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Such A Paine

Thomas Paine, a renaissance man,  achieved a great many, varied and remarkable things in the course of his 72 year life/career.  I think it may be important to remember that he was born into a time and place in which whatever one’s father’s occupation was became the defining perimeter of the son’s universe.  Joseph Paine made corsets.  Thomas Paine is famous for saying that government (like the corset) is a necessary evil.

Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon; all three of these people were alive and kicking when this week began, and dead when the sun set last evening.  June 25, 1876 is the day that saw the end of the meteoric rise of Generalissimo George Armstrong Custer.  Exactly 123 years later, yesterday, three other stars had expired.  (Not quite as simple as ABC.)

There’s something (for me) that’s profoundly confusing in that the most celebrated and eulogized of these three newfound corpses belongs to a music man from (Gary, Indiana³) whose

1.  distaste for his self-image resulted in multiple corrective race-disguising cosmetic surgeries

2.  was repeatedly accused and permanently suspected of molesting or endangering children.

Farrah rode the breaking wave of 70s jiggle into the TV heroic-victim’s hall of fame:  Dead from anal cancer.  There are just too many obscene and irreverent associations to explain. 

Ed spent three decades warming Johnny’s bench, like a permanent vice-president whose ancestors claimed nobility:

Several of his ancestors, including the Marquis d’Equilly, also had long and distinguished military careers.

Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta was a Marshal of armies in France, serving under Napoleon III, and later President.

McMahon once asserted to Johnny Carson that mayonnaise was originally named MacMahonnaise in honor of this ancestor, referring to him as the Comte de MacMahon.   

In his autobiography, McMahon said that it was his father who told him of this relationship and he went on to suggest that he was not certain of the truth of the story.

— Thank you, Wikipedia.

There’s a governing corset of order, somewhere, into which my chaotic observations fit.  They feel to me as though they relate to Paine’s deist belief that constraints on the destiny of  persons (and nations) may be discussed by Divinity, but aren’t the result of intervention.  I plan on reading some Paine, but I’d really like a look at the document that spells out governance in the nation of Iran. 

President Ahmadinijad and its supreme leader continue to claim knowledge of liberty and freedom that’s superior to the way we practice them here.  When President Obama discusses Iranian governmental violence against dissenting citizens the Iranian leaders claim he’s intervening in their affairs, and liken him to Bush — while the American neoconservatives chastise him for not intervening enough — in behalf of inate human rights they roundly ignored while crushing suspected terrorist-infidels beneath the heel of 911.

Current events are bewildering.  These must be interesting times.

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26 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Communication Breakdown

I just read an online article by Barbara Slavin in this morning’s Washington Times; EXCLUSIVE; U.S. contacted Iran’s ayatolla before election

At one level, it’s an interesting story about Obama’s letter of outreach to Khamenei, (conveyed by the Swiss ambassador  — because formal diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States don’t officially exist –) in which the Supreme Leader of Iran found doubletalk.

The intent of the mid-May letter (according to an Iranian with knowledge of the overture) was to present the prospect of “cooperation in regional and bilateral relations” and a resolution of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. 

The letter was delivered about a month in advance of the disputed June 12th re-election of President Ahmadinejad; an election result that has led to massive, widespread Iranian citizen protest in the streets, the deaths of at least 17 protestors, and  “a violent crackdown on demonstrators by Iranian security forces.”

The letter isn’t quoted in the article, but Ayatollah Khamenei found both an Obama invitation to significant improvement in Iranian/American relations AND a threat that American agents in Iran would use the election-event as a pretext to incite the Iranian people to riot.  From his recent sermon:

“On the one hand, they [the Obama administration] write a letter to us to express their respect for the Islamic Republic and for re-establishment of ties, and on the other hand they make these remarks. Which one of these remarks are we supposed to believe? Inside the country, their agents were activated. Vandalism started. Sabotaging and setting fires on the streets started. Some shops were looted. They wanted to create chaos. Public security was violated. The violators are not the public or the supporters of the candidates. They are the ill-wishers, mercenaries and agents of the Western intelligence services and the Zionists.”

The primary story reads like a communications clusterfuck, but additionally, nearly all of the people Barbara Slavin interviewed wished to remain anonymous. 

