How to Reinvent the G.O.P.

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

In How to Reinvent the G.O.P., David Brooks asks “What Would Hamilton Do?” and presents “A New Conservative Platform” with more popular appeal than the anti-statist platform of the past:

By using government in limited but energetic ways, conservatives could establish credibility that would enable them to reduce the size of government where it is useless or worse — export subsidies, agricultural subsidies and the like. Then they could use that credibility to reduce the increases in entitlement spending — the giant set of programs that crowd out everything else.

Its pillars:

  • The War on Islamic extremism
  • Entitlement reform
  • Social mobility
  • Restore the integrity of our institutions
  • The energy revolution
  • National service

I’m not convinced.

Team America: World Police

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

Only Trey Parker and Matt Stone could come up with Team America: World Police, a movie done in the style of Jerry Bruckheimer (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Bad Boys), but with Thunderbirds-style marionettes.

RNC: Giuliani’s Speech

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

I didn’t catch Giuliani’s Speech last night, and I only heard a few snippets on NPR this morning, but I enjoyed reading this passage about the president meeting with “the people” after 9/11:

Now New York construction workers are very special people. I’m sure this is true all over but I know the ones here the best. They were real heroes along with many others that day, volunteering immediately. And they’re big, real big. Their arms are bigger than my legs and their opinions are even bigger than their arms. Now each one of them would engage the President and I imagine like his cabinet give him advice. They were advising him in their own words on exactly what he should do with the terrorists. Of course I can’t repeat their exact language. But one of them really went into great detail and upon conclusion of his remarks President Bush said in a rather loud voice, “I agree.” At this point the guy just beamed and all his buddies turned toward him in amazement. The guy just lost it. So he reached over, embraced the President and began hugging him enthusiastically. A Secret Service agent standing next to me looked at the President and the guy and instead of extracting the President from this bear hug, he turned toward me and put his finger in my face and said, “If this guy hurts the President, Giuliani you’re finished.” Meekly, and this is the moral of the story, I responded, “but it would be out of love.”

Computer Maker in an Alien World

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

If you want a cutting-edge PC — OK, if you want a cutting-edge game-playing machine — you go to the guys at Alienware. Computer Maker in an Alien World explains Alienware’s entrepreneurial history:

Gonzalez and his business partner, Alex Aguila, launched Alienware seven years ago with an initial investment of $13,000 for office equipment and rent. The company was unable to establish credit lines with computer parts vendors, so each Alienware customer had to pay in advance for their system, which allowed the company to purchase the products to manufacture that system.

Gonzalez got the idea to custom build high-performance machines for gamers from his own experiments constructing computers that would allow him to run flight simulators on machines designed primarily to handle spreadsheets and word-processing software.

Once he figured out how to squeeze the most performance out of off-the-shelf parts, he began building machines for his friends. Shortly after, he figured he’d “just roll the dice” and start a business based on what he’d learned. He named it Alienware in tribute to his longtime fascination with both UFOs and computer hardware.

Gonzales also tried to make the building process a bit different from that of the competition.

“First we handpick each component that goes into the machines based on performance — we choose the best,” he said. “Then we build a clean machine — there are no bird’s nests of wires and cords, everything is neatly tie-wrapped. That makes for better airflow and the system components don’t overheat.”

“Then we tweak. We do all the things the obsessed overclocker geek would do with their own machine. We turn some services off; we accelerate some things. Sometimes we add our own custom drivers or just twiddle component settings. People who know how to tweak a machine like Alienware ? because it doesn’t take them a few days to set up their system; it’s all been done for them. People who don’t really know computers just like the way the machines run.”

The Giants of Anime are Coming

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

Excellent. From The Giants of Anime are Coming:

In coming months, anime’s three most prominent directors will release major films in the US. Oshii’s Innocence will hit theaters in September. Soon afterward, Katsuhiro Otomo will debut Steamboy, an Indiana Jones-style adventure that takes place in an alternative Victorian age where turbo unicycles and pressure-powered jetpacks battle for supremacy. Then Hayao Miyazaki will deliver Howl’s Moving Castle, about a teenage girl who flees a curse by hiding in a gigantic mechanical castle that prowls about on insectlike legs. In addition, Disney will issue three older Miyazaki films on DVD early next year, two of which have never before been released in the US.

A bit of anime history:

Anime is both radically new and the latest variant on an ancient tradition. Japanese hobbyists made animated shorts as far back as 1917, and the industry grew steadily from there. For the most part, its films were warmed-over Disney, based on homegrown folk tales. By the 1960s, the studio Toei Animation was producing feature films for an increasingly receptive domestic audience.

