Archive for May, 2007

Heckuva Job, Brownieback

In case you missed it, today Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback favored us with an NYT op-ed explaining why he raised his hand:

[E]arlier this month… during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

Okay, not really sure that there is not, in fact, a stark choice between evolution and creationism, but we’ll have more on that shortly. But I’m okay with his basic premise so far: Science informs us about the physical world, religion informs us about the spiritual world. Perfectly reasonable. Brownback really should have just stopped right there.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith – not science – can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

Brownback is losing me fast. Faith “purifies” reason? Faith “supplements” the scientific method? To me this sounds like he’s encouraging scientists to look at and consider factors other than, well, data. Also, as an atheist/agnostic, I resent the implication that only religion can provide us with “values, meaning and purpose.” People of faith do not have a monopoly on those lofty ideals, and many do not possess them at all.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory – like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations – go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

And Brownback has just flushed the last of his credibility down the toilet. No, not because he is embracing the Third Way of biology (see, there is a middle ground between creationism and evolution – let us all gather there together!), but because it took him all of two paragraphs to completely contradict his live-and-let-live, science-and-religion-each-have-their-own-spheres happy talk. Extra bonus points for magnanimously agreeing with “microevolution,” and claiming that Intelligent Design is just another flavor of evolutionary theory.

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation – and indeed life today – is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Um, actually, the scientists are refusing to venture outside the realm of empiricism. Of course, Brownback and other IDers have no such limitation and can speculate about divine intervention as much as they want. That sounds pretty anti-science, anti-reason to me…

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

Again, I thought BB had just said that science was supposed to be in charge of explaining the physical world? How quickly they forget…

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

So, Brownback has gone from saying that science has its role in describing reality, to issuing the rather large caveat that science can only describe reality as long as it agrees with Biblical truths. If it disagrees with the Bible, then it must be mindless atheistic doctrine. Brownback’s support for science is highly conditional, with a very large escape clause. In other words, it is a sham.

I suppose it goes without saying that Senator Brownback is not my first choice for president.

4 comments May 31st, 2007 at 09:06pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Politics,Religion,Republicans,Science

Softball Forever

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I guess I have another good 40-50 years left…

The year Mickey Werner was born, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their first game at Ebbets Field and the “Curse of the Bambino” referred to Babe Ruth’s fondness for four-letter words – not the Red Sox’s dry spell.

Almost a century later, Werner still loves the game so much he laces up his cleats every week and heads for the pitcher’s mound.

“They don’t care how old the pitcher is, as long as they get the bat on the ball,” said Werner, 93, of Baldwin, L.I. “You’re never too old.”

The sprightly retired New York City physical education teacher is the oldest player in the Long Island Senior Softball League’s 68-and-older division.

And he throws a mean pitch.

Yesterday, Werner’s team, the Mets, bested youngblood pitcher Paul Rotter, 85, of the Dodgers in a 9-6 win at Baldwin Park in Baldwin Harbor.

“He throws the ball as good as me, maybe better,” said Rotter, a retired teacher for the deaf from Woodmere, L.I., who goes by the nickname The Kid.

(…)

[T]he league is bigger than ever, with 106 players this year, the most in its two-decade history, according to league Commissioner Joe Friedman.

Every Monday and Wednesday at 9:45 a.m., four teams tuck their graying – or bald – heads under blue baseball caps featuring the name of their sponsor, the Bristal Assisted Living Communities. They pull out their weathered gloves and line up for a pair of friendly doubleheaders.

All the while, the wisecracks fly faster than a popup to right field.

“All our cheerleaders are in wheelchairs,” said Joe Carillo, 76, a retired Nassau County police officer who plays first base.

“[Werner's] last team was ‘Shea Funeral Home,’” teased Bassey. “They gave him back. They had to wait too long.”

The genuine camaraderie brings more than a hearty laugh.

“Not only do I have fun, it’s good for me,” Rotter said, his thick fingers twined into the chain-link fence behind home plate. “It’s part of the reason I’m still alive.”

Awesome. I really do hope I’m still playing (or at least breathing) into my 80s or 90s, but I’ll take what I can get.

More senior softball coolness here.

10 comments May 31st, 2007 at 06:54pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Softball,Sports

This! Is! ‘MURKA!!!

I hope this isn’t true…

Georgie Anne Geyer writes today in the Dallas Morning News about President Bush’s strange behavior during a recent meeting with “[f]riends of his from Texas.”

(…)

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated “I am the president!” He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of “our country’s destiny.”

This is the second time in recent weeks that accounts have surfaced of Bush lashing out or “ranting” in private meetings when responding to criticism of his Iraq policy. Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report offered a similar account earlier this month:

[S]ome big money players up from Texas recently paid a visit to their friend in the White House. The story goes that they got out exactly one question, and the rest of the meeting consisted of The President in an extended whine, a rant, actually, about no one understands him, the critics are all messed up, if only people would see what he’s doing things would be OK…etc., etc. This is called a “bunker mentality” and it’s not attractive when a friend does it. When the friend is the President of the United States, it can be downright dangerous. Apparently the Texas friends were suitably appalled, hence the story now in circulation.

It’s only a matter of time before Dubya grows out a big, bushy beard and starts walking around shirtless, pointing his sword at people….

29 comments May 31st, 2007 at 05:51pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Wankers,Weirdness

The Adventures Of The Smoothest Man In The World

Man, I wish I had this kind of confidence:

Two men robbed a U-Haul truck rental store around 3 p.m. Sunday, taking an unspecified amount of cash, according the store’s owner. But instead of fleeing, one man lingered and tried to strike up a conversation with the woman he had just robbed.

“He stuck around and was trying to get the female employee’s number,” U-Haul store general manager Patrick Sobocinski said. “She said he was just saying, ‘Hey, baby, you’re pretty fine.’”

According to Sobocinski, one robber went behind the counter, put his hands around both employees’ waists and demanded money.

The robber forced one employee to open the register and grabbed cash. Then he forced the workers to the ground and fled, but his accomplice waited for a few moments and then asked one clerk whether she’d go out with him, he said.

