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May 3, 2013

liberty attachment

Thinking out loud: so, I know what liberty means, in as much as I know what the definition of liberty is.  "The state of freedom from external suppression," off the top of my head.  And I know that here in these United States we experience a goodly deal of this liberty, or at least enough of it so we can generally do what we want as long as we're not hurting anyone.  And I get that this is a good thing.  I wouldn't go so far to say that it's a natural state, as it's certainly not endemic on the planet, but Western Europe (and its emigrants) evolved that way.

And I also know that liberty is a very important word on the right wing of the political spectrum.  The Heritage Foundation, for example, puts out the Liberty Index every year which measures what the Heritage Foundation deems a quantified measure of "economic freedom" in countries around the world, and, hell, Libertarians adopted the word as a sobriquet.  I don't want to spend too much time on examples — let's just agree that, to big C, little c, religious etc. conservatives, liberty is a word that is oft-repeated, and central to the core ideology that propels them.  To paraphrase pretty much everyone, political speech from the right can be boiled down to either, "You're threatening to take my liberty away!" or, "The future of America's liberty depends on us doing something!"

Where I'm going with this is that while I'm all Team Liberty, like, no complaints about being liberated over here, I do not share with the right the ability to personalize liberty.  I have never not once sat around worrying about liberty.  I've never woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, terrified that liberty is at risk.  Now, say with the Free Speech Zones at things like the presidential conventions, I'm terribly opposed to them, on the grounds that first they're unconstitutional and second they're doofily named.  And I'm happy to add my voice to the chorus, write my representatives, even take to the streets if need be, but never once does any concern for liberty pop into my head.

Liberty is a concept.  You can't kill it or promulgate it or claim it as your own, because it's not tangible.  There are no particles of liberty dispersed throughout the atmosphere that can be gathered and distilled into pure liberty.

So what I'm positing here has ultimately to do with what makes those people on the right seem so alien to us (and vice versa), because, and this is not a new thing, a result of engorged partisanship or whatever, but there are certain tenets of conservatism that I just plain cannot fathom.  At all.  And maybe is this ability to, I dunno, animate liberty into this totem a symptom of whatever it is that causes the differences?

It the ability to say something like, "I fear for liberty in this country," with a straight face some kind of cognitive wrinkle that is shared by those with similar ideologies?  And to be fair, is there some correlative cognitive kink shared by lefties like me?

Just wondering.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:33 AM

May 2, 2013

soderbergh on the state of the industry

Go read this terrific speech that Steven Soderbergh gave to a film festival audience concerning the state of the filmmaking industry:
But let's sex this up with some more numbers. In 2003, 455 films were released. 275 of those were independent, 180 were studio films. Last year 677 films were released. So you're not imagining things, there are a lot of movies that open every weekend. 549 of those were independent, 128 were studio films. So, a 100% increase in independent films, and a 28% drop in studio films, and yet, ten years ago: Studio market share 69%, last year 76%. You've got fewer studio movies now taking up a bigger piece of the pie and you've got twice as many independent films scrambling for a smaller piece of the pie. That's hard. That's really hard.

It is terribly interesting and mostly about the business side of the industry — well, the studio business side of it — but there some nice bits in there on the source of the impulse to make pieces of art and the changing tastes of the moviegoing public and the coining of the term "mayhem porn."

Of course there are bigger questions about the future of filmmaking, such as, "At which point does filmmaking become indiscernible from every other audio-visual art?" or, "When will the last movie house close?"  But if you can remove yourself from unbeautiful thoughts like that, it's a nice primer on how movies are made 2013, from a very accomplished filmmaker who's been there and done that, both indie and studio.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:58 AM

May 1, 2013

he's also made $32 million in his career, fwiw

Yesterday was a day without Internet for me for varying reasons, so I never did get to share my thoughts on the best thing about Jason Collins coming out.