Something (I don’t understand) must motivate  “a senior Obama administration official” to confirm the existence of the midMay letter, while refusing to confirm the possibility of a letter in response.

“Past U.S. efforts to engage Iran have foundered, in part because the overture was addressed to Iran’s president rather than the supreme leader. This was the case in the late 1990s when then-President Clinton wrote a letter to then-President Mohammed Khatami seeking cooperation against terrorism in the aftermath of a bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans. The 1996 bombing at Khobar Towers, thought to have been committed by Iran-backed Saudi Shi’ites, took place before Mr. Khatami took office.”

Is it just me? 

The history of Iran/U.S. failures to communicate seem to suggest special effort be invested in doing better.  While it may not be entirely relevant, I think there also needs to be a dialing-down of the number of  anonymous sources, unconfirmed reports and unaccountable, semi-transparent leaks of meaningful information that dribbles out of journalism.

If the press can still perform its function (as the fourth [and most citizen-informative] branch of government) the transparency and accountability of news stories seems in desperate need of profound refurbishment. 

For starters, I’d really like the Obama administration to invite the press to hold their anonymous sources to a significantly higher standard of responsibility for information leaked to journalists.  If the information imparted is valuable, then the reasons to obscure identities, protect careers and cover vulnerable butts suggest that a fundamental improvement in the laws governing the exchange of inside information have to be Target One enroute to a meaningful exercise in governmental transparency and accountability.  Unscrupulous journalism and coercive interrogation very vaguely define similar practices.  I think the restoration of the American democracy requires important repairs to the ways we gather and distribute information necessary to properly-informed voters.

Just to drop the other shoe (in a well that might be bottomless):

 

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Obama administration would do better to “avoid any talk of engagement” with Iran until the outcome of the current political ferment is clearer.  The fact is, we will by necessity engage, but not at the moment,” he said. “I don’t think we want to suggest it will be business as usual, regardless of the outcome” of the political struggle in Iran.”

Patrick Clawson, an Iran specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Obama’s tougher remarks on Tuesday showed that he understands that “the prospects for a successful engagement are declining.”

 The article ends with the portentous remarks of people who went on record.  I think that’s a nifty step in an appropriate direction. 

The thing is, that I have no proof that the Ayatollah is definitively incorrect in his professed belief that American covert agents initiated these protests. 

We’ve entered an age in which faith in the lowest, meanest, most-unethical practices of adversaries is to be expected.  Likewise, my faith in government functionaries and the journalists who interview them needs to be refreshed.

24 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Woh Play

There’s a powerful point of resolution that comes late in Dead Again that dropped my jaw and drew from me the heartfelt and totally appropriate exclamation, “Whoa!”  You’ll know the climax I’m talking about if and when you see the film.  The urge to discuss this film to death, though extremely tempting, would be sinful.  It’s sufficient to say that the exclamation I made took my thoughts in a new direction — to a form of theatrical presentation with which I’m utterly unfamiliar; the Noh play.

Wikipedia hasn’t been particularly helpful to me in knitting conjectural threads together, but my sense of wonderful resonanace persists in the performances of a largely classically-trained British cast in interpreting and rendering an obviously-traditional American noir (reboot), set in LA, re-envisioned via the magnifying glass of a deeply alien theatrical culture.  The result is downright stunning. 

Branagh’s commentary illuminates in-jokes, conceits and allusions to previous noir practitioners; Welles, Hitchcock, Wilder…but failed to mention Preston Sturges, whose Unfaithfully Yours it nearly mirrors in a number of interesting particulars.  Neither does he mention the reincarnation of the Strauss mansion in the form of St. Audrey’s, nor the prevalence of music in driving action forward as though Dead Again were a curious kind of musical horror/noir/romance with veins of brutal and subtle humor that curdle the blood while delighting the mind.  The anklet in Double Indemnity.  Authentic LA geography.  Andy Garcia, Robin Williams, Campbell Scott stealing scenes in two-bit parts from some of the most-accomplished yespian transplants who ever learned to talk like ‘mericans with the aid of a dialect coach and tapes.  Vertical bars on the gate to melody, and the muffled screams of disharmony link Bird to Agincourt and Lush Life to To Be…or not.  It’s the moments rather than the moves that matter, and this film brings a ton of fascinating moments, choices and visual mapestry to moments from before it and since, sealed with the curse of a (writer’s block) kiss.  Woh!

