Category Archives: Politics

Ninja Turtles, Siberian Cities, Supreme Court Rulings, and The Music Of Trees: MidWeek Links To Enlighten

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-in-hogwarts-colors

It’s Wednesday, it’s hot, and it feels like summer’s languid ennui is finally settling in for good. So let’s keep it fast and easy by exploring some of the most interesting and entertaining goings on out there on the interwebs these days…

T-U-R-T-L-E Power: The second official trailer for the much (well…kinda) anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles August blockbuster is here. God help us.

As a massive fan of the original cartoon series and the films from 1990 and 1991, I just can’t stand to see yet another Michael Bayification of my childhood. I know I’m not the target audience here, okay. But…seriously? At the risk of sounding all “GET OFF MY LAWN,” why do The Turtles need high-tech weaponry that makes the Call Of Duty dudes look like a bunch of backyard Boyscouts? And why the hell does Shredder have to manifest as some kind of superhuman, Transformers reject that probably needs the entire weight of the United States Armed Forces to give him so much as a sprained ankle? Can’t we just be fine with a badass, evil ninja who wears a menacing (non-CGI) costume and fights a badass mutant rat on the backstreets of New York? Oh, and speaking of Splinter, you’ll notice that he no longer sports an Asian accent. Nothing against Tony Shalhoub (who lends his voice to this most recent iteration) but the anglicization of Splinter not only betrays the series’ roots but is yet another slight to a wealth of Asian-American acting talent, which Hollywood apparently just loves to do. Like I said…God help us all. Check out the trailer below:

 

Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go: Speaking of The Ninja Turtles, here’s a hilarious video from the geniuses at Screen Junkies highlighting the most embarrassing moments from the entire TMNT franchise (and there are plenty). Remember their touring musical act? Or when they appeared on Oprah? Well, these guys do.

 

The Silence of Scorsese: Making the transition from hack, trope-laden filmmakers to celebrated sages, here’s a wonderful (and short) video essay from filmmaker Tony Zhou about the ways in which Martin Scorsese uses silence for sublime emotional resonance. From the Vimeo description:

“Even though Martin Scorsese is famous for his use of music, one of his best traits is his deliberate and powerful use of silence. Take a glimpse at fifty years of this simple technique from one of cinema’s masters. For educational purposes only.”

After watching the clip below make sure to check out Zhou’s most excellent Tumblr Every Frame a Painting. Damn, how I wish this guy had been around when I was in film school.

 

The New “R” Word: No matter where you stand on the whole Washington Redskins name kerfuffle, you should definitely read this short piece from Esquire about the real history of the term. And guess what? It’s not what you think.

The Music Of Trees: Now this is just too damn cool. What you’re about to hear is an excerpt from the record Years, which is the creation of one Bartholomäus Traubeck. It’s seven recordings made from the rings of Austrian trees, including Oak, Maple, Walnut, and Beech. The clip below is the sound of an Ash tree’s “year ring data.” Here’s a nice little descriptive blurb from The Mind Unleashed blog:

Keep in mind that the tree rings are being translated into the language of music, rather than sounding musical in and of themselves. Traubeck’s one-of-a-kind record player uses a PlayStation Eye Camera and a stepper motor attached to its control arm. It relays the data to a computer with a program called Ableton Live. What you end up with is an incredible piano track, and in the case of the Ash, a very eerie one.

We do indeed live in amazing times…

 

Does The Cold Even Bother Them Anyway? You’ve probably never heard of Norilsk. Located in Siberia, it’s the world’s northernmost city of more than 100,000, and not only does it take home the title for one of the coldest cities on Earth, but its nickel ore smelting industry has also made it one of the most polluted. Check out this beautiful photo essay from io9. Here’s something to whet your appetite:

tl6k4xegxayrydwalbgg

 

They Fought The Law, And The Law Won: Finally, in a decision that I had been anticipating for weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Aereo Inc. violated copyrights on programming. This is a huge blow to not only an ambitious and innovative tech startup, but also to the broader evolution of common sense, on-demand television options for discerning American consumers. To avoid getting too technical and long winded, here’s a succinct nuts-and-bolts summary of the case from today’s Wall Street Journal:

The ruling is a potentially deadly blow to Aereo, whose technology promised a new—and cheaper—way of watching television that threatened the broadcast ecosystem. The decision bolsters broadcasters’ leverage over the deployment of new technologies for watching television programming.