“She said he was saying, ‘Can I get your number and go out sometime?’” Sobocinski said.

No surprise ending here – the woman turned him down, and he fled.

So much for women digging the bad boys.

17 comments May 31st, 2007 at 07:04am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Weirdness

Belated Wednesday Softball Blogging

Pretty good game last night: 7-for-9, 3 doubles, 5 runs, and 5 RBI, to push my career average up to the .600 mark. And one of the outs was a hard line drive right at the leftfielder. Not a whole lot of action on defense; there was only one fly ball that I had any shot at, and I just barely got a glove on it.

2007 Stats: 4 games, .679 BA (19-28), .964 SLG, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 runs, 10 RBI.

Career Stats: 51 games, .600 BA (210-350), .820 SLG, 35 2B, 6 3B, 10 HR, 119 runs, 95 RBI.

5 comments May 31st, 2007 at 07:01am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Softball

Another One Bites The Dust

Good bloody riddance:

The Arkansas Times reports that the controversial U.S. attorney in Arkansas, Tim Griffin, has resigned:

The U.S. Justice Department has notified Arkansas’s congressional delegation that Interim Eastern District U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin is resigning effective Friday, June 1.

Griffin, a former protege of Karl Rove, was formerly research director of the Republican National Committee. In 2004, BBC News published a report showing that Griffin led a “caging” scheme to suppress the votes of African-American servicemembers in Florida.

Griffin became the poster boy for the politicization of the U.S. attorney process. Former Justice official Kyle Sampson noted that getting Griffin into office “was important to Harriet [Miers], Karl, et cetera.” The traditional 120-day term for “interim” U.S. attorneys had expired for Griffin on April 20, yet the Justice Department continued to allow him to serve.

ThinkProgress earlier spoke with Rep. John Boozman’s (R-AR) office, which said that the congressman submitted names of replacements for Griffin to the White House on March 30. So far, no word from the Justice Department on the name of the new U.S. attorney.

In the meantime, assistant U.S. attorney Jane Duke will take over. The Justice Department had previously passed her over to install Griffin, using sexual discrimination as an excuse because Duke had been on maternity leave at the time.

I just have one question: Why was Griffin’s caging scheme only reported by British news? No, wait, don’t answer that.

23 comments May 30th, 2007 at 10:16pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Corruption/Cronyism,Elections,Politics,Republicans,Rove,Wankers

Beck To The Future

Atrios and Chris seem perpetually amazed that Glenn Beck is still on TV despite truly abysmal (and still declining) ratings.

Once you accept that promoting Republican narratives and talking points is far more important to the media than ratings and profits, it all makes perfect sense. (I would also note that while the 25-54 demographic might be the most desirable from an ad revenue perspective, I’m not so sure it is from a voter turnout perspective.)

On the other hand, propaganda is only useful if people are actually watching it. I’m surprised CNN hasn’t tried to find a more popular insane dishonest wingnut to take Beck’s place.

11 comments May 30th, 2007 at 10:11pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Republicans,TV,Wankers

Save The Prions!

Well, the Bush Department Of Agriculture (I’ll just call it “DOA” for short) has taken a stand on mad cow disease, and is prepared to go to the mattresses… to defend it.

Offered without comment. What is there possibly to say?

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Arkansas City-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.

A federal judge ruled in March that such tests must be allowed. The ruling was to take effect Friday, but the Agriculture Department said Tuesday it would appeal — effectively delaying the testing until the court challenge plays out.

(…)

The Agriculture Department argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry. U.S. District Judge James Robertson noted that Creekstone sought to use the same test the government relies on and said the government didn’t have the authority to restrict it.

Oh, all right. One small comment. First, observe the contempt for liberty. When E. coli conservatives say self-regulation is preferable to government, they’re even lying about that. Second, observe the contempt for small business. When a small company want to – voluntarily! – hold its product to a higher standard, the government blocks it, in part because bigger companies have to be protected from the competition, in part because a theoretical threat to the bottom line (false positives) trumps protection against a deadly disease.

There’s your conservatism, America: not extremism in defense of liberty. State socialism in defense of Mad Cow.

Hey, someone has to look out for Mad Cow’s interests – who better than the Bush Administration? (You know, professional courtesy and all that.)

Just keep this in mind the next time the Republicans tell you that they’re the only ones who can keep Americans safe. They have no interest at all in actually keeping Americans safe; only in the power and money they can accumulate while pretending to keep us safe.

24 comments May 30th, 2007 at 06:03pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Corruption/Cronyism,Republicans

Wednesday Why-I-Love-The-Weekly-World-News Blogging

Once again, the Weekly World News is on top of the latest technological advances:

Taking a hint from the popularity of advanced home theater systems, publishers hope to reverse declining sales with revolutionary ‘High Definition Books.’ The new books are an off-shoot of large-print editions sold to visually-challenged adults and will present extremely sharp text in a 16:9 letterbox shape. The ultra-high-resolution text will provide sharper descriptions with more vibrant color for all readers.

“Purple prose seems somehow purpler,” said HD book design expert Phil Masler. “Passages highlighted with yellow markers really sing and we’ve given readers increased margin space for advanced interactivity. This user-generated text is also erasable as long as it’s recorded in pencil format.”

He added that older book features such as the ability to skip ahead, review previous chapters, and access author commentary in prologues and epilogues are present in the new system.

“And they can be enjoyed in all regions,” he added.

“The most obvious change is in the thickness of the books, which offer enormous amounts of storage in the 1080 pp format.” The new editions make the most of this extra room with ‘dual-layer encoding,’ which places text on the front and back of every page.

For readers who don’t wish to carry around tomes in the expanded format, Masler will be offering smaller, slightly less detailed blu-pencil editions.

Oddly enough, the story does not mention the importance of tech support for those who have trouble adjusting to new technologies.

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10 comments May 30th, 2007 at 07:44am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Weekly World News

Simple Answers To Simple Questions

Greg Sargent has a question:

One of the key charges made by Timesmen Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta in their much-talked-about new book on Hillary’s lifelong ambitions is that way back in the early nineties, she and Bill were already plotting two terms in the White House for her, too.

