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We Thought It Was So Reckless.

“Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won’t restore the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won’t dissuade Saudi Arabia from funding jihadists. It won’t pull Libya back from the brink of anarchy. It won’t end the Syrian civil war. It won’t bring peace and harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won’t persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms in Afghanistan. It won’t end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan. It certainly won’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

ISIS, oh ISIS – What drives us to you is what drives us insane: In Reuters, Middle East expert Andrew Bacevich has some serious doubts about a military solution to the newest Big Bad (who, let’s remember, are a threat at all precisely because of all the weapons we’ve already dumped in the area — Gee, it’s almost like our always getting involved makes everything worse.) “Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.”

He’s not alone. While they’ve been highly complicit in the collective freak-out over the past few weeks, the media — as welcome returning blogger Dan Froomkin notes — are starting to get skeptical too. “Allam notes that Yemen and Somalia are hardly examples of success; that the new Iraqi government is hardly ‘inclusive'; that training of Iraqi soldiers hasn’t worked in the past; that in Syria it’s unclear which ‘opposition’ Obama intends to support; and that it may be too late to cut off the flow of fighters and funds.”

Keeping in mind that Obama himself seems to think this is all a terrible idea, let’s recall what we’re really dealing with here, via the very worthwhile “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher: “ISIS, compared to any of the groups on that list, is about as scary as your neighbor’s yappy Shih Tzu: all noise and no teeth. Let’s just sober up, for Christ’s sake, and remember we’re talking about a half-assed Sunni militia that couldn’t face up to Assad’s mediocre Syrian Arab Army and still hasn’t found a way to occupy Sunni Iraqi towns that were outright abandoned by the Army, left totally undefended.”

Along the same lines, see Brecher on ISIS’s initial advance back in June:

“Actually, topography has everything to do with what’s gone well or badly for ISIS. in this latest push. If you know the ethnic makeup of the turf they’ve taken, their ‘shocking gains’ don’t seem so shocking, or impressive. After all, we’re talking about a mobile force — mounted on the beloved Toyota Hilux pickup truck, favorite vehicle of every male in the Middle East — advancing over totally flat, dry ground in pursuit of a totally demoralized opponent. In that situation, any force could take a lot of country very quickly…So this isn’t the second coming of Erwin Rommel by any means. Everything has conspired to push the Sunni advance, from the lousy opponent they’re up against to the terrain, which is a light mechanized commander’s dream.

Flat and dry is how a mechanized force commander wants his ground — and believe me, you haven’t seen flat and dry until you get to Iraq. Once you’re south of the Kurdish mountains, you’re on a dried mudflat…This is, after all, Mesopotamia, a land literally built by the sediment of the Euphrates and Tigris. It’s river mud, but nice and dry because very little rain falls,..On ground like that, any force with good morale and enough fuel could advance as quickly as the Sunni have. It’s the Bonneville Salt Flats of insurgency, the place you go to set new speed records.”

The point being, we have to stop losing our minds and letting a hysterical media and the same gaggle of Neocon pricks who’ve been wrong about everything for two decades get us involved in every opportunity to make war in the Middle East. Are ISIS a bunch of Bad Men? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t make them an existential threat to the republic. So how about we all take a deep breath before, yet again, expending ever more blood and treasure in the region?

The Last Dog Scout.

“You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile,” Otto recalled. “Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be.”

Thirteen years after a dark day, 15-year-old Bretagne, one of the last surviving 9/11 search dogs, returns to Ground Zero. “In the years that followed 9/11, Bretagne and Corliss deployed together to numerous disaster sites, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ivan. Bretagne retired from formal search work at age 9 — but today, even though she’s roughly 93 in human years, she still loves to work.”

Then It Wouldn’t Be Sky Anymore.

“Someone asked me, ‘Do you think children born after, say, 1994, will ever feel the same things about 9/11 that people born before then feel? More and more, what we “feel” about collective history seems like something manufactured, and kind of pumped into us, rather than a real emotion. It’s all so framed by the sense that reality doesn’t exist any more, or at least not in a way that is alterable or questioning.”

In related news, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. talks about the art of Douglas Coupland and the legacy of 9/11. “Is that who we are now? Blind, unquestioning, warlike? Are we that violent, that childish, that silly, that shallow? Are we that afraid of others? Of ourselves? Of the possibility of genuine change? Are we that easily swayed, that capable of defending ‘American interests’, whatever ‘American interests’ means?

The Terminal. | And the Bridge.

