A Description of a Really Nice Sausage
Saturday, December 18, 2004
  Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily finds it odd that no one listening to his radio show will defend evolution. Given he writes for WorldNetDaily, I'm surprised even I found the link—Farah's mock surprise is akin to Ann Coulter asking her readers: does anyone here really, really like this Clinton guy? and getting only silence.
 
Friday, December 17, 2004
  I like it when economists like Atrios get so riled up that they'll say:
I want to add that while any mandatory private savings plan is, to me, an abominably bad idea, whether it's just "abominable" or "super nuclear fuck abominable" will depend a great deal on the details of said plan.
 
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
  NPR is my favorite non-internet source of news because hosts like Alex Chadwick when they have on Grover Norquist will
  1. ask if there's really a chance for flat tax reform in a country with almost a century of progressive taxation and a lot of people who kinda sorta really do like it; and
  2. will also point out—interrupting, if necessary—that the limp thing Norquist calls the death tax is actually officially known as the inheritance tax.
Which is not to say that on—e.g.—CNN he wouldn't get the same reception. Which is why I'll say it explicitly: on, e.g., CNN Norquist would not be received the same way. I surmise that on FOX News he would have been provided with a colorful thesaurus with which to continue to rename the inheritance tax to maximize public revulsion. But that's just me being snarky.

The current faddish meme concerning the spinelessness of corporate news media has prompted me to wonder if the same hasn't been at least cyclically true since its advent—which is ultimately irrelevant to moral judgments about same and opinions as to whether correcting this is a worthy goal, it has to be said.

Corporations are organizations magically endowed with "personhood," a legal definition I in my naïve medical school shroud will leave sufficiently vague. But those corporations which aren't, for instance, simply pragmatically created out of small businesses to shield their owners from liability, and so we're chiefly talking about large corporate entities—multinationals, big industry groups, companies that generally because of the risk of liability and the problem of capital owe their size to incorporation—we might start to understand them a bit as complex systems rather than single entities, just as an understanding of humans is enriched by study of its complex structures and feedback loops.

So one of the things we can do is examine the feedback loops. The most obvious one is that of shareholder-board-CEO and the connections it has with share price, company value, etc. The understands that in the current Wall Street climate, many corporations act in such a way as to maximize short-term gains in stock price, sometimes even at odds with long-term value. That is of course a function of shareholder values, corporate bylaws (insofar as the electoral rights shareholders possess), and executive accountability. So the range of effects from this simple loop can be quite variable; Google being an example of a company which has chosen to sharply inhibit the effects of shareholder input through diluted voting rights in its IPO stock, which the Scrip has to say has been validated by investors buying into the stock. But of course many companies take the opposite route, and we'll superciliously name SCO as one which has essentially staked the entire company on a court case against IBM—although, of course, SCO hopes to make money selling licenses to the intellectual property it says Linux users infringe, chiefly the only hope for revenue it entertains is litigious.

Another loop involves the market. Every company has customers. So there are interactions between aggregate demand, competitors, and branding. Corporations may be induced to behave in certain ways to maximize customer loyalty, or to boost its image among potential customers. Grand-schemedly, both ethical and unethical behavior can come of this—apropos of energy companies, for instance, an entity might grant money in exchange for publicity to various environmental causes, winning loyalty from green consumers, while simultaneously lobbying for access to protected areas for oil drilling, which in the long run could benefit price-conscious consumers by providing low-cost fuel.

The Scrip's politics hopefully perforated that last paragraph.

Interactions between corporate entities and regulatory bodies constitute another major loop. Political power is both sought and in some instances wielded, especially by larger corporations. At the same time, political power itself is diffuse, and nominally in the hands of what I hate to call THE PEOPLE, but which is, essentially, the governed/governing society. Their proxies, the legislators, officials, judges, etc., are more easily courted, and often are; but ultimately even crooked politicians will need a modicum of popular support, and so much is spent in political marketing, both on behalf of the issue the corporation cares about, and on behalf of patron politicians to maintain their offices.

