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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 18 February 2004

Topic: The Culture

What would Roland Barthes drive?

I tell my friends I drive an Ironymobile. I do. But guys like cars and read reviews. I read them all the time, and I came across a review today that was quite unusual. It was... full of references to semiotics and other really non-automotive issues? Sure was!

For the record, the fellow liked the new Mercedes station wagon.

See Why hitch your star to this wagon?
Larry David and other great philosophers weigh in on the semiotics of vehicle type. The Mercedes E500 4Matic puts us in a philosophical mood.
Dan Neil, The Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2004

Neil opens with this:
Even though the great French critic Roland Barthes has been dead for nearly 25 years, I bet he still smells like Gitanes.

I miss him. Part anthropologist, part philosopher, part journalist (the part that couldn't get a good table at a restaurant), Barthes thought hard about ordinary things - the first serious anatomist of pop culture.

And one of the things he thought hard about was automobiles. His 1957 review of the Citro?n DS famously begins, "I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object."

Wow. Geronimo.

I don't think about cars nearly as deeply or as well as Barthes, no matter how many tiny cups of coffee I drink. But I do appreciate his search for cars' deeper meanings, the invisible scaffolding that holds up our opinions about them.
Okay, I will have to check with my literate friends to find out if Barthes actually wrote a review of the Citro?n DS - and I'm not sure he did.

But these comments on station wagons and pickup trucks, and the Chinese, and on the soft-handed Parisians who bought up Millet's peasant paintings long ago, and SUV owners, are amusing, without a search of the philosophic texts in translation.
... For what they say about the emotional health of their owners, station wagons are the happiest cars on the road. And I can live with that.

Consider the pickup truck. The top-selling vehicles in America, trucks are purchased in ever-increasing numbers by people who don't actually need them - commuters, Lone Star suburbanites, empty Stetsons.

Well, if not for its utility, why buy a pickup? Because pickups as a type have meaning: a rootsy, red-state nobility, a mild scolding of sophistication and effete urbanism, a mood very much in fashion these days. My house may be in the suburbs, the purchase says, but my home is on the farm.

Naturally, in proper dialectical fashion, cars mean different things, depending on which side of the windshield you are on.

In China, for instance, the rising middle class doesn't want anything to do with pickups; they remind people of an all-too-recent peasantry. The contrast exposes a faint foolishness under America's love of pickups: Like the soft-handed Parisians who bought up Millet's peasant paintings, pickup poseurs would find rural virtue a different thing entirely if they spent a day in the fields.

Barthes loved to flog the petite bourgeoisie with their own illusions.

SUV haters usually indict their owners as inconsiderate and aggressive. But read SUVs another way, not as tanks but as fortresses, inside which their owners huddle for safety. In this light, drivers of huge, scary SUVs appear more frightened than you are. That's a provocative thought, considering the way SUVs are marketed as fearless and self-reliant vehicles, the Natty Bumppos of the road.
Wow! All that and James Fenimore Cooper too!

But wait! There's more!
These conventions, these sets of prefabricated meaning, can be as powerful as they are erroneous, a fact illustrated by one word: "minivan." The "M" word has become so radioactive that few manufacturers dare speak its name in advertising. General Motors recently launched two vehicles -- the Saturn Relay and the Buick Terraza -- that the company refers to as a "family utility van" and a "premium crossover sport van," respectively, a semantic rearranging of deck chairs that fails to hide the fact that the vehicles are just that.

What's wrong with minivans? Nothing. It's the idea of minivans. To drive one is to feel regarded as somehow sexually demoted, to be reduced to a one-page Kama Sutra.

Don't want to play the cars-define-the-man game? Sorry, you can't opt out. The most low-key, basic transportation comes with its own constellation of meaning.

Think, for example, of the Larry David character on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," who drives a white Toyota Prius, the automotive equivalent of corrective shoes. Think of the meanings that line up behind this car: a thumb in the eye of SUV culture, a call to arms on fuel economy, a declaration of sexual security. This is modesty of a very ostentatious sort.
Yep, he went from the Kama Sutra to an HBO series to the Toyota Prius being a both the automotive equivalent of corrective shoes and a clear declaration of sexual security.

Cool. And I didn't bother you with his road test comments and review of the Benz. He liked it.

Posted by Alan at 20:56 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: The Law

Copyright Issues of the Oddest Sort

I know this is tasteless, but it is interesting.

Ad won't feature Cash's 'Ring'
From Associated Press, February 18, 2004
Advertising writers in Florida were planning to pitch hemorrhoid-relief products with a commercial featuring the Johnny Cash classic "Ring of Fire," but Cash's family said there's no way they will let it happen.

"We would never allow the song to be demeaned like that," Cash's daughter, Rosanne, told the Tennessean of Nashville.

The hit was written by Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, and Merle Kilgore, now Hank Williams Jr.'s manager. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash died in 2003.

TV producer Sula Miller of Big Grin Productions in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she thought of the idea when she heard the song on the radio while struggling with the uncomfortable condition.

