the full comment to see the context, which makes this even more incriminating, not less):

"I do not feel 'remorseful,' since I had and have no involvement with our Iraq policy. I opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place and I advocated—as I still do—support for political revolution in Iran as the logical and necessary first step in the war against the terror masters."

That is about as unambiguous a claim as it gets. Leeden states that he "opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place." Therefore, he argues, he cannot be fairly used by VF as an example of a neocon who has recently abandoned the war because, Ledeen claims, he was anti-war from the start.

But as Mona pointed out last night, Ledeen wrote a scathing August, 2002 article in National Review, the sole purpose of which was to argue for what he called "the desperately-needed and long overdue war against Saddam Hussein and the rest of the terror masters." To support the invasion, Ledeen claimed "that Saddam is actively supporting al Qaeda, and Abu Nidal, and Hezbollah."

The AEI is one of the most dangerous organizations in this country and Ledeen . . . is one of its most extremist and dangerous "scholars," especially now that the next target on the neocon Dream List is Iran. Ledeen is literally obsessed with changing the governments in a whole host of countries that are hostile to Israel and/or the U.S., most particularly Iran. And the kind of dishonesty that is so glaring in this one instance is par for the course in how he and his fellow neocon warmongers argue and advocate.
These people are absolutely shameless.


Today could be something big. Help take back our country! Make sure to vote today!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Octopus California Voting Guide

It's very last minute, but here it is. I'm not going to bother with the candidates for state-wide office, I imagine most Octopus readers will either go down the board Democrat or Green Party anyway (with perhaps a few write-ins for the Octopus himself). So here are the Octopus recs on the avalanche of propositions (readers in other states will have no idea in hell what I am talking about):

Prop H (Housing Initiative): YES

Prop J (Building fire stations): YES

Prop R (term-limit chicanery): NO

Prop 1A (Transportation funding, close call): NO

Prop 1B (More transportation projects, lots of new freeways that we don't need, also a close call): NO

Prop 1C (housing and emergency shelter funding): YES

Prop 1D (school construction funding): YES

Prop 1E (disaster preparedness): YES

Prop 83 (draconian monitoring of sex offenders): NO

Prop 84 (improving water quality): YES

Prop 85 (abortion waiting period and parental notification -- the Right is very persistent): NO

Prop 86 (cigarette tax -- a close call, but I'm for making cigarettes more expensive): YES

Prop 87 (oil tax for alternative energy funding -- much controversy, but the huge amounts put up by the oil companies to oppose this tells you pretty much everything you need to know): YES

Prop 88 (property tax for schools - close call): NO YES (I changed my mind this morning.)

Prop 89 (campaign finance reform - public funding of campaigns): YES

Prop 90 (a complete disaster waiting to happen financed by property rights activists): GOD, NO

In case you'd like to compare the Octopus's recs against those of other organizations, I've compiled voter guides from various publications and parties below:

LA Weekly
LA Times
SF Chronicle
California Green Party
California Democratic Party
California Republican Party (if you'd like to do the opposite of what they suggest)

Fox in the Snow

For some reason, I put "If You Leave Me Now" by Chicago on repeat when I got on the bus tonight. The bus was totally packed, so I had to stand for about 25 minutes (I just sat down and started this post). I had to keep a hand on the handholds, so I couldn't take the song off repeat. It felt like I listened to the song about 14 times. In any event, I now think "If You Leave Me Now" is the official theme song of the 81, for me at least. The time period feels right.

La la la. It's November. The year's nearly at an end. Almost home now. I'll get off the bus and walk down our street in the darkness under the trees. When I get to a house a few houses down from ours, a gray cat usually comes out and meows at me. Things fall into a pattern and stay the same for a while, and you feel like you're in a stable place for a bit. And then everything goes on changing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The brain of the Octopus ossifies

If only I had been more motivated in my youth. I've been struggling over the past couple years with a number of languages, and now, because we are going to Paris later this year, I've decided, for the first time in my life, to try to learn some French. So I went out to the library and picked up a few audio-book packages and I've been trying to use those. Man, French is really hard. Japanese and Spanish are way easier. What is up with French pronunciation? This is going to be a struggle. I was thinking about getting one of those Rosetta Stone programs you run on your computer, but those are kind of expensive. Does anyone have any suggestions for programs or CD-audio packages for learning French? Why didn't I start learning French earlier?

