20 August 2010

Another Nobody Asserts His Views on the Cordoba House

Lots and lots of folks in the internets are sounding off on the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.  Gladstone makes three very good points: it's not at Ground Zero, it's not a mosque in the strictest sense (any more than a YMCA is a church), and those who oppose it simultaneously uphold and seek to sway the government to suppress the First Amendment.

It's that last point that I want to talk/rant about.  Newt Gingrich, who seems hell-bent on making it impossible for himself to win the Republican nomination for 2012, rants that
"the proposed 'Cordoba House' overlooking the World Trade Center site--where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks--is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites" 
and for some reason goes on to compare our country to Saudi Arabia.  As if we don't have to hold to our core beliefs until every theocracy in the world gets it together.  I, personally, don't want to live in Saudi Arabia and am not really worried about comparing how well we're doing as a nation to it.  Saudi Arabia operates with a different playbook, and nothing they do or don't do should affect how we, as a nation, behave in relation to our founding principles.

So that's my personal response to Gingrich's arguments.  But there's a constitutional response, as well, to his argument that NYC has a right to deny the building of the Cordoba House.  [NB: I think the headline for that link is misleading and a tad unethical.  No doubt comparing anyone to Nazis brings with it a host of negative connotations (ask Ward Churchill or Marge Schott), but just because you compare a situation to Nazis doesn't necessarily mean you're comparing Muslims to Nazis.  Even Gingrich.]   As for that right to deny the Cordoba House?  Not so, says Brian Palmer on Slate.  I have to agree with Palmer's interpretation.  The misunderstanding of the First Amendment is scary-prevalent these days.  (Laura Schlessinger and Sarah Palin somehow think public outcry against something perceived as objectionable is a violation of free speech; just as it does not protect some hippie from getting thrown out of a Christian bookstore for wearing a pot-leaf t-shirt.)

What the First Amendment does say is that Congress shall make no law infringing on the freedom of speech and the "free exercise" of religion.  If Congress can't make a law against it, that means the President (who is supposed to be the executor of laws) can't take any action against freedom of speech or religion.  What that means is that a government agency (say, the FCC) can't shut Schlessinger up for saying words that the US Supreme Court hasn't ruled verboten; it also means that Obama, Bloomberg, or any other governmental agency cannot interfere with the establishment of the Cordoba House on religious grounds.  It seems pretty clear to me, and I don't understand why someone like Palin would in one breath say the builders of the Cordoba House have the right to do it and in the next ask the President to step in to stop it.  Turns out, officially stopping it is above everyone's pay grade.

I'm not sure which is worse: flat out ignorance of the Bill of Rights or the tightrope walking that embattled Democrats are doing.  Harry Reid says they can but they shouldn't (and wisely stops short of taking a trip to Palin-land and asking Obama to do something about it); Howard Dean says they can but probably shouldn't since most Americans ("65 or 70 percent" by his count) are against it; and President Obama says they can build there but won't comment on whether or not they should.

There are lots of statements in support or in opposition to this Islamic community center that will be built two blocks away from Ground Zero, but I haven't seen one yet that calls the dust-up what it really is: an ethical issue.  It is an ethical issue since--as Boehner, Dean, Palin and others have noted--it's not about what can be done but what should be done.  (I didn't hear many of the people listed in this blog post crying out about Georgia's Confederate-esque state flag...and that's Gingrich's home state...where he served in the legislature...so I guess some wrongs are worse than others.)

So what should be done?  I say let them build it if they want.  President George W. Bush took pains during his terms in office to distinguish between Islam and terrorism perpetrated by Muslims.  So why are we listening to someone like Gingrich who thinks the Cordoba House is a symbol of Islamic conquest in the heart of Manhattan?  Maybe a YMCA will never be built a few blocks away from the Kaaba, but that's what makes us who we are and the Saudis who they are.  Isn't that why Palin is supposedly fightin' "to elect candidates who understand the Constitution, to protect our military interests so that we can keep on fightin' for our Constitution to protect our freedoms"?

[Author's Note: I'm the nobody referenced in the title.  Not trying to personally attack anyone listed in this post.]

11 June 2010

College Football Dream Conference Alignment

Anyone who follows college football knows that there are some serious shake-ups in the offing. In this case, it's not necessarily a good thing because television and money is trumping play-style, old alliances, and geographical concerns. So, here's my dream conference alignment that will never ever happen. (Automatic BCS qualifiers are marked with an asterisk, and note that there are fewer now--only 4, which leaves more chances for other conferences.)