The court’s 6-3 ruling blocks a company whose goals were to upend long-standing models for how broadcast programming is delivered to consumers. The service, which appealed to cord cutters seeking Internet-based alternatives to cable TV, allowed subscribers paying as little as $8 a month to watch and record their local over-the-air broadcasts from an array of electronic devices.

Since setting out on my own in 2001, I have never paid (and will never pay) for a cable subscription. Not because I’m one of those “KILL YOUR TV, MAN!” iconoclasts (there’s a lot of fantastic television out there), but because I just never saw the need to fork over $100-plus per month for a bloated bouquet of programing that could just as easily be found either through old-fashioned rabbit ears or new-fashioned streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. To that end, I am Aereo’s prime target consumer. I would have gladly spent $8 per month (was waiting for the option to do so, in fact) for quality local programming that not only allowed me to bypass the tedium of hauling out my shitty digital antenna every time I wanted to catch an Eagles game, but also gave me the option of pre-recording shows and watching them on wireless devices like my phone and iPad at my leisure.

This ruling comes as a great disappointment. Because of antiquated FCC verbiage and an unrelenting desire for cable companies to maintain their gross monopolies, it looks like I’ll just have to continue pirating. Way to go guys. Yet another example of technology being decades ahead of bloated and antiquated bureaucracies.

In closing, here is the unabridged email message sent out today by Aereo CEO and founder, Chet Kanojia, who’s probably feeling pretty much awful right now. I urge you to read it, whether you’re a cable subscriber or not:

“Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry.  It is troubling that the Court states in its decision that, ‘to the extent commercial actors or other interested entities may be concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.’ (Majority, page 17) That begs the question: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?”

“Consumer access to free-to-air broadcast television is an essential part of our country’s fabric. Using an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television is still meaningful for more than 60 million Americans across the United States.  And when new technology enables consumers to use a smarter, easier to use antenna, consumers and the marketplace win. Free-to-air broadcast television should not be available only to those who can afford to pay for the cable or satellite bundle.”

“Justice Scalia’s dissent gets it right. He calls out the majority’s opinion as ‘built on the shakiest of foundations.’ (Dissent, page 7)  Justice Scalia goes on to say that ‘The Court vows that its ruling will not affect cloud-storage providers and cable television systems, see ante, at 16-17, but it cannot deliver on that promise given the imprecision of its results-driven rule.’ (Dissent, page 11)

“We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done.  We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world.”

Today’s Mess In Iraq: How Did We Not See This Coming?

Look, I don’t want this to turn into a longwinded political screed, so I’ll try to stick with a single (and yes, overly simplistic) premise: How did we not see this coming?

I didn’t. At least not in the very beginning, when I was an overly zealous collegiate champion of what President Bush was planning to do in Iraq. Back then I still held onto the naive (um…innocent?) notion that many of the world’s international quandaries could be remedied with a wholesale devotion to overarching ideals like “democracy” and “freedom.” It’s hard for me to admit now, but that’s the truth. I was, in many ways, immature in my political perspective. Perhaps a bit of a pollyanna. I wanted my version of truth to be true, because that’s the world I wanted to live in. There was comfort in it. But I was wrong. To those I may have offended along the way, I’m sorry. Truly.

But it wasn’t long after our so-called liberation of Iraq that I began to get wise to the folly of what we had done, along with the expectations of the entire premise. And it all began when I started delving into our own nation’s history, most specifically the American Civil War.

“Here’s the key thing about the Civil War,” I recall my good friend—and Civil War virtuoso—Joe Master telling me one night over Manhattans. “Before then people used to say the United States are. After the Civil War people started saying, for the first time, the United States is.”

See the distinction? Prior to the Civil War this country was perceived—both internally and externally—as a collection of individually sovereign states. Crazy, right?

The concept compels me to recall a moment from the brilliant HBO film adaptation of David McCullough’s John Adams. After recently arriving in Philadelphia for one of the first meetings of the Continental Congress, Adams and Benjamin Franklin are found walking through a courtyard with none other than Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson seems perturbed about having to leave his home in Virginia, asking Franklin, “When will we escape this dreadful city, doctor?”

Adams then responds with a question. “Philadelphia is not to your liking, sir?”

“I’d rather be in my own country,” says Jefferson. “Would not you?”

“I would Mr. Jefferson,” says Adams. “Yes.”

