Tuesday, January 31, 2006

James Frey Plays the SOTU Drinking Game

James Frey live blogs the President's State of the Union Address while playing the drinking game.

9:03 - The President's not on yet, but I take a Big Swig of Scotch to get the old Neurons firing. Pick glass another piece of glass out of knee from last night's brawl with three of the Boys in Blue. They crossed the Thin Blue Line.

9:16 - Prez sez "9/11" within two minutes of beginning speech - two shots of tequila. OK, three.

9:19 - "we love our freedom" - I down a third PBR in a Single Gulp. (And I realize I have no recollection of drinking the First Two.)

9:21 - something about America leading the World towards Peace - drinking tequila straight from the bottle now

9:23 - sight of young girl wearing Hijab seated beside Laura Bush - finishes off Tequila, reaches for second bottle from carton beside the Couch.

My head throbs.



9:36 - "Iran" - ah, finished off that Scotch nicely

9:37 - Iran. Iran. Iran. Nobody said this wouldn't be Expensive.

9:35 - "reauthorize the Patriot Act" - very Expensive

9:37 - "spying on Americans is cool, yo" - I turn down the volume and snuggle with my bottle of Jose Cuervo

9:40 - "tax cuts permanent" - I pass out and barely hear the Empty Bottle hit the floor

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Censorship: A Primer

When a private corporation tells you can't say something at work, that's not really censorship. At least, not in the First Amendment sense of the word. When a record company "censors" lyrics - much as I hate it - that's not really censorship either. You can still take your record to anoher label, who'll cut it without censoring it. But
when the government tries to tell you you can't say something, then that is censorship.

It's really happening folks. This administration has a disdain for science, and James Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist is on the receiving end of it.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Same Now Only More So

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. ... I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously colored what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that 'the facts' existed and were more or less discoverable.

- George Orwell, 1942 from "Looking Back on the Spanish War"
Also, in the truth department, goodonya Oprah.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Growing Phenomenon of Internet

I came across this wonderfully quaint Canadian TV news story from 1993 that talk about "the growing phenomenon of Internet." You have to watch the whole thing. A couple of things I noticed: 1) no one uses the article "the" before Internet. Is that how folks used to refer to the Internet? I don't remember ever hearing it that way. Maybe it's a Canadian thing? 2) The wonderful discussion about how people who post on Internet are so amazingly polite, despite posting anonymously. Wow, I'd love to see that guy listen to himself saying that now. And "for about $200 a year"--not if you've got broadband, it ain't!
Ever so tangentially (speaking of telly), has anyone else noticed that the cool new Nike ad actually includes the word "ass"? Also features an excellent acoustic version of AC/DC's "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution."

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Anti-War War Movie

There is talk that many Vietnam films are anti-war, that the message is war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men to fight and kill, they turn their fighting and killing everywhere, they ignore their targets and desecrate the entire country, shooting fully automatic, forgetting they were trained to aim. But, actually, Vietnam war films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Mr and Mrs Johnson in Omaha or San Francisco or Manhattan will watch the films and weep and decide once and for all that war is inhumane and terrible, and they will tell their friends at church and their family this, but Corporal Johnson at Camp Pendleton and Sergeant Johnson at Travis Air Force Base and ... Lance Corporal Swofford at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man.
- Anthony Swafford, Jarhead
Interestingly enough, Swafford's name has recently been linked with James Frey's, in the context of exaggerated memoirs. I've yet to read much of the controversy around Swafford's. At least, in the opening chapter of his book, Swafford warns us:
Thus what follows is neither true nor false but what I know.
His emphasis, and essentially the same defense Frey used. Only, he failed to introduce his book this way, though he did spend a good deal of his book emphasizing his passionate desire to pursue the truth above all else.

Elsewhere, this essay by Drew Morton makes some interesting points about the difficulties of making an anti-war film, especially in the context of David O. Russell's Three Kings.

So far, Jarhead's a pretty gripping read.

Friday, January 20, 2006

But I'm a Nice Guy!

Occasionally, I like to throw some quotes up and let the juxtaposition between themes speak for itself:

Whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn't it, in your head? You never meet anybody who thinks they're a bad person.
- Tom Ripley, The Talented Mr. Ripley

I've been portrayed as a cynical barbarian preying on the very clients I was charged to defend.
- Jack Abramoff

I did this within a philosophical framework, and a moral and legal framework. And I have been turned into a cartoon of the greatest villain in the history of lobbying.
- Jack Abramoff

If I read the articles about me, and I didn't know me, I would think I was Satan.
- Jack Abramoff

Many of my e-mails have been maliciously taken out of context, another effort by those assaulting my career.
- and yes, Jack Abramoff

Guess you could do the same thing with Tom Delay.