“It speaks to the paucity of our civic imagination, and the small-mindedness of our politics, that simply to describe a project of such ambition is to invite the knowing smirks and raised eyebrows of those who will immediately recognize it as wholly incompatible with the current political and budgetary environment…At the same time, broader economic forces make Union Station expansion almost inevitable. As Doug Allen, the head of the Virginia’s commuter rail service, put it, ‘The question is how we do it, not whether we do it.'”

In a long and handsomely illustrated piece, WaPo’s Stephen Pearlstein looks into the reimagining of Union Station (or is it Truman Station), in light of both commuter needs and the burgeoning of NoMa, H-St, and the DC downtown in general. “This new Union Station would go well beyond the ambitions of Daniel Burnham’s original Beaux-Arts masterpiece. Its footprint would span 10 square blocks — two blocks east to west, five blocks north to south, from the foot of Capitol Hill to K Street.”

Update: “Make no mistake: Any of the finalists in the competition to design D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park is a winner. This is the savviest proposal for adapting outmoded infrastructure since the High Line. The four teams that made the grade as finalists to design the thing met the challenge.

And while we’re re-envisioning DC, CityLab looks at some intriguing “High Line”-style plans for the 11th Street Bridge. “Maybe the City Council could be convinced of the merits of the Southeast-to-Southwest Streetcar line once D.C. decides on a final design for the edgiest architecture project in the city’s history.”

Life in the Big City.

“His rad book…includes the answers to such burning questions as, how do I hail a cab? What is a bodega? Which way is Uptown?” From a new book by cartoonist Nathan Pyle, Distractify shows off a number of spiffy animated primers on how to live/survive in NYC. Funny because they’re true, and definitely worth a perusal. The one above — a.k.a. the “Reservoir Dogs walk” — is a huge problem in DC also.

Wars without Williams.


As making the rounds of late, the raw C-SPAN feed of the Yavin 4 medal ceremony was a considerably weaker PR hit for the Rebellion, and no mistake. (Chewie in particular comes off much worse — This is like learning of Lincoln’s squeaky voice.)

Also in recent Original Trilogy-related humor, Black C-3PO (BL3PO? Either way, probably still less offensive than Jar Jar et al) and this analysis of the insurgency on Endor’s moon. “The Ewoks are not soldiers, but a tribal insurgency — and a remarkably successful one once they receive the backing of foreign special forces.”

Immeasurable Heaven.

“Discounting cosmic expansion, their map shows flow lines down which galaxies creep under the effect of gravity in their local region…Based on this, the team defines the edge of a supercluster as the boundary at which these flow lines diverge. On one side of the line, galaxies flow towards one gravitational centre; beyond it, they flow towards another. ‘It’s like water dividing at a watershed, where it flows either to the left or right of a height of land,’ says Tully.”

Using an algorithm based on the velocity of redshifting galaxies, a team of University of Hawaii astronomers identify our galaxy’s place in the newly-identified Laniakea supercluster. (Laniakea being Hawaiian for “Immeasurable Heaven.”) Adds Slate‘s Phil Plait: “Laniakea is about 500 million light years across, a staggering size, and contains the mass of 100 quadrillion Suns — 100 million billion times the mass of our star.”

Getting Away With It.

“I have been following the absence of legal prosecutions since 2008, and have posted on that subject more than 500 times. But this isn’t the obsession of one lone crank (i.e., me). Many others in banking, law enforcement and government who aren’t on the payroll of banks have reviewed the events of the financial crisis and have reached the same conclusion — that the law was broken repeatedly by bankers.”

In the wake of a ridiculous apologetic in the NYT — and news that the government now wants to waive sanctions for Credit Suisse — Bloomberg’s Barry Ritholtz re-asks one of the central questions of the financial crisis, and Obama’s response to it: Why have no Banksters gone to jail?

“Political access and lobbying go part way toward explaining the absence of prosecutions and, therefore, the lack of convictions…As we have repeatedly shown, Treasury Department officials, including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, had convinced prosecutors in the Justice Department of the dangers of prosecuting banks and bankers for the economy.” (Cartoon above via here.)

The Sun Has Come to Earth.

“The new figures for carbon dioxide were particularly surprising, showing the biggest year-over-year increase since detailed records were first compiled in the 1980s, Tarasova said in an interview. The jump of nearly three parts per million over 2012 levels was twice as large as the average increase in carbon levels in recent decades.”

We’re getting warmer: While the world focuses on deleting spam from U2, a new report finds carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere accelerating ever faster. “‘The changes we’re seeing are really drastic,’ Tarasova said. ‘We are seeing the growth rate rising exponentially’…’It means we’re probably getting to the point where we’re looking at the ‘safe zone’ in the rearview mirror, even as we’re stepping on the gas.'”

Update…But Not Today.

Better Napping Through Chemistry.

