Saturday, May 24, 2008

Senator Kerry weighs in on Iran issue

John Kerry gives support to some of my points from yesterday's post on Iran and Strassel. His op-ed appears in today's Washington Post. Here is a choice quote I enjoyed:
...the conversation America's president should be having with the Iranian people. We should seize the chance to tell some of the region's most pro-American people how their own president has isolated them, denying their great culture its place in the world and the region a constructive dialogue.

There's a reason the late Tom Lantos, Congress's only Holocaust survivor and a formidable diplomat, applied for a visa to enter Iran every year for the last decade of his life. What better way to puncture the petty lies of a demagogue than to force him to confront a man who has lived the very history he denies and trivializes?

Some have asserted that meeting with Iran's leaders would legitimize Ahmadinejad, who is neither Iran's supreme leader nor someone whom Obama specifically promised to meet. Curiously, many critics then hype Ahmadinejad as a threat of historic proportions, thereby granting the stature they seek to deny.
Intelligent people like Reza Aslan also agree that "because the president of Iran is basically a powerless figure, the only way he can bring any authority to himself is by using the bully pulpit, and he uses it with enormous sophistication by essentially setting himself up as some kind of pan-Islamist leader."

Aslan gives that quote at about the three-minute mark in this clip:

Too bad those in Strassel's camp -- which apparently includes whoever uploaded the above Youtube video, based on the absurd title of the clip (along with being "insane," "Reza Aslan" is apparently not even Mr. Aslan's real name, given that his name appears in unnecessary quotation marks) -- just don't seem to understand such seemingly simple logic.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Response to Wall Street Journal article

I've gotten pretty out of hand recently with emailing political pundits with whom I disagree. I was about to type "reporters" instead of "pundits," but then I remembered the pieces that have irked me toward hate mail haven't exactly come from credible journalists (I'm looking in your direction, Rick Santorum).

Tonight, I read this Obama hit piece in the Wall Street Journal by Kimberley A. Strassel. I find her writing consistently despicable, as have others. She makes broad-stroke blasts against the Wall Street Journal editorial board too easy.

After reading her piece, I immediately tried to send her an email detailing why I thought her column was flawed, but the address listed at the end of her op-ed ( came back in error twice. Let readers voice their opinions by leaving a faulty email address at the end of your piece -- real classy, Kim.

Well, here is the email I tried to send her. In order to comprehend it, you may have to read her piece first. I apologize for making you do that. I hope she Googles herself sometime soon and reads this.
1) President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a "dictator," as you claim in your article against Obama. I know a lot of political pundits REALLY want him to be one, but, I'm sorry, he's not. If you knew anything about the Iranian government, you'd know Ahmadinejad actually doesn't possess much power. The country is an Islamic Republic that is led by a supreme leader. "President" is a bit of a misnomer. Those gung ho for a war with Iran, however, have tried their hardest to convince the world that Ahmadinejad has the power to launch nukes at any second. Make no mistake: Ahmadinejad is an idiot, but he's also an incredibly potent propaganda pin-up for a war with Iran. He's just such an easy target, with his history of indefensible statements. But he's not a dictator. Nothing even close. It's very irresponsible to trump up such an idea, unless, of course, you're hoping to scrape up justification for a military strike in Iran.

2) Your dig at the "wonderfully revealing moment" is just dumb. Give me a fucking break. You're actually arguing that Bush was NOT talking about Democrats? You're really going to make that argument? You're free to make it, but don't be surprised if every journalist in the country disagrees with you.

3) Like many like-minded writers on this issue, you abstractly argue that to speak with a rogue leader is to legitimize him. What does that actually mean? New York conservatives had a fit last year when Lee Bollinger "legitimized" Ahmadinejad at Columbia University. But did he really "legitimize" anyone? Here's what I saw happen: Bollinger gave Ahmadinejad a microphone, and the President used the forum to unambiguously embarrass himself. No one legitimized anyone. Remember the play his words about gays in Iran got? How on earth did that legitimize him? If anything, it offered the world another glimpse of a petty president and his ploys to gain international attention.

So, nice try. You'll have many more months, though, to craft new, improved Obama hit pieces. Feel free. We're not buying them, especially when their rooted in jingoistic falsehoods (see point 1), disingenuous arguments (point 2), and anti-speech conservative ideology (point 3).

Do any of my points register or seem reasonable, or are they all brush-off worthy?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Primitive Society: Dr. Jerry Schnoor discusses climate change

Jerry Schnoor is one of my two bosses as the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. He's a pretty big deal. Last year, Iowa's governor Chet Culver hired him to chair the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council.

In the video above, he speaks at a symposium on climate change and human rights at the University of Iowa back in February. He gives about 50 lectures like this one a year.

He hits all the right notes: He startles you without harping on doom-and-gloom fearmongering and presents tangible solutions to energize his listeners. He also wins points for his a-DOR-able use of the phrase "OMG."

Here's one quote I particularly love:

We have a Spanish company named Acciona Energy in West Branch, Iowa, just to the east of us. If you talk to them, they are very worried about climate change, but they see that as the central mission of their company -- to help mitigate it. And they're excited about it, they're enthusiastic about it, and their facing it with a challenge mentality, like how we say 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.' The challenge of putting a man on the moon. That's how they see it -- in SPAIN. Why can't we see it like that? What is wrong with us? What happened to the can-do American spirit?
This is my final video for CGRER until the job starts again in August. Starting Friday, I begin doing video work for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Radiohead live: St. Louis

Two nights ago, on May 14, I saw Radiohead perform the following songs live:

Fake Plastic Trees
My Iron Lung
Paranoid Android
Exit Music (For a Film)
Everything in its Right Place
Kid A
Pyramid Song
You and Whose Army?
The Gloaming
There There
15 Step
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
All I Need
Faust Arp
House of Cards
Jigsaw Falling into Place
Bangers and Mash

Needless to say, it was a pretty extraordinary night. As a part of the band's carbon-conscious touring regiment, no bottles with (non-recyclable) caps were sold, shirts made out of recycled plastic bottles were for sale, and containers were available (and widely advertised) to collect all plastic cups.