But after decades of imitating American models, anime suddenly made a sharp turn in the late 1960s and embraced a totally different influence: manga, Japan’s wildly imaginative comic books. “The soul of anime is manga,” Otomo has said, and it is an old soul indeed. Unlike US comics, which took off from the rakish spirit of vaudeville and minstrel shows, manga stem from the ancient practice of lavishly illustrating woodblock-printed books.
In the immediate aftermath of Astro Boy, anime was considered pabulum for kids. But something changed in the early 1970s. Like every nation in the developed world, Japan brought forth an impatient new generation of artists. Unlike other countries, though, Japan’s music, theater, and film industries didn’t welcome boat-rocking young people. Meanwhile, manga publishers were abandoning their previous self-censoring code of content. Suddenly, what had been subliterature began looking like an opportunity for creative newcomers.

“There was tremendous energy in Japan bubbling up then,” says Masuzo Furukawa, founder of Mandarake, Japan’s largest manga store. “In your country, someone like Martin Scorsese got to make Mean Streets. In our country, somebody like Otomo went into manga.” – Rooms for Rent: Maid Service, Hot Meals, No Men

Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

I remember finding the premise of Bosum Buddies — the early 80′s sitcom, where Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari play men dressing as women to live in a women-only apartment complex — preposterous, if only because I couldn’t imagine a women-only apartment complex. As – Rooms for Rent: Maid Service, Hot Meals, No Men reports, one still exists in New York City:

Perhaps the most ancient stereotype about New York is that it is a metropolis of easy virtue. But just a block and a half from this week’s Republican National Convention, the little-known Webster, a fortress-like apartment building with Doric columns and steel doors, defies the darker side of Gotham so often portrayed in movies, literature and popular music.

Men are received only in the first-floor drawing room, the library or in the doorless, floral-wallpapered ‘beau parlors.’ One exception: Fathers are allowed upstairs, but only with an escort.

There used to be a number of such residences in New York, most famously the Barbizon Hotel on the Upper East Side, a white-glove establishment for young women including Grace Kelly and Sylvia Plath. Its denizens were often employed by women’s magazines or nearby retailers before they got married and moved out.

‘Aside from these residences, living on your own in New York was impossible to afford because even women who were college graduates were limited to low-paying jobs,’ says Rosalind Rosenberg, a professor of history at New York City’s Barnard College. Women’s residences provided a needed veil of respectability to the notion of an unmarried woman living independently of her family, she says.

By the end of the 1960s, those considerations had withered in importance. Today, apart from some college dorms and women’s residences run by religious organizations, the Webster is one of the last of its breed. “The feminist and sexual revolutions killed them,” says Prof. Rosenberg.

I owe it to the party

Monday, August 30th, 2004

I owe it to the party looks at China’s athletes and the Communist Party:

“I owe my Olympic gold medal to my parents, my coach and, above all, to the wise leadership of the Republican Party and President Bush.” Can anybody imagine such a remark from an American athlete speaking to Fox News Network? Of course not. Not even the irreverent, wise-cracking talk show host Jay Leno has such a fertile imagination.

But when it comes to Chinese athletes, this extravagant tribute to the political leadership of a country is anything but fictional in the 28th Olympic Games now under way in Athens. The minute a young Chinese girl bagged the gold medal in the women’s table-tennis singles final on Sunday, a Beijing TV network reporter stuck a microphone under the nose of her parents. The father, without batting an eye, told the audience that his good daughter was a good Communist Party member and her success was a tribute to the party organization. We can only imagine the hyperbolic tributes, straining credulity, when Beijing hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics.

For all intents and purposes, he is right: the government and the Communist Party own all the Chinese athletes. They are trained, funded, and sent to the Olympics in Greece and to other sporting events by the China Sports Bureau, a cabinet-level ministry in the government. [...] And the government treats its athletes well, too. Each gold medalist will receive 200,000 yuan (US$24,000) in reward money, or 23 years’ worth of an average Beijinger’s annual income, when he or she returns home, because such athletes have repaid the party’s kindness by, as the grateful father put it, “bringing glory to the party and country”.

beyond bullets: Signal to Noise

Monday, August 30th, 2004

Signal to Noise explains the purpose of a headline — in a newspaper or a PowerPoint presentation:

Journalists have developed an art and craft of writing headlines that serve 3 very important functions — they quickly communicate the main ideas of the article, entice you to read more if you have the time, and allow you to skim the paper if you don’t

Inform, entice and distill:

Re-write “The Market” to say “The Market Has Split into 2 New Segments”. Edit “Product Benefits” to say “External Drives Reduce Risk by 10%”. Each of these new headlines stakes out a specific conclusion, that you can then support with the visuals on your slide along with your spoken words.