“But here’s the trick of the coffee nap: sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. If you nap for longer than 15 or 20 minutes, your brain is more likely to enter deeper stages of sleep that take some time to recover from. But shorter naps generally don’t lead to this so-called ‘sleep inertia’ — and it takes around 20 minutes for the caffeine to get through your gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream anyway.”

Citing various recent research, Vox’s Joseph Stromberg extols the benefits of the coffee nap. “So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.” And just imagine how much more fulfilling a Red Bull-Guinness-Coffee-Nap would be.

Life Everlasting.

“The scientists joined old and young mice for five weeks and then examined them. The muscles of the old mice had healed about as quickly as those of the young mice…The young mice, on the other hand, had effectively grown prematurely old.”

Take that, Van Helsing: Per PBS’s NOVA, research increasingly suggests that transfusions of young blood hold the secret to slowing or reversing aging. “We can turn back the clock instead of slowing the clock down,” said Dr. Toren Finkel, director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.”

(Unless, of course, it’s all about the jellyfish.)

August Recess.

Hello all. No, GitM’s not dead. As per several Augusts past, I’ve spent the past few weeks on August recess, confining my thoughts on the various nightmares unfolding in Ferguson, Gaza, Iraq, etc. to 140 characters on Twitter and Facebook.

In the meantime, my girlfriend Amy and I have been getting in lots of travel this month — first a long weekend in New Orleans where, among other things, I for the first time took in the French quarter, Frenchman St., and the future final resting place of thespian and scholar Nicolas Cage.

A fortnight later, we were off to Iberia for a stretch, with four and a half days in Barcelona and Lisbon each (with a brief, three-hour layover tour through Brussels — alas, we didn’t have time to visit my old stomping grounds of Waterloo.)

August is probably not the best time to visit Barcelona — it was as crowded as Times Square at times, on much narrower streets. Still, it’s an amazing World City, and Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else in this system. Very highly recommended (although, again, perhaps not in August.)

By comparison, Lisbon and its dozens of ancient churches was more of a sleepy European capital. But it too had its charms, not the least Sintra and its ninth century Moorish castle, only an hour or so away by train.

In any event, if you want to peruse some photos from the trip (and aren’t already a Facebook friend), I’ve put three dozen or so up in the long-neglected Flickr feed. Suffice to say, a grand time was had!

The Clown and the Siren.

“‘The first season of Mork & Mindy I knew immediately that a three-camera format would not be enough to capture Robin and his genius talent,’ said Marshall. ‘So I hired a fourth camera operator and he just followed Robin. Only Robin. Looking back, four cameras weren’t enough. I should have hired a fifth camera to follow him too.'”

Robin Williams, 1951-2014. See also: David Simon’s remembrance: “I encountered him only once, twenty years ago, but the memory is distinct. I found Mr. Williams good-hearted, hilarious, talented, and remarkably, indescribably sad.”

Must-see Williams: The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Aladdin.

***
“‘You just learn to cope with whatever you have to cope with. I spent my childhood in New York, riding on subways and buses. And you know what you learn if you’re a New Yorker? The world doesn’t owe you a damn thing.'”

Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014. More from RogerEbert.com’s Balder and Dash: “The most touching thing about Bacall’s autobiography is her bewilderment about having been given so much at such a young age and then having it all taken away from her…But she did keep going, and going, for more than half a century…Her interviews were always salty, brassy, forbidding. She claimed often that she was more vulnerable than she appeared, and maybe that was true.”

Must-See Bacall: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep.

True Astronaut.

“We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

Those True Detective pun titles keep on givin': Matthew McConaughey goes asking our intergalactic neighbors for water in the newest trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, also with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, and David Oyelowo.

As before, I like the space case being made here, but remain worried about the apparent Gravity-levels of schmaltz being used to fuel this probe. We’ll see, this November.

Outbreak.

“The outbreak — the largest in history — has spread across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and killed at least 672 people, according to the World Health Organization. The disease has no vaccine and no specific treatment. It has a fatality rate of at least 60%.”

Among the most frightening developments in a world full of bad news at the moment: Ebola is running rampant through West Africa, and has reached both Freetown and Lagos, Africa’s largest city (where it was hopefully and quickly contained.) “This epidemic…can only get worse, because it is still spreading, above all in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in some very important hotspots,’ Janssens said…’we have never known such an epidemic.'”

Still, before you seal the locks on the underground shelter, the general scientific consensus seems to be that, even if the virus does reach here by plane — and it may well — ebola isn’t influenza circa 1918: “This is not a highly transmissible disease, where the number of people who can be infected by a single individual is high. You have to come into very close contact with blood, organs, or bodily fluids of infected animals, including people. If you educate people properly and isolate those who are potentially infected, it should be something you can bring under control.”