Charles Laughton’s direction of Night of the Hunter brings Robert Mitchum’s left and right hands together in the rapidly-escalating Dead Again narrative in the form of two gloves that seem to be intent on delivering Emma Thompson from the mystery-resolution revealed through the mesmerizing grip of a kindly benevolence  whose BBC remake of The Epic That Never Was echoes in the immensity of Dead Again‘s transAtlantic and transcontinental, interdisciplinary remix of LA noir splendor-bending.  It’s a moment in which the viewer comes THIS CLOSE to losing all hope of a satisfying denouement.

This film is a far more remarkably adventurous achievement than The Lady in the Lake, specifically because it successfully integrates (with uncommon clarity) a vastly wider spectrum of human entertainment-experience(s) into a 107minute romp through challenging material that results in a film that’s bent on delighting and astonishing an audience that yawns at special effects,  yet cannot anticipate where Dead Again‘s headed.  I suspect it will bear up under repeated scrutinies in the same way that Chandler reads and re-reads; fruitfully, every time.  Toland collaborated with Welles in making a film that Welles didn’t know was impossible to make without breaking a number of rules (with which Welles was unfamiliar).  Toland came for the impossible eggs and stayed on to rewrite the rulebook.

I wish the dolly-camera 360° oner had culminated (in Emma’s hypnotic regression scene) by climbing through her left cornea in the same way that Sturges stepped into Rex Harrison’s retinal reality in Unfaithfully YoursDead Again (1991) is a fascinating film that I look eagerly forward to studying a third time while engaging with the second commentary.  I suspect this film was profoundly influential in inspiring and greenlighting a wealth of derivative productions (most of which I missed) like The Sixth Sense and Raines, along with the fifth and sixth seasons of Angel.  It’s another shining example of the stuff we’re calling New Media; synergizing entertainments founded on gigantic nuggets of cultural wealth that litter the paths-not-traveled-by in literature, theater, cinema and television.  If Branagh undertook Chandler, I’d wear bells.

Woh!

The second commentary intensifies my sense of loss for the many missing elements that would have made the theatrical release of this film a significantly crappier movie.  I ran through a number of IMDb reviews, noticing that many people hated or loved the film largely because of Branagh or Tompson, and that apart from that kind of preconception/bias, the remaining pans revolved around the expectation of a noir — which this film absolutely is and yet very often isn’t.  The film that was planned, shot and edited mercilessly into the final cut were three very different movies.  The commentaries note the sites of beautifully edited stumps where interesting sidebars and backstory limbs formerly hung, which puts Scott Frank high on my list of screenwriters whose work I’m going to explore gleefully.

07 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Does this make my universe look big?

Max Tegmark was one of the eminent cosmologists interviewed on a show I caught in fragments yesterday morning.  The topic of the program concerned the size of the universe.  In that Tegmark was speaking from his office at MIT, he illustrated the evolution of popular conceptions about the immensity of the universe by starting with a brief description of the primitive worldview of Massachusetts Indians*, then ancient Greek, medieval, Age of Reason…eventually hitting Einstein’s worldview (circa 1905) and concluded with the blizzard of theories that vie for attention now.  Affable, engaging and down-to-earth, Max Tegmark and his capsule summary still managed to piss me off.  I think the Massachusetts Indians’ worldview was probably greatly underserved in the rush to discuss ever-greater physical and conceptual distances.

Tegmark and the other cosmologists seemed to me to be indicating that their work to determine the size of the universe is hampered by the limitations of cosmologist’s instruments; which can only observe the observable.  The void of space may be infinite, but stuff exploding into that emptiness is all the information observers are able to use to determine the immensity of the room in which stuff is flying outward.  Not until stuff hits a wall of the room (and starts coming back toward the observer) will it be clear that there are walls in a room.

That perception prevented me from paying much attention to the allusive descriptions of inflationary theory, multiverse explanation, parallel universe, alternate timeline…That stuff is about as interesting as JJ Abrams’ device of having Nero fiddle with vengeance on Spock while Romulus was consumed in its sun’s supernova:  An event that Spock probably prevented, in the biggest temporal pardox dilemma (in the Star Trek storyworld) since Shatner sacrificed Collins.

