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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"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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Monday, 29 December 2003

Topic: The Culture

One more round on the Tolkien stuff...

See this:
The Racist Tapestry of Lord of the Rings !
Lloyd Hart, indy-media (Paris) ? D?culottez vos phrases pour ?tre ? la hauteur des sans-culottes (1968) ? Monday, December 29, 2003

It goes like this:
I don't imagine that it was the intention of the director or the producers of the Lord of the Rings films to paint a racist stereotypical tapestry over what could be described as a basic set of principles of humanity's behavior in the natural environment and with each other. However, the fact is that the only people of skin color in the entire three part series of films are all associated with the Dark Lord Sauron, the destruction of the earth and all of its occupants. Not to mention the elephant riding mercenaries that resemble the cultures of the Arab world as well as Africa, Persia and East Asia and the fact that the Monarch of the land of Rohan, King Th?oden a white guy yelled out "You great warriors of the West" in the final part of his speech to rouse the troops into battle in the third film.

In these times when a homicidal maniac from Texas (the Texas capital punishment policy under Bush) has stolen the American throne and called for a "crusade" against the "evil doers" in nations that white people have been invading, terrorizing, raping and pillaging in for 5000 years with zero provocation, I think we could manage some cultural sensitivity in our popular culture which one must acknowledge has a powerful propaganda affect on the general population that participates in it.

... It is important to understand that young people are impressionable and influenced by the symbols foisted on them by the popular culture. It would not have been that difficult to make a contemporary version of the Lord of the Rings that included the heroic symbols of people of skin color. I think J.R.R. Tolkien wouldn't have minded including people of skin color as heros in these films if he were alive today. Especially after witnessing the rise of the civil rights movements in both the U.S. and the U.K.. I'm so glad that the Dwarfs, Elves and Hobits finally got their due but unfortunately this was washed away by the lack of heroic images of people of skin color. After watching the Lord of the Rings films I thank the universe and Mother Earth for the Rap/hip-hop culture and the counterbalancing influence the Rap/hip-hop culture has on the youth here in America and around the world.
Yeah, yeah. Heard it before.

Glenn Reynolds over at InstaPundit has this to say:
Some racist twit in Paris thinks that the Uruk-hai in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings look like American Indians.

As someone of Native American descent, I'm deeply offended. So is reader David Emigh, who writes: "As a Cherokee brought up in New Mexico I can think of NO Amerind that looks like the Uruk-hai."

All my relatives are tusk-free! A guy who sees a resemblance to American Indians in the Uruk-hai is like a guy who sees a resemblance to black people in chimpanzees.
Okay then.

Recommendation? Don't read either of these links.

Posted by Alan at 12:54 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

New on the Satire Sites: Items You May Have Missed

You will find this at The Enduring Vision - Dear Iraqis: We Are Killing Saddam No Matter What You Say - by "Frank Patriot" of course.

Let me tell you something, Iraq: did you help catch Saddam? Nope. Did you sit around like super pussies while he kicked the shit out of you? Yup. Did we sit around like super pussies after he attacked our country on SEPTEMBER 11TH 2001 A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN EVEN MORE INFAMY THAN PEARL HARBOR GOD BLESS OUR FUCKING FREEDOM with the help of Osama bin Laden and Howard Dean? By the power of the bald eagle, no. We took action. We saw the weapons of mass destruction, and we went over there and made Saddam Hussein quickly hide them very well so that we couldn't find them or even evidence that they once existed. But most importantly, we took down Saddam. And now you want to have the right to his trial just because he was the ruler of your country and killed a few of your people here and there? I think I speak for everyone when I say, "What in the name of Uncle Sam are you thinking?"

You see, Iraq, this is our Christmas gift. I know you might not know what Christmas is since you read the Korah or whatever the hell book it is that's un-American and not the Bible, but I'll explain it to you: Christmas is a holy American holiday honoring the time that Jesus Christ, the founder of America and ruler of everything, rose up from his grave to kill people who killed him, using a pointy tree to do it -- which is where we get our Christmas trees -- and having his clothes turned red from the flying droplets of blood, causing some people to say, "Hey, Jesus looks like he's wearing a suit, we could call him Santa Claus because he delivers presents every year!" In Iraq, you don't have any of that. All you have is Happy Sand Day, and Happy Anti-American Day.