But we’ve just received our copy of legendary reporter Carl Bernstein’s forthcoming book on Hillary — and his reporting appears to directly contradict this key allegation made by Gerth and Van Natta.

Who’s right?

I’m going to have to go with… The one who’s not a total dishonest hack with a long history of Clinton-bashing.

6 comments May 29th, 2007 at 08:58pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Clinton,Media,Politics,Wankers

Headline Of The Day

From today’s WaPo:

Man Clad in Underwear Pins Leopard

Awesome.

May 29th, 2007 at 06:07pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Great Headlines

Brooks On Books

David Brooks, already a world-class wanker extraordinaire, really outdoes himself with his “critique” of Al Gore’s new book:

If you’re going to read Al Gore’s book, you’re going to have to steel yourself for a parade of sentences like the following:

“The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way — a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.”

But, hey, nobody ever died from contact with pomposity, and Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason” is well worth reading. It reminds us that whatever the effects of our homogenizing mass culture, it is still possible for exceedingly strange individuals to rise to the top.

Gore is, for example, a radical technological determinist. While most politicians react to people, Gore reacts to machines, and in this book he lays out a theory of history entirely driven by them.

He writes that “the idea of self-government became feasible after the printing press.” With this machine, people suddenly had the ability to use the printed word to debate ideas and proceed logically to democratic conclusions. As Gore writes in his best graduate school manner, “The eighteenth century witnessed more and more ordinary citizens able to use knowledge as a source of power to mediate between wealth and privilege.”

This Age of Reason produced the American Revolution. But in the 20th century, television threatened it all. In Gore’s view, TV immobilizes the reasoning centers in the brain and stimulates the primitive, instinctive parts. TV creates a “visceral vividness” that is not “modulated by logic, reason and reflective thought.”

TV allows political demagogues to exaggerate dangers and stoke up fear. Furthermore, “conglomerates can dominate the expressions of opinion that flood the mind of the citizenry” and “the result is a de facto coup d’état overthrowing the rule of reason.”

Fortunately, another technology is here to save us. “The Internet is perhaps the greatest source of hope for re-establishing an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish,” he writes. The Internet will restore reason, logic and the pursuit of truth.

The first response to this argument is: Has Al Gore ever actually looked at the Internet? He spends much of this book praising cold, dispassionate logic, but is that really what he finds on most political blogs or in his e-mail folder?

(…)

Gore seems to have come up with a theory that the upper, logical mind sits on top of, and should master, the primitive and more emotional mind below. He thinks this can be done through a technical process that minimizes information flow to the lower brain and maximizes information flow to the higher brain.The reality, of course, is that there is no neat distinction between the “higher” and “lower” parts of the brain. There are no neat distinctions between the “rational” mind and the “visceral” body. The mind is a much more complex network of feedback loops than accounted for in Gore’s simplistic pseudoscience.

Without emotions like fear, the “logical” mind can’t reach conclusions. On the other hand, many of the most vicious, genocidal acts are committed by people who are emotionally numb, not passionately out of control.

Some great philosopher should write a book about people — and there are many of them — who flee from discussions of substance and try to turn them into discussions of process. Utterly at a loss when asked to talk about virtue and justice, they try to shift attention to technology and methods of communication. They imagine that by altering machines they can alter the fundamentals of behavior, or at least avoid the dark thickets of human nature.

If a philosopher did write such a book, it would help us understand Al Gore, and it would, as he would say, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.

Wow. Just wow. So much wankery in there, I hardly know where to begin. I’ll just note the “Algore is a cold-fish Vulcan weirdo” cheap shots in passing, and start with the three examples that Brooks uses to demonstrate that Algore is incoherent and out of touch. Notice that that they all have a common theme: The key to democratic government is democratic discourse. Gore states this in the abstract in the first passage, then cites the specific examples of the printing press and the internet in the other two. I can certainly see where Brooks might not see the value of discourse of/by/for the people, as opposed to top-down, one-way communications from the corporate and government spheres, but he’s not exactly an impartial observer here. When David Brooks tells me that it’s a bad idea for the unwashed rabble to have their own voice, I’m going to be a leetle bit skeptical.

As for his other main point, that Gore is advocating the sterile supremacy of reason over emotion, I fail to see the problem – he is talking about public discourse, right? The problem with our mainstream media today is not the presence of appeals to emotion, but the absence of anything else. Indeed, to anyone paying attention, Algore himself is not unemotional in private or in public – far from it. But he clearly recognizes that emotion should serve reason, not replace it. Consider Al’s beloved blogosphere, which Brooks takes an uninformed swipe at: On the liberal side, contrary to what Brooks and Chait believe, there is an abundance of both logic and passion, and that synthesis is what makes the progressosphere so appealing and powerful.

Of course, Brooks’ specialty is fact-free pro-Republican generalizations issued from the heights of Mt. Olympos, so I can certainly understand why a book calling for the return of rational, participatory public discourse might make him feel a little threatened. One of these days, he will have even fewer readers than I do, and there will be much rejoicing.

32 comments May 29th, 2007 at 11:55am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Gore,Media,Wankers

If Of The Decade

And the award for the most creative use of the word “If” goes to… Richard Cohen, in his column about how Dubya is actually a liberal idealist (no, seriously, I’m not kidding):

But if you don’t think [the war in Iraq] was waged on behalf of oil or empire, then one reason for our involvement was an attempt to do some good — rid the world of a really bad guy and make life better for Iraqis and others in the region.

Sure. And if I were a trillionaire, I’d buy the WaPo just so I could fire Cohen for being a colossal blithering asshat.

3 comments May 29th, 2007 at 11:11am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Media,Wankers,War

Now That’s What I Call Zero Tolerance

Perhaps a teensy bit excessive, but at least China is taking corruption seriously:

The former head of China’s top food and drug safety agency was sentenced to death today after pleading guilty to corruption and accepting bribes, according to the state-controlled news media.

