Love Actually

(Opening Monologue, delivered over shots of actual regular persons greeting one another at airports)

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.

When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge–they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that..[titles appear simultaneously] Love, actually, is…all around.”

This is such a wonderful, sweet little movie, first brought to my attention by my son Sean. I don’t really have anything coherent to say about it, other than I love it so.

Here’s another one of my favorite moments, but I’d give this movie 11 stars out of a possible 10, so you know I’ve got a million of them:

Mom: So what’s this big news, then?
Daughter: [beaming] We’ve been given our parts in the Nativity play!
Mom: [gasps in horror and anticipation — it’s big news]
Daughter: [still beaming] …and I’m the lobster.
Mom: [badly taken aback] The lobster?
Daughter: Yeah.
Mom: In the Nativity play?
Daughter: [beaming even more] Yeah, *first* lobster.
Mom: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?
Daughter: Duh!

Love Actually (DVD)

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

There’s an outstanding book about the Red State phenomenon. Consider: the poorest county in America isn’t in West Virginia, “…it’s out on the Great Plains, a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns, and in the election of the year 2000, the Republican candidate for President, Mr. George W. Bush, carried that county by a majority of greater than 80%.”

Why would people do something so manifestly against their best interests? Frank’s central thesis is that this is a deliberate, cynical construction of those in power, designed to fan a never-satisfied sense of aggrievedness on the part of social conservatives, mobilizing them to vote against their economic interests again and again:

“While earlier forms of Conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety, the Backlash mobilizes voters with explosive social issues, summoning up our outrage over everything from busing to Blashpheming Art, which outrage it then marries to pro-business economic policy.

So here’s the key: cultural anger is marshalled to achieve economic ends.

The backlash [claims] that it is a foe of the Elite, that it’s the voice of the unfairly persecuted, that it’s a righteous protest of the people on history’s receiving end. That its champions today, in fact, control all three branches of government matters not a whit; that its greatest beneficiaries, are, in fact, the wealthiest people on the planet does not give it pause. In fact, backlash leaders systematically downplay the politics of Economics.

The movement’s basic premise is that cuture outweighs economics as a matter of public concern, that “Values Matter Most,” as one book title has it, and on these grounds it rallies citizens who had once been reliable partisans of the New Deal to the standard of Conservatism.

Now, once Conservatives are in office, however, the only old-fashioned situation they ever care to revive is the economic one, of low wages and lax regulations, and over the last three decades they have smashed the Welfare State, reduced the tax burden on corporations and the wealthy, and generally returned the country to a 19th Century pattern of wealth distribution.

So thus, we have the primary contradiction of the backlash: it is a working-class movement that has done incalcuable historic harm to working-class people.

The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ, but they walk Corporate; values may matter most to voters, but they always wind up taking a back seat to the needs of money once the elections are won, and this is a basic earmark of the phenomenon, absolutely consistent across its decades-long history. Think about it: abortion is never halted, school prayer never returns, the culture industry is never forced to clean up its act.

…The trick never ages, the illusion never wears off: You vote to stop abortion, and you receive a rollback in Capital Gains taxes. You vote to make our country strong again, and you receive deindustrialization. You vote to get those politically-correct college professors, and you receive electricity deregulation. You vote to get government off our backs, and you receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meat-packing. You vote to stand tall against terrorists; you receive Social Security privatization. You vote to strike a blow against Elitism, and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power, and CEO’s are today rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining.

Like a French Revolution in reverse, in which the sans-culottes come pouring down the streets demanding, “More Power to the Aristocracy!”, the backlash pushes the spectrum of the acceptable to the right, to the right, and further to the right, and having rolled back the landmark economic reforms of the 1960’s, and those of the 1930’s, its leaders today turn their guns on the earliest years of Progressivism, things like the Estate Tax, and the anti-trust regime of Theodore Roosevelt. With a little more effort, I think, the backlash may well be able to repeal the entire 20th century.

And yet, the Backlash continues to dream its terrifying dreams of national decline, epic lawlessness, and betrayal at the top, regardless of what’s actually going on in the world. And along the way, what was once genuine and grass-roots and even Populist about the backlash phenonmenon has been transformed into a stimulus-response melodrama with a plot as formulaic as an episode of The O’Reilly Factor, and with results as predictable and as profitable as Coca-Cola advertising. At one end, you feed an item about, say, the menace of Gay Marriage, and at the other end, you generate almost mechanically an uptick of Middle-American indignation, angry Letters to the Editor, and an Electoral harvest of the most gratifying sort.

