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Monday, August 20, 2007

Speaking of Animal Cruelty (Because We Were, You Know)

This certainly wasn’t very nice of the bears. Or very smart of their midnight snack, for that matter.

Animals can be so cruel.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Michael Vick and the Culture of Animal Abuse

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Michael Vick, if all of the allegations are to be believed, was deeply involved in the brutal abuse of animals. Not only did he support the vicious sport of dog fighting, but for those dogs that didn’t have enough fighting spirit--who weren’t “game” enough--he destroyed the animals in particularly cruel ways. There is no doubt in my mind that, if the charges are true, he deserves a jail sentence and a long vacation from his over-inflated paycheck.

Fighting dogs is a disgusting sport and practitioners should be prosecuted when they are found.

But damned if there isn’t some truth to the suggestion that this kind of blood sport is connected to culture. In fact, the Michael Vick story and the connection between certain cultures and animal cruelties should give some support to the idea that one culture can be superior, in specific ways, to others. We may be taught to look to other cultures without judgement, but when confronted with obvious cruelty that lack of judgement is rightfully abandoned.

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I’m not an animal rights guy; most of those people will also know, though, that I’m a big human responsibility guy. People have a responsibility to treat the world around them responsibly. That doesn’t mean don’t eat meat, it means don’t treat animals with needless cruelty. But there is no doubt that most cultures have found some entertainment in animal blood sports in their past; but most cultures seem to grow away from that with the recognition that it dehumanizes us to take pleasure in the torture and pain of other living creatures.

America isn’t one single culture. Without giving credence to John Edward’s class warfare cry of “two Americas,” the truth is that America breaks down along political, regional, economic, and ancestral lines, with very distinct cultures having grown to support communities. Traveling through parts of the US can involve almost as much cultural displacement as traveling through Europe, and while we share a language, heavy accents can make some of our speech damned near unintelligible (especially after a few too many drinks).

Dog fighting is a well respected tradition to a certain class of Americans. That isn’t an excuse for the spectacle, but an acknowledgment of fact; the same could be said for cockfighting. Without suggesting that Vick deserves any sympathy, it is worth noting that the only reason this story has reached such a level of noise is that Vick is a superstar. Cruelty to animals isn’t particularly new or particularly novel; it’s Vick’s involvement that makes it seem more newsworthy.

So, throw the book at Vick--after reading this particular version of some of the abuse, it’s hard not to cheer against the guy--and anyone else connected to his business venture. Then take a moment to remember that this is hardly a unique thing in the world.

Read this description of traditional Spanish bullfighting, for instance:

The modern corrida is highly ritualized, with three distinct parts or tercios, the start of each being announced by a trumpet sound. The participants first enter the arena in a parade to salute the presiding dignitary, accompanied by band music. Torero costumes are inspired by 18th century Andalusian clothing, and matadores are easily distinguished by their spectacular “suit of lights” (traje de luces).

Next, the bull enters the ring to be tested for ferocity by the matador and banderilleros with the magenta and gold capote, or dress cape.

In the first stage, the tercio de varas ("the lancing third"), the matador first confronts the bull and observes his behavior in an initial section called suerte de capote. Next, two picadores enter the arena on horseback, each armed with a lance or varas. The picador stabs a mound of muscle on the bull’s neck, which lowers its blood pressure, so that the enraged bull does not have a heart attack. The bull’s charging and trying to lift the picador’s horse with its neck muscles also weakens its massive neck and muscles.

In the next stage, the tercio de banderillas ("the third of flags"), the three banderilleros each attempt to plant two barbed sticks (called banderillas) on the bull’s flanks, ideally as close as possible to the wound where the picador drew first blood. These further weaken the enormous ridges of neck and shoulder muscle through loss of blood, while also frequently spurring the bull into making more ferocious charges.

