Sound Affects

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Posts Tagged ‘Huffington Post

Why Is America So Content With Mediocrity?

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by Alan Cumming

repost from The Huffington Post

I had intended to write this entire piece and then go back and remove the ‘g’ from every word that ended in one.

But then I thought that would make me a churlish, smart-arsed, lefty stereotype and alienate the very people I want to try to hear me. (Although I imagine there ain’t gonna be many of them readin’ the huffpost, huh?! Wait for the audience to realize they should clap and/or boo, nod, smile even more, carry on.) Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Ok, this is basically it: Over the last few weeks I have watched with mounting bemusement as John McCain and Sarah Palin have constantly referred to the American work force as the best in the world, how America is a force for good in the world, how America is the best at (fill in the blank here depending on who you’re talkin’ to, wait for applause, wink, smile, and on).

You know what? I’m sorry to be blunt, and I wish it were not true, but America isn’t any of the above. Its poor downtrodden, unhealthy, under-educated and depressed workforce cannot surely believe it towers above all others in some sort of World Worker Idol type way? If so, why are its bosses firing so many of them and giving the jobs to people in other countries?

And although the notion of America being a force for good is noble and beautiful, the reality of how the world sees America is very different: America is an imperialist power that invades oil and mineral rich countries on little or flimsy evidence, and at the same time turns a blind eye to blatant genocide taking place in other parts of the globe. Perhaps if Ms Palin had a passport before 2007 and had a little less xenophobic viewpoint, she would have experienced, as I have, the terrible sight of American friends of mine being afraid to open their mouths when abroad for fear of reprisal for their nation’s ‘force of good.’ (And I’m not talkin’ about scary, rearin’ their head places like Russia or Iran. I’m talkin’ about in like cool places like London.)

This country is a mess. It is entering a depression. It is waging two wars. It has an administration so blatantly corrupt that the world is baulking at its arrogance. It lets its poor die.

And on top of all this, one of the presidential options available to its voters – although having cynically plagiarized its opponent’s keyword of ‘change’, and positively wearing its flaws and shortcomings as a badge of honor – is actually endorsing the past eight years and playing down the gargantuan problems!

Now I understand that election stump speeches are partly about trying to make people feel better/confident/happy/deluded but I am really shocked that a political party in a country that so trumpets its democracy and freedom is offering its voters such a shoddy product, and WORSE, they are still buying it!! (I thank you, my fellow Americans!)

So why? Is loyalty the value that Republicans vaunt above all others? Above common sense? Are the right of America all colluding in a giant version of the Emperor’s New Clothes?

When I encountered a Republican TV pundit at a party in New York last week I reeled off my litany of reasons about why I feel the appointment of Sarah Palin is a disgrace and a terrible blight on America’s history, and I was met with a thin smile, a nodding head, maybe even a nascent wink and the line: ‘She’s learning.’

She’s learning? (Gosh yes, she’s only been doin’ this for, what, five weeks? Smile, shout out to class 3, ignore question, on.)

I actually have so much sympathy right now for the hundreds of Republicans out there somewhere – well intentioned, well-informed, prepared, lucid for goodness’ sake – who must be utterly furious that they were overlooked for the VP post. Imagine being a doctor and thinking you’re about to be made a partner in the practice and then the receptionist who’s a big fan of Grey’s Anatomy gets it over you and we’re beginning to understand how those poor people must be feeling.

But back to the Republican pundit: I then moved on to say why I thought the policies – the policies, remember those? – of the Obama-Biden ticket were better for America. Again the smile, a little attempt at an argument in that she wasn’t sure that all those great ideas could be achieved, to which I responded that yes, in the light of the economic holocaust caused by the greed and corruption that her vote had validated, perhaps these plans might take a little longer to implement now, but didn’t she agree with the thrust of them? That crazy, trying to help people who weren’t doing so well thing?

She looked at me, a little hurt.

‘You’re not going to say you’re a fiscal conservative, are you?’ I asked.

‘Actually I was going to say I’m an economic Republican,’ she smiled. Checkmate, I could see her thinking. But I wasn’t done.