Turn Hollywood Secrets into Blockbuster Sales

Monday, August 30th, 2004

Turn Hollywood Secrets into Blockbuster Sales is a fairly lackluster article on using “Hollywood secrets” to improve your PowerPoint presentations — but it opens with a fairly insightful (if hokey) revelation: you, in the audience, are the star, as far as Hollywood is concerned:

One Hollywood secret is that the ultimate goal of any movie is to make you feel like you’re a star. To the degree that a film makes you feel like you’re the one on screen, is the degree to which it is successful. That’s because audience empathy translates into dollars. Audiences are willing to pay top dollar if they feel like they ‘own’ the characters, as if they had created them and lived their lives.

The Road

Monday, August 30th, 2004

In 1935, writers Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov traveled to the United States from the Soviet Union on assignment as special correspondents for the Pravda. The Road is their installment explaining their road trip across America:

On the fifth day of a journey across the Atlantic Ocean, we saw the gigantic buildings of New York. Before us was America. But when we had been in New York for a week and, as it seemed to us, we began to understand America, we were quite unexpectedly told that New York is not at all America. They told us that New York is a bridge between Europe and America, and that we were still situated on the bridge. Then we went to Washington, being steadfastly convinced that the capital of the United States is indisputably America. We spent a day there, and by evening we managed to fall in love with this purely American city. However, on that very same evening we were told that Washington was under no circumstances America. They told us that this was a town of governmental bureaucrats and that America was something quite different. Perplexed, we traveled to Hartford, a city in the state of Connecticut, where the great American writer Mark Twain spent his mature years. Much to our horror, the local residents told us in unison that Hartford was also not genuine America. They said that the genuine America was the southern states, while others affirmed that it was the western ones. Several didn’t say anything but vaguely pointed a finger into space. We then decided to work according to a plan: to drive around the entire country in an automobile, to traverse it from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and to return along a different route, along the Gulf of Mexico, calculating that indeed somewhere we would be sure to find America. We returned to New York, purchased a Ford (transportation in one’s own automobile is the least expensive means of travel in the United States), insured it and ourselves, and on a chilly November morning we left New York for America.

While visiting New York and Washington, I’ve definitely thought, if you were a foreign tourist, you’d think this was America — but it’s not. Not by a long shot.

This picture (above) should be captioned as follows: “Here, this is America!”

And, indeed, when you close your eyes and try to rekindle memories of this country where you spent four months, you don’t imagine yourself in Washington with its gardens, columns, and full collection of monuments, nor in New York with its skyscrapers and its poor and rich, nor in San Francisco with its steep streets and suspension bridges, nor in the mountains, factories, or canyons, but at such an intersection of two roads and a gasoline station against a ground of wires and advertising signs.

A lovely alternative

Friday, August 27th, 2004

Michael Blowhard holds that “this review here of a new Lexus is some of the best — the most insightful, daring, and fun — new criticism of any kind I’ve read recently.” It certainly transcends mere automobile review, asking “just what constitutes a ‘chick car,’ anyway?”:

When I drive the Lexus SC430, I feel pretty. Oh so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and let’s just leave it at that, hmmm?

The SC430 ? as polished as a manor house banister, as smooth as Napoleon brandy strained through Naomi Wolf’s silk stocking ? is that mightily maligned thing: a chick car.


It’s instructive to note that in Europe, the equivalent term for a chick car is a “hairdresser’s car.” Gay, in other words. A chick car is not only feminine in some ineffable way, but feminizing. It imputes femininity ? or perhaps a kind of gender-preference valence ? upon its owner/driver. Men don’t like having their male credentials called into question; women resist the onus of femininity in the second-sex sense described by Simone de Beauvoir.

Joining Film Fight, Hungary Tries To Go Hollywood

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

Joining Film Fight, Hungary Tries To Go Hollywood describes recent efforts to build up Hungary’s film industry — and gives a bit of Hungarian film history:

In Hollywood’s early days, Hungarians helped build the movie business. Adolph Zukor founded Paramount, William Fox (born Wilhelm Fried) started 20th Century Fox, and director George Cukor blazed a trail from ‘The Philadelphia Story’ to ‘My Fair Lady.’ In Hollywood legend, a sign on one studio door once warned, ‘It’s not enough to be Hungarian, you have to have talent too.’
Hungarians were part of a wave of Eastern European immigrants, many of them Jewish, who found success in Hollywood beginning in the early 1900s. Kept out of other occupations by prejudice, they were able to make their mark in a brand-new business: the exhibition of short films in storefront theaters called nickelodeons.