  • Boston College
  • Georgia Tech
  • Maryland
  • Navy
  • North Carolina
  • NC State
  • Duke
  • Miami (FL)
  • South Carolina
  • South Florida
  • Virginia
  • Wake Forest
Big East
  • Army
  • Connecticut
  • East Carolina
  • Memphis
  • Pitt
  • Rutgers
  • Syracuse
  • West Va
Big XII-North*
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Oklahoma
  • Oklahoma State
  • Texas Christian
  • Texas Tech
Big XII-South*
  • Arizona
  • Arizona State
  • Houston
  • Mississippi State
  • Texas
  • Texas A&M
CSA (Conference of Student Athletics)
  • Baylor
  • Northwestern
  • Rice
  • SMU
  • Temple
  • Tulane
  • Vanderbilt
  • Alabama-Birmingham
  • Central Florida
  • Florida Atlantic
  • Marshall
  • Middle Tennessee State
  • Troy
  • Western Kentucky
  • Arkansas State
  • Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Louisiana-Monroe
  • La Tech
  • Kansas State
  • North Texas
  • UT-El Paso
Heartland Conference (Formerly the Big 1Ten1)-Great Lakes*
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Michigan State
  • Minnesota
  • Purdue
  • Wisconsin
Heartland Conference-Great Plains*
  • Cincinnati
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Mizzou
  • Nebraska
  • Notre Dame
  • Ohio State
  • Akron
  • Bowling Green
  • Buffalo
  • Kent State
  • Miami (OH)
  • Ohio
  • Toledo
  • Ball State
  • Central Michigan
  • Eastern Michigan
  • Iowa State
  • Northern Illinois
  • Western Michigan
M-WAC (Formerly MWC and WAC)
  • Colorado State
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New Mexico State
  • San Jose State
  • UNLV
  • Utah
  • Utah State
  • Wyoming
MWC (Dissolved)

Pac-12 (Formerly Pac-10)-Emerald*
  • Boise State
  • BYU
  • Oregon
  • Oregon State
  • Washington
  • Wazzu
  • Cal
  • Fresno State
  • San Diego State
  • Stanford
  • UCLA
  • USC
  • Florida
  • Florida State
  • Clemson
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Va Tech
  • Alabama
  • Auburn
  • LSU
  • Mississippi
  • Southern Miss
  • Tennessee
Sun-Belt (Dissolved)

WAC (Dissolved)

03 June 2010

Top Ten Side-One, Track-Ones

Recently, NPR's All Songs Considered had a post about the best side-one, track ones ever. So, of course, I had to make my own list:

Top Ten (in order):
1) “Break on Through (To the Other Side),” The Doors by The Doors
2) “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nevermind by Nirvana
3) “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
4) “Born in the U.S.A.,” Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen
5) “London Calling,” London Calling by The Clash
6) “Guitar Town,” Guitar Town by Steve Earle
7) “The Girl from Ipanema,” Getz/Gilberto by Stan Getz and João Gilberto
8) “A Love Supreme, Pt 1: Acknowledgment,” A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
9) “Second Hand News,” Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
10) “Nebraska,” Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

Now, to make it even more interesting, here is my Top Ten Eponymous side-one, track-one (also in order):
1) “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
2) “Born in the U.S.A.,” Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen
3) “London Calling,” London Calling by The Clash
4) “Guitar Town,” Guitar Town by Steve Earle
5) “Nebraska,” Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
6) “What’s Goin’ On,” What’s Goin On by Marvin Gaye
7) “My Favorite Things,” My Favorite Things by John Coltrane
8) “White Light/White Heat,” White Light/White Heat by The Velvet Underground
9) “My Funny Valentine,” My Funny Valentine by Chet Baker
10) “Running on Empty,” Running on Empty by Jackson Browne

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):

“About a Girl,” MTV Unplugged in New York by Nirvana
“Alice’s Restaurant Massacre,” Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie
“Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soul,” Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus
“Blinded by the Light,” Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. by Bruce Springsteen
“Blister in the Sun,” Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes
“Blue Rondo a la Turk,” Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
“Boyz-n-the-Hood,” N.W.A. and the Posse by N.W.A.
“Breaking the Law,” British Steel by Judas Priest
“Caring is Creepy,” Oh, Inverted World! By The Shins
“Come Together,” Abbey Road by The Beatles
“Debaser,” Doolittle by Pixies
“Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” Off the Wall by Michael Jackson
“Enter Sandman,” Metallica by Metallica
“Fire of Unknown Origin,” Fire of Unknown Origin by Blue Öyster Cult
“Folsom Prison Blues,” At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash
“Gimme Shelter,” Let it Bleed by The Rolling Stones
“Gloria,” Horses by Patti Smith
“Good Times, Bad Times,” Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin
“Hard Day’s Night,” Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles
“Head Like a Hole,” Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails
“Highway to Hell,” Highway to Hell by AC/DC
“Hotel California,” Hotel California by The Eagles
“King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1,” In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
“Let’s Go Crazy,” Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution
“Like a Rolling Stone,” Highway 61 Revisted by Bob Dylan
“Lion’s Mane,” Creek Drank the Cradle by Iron & Wine
“Loser,” Mellow Gold by Beck
“Magical Mystery Tour,” Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles
“Mrs. Robinson,” Concert in Central Park by Simon & Garfunkel
“Peter Piper,” Raising Hell, by Run D.M.C.
“Phases and Stages (Theme)/Washing the Dishes,” Phases and Stages by Willie Nelson
“Pink Moon,” Pink Moon by Nick Drake
“Radio Free Europe,” Murmur by R.E.M.
“Rehab,” Back to Black by Amy Winehouse
“Roscoe,” The Trials of Van Occupanter by Midlake
“Say It (Over and Over Again),” Ballads by John Coltrane
"See No Evil," Television by Television
"Shotgun Willie," Shotgun Willie by Willie Nelson
“Speak to Me/Breathe,” Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
“So Far Away,” Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits
“So What,” Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
“Soul Man,” Soul Men by Sam & Dave
“Vicarious,” 10,000 Days by Tool
“Walt Whitman’s Niece,” Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco
“Watermelon Man,” Takin’ Off by Herbie Hancock
“Welcome to the Jungle,” Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses
“Where the Streets Have no Name,” Joshua Tree by U2
“White Room,” Wheels of Fire by Cream
“Wouldn’t it be Nice,” Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