Kilgore said at first he thought the idea was funny. Cash's family didn't.
But it is curiously funny, isn't it?

Posted by Alan at 20:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Some funny lines here...
I came across this in an item on how the press is now turning on Bush, after two years making him seem like such a good guy for forcing us to see that the conquest and subjugation of Iraq was both necessary so we didn't all die, and deeply moral too.

See Hypocrite Season
Matt Taibbi, The New York Press, Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Here's the opening:
It seems to me that George Bush is taking far too much heat lately for this whole WMD business. The look on his face as he endured Tim Russert's nationally televised proctological exam last week said it all. You expected him at any moment to say, "Of course I was lying about Iraq! That's my job! Leave me alone!"

There was another expression on Bush's face that appeared from time to time during the course of that interview that was strangely familiar. For days I couldn't put my finger on it. Then it hit me: It recalled the last scene in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wakes up from her adventure. Bert Lahr is there by the bedside. So is Jack Haley. And you, Ray Bolger, you were there, too, Scarecrow...

They were all there. They were there right by Bush's side all last year and even before. Only in this case, the Scarecrow has decided to lean over Dorothy in bed and slap her across the face with a wet woolen glove. So much for the happy ending. The whole scene actually made me feel sorry for Bush. Abandoned by his best friends, just when he needed them the most.
And this best friend seems to be a certain writer at Time magazine. Check it out.

Posted by Alan at 20:10 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 18 February 2004 20:45 PST home


Topic: For policy wonks...

The War to Rid the World of Evil: The Argument in Favor Examined

A few weeks ago I commented on the new book by Richard Perle and David Frum - An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (Random House). See January 11, 2004 - New books this week... for that. Basically this is the new manifesto from the Bush "Freon Neocons" showing how we can and must rule the world. Well, it sort of comes down to that.

"For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win - to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust."

You get the idea. These two propose we overthrow the governments of Iran, Sudan, Syria, North Korea, perhaps Saudi Arabia and a few others, like Cuba, and occupy those countries until we force them each to form a new government more to our liking.

Who are these guys? On the dust jacket of his book, Richard Perle appends a Washington Post depiction of himself as the "intellectual guru of the hard-line neoconservative movement in foreign policy." Before he was that - head of the policy board that advises Rumsfeld and Bush - Perle worked for Conrad Black, running the Jerusalem Post for him. Needless to say, these new governments we create in our image would recognize Israel. And David Frum was Bush's speechwriter, the man who came up with the "Axis of Evil" wording.

I just came across a devastating review of the book by Pat Buchanan of all people.

See No End to War
The American Conservative, Cover Story, March 1, 2004 Issue

It's long and really detailed. I recommend it for observations like this.
...no nation can "end evil." Evil has existed since Cain rose up against his brother Abel and slew him.

A propensity to evil can be found in every human heart. And if God accepts the existence of evil, how do Frum and Perle propose to "end" it? Nor can any nation "win the war on terror." Terrorism is simply a term for the murder of non-combatants for political ends.

Revolutionary terror has been around for as long as this Republic. It was used by Robespierre's Committee on Public Safety and by People's Will in Romanov Russia. Terror has been the chosen weapon of anarchists, the IRA, Irgun, the Stern Gang, Algeria's FLN, the Mau Mau, MPLA, the PLO, Black September, the Basque ETA, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, SWAPO, ZANU, ZAPU, the Tupamaros, Shining Path, FARC, the ANC, the V.C., the Huks, Chechen rebels, Tamil Tigers, and the FALN that attempted to assassinate Harry Truman and shot up the House floor in 1954, to name only a few.

Accused terrorists have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Begin, Arafat, Mandela. Three lie in mausoleums in the capitals of nations they created: Lenin, Mao, Ho. Others are the fathers of their countries like Ben Bella and Jomo Kenyatta. A terrorist of the Black Hand ignited World War I by assassinating the Archduke Ferdinand. Yet Gavrilo Princep has a bridge named for him in Sarajevo.

The murder of innocents for political ends is evil, but to think we can "end" it is absurd. Cruel and amoral men, avaricious for power and "immortality," will always resort to it. For, all too often, it succeeds.

But what must America do to attain victory in her war on terror?

Say the authors: "We must hunt down the individual terrorists before they kill our people or others ... We must deter all regimes that use terror as a weapon of state against anyone, American or no" [emphasis added].

Astonishing. The authors say America is responsible for defending everyone, everywhere from terror and deterring any and all regimes that might use terror - against anyone, anywhere on earth.

But there are 192 nations. Scores of regimes from Liberia to Congo to Cuba, from Zimbabwe to Syria to Uzbekistan, and from Iran to Sudan to the Afghan warlords of the Northern Alliance who fought on our side--have used torture and terror to punish enemies. Are we to fight them all?
Good question.

It seems so. And the curious thing is how Frum frames the issue.

It's that "Axis of Evil" thing. It seems is now our duty "to rid the world of evil," something even God doesn't try, as I understand it. I think the idea is God allows for the possibility of free will and thus some evil will occur. But now the United States can fix that, and should. We fight evil. All of it. Terrorism is just the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual evil.