Get it? To Jefferson (and Adams), Philadelphia was no more a part of his “country” than France or the moon. And even after a bloody revolution and the formation of a “unifying” constitution, the United States still had to endure the better part of a century (89 years to be precise) and the deadliest war in modern history before it could even begin to consider itself unified. We might even still be working on that one.

The moral of the story: Building a self-governing nation is hard fucking work. And guess what? It takes a hell of a lot of time.

To that end, what intellectually honest individual could have ever believed that building a unified, democratic, sovereign nation in Iraq (a country generationally rife with sectarian and ideological divides) would require little more than a few hundred billion U.S. dollars and the ouster of a single dictator? Oh sure. Let’s “free” the people of Iraq and then just sit back and watch the glory of democracy magically take hold. Simple as that.

Look, I know I’m treading through territory about which books have already been written, so I won’t belabor the point. But the bottom line is that anyone with half a sense should have seen today’s crisis in Iraq from miles away. And guess what? Sadly, this isn’t even the beginning of the end. If—and that’s a big if—Iraq ever forms itself into the nation upon which the entire U.S. invasion was predicated, it probably won’t be realized until after most of us have shuffled off this mortal coil. And this is not a political point I’m making here. At all. Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, or somewhere in between, you must acknowledge that this is a crisis of human nature; of our seeming inability to unite without violence and, perhaps more importantly, our continued ignorance of the lessons we should be learning from histories that have unfolded in our own backyards.

And so I leave you with two clips from the ever-prescient and peerless Jon Stewart. Bot clips are, as usual, both hilarious and insightful:

All Hail The Great Leader!

Surely you’ve seen this already. No? Well, if you haven’t, it’s worth a quick watch. Creepy? Um…yeah. Manipulative? Certainly. A little downright frightening? Hell yes. Look, I’m not about to launch into a ridiculous tirade about how Obama is the anti-Christ, or about how, if elected, he’ll use the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to lead the way in his inaugural parade. I’m still not even sure who I’ll be voting for come November 4th. But stuff like this is enough to drive me to write in Darth Vader.

These are children! Not voters, not adults…children! Whoever thought this was an acceptable idea ought to lose whatever leadership role he or she ever had over kids. This is brain-washing propaganda, a thoughtless indoctrination of individuals who have not yet developed the capacity to think critically outside the influence of the adults who fill their limited world view. The more I think about this, the more furious I get. In fact, it’s happening right now. As I type. You can’t see it, but I’m furious!

Oh, and one more thing: Can we all come off this implied, precious, saccharine, Kool-Aid guzzling bullshit that Obama is some sort of spiritual savior of the world! He’s a candidate running for office. Can we please treat him as such, and allow the potential virtues of his leadership abilities to make themselves evident over the course of his Presidency (should he be elected) instead of thrusting as-yet undeserved greatness upon him? We’re acting like a bunch of fucking zombies! So please…snap out of it! Or we’re looking at more videos like the one above.

Prostitution: Legalize It

 

Here’s the situation: San Francisco is on the verge of becoming the first U.S. city to decriminalize prostitution. And here’s the question: Why the hell not?

Trolling the Drudge Report tonight, I came across an interesting link to a news story about a ballot initiative, Proposition-K, that will be up for a vote next month in the city of rice and fog. If passed, the measure would forbid local authorities from investigating, arresting, or prosecuting anyone for selling sex. It would not, the article goes on to say, technically legalize prostitution since state law prohibits it, but it would eliminate the power of local law enforcement officials to “go after” prostitutes.

Oh yeah, and one more thing: The measure would likely free up $11 million the police spend each year on arresting prostitutes. Come on everyone, do your best Dr. Evil with me. That’s eleven meellion dollars…a year! Do the math. That’s a lot of bank, folks.

Look, for those of you who know me, an endorsement of this measure will probably not come as a surprise, as I have always been of the mindset that our government (locally and federally) already possesses far too much control over the degree to which we can exercise our inherent, victimless vices. I have long been of the mindset that this control is not only insulting, dangerous, and severely hypocritical, but also a provenly absurd waste of time and resources—and I believe precedent is on my side here. For an example, simply survey the effectiveness of the so-called “war on drugs.”

