Saturday, February 16, 2008

Crusades: Jerusalem

Episode 2 (not sure where the third and fourth are… pity) follows the Crusaders on their “hellish” two year path of destruction across Anatolia, including the siege of Antioch, the infamous massacre at Ma’arra, where, according to the chronicler Radulph of Caen, the Crusaders “boiled pagan adults alive in cooking-pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled,” and finally, the siege and subsequent “liberation” of Jerusalem that involved killing and torturing practically all of the inhabitants; Jews, Muslims and Christians.

In one particular notable episode after the Crusaders had breached the defenses of the city, the Franks burned a synagogue filled with Jews seeking refuge, all the while circling the flaming building while singing “Christ, We Adore Thee!”

Dumb & Dumber

Okay, so I’m like the 5 millionth person to watch this video, but it still never ceases to amaze. I was reminded of it by an article in the NY Times today that asks the evergreen question: “Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?”

To quote: T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, “The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history,” adding that in periods “when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues.”

But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.

BONUS: Be sure to check out this video, America the Stupid that’s jam-packed with horrifying statistics about the depth and breadth of American ignorance. By the way, I don’t think for a moment that Canadians would rate all that much differently...

UPDATE: Bill Moyers talks with Susan Jacoby about her new book, "The Age of American Unreason." Watch the video at PBS.

Remember Boys & Girls: Police Are Your Friends!

What, don't you believe me? Do colouring books lie? (I wonder if the Safety Bear has a taser®...)

Ron Paul's Last Hurrah?

I love the subversive vibe of Ron Paul's campaign. Yeah, I know he's got some nutty ideas, but hey, who doesn't?

E.O. Wilson & James Watson on Charles Darwin

An hour on the life and work of Charles Darwin with James Watson, chancellor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and E.O. Wilson, professor emeritus, Harvard University in which some quite provocative and controversial ideas about the future of evolutionary biology and its implications are discussed in the latter half of the program.

Crusades: Pilgrims in Arms

Another excellent documentary series co-written with Alan Ereira by ex-Python Terry Jones. In “The Crusades” he guides viewers through 200 years (1096 to 1270) of medieval history, explaining the various Crusades and the religious conflicts of the era, using re-enactments, reconstructions and "animated paintings."

In this first episode of the series, Jones recounts the origins of the conflict and describes how the fateful plea for military assistance by the conniving Byzantine Emperor Alexius I to Pope Urban II morphed into a quest to impose the nascent hegemony of Western Christendom on the Holy Land, as well as a mass migration of sorts in the form of the hapless and ill-fated “People’s Crusade” led by the charismatic (and likely insane) monk Peter the Hermit (funnily enough he doesn’t mention the other co-leader of the debacle, Walter the Penniless).

At once tragic and often highly comical (only Jones could present the Pope’s recruitment efforts in the format of a WWII propaganda newsreel) it’s a shame they don’t show this type of program in schools to dispel the ridiculous notion many kids seem to have that “history is boring.”

Real Time: Feb. 15 - Part 3 & 4

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan: Episode 2 - Part 6

Friday, February 15, 2008

Fuck You, Frank!

From Penn & Teller's "Bullshit!" series, with the help of notorious Republican pollster and language manipulator Frank Luntz, this explains what you already knew about polls.

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan: Episode 2 - Part 4 & 5


It seems many of the far Right wingnuts are losing whatever sense of decency they may have had at the thought that Barrack Obama might actually be elected president. Even totally phony comparisons to Hitler aren’t beyond the pale (so to speak). By the way, in case you haven’t received the meme from the Republican noise machine (happily disseminated through the SCLM) it’s that Obama’s candidacy is “cult-like” (thank you Mr. Magoo), “creepy” and “dangerously self-referential” (that bon mot comes from Joe Klein).

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan: Episode 2 - Part 2 & 3

Was America Founded on Christianity?

Gary Wills busts a very common myth.

Iraq For Sale

A Robert Greenwald film about corporations and war profiteering in Iraq.

Political Ads in America

Jerry Dooley: Father of Proliferation

Your McCain Moment of Zen

McCain gets hung out to dry by Timm-eh! with his own words condemning the idea of "national building" then dissembles... But, but... that was different!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kate McMillan's "Modest Proposal"

Yes, because there's nothing like mass starvation to cure a "whiny nation" of its insufferable (presumably "liberal") nannyism.