I saw a girl there with a white tee-shirt with the words "plastic bottles blow."

This, as you may know, is a big deal to me. The band also gave carpoolers priority parking spots -- a perfect example of a small incentive to reduce CO2 emissions. You're not going to get everyone to stop profligate use of natural resources for the sheer goodness of mankind; but, give them a good parking spot and a good chance to avoid the post-event traffic clog, and even the most apathetic individuals may find themselves complying.

Oh, and the music was great too. A number of the songs sounded better than they do on the records, honestly. The killer sound quality -- along with Thom Yorke's spastic dance moves -- turned even snoozer tracks like "The Gloaming" into surprise highlights.

This was a hell of a way to jump-start the summer.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I'm Not There: 2007's movie of the year?

Is this an image from the best movie of 2007, a year as impressive as any in the last decade?

Erudite NYC film critics
think so. But this was a year, might I remind you, of No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Once, Ratatouille, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Persepolis, Eastern Promises, The King of Kong, Knocked Up, and The Bourne Ultimatum. That's some serious competition.

I'm Not There just hit DVD this week, and so I finally got a chance to have a much-needed second viewing. When I first saw the film in theaters a few months back, I had two immediate thoughts:

1) That was fucking sweet.
2) What the hell?

I was wrestling with one main question: Would I like this film -- at all -- if every tiny inter-textual reference wasn't about a musician whose work I already loved? If I'm Not There were a Richard Marx biopic, would I have even sat through it? If the director made constant nods to Marx's albums, his interviews, and his love life, could I have actually managed to sit and stare at the screen for 135 minutes? Could I take two dozen music montages set to Marx's adult contempo classics?

Probably not.

So why does I'm Not There work so well? After a second viewing, I think I have the answer: Because it's so damn fun. In the tradition '60s art films, Haynes' movie stretches the limits of narrative cinema but entertains the hell out of you in the process. From its playful opening titles, obviously lip-synched musical numbers, and Brechtian over-the-top acting, I'm Not There screams French New Wave. But who cares? You could write a small book pinpointing the film's references to Godard, Fellini, and, of course, Dylan lyrics. But why? If you get the references, good for you. But you don't need to be in on the joke to appreciate its infectiousness. I'm Not There invites you into its world, rewards the already converted, but goes out of its way to entice those with minimal interest in or experience with Dylan.

To me, this sets the film apart from the postmodern pack. Other postmodern films tend to shove inter-textual references in your face, mocking you for every one you miss. They're like two hours at a hipster party.

Personally, I don't like being mocked. I'm Not There is one of the few postmodern films of the last decade I can really back; it challenges you to view cinema differently, but it's never condescending or self-important. The film deconstructs the Hollywood narrative without assuming the viewer is a passive dupe who needs to be taught a lesson on how movies distort reality.

As I write this post, I'm listening to Time Out Of Mind for the first time. Geez Louise. It seems no film -- not even one of the best films in a year of amazing films -- can compare to the real thing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Knee jerk liberal arguments: Installment Four

Welcome back, fine readers. Now, on with it.

Knee jerk liberal argument #4: Romanticism of Europe (aka, "God, they're so relaxed over there...")

Yet another way to bait conservatives to bust out the blame-America-first card, this knee jerk liberal argument backhandedly blasts America by romanticizing Europe.

To once again quote Sean,

"(This might be my favorite, largely due to my personal tendency to fall victim to it) Generalized romanticism of Europe, including ignoring its xenophobic, facist streak, consistent problems with unemployment, slow economic growth, etc. This streak is often magnified by a study abroad experience spent drinking."

As Sean gets at, even though this argument can be obnoxious, it's also really understandable. I've never even been to Europe and I romanticize it. Musicians have made Whole albums pandering to this bail-to-Europe itch American liberals often feel.

My brother-in-law Kaveh and I have had a number of conversations about this topic. One time, after a recent trip to Greece, Kaveh discussed how talking politics was so refreshingly different in Athens than it was in Naperville. As I could imagine. But then, after about 10 minutes of extolling his love of Greece and Europe at large, Kaveh added a buried footnote:

"Of course they have their prejudices there," he explained, shifting tones. "Like antisemitism." I think I saw something on the History Channel about that once.

Kaveh, like Sean and myself, was willing to all-but overlook such glaring shortcomings because the package -- as a whole -- was so appealing. Like my own views of New York City, Europe becomes idealized, utopian. Again like New York City, it becomes a projected liberal fantasy of everything that isn't George W. Bush.

So, this knee jerk liberal argument, as you might agree, is more funny than irritating. Just about everyone's been guilty of it at one point or another. And, let's not forget, the inverse American argument -- constructing Europe as a pin-up of amorality and socialism for conservative political gain -- is infinitely more offensive.

Lastly, Sean mentioned study abroad as a strong reinforcer of Europe romanticization. Let's not forget Amelie. Or Cinema Paradiso. After movies like those, I basically assume the entire continent is bathed in a warm orange glow at all times.