What Life Was Like

Maudlin showman Glenn Beck has the blogosphere yapping over a new schlocky spiel that features saccharine eulogizing for a mythical lost era of innocence and sweetness. In a popular YouTube clip from last Thursday’s show, Beck is seen tearing up repeatedly while fondly remembering “what life was like” during “simpler times.”

The insidious nature of nostalgia is on full display here, since Beck’s rose-colored glasses help him forget what life was really like back then. Like most sappy trips down memory lane, Beck’s “life back then” is an ache for his childhood days — ie, late ’60s and through the 70s. Which is what makes his sentimental jibberish confusing, amusing, and sad. When we hear Baby Boomers pine for “the good ol’ days,” they usually have the supposedly-desirable days of the ’50s in mind. I think the clip has gained notoriety for portraying as idyllic two of the most controversial decades in US history. This is the era of Vietnam and the My Lai massacre; of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation; CIA-backed dictatorships and assassinations; peak oil in the US and massive inflation; race riots and the slayings of R.F.K. & M.L.K. Jr. We had Watergate, the introduction of AIDS, passage of Roe v. Wade, and the start of the culture wars, etc ad nauseam… For anyone, especially a Republican, to claim (albeit with a hollow recognition that everything “wasn’t perfect’) that this was a “simpler time” is just laughably ignorant.

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It Felt Like a Trap

I’ve spent the last couple of days of soaking up more films by Adam Curtis, one of the best living documentary filmmakers. Last year I watched The Power of Nightmares; earlier this year I saw The Century of the Self; lately I’ve been working through his two most recent: The Trap (2007) and It Felt Like a Kiss (2009).

It Felt Like a Kiss is an experimental film that is a haunting evocation of the essence of life during the Cold War. Its cast features “Rock Hudson, Saddam Hussein, Lee Harvey Oswald, Doris Day, Enos the chimp, and everyone above Level 7 in the CIA.” The excellent soundtrack was composed by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, etc) and performed by the Kronos Quartet, with loads of additional pop tracks from the period. There’s no real semblance of a plot or, unlike Curtis’ other films, any sort of thesis. It Felt Like a Kiss is quintessential Curtis in terms of look: heavy use of montages (including some dizzying works of editing genius) and heavy use of archival footage, proving that Curtis probably spends 8 hours a day poring through old film reels. Yet this is also a new Curtis — less documentarian, more artist. The result is a trippy hour-long exploration of the ironies, oddities, and ambiguities of 3 or 4 of the most pivotal decades in American history. Were the U.S. a psychotic individual, this film would be its deranged subconscious bubbling up, exposing some of the roots of our modern American madness.

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Examined Life

I finally got to see Examined Life, a pseudo-intellectual documentary that aims to make philosophy a tad more accessible. The film uses some of academia’s rock stars to talk shop outside of normal confines, which is interesting, but probably still of limited appeal.


We get, in order:

Cornel West on philosophy
Avital Ronell on alterity
Peter Singer on applied ethics
Kwame Anthony Appiah on cosmopolitanism
Martha Nussbaum on justice
Michael Hardt on revolution
Slavoj Žižek on ecology
Judith Butler on disability

No truly weak spots among the line-up, and all have at least a few stimulating nuggets. See it if you get a chance.

From Busto to Robusto

The video below is part of an upcoming documentary entitled “From Busto to Robusto” — meaning, “from rags to riches” — about young online poker pros. Like all good documentaries, I don’t think you need much of an interest in the ostensible subject matter to be engrossed. The main characters are two Calvin College alums and the one is relatively famous in the poker world (there’s even a theorem named after him). I’ve embedded one version below, but the best copy can be found here — it’s excellent video quality and I’m told the file itself was only 120mbs.

Terrorism & Justice

If just one caucasian Christian kills others because of radical ideology, it’s called “murder.”

If just one caucasian anti-Semite kills others because of radical ideology, it’s called “murder.”

If just one black Muslim kills others because of radical ideology, it’s called “terrorism.”

But if many Muslims kill others because of radical ideology, it’s called “an act of war.”

Institutional, systemic bias is bound to influence public opinion and policy. And if you repeatedly frame the news in certain ways, you should not be surprised when your audience takes your cues and makes them explicit (reap what you sow, etc.)

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John Caputo Listens to Creed

The cake is a lie.

This post title is also (probably) a lie.

But I continue to find John D. Caputo one of the most interesting living philosophers. He’s written an interesting preface to the Chinese edition of his book What Would Jesus Deconstruct? Entitled “Why the Church Deserves Deconstruction,” it’s an interesting read even if you haven’t read the book and actually serves as a decent introduction to a couple major themes in Caputo’s thought.

Also, and this is completely & utterly unrelated, but I’ve been greatly amused by this awesome new song by Creed:

End of America

I watched The Rape of Europa the other night, a documentary about the Nazi theft of art during WWII. I was struck by how hard it is to learn lessons from the Third Reich. Compare anyone or anything to Nazi Germany and the conversation is effectively over (see: Godwin’s Law). I think part of the problem is that many people mistake comparison for identification. The result is that we’re essentially cut off from learning anything meaningful from that era — surely there’s more to take away than simply “Hitler bad, America good.”

Naomi Wolf is one writer who’s attempted to learn a little more from the rise of Hitler. She’s examined Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy in an effort to discover what steps usually happen before a dictatorship takes over.
Here are her “Ten Steps to a Fascist State,” or “How to Turn an Open Society Into a Closed Society:”

1. Invoke an internal and/or external enemy
2. Create a secret prison network
3. Employ a paramilitary force
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Infiltrate and/or harass citizens’ groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Restrict the press
9. Equate dissent with treason
10. Subvert and/or suspend the rule of law

“Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” looks at how all ten of those have been implemented in the US in the last 8 years. Her book End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot fleshes out the argument even further. She has a documentary out called End of America as well, which can be viewed for free on the SnapFilms website.

If you don’t have time for a documentary, amuse yourself instead with Republicans gone wild. This blog also seems to be collecting videos of Republican asshattery. There’s a good deal of Democrats also acting loony in those videos.

Bigot on Wednesday, Churchgoer on Sunday

Sen. John McCain likes to depict the bigots in his party as fringe elements, a few “bad apples.” It’s become less obvious that this is so considering how widespread the nasty attacks have become.

The state of political discourse: from leaders — Rep. Westmoreland (R-GA) openly calling Obama “uppity” — to laymen (see above) the Republicans seem to feel very free to fan the flames of prejudice.
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My week

It’s March! I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me. Want to know how my week went? Ok cool.

On Monday Laura & I saw Barack Obama at WSU:

He is a good man and he’ll be president in 11 months.

On Tuesday Dennis sent me this photo:
How does this glorify God?
This was posted in the Student Center on an Air Force ROTC ad. Neither of us know who stuck the note there, but it made my day.

On Wednesday I watched Once:

I fell in love with Marketa Irglova.On Thursday my friends and I showed The Corporation on campus:

Over 35 students showed up and I think they found it eye-opening.On Friday I watched Taxi to the Dark Side:

If there’s a physical lake of fire for everlasting torment, then Bush will surely be there. I would love to show this film on campus too, but this school isn’t ready. We will be showing No End in Sight in mid-March though.

My Cedars article this week was fairly mediocre, made worse by haphazard editing that was beyond my control that left it fairly incoherent & disjointed. I may post more of my writing here at a later time since the truth is, somebody’s opened the spigot and the Cedars bucket can’t keep up.