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Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Another One Bites the Dust

I know I'm a little late with this. I was going to title this "Don't Let the Screen Door Hit You in the Ass", but Jeff Jarvis already took care of that. Following in the slime trail left by Guardian writer Matthew Engel, the Observer's "award-winning" US correspondent, Ed Vulliamy, is leaving the US, and to mark the occasion he writes this long, rambling, tedious article.

The gist of it is that when he came to the US, it was "cool", but now it's a different place, not cool at all. It was very difficult for me to slog through this article without tearing out some hair. Allow me to summarize so you will not suffer the same fate.

Bill Clinton was cool. He might have made America cool, at least as far as my trendy EuroFriends are concerned. I am such a pathetic Clinton fanboy that I got a major thrill listening to the Allman Brothers with George Stephanopoulos, who ate takeout pizza with Clinton. Cool.

Clinton only intervened in other countries when all the people of those countries---and everyone all over the world!---wanted him to. Everyone in Haiti, for example, wanted the Americans there.

The only terrorists then were right-wing Americans who regarded Clinton as a usurper and despised the Federal government. This was uncool of them.

James Byrd was "lynched" in a racially vicious area, but because Clinton was in office there was moral outrage.

Some people are poor in America. This is racist.

Something about Juarez and black suns and deserts and mass abductions which are all America's fault. Tequila is really cool.

People from a lot of different nations live in New York, and rooted for their home teams in the World Cup. These people are the "real America". Meanwhile George Bush insulted Vicente Fox by not getting up at 2:30am to watch the US play Mexico. Most native-born Americans didn't give a shit, the arrogant bastards.

James Baker is a Dark Prince whom no one can withstand. 2000 election...Halliburton...Ken Lay...Ralph Reed...Karl Rove (who is the Horned One himself!)...

Parties out of power plot ways to return to power. This is sinister. Project for the New American Century! Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fthagn!

The CIA's assessment of Saddam's weapons was sexed---I mean---"cranked up" by the administration.

"I had the honour and pleasure" of name-dropping several supposed artistic geniuses, all of whom think the country is going to hell and dissent is being crushed.

In the '60s, being a good American meant questioning everything America did.

Clear Channel...owned by a "close friend" of Bush's!..."forced" the Dixie Chicks to "withdraw" their criticism of the Bush "regime".

Texas has its own power grid! Oh, the humanity!

Karl Rove, Man-Goat. Remember that.

French fries become Freedom Fries. Weep for the children.

Students "are urged" to spy on faculty who oppose the invasion of Iraq.

"The world"---by which I mean my friends in London and Paris---thinks America is becoming uncool.

I took my 9-year-old daughter to a Patti Smith concert, and started to hallucinate something about the Declaration of Independence.

Finally I'll indulge in a completely pointless reminiscence of a bar infested by Britons singing raunchy songs at breakfast time.

In summary, Clinton was cool because he was one of Us---the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll Boomers. He's an intellectual! He cares about people! Even non-American people! You know that because he tells you so. And he shakes their hands.

Bush, on the other hand, was one of Them---the non-'60s Boomers. Though of the same age, they lived in a completely different '60s. We wore blue jeans; they wore suits and ties. They drank; we inhaled (well, except for Clinton). We protested the war; they joined the military. They are too much like our parents.

(And this is all pretty funny when you remember how serious a little bastard Clinton was in his college days, whereas Bush was more of a frat rat.)

Vulliamy doesn't come right out and say this---he describes Us, but doesn't go into what They may be. But it seems to me that this is exactly the point; it's the Great Divide in politics. A lot of the media and (especially in Britain) political classes arose from the '60s. For them, it's always the '60s---always a time of Peace and Love and Pretty Rainbows through Caring and Sharing. But there were people of the same age who did not partake of the Age of Aquarius, but were dinosaurs left over from the hard-minded and rigid '50s.

It was clear to me that the Republicans had a hate-on for Clinton right from the first. Hillary Clinton embarrassed herself by whining about a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy to destroy her husband. They only thing she got wrong was the conspiracy part. A conspiracy usually implies secrecy. This was a conspiracy like the Roman Catholic church is a conspiracy, like McDonalds is a conspiracy.

But I never understood why this visceral dislike. Yeah, yeah, a lot of people put it down to his sexual proclivities; some of those same people made excuses for others in their own ranks who'd had the same proclivities. But I think it was less what Clinton had done that what he was---he was one of the Dungarees, rather than the Suits. (10 point reference.)