‘You know what I think a fiscal conservative or an economic Republican means?’ I asked. ‘I think it means you are clever enough to agree with the notions of what Obama stands for, you’d love everyone to have access to healthcare and good education and to be treated equally…’

She was nodding slightly now.

‘But when it comes down to it, when you’re in that polling booth, you actually think ‘Screw them’ and you vote with your pocket. And I think you use that phrase as an excuse to not care!’

She looked a little taken aback. I thought I might have gone a little too far. But no.

‘I love your passion’, she said and turned to her colleague. ‘We should have him on the show.’

You see, I think that when it comes down to it, American politics is split into people who think it’s their duty to care about other people, and those who think it’s every man for themselves. That’s it. That’s why I think the system is systematically flawed and is in dire need of a third party to shake things up a little.

But I digress. I truly think that Americans, some Americans, are comforted by mediocrity. Even those who have been battered the most by the last eight years can be reticent to the idea of change, because they are told to fear it and to leave things as they are, sit down and open a six-pack and forget their troubles. And so, all the more reason to take our hats off to Barack Obama and the Democratic party for making that scary word the touchstone of this election campaign.

I have lived in the United States for ten years. When Obama began his presidential campaign I was so inspired that I decided to start the process to become a naturalized citizen of this country. I am, at present, a resident alien (or green card holder), which basically means I do everything here -including pay taxes – except vote.

I wanted to become a citizen in time to vote on November 4th, but the immigration system of America is a little slower than it was when I first came here and I will not be sworn in properly in time. However, the point is that I want to be a part of America’s future, of its potential, because I am fed up with mediocrity.

Obama has a combination that is rare in a modern politician. He has the rhetoric and the charisma to inspire whole swathes of the hitherto dispossessed to engage in the political system. And he has the real-life experience of prejudice and poverty to both understand and make people trust that he understands their needs and his desire to help them. But he also has the intelligence and the sophistication to deal both in big ideas and incredibly detailed plans. His election campaign has been a model of harnessing a generation’s desperate desire to be heard and making them integral to the future of our society.

I hear him and he makes me excited about the prospect of being an American, an American that looks out for other Americans, in an America that is indeed a force of good in the world.

(Smile. Wink. Thumbs up. Wave.)


Written by soundaffects

October 14th, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Dirty Secret Of The Bailout: Thirty-Two Words That None Dare Utter

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by Jason Linkins.

reposted from Huffington Post

A critical – and radical – component of the bailout package proposed by the Bush administration has thus far failed to garner the serious attention of anyone in the press. Section 8 (which ironically reminds one of the popular name of the portion of the 1937 Housing Act that paved the way for subsidized affordable housing ) of this legislation is just a single sentence of thirty-two words, but it represents a significant consolidation of power and an abdication of oversight authority that’s so flat-out astounding that it ought to set one’s hair on fire. It reads, in its entirety:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

In short, the so-called “mother of all bailouts,” which will transfer $700 billion taxpayer dollars to purchase the distressed assets of several failed financial institutions, will be conducted in a manner unchallengeable by courts and ungovernable by the People’s duly sworn representatives. All decision-making power will be consolidated into the Executive Branch – who, we remind you, will have the incentive to act upon this privilege as quickly as possible, before they leave office. The measure will run up the budget deficit by a significant amount, with no guarantee of recouping the outlay, and no fundamental means of holding those who fail to do so accountable.

Is this starting to sound familiar? Robert Kuttner cuts through much of the gloss in an article in today’s American Prospect:

The deal proposed by Paulson is nothing short of outrageous. It includes no oversight of his own closed-door operations. It merely gives congressional blessing and funding to what he has already been doing, ad hoc. He plans to retain Wall Street firms as advisors to decide just how to cut deals to value and mop up Wall Street’s dubious paper. There are to be no limits on executive compensation for the firms that get relief, and no equity share for the government in exchange for this massive infusion of capital. Both Obama and McCain have opposed the provision denying any judicial review of decisions made by Paulson — a provision that evokes the Bush administration’s suspension of normal constitutional safeguards in its conduct of foreign policy and national security. […]
The differences between this proposed bailout and the three closest historical equivalents are immense. When the Reconstruction Finance Corporation of the 1930s pumped a total of $35 billion into U.S. corporations and financial institutions, there was close government supervision and quid pro quos at every step of the way. Much of the time, the RFC became a preferred shareholder, and often appointed board members. The Home Owners Loan Corporation, which eventually refinanced one in five mortgage loans, did not operate to bail out banks but to save homeowners. And the Resolution Trust Corporation of the 1980s, created to mop up the damage of the first speculative mortgage meltdown, the S&L collapse, did not pump in money to rescue bad investments; it sorted out good assets from bad after the fact, and made sure to purge bad executives as well as bad loans. And all three of these historic cases of public recapitalization were done without suspending judicial review.