It's perhaps ironic that Swift's "Modest Proposal" was aimed at the theories and attitudes which rendered the Irish famine possible, whereas MacMillan is proposing a famine to combat the crushing "weight of regulation, litigation and personal entitlement" that's presumably being felt to oppressively infringe upon her own individual prerogatives. On the whole, it's a thoroughly mean-spirited and self-serving bit of rhetoric, but pretty much what one would expect of someone who regards the Holocaust as the stuff of comedy.

Pictured above: "that continent-wide parade of dysfunction known as 'Africa.'"

More Ballard

Happy V-Day...

I recommend protective body armour.

Towards Crash

The automobile is a powerful cultural figure that embodies individualism, the implosion of time and space — all the liberating promises offered by triumphant ideologies of technology. It’s a machine that has coevolved with the city and directed the course of urban development, deeply shaping our lives in the process. In fact, nowadays modern cityscapes cater more for cars than for human beings. The automobile accident is the cemetery of all these dreams.

A certain cryptic logic suggests itself, a kind of technological unconscious. For all the planning and analysis that supposedly goes into the rational management of the technological systems that support us, the automobile acts as an extension of our irrational side. The car is a prosthetic shell that paradoxically exposes our egos and instincts, amplifying and releasing them from the usual social protocols. Automobiles tune into the repressed currents stirring beneath the surface of our minds—the frustration, violence, anxiety, or plain boredom and distraction.

From a review by Andrés Vaccari of Jeff Busby’s book of photographs called “Amplification”.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Little Olde Victoria

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan: Episode 2 - Part 1 & 2

Should Britain Stay in Afghanistan for Another 30 Years?

It should be noted that Peter Hitchens is an arch-conservative.


Inside Iran

Extraordinary portrait of the country John McCain wants to "bomb, bomb, bomb..."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Expelled" Exposed

How do you re-package that tried, untested and untestable faith-without-facts warhorse, "Creationism" after its nearly-annual beat-down by an increasingly exasperated scientific community?

After you've tried renaming it "Intelligent Design," I mean.

With comedy. Mock your "Darwinist" foes the way comics, thinkers, scientists and educated people everywhere have been mocking creationism since Scopes took that monkey off our back.

Tuck into them the way Michael Moore would, with a documentary hosted by a funny Don Quixote willing to tilt at science the way MM has gone after the gun culture, corporate cold-heartedness, George W. Bush and Big Health Care.

Get droll funnyman and ex-Nixon speech writer Ben Stein to host it, to be the on-camera jester-interviewer.

And re-cast this argument about what people chose to believe vs. what others can prove as fact as a fight for "Freedom."

That's the mnemonic device Stein came back to, time and again, last night in an Orlando screening of his new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It's a rabble-rouser of a doc that uses all manner of loaded images, loaded rhetoric, few if any facts and mockery of hand-picked "weirdo" scientists to attack the those who, Stein claims, are stifling the Religious Right's efforts to inject intelligent design into science courses, science curricula and the national debate.

He was showing the movie to what he and the producers hoped would be a friendly, receptive audience of conservative Christian ministers at a conference at the Northland mega-church next to the dog track up in Longwood. They're marking this movie, which they had said, earlier, they'd open in Feb. (now April) the same way they pitched The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, said Paul Lauer of Motive Entertainment, who introduced Stein.

In other words, a stealth campaign, out of the public eye, preaching to the choir to get the word out about the movie without anyone who isn't a true believer passing a discouraging judgment on it.

They postered the Orlando Sentinel with email invitations, then tried to withdraw the one they sent to me. No dice. They also passed out non-disclosure "statement of confidentiality" agreements for people to sign. I didn't. Read the rest.

Another Wacky "Theory"

Particle physicist Dr. Brian Cox believes that the answer to the meaning of the universe lies in gravity. In this BBC Horizon film "
What on Earth is Wrong With Gravity?" Cox goes on a road trip across the USA where he fires lasers at the moon in Texas and goes wild in the desert in Arizona. He encounters the bending of space and time at a maximum security military base and tries to detect ripples in our reality in the swamps of Louisiana.

The Odd Couple

Apropos of nothing in particular (other than watching the movie on TCM)...

Darwin Awards

Happy "Darwin Day"

Eine Dokumentation über den (vor allem in den USA ausgetragenen) Streit zwischen Darwinisten und den Anhängern des intelligenten Designs. Dieses ist für Sie Chris. Ich hoffe, daß Sie es genießen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Holocaust: LOL!