In the final stage, the tercio de muerte ("the third of death"), the matador re-enters the ring alone with a small red cape (muleta) and a sword. It’s a common myth that the colour red is supposed to anger the bull, despite the fact that bulls are colourblind. He uses his cape to attract the bull in a series of passes, both demonstrating his control over it and risking his life by getting especially close to it. The faena ("work") is the entire performance with the muleta, which is usually broken down into a series of “tandas” or “series”. The faena ends with a final series of passes in which the matador with a muleta attempts to manoeuvre the bull into a position to stab it between the shoulder blades and through the aorta or heart. The act of thrusting the sword is called an estocada.

There are bloodless forms of bullfighting, but the traditional form is still practiced in Spain and still an important cultural activity. I can’t begin to tell you how disturbing that is to me--perhaps because, like the author Paul Theroux, I believe that it’s pointlessly brutal. While bullfighting is more ritualized than dogfights, and, I suppose, prettier, there is little to separate it from dogfighting in cruelty. Indeed, another common thread is the defense: the activities are so culturally ingrained that they are somehow beyond criticism. The criticism, though, is just a realization that something is not compatible with our own cultural ethics--and an assertion that our own laws won’t allow for the breach.

Hopefully we look beyond the fame that gave the story such legs and to the underlying cause of the problem: a cultural rift that must be addressed. Respecting cultural differences is important just as far as those differences don’t chip away at the common structure of our society. That doesn’t just stop with animal cruelty issues, but extends to cultural differences that rise as people come from around the world and assimilate to American life.

On this issue in particular, though, we’ve left behind the bear gardens of the sixteenth century along with the perverse entertainment of the gladiator’s arena; our spectacle now is relatively blood free and I would argue that we are better for the change. Cockfighting, dogfighting, and bullfighting are bloody relics of the past and any fair examination of contemporary mores would tell you that they simply don’t fit in modern societies.

(Bull fighting picture from Runningofthenudes.com. Used without permission. Sorry about that.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

John Edwards: Still Wrong

Even by Nathan’s generous reading of John Edwards’ “two Americas” line, my count would make that three Americas.

Superbad is Just Super

"I am McLovin.” I’ll be irritating co-workers and near-spouse with that for weeks to come.

Sorry about that, folks.

There is nothing surprising about the plot of Superbad, a teen sex comedy focusing on a trio of soon-to-be high school grads in search of booze, lovin’, and a way to cope with their changing world. To say that it had depths far beyond that simple premise would be a lie--it’s a quick and quick-witted comedy with just the right balance of naughtiness and almost-heartwarming moments, but it never delves into mawkishness.

And don’t underestimate the naughtiness. Superbad is gleefully obscene and uproariously profane. The jokes are filled with bad words and center on bodily fluid and porn in a way that mirrors the reality of a teen boy’s mind; not all of the jokes are scatological, but don’t bring oversensitivity through the theater doors or you’re bound to be offended. It’s saving grace is, of course, the love that the characters share for each other and the laugh out loud bits that are scattered throughout. It’s just a bonus that Seth Rogen and Bill Hader are perfect as two police offers far more delinquent than any of the teens. The Moral Majority types won’t be pimping this one out, but I’d bet that even they would find themselves laughing at a lot of the bits.

It’s funny, it’s fun, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The only thing that keeps it from being a truly great teen sex comedy is the almost complete miss on gratuitous nudity. Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh may regret their early career exhibitionism, but a few generations of young men are forever grateful for their generosity. Superbad doesn’t aim for any great heights, though, but that’s one of it’s charms. It delivers precisely what it promises: raunchy, giddy jokes with a touch of heart.

Truly, the worst part is that you’ll probably see it in a theater full of teenagers a lot like those in the movie--and they’re easier to take on the big screen than in the seat right next to you.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From Der Spiegel to Instapundit to the World. Hopefully.

It isn’t all puppies and lollipops, but this article from Der Spiegel seems well balanced.

Ramadi is an irritating contradiction of almost everything the world thinks it knows about Iraq—it is proof that the US military is more successful than the world wants to believe. Ramadi demonstrates that large parts of Iraq—not just Anbar Province, but also many other rural areas along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers—are essentially pacified today. This is news the world doesn’t hear: Ramadi, long a hotbed of unrest, a city that once formed the southwestern tip of the notorious “Sunni Triangle,” is now telling a different story, a story of Americans who came here as liberators, became hated occupiers and are now the protectors of Iraqi reconstruction.

As the title--"Hope and Despair in Iraq"--indicates, the job is hardly finished and not all has gone well, but there is hope. Fully realizing that I’ve been a supporter of the effort from the beginning, I’m sure that y’all will find yourself a grain of salt when I say that reading the article did leave me with hope and a sense that those who have recently switched sides on this particular debate might have abandoned the ship too soon. The question for me isn’t whether the military can win a reasonable peace--I believe that they’ve shown the initiative and adaptability to do so. The question is whether the citizens of the US will have the strength of will to carry us through more difficulties.

Our troops have been in Iraq for what feels like an awfully long time, and many families have suffered horrible losses where husbands, children, wives, and parents won’t be coming home. From where I sit, Iraq still matters in a larger sense than some people seem to understand; if it was worth doing, it is still worth completing.

There have been a number of times where I let my enthusiasm lead me to believe that we were closer to that complete victory than we turned out to be; but the gradual change that has come from putting General Patreus in charge, clarifying the mission, and changing strategies seems much more solid than those previous moments of exuberance. I still have great hope for a relatively liberal, representative government in Iraq and for a lasting, close relationship between Iraq and the United States that benefits our friends as much as it does us.

Whatever your views on the subject--and chances are they differ from mine significantly--you’ll find the Spiegel article to be a good, long read. It’s worth the time and it’s hard to come up with anything other than respect for so many of the men and women serving in Iraq. These are people I would be proud to call friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

H/T Instapundit.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dr. Bill is Not a Martial Artist

De Doc isn’t a martial artist--or so I’ve heard. A few weeks ago, when I sat in on a small class learning close quarters longsword fencing and grappling techniques from the man, I feel certain that the attendees would have disagreed.

Swordplay as an actual martial art (that is, a fighting technique suitable for combat--a technique that teaches you to kill or disable your enemy) has little in common with the tremendously choreographed stuff seen in movies or on stage. The close fighting techniques of our ancestors were, if this class is representative, brutal, direct, and as well-considered as the Far Eastern disciplines that most people think of when the topic of martial arts pops up.

Most of the students in the class appeared to be students of some other art and it shows in how they looked for openings and moves after closing with their partners; about the consideration they showed to what happens if they lost their weapons. It was a group of very bright people learning a new way to extend their martial skills, understanding that the weakness of a martial art is that they work beautifully until you’re faced with someone who doesn’t follow your script. Practice and preparation requires an comprehension of the ways bodies move, the way movement flows, and how issues of balance are going to effect the combat.

The longsword class isn’t just about knowing which end of the sword is pointy. The grapples flow into locks and throws, some of the techniques looking as if they would result at very least in an opponents broken bones and popped tendons. Which is why it’s so fun to watch.

Read the Rest...

Nicely Done


For those who can’t see the embedded object, click here.

As rap, I won’t comment on its value, but let me tell you: that’s my kind of secular sermon. Can I get an amen?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

All I Ask is a Little Seriousness

This election cycle saw candidates get off to an early start in campaigning. I decided that I would (mostly) ignore the debates and campaigning until later in the year simply because I didn’t want to devote the next year and a half of my life to obsessing about presidential politics. When the coverage descends into the absurd, though, how can you ignore it?

Truly, absurd is the only way to describe this:

Senator Clinton, are you black enough?

The question usually aimed at her darker opponent from Chicago triggered a burst of laughter from Hillary Rodham Clinton. She recovered from the barb and proceeded by not answering it.

This campaign moment occurred Thursday before the Las Vegas convention crowd of the National Association of Black Journalists. CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux pinned back the former First Lady to explain how she could “sustain black support “ while running against an African-American. Ironically, thanks to Sen. Barack Obama’s mixed white and Kenyan parentage and campaign mischief, it is he who usually gets to field the “black enough” question.

“Are you black enough” is offensive when it’s aimed at Obama; it’s downright silly when it’s sent Clinton’s way. Suzanne Malveaux should feel ashamed for asking a question that lowers the level of debate even further--and, it’s to Clinton’s credit that she sidestepped the idiocy.