Kuttner’s opposition here is perhaps the strongest language I’ve seen used, pushing back on this piece of legislation, in any publication of repute, and even here, Section 8 is not cited by name or by content. McClatchy Newspapers also alludes to Section 8 with concern, citing the “unfettered authority” that Paulson would be granted, and noting that the “law also would preclude court review of steps Paulson might take, something Joshua Rosner, managing director of economic researcher Graham Fisher & Co. in New York, said could be used to mask previous illegal activity.” Jack Balkin also gives the matter the sort of attention it deserves on his blog, Balkinization.

But elsewhere, the conversation is muted. The debate over whether Congress is going to pass the Paulson bailout package, or pass the Paulson bailout package really hard seems to have boiled down to a discussion of time and concessions. The White House has made it clear that they want this package passed yesterday. Congressional Democrats seem to be of different minds on the matter, with some pushing back hard, and others content to demand a small dollop of turd polish to make the package seem more aesthetically pleasing, at which point, they’ll likely roll over and pass the bill. Neither candidate, John McCain or Barack Obama, seem all that amenable toward the bailout, but neither have either demonstrated that they are willing to risk their candidacies to do much more than exploit the issue for electoral purposes.

Sunday morning came and went, with Paulson traipsing dutifully from studio to studio, facing nary a question on Section 8. Front page articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal detail the wranglings, but make no mention of this section of the legislation. On TV, cable news networks are stuck in the fog of the ongoing presidential campaign.

Throughout the coverage, one catches a whiff of what seems like substantive pushback on this power grab, but it largely amounts to a facsimile of journalistic diligence. Most note, in general terms, that the bailout represents a set of “broad powers” that will be granted to the Department of the Treasury. Yet the coverage offsets these concerns through the constant hyping of the White House’s overall message of “urgency.”

But one cannot overstate this: Section 8 is a singularly transformative sentence of economic policy. It transfers a significant amount of power to the Executive Branch, while walling off any avenue for oversight, and offering no guarantees in return. And if the Democrats end up content with winning a few slight concessions, they risk not putting a stop-payment on the real “blank check” – the one in which they allow the erosion of their own powers.

Over in the Senate, Christopher Dodd has proposed a bailout legislation of his own, which critically calls for “an oversight board that not only includes the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the SEC, but congressionally appointed, non-governmental officials” and would require the President to appoint an “independent inspector general to investigate the Treasury asset program.” In Dodd’s legislation, Section 8 is effectively stripped from the bill.

Nevertheless, the fact that Section 8 of the Paulson plan seems to strike few as a de facto dealbreaker can and should astound. The failure of Congress to hold the line on this point would be truly embarrassing. But if we make it through this week with nobody in the press specifically informing the public about the implications of this single sentence – in the middle of a complicated bill, in the middle of a complicated time – then right there, you have the single largest media failure of this year.

Written by soundaffects

September 26th, 2008 at 1:44 am

Ryan Reynolds – Competitive Eating + The Clown God

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I always assumed Ryan Reynolds was a bit of a jerk. In that kind of jock-y, prep-y, “I’m really, really, really ridiculously good-looking” kind of way.
And my opinion of him only plummeted when I heard he was engaged to Scarlett Johansson*. Bastard.
But then C showed me these articles, and now I kind of like Ryan Reynolds.
*speaking of Johansson, I just bought her Tom Waits album, and shall review it once I have time. Probably do that instead of studying for my Arabic exam.