Of course, political pressures flow in the opposite direction as well, as the example of tobacco companies illustrates well. The Scrip's point in this fractured diatribe is not to point to linear pathways, but to show that a variety of inputs really drive corporate behavior.

There are institutional paths of control which arise from the fact that it's people—flesh-and-blood human beings—that ultimately formulate and carry out the actions of the corporation. CEOs may be more or less psychotic; vice-presidents more or less inept; middle managers of widely divergent degrees of intelligence; accountants of more or less malleable integrity; employees more or less belonging to the Chordata; whistleblowers with random shrillness; and so on.

I'm sure there are many other paths of control, as well, and a dedicated complex systems analyst, which the Scrip is not, would exhaust his keyboard on them. In brief, I can think of:
Some of these are inner loops of one or more of the main ones mentioned previously. But the loops are only useful to talk about in terms of their interactions, anyway. CEOs, hired by boards, act in such a way (usually) to ensure their continued employment by placating the board, and by proxy the shareholders, which can involve placating customers and overcoming regulatory hurdles while appeasing political interest groups, but at the risk of infuriating political groups, alienating potential customers, being undersold or acquired by the competition, and sending stock prices into the tank. Plus, they may be megalomaniacal, or good corporate citizens, or simply have dreamed of running a company in some idealized way, or whatever.

But what the Scrip hopes is obvious is not the extent of the loops, nor of their interactions, but that nowhere is any sense of a corporate conscience expressed, nor any standard at all, save for those dynamic equilibria to which all the feedback loops together contribute.

I suppose this is actually obvious. But it helps to understand that in talking about the spinelessness of the media, we're not simply talking about
but instead we're talking about entities which are driven by a number of inputs, including institutional narratives about journalistic standards, the realities of consumption, pressure from successful competition, and in the drive for success also fighting for access, positioning narratives according to popularity, and also to some extent effecting news in their corporate machinations.

So—basically, if we judge it the public's interest to receive the best news possible, and we define good news as being
well then corporate newsmedia, while they may provide very good or in some cases the best news, are by no means set up to do so, or are even optimally configured for such. They are set up to effect an equilibrium between the many different input-output channels, and this can be manifested anywhere along the actual news quality curve. Really bad news outlets generally will tend to do more poorly in terms of ratings, and hence in stock value, but there are mitigating circumstances, and bad or mediocre news outlets that identify a specific audience that favors their message can be quite successful, if only in their specific niche.
 
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
  Rumsfeld's one of those writers who does his best thinking on the page. If only he had written down his thoughts for Iraq, we'd be square.

From WSJ in 2001, Donald gives us some advice as potential cabinet officials. Somewhat down in the list is this gem:
Since he headed up Gerald Ford's transition team, he might possibly have been talking about the former unelected President's jammies. Or perhaps the current unelected President's jammies. I guess we'll just never know.
 
Sunday, December 12, 2004
  PZ Myers and company take on SETI here and it's got me thinking about a couple of things.
  1. and this is tangential, but—what does it say about the rhetoric of time and place that I can use the word here to refer to something outside this text? Obviously something very trite about the nature of the web which a four year-old could probably explain quite succinctly to my addled brain. So, and
  2. who wants to start a pool concerning the possibility of huge, fundamental change happening in theoretical physics and cosmology?
You probably won't make as much money as you do betting on football, although certainly more than I could earn foolishly counting on the Lions week in and out—but like with Steve Hawking's and Kip Thorne's famous bet, you might end up with free porn.

But right now there's a lot of what I'm going to call weird shit going on in these disciplines. After grappling with the issue for a few decades, most astronomers now agree that the vast majority of matter in the universe is dark, i.e., not visible and quite possibly very exotic. Meanwhile, though the twentieth century opened pretty promisingly what with relativity, quantum mechanics, and Hubble, you still got mathematicians running around with their infinities cut off trying to integrate them. From string theory we've gone to branes and M theory.

What the hell's going on?