The same thing is operating here in reverse. Bush is a Suit. It doesn't matter what he does, in the eyes of the Dungarees he's one of those imperialist, militaristic, god-bothering Suits. He can do the very same things Clinton would do, but in Bush they're EEEEVIIIIIL. Clinton goes into Haiti---well, that's OK, because we know his motives are pure. He's one of Us! Bush, on the other hand, is an imperialist for going into Iraq (and Afghanistan). We know that because he's an imperialist. Clinton went to church, but we know that was harmless because he was a Dungaree. Now, when Bush the Suit goes to church, we don't know whether to laugh in mockery or tremble in fear. (He's said to---gasp!---pray!!)

I didn't realize that there was such an intra-generational divide amongst the Boomers. I wonder whether there will be one in the supposedly-slacker Generation X. Will there be war between the McJobbers and the hot-shot entrepreneurs? Which generation am I, anyway? Stay tuned.

But one thing's for sure, if a foreigner leaves the US in 2010, sighing for the coolness of Rummy, we won't read about it in the Observer.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Get Quinn Martin on the Phone!

(I wasn't going to post this, but I thought mocking it would make jkrank feel better.)

The post below gives me a great [well, maybe not] idea for a TV series.

A rich, eccentric man, not in the best of health, collects postcards. Unlike most other collectors, he collects cards from a certain (rather wide) time range---based on the message on the back. If a card interests him, he investigates---who's the sender and the recipient, and what are they to one another? What were their fates?

He does this because he's looking for something. He made his fortune long ago in some mysterious, almost certainly illegal way. Whatever it was, it involved a lot of coded postcards---not all of them sent by him. He's trying to track someone down...but why? Revenge? Reward? Reunion? That'll be part of the puzzle.

But while he's looking for clues to his own mystery, he solves those of other people.

I'm thinking the Vietnam War should have something to do with it---maybe arms smuggling. It will involve a lot of different countries around the Pacific Rim.

Since he can't get out much, he'll need a mis-matched team of male and female assistants that will try hard not to fall in love. There might be an annoying reporter on his tail, and definitely government agents and other shady types from his past will turn up from time to time, wanting favors. Then, of course, there are the people he finds and reunites or brings to justice or whatever, plus the colorful world of postcard collecting. [Ahem. I have no idea whether postcard collecting is indeed a colorful world. But the book sales I went to in NoCal sure were "colorful". I think there's something about collecting anything that brings out the creepy obsessive in us all.]

Not all of his researches have happy endings, by any means.

Think of it as The Equalizer coupled with The Finder of Lost Loves, with maybe a bit of Nero Wolfe thrown in.

This show would've been golden back in the late '70s or early '80s, when people were happy to watch geriatric detectives toddle about the landscape (see, e.g. Barnaby Jones or Murder, She Wrote.)

[Turn's out Quinn's dead. Bummer.]

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Other People's Mail

Dr. Frank is into reading other people's mail.

That's a list found on a street somewhere by a friend of his. Frank's posted elsewhere about odd love letters and other things he's picked up off the streets. I'm afraid that I don't see the attraction of this. The primary obstacle, in my mind, is touching something that may have come from god knows who and been blowing around in a gutter somewhere. No thanks. The other obstacle is a reluctance to read other people's private thoughts, along with a general disinterest in them.

(The example in that post is funny and sad---it's a bride's "to do" list, which includes both reasonable things like "save money in joint account" and bizarre-oh things like "regularly scheduled staff meetings". The hell? She also places a great importance on looking really good for their First Dance. But the saddest thing of all is the item that makes up Frank's title: "Quarterly Review of Improvement Areas". Oh, honey.)

However, my distaste for this hobby is a bit strange considering that I collect postcards, and I collect them as much for what's on the back as what's on the front. Perhaps "collect" is a bit premature. A couple months ago Niles took me to a local stamp show, and I decided I would buy a couple postcards. I've always admired those sunny mid-century postcards (see, e.g. here), so I figured it was time to get some of my own.

Postcards are different from letters or notes found in the street. No one writes and mails a postcard thinking it will be private. If nothing else, the mailmen read them (in their copious free time).

A few months ago I picked up this postcard of Monsanto's "Adventure Thru Inner Space" at Tomorrowland in Disneyland. Look at the rest of the page for more info (Ride in the "Atomobile"!). Unfortunately the dealer didn't have the rest of the postcards.

But when I go looking for postcards, I'm searching for the perpetually-sunny 1950s. At the same time I got the Monsanto postcard, I got a standard-issue postcard of the New York skyline, taken on a sunny day (er, actually, it looks as if the skyline picture was cut out and pasted onto a sunny day, because there's a stark outline around the buildings). It's a postcard from United Airlines: "The aw-inspiring skyline of Manhattan Island. Only United Air Lines links New York with 80 cities from coast to coast and border to border." But what really made me buy it was the writing on the back. It's addressed to:

Wedding Showcase
The Price Is Right
P.O. Box 363
New York 46 NY

It starts out "Dear Sirs", but that's crossed out and only the name of the sender is written below it---a lady in Jacksonburg, West Virginia. (I'd tell you her name, but it's a very unusual one, and Google came up with her name and address in Jacksonburg.)