... So, America, I've just outlined nicely for Iraq why they don't get a say in what happens to old Saddam. I know, I know -- I should've just told them to shut the hell up, and that they're lucky I'm not President, because I would've bombed each and every one of them, because they are animals who live in the sand. But hey, it's Christmas. Everyone deserves a break, even the Iraqis.
You get the idea.

At the same publication you will find Terror Alert Level Raised To "Vote Republican" of course.
Americans should do their part in preventing terror and any thoughts not happening to be conservative, Ridge advised.

"Any activities you view as suspicious -- whether it be activities that are possibly terroristic, or liberal talk by your neighbours -- should be reported immediately," Ridge said.

When asked if perhaps this wasn't a bit similar to the "Red Scare" of the 1950's, in which frenzied anti-communist feelings resulted in Americans all over the country on watch for any "communist" activities, Ridge rolled his eyes.

"Uh, yes," he said. "That's the point. Duh."
This one is quite long.

And over at The Eschalot (their subheading Eschalot (EH'-shuh-lot') : A mild form of the onion. We mock the news, so you don't have to!) you will find this: U.S. Blames Canada For Mad Cow, August Blackout, Civil War - which is amusing, and ends thusly:
"This isn't just going to go away," said White House Spokesman Scott McClellan, "The President has said that he wants these matters fully investigated. Any country that interferes with our sovereignty, our electrical grid, and our food supply will not be looked upon favorably."

"I thought 'Canadian Bacon' was just another bad American movie," said the Canadian Foreign Secretary, "I didn't realize it was meant to be prophetic."
I caught a bit of that movie, Canadian Bacon, on television yesterday. It is amusing. One of our regular readers, Martin, just saw it and loved it. It's a classic - written by Michael Moore of course.

Michael Moore - you remember his acceptance speech when he won the Oscar for best documentary, Bowling for Columbine, and how he ripped into Bush. You might know his film Roger and Me about the automobile industry and its impact on the people of Flint, Michigan, and on us all. And you might have come across his book Stupid White Men - selling well these days.

Canadian Bacon (1995) is explained here in Brian D. Johnson's review in Macleans - a Canadian Magazine. The film just gets better as the years pass.

Funny stuff.

Posted by Alan at 09:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Economy

Year End Notes: Public Relations Items of 2003

Many things notable items each year find their way into the news media, as we look back in these last days. In the automotive section of The New York Times one will find this: From the Recycling Bin - news releases that "seemed to deserve a moment of glory."
HOW'S IT AGING? "The American Dairy Association unveiled the first ever to-scale car made entirely out of cheese at Richmond International Raceway. The 'World's Cheesiest Car,' an authentic replica of Terry Labonte's No. 5 Chevrolet, was carved from 3,500 pounds of yellow cheddar."

POLITICAL SPIN Clever Covers Inc. announced a line of Presidential Wheel Covers featuring the likeness of President Bush. The Florida company also "counts former President Bill Clinton and actor Burt Reynolds among its many fans," according to its Web site,

A NEW WAY TO IRRITATE THAT GUN-TOTING YAHOO BEHIND YOU "There are approximately eight million vehicles on the road equipped with trailer hitches Now a new product called the PowerTale is able to turn those hitch receivers into attractive, interesting lighted message displays."
There are more.

And they say those of us who live in Los Angeles are weird.

Posted by Alan at 08:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 28 December 2003

Topic: The Economy

Notes toward a unified theory of the economic deadweight of Christmas gifts as a function of acquisition cost and social shame...
[ This item also appears in the new issue of Just Above Sunset Magazine now available online - see left panel. ]

Economists simply can't understand why people would do something as stupid as giving presents at Christmas. This was an idea first formulated in 1993 by Joel Waldfogel, an economics professor now at the University of Pennsylvania, in his seminal paper, The Deadweight Loss of Christmas.