This multi-billion dollar effort on the part of the United States government has not yielded any quantitative decrease in the use of drugs in this country and has only served to continually drive up the financial and criminal consequences of an inevitable black market and the criminal activity it inspires. It has overflown our prisons with unnecessary inmates, ruined the lives of those who need help (not jail) and wasted our tax dollars in the process. And why? Because the pale, ignorant, ghostly bastards and bitches who roam the halls of Congress like moaning spectres of intolerance are beholden to the monstrous masters of the money that flows in and out of their fusty campaign offices like endless blood down a drain. There are no principles at the core of these efforts to wage witless wars on our so-called depravities. There are no convictions at the center of these ineffective laws that seek to limit what we, as free individuals, can and cannot do at our leisure. If there were, the NFL’s chief sponsors would not be beer companies. If there were, pharmaceutical companies would not be bombarding our prime-time television hours with myriad chemical solutions to spiritual problems. If there were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.

But I digress.

Look, the philosophy of just and righteous law is based on the necessity to govern a society in as much as that society wishes to legislate and live within the basic tenants of universal morality, and the first (and probably only) tenant worth considering in this regard is how our individual behaviors affect others not voluntarily associated with the choices we make. Speed limits exist because the roadways are public spaces filled with individuals who should not be forced to inherit the potential dangers of others driving recklessly. Murder is illegal because no one has the right to take another individual’s life without his or her consent. Rape, theft, drunk driving, witch hunting—all of these actions are illegal because each of them involves the victimization of an innocent individual. Drug use, prostitution, euthanasia—these, most certainly, do not.

To be sure, I am not in favor of the decriminalization of prostitution because I endorse the practice itself (no more than I am in favor of the decriminalization of certain drugs because I partake in them). My support of measures like Proposition-K is grounded in a belief that a society is not fundamentally harmed or devalued because of individuals who choose to engage in behaviors that, while potentially not in line with my own standards of character, have no direct impact on the course of my life. In other words, if my next door neighbor is visited by a different prostitute every night for the rest of his life, that action does not affect my life in any measurable way.

Now, I can already hear the rebuttals: But Nick, prostitution leads to a dangerous and damaging lifestyle for countless women every single day, and the legalization of the practice would only further encourage that spiral of desperation and damage! And to that, I ask a very simple question: Has the historic illegality of prostitution lead to its demise? The answer is no. They don’t call it “the world’s oldest profession” for nothing. And if we are resigned to the inevitability of its continuance (and really, I don’t see how we can’t be), shouldn’t we strive for a system that “legitimizes” and regulates this potentially dangerous profession in order to make it as safe as possible? Since there will always be women (and heck, I suppose men as well) that choose to earn their living through the sale of sex, is it not morally imperative to provide them with the protection they deserve?

And to the point that legalization inevitably encourages previously illegal behavior, I ask  another question to those of you who have never sought out a lady (or gentleman) of the night: Is that because it’s been illegal? I am willing to guess the majority of you would answer “no.” Speaking from my own experience, the reason I have never been with a prostitute has absolutely nothing to do with its illegality. I’m 27 and have lived in a major city several times throughout my life. If ever I wanted to purchase sex, I certainly could have. Without trouble. But I didn’t. Not because it was illegal. Not because I feared getting caught. But because I did not think it was right to do so. This is the standard of character and personal integrity toward which we should be striving as a society, and no amount of legislation will ever be able to bring that about. I have heard it said many times that the true test of a man’s character is what he will do when he knows no one is looking. Note that the government’s watchful eye plays no part in the truth of that axiom.

It is a dangerous and slippery slope down which we slide when we endorse legislation based not on the potential victimization of a behavior but instead on the relativistic and shifty ethical concerns of a few in power. Prostitution is as victimless in its execution as the publication of a particularly incendiary novel or piece of journalism. It is as wholly harmless to a society as a work of disagreeable art. Would we not shudder at the thought of our government prohibiting these expressions? Why then do we not shudder at its odious assumption of moral authority when it comes to matters of individual sexual choice?

Here’s to hoping Proposition-K passes next month, as it will make this country a safer and more humane place to live.

The Palin Parody Paradox

Well, it seems the uber-meta phenomenon of Sarah Palin showing up on Saturday Night Live just won’t go away…and this time it has taken an even more peculiar turn.