For you hermits, young whippersnappers, and furriners out there---the Price Is Right is a game show in which contestants are shown a bunch of merchandise and have to guess the price. Whoever gets closest without going over gets the goodies. Of course, when we watched it (starting in 1972) all the contestants were there in the studio, but this history of the show says that in the late '50s, there was a home game in which people mailed in bids. This card is postmarked June 20, 1957.

The lady from Jacksonburg was evidently new to the game, since she bid $1500. Everybody knows you don't bid a nice round number like that. She should have bid $1496. (No, "bid" does not mean you have to pay.) $1500 was a lot of bread back then. Wonder if that included a honeymoon.

I also wonder how this card entered the market. Did someone from The Price Is Right sell the cards after the prize had been won? Did they just dump them? When I was a kid, game shows and various other kinds of TV shows were always urging you to send a postcard in order to get some freebie or other. My sister and I wanted to, but my mother (wisely) wouldn't let us, most of the time. So it was cool to actually have a postcard someone had sent in.

On Sunday I picked up two unused postcards because of the Googie architecture of their subjects---one was a drawing of the Holiday Inn in Beaumont, Texas (seen today in its utilitarian modern form); the other was of the Lakeview Methodist Assembly (i.e., a church) in Palestine, Texas. The church has an A-frame wooden shake roof and slanted rock walls in front---not just a Googie church, but a sort of tiki Googie church. Has a kind of '70s feel to the picture. These two very different images were produced by the same company, so maybe that's how they ended up, unused, together.

I also found some nice, hand-tinted postcards that had been used and mailed. The first is of the Golden Gate Bridge, and is to a Mrs. Hall of Briggs, TX, from a SeaBee. The sender gives his address (you rarely see a return address on a postcard, and here I bought two on Sunday---but they were both from servicemen; maybe this is a requirement) as the 66th Naval Construction Battalion at an address in New York. But what was he doing in California? According to this page the 66th moved from the East Coast to Camp Parks (in Dublin, Cal., across the Bay and a bit inland from SF) in July of 1943. The card is postmarked July 12, 1943, the day before the 66th moved from Camp Parks to Hueneme, California. (That might mean Port Hueneme, which is near Oxnard, north of LA. From there they went on to the Aleutians and finally arrived in Okinawa in July of '45, where, for all I know, the sender of this card ran into my grandfather.)

He's not a scintillating correspondent, though. "Am enjoying the sunny California weather," is the only thing he writes. In San Francisco? Right. (Must be some sort of secret code.)

The next three cards are all to the same person---a Mrs. R. of Austin (it's kind of an unusual name, so I won't use it), who apparently had many friends who went places and sent her postcards. The first is from a family on vacation in Yosemite; they sent her this postcard (very small; it's called "Portal of Grandeur" here but now they call it the Tunnel View) on July 29, 1945. (You'd think not too many people would be taking their vacations while there was a war on, even if it was almost over. Wonder who they were.)

The next card is of a (rather garish) sunset in Reno, Nevada, sent June 12, 1950. It too is tinted (rather than a simple photo). That couple was going on from Reno to Yosemite the next day.

Finally, someone whose name is lost to history sent Mrs. R a set of postcards from "Florida's Gulf Coast Scenic Highway". There's a gatefold with 18 views printed front and back, attached to their own little envelope. It was sent in 1948, but the copyright on the packet says 1942. I feel like I'm cheating you here, describing it but not being able to show it (dammit, I'd hoped to have money for a real web site by now). I googled around, but didn't have a site that had them. The outside of the packet has "Florida" in big letters, and there's a Tampa big-letter card too. ("Big letters" are those big letters that have little scenes inside them. Like this one. Man, I love those babies. You know you've been somewhere when you pick up one of those. Somewhere like Marfa.)

The very last postcard is on glossy photo stock like a modern postcard, rather than the paper the others are printed on, but it too seems to have been tinted. If so, surely it's one of the last of the breed. It shows an exotic beach scene with an electric blue sky fading down through pink and yellow over a lime-colored bay. It's a scene of Nha Trang, in Vietnam, and comes from an American soldier. It's postmarked Sep 13, 1965.

This image, from this page, shows a perspective like the one in the postcard, except the postcard shows a local sailing boat, like the ones in the picture here.