So the void may be infinite!  That’s where Tegmark, et. al., lost my interest.  And I found myself wondering whether the information-gathering instruments have any effect on the void.  What If massive radiotelescope arrays and powerful observatory instruments aimed at the heavens and seeking data do something interesting like…increase Earth’s gravity, intensify its Presence in the infinite Absence of the void?  And if mass and gravity identify the existence of Presence, perhaps intelligent Presence modifies mass and density in ways of which we’d be unaware (simply because we can’t look outward to find evidence of inquisitive cosmologists anywhere else in the observable universe).

If gravity is an earmark of the existence of mass in the void, then the Presence of intelligence in or on some of that mass confers a slightly greater measure of respect on mass in the void, as a possible location where intelligence is (or may someday be) found.  I don’t know dick about the worldview of the Massachusetts Indians, but what little I know of the so-called animism of the Plains Indians suggests that their cosmology might be WAY-more interesting than contemporary doublegobbledy oozing out of MIT at the moment.

I come at this set of odd ideas from the singular experience of  standing in a lonely, boggy wetlands with the intent of photographing birds, striving to be a concentrated point of ideal stillness in the midst of landscaped, teeming life; and marvelling at the extent to which my Presence in that environment perturbs the natural flow of events.

What If a singularity is a center of information-gathering, where profoundly evolved cosmologists are so busily observing the known universe, that their pursuit of knowledge warps the very fabric of time and space?  I think that notion’s pretty cool because contemporary parlance dwells on phrases like “Information Economy”, “monetizing” this&that, and hasn’t yet focused on Attention, itself, as an invaluable phenomenon.

Getting butts in seats and eyeballs on screens is only the rudimentary beginning of science that goes as far beyond the physics of perception as animism goes beyond Inflationary Theory.  I’ve always hoped that the newest/softest science (psychology) would eventually find a way to accelerate exponentially the maturation of the hardest and oldest (astrophysics) beyond anthropocentric provincialism.  This just might be the means to that radical new beginning.

*from quaqua.org:

Native American tribes, some of whom were suffering from the onslaught of European diseases, also developed a hostile, violent, and deeply distrustful relationship with the Puritans. The Puritans abducted some of the Native Americans to ship to England. In 1633 a law was passed to require that Native Americans would only receive “allotments” and “plantations” if they “civilized” themselves by becoming Puritans and accepting English customs of agriculture and living:

For the settling of Indian title to lands in this jurisdiction is declared and ordered by this Court and authority thereof, that all the lands any of the Indians have in this jurisdiction have improved by subduing the same, they have a just right unto, according to that in Gen. I, 28, and Chapter IX, I, and Psalms CXV and 16, and for the civilizing and helping them forward to Christianity, if any of the Indians shall be brought to civility and shall come among the English and shall inhabit their plantations and shall there live civilly and orderly, that such Indians shall have allotments among the English, according to the custom of the English in like cases.  Laws of Massachusetts, Edition of 1672, at 74.

Unfortunately, this Puritan legal concept later inspired Captain Richard Henry Pratt to instigate a devasting nationwide ethnic cleansing program against Native Americans from 1874-1904, which was designed to civilize the tribes and remove them from their lands. Richard Henry Pratt, Battlefield & Classroom 272 (Ed. Robert M. Utley 1964).

Pratt forced Native Americans all over the United States to attend and participate in Christian church services in the Massachusetts tradition. Id. at 158-59, 163-64, 181.

Pratt’s ethnic cleansing movement would rely heavily upon Puritans in New England and New York for essential funding, logistical support, and political endorsement. Id. at 194-95, 197, 200, 202, 214-15, 221, 231, 237, 252, 283, 285.

See also Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice, 2008 BYU Law Review 377 

 

Wampanoag may be a more fruitful starting point for further (Wikipedia) research than “Massachusetts Indians”.

File:Tribal Territories Southern New England.png

I stand corrected.

03 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

June Swoon Bride Pride Killer Tiller’s Killer

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

It’s a start.  I guess waterboarding selected members of the previous administration and rotted planks in the conservative-media cabinet will have to wait, and if the flying car is an ultra-tall order, how about censuring FOX News for hate-speech?

02 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments