Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New York's Crime Reduction Myth: The Police Have Been Massaging the Numbers

One of the most infuriating public policy myths is the putative success of the Manhattan Institute's zero tolerance broken windows theory of policing. "All hail Giuliani for drastically reducing crime in New York by getting rid of those squeejee men evildoers," goes the myth. Who cares if that entails turning New York into a racist police state. Who care if other big cities with more humane policing techniques saw similar crime drops during the 90s boom. At least Giuliani and Bloomberg got rid of crime.

Or not. It turns out they've been massaging the numbers.

This excellent Voice expose reveals that there is strong evidence that the police departments of Bloomberg (and likely Giuliani before him) have been underreporting thefts (which make up the vast majority of crimes in the city, thus lowering the overall numbers year after year). Cooking the books on thefts (classifying them as "lost property") suggests that those same police are not to be trusted when it comes to their reporting of violent crimes.

In other words, the steadily declining crime statistics are total bullshit.

As Stephen Mastrofski, director of the Administration of Justice Program at George Mason University, said to the Voice, "The problem is that when you develop a system (like CompStat) that applies a lot of pressure on people to accomplish something that is difficult, some people (and sometimes quite a few) will take the easy route to show that they are meeting the new performance expectation. Same with body counts in the military in time of war. And cooking the books in the private sector."

NYPD Confidential reports that even aside from cooking the books, Bloomberg is using a crime index that the FBI itself has discredited, since "the old crime index gave equal weight to such non-violent crimes as burglary or larceny as to murder, assault, rape and robbery. The FBI report says that the non-violent category of larceny – theft – makes up 59.4% of all reported crime and 'the sheer volume of those offenses overshadows more serious but less frequently committed offenses' such as rape and murder."

The myth of New York being the country's safest large city is what makes New Yorkers swallow practices that would otherwise make them retch. Practices like infiltration of political groups, racial profiling, and omnipresent videotaping of every little step you take.

And now the evidence is clear: those crime reduction myths are nothing more than Giuliani/Bloomberg propaganda.


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Weld out.

Well, would you hire this man to be gov?

Trump mulling Albany run, say GOP sources

Republican sources said The Donald - who in 1999 toyed with the idea of running for the White House on the Reform Party line - is mulling a bid to persuade New Yorkers to hire him as their next governor.

Senate GOP leader Joseph Bruno tantalized reporters yesterday by declaring a wealthy mystery candidate is "thinking" about seeking the party's backing to replace Gov. Pataki.



Weld's Role at College Still Troubles Some in G.O.P.

Some New York Republican leaders are increasingly concerned that William F. Weld, a top Republican candidate for governor in 2006, could ultimately founder because of his past leadership of a bankrupt Kentucky college.

Several party leaders, including some who are influential in vote-rich counties, said that they were troubled by new revelations about his 10 months as chief executive of Decker College.


It doesn't really matter which one runs because Eliot Spitzer will filet either like a bluefish, but this is about as obvious as it gets: the state GOP wants Weld out and self-financed-rich-famous-flop-hair in. And most of all they want Weld out.

If only the Republican party were this pathetic in the rest of the country.



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Friday, December 30, 2005

THE BEST OF LEFT BEHINDS 2005

Without further ado, our absurdly premature (we only started a month ago, remember) top ten moments of 2005:

1) Left Behinds Gets Spanked
Our greatest honor of the year was a takedown in the very popular MILBlogging.com, where the man behind the milblogs (a man who I had called "unnecessary and annoying" in a previous post) noted graciously that LB "looks like some third-grade school project written by some Marilyn Manson-looking blogger named Solomon Grundy, a childhood friend of Cindy Sheehan, and a few other contributors." And that was just in his first paragraph. But by the end of the bashing we were not just friends, we were lovers.

2) Ten Worst Americans
Our group effort at coming up with the ten worst Americans is by far our most heavily trafficked page. It's linked on many other sites as an example of "extreme leftist propaganda", but I'm just happy to be getting the word out about number two on the list.

3) Tai Shan in Trouble
A neurotic baby panda-celebrity prompts a newly Lacanian Alexander Hamilton to ask, "what would happen to your ego-image if every time you got close enough to examine your reflection it was replaced by a bunch of camera-wielding tourists?"


4) V for Vendetta
AH laments the casting of the talentless Natalie Portman in the film adaptation of his favorite comic of all time, V for Vendetta, to which someone named "Sak" sassily retorts "Unless you believe that, insulting people like that makes you radical or something, in which case i regret to inform you that you 've failed. To be respected at the very least." Another Nataliac sums it up with "you're just stupid."

5) What's Next For Intelligent Design
The court decision prohibiting Intelligent Design from being taught in a Pennsylvania school inspires AH to speculate on ID's daring next moves.

6) Christmas: Pungent Santa Fart?
I get into the Christmas spirit. The delightfully Jewish AH asserts that Jesus was batshit crazy, prompting me to ask what you were all thinking: "Are you trying to murder Jesus?

7) Brokeback Desert
Continuing our quest to drive traffic by incorporating Brokeback Mountain into all our post titles, AH discusses a recently unearthed ancient Eqyptian painting that may be of two lovers or two twins or two twins who were lovers (Akbar and Jeff?), prompting Neda Cole to tell the story of Horus and Set, an uncle and nephew in the Egyptian pantheon who were on-again off-again lovers. You'll never look at sandwiches the same again. Trust.

8) Conversations I an Atheist Jew Had With God About How Jesus Was Crazy and A Big Jerk, Part II
As part of an ongoing series, AH continues in his quest to, in fact, murder Jesus.

9) Bi Shepherds Not Gay Cowboys
On our second-most popular page, I deconstruct the annoying meme of calling the protaganists in Brokeback Mountain "gay cowboys," when in fact they were bi shepherds. As I said, "I used to work on a cattle ranch, and the distinctive thing about cowboys is that they work with cows, not sheep." Yes, I'm a pedantic little fuck sometimes.

10) Racism and the Transit Strike
Getting all serious, I discuss the gulf between how black and white New Yorkers viewed the recent transit strike. This post is actually more indicative of Left Behinds' bread and butter, but the more lighthearted posts make the medicine go down.


Wow, what a year. What a year. Thanks for taking this long trip down memory lane with us. It's been real.



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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Conversations I, an Atheist Jew, Had With God About How Jesus Was Crazy and a Big Jerk, Part II

God: How you been? Having a good Hanukkah? Or Chanuka? Or whatever?

Me: I’m not really observant, you know?

God: Yeah, I know.

Me:

God: I got another story I like.

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.

"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me." [Mark 14: 3–7]


So everybody’s supposed to sell everything and give it to the poor, except when Jesus feels a little stinky. Cause Jesus needs to be prettied up before he’s nailed up.

Me: Do you have a point with all this, or are you just taking cheap shots? Because I’m supposed to be working.

God: So go do it. Did I ask you to imagine Me? I’ve got all the time in the world, you can come back and talk to me or any of the other voices in your head later.

Me: You don’t have to be so pissy.

God: I’ll tell you this much: you Jews really did kill him. I mean, Pilate was a sadistic bastard and might have done it anyway, if he’d noticed Jesus. But he didn’t. Jesus had fuck-all to do with him. I mean, he even told people to be good little boys and girls and pay their taxes. Check it out:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on." [Mark 12:41–44]


Sounds good, right? I’m all for progressive taxation, and, you know, bully for that woman and her penny. But paying your taxes ain’t no mitzvah, Jack, not even if you’re poor.

Me: My name’s not Jack. Try not to get too carried away with your colloquialisms.

God: Oh, look who doesn’t want to play straight man again.

[Next time: Jesus boosts a ride!]

(Legitimate, non-flippant commentary here and here.)

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Anyone have any idea why Tom Suozzi is doing this?

SPITZER'S FAR AHEAD WITH DEMS

The Siena College Research Institute survey of likely Democratic voters found Spitzer, his party's only announced candidate for governor, with a whopping 64 percentage point lead over Suozzi, beating him 72-8 percent in a statewide tally.

Suozzi, who has told associates he plans to challenge Spitzer, showed some strength among suburban voters, garnering 24 percent to Spitzer's 56 percent.

But he did poorly in New York City, where he was beaten by Spitzer, 72 to 6 percent, and upstate, where he was trailing, 79-3 percent.


Is there any reason he can't move into Peter King's district to challenge him for that seat? I'd love for him to do that. He's a Democrat who can win in Nassau County. Why is he being wasted in a truly quixotic primary like this?

The rest of the poll holds moderately bad news for those of us who like Mark Green despite his smarminess and had hoped he might someday hold a public office higher than NYC kvetcher-in-chief. But a big chunk of Democrats haven't made up their minds yet.

In the race for the nomination for Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo has a large lead, with 37 percent of Democrats supporting him. Mark Green has the support of 20 percent of Democrats. Denise O’Donnell, Richard Brodsky, Charlie King, and Sean Maloney combined garner the support of only 10 percent of Democrats,” Caruso said. “While Cuomo has the early lead – including a small lead in New York City and large leads in the suburbs and upstate – 35 percent of Democrats have yet to choose a favorite in a race that has gotten very little public attention."


That's from the original poll press release, here. I think Fredric U. Dicker, State Editor for the New York Post (that has to be a made-up name, no?), may have spent as much as a whole half hour cribbing his article from it.

(Okay, that was harsh and unnecessary. Fredric U. Dicker is probably a nice guy and good at his job.)

Update:
From the comments, SG's reasons for never forgiving Mark Green after all.
For tacking hard to the right because he thought it was the only way to win, thereby undoing a whole lifetime of progressive accomplishments, which were the only reason he had support in the first place. He was not well served by whoever convinced him he needed to become a DLC New Dem, because it alienated his base. He had the chance to be a Bobby Kennedy candidate, and instead he tried to be a Bill Clinton candidate (which would never work for a bronzed elitist like him, because, for one thing, he has none of Clinton's charm, which makes the "end to welfare as we know it" talk go down so much more smoothly).

Then there was the whole problem of racist campaigning. I quit the campaign right before all that went down, because I didn't like some of the other things we had been doing.

For the record, Green's claim that those were independent supporters who had nothing to do with the campaign is a complete lie. My friends on the staff told me that not only had they vetted the racist lit, there were even some staffers in Staten Island and south Brooklyn distributing it with them. They thought they'd be able to get away with it because it was led by an outside group.

If Green hadn't alienated his black base (this is the man who sued the Giuliani regime for racial profiling, years before any other politicians were talking about it!), he could have recovered from the racist lit debacle. His real problem was the centrist campaign he decided to run.

Basically, the campaign staff had the mindset of "do anything to win, because Mark will be a progressive Mayor in office." Since I worked on economic policy, I wasn't so sure about that.




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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Left Behinds Gets Spanked By Veteran of the War in Afghanistan!

I am deeply humbled to report that JP, the "annoying and unnecessary" guy behind MILBlogging.com, has entertainingly attacked Left Behinds, prompted by a couple offhand comments I made earlier today.

He begins by saying that Left Behinds "looks like some third-grade school project written by some Marilyn Manson-looking blogger named Solomon Grundy, a childhood friend of Cindy Sheehan, and a few other contributors." Then he undoes his trousers and remarks that "Unless you’re a Hillary Duff fan blogging about your newest Hillary Duff makeup kit or poster, or you like to blog about pretty flowers, nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to believe you purposely chose that color for your blog."

Here's my reply

HA! We only started blogging a couple weeks ago, so it's such an honor to already be flamed by one of the big boys. Spank me harder, daddy!

Sorry to get your knickers in a twist by calling you "unnecessary and annoying," but your post on MSM bias was kinda strident and predictable. If you had been half as viciously clever there as you were when verbally spanking me, it would have been much more entertaining. But everybody's allowed an off day. :)

For the record, the hot pink is meant to be a campy reappropriation of "pinko" and "fag." Oh and, duh, we never deleted any comments. We only get like 130 uniques a day (remember, we're a brand new blog), so we're grateful for whatever feedback we get! Someone deleted their own comment on the milblog post. No hard feelings, even though my bright pink left buttcheek still stings! That's quite a slap you've got, soldier. But I kinda enjoyed it.



and here's his gracious reply:

Solomon, if your claim to blog-stardom is receiving a roast by me, then, you must be doing something wrong. Nice call, though. Your comment even got a laugh out of me. Usually I would be preparing something more like: "I tried swallowing my tongue while watching Harry Potter with my 4-year old", but I've leave it alone (for now). Thanks for not reading too much into my blog though: it's funny, you're one of the first writers to take a beating, and be gracious about it. Unfortunate, I was hoping to get a good battle of the wits going. Oh well, thanks for commenting.


That was the healthiest romance I've had all year!


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The Spazz Wheelchair

Disabled people in the UK are understandably offended by the launch of The Spazz Wheelchair by American wheelchair manufacturer Colours in Motion. The company apparently claims that Spazz is synomynous with 'cool' and 'wild' in the US, while here in the UK its a pretty rude derogatory term for a disabled person, a vernacular derivitive of 'spastic'.

Amazed that the company didn't think to do a little market research before the product's UK launch, disabled consumers were even more flabbergasted to read the advertising blurb: Have you been dreaming of that unique custom wheelchair that would not cost you an arm and a leg?

I kid you not.

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Military Blogs

Christmas distracted me from writing about this very good article by David Ignatius about milblogs.


There are some haunting images of the Iraqi people. A blogger named Michael, who spends his days dodging roadside bombs in Ramadi, sees an Iraqi man driving a tractor and wearing a New York Yankees cap. "I wondered if he hated the Red Sox," he writes. The author of "Sisyphus Today" describes moving with a speeding convoy when he sees a little Iraqi boy "crying at the top of his lungs" beside the road and realizes that the boy is alone and afraid. "I wanted to stop, in my mind the risk was minimal, but I couldn't stop the convoy. Where would I have taken the boy anyway? I can only say 'stop' and 'hello' in Arabic. So we drove on past."



Here is another good survey of the phenomenon, from the May issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. It includes the following interesting story:

In August 2004, a twenty-eight-year-old Army infantryman named Colby Buzzell, writing anonymously under the handle CBFTW (the last three letters stand for, alternately, “fuck the war” or “fuck the world”), posted his account of a vicious firefight with insurgents on his blog, My War. “We were driving there on that main street when all of a sudden all hell came down all around on us. I was like, this is it, I’m going to die. I cannot put into words how scared I was.” The battle received scant media attention, and the Pentagon played down the extent to which Buzzell’s brigade had even been involved in the fighting — crediting Iraqi security forces with the victory. Days later, though, a report in the Tacoma, Washington, News Tribune, which covers Buzzell’s Fort Lewis-based detachment, noted the discrepancy between Buzzell’s version and the Pentagon’s. This drew attention to Buzzell’s blog, and soon his officers learned his identity. Buzzell was later briefly confined to base, an experience he details in his forthcoming book, My War: Killing Time in Iraq, due out in October.



This blogger complains that the CJR article omits the fact that most milblogs are set up to expressly contradict the MSM's portrayal of the war. I disagree, since the article notes that "the coverage coming out of Iraq today doesn’t portray the grunts in the same deeply personal light. It is a different era, and most journalists have never served in the military and have only a passing acquaintance with the worlds that most soldiers come from." However, he's right that a lot of soldiers seem to resent the MSM portayal of the war. There's some political diversity among milbloggers, but they tend to be pro-war (which makes sense).

Some of the prose is very purple in some of the most popular blogs at sites like MILBlogging, but there's some really great stuff, too (btw, if you go to MILblogging, just ignore the guy who runs it and his partisan ranting about "the liberal lunatic MSM" and go directly to the blogs-- what he doesn't realize is that he's as annoying and unnecessary as any of the dumb intermediaries on Fox or CNN).

One good post I just read here has some thoughts about Iraq society as he has witnessed it, as well as some great photos:




Iraqi School Teacher: We know so little about these people and they so little about us





Line Was Drawn--No one expected lines like these in a place like Baquba



Yeah, he is biased and is making an argument with his photos, but it's still fascinating to see amateur dispatches from the front lines.



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Settlement

So that’s over. The MTA dropped its pension demands (which were what made the talks fall apart) and the union accepted a small portion of the cost of health insurance. The union stays intact, the trains keep running. Have we all stopped caring about this already?

I hope not. I hope it matters to the city in the long run that its most radical union kicked its most corrupt public agency in the teeth. I hope we end up with transparency at the MTA and a revision of the Taylor Law to prevent public agencies from dragging their feet. (One current tactic of public agencies is to drag out negotiations, knowing unions are prohibited from striking and workers get no raises until the new contract is signed.) But I guess I don’t really believe we will.



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Dogs and Water


Comics are often compared to movies, which is reasonable. Among other things, they often suffer from a main fault of many movies: while the story may be interesting, or the visual style interesting, it is very rare to find an artist or moviemaker with an innovative visual style that fits an innovative story.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have any idea what’s going on in Anders Nilsen’s Dogs and Water. The protagonist wanders around with his teddy bear in what appears to be a no-man’s-land in a war zone (possibly Afghanistan), running with wild dogs from time to time, and dreaming about being adrift in a lifeboat without a paddle. (Either that, or he’s adrift in a lifeboat and hallucinating about wandering through a war zone.) The human figures, deer, and dogs are very simply drawn and set in flat, featureless landscapes; Nilsen creates a floating, hallucinatory feeling with the simple device of eliminating the border of the single panel, allowing each scene of action to dissolve at its edges into the white space of the rest of the page.

I dig it.

One preview below.



D&W1

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Why Gay Marriage Should Not Be at the Top of the Gay Rights Agenda

Why am I ambivalent about this new ostensible victory in California, where one of the two groups aiming to put an anti-equal-marriage initiative on the 2006 ballot in California has abandoned the effort?

I include a very short essay below about why I don't think marriage should be at the top of the gay rights agenda. In a nutshell, I think we should be fighting for health care and other rights for all individuals no matter what their lifestyles are, rather than privileging married folks above all others.


After the jump, a one-page pamphlet I wrote for a group called Queer Fist a year and a half ago.



The Identical Goals of All Major Gay Rights Organizations


“The Human Rights Campaign and the Log Cabin Republicans are allied organizations that are working side by side in the fight for equality. As such, we undertake many joint projects, such as anti-Federal Marriage Amendment media campaigns, that are jointly funded and directed.”

J. Smith
Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
Senior Communications Manager



“First, the Log Cabin Republicans and the Human Rights Campaign have worked side by side in a bipartisan campaign to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, through joint sponsorship of print ads. Second, we have co-sponsored their national dinner and they have co-sponsored our national convention.”

Christopher R. Barron
Log Cabin Republicans (LCR)
Political Director



Are you surprised that the HRC describes itself as an “allied organization” of the LCR? What is most surprising is that other gay rights organizations are not as forthright about the fundamental goals and assumptions they share with the right-wing LCR.

In the spectrum of the national gay rights groups, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) is generally considered progressive, the HRC centrist, and the LCR right wing. Yet, in important ways, all of them share the same values. These and other groups fight for gay assimilation into institutions like marriage and the military, even though many people of various political persuasions have deep problems with such institutions. These groups each place a glittery pink smiley face onto assimilationist politics.

The latest war-cry of the HRC concerns the unfairness of the fact that “more than 1,100 federal benefits and protections of marriage” are extended to straight couples but not to gay couples. This complaint ignores the fact that everyone deserves those rights. It ignores the fundamental unfairness and inequality of the way marriage is privileged in the U.S. over all other lifestyle choices (including singledom, queer unions of various levels of exclusivity, and various informal arrangements not sanctioned by the state, many of which are most common in communities of color).

Queers have an opportunity to champion fundamentally new lifestyle possibilities that could set new standards of fairness and equality. These queer lifestyles could avoid and challenge the deep-rooted problems of institutions like marriage. Some queers, in groups or as individuals, do fight for these radical ways of living. Yet every single one of the major gay rights organizations advocates for our assimilation into preexisting institutions rife with problems that they ignore and accept.


It is fitting that the HRC describes itself as allied with the LCR, since their visions for a better world are fundamentally identical and fundamentally flawed.



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What I do all day

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are, of course, the co-creators of “The Office” and “Extras.” I didn’t know until recently, when the Guardian started posting up podcasts, that for the past few years they’ve also been hosting a weekly radio show, hours and hours of which are archived online. The true genius of that show is their phlegmatic, Manchester-born producer, Karl. Show archives here, and a personal favorite sample clip here (popups required).



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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Liberals Really Are Getting Paranoid


"I'm a 57-year-old disabled senior who subsists on $900 a month, so you can see I'm a clear terror threat, but I've been to three peace marches and call in to a lot of radio shows, and I went to see Cindy Sheehan speak this summer, so I'm pretty sure I'm under surveillance, and I just don't know what to do about it."
- A caller on the Mike Malloy show on Air America just now

OK, this NSA surveillance thing has made everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman extremely paranoid. Mike Malloy's open-ended call-in had four callers sincerely rambling about how the government is spying on them. The cutest was a Puerto Rican 67-year-old who claims government agents follow her in the supermarket because she stood on the sidelines of a peace march once, where "they took my photograph, and that was it, I was on the list." Malloy ended his show saying "Take care and watch your back."

C'mon, now. The left is starting to sound as wacky as Rush listeners who rant hysterically about "liberal conspiracies" and all those other chimeras. Yes, the Patriot Act is a disgraceful violation of our civil rights, but do you really think the government has the resources to spy on every granny who croaked out "Amazing Grace" at a peace vigil? There is a kind of mass hysteria among diehard leftists reaffirming each others' paranoia. Let's try to keep our heads on and not sound like the liberal loonies Rush calls us.

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Ten Worst Americans?

All Things Beautiful has a fun game of finding the Ten Worst Americans of all time. It's inspired by the BBC History Magazine's list of the worst Britons of each of the last 5 centuries. So far the suggestions include Jane Fonda, the Rosenbergs, and Chief Justice Warren (for authoring the decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation!). We can do better than that.

Here are some tentative suggestions (culled from my initial thoughts, plus early comments):


1) Barbara Bush
She sits atop this list for (in one way or another) squeezing out of her otherwise airtight cootch the most despicable political dynasty in American history.

2) Iggy [last name redacted]
Not only did he once spit in my face at a party, but after we broke up he actually sank his fangs into my arm because I wouldn't let him steal back these cute jeans he gave me for Christmas! Almost nuff said, except that it should also be noted that he continues to email me.

3) Ayn Rand
For ruining Nietzsche for everyone else and for empowering selfish, greedy, stupid, unattractive teenage boys to be even more insufferably pompous and prone to pseudo-intellectual bloviating, Ayn Rand is both burning in hell and number three on this list.

4) Oprah Winfrey
She has created her own paramilitary of self-pitying, self-obsessed whiners. As Oprah's wealth grew, so did her arrogance. Really, watching daytime television with these hideously tedious women crying about their pissant, bourgeois neuroses AS A REAL WAR GOES ON IN THEIR NAME is enough to turn someone gay.

5) Joe McCarthy
A little known fact: My grandmother went on a date with him (true story) when she was a cute Irish girl trying to land a successful boyfriend and he was a young, ambitious politico who according to her "seemed to be going places"(yeah, like straight to Hell). Apparently he was "very creepy" and "had the nerve to never call me back." He makes the list!

6) Leo Strauss
Karl Rove, William Kristol and this guy in one of my political philosophy seminars two years ago who would never stop talking all call him hero. I rest my case.

7) Woodrow Wilson
He opposed governmental checks and balances, reinstated segregation, jailed Eugene Debs, passed the Sedition Act, and got us into World War I despite having campaigned against doing so. He was, basically, the first George W. Bush.

8) J. Edgar Hoover
This was the man who fired FBI agents because they "looked like truck drivers" or had "pointy heads." If only he had come to terms with his homosexuality or the fact that he was of partial African descent, we might have been spared COINTELPRO.

9) Paris Hilton
The patron saint of shallow, materialistic, ontologically vacant bobbleheads everywhere, Paris exemplifies everything wrong with American culture at this historical moment. She is the root cause of the War on Terror (if you watched The Simple Life, you might be inspired to destroy the empire that spawned her, too).

10) James Buchanan, Roger Taney, and John Calhoun
These defenders of the "positive good, not necessary evil" of slavery precipitated the Civil War. Need I say more?


That skews very heavily toward the 20th century, but not a bad first try. Any other first thoughts?

UPDATE: If you like this list, check out the Best of Left Behinds 2005. We're a brand new blog, so we're really pleased with how much attention we're already getting. Thanks, everybody...

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Britain could teach Turkey a trick or two when it comes to historical airbrushing

If Turkey's to enter the EU and become 'one of us' they will need to learn more civilised ways of sealing shut the door to their skeleton closet.

As bestselling Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk faces yet another court case for his outspoken criticism of the Turkish military, George Monbiot suggests in today's Guardian piece that the Turks might learn from the British approach to covering up historical atrocities.

While Turkey's public attempt to silence its best-known writer puts the massacres he's highlighting (the Armenian genocide in WWI and the killing of Kurds over the last decade) right at the forefront of national debate, we Brits have somehow managed to completely erase our own record of horrendous behaviour from our collective memories without the need of censorship.

Monbiot's two chosen case studies of British brutality that he uses to illustrate the point that the majority of Brits just have no idea of their own past, are shocking in that he's pretty much spot on. He blames patriotic historians and media moguls ('The men who own the papers simply commission the stories they want to read'). Undoubtedly true, but has government hypocrisy and coverup become in its commonness just too boring a cliche to interest even the most Liberal of Lefties?
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NY Times Discovers Narnia Rap a Week and a Half Later

The New York Times writes about "Lazy Sunday" today, proving once again that if you're reading it in the Times, you know it's last week's news (if not last month's). As I already wrote here, I think Andy Samberg's sex appeal is the main force behind the video's popularity, and it's weird the way the critics have been ignoring what a sex symbol he is. Are they threatened by their attraction to him? My friend Damon called him "definitely fugly," but I think he's the most delicious person to get mainstream attention in ages. Maybe it's just me, but I doubt it.

Anyhow, there are some somewhat interesting tidbits in the NY Times article, for instance that it was only approved for broadcast half an hour before airtime. I can't believe how close they were to missing out on the best thing that's happened on that show in years (well, except for Amy Poehler, who is also hilarious).

On Friday, Slate included this essay by Josh Levin about the rap (repeating many points already made by Tom Breihan in the Voice a week ago). Levin compares them to the early Beastie Boys, then says


it's notable that these moments of goofiness and whimsy are what make "Lazy Sunday" work as a rap song, not just a comedy sketch. It's hard to think of a Top 40 hip-hop track that's similarly playful. Eminem's subgenre of silly songs ("The Real Slim Shady," "Ass Like That") all feel calculated—the references to MTV ensure that his videos get a ton of airplay on MTV. Sure, Ludacris co-starred in a video with Mini-Me. But for the most part, whimsy gets buried. The highlight of 50 Cent's oeuvre, for instance, is a sidelong lyric from "21 Questions": "I love you like a fat kid loves cake."

People aren't forwarding this video because it's a parody of what's bad about rap; they're sending it around because it's an ode to what can be great about it. Instead of auguring a new day for SNL, maybe it points up what's missing in mainstream rap—an awareness that it's OK to be goofy. Who needs Biz Markie and Tone-Loc? We've got Samberg and Parns.


As everybody has noted, that beat is sick, and their flow is credible. I disagree that they hearken back to 80s rap like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. Part of what distinguishes them from the Beastie Boys is that their delivery is not jokey and sarcastic. It's straight gangsta, which is absolutely crucial to the humor.

Levin doesn't quite get that what's new about it is that they're not jokesters going "aren't I a goofy white rapper haw haw." Most goofy rappers have goofy delivery (going all the way back to The Fat Boys, Digital Underground and The Fresh Prince). Instead, these guys contrast hard, aggressive flow with really silly, sensitive subjects. I can't think of another rapper doing that (even Eminem has a boyish, non-thug delivery in his humorous songs). It's simultaneously cute, funny, and good. They deliver it straight-faced and gangsta and actually manage to create a good rap track, which makes the underlying humor much, much funnier.



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Monday, December 26, 2005

Update: Caché's meaning


A film critic emailed me about Caché (yes, I was so perplexed that after writing this post about the ending I also emailed one of my favorite critics, and he actually emailed me back).

After seeing Hidden at a public screening at the Toronto Film Festival, a sample size of friends and colleagues revealed that about 2/3rds of the people who saw it completely missed the crucial piece of visual information at the end while the other third was still puzzling out what it meant... Before speculating on the significance of it all, let's fill in the blanks first:
In the final shot, two characters who never shared screen space come together for what appears to be a genial conversation: Autueil and Binoche's son Pierrot and Majid's son. If memory serves, Pierrot exits the school from the left side, curls round a crowd of other classmates, and meets Majid's son in the left part of the frame. Believe it or not, they spend a pretty decent amount of time together. Want visual evidence. Check it out [in the pic above]

Majid's son is the kid facing the camera with his arm outstretched to Pierrot's shoulder.Not to getall Antonioni on you, but here's a closer look:

Okay, so what does it all mean? At first, I was inclined to take the most literal interpretation possible: That the videotapes and letters were some sort of collaboration between the younger generation. But as I get further from the film, this makes less and less sense to me, because I'm inclined to take Majid's son at his word when he tells Auteuil he knows nothing about the tapes. A wise cinephile friend of mine believes that the meeting says more about the future than the past, and something hopeful at that: That the younger generation can come together and take steps to resolve the traumas of the past. This dovetails nicely with the film's political allegory about the state of French-Algerian relations (though you can probably claim the same for their collaboration on the tapes, with the kids unearthing the sins of the father). In any case, I really don't wish to draw any hard conclusions until I see the film a second time. And there's no doubt I'll be seeing this one multiple times. (I'm told also to look sharp during the swim meet scene for further clues...)



I think that Pierrot is behind the videotapes. Either him or another, unnamed, hidden player (who is, perhaps, videotaping the last scene). I'm pretty satisfied that the film has a relatively pat explanation, and it's one of those two. I think.

UPDATE (March 11th):

There has been a lot of discussion, and I'll recap some highlights. Those of us who believe in solving the whodunit basically agree that Pierrot and Majid's son probably conspired (with disagreement over the details).

-A lot of people think that even discussing the question of who sent the tapes misses the point of the movie. But, as Nick writes, "Cache may be an art film, but it adheres to the genre conventions of a whodunnit. The entire narrative structure of the film is designed to induce the audience to solve a mystery."
-After I watched the movie again, it's clear that the swim coach is not Majid's son (though he is Franco-Arab). I also dispelled a couple other confusions: there is no doubt Pierrot and Majid's son talk (very suggestively, IMO) in the last scene; the person watching Anne have lunch with her friend (lover?) is just a random stranger; and Georges does not follow Majid's son in the last scene (he is not in the crowd at all)
-In the flashbacks (of dubious veracity), Majid gets in trouble for slaughtering a cock, the symbol of France. There are many other instances of heavy-handed symbolism.
-Karen says that " I think Georges can't be trusted, even in his dreams. I also think he did something worse than he's confessed to Anne."
-"I believe Georges himself made the tapes. His memories and strong feelings of betrayal haunt him and lead him to create his own nightmare. This is a trick of his inner emotions to confront his superficial life." - Kyeplutten
-"Most if not all of this film is from Georges’ dreams and memories (Are they really so different after all?)" - Dunn
-Nystrom and Keeble write that "the videotapes are not sent by any person in the 'cinematic reality' that the film takes place in, but are in fact placed by Haneke himself. The tapes then act as some sort of meta-cinematic device to instigate the intrigue and questions that follow. "

But those are just highlights from the very thoughtful and lively discussion from readers below.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Conversations I, an Atheist Jew, Had With God About How Jesus Was Crazy and a Big Jerk, Part I

God: First thing you have to understand is that I don’t and never did have a son. Ask me why.

Me: Why?

God: Because I don’t have any genitalia, neither a penis nor a vagina. Ask me why.

Me: Why?

God: Because I don’t fucking exist. [Laughs uproariously for a while, in a mountain-trembling way.] Boy I love that joke.

Me: Yeah. Good one.

God: Woo. The balls on that Jesus, though: there have been plenty of nutjobs who thought they were prophets; a few less but still a fair number who said they were the Messiah; but only one motherfucker ever went around telling everybody he was Me. You’d think he’d be worried people would notice the difference.

Me: How so?

God: You’re a great straight man, you know that?

Me: Thanks, I guess.

God: There’s no punch line coming this time.

Me: Okay.

God: You know what story I really love about Jesus? The one about the fig tree.

Me: I don’t know that one.

God:
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"[Mark 11:12-21]


You get it? The fig tree didn’t have fruit, so he was like “Fine, be that way.” It wasn’t fig season! Do you go around cursing the Farmer’s Market when they don’t have peaches in December?

Me: I don’t really like peaches. The fuzz sets my teeth on edge.

God: Everybody’s a critic.

[Addendum]: For an explanation of what the story of the fig tree is really about (hint: it’s more fucked up than I’m even letting on) go here. I figured if I was going to start this series, I might as well do it on Christmas.

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Would You Blow This Man?

horowitz

Okay, I will give the New York Times some props first: they do great reporting in a lot of areas. But they need to fire their editor in charge of handies and happy endings for right-wing cranks who don’t deserve the time of day. Here's the lede of "Professors' Politics Draw Lawmakers Into the Fray":

While attending a Pennsylvania Republican Party picnic, Jennie Mae Brown bumped into her state representative and started venting.

Jennie Mae Brown told her Pennsylvania state representative, Gibson C. Armstrong, that she felt a physics professor's comments in the classroom about President Bush and Iraq were inappropriate.

"How could this happen?" Ms. Brown asked Representative Gibson C. Armstrong two summers ago, complaining about a physics professor at the York campus of Pennsylvania State University who she said routinely used class time to belittle President Bush and the war in Iraq. As an Air Force veteran, Ms. Brown said she felt the teacher's comments were inappropriate for the classroom.


First of all, what kind of self-important jackass complains to a state legislator about a professor? Instead of, say, the department head? I’m going to take a running wild stab at what the race and class of such a person might be.

25bias.1841

Then the rest of the article deep-throats David Horowitz, giving him quotes like this one:

Mr. Horowitz said he was pushing for legislation only because schools across the country were ignoring their own academic freedom regulations and a founding principle of the American Association of University Professors, which says schools are better equipped to regulate themselves without government intervention.

"It became apparent to me that universities have a problem," he said in an interview. "And nothing was being done about it."


Oooh, how reasonable of him. It became apparent to him, probably in the course of his extensive research. Meanwhile, the opponents of this crack-brained bullshit are characterized thusly:

In a debate with Mr. Horowitz last summer, Russell Jacoby, a history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, portrayed Mr. Horowitz's approach as heavy-handed.


Heavy-handed? Here’s Jacoby's actual characterization of the matter in his own words, in the next sentence:

"It calls for committees or prosecutors to monitor the lectures and assignments of teachers," he said. "This is a sure-fire way to kill free inquiry and whatever abuses come with it."


In other words, he’s saying that Horowitz is calling for speech police. That’s a little more alarming than “heavy-handed.”

The rest of the short piece continues the same crap: minimizing the insanity of Horowitz’s crusade; minimizing the real threat to academic freedom that comes from state legislatures holding hearings on whether they should put into place, say, fines or the threat of firings; and all the while making absolutely no case that there is any systematic problem with political bias on American college campuses. Never once does it mention Horowitz’s truly mad project DiscoverTheNetwork.org, which shows us how all leftists and liberals are part of one giant conspiracy with ties to Al Qaeda. (Not joking. Go over there and browse awhile.)

This is one of those bullshit causes that’s been festering around the edge of our national discourse, just looking for a way into the light. Thanks New York Times.



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New movies: Caché? What does it mean?


When Michael Haneke's Caché ended, I turned to my companion and said "I don't think I got that."

After the jump, I discuss my interpretation. I am hoping that someone somewhere gives me the secret decoder ring.

I think it's an important movie, and the Paris Riots make it almost absurdly timely. If you've seen Code Inconnu, you'll never forget the metro scene. Caché is almost as indelible (though more didactic).

Anyhow, I want to discuss the plot! If you've seen the movie, please read after the jump. MAJOR SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP.


OK, what happened in that last shot?

I did notice the two sons talking, and at first I thought it was a kidnapping, but then they were too friendly. So I thought they were in on it together.