The soldier---a Pvt. [suppressed] Bradley (or possibly Brodley, Broudley, or Broidley) writes to "Mom Taylor" at a retirement home in Los Angeles. He says he's taken a lot of pictures, and he knows she will enjoy seeing them. He also says, "This is quite an experience for me. I don't think I will forget it for a long time."

So, of course I got to wondering what about Pvt. Bradley's fate. All I know is that he doesn't seem to have ended up here.

There's a big postcard show in Houston toward the end of October. Assuming I'm still here leeching (a good bet), I look forward to buying more of other people's mail.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Let's Hear It for the Boy

In other blog news, longtime LGF pest Hans ze Beeman has got hisself a blog. He has to show off his fancy Yurrpeen ejumacation by calling it Cum Grano Salis, which I'm pretty sure is sumpin dirty in one o' them furrin-type languages. (His little icon in the URL bar is an eye; I'd be careful about getting the granos of salis in my eye, if I was him.)

Hans blew into LGF a while back and started spouting some "Oh, you Americans are all ____, why don't you wake up and ____" and suchlike uninformed drivel. (I've forgotten the details.) Then the assembled threw cites at him and he responded with increasing good grace until now he is a staunch anti-Idiotarian. Behold, the power of cheese---no, wait, I mean---the Internet!

(Unless that other Hans was another guy entirely, in which case I offer profuse apologies.)

Go over and annoy him. (And ask him why his ads are selling dog drugs. I think Blogspot's software is taking the drugs itself. This would explain much.)

Long Time, No See

Hey, look who's back---it's James Morrow! His new blog is called the Daily James. Don't go looking for him over at his old blog, the Weekly James, like I did.

(Seems he forgot his password. Shyeah, what a loser.)

Monday, August 18, 2003

It's Better Than Slapin, I Suppose

Sir Crispin Tickell is British. Is he:

A) The crusty sea captain mascot of a crunchy, sugary cereal;

B) A bewigged judge in an 18th century version of Sesame Street;

C) A fetishist in a jolly porn flick;

D) A member of Oxford University's Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding; or

E) All of the above.

If you want serious commentary, go talk to Steven Chapman.
I'll be under the desk, giggling madly.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Deep Hurting, Deep Shock

Last Saturday night I taped Deep Shock (IMDB entry here), a Sci-Fi Channel original movie co-written by some guy. I was ordered to watch it, and I think it only fair to give a review.

Now, before I go on, I must point out that I really like Sofia Sideshow, and I think jkrank is a fine writer. Deep Shock, on the other There is a lesson here, I suppose, about too many eels spoiling the bouillabaisse.

Plot summary: There is a mysterious trench beneath the Arctic which is causing the ice pack to melt. Projections show that the vast majority of the earth will be covered by water within the next few decades. A UN committee agrees that lightly nuking the trench will make it all better. A dissenting view is held by Dr. Anne Fletcher. She has detected "signals"---which she says may be from some intelligence---coming from the trench, and she wants more time to study them. But, as always, dissent is crushed and not only is Dr. Fletcher's plan rejected, but she herself is booted off the committee.

So they go ahead with the plan to have the trench nuked by the underwater research station Hubris (no, really). Just before the torpedos can be launched, there's a slight mutiny. Hurst, a friend of Fletcher's who is on the Hubris (she's in Washington), tries to prevent the launch---for he, too, dissents from this plan. But again dissent is crushed (this time by hot lead) and the launch proceeds. This causes giant electric eels to come out of the trench and electrocute the entire Hubris crew.

Back at the UN, they're not quite sure what's happened, except that the Hubris was under attack and now no one answers. So they decide to send Dr. Chomsky (apparently head of the UN committee) with Fletcher to investigate. The military commander of the mission is Andy Raines, who just happens to be Fletcher's ex-husband.

So Fletcher, Chomsky, Raines, and some redshirts set off for the Hubris. There's a bit of pointless "drama" before they get there, but they finally arrive and find everyone all dead and crispy.

After that I can't think of a single thing that happens until Chomsky announces that it's been decided that since lightly nuking the trench didn't work, they're going to nuke the shit out of it, and fifty attack subs are on their way to do the job. (Note: Yes, this would mean subs from many different nations.) Fletcher, who's been working on a way to communicate with the eels, redoubles her efforts, and at some point one of the critters comes up through the dive hole (they did this before, when they killed the crew) and mind-melds with her. She therefore discovers that they are alien, telepathic giant intelligent electric eels, and apparently they are nesting in the trench, or something.

Fletcher and Raines warn the eels of the attack. The eels tell them they (the eels) can't prevent it either. After most of the remaining cast is killed in various ways, Fletcher and Raines move the Hubris further from the trench so that it will be somewhat protected from the blast. At one point they run out of power, but the eels come to the rescue and supply power to the station.

