Friday, May 22, 2015

the ripe unripe

In a way the above functions as a playful comment on my previous post, though I'd say chef René Redzepi's "perfectly unripe" (or "ripe unripe") is more interesting, if not more profound, than Rumsfeld's "known unknowns."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

deepities and rummies

The above was taken from one of Daniel Dennett's lectures. (For the coinage of "deepity," Dennett gives credit to the teenage daughter of one of his friends. He also notes that the jokey retort at the end—"You can't find love in the dictionary"—is almost a deepity.) I was reminded of this while watching Errol Morris' film about Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known (2013).

Rumsfeld's famous speech is something other than a deepity:

"As we know there are known knowns—there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know."

Rumsfeld's explanation is "true"—the three categories being highlighted are indeed stages of knowing. But it becomes a rummy when it's used to answer the following question from a reporter:

"Is there any evidence to indicate that Iraq has attempted to or is willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction?"

After Rumsfeld's dance of the known and unknown, the reporter continues:

"We just want to know, are you aware of any evidence, because that would increase our level of belief from faith to something that would be based on evidence."


rummy (plural rummies)

1. something theoretically true used in the wrong context for the purpose of obfuscation or evasion



1. of, related to, or characteristic of Donald Rumsfeld or his works
2. marked by unhinged nonsense disguised as common sense

Particularly indicative of a rummy, though not a requirement, is that it be delivered in a Henry Fonda-style voice and punctuated with a smile that represents warmth yet suggests befuddlement over the simplemindedness of one's interlocutor (pedantry is the method of choice for expressing the latter). Since people tend to take your remarks for granted when you pepper them with Midwestern phrases like "you bet," "folks," and "for cryin' out loud," it can be of great service to employ them when dropping rummies. But again, not a requirement.

* * *

Rumsfeld is fond of quoting a maxim credited to cosmologist Martin Rees': the evidence of absence is not absence of evidence.

Again, true. And perfectly applicable in its original context regarding the possibility of intelligent life in the universe. Applied to foreign policy as a justification for war, however, is absurd since it could be used to justify anything. Worse than shifting the burden of proof to one's opponents, taking the logic behind this expression seriously in the context of probable cause actually discards the very notion of proof itself! It's as if the statement's other, far more obvious implication—that "absence of evidence" is not in itself evidence of anything—is ignored. (Note to future readers: It once went without saying that one needs evidence to go to war.) Another rummy.

At one point in the Unknown Known, Rumsfeld asks, "What else might have the United States have done to reach out to them [Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz] to get them to act rationally?"

Never for a moment does he consider the possibility that the United States was the irrational agent in the Iraq War, as if using the reasoning "absence of evidence" to justify one's actions—or even as a kind of evidence in support of them—is perfectly rational and reasonable. (Having previously spoken to Tariq Aziz, Rumsfeld notes how he seemed like such a logical, reasonable, rational person, an impression that simply did not jibe with Aziz's "irrational" behavior. "What goes on in that head of his?" Rumsfeld wonders, looking outward.)

Morris also highlights Rumsfeld's obsession with language, particularly definitions.

During his career, Rumsfeld sent numerous memos requesting "good" definitions (an interesting criterion) for words such as "terrorism," "victory," the OED definition of "several," and the dictionary definition of "scapegoat." He also asked the same for the terms "guerrilla warfare", "unconventional warfare," and "insurgent." His reasoning behind this is that certain words and terms will benefit the United States when they're used, and some will benefit its enemies—which is true. But it's also more than that, certainly, and it's disingenuous for Rumsfeld to treat this tactic as some kind of benign act of logic. Taking Rumsfeld's rationale at face value—that the point of invading Iraq was to get rid of Saddam Hussein—Morris asks why we didn't simply assassinate him. Rumsfeld responds, "We don't assassinate leaders of other countries." Morris then points out that we bombed Dora Farms heavily, a place in Iraq where we believed Hussein was visiting his sons. Rumsfeld condones the action by calling it "an act of war." In other words —and this rewording isn't cheap or unfair, either; Rumsfeld himself likes to use "other words"—a targeted airstrike aimed at a specific person doesn't count as assassination as long as you call it an "act of war." Got it. (It's important to note that all of this semantic quibbling and wordplay is also in lockstep with the NSA's misleading use of language.)

To end with, an example of rummian "logic" at its finest:

RUMSFELD: There are two sides to every coin. 'Belief in the inevitability of a conflict can become one of its main causes.' That is a truth. The other side of the coin, which is also true, is, 'If you wish for peace, prepare for war.'

MORRIS: But if both were true, well, you can use that to justify anything.

RUMSFELD: There's a similar thing in Rumsfeld's Rules where I say, 'All generalizations are false, including this one."