Ross Gittins explains this in So, Scrooge was right after all in the December 24th issue of the Sidney Morning Herald.
Conventional economics teaches that gift giving is irrational. The satisfaction or "utility" a person derives from consumption is determined by their personal preferences. But no one understands your preferences as well as you do.

So when I give up $50 worth of utility to buy a present for you, the chances are high that you'll value it at less than $50. If so, there's been a mutual loss of utility. The transaction has been inefficient and "welfare reducing", thus making it irrational. As an economist would put it, "unless a gift that costs the giver p dollars exactly matches the way in which the recipient would have spent the p dollars, the gift is suboptimal".

The difference between what givers pay for presents and the value the recipients put on those presents is the loss being referred to and, since it's equivalent to tearing up banknotes, economists call it a "deadweight" loss.
Ah! This goes a long way to explaining any number of ugly neckties I have received.

Here are the details:
Waldfogel has recently refined his calculations on Christmas's deadweight cost, using a new survey to estimate that, per dollar spent, people value their own purchases 18 per cent more than they value items they receive as gifts.
But there has been research to identify some hidden consideration that makes the seeming irrational rational after all.
One possibility is that gifts may procure a source of insurance for the giver. Parents, for instance, may give gifts to their children in the hope the children will care for them in their old age. Adult children may give gifts to their elderly parents in the hope of being remembered at that last great gift giving with lawyers present. Then, money will do fine.

Another line of inquiry is that gifts, particularly inefficient ones, serve as costly signals of the giver's intention to invest in a future relationship. Or maybe gifts are exchanged to break down mistrust, permit co-operation and build relationships.

But such a model doesn't explain why people continue to give gifts in well-established relationships where there is little mistrust and dumb signaling isn't necessary.
Then there is the paper by the economists Bradley Ruffle and Todd Kaplan, Here's something you never asked for, didn't know existed and can't easily obtain: A search model of gift giving. (Hard copy available from the School of Business and Economics, University of Exeter, Streatham Court, Rennes Drive, Exeter EX4 4PU)

These two claim gift giving makes sense in cases where the giver's knowledge of where to find something the recipient wants is greater than the recipient's own knowledge. Or if the giver is in a position to get it cheaper.

So the rule is that the giver gives a gift only when her "search costs" for the gift are lower than those of the recipient.

Gittins comments that this emphasis on the hassle involved in finding suitable presents helps explain why, even though it's regarded as poor form to give money, parents are more likely to resort to money as their children get older. The parents' search costs rise as they become less certain what their kids would like, whereas the kids' search costs fall as they become more independent. This theory also helps explain why people who go on trips return with presents. Their gifts tend to be things that are dearer or harder to find at home. Even so, it's hard to believe the theory accounts for more than a fraction of gifts.

Gittens adds his own theory:
I prefer the theory that, because of the discipline many people impose on themselves to ensure they stay within their budgets and make ends meet, many of us have trouble allowing ourselves to indulge in the odd luxury purchase.

So we're pleased when friends and rellos brighten our lives by giving us little luxuries - from chocolates to perfume to jewelry - and when Christmas and birthdays give us a license to spoil the kids.

I should tell you Ruffle has opined that the utility from gifts consists of not only the monetary cost and value of the gift, but also the emotions associated with it.

He contended that "gift giving improves welfare if the giver's pride and the receiver's surprise from the gift plus the receiver's monetary valuation of the gift exceed the giver's monetary cost".

Predictably, however, the economics profession has shown little enthusiasm for this airy-fairy speculation and Ruffle himself seems to have abandoned it.
I see this emotional component a slightly different way.

I myself hold that the shame of not giving a gift when everyone else has drives the whole business. One must give gifts. If one doesn't, one is a pariah. And the shame of giving a gift that is "not right" - or so obviously inexpensive that the recipient wonders how they have offended you and why you're insulting them, but is of course too kind to voice those thoughts - also drives up the "gift cost factor."