Throughout the 1920s, Paramount’s Mr. Zukor and his rivals made trips to Europe, scouting for talent, such as Hungarian Michael Curtiz, who directed “Casablanca.” Hungary was among the European nations where a domestic film industry was already flourishing, partly through government support. Hungarian directors and writers benefited from training at formal film schools. Cinematography students were required to study painting, sculpture, classical literature and music.

Hungary’s film industry continued to thrive under Communist rule, with plenty of state-funded work. Vilmos Zsigmond, who studied cinematography at the Budapest Academy of Drama and Film went on to shoot “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “The Deer Hunter.”

But in the 1990s, the fall of communism and aging film studios sent the domestic industry into a tailspin.

Why is Hungary pushing film? Politics:

The European Union, which Hungary and the Czech Republic joined in May, tries to prevent its members from propping up industries with government aid that creates an uneven playing field. But films and television receive a “cultural exception” originally won by France to protect its heavily subsidized film industry. That has opened a rare door for government incentives and spurred a studio-building boom. EU nations now use the exception to compete for Hollywood action flicks as well as home-grown art films. Many countries also hope that movie exposure will boost their image, triggering tourist dollars.

Yahoo! News – ‘Sorcerer’ Kills 10, Sells Bodies for Cremation

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

When I saw the headline — Yahoo! News – ‘Sorcerer’ Kills 10, Sells Bodies for Cremation — I must admit that I assumed it was another story out of Africa. But I was wrong:

Chinese police have detained a ‘sorcerer’ who killed 10 people and sold their bodies to bereaved families to cremate in the place of loved ones who were secretly buried, police and a state-run newspaper reported Thursday.

The 34-year-old man, surnamed Lin, strangled or poisoned the 10 villagers at his home, next to a temple, in the southern province of Guangdong, the Beijing Morning Post said.

Chinese tradition, especially in rural villages, holds that burial brings peace to the dead and tombs are placed according to the laws of geomancy. But in a country of 1.3 billion people, the seemingly haphazard siting of graves wastes scarce farmland.

Since 1978, when China launched its reform drive, all levels of government have recommended cremation to save land.

‘This region cremates its dead, but local people prefer to be buried in the ground. People bought the bodies to be cremated in place of their relatives,’ a police official told Reuters Thursday.

Lin, whom the newspaper called a sorcerer locals consulted to communicate with spirits, sold the bodies for 1,000 to 8,000 yuan ($120 to $966) each, the newspaper quoted local police as saying.

If the common people are willing to have innocents murdered to get around government regulations, either (a) the common people are unusually depraved, or (b) the government regulations are a bit too restrictive. Or (c) a sorcerer’s involved.

George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

George Lakoff is a “progressive” UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, and he’s upset at how conservatives have successfully defined their ideas, carefully chosen the language with which to present them, and built an infrastructure to communicate them — something “progressives” have completely failed to do. In George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics, he explains “framing”:

Language always comes with what is called ‘framing.’ Every word is defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like ‘revolt,’ that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That’s a frame.

If you then add the word “voter” in front of “revolt,” you get a metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people, the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and this is a good thing and all things are good now. All of that comes up when you see a headline like “voter revolt” ? something that most people read and never notice. But these things can be affected by reporters and very often, by the campaign people themselves.

Here’s another example of how powerful framing is. In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acceptance speech, he said, “When the people win, politics as usual loses.” What’s that about? Well, he knows that he’s going to face a Democratic legislature, so what he has done is frame himself and also Republican politicians as the people, while framing Democratic politicians as politics as usual ? in advance. The Democratic legislators won’t know what hit them. They’re automatically framed as enemies of the people.

Another example of successful conservative framing:

The phrase “Tax relief” began coming out of the White House starting on the very day of Bush’s inauguration. It got picked up by the newspapers as if it were a neutral term, which it is not. First, you have the frame for “relief.” For there to be relief, there has to be an affliction, an afflicted party, somebody who administers the relief, and an act in which you are relieved of the affliction. The reliever is the hero, and anybody who tries to stop them is the bad guy intent on keeping the affliction going. So, add “tax” to “relief” and you get a metaphor that taxation is an affliction, and anybody against relieving this affliction is a villain.