A fair pair of questions would be, “Why should black Americans vote for you? What will you do to address issues of concern to the majority of blacks who worry about educational opportunities, jobs, and unfairly enforced drug laws?” Blacks in America aren’t one solid voting block beholden to those issues, of course, but ignoring the fact that those issues are of serious concern to many wouldn’t indicate a very serious mind.

Concern with those issues doesn’t mean that a candidate is “black enough” for the job, though, it means that he or she has given serious thought to the problems. I’m never going to ask if a candidate is white, blue-eyed, or male enough for the job; I am going to continue to ask if they act like adults on the issues that are most important to me. The person that I believe has addressed those issues (national security, entitlement reform, tax policy, for instance) the best will be the person that I vote for regardless of their skin tone, hair color, religious affiliation, party affiliation, or shoe size.

The question isn’t: “Are you black enough?” The question is: “Are you good enough?”

Update: Say Anything Blog has a similar response. As does this cat.

Nigeria Continues to Drift (Update)

Offered without comment from the Beeb.

Eighteen men have been remanded in prison following their arrest for alleged sodomy in northern Nigeria, the state-owned news agency, Nan, reports.
The men were arrested in a hotel in north-eastern Bauchi State, which is governed by the Islamic Sharia law.

The Sharia punishment for sodomy is death by stoning.

The men, reportedly wearing women’s clothes, are said to have gone to Bauchi town from neighbouring states to celebrate a “gay wedding”.

Read the rest here.

Update: More Nigerian drift.

Have You Seen Joan’s Dog?

Makes me want to watch The Road Warrior.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Damn, We’re Cool

Looking for “depressing Russian hymns?” Then you’re coming here, baby.

Not for any good reason, mind, but it’s still a great badge of honor. My parents can be proud now.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Miracle Loans & Quality Mitsubishi: Slimy Nighttime Ad

I just got home from seeing Hot Rod, an unevenly humorous waste of time with some absolutely hilarious pratfalls, to find that darling girl left the TV on. While I let the puppy out, I glanced over at the TV to see an ad for Quality Mitsubishi and MiracleLoans.net--and it was worse than the typical nighttime ad. For a bar set that low, it was amazing how easily this ad crawled its way under the typical dross, claiming an extra special trashiness all its own.

Now the worst late night ads are the ones that urge lonely folks to call in and meet either fake-breasted bad actresses or super-studly gay men who like the type of people whose social skills don’t extend far beyond their own couches. This car lot ad gave those a run for their money, though.

Not only did it have an irritating spokesman and a bad script, but midway through the ad the spokesman said something along these lines: “Don’t buy a piece of *bleep* just because you feel you don’t have a choice.” Who runs an ad that has a built in bleep? That’s a pathetic cry for attention on the order of calling one of those fake-breasted “yes girls” who are ready to party 24/7 with whomever ponies up the credit card for some naughty phone talk.

Heading over to the MiracleLoans.net site, it doesn’t get any better. Ugly site, designed for brute force conversion of people in search of someone who finances the un-financeable. It promises loans to absolutely everyone. Sort of.

The big banner at the top of the page loudly proclaims “100% Approval.* The little asterisk next to it refers to the catch. The catch is this: “Guaranteed financing for those who meet minimum requirements. W.A.C. & W.A.D.”

Guaranteed financing. 100% Approval. If you meet minimum requirements. If they approve your credit. If you have an acceptable down payment. More simply: 100% approval for everyone we approve (which won’t actually be everyone).

Don’t get me wrong: that’s just good sense. A financial institution wouldn’t make much money lending money to people who are really bad risks. Still, it’s a tad misleading and undeniably crass--which means the ad is perfectly suited to the site, I suppose. And, no, I don’t mean that in the nicest possible way.

I suppose that if you live in Denver, though, the absolute worst of the late night ads (without resorting to bleeped out language) has to be Frank Azar’s “Strong Arm” ads. Indeed, if you look through the Urban Dictionary, you’ll even find a couple references to him under “Ambulance Chaser.”