This weekend, Sarah Palin herself (her actual, non-ironic, non-Tina Fey-ized self) showed up on the sketch comedy program, once as the show’s opener and again for a particularly bizarre spot on “Weekend Update.” In the first, we find Palin actually witnessing Fey mid-impression, watching a fake press conference with Lorne Michaels backstage. In and of itself, the moment gets a chuckle, but what brings it home is the sudden appearance of Alec Bladwin, who mistakes the actual Palin for Fey’s fake Palin. Baldwin then proceeds to tell Michaels that he finds it unconscionable that he would allow Fey to continue impersonating a woman who “is against everything we stand for.” Michaels allows Baldwin to continue his tirade against Palin before finally setting the actor straight, at which point Baldwin faux-stumbles over himself before adding, “You know, I must say…you are much hotter in person. I can’t believe they would let her [Fey] play you.” He then takes her arm and leads her on a tour of the studio, eventually ending up at the set for the fake press conference. Check it out here:

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The second skit is where things get surreal. As the last sketch for “Weekend Update,” Amy Poehler launches into a Sarah Palin rap, the details of which I will not spoil for you in type. You must simply watch it. But when you do, ask yourself the question I am asking myself right now: Is this a moment where we are laughing with Palin or at her? And, more importantly, does Palin even know the answer to this question?

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Make A Difference? Are You Kidding Me?

 

Run Larry, Run!

Run Larry, Run!

Right about now I imagine many of you are having dinner table/barside/water-cooler conversations about politics (well, that and the upcoming season of “24”) . I also imagine you may be completing an equation in your head that looks a little something like this:

Cynicism Toward Candidate “X” + Cynicism Toward America’s Political Atmosphere – The Greater Evils of Candidate “Y” x The Greater Good Of America’s Political Atmosphere = Degree of Self Empowerment

Anyone with even a modicum of semi-political consciousness is most likely weighing this matter in the three clusterf*#*@k weeks currently leading up to the 2008 Presidential election, and because of this ponderation you may have even begun petitioning your friends and colleagues to “get involved.” To “make a difference.” To “rise up.” Phrases such as these were quite liberally thrown around during a recent Sunday afternoon conversation that occurred between my friend Matt, my father, my mother, and myself. In discussing the upcoming election and its consequences on America’s current financial woes, both my mom and Matt were extolling the (seemingly simple?) virtue of “everyday citizens” working their way into the system in order to begin cleaning it up. To begin washing away the corruption. To throw the crooked, pasty politicians out on the street with the rest of the garbage. Hell yeah!

But before I got all Travis Bickle about the matter, I recalled a recent piece I read in GQ magazine written by Philadelphia magazine editor-in-chief Larry Platt. It concerns his brief flirtation with running for Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district and the maelstrom of compromise and triviality that descended upon him when he did; and I’ll tell you, it’s quite a tale. I’m still not sure if this piece has left me more or less cynical about the system—more or less empowered—but I’m curious about its affect on others. So check it out here and weigh in. It’s a really interesting, well-written story, so I would recommend it regardless of the current political atmosphere. But my question is this: Will it ever be possible for any of us “everyday citizens” to make a difference?

Just How Stupid Do They Think We Are? (or, Why I Love Fake News)

There are so many reasons I am thankful to be alive in the year 2008. Vaccines. Automobiles. The Macbook. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But perhaps one of the most encouraging benchmarks of our time is the advent of “fake news.” Programs like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”, as well as publications like The Onion, are brilliant indicators of not only the human race’s gift for (and faith in) the power of humor, but also it’s burgeoning sense of rage against the pathetic, transparent illusion of the media.

I am convinced these contemporary satirical outlets are crucial to almost any socio-political discourse in America today because with each and every episode or edition, they seem to cry out, “Stop insulting us! We’re not as dumb as you think!” Sure, they can be a tad solipsistic at times, and yes, there is a risk that some will turn to these outlets in lieu of “actual” journalism and news gathering; but at their best they throw some pretty righteous pies in the faces of those who believe they can distill the events and consequences of the world’s stage into simplistic sound bites and banal platitudes. And I say, “Bra-fuckin’-vo!”

Consider Exhibit A: The following clip from a recent “Daily Show” episode brilliantly chides both the media and its consumers for allowing the powers-that-be to perpetuate the idea that the current economic downturn in America is just too complex for us fat, dumb, and happy cattle to ever understand. The clip, I believe, speaks for itself, so watch and get a little angry, because John Stewart and Co. are unveiling a very important secret here, namely that you are being talked down to. Every day. All the time. And this is very dangerous, folks. The longer we comply with this assumption, the more we are being taken advantage of. The longer we allow ourselves to be reduced to one pathetic common denominator, the more power we surrender as active and concerned citizens. And the longer all of this goes on unchecked, the more we will begin to believe it.

We are not so idiotic.We are not so ignorant. And we will not be so silent.

Oh yeah, and it’s pretty damn funny.

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