Monday, December 29, 2008

Stanley Fish gets what he deserves:
The first obstacle, of course, was getting through to someone. The prompts did not correspond to any of my concerns, but finally, after pressing a number of zeros, I was rewarded with the voice of a live person who said, “With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

Visions of Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine the telephone operator danced in my head, but I bit my tongue and made my simple request.

“I’ve been away for some time and my services were reduced. I’d like to have them restored to what they were when I left in June.”

It turned out that this was not possible. Even though I had paid to retain my phone number, I was going to be treated as a new customer, which meant that I would have to answer a bunch of questions and decline services I had never had. After much back and forth I signed up for a package that included voice mail.

I should have quit when I was (somewhat) ahead, but I couldn’t resist returning to the greeting, with its double and ungrammatical “with.” I explained that the second “with” was superfluous, as the second “to” would be if the offending question had been, “to whom am I speaking to?”, or the second “about” if the question had been “about what are you worrying about?"


I was more exasperated than relieved, and I made the mistake of re-raising the “with-whom-do-I-have-the-pleasure-of-speaking-with” matter. He listened and suggested that I make a complaint. You mean call another 800 number, I wailed. No, he replied, I’ll do it for you, just tell me what you want to say. I went through the nature of the error, but when I talked about the unseemliness of a major corporation managing to sound pompous and ignorant at the same time, he interrupted me and said that he would not transmit that kind of language. I thought about pointing out that this was a complaint, not a love letter, but I just gave up.

This epic was not over. When I got to Florida after a three-day drive I found that I didn’t have voice mail. I called and was told that there was no record of my having placed an order. record of my having placed an order. I was assured that the matter would be taken care of in 24 hours. It wasn’t. I called back the next day, but a mechanical voice informed me that there was no service on Sunday. (Don’t people make phone calls on Sundays and pay for them?) Finally, on Monday, I reached someone who assured me that I would have voice mail the next day, and he turned out to be right.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I thought I'd do a few 30-second Christmas movie reviews, for shits and giggles:

White Christmas (1954, dir. Michael Curtiz): White Christmas is pure war propaganda. It starts off with a stage (scene-within-a-scene) performance featuring Bing Crosby as Captain Bob Wallace, singing the eponymous song, written by Crosby and Irving Berlin, "White Christmas" ("I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..."). Crosby gives a sendoff to the unit's benevolent Major General Thomas F. Waverley (Dean Jagger) as he returns to civilian life and is replaced by General Harold G. Coughlin (Gavin Gordon). Crosby and the squadron sing "The Old Man," ("We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go... because we love him!"). The next leg of the film takes Crosby and Danny Kaye into civilian life as a popular duet who, in classical Hollywood fashion, meet a sister act, with whom they go on an adventure (to Vermont, where there is supposed to be snow). There, they re-encounter Major General Waverley, who has become an inkeeper, but who will have to quit because there are no guests. Thus, predictably, Crosby and Kaye bring their act to the inn to attract guests. In an effort to get the old squadron to appear for the performance, Crosby goes on The Ed Harrison Show and sings the most despicable, propagandistic song of the entire film, "What Can You Do With a General?" This song makes the demonstrably false claim that G.I.'s after the war have a much easier time reacquainting themselves with civilian life than generals:
When the war was over, why, there were jobs galore
For the G.I. Josephs who were in the war
But for generals things were not so grand
And it's not so hard to understand

What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?

Who's got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires
In an era in which retired generals get paid by the Pentagon to go on CNN and lie, we should rightfully be cynical about this claim. Dean Jagger's constantly pitiful General Waverly is a blatant misrepresentation. White Christmas is nauseating.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas(1966, dir. Chuck Jones and Ben Washam): There seems to be two ways of interpreting this film: either, the Grinch is the pariah, the outsider, the wandering Jew; he lives on the outskirts of Whoville and haunts the inhabitants with his malicious deeds, or, and this seems more accurate, he is a landlord or capitalist living on the outskirts of town who exploits the Whos and takes their property (through mechanisms legal and "etra-legal"). The Grinch is old and green: greed, miserliness. He has a lacky who is at his beck and call. He lives above the town (rather than in the slough or the swamp, which would be reserved for the pariah figure, as in Wagners Rheingold). Granted, his interior decoration is sparse, but his stealing of Christmas seems to stem less from need than from a desire to make others miserable. Furthermore, when he gives back to the residents of Whoville that which already belonged to them (wages), they treat him as a guest of honor and welcome him into their homes.