When I went to the library for the French tapes, I also checked out a couple Chinese language sets. Back in 2003 I spent about a month intensively trying to learn Chinese from a very rudimentary tape and book set published by the Chinese government that I had borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library. (The pictures in the book looked much like the pictures used in Get Your War On. Now, when I read GYWO, I feel like I'm studying Chinese.) I was making some progress, but then I had to return the set. I have the Teach Yourself set here, but I don't really like it that much. I should probably accept that I'm not going to be able to teach myself Chinese in my spare time. I have been poking around at a Vietnamese language set I borrowed from the library, and it's probably more realistic that I could make some headway there, since Mrs. Octopus could help me out. It will take me some time to get a hold of the tones.

Meanwhile, I make efforts to maintain Bengali, Spanish, and Japanese, but I just don't have enough time. There's nothing quite as sad as losing language ability due to lack of use and practice. But I think you get a sense, from my scattershot and confused approach to learning languages, of my deep and fundamental inability to focus on anything. When I mentioned that I was trying to learn French, a friend commented that maybe I should try to at least attain fluency in one of the languages I have already studied before moving on to new languages. I think I used to think that was right, but who the hell has time to attain "fluency" in a given foreign language once one is out of school? I don't really see anything wrong in learning to speak several languages very poorly, in kind of a rough and ready way. I certainly won't be translating any poetry any time soon. But now, as I write this, I am thinking there really is something to be said for delving very deep into one other language, and getting to the point where you can spend a significant amount of time in a country where that language is spoken, where you can begin to appreciate the richness of that other language, and where you can have meaningful discussions with other people in that language.

In any event, maybe it's the French, but I am beginning to get a little discouraged about my ability to pick up new languages at this point. I know I can continue to learn them, but I am wishing I had had this mania for learning foreign languages back when I was ten. Youth is wasted on the young.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Fickle Octopus

My problem is that I am a dilettante. Just a little bit interested in everything, don't really know very much about any one thing.

I am about to give up on the bus theme, I think. There's only so much I can do with it. I will, of course, continue to ride the 81 -- I just don't know how much more I will have to say about it. As one of my friends mentioned to me, the whole blogging on the bus thing was a bit Harriet the Spy. (Not to say that there's anything wrong with Harriet the Spy, which was one of my favorite books as a kid -- it just feels a little dumb for a thirty-something.)

Just now I was thinking of what I could commit to. I was thinking law and philosophy, with occasional forays into politics. But I know that wouldn't work. I'm tempted every now and then to focus just on science, but I know that won't hold my interest forever either. I'm too much of a mess. Successful people are focused and disciplined: I am neither. Anyone have any suggestions as to what I should focus on?

I wish I had some self-discipline.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Back on the Bus

It smells a bit like pee on the bus tonight. Speaking of which, as I was walking down the Angels Flight stairs in the dark tonight -- even in Los Angeles we have to endure the darkness of November -- I was thinking, as I do from time to time, of how this stupid blog will pretty much ensure that I will never have any future in politics (or in the judiciary) if I ever wanted to go down that road. (And I currently can't imagine that I ever would want to go down that road.) But I think it's really too bad that the opinions I've expressed on this blog, along with the general weirdness here, would almost certainly be dredged up someday if I ever decided to run for any kind of office and pretty much doom my chances.

Blogging presents an unprecedented ability to broadcast one's opinions, but also a system that records -- forever somewhere -- every stupid thing you've ever said online. Many people who would otherwise want to blog probably do not for the very reasons I'm discussing: they don't want to be burdened by their informally presented opinions and statements, like some unfortunately chosen tattoo, decades later.

This whole discussion is stupid because I will never go into politics, but the consideration that my opinions and views, as expressed on this blog, would pretty much bar me from most public office bummed me out. I think that reality says something about my opinions and a lot about the political environment of America today. There's a narrow band of what is acceptable to think or say, and that band is carefully policed, guarded, and continually narrowed by those who believe it in their best interest to suppress certain thoughts and ideas.

And it is the sense that all of this -- even if this blog is eventually "deleted" -- will be available someday that freaks me out sometime and, inevitably, affects what I write. Is it unimaginable that the government (or others) will seek to target those deemed insufficiently supportive of the War on Terror? Will posting articles critical of neocon organizations one day be considered as providing "material support" to the "Enemy"? For whatever reason, these outcomes do not seem impossible to me. I do often fear posting about my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) for fear that one day, all "believers" of a certain faith may be rounded up. Again, not inconceivable to me.