Having moved the station as far as they can, Fletcher and Raines get out and leave it to sink to the bottom, where it will provide a nesting place for the eels which is sheltered from the nuclear blast (see, the Hubris was built to withstand falling ice, so surely it will survive a nuclear blast). Fletcher estimates that the eels won't be ready to spawn again for 1000 years.

Back home, they both swear that all the eels were killed, and Fletcher gets the UN to decree that no one should try to visit the Hubris for the next five years, because of the radiation. She and Raines get back together again. This is considered a happy ending all around.

Some notes:

1. Deep Shock provided the opportunity for many hydrodynamics jokes, a benefit most movies don't give you.


3. When we saw the alien, intelligent, telepathic, giant electric eels for the first time, we burst out laughing.

4. David Keith, who plays Andy Raines, is a hunka-hunka burnin' cutie-pie luuuuuv; but more, he's the only major cast member who does not mince, prance, simper, smirk, flail, or masticate the scenery. It was always a relief to have the camera on him. Whether or not he did any actual acting, I couldn't say.

5. The only word to describe Dr. Chomsky is "bitch". He seems to be auditioning for a role as Prom Queen, and joins a long and distinguished tradition of really fey villains. His end wasn't nearly horrible enough, and it was preceded by very long scenes of him running frantically through the corridors of the Hubris screaming for Fletcher and Raines to come save him. I almost expected him to say, "Oh, the pain, the pain..." "WillIAM!" or "Save me, you cretinous collection of clanking clutter!"

6. The scene at the UN where Chomsky and Fletcher argue over what to do is one of the most embarrassing ever to be committed to film, and I sincerely hope Jeff had nothing to do with it. First, Fletcher and Chomsky try a smirk-off, but Fletcher's not bitch enough for him, so Chomsky wins handily. At no time do any actual facts play a role, just attitude.

Let me try to re-create the feel of this scene with alternate dialogue:

Fletcher: I put it to you, Dr. Chomsky, that you are a kindergarten baby, you wash your face in gravy, you wrap it up in bubble gum and send it to the Navy.

Chomsky: Fletcher, you think you're hot snot on a silver platter but you're just a cold booger on a paper plate. (To audience:) Come on, girls, let's throw her out of the club! All in favor say "Bloomingdale's!"; all opposed say, "K-Mart!"

7. The movie throws characters at us at 15 second intervals until the cast stabilizes at about the time they enter the Hubris. Up to then, we've seen a sub attacked, Hurst ventilated in slo-mo, the rest of the Hubris crew electrocuted in an unintentionally comical manner, and two pilots killed in a plane crash. Excuse me, could you let us know who we're supposed to care about, please?

8. Oops. It turns out we're supposed to really care about Fletcher, and regard her as the hero because she wants to save the eels. But after she finally learns to communicate with them, it's clear that they don't give a damn that they're making the earth uninhabitable for us. I figure one attempt at accommodation is good; after that, to hell with 'em. So in the end all Fletcher has done is push the eel problem onto our remote descendants (who may be less equipped than we are to deal with them). The "five years" business smells like sequel setup to me.

9. This movie can afford starship-like submarines, pretty eels, and the Gratuitously Cool Command Chair, but it can't afford real water. The water that floods the Hubris is CGI water.

10. There was some sort of Vulcan Shao-lin novitiate priest driving the Jimmy Carter.

11. My boyfriend wants to know where he can go to get those two hours of his life refunded.

In conclusion: OHM my god, we found this film reVOLTing. It AMPly demonstrates the CURRENT state of Hollywood. WATT were they thinking? I eagerly await its INDUCTANCE into the Hall of Shame. It nearly exceeded my CAPACITANCE for bad movies. Fortunately, my RESISTANCE to puns was not damped.

(Better luck next time Jeff. Remember, practice makes perfect.)

Friday, August 15, 2003

Want to Come Flash with Me in BostNyBalt This Pim?

This post is entitled "Feel free to die, insipid craze". It's about flash mobs.

A flash mob, as I understand it, is when a bunch of people (instructed by web site and cell phone), gather at some public place to do something relatively harmless, then disperse. In this article from the BBC, a flash mob gathers at a Bristol pub, goes outside, and does the conga.

Previous flash mobs (says the article) have 1) broken into spontaneous applause at a New York department store, 2) stared at a sofa in a London furniture store, and 3) "swamped" a Boston card store.

(Oh, my goodness---read about the Toys R Us dinosaur debacle in that second article.)

Now, I must admit that the idea of participating in such a thing has no charm for me. However, the knowledge that they even exist gives me a certain thrill. This is exactly the sort of things that we denizens of THE FUTURE! should be doing.

Throughout the '70s (and even before), it was SOP for science fiction stories to include temporal color by mentioning, off-handedly, some stupid craze sweeping the future's cities. Sometimes the author just wanted to throw in some color; sometimes he wanted to point out that future people (that's us) would take part in silly fads just like the ones of his own time, except they'd be cooler because they'd be technology-driven.

Other authors---usually British ones---were trying to make a point about how, in the endless grim gray cities of the future, our masters would arrange for pointless mass activities (which would be spontaneous and non-coercive yet universal) so that we would not grow discontented under their iron heels. Except that in these kinds of stories, the British mobs would, for example, stalk, kill, and eat an elderly Korean woman in the streets.

Just look at this sentence from the BBC story:

Between 1800 and 1815 BST, contact is made with a shaven-headed man wearing a black T-shirt with a skull logo, near the fruit machine of a Bristol pub.

(Niles, who claims wide experience of Bristol pubs, says a "fruit machine" is a slot machine.)

Imagine how this sentence would've been written in a science fiction novel from 1972:

Between 1800 and 1815 Zulu, contact is made with a domie wearing a craniac near the Fruit-O of a Bristopolis synthoteque.

(In this case, though, a Fruit-O would be a machine that would sell that rare-ish treat: tiny squares of fruit candy. For real fruit, you'd have to go to Claridge's or sumpfin.)

Isn't that just thrilling? You are living in a time when the drug-induced visions of 1970s sci-fi writers are coming true. And you can still run down to Safeway and buy all the fruit you want.

So I say, "Feel free to live for a little while longer, insipid futuristic craze."

Unless, of course, you get in my way or hurt people, in which case I might have to call the robobill and they'll come administer sleepies and cart you all off to the combers, if they don't ash you immediately with their lazos.

Via jang bloggie EmJnz.

Monday, August 11, 2003

The Evil Emporium

The post below makes me think about an aspect of Why They Hate Us---where "they" is not necessarily J. Random Mohammed, but Our Pals the Europeans, South Koreans, etc.

When I was in Australia I experienced one incident that could possibly be construed as anti-American (that is, aside from reading the Sydney Morning Herald regularly). I mentioned to a fellow that I was surprised to see the American flag used to advertise quite a few things in Sydney. My take on it was that Australian advertising firms used Stars N Stripes because somehow American was cool. I found that mildly amusing. (It was news to me that foreigners ever thought anything American was cool. They'd always told me that they found it 1) bad, or 2) insignificant.)

His view, however, was that the Eeevil Yankee Imperialists were shoving American crap down the throats of the Aussies---LOOK! IT'S AMERICAN! AMERICA = GOOD! BUY! BUY! BUY! YOU SHEEP!!

So (if I'm right) we have a situation where foreign advertising agencies sell American stuff in their countries with the American flag because the people they're selling to apparently think American=cool. Meanwhile, the people they're not selling to become more and more convinced that the Evil Empire is coming for their wallets, their souls, and their wimminfolk.

Mind you, I understand this attitude to an extent. I grind my teeth everytime someone tries to sell me something with "European elegance" or "Eurostyling". I once saw a "Eurostove". "Euro! Euro! Euro!" I cry. "I am so sick of 'Euro'. It's not flipping better because it's European, people! I don't want to see another damned thing advertised as 'Euro'!"

"You're so right, dear," soothed Niles, my Euroboyfriend.

But I don't blame European companies for selling their goods here; I blame those sheeplike Americans who can be hypnotized by the lulling chant of EuroEuroEuro. "Look, it's Euuuuuro. It's chaaaaarming. It's eeeeelegant. They're so much more sophiiiiisticaaaaated than we are. This will make you look smaaaart. Euuuuuuroooooo."

Fashion Fuhrers

Via LGF comes this tale of a Hong Kong clothing store which is using Nazi imagery to sell its clothes. This is not just a few random swastikas, but full-blown Nazi banners. There's a picture at Big White Guy's site, as well as on LGF.

This reminds me of an incident that made headlines in Australia when I lived there, back in 1999. An advertising company in Taiwan got an account to sell German-made heaters. So they whipped up some clever little billboards showing a jolly cartoon Hitler, with the slogan, "Declare war on the cold front!" According to this article in the Taipei Times:

Shen Yu-shan...of the K.E. and Kingstone trading company, which sells the German heaters in Taiwan, said the company designed the ad campaign, which began this month.

"We decided to use Hitler because as soon as you see him, you think of Germany. It leaves a deep impression," said Shen, who works in the company's planning and design department.

Boy, does it ever. (The article is accompanied by a small picture of the ad, but you can click on it and get a larger one.)


Both [Patricia] Kortmann [of the German Cultural Center] and [Johannes] Goeth [of the German Trade Office] said the advertisement didn't surprise them because they often encounter Taiwanese who admire Hitler and lack a deep understanding of European history.