17 March 2010

“Disease is the Love of Two Alien Kinds of Creatures”: Desire as Pathogen in David Cronenberg’s Shivers **Explicit/Adult Content**

What follows is a little talk I did for the UO "Horror and the Horrific" film series about a month ago. Yes, that is how long it's taken me just to copy and paste something onto this blog. So sad.

“Disease is the Love of Two Alien Kinds of Creatures”: Desire as Pathogen in David Cronenberg’s Shivers

Shivers is one of David Cronenberg’s oddest films: it is his first commercial, feature-length film; it is little-known; it is rich with allusions (William Blake, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Hobbes, St Luke the physician); and, like most of his films, Shivers makes extensive use of binaries. What I’d like to do is examine just one set of binaries on which much of the film’s horror is based, but one that is less obvious than a first viewing would suggest. My thesis is obvious, however: desire—instead of the parasites or infected sex maniacs—is used to horrify the audience.

Since what we’re about to watch is something you’ve likely never seen or even heard of, I want to quickly outline the film. WARNING: Here be spoilers.

The first scene is a montage of binaries, visualizing the confusion that results from their coexistence. In Starliner Towers, an ultra-mod high-rise condominium, we see a slick property manager “hunt” prospective renters; interspersed with this is the actual “hunt” and mutilation of a young woman by a much older man. The scene ends with the man slitting his own throat with a scalpel. From here the film proceeds along two complementary lines—a detective story in which the main characters try to figure out just what is going on, and a horror story in which the main characters try to resist infection. As the detective yarn unfolds, we learn the older man was a scientist who created a parasite that is half aphrodisiac, half venereal disease—with which he hoped to turn the world into a giant orgy. As the horror plot unfolds and the infection spreads exponentially, Dr. Roger St Luc, the condo’s medical officer, and Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry in her post-The Crazies and pre-Cat People role) try in vain to resist. Eventually, she’s infected and finally infects St Luc.

I notice that when I give the bare outline of the plot, the film sounds like an on-the-cheap forerunner of Resident Evil or a reimagining of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. For most first-time viewers, the aspects that make Shivers a horror movie are the parasites and the infected. When we get a good look at them, the parasites look like phallic turds—pretty disgusting if the special effects weren’t so laughable. But they invade the boundaries of the body and colonize people—pretty scary. The infected, unlike Romero’s zombies, look mostly normal, but they are aggressive, and the film depicts them all as sexually transgressive.

But I wonder…there is a fear of pathogen in the film, but the fear isn’t elicited by the squishy, brown parasites or the infected, bare-chested janitor who advances on our hero in the basement boiler room. Instead, uncontrolled desire is the pathogen that elicits horror in the audience because the film suggests that there’s nothing inhuman about the actions it depicts. We are all already infected.

But what about those parasites? How are they not horrific? What about the infected? The former is disgusting and the other threatening, but that hardly counts for horrific. In fact, the parasites cause permanent damage to only one character and aren’t directly responsible for a single death. The infected are sexual predators, but they’re only responsible for one death in the film; the supposedly healthy characters kill five people. So I’d like to suggest that the parasites and infected are scary but not horrifying.

That likely needs some explanation because you’re probably wondering how “scary” and “horrifying” are different. What I mean by “scary” is the scene or action that may frighten us, but that we can leave behind. To use an example from the era of Shivers: in Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), it’s damn scary when Leatherface comes out of nowhere and smacks Kirk with the hammer, dragging him into the house and slamming the steel door. But the dinner scene is horrifying because Sally is trapped and we finally understand that the family is operating by a set of rules known only to them. Norman Bates in that wig also fits the bill. Regan MacNeil vomiting pea soup does not. The horrific, for my purposes, is that set of disturbing aspects of a film or text that you can’t quite shake, so it seems to me that unbound desire is the really horrific aspect of Shivers. It’s the sexual violence and transgression that really make the film disturbing.