(And for the record, I am one of the few non-rabid NBA fans to know who Collins is — my office used to be team counsel for the Nets back in the 90s, and we kept our season tickets for a few years after that, so during the Jason Kidd/Kenyon Martin years, Collins, who was like 19, was the enormous kid at center whose job it was to go bounce himself off Shaq in the finals.  Go Nets.)

The greatest thing about Collins coming out, above and beyond the ceiling breaking and the silence of the smart bigots and the public shaming of the dumb ones who spoke up, is this: all the little kids being hassled in the schoolyard, or whatever passes for the schoolyard, for being a "faggot," whether they're gay or not (or turn out to be gay or not) can know dream of the possibility of a seven foot, two hundred fifty five pound man cross his arms stand behind the hassled kid and say, "Yeah, I'm a 'faggot,' though 'gay' is the polite term for it. Would you like to discuss this further?"

I know I'm two days late on this, but as a kid who got called fag an awful lot (and one that hasn't spent much time since then thinking about it), it would've been a nice thing to daydream about.  (Because plugging Charles Nelson Reilly into that equation just didn't work.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:40 AM

April 29, 2013

lindsey graham may not be stupid, but that is scathingly insane

Lindsey Graham managed to nudge John McCain out from front of a Sunday morning talk show camera yesterday morning long enough to make a serious, serious point about Syria, because the senator is known as a serious, serious thinker specializing in foreign policy:
Yeah, there's nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists and they're pouring into Syria. The longer this goes, the more likely you have a failed state and all hell's going to break loose in the region.

That first sentence is the one that got picked up by various newspaper reports, and it's flaws are egregious, right?  As in, those radicals that are pouring in are pouring in to support the side that Graham wants to support.  A situation just like this happened thirty years ago, and those mujahideen that we backed up in Afghanistan back when are now what we call Al Qaida (in part, but the point stands).

So then, that's so stupid!  Was that Lindsey Graham or Louie Gohmert, amiright?

But what the news reports elided is that Graham goes on to address that situation, too:

There are two wars to fight -- one to get Assad out of there. He's really a bad guy, dangerous to the world. The second war, unfortunately, is going to be between the majority of Syrians and the radical Islamists who have poured into Syria. So we need to be ready to fight two wars.

So, to reiterate, Sen. Graham is not one of the noted imbeciles currently in Congress — no Ron Johnson, he — but he is actively cheerleading the prospect for two more wars, with the first one along side of the people against whom we will wage the second.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:16 AM

April 28, 2013

back to the bees

For years now I've been noting interesting little factoids concerning the bees.  Because, you know, they're disappearing (Colony Collapse Disorder was the term of art at the time), and this will have consequences, considering that pollination is a pretty important part of the food chain and it's really hard to do that without bees.

And for a while there were all kinds of theories.  Microwave interference from cell phones!  A particularly vicious thorax parasite!  But by now there's consensus in the scientific community, what's causing CCD is a specific kind of pesticide, neonicotinoids, which interferes with the ability of the bees to learn and remember, which for hives and how they are socially structured is pretty lethal.

So in response, the European Commission is looking to ban neonicotinoids for six months, which decision is being stringently opposed by insecticide concerns.  "Not enough science," they claim, which sounds awfully familiar, as I live in a country filled with climate change denialists.  And opposition of the insecticide firms may well be fruitful, as apparently their leading spokesman is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom, Owen Patterson.  And if buying off the British government was not enough, one firm, Syngenta, threatening to sue individual members of the European Commission if they released a report fingering neonicotinoids as the CCD cause.  (The report was released.)

This is a story that's right at the intersection of the outsized influence of business interests and the risk of unintended consequences as our technology advances.  But the bottom line is, no matter how much companies like Syngenta and Bayer dance around singing "We love honeybees," they are willing to risk further damage to honeybee populations in the name of making a dollar (or a Euro, as it were).

Ultimately, it's shocking that a chemical neurotoxin (yes, based on nicotine) would end up being also dangerous to bees.  Well, not shocking, but duh.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:54 AM