Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quite Possibly the Definitive Reading of Ferris Bueller's Day Off

...or, at the very least, a really fabulous non-canonical reading. Quoting from some dude on the internet (via Gerry Canavan), cutting only the totally unnecessary spoilers for a different movie (which I'd never seen, thanks a lot S.D.O.T.I.):

My favorite thought-piece about Ferris Bueller is the [following] theory, in which Ferris Bueller, the person, is just a figment of Cameron's imagination... and Sloane is the girl Cameron secretly loves.

One day while he's lying sick in bed, Cameron lets "Ferris" steal his father's car and take the day off, and as Cameron wanders around the city, all of his interactions with Ferris and Sloane, and all the impossible hijinks, are all just played out in his head. This is part of the reason why the "three" characters can see so much of Chicago in less than one day -- Cameron is alone, just imagining it all.

It isn't until he destroys the front of the car in a fugue state does he finally get a grip and decide to confront his father, after which he imagines a final, impossible escape for Ferris and a storybook happy ending for Sloane ("He's gonna marry me!"), the girl that Cameron knows he can never have.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Portrait of a Regional Party?

Based on this Kos post, I made up this map of the post-Specter Senate Republicans:

The claim is that this is a regional party, based in the south and the western Mormon corridor.

Maybe I'm just overly pessimistic, or cautious, but I think that's jumping the gun. Sure, those areas are where their strength are. And with only 40 Senators, its not that surprising their strength is somewhat localized. But while they may be becoming a regional party, I think it's overly optimistic to say they are one. (Not to mention that the Democrats have made real inroads back into the South, albeit mostly the upper South.)

That New England Republican remnant sure stands out, though.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to make a map like this for House districts, I suspect that'd be far more telling... and far more murky (hence my being unwilling to say flatly, yes, they're a regional party.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shorter Obama Administration

Shorter Obama Administration: We'll confirm that torture was committed; we just want to assure everyone that we won't actually prosecute the crimes.

As Benen implies, this might be a justifiable stance -- at least it'd be defensible -- if it was coupled with aggressive prosecution of those who authorized, ordered and supervised the torture while letting off the grunts who actually committed it. But absent full war crimes trials of the torture masterminds -- including Bush and Cheney along with all the rest -- this is simply a pathetic nullification of basic laws, seasoned with some particularly hypocritical rhetoric about this being a "nation of laws".

Yes, we're a nation of laws: therefore we'll make sure everyone knows precisely what those laws are as we let the torturers off the hook for violating them.

Despicable. And edging horribly close to being an accomplice-after-the-fact (morally, I mean: I don't know about the legality of that status -- IANAL).

Update: Interestingly, Glenn Greenwald -- who has been following this issue extremely closely -- is more upbeat. He also seems to take seriously a statement by Senator Russ Feingold that while Obama won't "prosecute those who acted reasonably and relied in good faith upon legal advice... his decision does not mean that anyone who engaged in activities that the Department had not approved, those who gave improper legal advice or those who authorized the program could not be prosecuted." (Similar statements were made by anonymous administration officials.)

So perhaps I'm too pessimistic here. I dunno. I oppose the "following orders" defense, which Andrew Sullivan (like Greenwald, an admirably close follower of this issue) properly calls the Nuremberg defense. On the other hand, it is unquestionably more important for those who created, justified and authorized the torture to be prosecuted than those who obeyed orders. If that's still in the cards, I may retract this post.

But for the moment I'm disappointed.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Quotes of the Day: The Blessing of the New Sun Edition

The heavens declare the glory of God,
the sky proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day makes utterance,
night to night speaks out.
There is no utterance,
there are no words,
whose sound goes unheard.
Their voice carries throughout the earth,
their words to the end of the world.
He placed in them a tent for the sun,
who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber,
like a hero, eager to run his course.
His rising-place is at one end of heaven,
and his circuit reaches the other;
nothing escapes his heat.

-- Psalm 19:2-7 (JPS translation)
Today observant Jews say birkat hachama, the blessing for the sun (sometimes translated the blessing for the new sun). It is said only once every twenty-eight years (it was last said April 8, 1981; it will next be said April 8, 2037).*

It's all a fraud, of course. It's based on the Julian calendar, which is inaccurate; it's based on the incorrect date for the equinox; even on its own terms, the Jewish calendar is off by 165 years; and, of course, the entire thing is based on the notion that the sun was created 5769 years ago, which is off by about 4,600,000,000 years. (You can find more on the errors behind the blessing at Dov Bear (and also (but also)), at parshablog and here from Rav Bar-hayim. More on every aspect of the blessing can be found at Hirhurim.)