Monday, May 11, 2015

affinities XXIV

Adam Ant, Darby Crash, The Road Warrior (1981)

It's known that Darby Crash's look in the middle photo (he had various looks) was influenced by (or stolen from) Adam Ant (the picture was taken in 1980 shortly after Crash had seen Adam and the Ants perform in England). What's less clear is whether or not The Road Warrior's costume designer, Norma Moriceau, was aware of either band, or had seen images of their frontmen (Adam and the Ants were pretty well known by 1981). I hope she knew both, because I like to think of the three looks as a sequence, with Darby Crash adding the mohawk and Moriceau adding the S&M-style biker gear. It's also worth pointing out that Adam Ant, like the villain in The Road Warrior, sometimes used feathers as accessories.

But of course Ant's style didn't exactly come out of nowhere either...

Thursday, April 30, 2015


1899: Octave Mirbeau, The Torture Garden

1901: Peter Altenberg, "Tulips"

1987: Uncle Monty, Withnail & I (written by Bruce Robinson)

2006: Slavoj Žižek, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Eduardo Galeano (1940 - 2015)

"Our guy, Eduardo Galeano, died last night," is what I emailed a friend a few days ago after finding out. We've both been reading Galeano's Children of the Days every morning since the beginning of the year, a "calendar of human history," as the subtitle notes, with a page devoted to every day of the year, each pertaining to something significant that happened on that day. Significant in the Galeano sense, I mean.

Eduardo Galeano was a man who knew that the world was upside down. With this in mind, he devoted his energy to undermining the myths and official narratives we've been told so many times, the malevolent stories whose presence distorts the way we understand and think about the world, a
 world built on, and out of, the wrong stories. To counter this—to offer us, through memory, another world—Galeano highlighted the interesting and notable and important things the "nobodies" have been doing throughout history. His intent, the purpose of his corpus, was not only to give credit where credit is due, but to celebrate that which is truly worth celebrating. That which—through its celebration—enables us to make a more conscious choice regarding the world we want to live in and build. A truer, more colorful world, as he would have it.

In order for his books to match this aim, Galeano had to create an original way of writing about history. His works are "people's histories" (in the Howard Zinn sense), yet written by a poet rather than an historian. His influence can be seen in Florian Illies' 1913: The Year Before the Storm (2013), which is organized by months (often down to the day) and comprised wholly of various short stories, anecdotes, and moments. What both authors aim to do
, each in their own way, is capture the ineffable and mysterious sweep of human history—not by assembling facts and building narrative straight lines, but by filling in as many dots as Mystery allows. What we're left with is not only a picture but also a feeling—some grand, inexpressible understanding. All of which is to say that this style of writing embodies a wholly different view of life than that which is catalogued by the typical historian. A kind of changing, unknowable flow, to use an exhausted image, compared to something more knowable and concrete.
     One can also catch glimpses of Galeano's veins weaving through Mariusz Szczygiel's Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia (2014), another work of history focused largely on those who're not typically thought of as the major players in the official dramas, told in (sometimes) intersecting stories, the style of which, again, offers us a more seemingly complete picture and perspective than that of authors who try to create a sweeping narrative out of disparate facts. Wittingly or not, the style of Szczygiel's writing represents an acknowledgement of the random, chaotic, often meaningless course of events we like to make sense of and call "history." Galeano, Illies and Szczygial all resign themselves to this truth, but this resignation is not cause for their despondency but rather a kind of liberation that they run with and transform.

eduardo galeano, children of the days, eyes

I suspect that everyone who loves books has had the experience of reading something and, within minutes, feeling a kinship with the author. "This writer is mine. They understand me. They are me." (Probably where the love of reading originates.) 
Referring to Galeano, I wrote "our guy..." to my friend reflexively, without thought. He was (and is) "our writer" in many senses, not just in the sense of "me" and "my friend" who met with him every morning. If you're reading this, he's probably your writer too, even if you may not know it yet (I recommend starting with Mirrors: An Almost Universal History / Stories of Almost Everyone). He's also "our" guy in the sense that "They" are not "Us" (in the tricky, oversimple, and highly problematic—yet tangible—"Us" vs. "Them.") "Their" stories do not contain "Our" stories. And he's also ours in the sense of the "offering us another world" above—those of us who want one, anyway.

* * *

Galeano would never want himself written into Children of the Days, of course. Though he had a great and warm sense of humor, he lacked the arrogance and self-importance to see the irony in something like that. And he'd certainly never have the heart to exclude another story so much in need of being told.

children of the days, april 13, eduardo galeano, galeano death, children of the days entry,

But it wold be very fitting, and a wonderfully bizarre thing for future readers of the book to encounter.