Thus the whole business of giving gifts is an elaborate social mechanism by which we avoid the pain of being ostracized. One gives what one really cannot afford to another who really doesn't need the item, and avoids a whole lot of pain.

But I liked the gifts I received. The very rare brandy will go well with the cool nights, and the gourmet cookware I'd never buy for myself will enable me to do some great meals for my friends. I just assume that what gifts I gave to others were shrugged off as marginally acceptable - the best I can hope for these days.

And I bought myself a new pipe - the kind I like. My gift to myself. I got that right.

Posted by Alan at 18:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 27 December 2003

Topic: Iraq

In an alternative universe where folks don't actively try to bring about the apocalypse...

Wednesday, 10 December 2003 I posted this:
What? The apocalypse scares you? Really? What's your problem?
and James Benjamin today at The Left End of the Dial has some thoughts on the apocalypse stuff.
... The apocalyptic types, regrettably, run the show in Washington DC these days, however, and seem hell-bent on continuing their crusade to purify America and the world.

I'm not entirely a pessimist, though, and here are a few ideas I have for the upcoming year:

1. The events of 9-11 were truly horrifying, and should have never happened. The take-home message that I accepted was that we in the US are also vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Terrorism, which I tend to look at as military action using unconventional means by extremists who do not possess conventional means of warfare, is a fact of life. We do what we can to protect ourselves, and hope for the best.

2. The "war on terror" was a mistake. An unending war against an amorphous "enemy" will not foster security: instead, it has fostered paranoia at home, paranoia regarding US intentions abroad, and has energized those extremists who have their own apocalyptic visions of purifying the world and expunging its evil influences. My hope is that the next President will immediately acknowledge that the "war on terror" approach has been wrong, and that working with the international community to handle the problem of terrorism will be more effective. It sure beats alienating our friends, creating new enemies, and overextending our military and wasting our financial resources like we are currently doing. Right now, the US government has become the ideal dance partner for the apocalyptic-minded Islamist groups like Al-Qaida. The current path will only increase the tempo and intensify the dance. We need to simply refuse to dance, and instead go back to working with our friends.

3. The current president is incapable of ending this "dance of death" with equally militant apocalypse-minded Islamic groups. He needs to be replaced this November.

4. Rather than capitalize on the deaths of terror victims in the name of some grand crusade against some amorphous evil entity, our government should instead frame terrorism and terrorists for what they are: criminals. The approach of our current president has only made terrorist groups appear as "forbidden fruit" in the minds of young men and women who are most likely to be sympathetic to these groups. The latter approach has the potential for turning these same groups into "tainted fruit". My hope is that the next President understands this.

5. Living in fear is no way to live. Bad things do happen. Most of the time they don't, and often one doesn't find trouble unless one actively seeks trouble. As a kid, I eventually learned that being street-savvy was good for self-preservation; being street-savvy is not a fear-based approach but instead is more of a common-sense approach. I suspect that there is an extension of street-savviness that can be applied to international relations and to the problem that terrorism presents. Be cool, keep your eyes and ears open, but always remember that there's nothing to fear but fear itself.
Well, he could be wrong.

We have, however, chosen the other way - endless military actions to overthrow governments who have some sort of connection to terrorism, or might have. Threaten - no diplomacy and no negotiations - and if they don't cave in and admit their humiliation, make them pay the price. Replace those governments with secular, free-market democracies, with our guys in helmets on every corner, making sure they get the message. Makes the world safer. Anyway, that's that idea, and that's what we do.

I'm not sure exactly how that fixes the problems with terrorists, who don't seem to need governments of any sort, really, but that is what we do.

And no matter who writes what, or who votes for whom, that is what we will continue to do, as the majority of us really do revel in our power.

To be able to do anything we want in the world, to anyone we want, any time we want, no matter what anyone anywhere says... well, it's hard to walk away from such dominance, such pre-eminence, such authority. It's addictive. And it begins to feel like God's gift.

Maybe it is. That idea is in the air a lot these days. Bush and Rove claim so.

And so dissent, questioning and suggesting alernatives become blasphemy. Such are our times.

Posted by Alan at 13:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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