Christmas Vacation (1989, dir. Jeremiah Chechick):: Critique of the American Dream. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase )desires to play the patriarch; he wants to create the "perfect" Christmas, i.e. the Christmas that most mirrors the Hollywood Imaginary of Christmas. He seems to want to fulfill all of the fantasies that he held as a child: a gigantic tree, lights that illuminate the entire neighborhood, a private swimming pool. He is the model of American infantile consumerism, and he terrorizes his family with his schemes, forcing them to participate, occasionally at great personal risk (e.g., the opening scene in which they go to get a Christmas tree and nearly kill themselves in the process).

Christmas Vacation is a model movie for the current recession: Clark Griswold buys a swimming pool on credit in the belief that his Christmas bonus will cover the purchase, but the owner of the company decides on no bonuses in order to secure the "bottom line." Griswold is the model consumer, going in over his head in debt in order to purchase completely worthless, extraneous material goods. In the end, of course, something happens that would never happen in the real world: the boss is made to feel remorse at his decision and reinstates bonuses with a 20 percent increase. Griswold is ultimately triumphant (the last words of the film are him saying, "I did it"); although the film begins as a critique of the Christmas fantasy, Griswold's triumph is a spur for the viewer to ignore his misery. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that, in the final scene, the senile aunt begins to sing the Star Spangled Banner as a rocket display (Santa on a sled) takes place. Rather than laughing off her silliness, the entire Griswold family (plus extended family) joins in. The message: sentimental ideology serves the same purpose no matter what the circumstances.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why is William Kristol so stupid? Martha Nussbaum wrote an article recently, first appearing in the Los Angeles Times, and subsequently appearing on the University of Chicago Law Faculty Blog, in which she points out that what happened in Mumbai may have very dire consequences for India's Muslim populations, and that Muslims have often been the victims of terrorism in India, the most recent example being "the slaughter of as many as 2,000 Muslim civilians by Hindu right-wing mobs in the state of Gujarat over several months in 2002." Kristol responds to this sensible post, which points out that mass violence against Muslims should be prevented by the Indian government, with huffing, bluster, and bullshit:
[Nussbaum] deplores past acts of Hindu terror against India’s Muslims. She worries about Muslim youths being rounded up on suspicion of terrorism with little or no evidence. And she notes that this is “an analogue to the current ugly phenomenon of racial profiling in the United States.”

So jihadists kill innocents in Mumbai — and Nussbaum ends up decrying racial profiling here. Is it just that liberal academics are required to include some alleged ugly American phenomenon in everything they write?
Okay, so far so bad, but it gets worse. In response to former (moderate Republican) senator Jim Leach's claim that we should view the attacks in Mumbai not as an act of war but of barbarism - Leach's attempt to restrain Indian military action in Pakistan - Kristol tells us
if terror groups are to be defeated, it is national governments that will have to do so. In nations like India (and the United States), governments will have to call on the patriotism of citizens to fight the terrorists. In a nation like Pakistan, the government will have to be persuaded to deal with those in their midst who are complicit. This can happen if those nations’ citizens decide they don’t want their own country to be dishonored by allegiances with terror groups. Otherwise, other nations may have to act.
And in case anyone was wondering where the reference to Samuel Huntington was, it comes up in the last paragraph: "Patriotism is an indispensable weapon in the defense of civilization against barbarism." What is it with these realpolitik foreign policy wogs who think that they're being sensible when in fact they're just taking everyone else's moderation and exaggerating it so that it becomes nationalistic bluster. When everyone else is still figuring out the level of Pakistan's complicity in the attacks, Kristol is already contemplating invasion. Perhaps he can personally lynch all of Pakistan's terrorists. Perhaps him, John Wayne, and Rambo can take Pakistan by force and restore to it a functioning democracy. I hope Kristol is enjoying his brilliant vice-presidential pick (Palin) and writing mediocre op-eds, because it's going to be a long time before the Republicans have any power in this country again.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's been a while since I've posted. I lessened my news consumption following on the heels of the election, and I found myself with less to say. I thought I'd post this, however, from Yale Environment 360. It turns out that the major gas used in the production of numerous tech-products, including thin-film solar photovoltaic cells (not to be confused with crystalline silicon cells) is a huge (HUGE!) contributor to global warming:
It may sound like somebody’s idea of a bad joke. But last month, a study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), with a global warming potential of 17,000 [In contrast, the GWP of CO2 = 1, Alex], is now present in the atmosphere at four times the expected level and rapidly rising. Use of NF3 is currently booming, for products from computer chips and flats-screen LCDs to thin-film solar photovoltaics, an economical and increasingly popular solar power format.
The production method with NF3 allows producers to only produce about 2 per cent emissions; however, most large scale production releases around 8 per cent, and most smaller scale production, not equipped with the appropriate sequestration tools, tends to release closer to 20 per cent. Right now, production of NF3 is around 7,300 tons per year, and it is expected to rise to 20,000 tons over the next four years. Now would be a good time for everyone to read John Bellamy Foster.