Also, as far as deadly mutations go, ebola “kill[s] so quickly that I don’t envision there’s going to be a major shift in transmission.” Some small comfort…unless, of course, you’re infected. As it is, per The Onion, a vaccine is “at least 50 white people away.

The Middle, Sinking.

“Nostalgia is just about the only thing the middle class can still afford. That’s because median wealth is about 20 percent lower today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was in 1984. Yes, that’s three lost decades.”

Wonkblog’s Matt O’Brien briefly surveys the downward pressure on our sinking middle class. “[I]t’s still a heckuva lot better than households in the bottom 25 percent, whose wealth never grew during the good times, and then plunged 60 percent during the bad ones. That’s because, for both the middle and working classes, real wages have been stagnant the past 30 years, and housing equity has taken a nosedive.”

The Massacre in Gaza.

“In the past seven or more years, Israel has besieged, tormented, and regularly attacked the Gaza Strip. The pretexts change: they elected Hamas; they refused to be docile; they refused to recognize Israel; they fired rockets; they built tunnels to circumvent the siege; and on and on. But each pretext is a red herring, because the truth of ghettos…is that, eventually, the ghetto will fight back. It was true in Soweto and Belfast, and it is true in Gaza.”

In the New Yorker, Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi excoriates Israel’s “collective punishment” in Gaza, and our complicity in it. “[T]he United States puts its thumb on the scales in favor of the stronger party. In this surreal, upside-down vision of the world, it almost seems as if it is the Israelis who are occupied by the Palestinians, and not the other way around. In this skewed universe, the inmates of an open-air prison are besieging a nuclear-armed power with one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world.”

And before the Jon Stewart heads start popping up to accuse Khalidi of rabid anti-Semitism for questioning the targeted bombing of civilian infrastructure, see also Roger Cohen’s recent piece in the NYT:

“What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state…that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.” This.

When Gaza erupted in 2009, I posted about how we needed here in America “the type of broader range of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that you can find it…say, Israel. It’s both embarrassing and extremely counterproductive for our nation to be seen — and to continually be used — as a knee-jerk diplomatic dupe that will always blindly support policies initiated by the most conservative factions in Israeli politics.”

Well, not much seems to have changed in Washington, unfortunately. Bibi Netanyahu is still the Dubya of Israel (tho’ these days Andrew Jackson comes to mind), still doing all he can to destroy any hope of a two-state solution. His government is offering up absurd defenses for murdering civilians that we wouldn’t countenance for a second if they came, from, say, Russia. And, as usual, we — and we alone — are backing their play at the UN.

Still, whether it is social media, a generational shift, or just shock at the scale of death and destruction happening, at least a broader discussion about the conflict is breaking out here in America this time.

Let’s hope it continues. Despite all the heat that’s shed on this topic, we should all at least be able to agree that there is such a thing as a wildly disproportionate response, and the IDF killing 1200-odd civilians who have nowhere left to evacuate to, in a bombing campaign with no end in sight, should probably qualify. At the very least, we can stop footing the bill for these sorts of atrocities.

The Mad and the Sinful.

A few other trailers that popped up via Comic-Con ’14…


Reborn as Tom Hardy, Australia’s most notable post-apocalyptic survivor looks to need a hand or three from Charlize Theron in the first trailer for George Miller’s long-anticipated Mad Max: Fury Road, also with Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Zoe Kravitz. Eh, ok…looks like The Road Warrior with better production values.


Meanwhile, the survivors of the enjoyable first film look to go all Smokin’ Aces on Powers Boothe in a new red-band trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, with Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Jaime King, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Martin Csoskas, Christopher Lloyd, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, and Lady Gaga. Not particularly inclined to throw any more money at Frank Miller, but the first one was good fun.


Update: One more: Julianne Moore and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman briefly discuss the political ramifications of one Katniss Everdeen in the most recent teaser for Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. I, with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Gwendoline Christie, and Natalie Dormer. Alrighty then – Not bad, but I thought the two recent addresses by President Snow were savvier (and creepier) marketing.

Amazons and Androids.

Also among the riches of Comic-Con ’14: Zack Snyder released a second image of the Batfleck (not to be confused with Bruce Wayne) and our first look at Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman from Batman v. Superman. So Diana’s meant to be Kryptonian, then (re: the tiara)? That’s a rather dramatic change.

Elsewhere, Joss Whedon’s Avengers showed up to gab and release, over a few days, this robot melee from Age of Ultron. Both properties also showed short teasers to the attendees, but thus far I’ve only seen them online in unflattering Kramervision form.

Incantation

"A barking dog is often more useful than a sleeping lion." -- Washington Irving

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