(…)

The unusually harsh sentence for the former director comes at a time of heightened concerns about the quality and safety of China’s food and drug system after a series of scandals involving tainted food and phony drugs.

China is also under mounting pressure to overhaul its food export controls after two Chinese companies were accused this year of shipping contaminated pet food ingredients to the United States, triggering one of the largest pet food recalls in United States history.

The nation’s regulators are also coming under scrutiny after diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical sometimes used in antifreeze, ended up in cough syrup and toothpaste in Latin America.

(…)

The incidents pose a huge threat to China’s growing food and drug exports and have already led to international calls for new testing and screening methods for Chinese-made goods.

The problems are more serious in China because tens of thousands of people are sickened or killed every year because of rampant counterfeiting and phony food and drugs.

(…)

Small Chinese drug makers have long been accused of manufacturing phony or substandard drugs and marketing them to the nation’s hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. And mass food poisonings involving tainted food products are common.

The Chinese government, however, has stepped up its patrols in recent weeks, announcing a series of measures aimed at strengthening food and drug safety and cracking down on counterfeiting operations.

Today, the government said it was preparing to release its first regulation on nationwide food recalls.

The government also said it would crack down on food products that are being illegally exported, bypassing food inspections.

Wow, a government taking regulatory responsibilities seriously! Amazing!

Of course, as the story implies, China is in serious disaster-control mode after the melamine catastrophe, and lack of confidence is starting to hurt their food and drug exports. But contrast this to BushCo’s default strategy of stonewalling, lies, and denial, no matter what the stakes. They still haven’t figured out that the rest of the world isn’t as gullible as the American people in 2004. Hell, they still haven’t figured out that the American people aren’t as gullible as the American people in 2004.

2 comments May 29th, 2007 at 07:57am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism

More Language

I can’t think of any practical use for this, but it sure is interesting:

As any new parent will attest, babies are amazing. And to the list of remarkable things infants can do, here’s a new one: they can distinguish one language from another just by the sight of a talking face, not sound.

(…)

The researchers showed silent videotapes of a bilingual speaker saying a sentence in French or English until the baby got bored and looked away. They followed that with a tape of the speaker saying the same sentence in the other language, and observed whether that caught the baby’s attention, indicating that the baby recognized a difference and was attracted to something new.

They report in the journal Science that 4- and 6-month-old infants from English-only households were able to tell that a different language was being spoken. Eight-month-old infants from English-only homes, however, were no longer able to discriminate between languages.

“They’re losing sensitivity to this” as they grow older, Ms. Weikum said. “There’s really no reason for them to hang on to this ability if they are only going to be learning one language.”

By contrast, 8-month-olds from bilingual households could still discriminate between languages.

It has been thought that visual cues like lip, cheek and head movements provide just redundant information for verbal communication. Auditory signals are much stronger, Ms. Weikum said, and transmit more cues for babies to pick up.

The research shows that infants have the power to process all kinds of cues. “From a very young age, they’re capable of taking in a lot of language information,” she said.

That really is pretty cool.

May 29th, 2007 at 07:16am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Weirdness

Fundie Media Blogging

Courtesy of ellroon, the religious right uses peanut butter and bananas to completely disprove the theory of evolution. Man, these guys are smart.

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Of course, Mr. Missler may be very slightly understating the differences between the environmental conditions of primordial Earth and the environmental conditions on your supermarket shelves…

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Sigh.

May 28th, 2007 at 07:24pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Monday Media Blogging,Religion,Science

Monday Media Blogging

RIP, Charles Nelson Reilly.

YouTube Preview Image http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7092577055042159692

Scrumtrilescent.

2 comments May 28th, 2007 at 12:38pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Monday Media Blogging

Sunday Softball Blogging

We finally had enough people to put a game together, and I went 5-for-8 with 4 runs, 3 RBI, and my first home run of the season, a low line drive to straightaway center. I was also solid in the outfield, didn’t drop anything, and made a nice running catch on a shallow foul ball. Too bad we lost.

2007 Stats: 3 games, .632 BA (12-19), .895 SLG, 0 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 runs, 5 RBI.

Career Stats: 50 games, .595 BA (203-341), .812 SLG, 32 2B, 6 3B, 10 HR, 114 runs, 90 RBI.

Fielding 32

I like the pictures that just convey striving. Unfortunately, he dropped it. Or fortunately, since he was on the other team…

1 comment May 28th, 2007 at 12:57am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Photoblogging,Softball,Uncategorized

Suck On Tom Friedman

As long as I’m on the subject of NYT columnists, how about a lovely little Tom Friedman flashback, courtesy of Atrios:

What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?”

You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow?

Well, Suck. On. This.

Okay.

That Charlie was what this war was about. We could’ve hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.

Yes, that’s right: Tom Friedman said “Suck. On. This.”

No wonder he’s so widely respected – if you don’t give Tom his due, he will totally fuck you up with his mad ninja skills.

May 27th, 2007 at 10:23pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Iraq,Media,Wankers,War

Memorial MoDo

Who are you and what have you done with MoDo???

For me, the saddest spot in Washington is the inverted V of the black granite Vietnam wall, jutting up with the names of young men dying in a war that their leaders already knew could not be won.

So many died because of ego and deceit — because L.B.J. and Robert McNamara wanted to save face or because Henry Kissinger wanted to protect Nixon’s re-election chances.

Now the Bush administration finds itself at that same hour of shame. It knows the surge is not working. Iraq is in a civil war, with a gruesome bonus of terrorists mixed in. April was the worst month this year for the American military, with 104 soldiers killed, and there have been about 90 killed thus far in May. The democracy’s not jelling, as Iraqi lawmakers get ready to slouch off for a two-month vacation, leaving our kids to be blown up.

The top-flight counterinsurgency team that President Bush sent in after long years of pretending that we’d “turned the corner” doesn’t believe there’s a military solution. General Petraeus is reduced to writing an open letter to the Iraqi public, pleading with them to reject sectarianism and violence, even as the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr slinks back from four months in Iran, rallying his fans by crying: “No, no, no to Satan! No, no, no to America! No, no, no to occupation! No, no, no to Israel!”