"Taxi drivers will often tell me Hitler was a great man, very strong," Goeth said.

Googling up this story, I also found that Taipei also had a jail-themed restaurant (named Jail) that displayed photos of concentration camp victims. (Again, click on the picture for a larger view.) They also labelled their restroom "Gas Chamber". Har!

The manager said that he didn't know what those pictures were, and took them down right away. Kept the jail theme, though.

Meanwhile, in Seoul, a bar popular with college students called itself "The Third Reich" and was decorated with many Nazi themes. Under government pressure (says ABC) the bar closed down. That article is dated March 9, 2000. By the time of this Time Asia article of almost three months later, the bar was reopened under the name "The Fifth Reich", and still hangs its Nazi flags. (Another Time article (by the same author, Donald McIntyre) says that the "Hitler" bar in Pusan, South Korea, changed its name after protests---to "Ditler".)

[This makes me think of the startling scene in the bad Japanese movie Invasion of the Neptune Men [aka Uchu Kaisoku-sen,] which was shown on MST3K in its Sci-Fi Channel days. Japan is---as it is frequently---under alien attack, and one of the many buildings shown exploding is one with an enormous cut-out of Hitler on it. "No! Not the Hitler Building!" cry Mike and the Bots. "What about the children? Where will they go to see the Hitler memorabilia? The Hitler rides and games?" I'd always assumed that cut-out, if real, was some symbol of Axis solidarity during the war. But maybe it was just another ill-conceived advertising gimmick.]

As far as I'm concerned, it's not hard to know what to make of this---East Asians are untroubled by the implications of Nazi symbolism because that symbolism didn't march down their streets. The first of the Time articles shows this very well---"But at least they dressed well," an English Literature student tells McIntyre. This must be what Izzue, the Hong Kong clothing company, was thinking.

Big White Guy wants to know how the Chinese would view a business that advertised with the Rising Sun flag. Well, McIntyre asked the Koreans at The Fifth Reich that very question, he reports in his second article (actually an opinion piece). They said they'd be outraged. That would be different.

So, despite the anxieties of the LGF peanut gallery, I diagnose terminal cluelessness rather than the rise of anti-semitism in East Asia.

However, this cluelessness was inevitable. As memories---even (or especially) collective ones---fade with time, our ancestors' demons lose their power. After all, little kids play cowboys and Indians without thinking very hard on what it might really mean to be scalped. Kids did this years ago, too---even kids whose grandparents might have actually lived in fear of attack. People who have never experienced a danger can be pretty nonchalant about it.

That doesn't mean we have to just shrug this sort of thing off, but it does show that we shouldn't over-react, either.

UPDATE I: More pics at LGF. That one fellow in the top photo---the only person you see clearly---looks disturbingly like someone I know, but I can't think who.

UPDATE II: Tim Blair points us to this interesting article on the meaning of "dissent" and how easy it is to be an intellectual these days ("Whatever it is, I'm against it" is the intellectual credo.) The author says:

Even today, a nostalgia for the Soviet Union reigns in some circles, including portions of the academy. There is even a KGB bar in New York City. As one wag observed, it is difficult to imagine scholars or the literati flocking to a Gestapo bar...

Poor fellow! Such a limited imagination.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Tinfoil Time at the Guardian

I was having a bit of trouble finding things to be outraged about, but fortunately Silent Running comes to the rescue with this juicy tidbit by Janet Dubé in the Guardian.

The gist of the article is "Ung, Bush religious. Religion bad! Religion scary! Ook! Ook! Go away scary Bush! Eeeee! Eeeee! Eeeee!"

Now, the silliness of this stance toward Bush is one thing, but it's only been about the hundredth article in the Guardian with the same theme. It's the dog days of summer; they must be unearthing their old columns on this topic, shuffling the paragraphs around, and republishing the result. Soon they'll have run out of permutations, and start printing the columns backwards or something. They can't make any less sense that way.

The part that really sets me off is this:

Bush is succoured by the Christian right, some of whom believe, as Giles Fraser wrote recently in the Guardian, that when Israel fully occupies the alleged Holy Land, Jesus will come back for them. Away with the infidels! Down with their mosques! Jesus saves!

Well, someone is being suckered here, but I don't think it's Bush.

Really, this is an embarrassment to the Guardian. I'm quite serious. This sort of thing is not too distantly related to the articles in the Arab News warning of sinister Jewish cabals. Surely in the future people will read these and shake their heads, wondering what kind of publication the Guardian was, printing hysterical rubbish about dark religious conspiracies.