The person I saw it with thought that Majid's son was also the swim coach (who I had noticed was Arab, but didn't pay attention to). She suggested that maybe Georges' son was behind it all after getting the basic info from his coach. That's reading a lot into it -- but as she pointed out, the son's tranformation and surliness is never really explained. Moreover, why else were all those swimming scenes included?

Another thing I realized is that the last shot is set up like the first shot and all the other "voyeur" videos, so maybe it suggests there's a hidden character responsible for the videos.

Basically, I'm confused.

I know that we should accept ambiguity and unresolved questions, but I thought this film was otherwise conventional enough to warrant a certain clarity of interpretation.

What do you think?


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Friday, December 23, 2005

Brokeback Desert



But the explorers stopped in their tracks when the light of their kerosene lamp shined on the wall art in the most sacred chamber.

There, carved in stone, were the images of two men embracing.

Archaeologists were taken aback. It was extremely rare in ancient Egypt for an elite tomb to be shared by two men of apparently equal standing.

And it was most unusual for a couple of the same sex to be depicted locked in an embrace. In other scenes, they are also shown holding hands and nose-kissing, the favored form of kissing in ancient Egypt. What were scholars to make of their intimate relationship? Link


What indeed?

Over the years, the tomb's wall art has been subjected to learned analysis, inspiring considerable speculation. One interpretation is that the two men are brothers, probably identical twins, and this may be the earliest known depiction of twins. Another is that the men had a homosexual relationship, a more recent view that has gained support among gay advocates.

James Allen, an Egyptologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who is not involved in the research, called the twins hypothesis probable and the conjoined-twins idea "an interesting wrinkle." The least likely, he said, was the homosexual-relationship proposal.

Dr. Baines said, "The gay-couple idea is essentially derived from imposing modern preoccupations on ancient materials and not attending to the cultural context."


Well, maybe. But there aren’t a lot of male twins buried together either, are there? I mean, we’ve already heard it’s unusual for men to be buried together at all. Plus, we learn later in the article that

"We don't have a lot of information about how twins were viewed in ancient Egypt or how gay life was perceived," Dr. Allen said.


So why is the gay couple hypothesis unlikely?

This reminds me of the controversy surrounding the Boswell theory about same-sex marriages in premodern Europe, recently supported again by Alan Bray in The Friend. Initial reaction was strongly negative (at least as characterized in this review), but additional research seems to support the theory that, as the review puts it:


For a very long period, formal amatory unions, conjugal, elective and indissoluble, between two members of the same sex were made in Europe, publicly recognised and consecrated in churches through Christian ritual.


knights_kissing

Look, I don’t much care if these Egyptians were gay, twins, conjoined twins, or just one schizophrenic guy. But it sure doesn’t seem like “gay advocates” are the ones slanting their historical assessments based on today’s prejudices.



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Racism and the Transit Strike

There was a huge gulf between the way black and white New Yorkers viewed the transit strike, which goes a long way toward explaining the racialized way the strike was covered in the media (not to mention how it was discussed more privately).

First, check out the racial breakdowns of folks' reactions to the strike:

From the Wednesday, December 21st WNBC/Marist Poll

The blame game

Question Wording: Who is more to blame for the transit strike the transit workers union or the MTA?


Transit Workers Union

MTA

Unsure

NYC residents

40%

39%

21%

White

53%

27%

20%

African American

23%

58%

19%

Latino

34%

49%

17%

Question Wording: Overall, do you favor or oppose the transit workers union decision to strike?


Favor

Oppose

Unsure

NYC residents

38%

55%

7%

White

23%

71%

6%

African American

61%

26%

13%

Latino

44%

52%

4%



This racial gulf is affirmed in this NY1 Poll:

Thirty-five percent of white residents blame the union over the MTA, while only 12 percent of African-Africans and 17 percent of Latinos do.

New Yorkers of different races are also split over whether the union's demands are fair. Less than half - 38 percent - of white New Yorkers do, while nearly three-quarters of both African-American and Latinos find the TWU's proposals are fair. Three times as many white New Yorkers say the union is more to blame for the strike than African-American New Yorkers.

So depending on which poll you believe, whites blamed the union either two or three times as much as blacks did (with Latinos more in the middle). It's like the difference between what Red and Blue states believe to be the facts about Iraq. The views are mutually contradictory, completely irreconcilable. Unfortunately, in the case of the transit strike, white people dominate the media. To read the headlines of any of the dailies this week was to read the venom of white people pissed off at black people.

As a friend of mine emailed,

I think the whole reaction to the transit strike is racist. I've seen these blogs run by white liberal Ivy league NYC newbies who post pictures of black or Latino MTA workers asleep in the ticket booth with captions that deride their "labor." Meanwhile, they are sitting in Madison Ave. offices stealing company bandwidth and time so that they can post stupid thoughts about stupid movies in between checking gawker and craigslist. What happened to worker solidarity?

I blogged earlier about how fucked up and racialized this "lazy transit worker" meme was. It reminds me a lot of Reagan's mythical "welfare queen," the lazy black woman trying to steal "our" money.

It wasn't just individual racist reactions to the strike. It wasn't just Bloomberg's racial code of calling the strikers "thugs." There were substantive issues about race at the heart of the strike.

As train operator Douglas Brown said to NY 1, "This is New Orleans all over again. We're fighting for pension benefits. When this union was Italian and Irish they had a 20-year pension."

The polls suggest that black people got this. The headlines, TV reports, blogs, and anecdotal evidence suggest that white people couldn't have cared less.



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