On a lighter note:

Being an icon is overblown. Remember, an icon is moved by a mouse.
- William Shatner, Esquire, Feb 2006

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


A day late here, but for the last few years I've been checking in on my old stomping grounds to see whether Greenville, SC is finally celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Well, yesterday, they finally did. Hooray, Greenville.

Of course, as the article notes, those march in King's honor at the Sate House in Columbia still got to take in the Confederate flag, which still graces a Civil War monument on the grounds. Will someone clue those nostalgic folks in favor of the flag into the fact that there's no such place as "the Confederacy"? Ya'll lost, OK! Over 140 years ago.

"All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." -Martin Luther King Jr

See, King knew we were hitched to everything.

Monday, January 16, 2006

In a Nutshell

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane has a superb gift for summing up movies in a way that is both hilarious and succinct:
I did laugh at the end of “The Revenge of the Sith,” but that was from pure relief, much as the people of Stalingrad gave a bitter, mirthless grin when the siege was finally lifted.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Dennett, Darwin & Denial

Great SPIEGEL interview with Daniel Dennett in which he argues that a proper understanding of evolution obliterates the idea of Intelligent Design.
The very best evidence we have for the truth of Darwin's theory is the evidence that arrives every day from bioinformatics, from understanding the DNA-coding. The critics of Darwinism just don't want to confront the fact that molecules, enzymes and proteins lead to thought. Yes, we have a soul, but it's made up of lots of tiny robots.
Of course, you don't have to have read too much Darwinian thought to know the man himself refuted the chief argument proffered by the ID movement long before "intelligent design" became a buzzword with an air of apparent sophistication about it.

Much of ID's superficial impact, of course, lies in the tantalizing but malnourished idea of "irreducible complexity." The basic idea being that a particular system is so complex that it could not have functioned in a state previous to the one in which it exists. In other words, take out one part of a functioning structure and it won't work any more - so how could it have possible have evolved to that point? For example, a structure as small but as seemingly complex as a flagellum is composed of parts, without any one of which, it wouldn't work. Only, that's not true.

So, where's Charles Darwin come into this? Well, some proponents of ID today like to believe they've pulled a trump card when they use the eye as an example of irreducible complexity. Take out any one part of the human eye and this amazing organ won't work any longer, right? Well, that may be a failure to understand what "work" means, but it's not a compelling argument against evolution. In fact, Darwin himself dismissed this very example way back when, well, when he wrote Origin of the Species. He opens the sixth chapter, rather reverently entitled "Difficulties of the Theory: Organs of Extreme Perfection and Complication," with the following:
To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.
And he continues in much greater detail. So Darwin anticipated this argument well in advance of its, um, evolution into "irreducible complexity," and it's been handily dismissed ever since--a point that even irreducible complexity's greatest adovate Michael Behe has had to admit: "I quite agree that my argument against Darwinism does not add up to a logical proof." Whoops.

Wish he'd make that clear to his acolytes.

Novel Approach to Truthiness

Novelist Christian Bauman talks about how he could've sold his own novel as non-fiction, but chose not to, in contrast with Frey, whose book will now come with an author's note (hopefully, not something mealy-mouthed like ""The emotional truth is there."). Bauman also mentions Swofford's Jarhead as a Memoir which may suffer in the truthiness department.

Anyway, suffice to say, I bought Bauman's well-reviewed work of *fiction* on Amazon today. Of course, Frey's A Million Tiny Pieces topped Amazon's bester seller list Wednesday night though, after his softball Larry King appearance, so, you know, he ain't hurtin'. Hmm. ... [checks Amazon]:

It's still number one.

"There's no such thing as bad press, as long as they spell your name right." - attributed to P.T. Barnum.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sneak Peak at my Memoirs

In light of recent revelations about James Frey's methods for memoir writing, I thought I'd make a few tweaks, a few emendations to my as yet unpublished memoirs:

First, affect a strong Ocker accent in my writing as part of "my voice."

Then, include the following events, which I'd somehow overlooked when trolling my memory for meaningful material:

>Got the scar on my upper lip when attacked by a savage dingo while on a six-month walkabout - age four.

>Skipped school regularly to wrestle crocs with me mates, leaving me with those long scarring lacerations on both sides of my left arm.

>Worked an oil rig as a welder on the north west shelf off the coast of Western Australia for 16 months to make money for college; at night we drank a case of Emu Export Lager each and took turns jumping off the rig with a rope tied around our ankles so we could climb back up.