W. thinks he can save face if he keeps taunting Democrats as the party of surrender — just as Nixon did — and dumps the Frankenstate he’s created on his successor.

(…)

The president is on a continuous loop of sophistry: We have to push on in Iraq because Al Qaeda is there, even though Al Qaeda is there because we pushed into Iraq. Our troops have to keep dying there because our troops have been dying there. We have to stay so the enemy doesn’t know we’re leaving. Osama hasn’t been found because he’s hiding.

The terrorists moved into George Bush’s Iraq, not Saddam Hussein’s. W.’s ranting about Al Qaeda there is like planting fleurs du mal and then complaining your garden is toxic.

The president looked as if he wanted to smack David Gregory when the NBC reporter asked him at the news conference Thursday if he could still be “a credible messenger on the war” given all the mistakes and all the disillusioned Republicans.

“I’m credible because I read the intelligence, David,” he replied sharply.

But he isn’t and he doesn’t. Otherwise he might have read “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” in August 2001, and might have read the prewar intelligence reports the Senate just released that presciently forecast the horrors in store for naïve presidents who race to war because they want to be seen as hard, not soft.

Intelligence analysts may have muffed the W.M.D. issue, but they accurately predicted that implanting democracy in Iraq would be an “alien” idea that could lead to turbulence and violence; that Al Qaeda would hook up with Saddam loyalists and “angry young recruits” to militant Islam to “wage guerrilla warfare” on American forces, and that Iran and Al Qaeda would be the winners if the Bushies botched the occupation.

W. repeated last week that he would never retreat, but his advisers are working on ways to retreat. After the surge, in lieu of strategy, come the “concepts.”

Condi Rice, Bob Gates and generals at the Pentagon are talking about long-range “concepts” for reducing forces in Iraq, The Times reported yesterday, as a way to tamp down criticism, including from Republicans; it is also an acknowledgment that they can’t sustain the current force level there much longer. The article said that officials were starting to think about how to halve the 20 American combat brigades in Iraq, sometime in the second half of 2008.

As the Hollywood screenwriter said in “Annie Hall”: “Right now it’s only a notion, but I think I can get money to make it into a concept and later turn it into an idea.”

I’m gobsmacked, really. Maureen Dowd almost completely abandons the shallow high school snark, and administers an actual substantive smackdown.

Now if only she would do this kind of analysis and criticism the rest of the year, and not just on Memorial Day. How many times do we really need to hear that Al Gore is fat and John Edwards has expensive hair?

1 comment May 27th, 2007 at 09:55pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Media,Politics,War

The Queen Of Wishful Thinking

CBS News’ national political correspondent thinks that congressional ethics reform would lead to mass resignations by Representatives who can’t afford to live in DC “unless they’re bought and paid for by lobbyists.”

Much as I would love to see the mass exodus of the corruptocrats, somehow I think there will be enough loopholes that they’ll all find a way to squeak by without resorting to ramen noodles and PB & J sandwiches. On the other hand, if a majority of congresscritters are not in the pocket of lobbyists… Heh, I just cracked myself up a little.

(h/t Atrios)

1 comment May 27th, 2007 at 12:32pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism,Politics

Lesser-Of-Two-Evilcrats

Shorter NYT editorial page:

The Democrats may be cowardly and weak, but at least they’re not insane.

Hey, that would be a really catchy campaign slogan for ’08!

1 comment May 27th, 2007 at 12:17pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,Republicans,War

Feith-Based Hiring

About two years ago, I wrote a post about the conflict between loyalty and competence, especially in BushCo. Monica Goodling’s hiring practices at DOJ are one example of this principle in action, but this one might be even more shocking:

At a recent forum, career U.S. intelligence officer Patrick Lang recounted a job interview he had with neocon war architect Douglas Feith. Lang, who had previously run the Pentagon’s world-wide spying operations, “was put forward as somebody who would be good at running the Pentagon’s office of special operations and low-intensity warfare, i.e., counterinsurgency.” So he was interviewed by Feith:

“He was sitting there munching a sandwich while he was talking to me,” Lang recalled, “which I thought was remarkable in itself, but he also had these briefing papers — they always had briefing papers, you know — about me.

“He’s looking at this stuff, and he says, ‘I’ve heard of you. I heard of you.’

“He says, ‘Is it really true that you really know the Arabs this well, and that you speak Arabic this well? Is that really true? Is that really true?’

“And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s really true.’

“That’s too bad,” Feith said.

(…)

“That was the end of the interview,” Lang said. “I’m not quite sure what he meant, but you can work it out.”

So, basically, Feith didn’t want to hire Lang because he might actually know what he was talking about, which would inevitably conflict with BushCo’s insane policy imperatives. Or, alternatively, because Feith thought that anyone who understood Arabs so well must be some kind of terrorist sympathizer.

So, in case you’re wondering why Iraq is such a completely fucked-up mess…

UPDATE: I should also add that if you walk into a job interview and your interviewer is eating his lunch, you’re not getting the job. And furthermore – trust me on this – you really don’t want the job.

3 comments May 27th, 2007 at 10:29am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Corruption/Cronyism,Iraq,Politics,Republicans,Terrorism,Wankers

Orwell That Ends Badly

Shorter Dems:

War is Peace.

Capitulation is Courage.

Defeat is Victory.

Like Sirota, I have a really hard time believing the Democratic spin that giving Dubya his war money with gossamer, easily broken strings attached is some kind of victory, or some sign of progress towards ending the war. The roll call on the House and Senate votes is a dead giveaway as to just which party this bill favored.

Look, I understand that sometimes you just don’t have the votes, but instead of jumping on board the toothless supplemental and calling it a win, oppose it and call it for the defeat that it is. Tell the voters that you are, in fact, committed to ending the war, but the Republicans won’t let you. Put the pressure on them, define them as enemies instead of allies. And if you have to throw some pro-war Blue Dog Democrats under the bus too, I frankly wouldn’t mind.

I would much rather see the Democrats fail at ending the war than succeed at prolonging it.

(Cross-posted at Greatscat!)