The systemic genocide of millions is just fodder for a malicious prank now. Sadly, that’s what we’ve come to expect from “Canada’s Best Blogger” and her more enthusiastically fascistic minions…

And what of our favourite "Blue Like You" SoCon diva who thinks, when it comes to the matter of social engineering with respect to the sanctity of zygotes, that “Our Canadian disregard for human life is breathtakingly barbaric.” Well, it seems she can barely stifle her gleeful, tittering delight at this hilarious lampoon, but thinks it might – I repeat “might” – be in “questionable taste”… Indeed. No moral relativism there. It’s understood these foul, despicable people call themselves “Conservatives” and parade under the flag of the "Blogging Tories"… the same individuals I hasten to remind you who thought it was absolutely hilarious (or stood idly by in silence) when “Canada’s Best Blogger” endorsed a self-confessed “full-time Nazi” who advocated the murder of homosexuals in accordance with the auspices of biblical scripture and masqueraded it under the guise of “free speech.”

Update: You know, I don’t give a damn whether Kinsella was “trapped” or whether he may, accordingly some nutty theorists, have been such a fiendishly cunning and amoral bastard as to have devilishly turned the tables on his pranksters to make them look foolish (as if they needed any help in that regard) for some supposed political gain, this is still reprehensible any way it's sliced. What the fuck is wrong with you people? Give your head a shake.

Makes you PROUD, doesn't it?

The Surprising History of Rome

Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) co-wrote and presents this film exploring the inglorious underbelly of the Roman Empire. Looking at the daily lives of the plebian and enslaved classes, through the ruins of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Rome itself, the film vividly describes the dramatic gulf between the historically celebrated aspects of Roman achievement and the more grim reality faced by the vast majority of citizens and slaves.

Comments of a professor interviewed in the film: “There was no welfare state in ancient Rome and the handicapped or deformed were more often than not singled out at birth. Notice there’s no orphanages in ancient Rome. No need to… no need to even have contraception, or to have abortion because they frequently just practiced exposure of children. Unwanted children…? There is absolutely no reason why some young mother wouldn’t expose a child. You’re allowed to do it because the child may be malformed. You certainly wouldn’t bring up a malformed child — you’d expose it and let it die… [by] simply taking it to the town rubbish dump.”

Jones: “The same Romans that conquered the Mediterranean, that built aqueducts and amphitheaters, also dumped unwanted children with the city garbage.”

It would be wrong to characterize this film according to the above point that’s raised, although it did strike me as being perhaps the most highly salient contrast between the lofty aspirations of the Romans that we’re more normally acquainted with in the conventional (and sadly, all too cursory) teaching of history and the more brutally uncompromising aspects of the exploitative economic imperatives that motivated the Roman Imperium.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

War Made Easy

A film adaptation of media critic Norman Soloman’s 2005 book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” This is an outstanding documentary that exposes the manner in which US presidents manage to sell war, like clockwork, through the same fallacious arguments, largely with the help of a compliant media. The movie features footage of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and the current president making frighteningly similar arguments about the motives for wars. All claim that violence is a means to peace and that war is the last resort. As the film points out, the mainsteam media only turn against war when it is too late. Needless to say, there are also some lessons to be drawn from the film relative to Canada’s continued participation in the war in Afghanistan.

Richard Dawkins: Break the Science Barrier - Part 3

Richard Dawkins: Break the Science Barrier - Part 2

Richard Dawkins: Break the Science Barrier - Part 1

Originally broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 in 1996, "Break the Science Barrier" follows Dawkins as he meets with people who have experienced the wonders of science first-hand including the astronomer who first discovered pulsars, the geneticist who invented DNA fingerprinting, a scientist who discovered a protein that causes cancer, and others. Dawkins interviews famous admirers of science such as Douglas Adams and David Attenborough, and asks them why science means so much to them. We also see how dangerous ignorance of science can be in classrooms, courts, and beyond.

With so many expressing paranormal beliefs and ignorance of science, Dawkins encourages viewers to contrast these ancient superstitions with the power and beauty of our scientific achievements and understanding.

Sunday Morning Carlin

The Trial of Tony Blair

A wickedly satirical fictional documentary set in 2010, based around the notion that British Prime Minister, Tony Blair is to face charges of war crimes by an international tribunal, following his departure from 10 Downing Street. The program first aired on British TV in January 2007 and was repeated during Blair's last week of leadership in June 2007.

Clinton and Cruise - On the Campaign Trail

Another bad night for Hillary Clinton yesterday – four losses from four primaries.