The world is going to hell. This administration has successfully created an atmosphere of fear and entirely justified paranoia. We are given fair warning to watch what we say and what we do. And in doing so, we keep our mouths shut and do not utter thoughts deemed unacceptable.

Welcome to America, 2006.

Octopus TV (via BBC World)

Iraq, Iran, Syria . . . Freedom is on the march. Warning, will be shocking to American viewers, because, um, it was made outside of America. And please remember, David Brooks has taught us that neocons do not exist.

A little U.S.-Iranian History

Bill Moyers on PBS in 1987.

Things are looking grim for the G.O.P. . . . what to do?

Octopus TV

Full video available here, and full transcript of debate available here.

It's over!

That mayhem that had me commuting to Missouri from L.A.? That forced me off the bus and into the Intrepid to drive into work at 7 and home at 2 in the morning? It's over!

I rode the bus home last night and rode it into work today. It felt good. The Intrepid has been sitting in the parking lot under my office, chilling, not burning oil or releasing emissions.

Hopefully, things will return somewhat to normal.

Happy Día de los Muertos!

Monday, October 30, 2006

One Year in L.A.

Dia de los Muertos is upon us again and I realize that I've been in L.A. for more than one year now. The Santa Ana wind and the fires arrived soon after we did last September, and now they're back. Looking back at some posts of mine soon after arriving here, they seem a bit giddy. I was excited about having palm trees in my yard. There was so much great Thai food. They actually had book stores in L.A.!

Obviously, the early buzz of a new place will fade, and my infatuation with L.A. waned. The weather stayed the same. All the time. I got stuck in traffic. I woke up in the morning and coughed up phlegm regularly, though I wasn't sick. Driving at night, the sidewalks and streets were empty. There was only block after block of empty strip malls, with neon signs for agua puro or check cashing. The flashing lights around the Burrito King or the Tommy Burger seemed sort of cheery at first, but eventually became garish and depressing. The public transportation system was criminally, intentionally underdeveloped.

The people cared so much about how they and their stupid fucking cars looked. Roughly 75% of a given issue of the "progressive" LA Weekly was composed of ads for plastic surgery, body enhancements, various skin procedures and treatments. In the LA Times there were loving (albeit excellent) columns on the "Car Culture" that people in L.A. apparently take pride in. We got sick of the garlic sauce at Zankou Chicken. We kept on realizing things were over three hours earlier back on the East Coast. The selfish, self-absorbed people, so unaccustomed to ever having to share any type of public space, insisted on stepping into elevators before letting people in the elevators out first. They acted annoyed when someone inside the elevator actually had to get out first. Who were these people getting in their way? They had a right to 6 feet of space around them at all times, encased in glass and steel. It was so irritating to actually have to be near other people.

I couldn't understand the people at the office. Unlike in New York, complaining was not an Olympic sport. Complaining was negative, the bad vibes brought people down. People didn't want that negativity. There was a lot of pride in "making it happen". People strove to be winners, to be successful while not complaining, cheerily doing their work, balancing it with a healthy lifestyle. The whole positive mentality thing got me down. It made me feel like a greasy, whiny loser. Here were all these fit people brimming with sunshine and confidence, their clear skin glowing with health. What kind of fucked of place was this?

I don't hate L.A. It's a strange, disturbing, but endlessly fascinating place. Much of it is miserable to look at and crawl through behind Porsche Cayennes and Arrowhead delivery trucks, but one is often rewarded by finding magical places among the general asphalt void. I've found friends among soccer teams and book groups across the city. I wish there were more places people could come together and feel as if they were part of something together. The way it is, it feels like the city has been designed to prevent this very thing. Big talk from me, as I sit typing this in the "study" of our house on a leafy street in the faux-suburb of Eagle Rock, on the far northeastern fringe of the city. L.A. is not a city the way New York is a city. It's something else. It's certainly quite fucked up, dysfunctional, and unlovely. But having been here for a year now, I find myself rooting for this place. This is such a beautiful and wonderful place for a city, between the mountains and the sea. Whatever and whoever (if anything or anyone) designed this place did their darndest to truly mess it up. It could be so much more. And when you're out on one of those gloriously, deliriously beautiful L.A. days, maybe after it's just rained and the air smells clean and fresh, you can imagine what L.A. could be, and you really want to see it.