None of which changes the fact that Tiger Woods is amazing. Truly a phenomenal talent.

I’ll Go Ahead and Answer That One

“Do you think Medicare is socialized medicine?” Clinton asked...

Yes. If, as the American Heritage Dictionary defines it, we accept “socialized” to mean “To place under government or group ownership or control”, then it would be hard to call Medicare anything other than socialized medicine. It’s tax payer funded health care for a subset of the citizenry.

I’m not sure why she would suggest that it isn’t socialized medicine, although I do understand why she would want to do so. Socialized is a dirty word to many Americans and if they think something is “socialist”, they aren’t particularly likely to support it not least because “socialized” programs tend to require tax increases. Hillary Clinton is not a dumb woman; she knows precisely what it is that any universal health care program would entail. Government mandated coverage means either government subsidies or tax credits for employers (which amount quite nearly to the same thing) and tax increases for coverage of the unemployed--and that comes along with a heavy dose of new government regulations on the health care industry.

Now, whether that is all worthwhile or not is another debate. There isn’t any room for discussing whether any true universal health care system is “socialized medicine” or not, though. It is, it will be, and to suggest otherwise is a bit of a dodge.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Women Aren’t Handicapped. They’re Otherly Abled.

The idea of making car designers acknowledge women’s needs, wants, and differences in automotive preferences seems like good business sense. In one way, I applaud GM for taking the step of dressing their designers in drag--putting them in high heels, giving them fabulous nails, stuff of that nature--to give them a taste of how their truck lines work (or not) for the ladies amongst us. All well and good.

This description from The Car Connection via Autoblog cracks me up, though:

They wore high-heels, fake press-on nails and garbage bag skirts to simulate what The Car Connection refers to as “female handicaps” (are we really calling them that?) while operating various features of their new ‘utes. The result was at least three features on GM’s new SUVs that wouldn’t have been there otherwise: retractable running boards for easier entry/exit in a skirt, a larger center console that can hold a purse and an easier to operate rear lift gate.

“Female handicaps.”

Yeah, I’m betting someone out there is mighty cranky about that little slip…

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Say a Prayer for the Miners

Save a prayer for those miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine. The job they do--underground mining--is dirty and more dangerous than most people know; it’s a tribute to the technology and laws in place in America that we see so few deaths and serious injuries every year. If you doubt that, look at China’s continuing safety problems.

The job they do is also vital to all of us (no matter what the anti-fossil fuel crowd might have you believe). The coal that they mine isn’t just the impetus behind America’s economy, literally fueling our industries, but also ensures that our hospitals and homes are safely lit at night, that factories run, and that our systems of communication are always ready for any need or want. Throughout much of the world, that kind of access to energy is a dream and an unquestionable luxury.

I had hoped that they would have found a path to those miners last night, but rescue operations take time. Making poor decisions and failing to plan well only exposes others to extreme risk. I feel sure that Murray Energy, owners of the mine, will do their best to ensure the safety of both the rescue crews and the miners--who, hopefully, weren’t seriously injured in the mine collapse and found themselves near enough to the self rescuers that they have enough air and water to last until the crews can reach them.

Monday, August 06, 2007

For the Record

I wanted to suggest Mark Lanegan, Twilight Singers, 16 Horsepower, Woven Hand, Noir Desir, Concrete Blond, Placebo, The Police, Rachid Taha, Sam Cook, The Fall, Sisters of Mercy, Talk Talk, Belly, My Bloody Valentine, Pink Floyd, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bad Religion, Yaz, David Bowie, Grant Lee Buffalo, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Chris Whitley, Daniel Lanois, Erasure, Freakwater, and probably a few dozen more.

But I held myself back.

Now, if y’all are even a little bit intrigued, go make your own suggestions.

Pardon the Language (Updated)

Pardon my language, but Scott Thomas Beauchamp fucked The New Republic. Although it would be easy to argue that TNR put themselves in this situation by failing to properly vet stories that were going to attract a whole lot of skepticism. It’s a good argument, and it carries some truth, but it doesn’t change the fact that Beauchamp fucked TNR.

