Hollywood and War

Thanks to Naked Capitalism for linking us to a recent episode of the in-depth Al Jazeera news program Empire, which examines the relationship between Hollywood movies and the US Defense Department.

The program explores (with real precision) many different movies, including Top Gun, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Windtalkers. It also features interviews with Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, and Christopher Hedges. A very important piece of thoughtful journalism. Really — take 45 minutes and watch the whole thing.

The best quote is from Mr. Hedges:

If you want to understand war, you have to step outside that armed unit with the sheer, unmitigated terror that is visited upon the innocent and the defenseless, who constitute the majority — ninety-five-plus percent — of those in a war zone.

And if you’re one of those people with a simplistic view of Al Jazeera being totally anti-American or whatever, consider the recent comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads, and the kind of stuff that we do on our news.

God Hates V

I won’t waste your time discussing the many reprehensible things about Westboro Baptist Church. (Today they won a victory at the US Supreme Court.) They’re in a class of atrocity moron that may deserve pity and abject dismissal, rather than rage or argument.

But this still (which apparently isn’t even in the video) from a CNN story on the group really caught my eye. Specifically the sign on the left, with V in a gun’s crosshairs.

What’s the message supposed to be on that one? God hates people who wear masks? Does God also hate The Phantom of the Opera? What about kids who go trick-or-treating?

Maybe they’re saying that God hates people with single-letter names. Does God also therefore hate M and Q from the James Bond films? What about the artist formerly known as Prince?

Or perhaps Westboro is protesting against hideously disfigured intellectuals who commit acts of artistic liberation and radical education? Or people who speak alliteratively?

Here’s What They Think About You

Next time someone asks why people in other countries would ever support the Taliban or Al Qaeda, refer them to this article.

The boys, who were 9 to 15 years old, were attacked on Tuesday in what amounted to one of the war’s worst cases of mistaken killings by foreign-led forces. The victims included two sets of brothers. A 10th boy survived.

Sigh. I’ll be that won’t make the cover of Time magazine.


MadTV has done a lot of great stuff over the years, but this John Madden commercial is among the Top 10.

Today I’m listening to: SomaFM!

Adam and Afghanistan

Some of you have played the superb video game BioShock, about the libertarian fundamentalist guy who builds a city called Rapture under the sea. (The people there use a substance called Adam to enhance their physical abilities, and everything spirals out of control. The device at right is a replica made by a fan of the game, via Kotaku.)

Crazy idea, right? But wait — the guy who founded PayPal, Peter Thiel, thinks this is a really good idea! In a piece he wrote for Cato Unbound (because, you know, the Cato Institute is usually so restrained), he describes the three places we need to go in order to become truly free as money-lusting capitalists.

Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country[...].

Number one is cyberspace. Okay, fine. I guess. He started PayPal and it’s a pretty handy thing. I don’t understand how people can escape into cyberspace to evade the “unthinking demos” that are ruining the world, but whatever.

Number two is outer space. I swear to Jebus I’m not making this up. “We must redouble the efforts to commercialize space”, he advises. Can you imagine? Big satellites advertising McDonalds when you look up at the night sky. Sandals: The Moon. Woooo!

Number three is what he calls “seasteading”. That’s right — let’s build ourselves a Rapture! Seriously, read it for yourself.

To my mind, the questions about whether people will live there (answer: enough will) are secondary to the questions about whether seasteading technology is imminent. From my vantage point, the technology involved is more tentative than the Internet, but much more realistic than space travel. We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it soon will be feasible. It is a realistic risk, and for this reason I eagerly support this initiative.

I mean, wow. It’s not enough that he was worth $1.2 billion in 2008 (and probably more today). He needs to get away from those darn taxes that would pay for poor kids to get health care! Fascism! Glenn Beck is right!

This is the sort of people we have in mind when some of us radicals support the idea of taxing the rich. They have the money, people! They just refuse to share it with the rest of us. And they’re willing to flee into outer space, or beneath the ocean, in order to keep all their toys to themselves.


Nicholas Kristof wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times recently about our occupation of Afghanistan. I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The conventional wisdom is that education and development are impossible in insecure parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban control. That view is wrong.

An organization set up by Mr. Mortenson and a number of others are showing that it is quite possible to run schools in Taliban-controlled areas. I visited some of Mr. Mortenson’s schools, literacy centers and vocational training centers, and they survive the Taliban not because of military protection (which they eschew) but because local people feel “ownership” rather than “occupation.”

As I mentioned once upon a time, the difference between “war” and “occupation” is important, and it’s one with which we need to wrestle if we’re going to find a way to get out of there anytime soon. (Which we totally should!)

UPDATE: 60 Minutes reported recently on Mortenson’s activities and some of the questions around how truthful his claims are. Sheds some unsettling light on the claims he and others have made.


If you’ve never seen the Powers of Ten video, have a look. Sciencey coolness from 1977.

Today I’m listening to: Dam Funk!

Bipartisan This

Once again, the mighty Paul Krugman has linked us to some important facts about the news of the day.

You know how Republicans are always yammering these days about the importance of “bipartisanship” and how Democrats need to work with their colleagues across the aisle?

Let’s leave aside the obvious rejoinder about how Republicans are never willing to work with Democrats when they control both the executive and legislative branches. Let’s leave aside the eight years of Bush Jr. and how they did whatever the [very bad word] they wanted to do, laughing not only at Democrats but also the rest of the world too.

Krugman links us to a Time magazine article from May 2009 describing a meeting between Obama and Republican leaders:

So, right there in the Cabinet Room, the President put a proposal on the table, according to two people who were present. Obama said he was willing to curb malpractice awards, a move long sought by the Republicans and certain to bring strong opposition from the trial lawyers who fund the Democratic Party.

What, he wanted to know, did the Republicans have to offer in return? Nothing, it turned out. Republicans were unprepared to make any concessions, if they had any to make.

So don’t give me any more bullcrap sob stories about how Obama is some tyrant trying to force his agenda on a cooperative Republican party who just wants to play nice.


In case you’ve never seen it, check out Jonathan Mann’s excellent song “Hey Paul Krugman”.

Today I’m listening to: DI Breaks!