The war, such as it is, will thus be over when, for a period of time, no evil occurs anywhere in the world, so we're sure we got it all. Then we will know we have won - not sooner.

Well, think big, and be optimistic. It may seem like madness, but it is a plan.

Of course, the price of wading into this Buchanan piece is that you get his usual rant about how the US is becoming a puppet of Israel and the Jews. Sigh.

But Buchanan does give us this:
... who are these men who would plunge our country into serial wars of preemption and retribution across the arc of crisis from Libya to Korea?

Frum is not even an American. He is a Canadian who did not become a citizen until offered a job in the Bush speechwriting shop. He was cashiered after one year when his wife bragged on the Internet that David invented the "axis-of-evil" phrase.

Expelled from the White House, Frum ratted out his old colleagues in a "hot" book and got himself hired by National Review, where he produced a cover story about a dirty dozen "Unpatriotic Conservatives" who hate neocons, hate Bush, hate the GOP, hate America, and "wish to see the United States defeated in the War on Terror."

Frum ordered all 12 purged from the conservative movement.

... Who is Perle? Unlike Frum, a cipher on foreign policy, Perle has been a serious player since the Nixon era. But throughout those years he has betrayed a passionate attachment to a foreign power. In 1996, Perle co-authored "A Clean Break," a now-famous paper urging Benjamin Netanyahu to dump the Oslo Accords, seize the West Bank, and confront Syria. The road to Damascus lies through Baghdad, Perle told the receptive Israeli Prime Minister.

Then an adviser to Republican candidate Robert Dole, Perle was thus secretly urging a foreign government to abrogate a peace accord supported by his own government. In 1998, he and other neoconservatives signed a letter to then President Clinton urging the United States to initiate all-out war on Iraq and pledging neoconservative support if Clinton would launch it.

Query: why is Perle permitted to retain his post at the Department of Defense while agitating for wars on four or five countries, including Saudi Arabia, a friend of the United States? Why does President Bush put up with this? His father would never have tolerated it.
Well, the son is not the father. And the son doesn't like details and nuance.

And this is where we are. This is our policy from those who set it. Come November we vote for the somewhat dim emperor and his wars, or not.

Posted by Alan at 19:54 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: World View

We have John Ashcroft, and they have Nicolas Sarkozy.

A note from France on a petition rather unlikely to surface over here in Des Moines - even if that Iowa town has a sort of French name. Des Moines? The monks?

What of us lefties in Boston and Hollywood (Bois de houx)? Ah, are we among the "caviar gauche" - moaning about the condition of society while doing little to improve it? And are the intelligentsia, notably those one might call the "professional civil libertarians," hindering crime prevention?

This wire item of note:
French elite unite over government 'war on intellect'
Philip Delves Broughton, The Telegraph (UK) (Filed: 18/02/2004)

Here's the gist of it:
France's heavily subsidised intelligentsia accused the Paris government yesterday of waging a "war on intelligence".

More than 20,000 academics, artists, writers, doctors and lawyers have signed a petition decrying the "new state anti-intellectualism".

Eight thousand of the names were published yesterday in the cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles, alongside a manifesto that called on all the groups threatened by the government's attitude to unite.
And just who are these people?

Among the more prominent signatories were the philosopher Jacques Derrida and the film director Francois Ozon, who made the recent hits 8 Women and Swimming Pool.

And what's the problem?
The petition aims to bring together the diverse groups who have a gripe with the government. These range from freelance performers, whose pay and benefit entitlements have been reduced, to lawyers, who oppose the government's stringent new crime bill. Teachers, doctors and researchers are seething over budget cuts, while psychiatrists must now obtain proper scientific qualifications.

All have staged independent demonstrations and strikes, but to little effect.

In their manifesto, the intellectuals complain of "the simplification of public debate . . . for or against headscarves in schools? Psychiatrists or charlatans?"

They complain of "an extremely coherent set of policies" aimed at "impoverishing and weakening all areas of life considered unproductive in the short term, useless and dissident".
Ah, this is in defense of the useless in life. Of course.

I am rather fond of the useless in life, myself. Words I often hear? -- "I know it's amusing, and even beautiful, and thought-provoking, and real cool... but is it USEFUL?" How tiresome!

Well, who are the Malvolios in France out to make us all attend to only the pragmatic?

The prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and the interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy have been making sounds. Raffarin has celebrated the demise of the "1968 political generation", whose ideas were forged in the 1968 student protests in Paris. Bunch of bums, of course.

Sarkozy was the one who attacked France's "caviar gauche" for "moaning about the condition of society while doing little to improve it." He has blamed the intelligentsia, notably those he called the "professional civil libertarians", for hindering crime prevention.

Useless folks!

And it seems the intellectuals are complaining that no political party has taken up their cause. No kidding. As they say out here... DUH!

And the world, and France in particular, becomes more like the United States every day.

Posted by Alan at 14:01 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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