See, they trusted him when they ran the stories (because, yes, it made good copy and it reinforced their beliefs about the war in Iraq), and they supported him when he came under scrutiny, and they issued statements supporting the details of his writing while he continued to ensure them that, yes, it was all the truth. Pretty much. Then Beauchamp (which, is that pronounced “Beechum"--and does anyone else know why I’m asking that question?) turned around and stabbed them in their literary heart by admitting to having falsified the stories.

Has anyone found the first story claiming that he was forced or that his newly sworn statement was coerced in some way? This whole tale is just begging for a conspiracy theory ending.

You know who else Beauchamp fucked? His fellow soldiers, all the soldiers who have served with honor, and all the people who believed his BS.

Now, here’s where I vent. Beauchamp pisses me off like you wouldn’t believe. This is on the same level of dishonor as false accusations of rape, child abuse, and racism. There is enough bad in the world that you shouldn’t have to make up horrors in hopes of aggrandizing yourself or building a new writing career. And when you throw fellow troops under the bus --inventing stories that make them look like bloodthirsty assholes--to make a few bucks, you’re screwing a group of people that has already managed to shoulder more than their share of bad PR, poor pay, and shitty working conditions. Not, of course, to mention the grave potential of extreme bodily harm, the family sacrifices that our troops make, and those damned glasses they issue in basic training.

So, if all this talk of recanting pretty much the totality of those stories turns out to be true, here’s hoping that Beauchamp pays a steep price for his lies.

As Cadilac Tight points out, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t more of a price to pay, too.

I don’t see how this wouldn’t be a disastrous amount of egg (a resignation worthy amount, actually) for Franklin Foer, either. And my god, what a blow for TNR’s credibility. First Stephen Glass, now Scott Thomas Beauchamp.

And, lastly, Jeff G has thoughts on the subject along with a lot of great links. And Michelle Malkin has great graphics. Baldilocks has a ton of responses to this news. And she’s kind enough to clean up my language for me a bit. Or a lot.

Sorry about that.

Update: Doc Melissa Clouthier has a response, too.

Sympathy & Prayers

This morning, my prayers and sympathy go out to long time blogging friend, Patrick, who lost his grandmother this weekend. From what he has written she had a good--and very full--life.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

News You Can’t Use

That’s right: news, stories, facts, and thoughts that are entirely useless to you.

Because I can.

  1. Mine is bigger than yours. Probably. The store of mp3s on my laptop is over 10 gigs--decidedly more than the 3 gig average reported by market analysis firm comScore. Keep in mind that I have even larger stores on my home desktop and my work desktop and none of the computers has all of the mp3s contained on the others.
  2. Because White Isn’t, You Know, Always White. In the UK, “positive” action (read “"affirmative action” ) had negative effects on the job prospects of one non-Welsh, Scottish, or Irish white woman. Apparently, being black, Indian, Asian, Scottish white, Welsh white, or Irish white would have allowed her to get the job of her dreams; but her skin color combined with her shocking Englishness conspired to keep her from the government job for which she was otherwise well qualified. While this doesn’t sit right and, in mind, continues to work to keep people artificially separated by their skin colors, I would like to note something: at least they admit something that American’s don’t seem to be able to admit. That is, a person actually can be white and disadvantaged. Opportunity and advantage are not solely functions of racial heritage--something that might surprise some people on American campuses.
  3. Satan’s Gonna Getcha. Or Maybe It’s Just the Iranian Secret Police. Iranian officials, to protect people from the Satanic nature of rock music, arrested people who attended a concert. Which seems a bit extreme to me. Unless it was a Celine Dion concert, in which case they have my full support. Update: “Raise Your Devil Horns in Solidarity!” Indeedeheh.
  4. Fake Steve Has Been Outed. Which is sort of a downer; I was hoping his identity would be hidden for quite a bit longer. I’m not, however, surprised that he’s a pro. The writing of Fake Steve Jobs’ Diary was always a few notches above the typical blog and tremendously insightful. So sad.

Look for more useless news soon along with a guide to learning to love Robert Heinlein and a report from a martial arts event that I attended (somewhat) recently.

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