One of the fun things to notice about Children of the Days is its quasi-practical application. Due to its structure and formatting, the book doubles as a timer that measures the year rather than the hours and minutes, with flowing pages in place of falling sand. The days, in their thinness, become more like the ticking seconds of a clock rather than their usual 24-hour blocks of time. Here we are now, down to the day (the white mark near the bottom is where the year ends; an index follows):

children of the days, calendar, clock, galeano, bookmark, book, histories, hourglass

note: As far as I know, Galeano's books have no obvious antecedent, at least not as far as history books are concerned. Rebecca West, in her nonfiction work 1900 (1982)—which I have not read in full but rather jumped around and sampled in chunks—wrote a history of the title year, with a compassionate eye toward the dispossessed and a large focus on artists (one senses all four of the writers mentioned are in agreement with Shelley's famous remark about who the unacknowledged legislators of the world truly are). But it's still largely a traditional history, however unique the premise might have been at the time, however well the photographs have been integrated, and however personal it is (West lived through 1900 as a girl, knowing and meeting many of the players). Galeano was already writing before West's book was published, but it's possible that Illies' 1913 was birthed more from West than Galeano... but this is all speculation. Anyway, while we have an excuse, let's make a quick stop in at 1900 to get a quick sample of West's tone and point of view, which I love. In reference to the Queensberry debacle: "Oscar Wilde was not so lucky. He should have been put by the fates on a list of endangered species, not to be hunted like the rest of us human game, for in The Importance of Being Earnest he had written the only great comedy which had graced the English stage since Congreve's day."

Galeano photo via

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

OLD JOKE: A tourist passed violinist Mischa Elman on Fifty-seventh Street, Manhattan.

"Excuse me," said the tourist, noticing his violin case, "Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"

"Yes," Elman said, continuing on his way. "Practice!"

OLDER JOKE: Bacchus wanted to retrieve the recently deceased poet Euripides from the underworld but wasn't quite sure how to go about it. Without a better plan, he decided to adorn himself with a lion's skin and club in a feeble attempt to appear like Hercules, who had successfully travelled to the underworld to wrestle Cerberus. Then he sought the strongman's advice.

He arrived at his half-brother's door, where the heroic Hercules mocked the effeminate Bacchus for his ill-suited disguise until the god of wine and theater revealed his serious intent.

"How may I soonest arrive at Hades below?" Bacchus asked.

Hercules, put out by his annoying sibling, replied, "A rope and a bench."

(Taken from Aristophanes' The Frogs, 405 BC)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

american sniping

Chomsky reviews the reviewers of American Sniper:

* * * 

For reasons that aren't particularly interesting, I won't be seeing American Sniper. I have never been convinced that Clint Eastwood is a very good filmmaker (or actor, for that matter) and, fairly or not, the fact that his films are generally praised very highly makes me feel differently towards them than I would, say, the films of another competent or better than average filmmaker whose work was consistently treated with the lack of reverence and respect I thought it deserved. I also have no patience for any of the recent movies about war and terrorism that couch themselves in vague notions of neutrality, whether that be through a director's insistence that the work is "not political" (and critics largely treat it as such), an actor says that a given film is not about war but rather a "character study" (meaning that the war itself is mere backdrop—an inherently political decision in its implications), or any of the other myriad ways this stance might be expressed. The Hurt Locker, with Kathryn Bigelow's insistence that the film was somehow "neutral" or apolitical, was for me the first and final straw in breaking any interest I had in watching these dishonest (at worst) or woefully naive (giving benefit of doubt) films. At the same time I do sometimes wonder how much this kind of framing is genuine sentiment and how much of it is merely a cynical marketing strategy designed to make the films appeal to the largest number of viewers possible, both pro- and anti-war1. (When it turns out that a given movie is "serious" enough to contend for awards, this strategy would also help ensure that it doesn't ruffle too many feathers in the Academy2, a body thought to be much more in opposition to the Iraq war than in support of it.)3

1: An easy shorthand. But yeah, I just did that unfair thing with language that anti-abortion types do when they frame themselves as "pro-life." (By definition, no sane person is ever "pro-war," however much they might support a particular action.)

2: Not a Birdman reference.

3: I already told you in the beginning that my reasons weren't particularly interesting; you have no one to blame but yourself.