Perhaps this is the Giles Fraser column Dubé refers to. It's a rather alarmist little article about how the creation of the state of Israel has American religious fanatics rolling on the ground, babbling in tongues about the imminent coming of Christ. Well, just because it's in the Guardian doesn't mean he's wrong. Let's examine his evidence:

According to the most influential of the Christian Zionists, Hal Lindsey...

OK, that's it. We're done. The. Most. Influential. of the dark forces is Hal Lindsey, author of (among other things) The Late Great Planet Earth. Hal Lindsey. Hands up, who's heard of Hal Lindsey?

I first heard of Lindsey in about 1975, when I was in my early teens. I saw his book in our local bookstore; its predictions of Impending Doom at first led me to believe it was some sort of environmentalist tract. As far as I can tell, this was the zenith of Lindsey's influence and fame. I believe he's been predicting the imminent End of the World for about thirty years now, without detectable success. Oh, no doubt today there are families whose only two books are the Bible and The Late Great Planet Earth, and they conduct readings from each three times a day. But those people are not a terribly large or influential group.

Not that you'd ever hear that from the Guardian. Fraser goes on to say:

There are 45 million evangelicals in the US and they represent a crucial block vote for born-again Bush.

Forty-five million evangelicals. This is about one out of every six people in the United States. OK, if you say so. But "evangelical" does not necessarily mean "Christian Zionist", big fan of Israel. The conservative Christians I knew didn't particularly like Jews, and they looked upon Israel with everything from apathy to mild hostility. Of course, that was more than 25 years ago, when Hal Lindsey was a big deal.

I remember the Reagan years, when it seemed every wannabe-politician had to present his Born Again bona fides. I was genuinely worried in those days that the religious right's grip on society was only going to tighten. I don't think they were any more numerous in those days, but they had helped bring Ronald Reagan to power and so they were more confident and outspoken, and tried harder to make society in their image.

So I don't have any fondness for the likes of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson (or Ronald Reagan, because of them), and certainly not for the likes of Hal Lindsey. But I don't see any sign that George Bush is particularly influenced by any of them. He's certainly not beholden to them in the same way Ronald Reagan was.

As even Fraser admits, Bush has scarcely been the supposedly-influential Christian Zionists' mouthpiece to Israel, considering that he's called for a Palestinian state and has been pressuring Sharon to make concessions in order to get this "Road Map" on the road.

But what was it that terribly influential Christian Zionist Hal Lindsey was going to say?:

According to the most influential of the Christian Zionists, Hal Lindsey, the valley from Galilee to Eilat will flow with blood and "144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved, but the rest of Jewry would perish in the mother of all holocausts". These lunatic ravings would matter little were they not so influential.

Now that is disturbing---gibbering about rivers of blood and the holocaust of the Jews. We certainly ought to be concerned if this kind of idiocy is going to influence one of the major players in the Middle East peace process.

Come to think of it, I have heard stuff like this, not too long ago, in connection with the Middle East. Now, where was it? Think...think...was it Rumsfeld? Powell? Bush? No. Hmmm. Darn! Can't remember.

By the way, Giles Fraser is described thusly:

The Rev Dr Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford

The Vicar of Putney! I like to imagine a kindly, silver-haired old gent in clerical black with dog collar. He's advising poor Mrs. Dimbley on what to do about her daughter, who's become very wild, and going about with all the Wrong Element. After sending her on her way he returns to his cozy study, and pounds out a hysterical screed against the sinister American Christian Right who have insinuated their tentacles into all the corridors of power in the United States, following the lead of their masters, the International J---

What's that? Tea? Lovely!

Going back to Dubé, her main beef seems to be the "evil" in "Axis of Evil". I cannot understand the deliberate (surely it's deliberate?) obtuseness of those who can't seem to separate the religious meaning of "evil" from its colloquial meaning. Have they never said that something or someone is "evil" without believing that there was a literal Satan behind it?

At least now I know that I no longer need to take Elaine Pagels seriously:

"It's one thing to experience and talk about the events of 9/11 as evil acts and another to suggest that some countries or people are on an 'evil axis'" pointed out Dr Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University.

That's right---unless you see the number 666 growing in Saddam's scalp, you cannot technically refer to him as "evil". Is the Dear Leader hiding horns under that kewpie-doll hair? No? Nope, not evil then. Have another helping of "special meat" and calm down.

Not Gone, But Forgotten

Well, I'm back. Didja miss me?


Hmm. Crickets, you missed me, though, right?

...chir---ssshhh!...everybody quiet!...


Well. I've been working on an actual scientific paper, and now that the first draft is done, I'm free to do all of the thousands of things that I've been putting off to write it---like, say, starting another paper.

Until I get to that, though, I might make a few blog posts. Avert your eyes.