Ryan Reynolds – Competitive Eating

reposted from The Huffington Post

As the fourth of July fast approaches, what better way to celebrate being at the top of the food chain than having a good ol’ fashioned competitive eating contest? IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating) proudly recognizes my main man, Don “Moses” Lerman, who wolfed down an impressive 11 burgers in 10 minutes last year. “I’ll stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding,” he says. “I do it for the thrill of competition. Some people are good at golf. I’m good at eating.”

Mr. Lerman was flanked by the finest assemblage of eaters ever to compete in this annual monument to decadence, making his win all the more impressive. Though his work will be cut out for him in the coming days if he hopes to break the current record of 49 hot dogs in under 12 minutes when he competes at “The Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest” in which the finest gurgitators in the world will fight for one of 20 spots in the most celebrated sporting event of the year. Each contestant hopes to bring home the coveted Mustard Yellow International Belt; competitive eating’s greatest prize. (Akin to The Master’s green jacket of golf, or the Vince Lombardi trophy to football) Like 2006’s contest, the event will be televised as a live, one-hour broadcast on ESPN. “We are thrilled to offer this spirited event on America’s most patriotic day,” said Wayne Norbitz, president and CEO of Nathan’s Famous.

There’s little question these fine athletes possess a unique talent separating them from the unwashed mass of normal people. But would it be fair to say competitive eating holds the renown of professional football, or the lore of Major League Baseball? What about other unsung athletic heroes across the globe? 14 year old Mustafat Osmana holds Western Sudan’s competitive Not-Eating-A-Thing-a-Thon record, by going 39 straight days without food. Barely edging out defending champion, Ahmed Rashid who went a whopping 38 days before accidentally eating one of the flies living on his eyelid. (Ouch! Better luck next year, Ahmed.)

Young Mustafat, who maintains a strict diet of inner turmoil and bleached hope, looks forward to watching the ESPN-televised event to better understand what gigantically wasteful, fucking super-retards we all are.

Mustafat, a long time enthusiast of western culture, even took time out from his busy starvation to write a letter to MTV in the hopes they’d come to Darfur and “pimp his ride.” Which really means giving him shoes. Unfortunately, an outbreak of highly contagious death in the region forced producers to postpone the trip.

While it may be impossible to understand the mental temerity and physical excellence it takes to master these dazzling sports, we can expect great things in the future from exciting athletes like Don Lerman and Mustafat Osmana. And although oceans and even the most basic human rights may separate these two great peoples, we are ALL bound together by the vibrant spirit of competition and grotesque displays of boundless, unapologetic shitheadery.


Ryan Reynolds – The Clown God

If you can remember the movie A Christmas Story — which plays in concert with every holiday season — starring a towheaded four-eyed boy named Peter Billingsley, his character, “Ralphie,” bears an uncanny resemblance to my brother at that age. I love this movie, but that’s not important right now.

As a kid, hanging out with my brother, I often felt accomplice to a very lowbrow style of Vaudevillian crime. My friends and I were eternally caught in the crossfire of his evermore, spectacular stupidity. As if by magic, he could transform a simple trip to grandma’s house into a felony, while simultaneously he could have you rolling on the ground with his unique brand of electric hilarity. He once set fire to a tree at the side of our elementary school and in an aborted attempt to extinguish the rapidly spreading structure fire, fled to retrieve water IN THE BURNING SCHOOL. Needless to say, he was apprehended almost immediately — invariably punctuating each stunt by flashing me a look of heartbreaking bewilderment. “Ryan, I’m such an idiot,” he’d say in his imploring tone. “Ryan, I’m so dead” or “Ryan, I’m-in-so-much-trouble.” As though these declarations would somehow turn back time or rescue him from whatever punishment lay in waiting. With that pair of crooked coke-bottle glasses perched on his nose, his face begat a sympathetic quality impossible to ignore. He was almost adorable in his mismanaged existence.