>Worked my way through college at Bob Jones University by selling firearms to various South American rebel groups.

>During the nine months I spent in Korea, I wasn't really teaching English: I was teaching Aussie street fighting techniques to Korean gangs in exchange for learning how to make illicitly distilled soju.

>My seven-year battle with an embarrassing addiction to huffing Vick's Vapor Rub in the middle of client meetings.

I know there's more. I just hafta keep digging. Should you dare contest any of this, well, of course, I'm gonna hafta throw down on you.

(In the spirit of, um, honesty, this post was inspired by this one over at Minor Tweaks.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Literary Deceit

Not one, but two huge stories of literary deceit today. In short: James Frey makes stuff up. Lots of it. And JT LeRoy may not probably doesn't even exist!

More over at Saheli's place.

Update: Turns out I even wrote that I doubted Frey's veracity back when I read his book.
I've just read a couple of books recently in the recovery memoir vein, which seems to be all the rage these days. Namely, Dry by Augusten Burroughs and A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Both are intensely readable, though I suspect the latter suffers from some intense exaggeration. You almost hope so: no human being deserves to suffer capping two teeth and receiving two root canals without anaesthetic, even if they are in recovery and aren't allowed any sort of drugs. What makes Frey's book especially so gripping, whether he stretches the truth or not, is his sheer determination. That part must be true or he wouldn't be here to tell us about it.
Of course, turns out I was probably wrong about that last part.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Reverse Extinction?

No, they're not bringing back dinosaurs (tho you have to admit, Jurassic Park would be kinda cool), but did you read where scientists are bringing back the Quagga? The last of the Quagga died out 'round 1883. Its resurrection will be thanks to remnant genes still found in modern-day zebras.

Hmm, Brontosauri next?

Monday, January 02, 2006

My Top Ten Movies of 2005

In alphabetical order:
Broken Flowers
The Constant Gardener
Mysterious Skin
Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room
Me and You and Everyone We Know
The Squid and the Whale
Runners Up: A History of Violence, War of the Worlds, Crash, Batman Begins, Good Night & Good Luck, Downfall, Jarhead

Overrated: Aristocrats, Sarah Silverman, King Kong (but still fun)

Might've made the list, but didn't get to see yet: Grizzly Man, Darwin's Nightmare, Murderball, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Munich, Brokeback Mountain, Junebug, Nine Lives, The Best of Youth, Cache, Bee Season - many of these didn't screen in Charlotte yet - grrr!

Still more I didn’t get to see, but which were often highly rated: Ballets Russes, Nobody Knows, Skeleton Key, William Eggleston in the Real World, Homecoming, The Holy Girl, Match Point, Funny Ha Ha, Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel, The New World, Good Morning, Night, and 40 Shades of Blue

Let me know what you recommend.

International Men of Mystery (& Science)

Since I mentioned last time that Alan Lightman would be featured this morning on NPR's This I Believe, I'd be remiss if I didn't feature some of his thoughts, which tied in perfectly with my post:
Einstein once wrote that "the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science." What did Einstein mean by "the mysterious?" I don't think he meant that science is full of unpredictable or unknowable or supernatural forces. I think that he meant a sense of awe, a sense that there are things larger than us, that we do not have all the answers at this moment. A sense that we can stand right at the boundary between known and unknown and gaze into that cavern and be exhilarated rather than frightened.
Lightman also confessed that he hopes some mysteries of the universe remain hidden:
One of the Holy Grails in physics is to find the so-called "theory of everything," the final theory that will encompass all the fundamental laws of nature. I, for one, hope that we never find that final theory. I hope that there are always things that we don't know -- about the physical world as well as about ourselves. I believe in the creative power of the unknown. I believe in the exhilaration of standing at the boundary between the known and the unknown. I believe in the unanswered questions of children.
Since Lightman mentioned Einstein and NPR closed the segment by mentioning that Einstein had contributed to This I Believe back in 1954, I had to look that up, too. It appears the entry was actually translated from an existing essay by the good prof, and he expressed similar themes to Lightman, as well as Darwin and Sagan below:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the Mysterious -- the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with the awareness of -- and glimpse into -- the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.
Einstein gradually shifts gears to express his concerns about the individual's place in and dependence upon society and prescribes "the establishment of a planned economy coupled with an education geared towards social goals." Considering the implications of that term "planned economy," I wonder how Einstein's thoughts played with the American public back in 1954. Nonetheless, so much of his fifty-plus-year old advice still sounds relevant today.

(Crossposted over at Saheli's place.)