(I should stop for a moment here and note there are quite a few sexualities depicted here that we don’t necessarily consider transgressive. But this is 1975—six years after Stonewall and only four years after the National Women’s Political Caucus was formed: the list of mainstream sexualities was still pretty narrow, so when I label something “sexually transgressive” know that I am talking within the context of the film only.)

In the context of the film, we see almost no sexual desire in a positive light. We’ll see only violent heterosexuality. We’ll also see unwilling participation in group sex, overt lesbianism (on which Cronenberg see ms to linger), subtle male homoeroticism (which provokes some of the most vigorous responses from St Luc), pedophilia, S&M, and incest. And I don’t even know how to categorize Barbara Steele’s character being raped by a parasite in the bathtub (parasite sodomy?).

What’s horrific is that humans are capable of—and
often prone to—everything we see in the film. If anything, the parasites unchain desire in the characters. And this is exactly what Hobbes wanted to do. Linsky tells us: “Hobbes believed ‘Man is an animal who thinks
too much, an over-rational animal that’s lost touch with its body and its instincts,” and we learn that the parasite was designed to “turn the world into one beautiful, mindless orgy.” It works all too well, and seeing his experiment work, Dr. Hobbes (just like Victor Frankenstein), recoils in horror, killing his young lover (the twelve-year-old-girl all grown up) and himself to try to stop the spread of the pathogen. So the film presents the old binary of cool reason and flaming desire, and shows us what happens when the balance skews too far toward the animalistic side: it’s probably no accident that Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying—and its popularization of the “zipless fuck”—was published two years before Shivers was released. The film is almost certainly responding to this notion and the ongoing sexual revolution—meditating on a limit case.

Cronenberg himself seems to confirm this. As steeped as he is in Freud (see The Brood and Dead Ringers, especially), it should be no surprise that he thinks “civilization is repression. You don’t get civilization without repression of the unconscious, the id.” Starliner Towers and St Luc, then, are civilization with all the repressive social controls. The parasite removes those controls and leaves the infected free to pursue individual desires without regard for the welfare of the civilization as a whole—as “nasty” and “brutish” as anything Dr. Hobbes’ namesake ever imagined.

Nurse Forsythe perhaps says it best in her monologue toward the end of the film. She tells St Luc about a dream she’d had the night before:
“in this dream I find myself making love to a strange man. Only I'm having trouble, you see, because he’s old and dying, and he smells bad and I find him repulsive. But then he tells me that everything is erotic, that everything is sexual…He tells me that even old flesh is erotic flesh, that disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other…That talking is sexual, that breathing is sexual, that even to physically exist is sexual…And I believe him, and we make love beautifully.”
(Fun fact: in the original script, Cronenberg has Forsythe making love to Freud himself.)

Now, she’s infected when she shares this with St Luc, but I want to point out that she had the dream the night before when she was still healthy—and this again points to the latent desire in every human, desire that is enabled by the parasite but not caused by it. St Luc, one of the most asexual characters in a Cronenberg film, responds as civilization. He represses the expression of transgressive desire by promptly punching Forsythe in the mouth and gagging her. But he does not kill her (for civilization cannot kill desire); instead he totes her around for a bit longer. The two are eventually separated, and St Luc holds out until he’s trapped in the condo’s swimming pool by a horde of infected.

A swimming pool.

Cronenberg could not have picked a more evocative metaphor because in Freudian dream psychology, water is one of the main metaphors for the unconscious. What we end up with, then, is St Luc—who coolly discussed the finer points of parasites and smoked a cigarette as Forsythe seductively writhed out of her nurse’s uniform,
who flees from three over-sexed women in a pool as if they were Romero’s zombies—St Luc, the patron saint of medicine and physicians, is literally and figuratively submerged in the pool of his unconscious. Hands in the air, he is baptized into desire. All his inhibitions are washed away.

With his fall, we are ushered into the world of unchecked desire: old men desiring young women, old women desiring young men, men desiring little girls, fathers desiring daughters, men desiring men, women desiring women, and—for some reason—twin girls wearing leashes and dog collars. The parasite returns humanity to a more animalistic state. The real horror of Shivers, then, stems from human nature: the performance of desires we’ve all had but repressed is that part of Shivers that is horrific—because it nudges, if only for a moment, our own horrific unconscious into stark outline. As Tom Stoppard’s Guildenstern so eloquently puts it, “it’s like being ambushed by a grotesque,” but a grotesque that we carry within us always.