2 comments May 26th, 2007 at 02:13pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Iraq,Politics,Wankers,War

Now What?

cartoons_052607_a.jpg

So… What happens in September after General Petraeus delivers his much-anticipated, this-will-totally-change-everything-we-mean-it-this-time progress report on The Surge and asks for another Friedman Unit? (I would submit to you, gentle readers, that if it’s measured in Friedman Units, it’s not a surge)

Seems to me like there are two likely outcomes:

1) Republicans are true to their word (ha!), and enough of them finally decide to bail on the war that Congress can override Bush’s veto and end it. This is good for troops, terrible for Democrats. The Republican and media frame would be that the Republicans put country over loyalty and courageously defied their leader, in contrast to the Democratic fecklessness which allowed Bush to keep the war going. This could be devastating to the Democrats in 2008, but I don’t think the Republicans are smart or independent enough to do it.

2) Republicans don’t budge from where they are now, and neither do the Blue Dog and conservative Democrats, and everything plays out exactly the same as it did this month. They pass a supplemental with withdrawal timetables, Bush vetos it and blusters about how they’re cutting off the troops, the Democrats fold and provide another lame supplemental with no timetables and easily waivable benchmarks.

My fondest hope is that the Democrats grow a pair and present a unified, immovable front that refuses to back down in the face of Bush’s veto threats and undermining-the-troops rhetoric. They would have to make it clear that this time they will not flinch, and if Bush wants to veto the supplemental, then the war is defunded and the only person undermining the troops is Dubya himself by not withdrawing them immediately. Frankly, after their sorry performance this week, I have a hard time imagining that outcome.

So probably the best we can hope for is that enough Republicans come to their senses to make Option 1 a possibility, and that the Democrats do a good enough job with the messaging to remind everyone that all of those Republican “heroes” were unwaveringly dedicated to prolonging the war for the past five years.

But no matter what happens in September, I think the Democrats have already done themselves real damage for next November.

(Cartoon h/t to Bob Geiger)

4 comments May 26th, 2007 at 01:07pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,Republicans,Wankers,War

What Niewert Says

As always, Orcinus is frustrating but excellent (Niewert himself is not frustrating, it’s the mix of cluelessness and malevolence that he reports on):

It is only when speech is specifically criminal — that is, when it urges people to commit a specific criminal act that is then committed by those addressed — that any hate-crimes bill could come into play. There is no provision in the House’s hate-crimes bill that would penalize anyone for voicing ordinary, non-criminal, constitutionally protected speech, which Rep. Cohen’s speech clearly would constitute. Indeed, even most outright hate speech is protected speech and would not come into play under this law. The last clause of the bill specifically states:

Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution.


What Gohmert and his fellow conservatives want the public to think, of course, is that the hate-crimes bill in fact would criminalize speech — specifically, the right of pastors and devout religionists to spout off about homosexuality.

This is, in fact, a bald falsehood, one that should be publicly countered and repudiated. As it is, it has now been entered into the congressional record and will doubtlessly be trotted out later as evidence of hypocrisy on the part of supporters of the hate-crimes legislation, which is currently en route to approval by the Senate after its long-overdue passage in the House.

The chief goal of the opponents of the bill — chiefly the denizens of the religious right, who have enjoyed considerable success blocking passage of any federal bias-crime law for the past decade, particularly during congressional rule by Republicans — lies in selling the idea that laws against hate crimes create “thought crimes.” It’s all part of a larger project of muddying the waters so that the public is confused about what actually is at stake with these laws.

(…)

Unfortunately, the basic falsity of the “hate crimes=thought crimes” meme has not prevented its broad success. You can hear it being offered as justification for opposing bias-crime laws by sources ranging from such religious-right entities as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family (not to mention the predictable opposition raised by various white supremacists) to such civil libertarians as Andrew Sullivan.

(…)

Steven [D at Booman Tribune] goes on to enumerate the various sound reasons for passing bias-crimes laws, including the point that, finally, they are a way for society to make clear its condemnation of such acts, recognizing them as more heinous than simple crimes because they cause greater harm. Indeed, pretending as opponents do that a cross burned on the lawn is the same as being egged and toilet-papered, or that a gay-bashing rampage by young thugs is the same thing as a bar fight, simply tries to pretend away the truly hateful and terroristic element of the former of these, as though it doesn’t exist. But it does exist, and its effects poison our society and make a joke out of our self-belief in ourselves as an “equal opportunity” society.

This, in the end, is the single clearest reason why progressives should avidly support a federal hate-crimes law: These are crimes whose primary purpose is to disenfranchise, to expel, to deny the most basic rights of association and opportunity to millions of Americans of all stripes. Civil libertarians need to come to grips with the fact that these crimes are real, their effects are real, and they represent, in the words of Yale sociologist Donald Green, a real “massive dead-weight loss of freedom” for those millions of Americans.

(…)

Yet progressives haven’t yet figured out that framing hate-crime laws as a defense of people’s civil liberties is precisely the argument that will instantly deflate the long-running “thought crime” argument. In all the debate over the legislation, I haven’t seen the point raised once.

Nor, for that matter, do they seem to have grasped that Bush’s looming veto of the legislation — which still awaits Senate passage — provides an ample strategic opportunity. One of the principal causes of the public’s fatigue with the conservative movement (beyond, of course, the Iraq debacle) is that it is being increasingly turned off by the right’s rhetorical viciousness and seeming celebration of eliminationist violence.

Bush’s veto of a bill intended to reduce violence against minorities should be seen as a prime example of this underlying ugliness — as should some of the demonizing and factually false attacks on the laws themselves.

But ultimately, the chief reason for progressives to embrace and encourage a federal bias-crimes statute is a morally and ethically simple one: It’s the right thing to do, not just for minority Americans but for all of us. That should be really be reason enough.

All I would add to this is that if progressives pursue the civil liberties angle, they might want to tie in voter suppression efforts as another example of the Republicans’ conscious desire to keep minorities in their place.