And those are only the prettier aspects of the matter -- I'm not even mentioning that it's based upon a cosmology which was upended by Copernicus (see above quote from Psalm 19), let alone the fact that it celebrates a creator for whom the existing evidence is non-existent. We don't need to go there, since even in a quite traditional framework, it's all based on a series of errors (if not myths).

But so what? It's not about accuracy. It's about the ritual. And it's a once-in-twenty-eight-years opportunity.**

So around the time this post is published, I'll be getting up at a quite ungodly hour, and will take my new son with me to say the blessing of the new sun. And I hope that when he's 28 years, 15 weeks, and 3 days old, we'll go together again.

But, of course, what occurred to me when I heard about the Blessing of the New Sun was this:
What struck me on the beach--and it struck me indeed, so that I staggered as at a blow--was that if the Eternal Principle had rested in that curved thorn I had carried about my neck across so many leagues, and if it now rested in the new thorn (perhaps the same thorn) I had only now put there, then it might rest in everything, in every thorn in every bush, in every drop of water in the sea. The thorn was a sacred Claw because all thorns were sacred Claws; the sand in my boots was sacred sand because it came from a beach of sacred sand. The cenobites treasured up the relics of the sannyasins because the sannyasins had approached the Pancreator. But everything had approached and even touched the Pancreator, because everything had dropped from his hand. Everything was a relic. All the world was a relic. I drew off my boots, that had traveled with me so far, and threw them into the waves that I might not walk shod on holy ground.

-- Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun
(The Citadel of the Autarch, chapter 31)
-- which, of course, is the point of the whole thing.

Happy birkat hachama day to everyone. For those of you who wish to say it, you have until a third of the daylight hours have passed (more lenient authorities say half).

Oh, and isn't there something else that Jews do tomorrow? What was that again? Well, happy holiday (to any and all who wish to receive it) for that one too...

* Yes, April 8, both times, despite the fact that the Jewish calendar doesn't line up with the Gregorian calendar -- because this bracha is timed to (oddly) the Julian calendar, which lines up well enough with the Gregorian to preserve the date over this span.

** Of course some will object that I could get up and say the words "Blessed are You, Lord our God, sovereign of the universe who makes the works of creation"near sunrise any time I'm willing to get up that early.*** But that doesn't affect the fact that this is a once-in-twenty-eight-years opportunity. I mean, sure, you can say the words when you want -- just as (borrowing a metaphor from Stanley Cavell) you can go to a chessboard and pick up the little piece of wood called the knight and move it horizontally eight spaces. But this is not moving the knight; it's pushing around a piece of wood on a board. Similarly, the words can be said whenever you like; but the only opportunities to do the ritual come once every twenty-eight years.

*** Which makes this, yes, about a once-in-twenty-eight-years event, for a whole 'nother reason.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

And Then There Were Four

Vermont just became -- along with Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa -- the fourth state in our union to allow marriage on a non-discriminatory basis.

Even better, it was the first one to do so simply through legislative action -- there was no judicial ruling that it was necessary. (The governor vetoed it; the legislature overrode the veto.) Like many other proponents of equal marriage rights, while I think the court rulings in its favor are proper, correct and entirely legitimate, I think it is preferable to have equality achieved legislatively.

Hey -- New York? My home state? We could still be #5 y'know. How about it?

I'd say "4 down, 46 to go" but actually there is another battle too -- one that is arguably more important than any victory in the remaining 46 states -- namely, getting the federal government to recognize the marriages done in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa & Vermont on an equal basis. Currently, the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" prohibits that (as well as stating that no state needs to recognize same-sex marriages done in another state). Putting aside for the moment the issues of recognition by other states, it seems to me that we should at least get rid of that provision. At the moment, same-sex couples who marry in one of the four non-discriminatory states have many benefits denied them due to federal non-recognition of their marriages. It seems to me a top priority is assuring that, at least in those states that choose to be non-discriminatory, marriages can be fully and genuinely equal.

But that's for tomorrow. For today: hooray for Vermont!