“Tax relief” has even been picked up by the Democrats. I was asked by the Democratic Caucus in their tax meetings to talk to them, and I told them about the problems of using tax relief. The candidates were on the road. Soon after, Joe Lieberman still used the phrase tax relief in a press conference. You see the Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.

It’s not an accident that conversatives have built a communications infrastructure and “progressives” haven’t:

There’s a systematic reason for that. You can see it in the way that conservative foundations and progressive foundations work. Conservative foundations give large block grants year after year to their think tanks. They say, ‘Here’s several million dollars, do what you need to do.’ And basically, they build infrastructure, they build TV studios, hire intellectuals, set aside money to buy a lot of books to get them on the best-seller lists, hire research assistants for their intellectuals so they do well on TV, and hire agents to put them on TV. They do all of that. Why? Because the conservative moral system, which I analyzed in “Moral Politics,” has as its highest value preserving and defending the “strict father” system itself. And that means building infrastructure. As businessmen, they know how to do this very well.

Meanwhile, liberals’ conceptual system of the “nurturant parent” has as its highest value helping individuals who need help. The progressive foundations and donors give their money to a variety of grassroots organizations. They say, ‘We’re giving you $25,000, but don’t waste a penny of it. Make sure it all goes to the cause, don’t use it for administration, communication, infrastructure, or career development.’ So there’s actually a structural reason built into the worldviews that explains why conservatives have done better.

More on the strict father versus nurturant parent:

Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline ? physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

So, project this onto the nation and you see that to the right wing, the good citizens are the disciplined ones ? those who have already become wealthy or at least self-reliant ? and those who are on the way. Social programs, meanwhile, “spoil” people by giving them things they haven’t earned and keeping them dependent. The government is there only to protect the nation, maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to provide for the promotion and orderly conduct of business. In this way, disciplined people become self-reliant. Wealth is a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for such government take away from the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it.

Notice how both the strict father and nurturant parent treat citizens as children.

Why Teachers Love Depressing Books

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

I guess I was fortunate enough to dodge the “problem novel” phenomenon — until high school, at least. From Why Teachers Love Depressing Books:

An avid reader growing up, I decided that there were two types of children’s books: call it ”Little Women” versus ”Phantom Tollbooth.” The first type was usually foisted on you by nostalgic grown-ups. These were books populated by snivelers and goody-two-shoes, the most saintly of whom were sure to die in some tediously drawn-out scene. When the characters weren’t dying or performing acts of charity or thawing the hearts of mean old gentlemen, they mostly just hung around the house, thinking about how they felt about their relatives.

The people in the other kind of book, however, were entirely different. They had adventures.

Miller is reviewing Barbara Feinberg’s Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up:

Feinberg, who runs an arts program for kids, was provoked to write this unusual hybrid of memoir and polemic by the trials of her 12-year-old son, Alex. She had seen him steel himself, again and again, for the joyless task of completing the assigned reading for his ”language arts” class, and she decided to investigate how those books could so oppress a boy who otherwise happily gobbled up Harry Potter novels and anything by or about his idol, Mel Brooks.

Her curiosity plunges Feinberg into the contemporary genre of young adult (Y.A.) ”problem novels,” the bane of her son’s existence. These books describe, with spare realism, child and teenage protagonists weathering abuse, addiction, parental abandonment or fecklessness, mental illness, pregnancy, suicide, violence, prostitution or self-mutilation — and often a combination of the above. ”Teachers love them,” the local librarian explains as Feinberg scans a shelf of such titles. ”They win all the awards.”

Most of the books chosen by the English committee at Alex’s school are problem novels, and the curriculum proves inflexible. ”We can’t ever say we don’t like the books,” Alex tells his mother, because, according to his teacher, ”if you’re not liking the books, you’re not reading them closely enough.” The books are so depressing — ” ‘Everybody dies in them,’ he told me wearily” — Alex insists on reading with his bedroom door open.

I can distincting recall asking a girl classmate in sixth grade about the book she was reading, Flowers in the Attic. I was pretty much horrified by her synopsis; here’s how Ingram, the book distributor, summarizes it:

Upon their father’s tragic death, Cathy and her three siblings are ensconced in the attic of their hateful grandparent’s mansion, unaware that their deceitful mother is planning to keep their existence secret forever.

“Ensconced” doesn’t sound as bad as “locked up,” and the Ingram summary doesn’t mention incest.

Anyway, this is what an 11-year-old girl was reading for fun.