 
  If I were going to make a movie about Christ's life, and admittedly, I'm neither Christian, orientologist, theologian, filmmaker, nor even a fan of gospel movies particularly, I would approach it very understatedly—cut out superfluous music, eschew dramatic camera angles, just simply follow the man and the message.

Cuz like here I went expecting Gibson's Passio to be something new, something I could attach to as a non-Christian, and of course I apparently knew absolutely nothing of Gibson's religious sensibilities, nor despite his use of native languages his willingness at the end of the long baby jesus brigade to simpy hand over yet another honky savior who looks more like a mechanic and part-time bassist for a rockabilly band down in like Savanna, GA with a bad haircut than the son of God—and so here I am pontificating (my—that's a pun-and-a-half) my own filmic treatment of Yeshwa's execution.

I should note here that my ideas about Jesus and his life are more informed by art than by Gospel, though I have read them. So if I make a few refernces to paintings below, please pardon.

And so numero uno we get someone swarthy to play Jesus. Next, we fire the cinematographer. Or at least pay him much less.

There's that initial scene in Passio that's all blue and foggy, and it almost reminds me a bit of El Greco's Agony in the Garden, except Gibson's Jesus isn't all taffied and stretched and—really, it seems a lot murkier and it's not at all clear from the camera work that Jesus is actually communing with spirits and not simply some wacko alone in Gethsemane, like some local pastor who shall remain nameless though he got away with exhibition.

We don't need crap like this. I would think that the story of the savior's death and triumph over it (i.e., Death) would be exciting and important enough that it didn't require special lighting, cliché vaguely Middle-Eastern-sounding wailing music, etc.

Moreover, I like this other painting whose title escapes me, circa 1600s and in a kind of Caravaggiesque style, showing Jesus and John the Baptist emerging from the water following Jesus's baptism, and the dude looks weary, bedraggled, clearly soaked and dragging his besotted cloak half-off, a bit out of shape with a stout body and a little belly. Right there is like his whole capacity for suffering, not a strong, knotted kouros but a panting, patient guy who takes everything in stride. He knows what he can do to ameliorate things, but he knows what he has to do to effect the salvation of mankind. So he does it.

Which makes the agony problematic for me, and in particular giving any weight to any of Jesus's sufferings is problematic for me, not just because I can think of worse ways to be tortured and killed (and here Gibson led us on the sadistic rampage for a good reason, I think, in an effort to convince people who hadn't really thought about it how brutal Jesus's treatment had to have been), but because the "reward," if you like, or at least the consequences of his suffering are so great as to render the torture moot. If I were assured of resurrection and a place by God's side as his son and Judge of Mankind, I'd be saying, "Where's the red-hot pincers? You can't flay me properly, silly Romans, without red-hot fucking pincers!"

But I'll tell you what I'd leave in—the sadism I'd leave in. This is the passion, after all, the lesson is that sin's wages are blood and pain and death, and in this final orgy of pain comes the absolution of man. It's like, if you can't stand watching sausage being made, maybe you shouldn't eat it. Plus, the role of the Jews. I realize that for centuries Jews 'N' Jesus were to pogroms as alcohol is to unwanted pregnancies; I am aware that for many people, social development in the twenty-first century has yet to eclipse that of shit-stained, angry, starving peasants in Merovingian France. Still—that's the way the story goes. Plus, at least we all realize that because some Jews killed a guy 2000 years ago, that act's culpability doesn't transfer to people today who maybe haven't had an ancestor's foot on Palestinian soil in over a millennium, right? We do realize that, right?

Last things last: ditch the devil in that weird Sinead O'Connor guise. The devil should be in the details, a theoretical presence. Also, those hokey scenes of Jesus's homelife—oh my God.

However, if I were to make this movie, even if it were only about the passion, as Gibson's was, I don't think I could resist doing a flashback to the nativity using the same iconography of the crossed wooden beams in the stable's structure as European painters have used for centuries. I think it's just so damned clever. Oh, and real crucifixion, too, iconography be goddamned.
 
What — you're gonna pretend you don't like words, too?

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