May 25th, 2007 at 10:10pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Politics,Racism,Republicans,Teh Gay

LInguistics

Newsday has an entertaining piece about the origins and subdivisions of the Long Island (“Lawn Guyland”) accent:

The odd thing about Long Islandese is that it doesn’t actually exist – not as an entity distinct from old-time New York City speech. Dialect recapitulates history, and the sounds of the city’s eastward suburbs – those twanging nasals, the diphthong drawl in “man,” the A’s of “call,” “talk” and “mall” larded with W’s – chronicle the great postwar migration eastward from Flatbush, Bushwick and Williamsburg.

“If you really want to hear a ripe Brooklyn accent, you go to Long Island,” says Amy Stoller, a Manhattan-based dialect coach. Listen to a group of Massapequa teenagers, who wouldn’t even know from Ebbets Field, and you can hear the echo of their stickball-playing grandparents. If those kids sound nothing like a clique from the next town over, it probably has less to do with geography than with ethnicity.

There are at least four different strands of New York-area accents, broadly defined by tribe: Italian, Jewish, Irish and Hispanic (the latecomer to this dialectal stew). Blacks have adopted features of all these strains, but the strongest form of dialect, formally known as African-American Vernacular English, sounds much the same in New York as it does in Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles.

…But these idiosyncrasies are difficult to itemize. A few ethnically identifiable sounds stand out.

In the Hispanic version, for example, Stoller detects a “tendency to turn vowels that are followed by nasal consonants [N, M and NG] into nasalized vowels, so ‘man’ comes out sounding almost like it ends with a French N. They never get around to putting their tongue into the bump behind their teeth, but instead divert the air through their nose.”

(…)

In the 1600s, colonists from southern England sowed their phonemes in three principal areas along the East Coast: New England, New York and the South. To this day, in all three zones, R’s at the end of words are pronounced as vowels, just as they are in England.

So New York R-dropping is not an English vowel that has been bent by iron-eared immigrants, but a sound that predates the harder R that became widespread after later mass migrations from Scotland and Ireland.

The oldest form of the Long Island accent was spoken by the Bonackers, the East End residents of Accabonac Harbor, whose R-less word endings had more of a New England ring.

It wasn’t just aristocrats who bequeathed their linguistic peculiarities on the colonies. New York speech, like that of Cockney London, makes plentiful use of the glottal stop, which turns a T into a silent gulp, transforming “little” into “li’l” and “Milton” into “Mil’n.” Cockneys also pronounce TH as F (“I fought I ‘eard a clap o’ funder”), a quirk that migrated to slave Colonial populations and remains common in African-American Vernacular.

Some speech patterns become stigmatized and others privileged, which leads to the formation of new patterns. Take the famously local pronunciation “Lawn Guyland”: Chwat explains that the percussive G linking the words “Long” and “Island” comes from an attempt to sound more refined.

Standard English has no separate G sound at the end of “long” or “thing.” NG is merely a written approximation of a nasal consonant whose separate existence we don’t recognize. It’s produced by pressing the back of the tongue against the back of the palate – a completely different part of the mouth from the locations where N and G reside.

People who want to avoid declasse pronunciations such as “goin’” make an incorrect effort to sound correct by tacking on a hard G, rather than using the stealth consonant NG. Thus, the question, “Are we walking, driving or taking a bus?” pops with plosives.

A similar overcompensation applies to R. Upwardly mobile people, vaguely aware of their tendency to consider R an honorary vowel when it comes at the end of a word, will stick a hard R where it doesn’t belong at all, so that “law” becomes “lawr” and an “idea” is “idear.”

(…)

But who can remember everything? Long Islanders who drive to “Warshington” still do so in a “cawh.” Even the thickest accents are full of such inconsistencies, and incompletely trained actors tend to apply any rule too broadly. They forget that the New York diphthong – a single vowel distended into two – applies only to an A that precedes an M or an N. So while on Long Island, the phrase “Sam can’t dance” gets three drawled, nasal A’s, an actor might use the same three honks in “Patty’s happy she’s back,” even though no genuine Long Islander would. (And for mysterious reasons, Long Islanders use the diphthong A in “can” and “cancer,” but not in “Canada.”)

Fun stuff. Oddly enough, despite living primarily with my very Brooklyn-y mother (she sounds like Penny Marshall), I appear to have no identifiable accent whatsoever, other than Generic Mid-Atlantic/Northeast-But-Not-New-England. I guess because I grew up in Manhattan, which isn’t really known for having a distinctive accent, and I don’t recall many of my schoolmates or teachers having one.

2 comments May 25th, 2007 at 09:33pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness

George Steinbrenner, Humanitarian

I’m actually not kidding:

Steinbrenner said that he was deeply moved by the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, prompting the owner to make a $1 million contribution to the school’s “Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund” to assist the families of victims. The Yankees wore caps with the school’s ‘VT’ logo for Wednesday’s game against the Red Sox, with the logos also adorning both baselines at Yankee Stadium.

“I feel very strongly about the young people,” Steinbrenner said. “I feel so strongly about the teachers and the school, all the people affected by this. We wanted to help in the healing process.”

I know he’s ludicrously rich, but $1 million is one of the biggest celebrity donations I’ve ever seen this side of Bill Gates.

May 25th, 2007 at 07:33pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Sports

Iraqulation

William Arkin notices an interesting tidbit, but draws an inexplicable conclusion from it:

Yesterday was the true beginning of the end of the war in Iraq, with the administration signaling its readiness to begin withdrawal of U.S. forces and to adopt the recommendations of the once-rejected Iraq Study Group.

President Bush, speaking at a White House news conference, spoke bluntly of a “bloody” August as Iraqi insurgents seek to influence the American political debate. The president’s prediction was not just a warning to the American people; it was also a statement that the administration is actually considering the very timetable that it has so vociferously argued against.

The hope — the hope — is that the surge will have stabilized the country by fall and that the Iraqi government will have reached a political settlement to end sectarian fighting. But the signals yesterday were also unmistakable: If momentum doesn’t shift, the administration is prepared to abandon the war.

The president said that August could be “a tough month, because, you see, what they’re going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home…. It could be a bloody, it could be a very difficult August.”