Before becoming the successful, strong willed rock he is today, Gordie was a socially awkward kid. He didn’t have many friends back in the day, and found himself relating more to my gang, two years his junior. His character was divided between a wellspring of innocence and an Evil Knievel-like fearlessness that seemingly had no limits. Around my friends, the desire to impress brought these two opposing traits into a kind of crude harmony, the results of which were often memorable for me, and deeply embarrassing for my father — who had the temperament and patience of a landmine. Yet, no matter what consequences followed our misadventures, my brother was forever willing to laugh at himself, provided no one else laughed first — as though he wanted stock options in his own humiliation. On the surface he seemed a black cat outlaw. If he crossed your path, there’s a good chance you’re fucked. But to me, he was also a hero. A Clown God.

As was tradition each Halloween, we would accumulate an arsenal of illegally purchased firecrackers and smoke bombs from the local Indian reservation and wander the neighborhoods in search of trouble. A particular Halloween that remains fond in memory was 1988. I was eleven years old and Gordie was at his havoc-wreaking peak. Shortly after depleting our stash of Cherry Bombs and Mighty-Mights in surrounding mail boxes, homes and slow-running civil servants — he came upon what appeared to be the mother of all dog turds, left by what seemed to be some sort of supernatural Great Dane. Or perhaps something even bigger did this… It was huge. And not at all congealed. My friends and I sidestepped the rancid pool of festering horror and kept walking. Why wouldn’t we? It was something to be avoided, something to childishly crack wise about and forget. But not for Gordie. No. To him, it was the mother load — a munificent holy grail of prepubescent anarchy. As far as he was concerned, we may have been staring at an alarmingly large pile of excrement. But what he was staring at, was greatness.

Unfortunately, we were fresh out of firecrackers, save for one precious Mighty-Might residing in my brother’s right breast pocket. He removed it with a care and delicacy reserved for such an auspicious discovery, placing it with pride in the center of the specimen. My friends and I giddily watched from a safe distance as Gordie pushed the glasses up the bridge of his sweaty nose, carefully lit the fuse and awkwardly fled for cover. But sadly, no explosion followed. No horrible shit-storm. Nothing. Moments later, Gordie returned to the extinguished fuse, which despite repeated attempts, wouldn’t stay lit in the damp Vancouver air. Our time was running out. Dinner was surely on the table by now — and experience had taught us not to be late. Surrendering to the reality we may not bear witness to his final act of small-minded lawlessness, Gordie soldiered on. Without even a flicker of reason, he continued, obsessively so, lighting the moist fuse until it looked like a tiny pimple atop a giant volcano of ass — the obvious dangers of igniting a fuse so short, miraculously lost on him. And it was that day, that precise moment, I remember for the first time, grappling with dueling factions of my nature. The side of me that wanted to be a decent brother and tell him to forget about it — live to fight another day, and this other darker, more devilish side that just wanted to see something awful. And it was also that day, the dark side won.

My brother had been dealt a lot of tough cards in life, yet it was as though in this moment, he just kept telling the dealer, “hit me.” As I remember it, I just sorta sat there watching stupidity in perfect harmony with conviction, while the following unfolded in slow motion…

Pressing the lighter to the fuse, his mouth left dangerously agape in its usual slack jawed indignity, the scene scored perfectly with the nauseating music of anticipation; he gave it one more try. An agonizing second later, the firecracker, along with Gordie saw its destiny in one swift, undeniable explosion delivered straight from hell itself. This thing didn’t simply explode. No. As if guided by the Rectum of God, every last fleck of feces coated my brother from head to toe — including the back of his throat, left brilliantly exposed to the hurtling ocean of diarrhea. He stood there motionless, still hunched over with the lighter in his hand, looking like a duped-again Wile E. Coyote. He removed his glasses and what remained were two perfect circles of white skin, broken only by a single shocked tear, rolling down a freshly painted cheek. We both knew there was no way to hide this — No way to explain to our old man why his son had become a shit-covered effigy to Planned Parenthood. We both knew he was screwed. And with that face, that perennial target of bittersweet happenstance, he just looked at me for a long while, keeping his mouth open to avoid savoring any of the excrement that now wholly encrusted his palette. And without even the slightest trace of irony, the Clown God unconsciously said something I’ll never forget… “Ryan, I’m such a shit-head.”

Written by soundaffects

June 9th, 2008 at 11:36 pm