* * *

A comment found below Matt Taibbi's online review of American Sniper :

Normally I wouldn't respond to this at all, or I'd respond to it directly on the page. But since the comments are closed, I'm snowed in, the comment itself is frozen directly below the article for all to see, and I have nothing better to post at the moment...

helloiamyo: You seem to be under the impression that it is somehow possible to go into a movie completely objectively, with no preconceived expectations or prejudice
—how quaint! The irony is that you did the exact same thing you criticize Taibbi for, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum: you expected to like the film. How do I know? Because you paid to see it. (Though you've already demonstrated that logic isn't your strong suit, I'm assuming that the reasoning behind this particular deduction is intuitive enough for you to infer without my having to explain it.) It follows, then, that you had the mindset of finding what is "right" and "good" in the film and therefore enjoyed it like "the rest of us" (who likewise paid for it). Add to this the possibility of having to face the disappointing prospect of having plopped down ten bucks for something you didn't even enjoy and, well, it's no wonder you found something to like, right? Or should I give you more credit than you're giving Taibbi?

The following comment can be seen shortly thereafter, wherein a marooned citizen proudly fires his cannons from the shores of Philistia:

Nothing to say to that; one can only marvel. (I would ask, however, that if "entertain" is truly "ENOUGH!" for movies to do, then why does Mr. Lously bother to spend time reading about them, let alone take the time to write a response? I sense some inner conflict...)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

snowballs in hell: a repost

CBS NEWS February 26, 2015, 8:09 PM

 -- While the rest of Washington spent Thursday trying to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor during a speech questioning the science behind climate change.
"Do you know what this is? It's a snowball," Inhofe said, holding the snowball aloft. "It's just from outside here, so it's very, very cold out ... very unseasonable."
"Mr. President, catch this," he said, tossing the snowball away. An Inhofe aide told National Journal the projectile was caught by a congressional page.
Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has long argued that climate change is a "hoax," and he's opposed the Obama administration's efforts to reduce carbon emissions. He brandished his snowball prop on Wednesday during a broader speech questioning global warming.
"We hear the perpetual headline that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, but now the script has flipped," Inhofe said.
NASA has determined that 2014 was, in fact, the warmest year since modern recording began in 1880.
* * *

 photo logicalfallacycomic-1.jpg
Originally posted 04/2011

"A comic but not comedic. To ridicule -- by way of three small exposures -- a certain pervasive mentality."

Monday, February 02, 2015

inspiration, derivation, or no relation? (affinities XXIII)

Crazy Horse (Wiseman, 2011); Under the Skin (Glazer, 2013)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

waterboarding: five definitions

[waw-ter-bawr-ding, ‐bohr‐, wot-er‐]

1. an enhanced interrogation technique in which water is poured over the face of an immobilized suspect until information is elicited that proves their culpability, thereby creating an easy workaround to the naive, pre-9/11 pipe dream "innocent until proven guilty."

2. a form of enhanced hazing involving water performed on certain immobilized detainees until they admit that they are in fact "enemy combatants," thereby justifying their initial capture, subsequent detention (indefinite), and whatever else might happen to befall them should their treatment ever get leaked to a journalist—particularly one whose hatred of America is so intense that they might actually consider reporting on it.


1. a method of torture that no legal or political or cultural authority from the Spanish Inquisition until the Bush administration ever doubted for a moment was torture. definition (US): definition (UK):

The first two definitions are mine; the third, which I deemed obsolete, is taken from The Atlantic

Thursday, January 08, 2015


"My grandfather, Earl Collins, painted airplanes in England during World War II. After, in civilian life, he painted houses, until he was hired by a Baltimore savings and loan company to supervise maintenance of their city branch. I remember him as a kind and exceptionally generous man with impeccable style. When he died in 1996, my grandmother gave me his 35mm Nikon. I don’t remember him ever taking pictures, but a box of slides I found recently are evidence that he took a lot in the years between 1959 and 1972. These photos are also evidence of an aesthetic, which, if such things can be handed down generations, I believe I inherited. Though we never discussed photography or art and he didn’t like the movies, I am haunted by the similarities between the subjects that interest us and the way we organize the frame." —Matthew Porterfield

top image: By Earl Collins [More]; bottom image: By Matthew Porterfield (Putty Hill)

Thursday, January 01, 2015


From Eduardo Galeano's Children of the Days (2013)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bacons & Hogg

From The Wordsworth Book of Literary Anecdotes (Robert Hendrickson, 1990)

Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626). A witty murderer was brought before Bacon when he served as England's lord chancellor in 1618.

"Your honor should let me go," the man said. "We're kin. My name is Hogg, and Hogg is kin to Bacon."

"Not until it's hung," Bacon replied.

Figure with Meat (1954) by another Francis Bacon

Monday, December 15, 2014



The world decided that the punishment for subjecting prisoners to such techniques was death [via / more]

(NKVD was a law enforcement arm of the Soviet Union) [via]


Quote from Mariusz Szczygieł's Gottland (2008)

Obama continuing to "Look forward, not back." [via]



Interview via Meet, What Some Have Dubbed, "the Press."