(…)

For the first time the president said that once the “surge” had improved security in the Iraqi capital, he intended to adopt the recommendations of the 2006 Iraq Study Group and begin the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from the country. The first step, he said, would be to shift U.S. troops from a combat to supporting and training role.

“I would like to see us in a different configuration at some point in time in Iraq,” he said, saying that U.S. Special Forces would “chase down” Al Qaeda, but that Iraqi military and police forces would take on the other security tasks.

I understand where Arkin is coming from, but I think he’s connecting the wrong dots. Bush is not trying to pave the way for ISG-style semi-withdrawal, he’s pre-emptively defending the “surge.” Indeed, if you follow the link to the press conference, you will see that Bush’s comments about a bloody August are actually in response to a reporter’s question about whether Iraqi insurgents will try to ensure that Petraeus’s All-Important September Progress Report on the surge is as negative as possible.

Yes, one could draw the logical conclusion that if we can write off the violence as just more “death throes,” then we can make the case that the White House can say “Mission Accomplished – no really, we mean it this time!” and start withdrawing troops… But Dubya does not deal in logical conclusions – he deals in ass-covering and never admitting mistakes, and that’s all this is about. So that come September when Iraq looks even chaotic and dangerous than it does now, he can say that it just proves the terrorists’ desperation, and we need to stay the course for just one more Friedman Unit to finish mopping them up.

Plan B is not to make sure that Plan A works; Plan B is to keep repeating that Plan A is working, and hope that the American people believe it. That Plan B will work about as well as Plan A.

1 comment May 25th, 2007 at 11:56am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Media,Politics,War

Where’s The Asian Guy?

News flash: Asian-American guys don’t get great roles on TV or in movies. Film at 10:30.

As an Asian American man — Filipino, to be exact — there’s a game I like to play called WTAG: Where’s the Asian guy?

The number of Asian American men on MTV, Bravo, CBS, et al.? Not many, though there’s Daniel Dae Kim, co-star of ABC’s “Lost.” Never mind that he speaks only Korean on the show. The number of Asian American guys in recent films? Think. Hard. And no, Jackie Chan and what’s-his-face — the name is Chow Yun-Fat (no, it’s not a Hunan dish) — don’t count. They’re from Hong Kong.

This relative invisibility — and the stereotypical characters that Asian American men often portray in films and television — is the subject of “The Slanted Screen,” a sometimes meandering but highly researched and essential documentary, the Asian American counterpart to the gay-themed “Celluloid Closet.” It airs on PBS tonight, the last show of the Friday prime-time lineup, near the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Ouch.

Narrated by Kim, the one-hour doc uses film and TV clips, in addition to insightful, emotional interviews with old and young actors, to trace the history of Asian American men on the big and small screens….

(…)

[W]ith the history come ugly, overlooked truths. Mako recalls a studio executive’s reaction when asked about featuring a non-Asian in the lead of “Kung Fu,” the classic 1970s TV show: “I remember one of the vice presidents — in charge of production, I suppose — who said, ‘If we put a yellow man up on the tube, the audience will turn the switch off in less than five minutes.’ ” James Shigeta, the star of “Flower Drum Song,” remembers a movie musical producer telling him, “If you were white, you’d be a hell of a big star.”

…The original ending [of "Romeo Must Die"] had Aaliyah kissing [Jet] Li, a scenario that didn’t test well with an “urban audience.” So the studio changed it. The new ending had Aaliyah giving Li a tight hug. Says [Filipino-American director Gene] Cajayon, “Mainstream America, for the most part, gets uncomfortable with seeing an Asian man portrayed in a sexual light.”

(…)

Stereotypes abound in [the] documentary: The Asian man as kung fu master. Think Bruce Lee in the classic film “Enter the Dragon” and the TV show “The Green Hornet.” The Asian man played by a non-Asian, among them Mickey Rooney as the bucktoothed Japanese neighbor in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The Asian man as supergeek. No amount of soap can wash off the stench of the Long Duk Dong character in the 1984 cult classic “Sixteen Candles.” The Asian man as the mysterious enemy, or the stiff-faced store owner, or the barely English-speaking waiter . . . you get the point.

(…)

In the past few years, a new generation of actors and directors, in ways more liberated, more in control, than their predecessors, are making some headway. The 2002 film “Better Luck Tomorrow,” a critical darling, was co-written and directed by Justin Lin, who tells the story of Asian American overachievers in a wealthy Orange Countywealthy Orange County, Calif., suburb who, beside being straight-A students and athletes, have thriving sidelines selling cheat sheets and drugs. Yes, they’re good students, as Asians are believed to be. But they have complicated lives like others, too. Comedian Bobby Lee, on the regular cast of the Fox show “Mad TV,” took his own life experiences and created a regular sketch called “Average Asian.” A jingle at the beginning of one sketch goes: “He’s an Average Asian / Eastern medicine is not his occupation / Can’t fix your back if it goes wrong / . . . He’s an Average Asian.”

“I wanted to confront the stereotype,” Lee says. “I didn’t want to be the stereotype.”

In the WTAG game, that’s a victory in itself.

Check your PBS listings for tonight for an exact airtime (might be 10:30).

I’ll be curious to see just what it covers. Does it really limit itself to Asian-American men, or Asians in general? Why only men? Does “Asian” include Indian or Pakistani? Does it cover, say, The Karate Kid (martial arts master!) or The Last Samurai (more martial arts!) or Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (one mostly nerd stereotype, one the exact opposite), or even The Simpsons (Apu, the fecund Hindu convenience store owner).

I will also be interested in how the documentary explains the scarcity of Asian characters as compared to black or (I think) latino and gay characters. Apparently it’s more acceptable for scriptwriters and directors to ignore or stereotype Asians than other minorities, but why? I can think of a few possible reasons, but I’m not really comfortable with any of them – they’re either half-baked or just plain icky. The latter are probably closest to the truth, unfortunately…

UPDATE: D’oh! It’s already come and gone on my local affiliate. Rats.

7 comments May 25th, 2007 at 11:43am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Movies,Racism,TV

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