Now, when you look at the world through the lens of CNN, it sometimes seems like we live in a country where everything works, where everything is in its place, where Junior Executives stride confidently through offices humming with purpose and determination. This is a new Age of Reason, they tell us, a New Economy, even, with the web sites singing, each to each, with the mall down the way that every week has miraculously anticipated our subtlely-shifting tastes, and with a global economy whose rich rewards just keep flowing.

But on closer inspection, I sometimes think, this country we live in seems more like a panorama of madness and delusion worthy of Hieronymus Bosch, of sturdy blue-collar patriots reciting the Pledge while they strangle their own life chances, of small farmers proudly voting themselves off the land, of devoted family men carefully seeing to it that their kids will never be able to afford college, or even proper health care, of working-class guys in Mid-Western cities cheering as they deliver up a landslide for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life, will transform their entire region into a Rust Belt, will strike people like them blows from which they will never recover.”

What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
by Thomas Frank

(also available as an abridged lecture from

World Community Grid

IBM and top scientific research organizations are joining forces in a humanitarian effort to tap the unused power of millions of computers and help solve complex social problems… The massive volunteer project will be unveiled Tuesday by Sam Palmisano, CEO of International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), the world’s largest computer company, along with United Nations officials, researchers from the Mayo Clinic, Oxford University and South Africa, and others.
-Eric Auchard, Reuters

The first project, underway now, is described on their web site:

World Community Grid

Human Proteome Folding Project
World Community Grid is focusing on a project key to advancing our knowledge of human disease. By identifying the proteins that make up the Human Proteome, scientists can build the understanding needed for novel and effective treatments for diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and malaria.

So, stop looking for e.t. and start using your idle CPU minutes to actually help change the world.

The Coming Deluge

Today’s Los Angeles Times has the results of a Walter Reed Army Institute of Research study, which found that “15.6% of Marines and 17.1% of soldiers surveyed after they returned from Iraq suffered major depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder — a debilitating, sometimes lifelong change in the brain’s chemistry that can include flashbacks, sleep disorders, panic attacks, violent outbursts, acute anxiety and emotional numbness.”

And there’s every reason to expect this rate to run dramatically higher (in Vietnam, it eventually exceeded 30%): “The Army survey of 6,200 soldiers and Marines included only troops willing to report their problems. The study did not look at reservists, who tend to suffer a higher rate of psychological injury than career Marines and soldiers. And the soldiers in the study served in the early months of the war, when tours were shorter and before the Iraqi insurgency took shape.”

Full article:
“These Unseen Wounds Cut Deep”
By Esther Schrader
The Los Angeles Times
November 14, 2004

The Northeast Liberal Elite Strikes Back!

John pointed me to this short, pointed, obscene, and hilarious rant from a Blue Stater who has had enough. You should really read the whole thing; it is, as mentioned before, quite short. And obscene! Short and obscene. And hilarious.

…The next dickwad who says, “It’s your money, not the government’s money” is gonna get their ass kicked. Nine of the ten states that get the most federal fucking dollars and pay the least… can you guess? Go on, guess. That’s right, motherfucker, they’re red states. And eight of the ten states that receive the least and pay the most? It’s too easy, asshole, they’re blue states. It’s not your money, assholes, it’s fucking our money. What was that Real American Value you were spouting a minute ago? Self reliance? Try this for self reliance: buy your own fucking stop signs, assholes.

Let’s talk about those values for a fucking minute. You and your Southern values can bite my ass because the blue states got the values over you fucking Real Americans every day of the goddamn week. Which state do you think has the lowest divorce rate you marriage-hyping dickwads? Well? Can you guess? It’s fucking Massachusetts, the fucking center of the gay marriage universe. Yes, that’s right, the state you love to tie around the neck of anyone to the left of Strom Thurmond has the lowest divorce rate in the fucking nation. Think that’s just some aberration? How about this: 9 of the 10 lowest divorce rates are fucking blue states, asshole, and most are in the Northeast, where our values suck so bad. And where are the highest divorce rates? Care to fucking guess? 10 of the top 10 are fucking red-ass we’re-so-fucking-moral states. And while Nevada is the worst, the Bible Belt is doing its fucking part…

Full rant at

Why We Lost

[The actual reason why we lost is that the election was stolen by the Incredibly Corrupt Ohio Republican Party, as documented in the August 2005 Harper’s Magazine (“None Dare Call It Stolen”). But here’s what I wrote at the time:]

Talking with people I know who voted for Bush (most of whom, as the PIPA Study found, were shockingly ill-informed), one answer that I came up with is: crazy, irrational homophobia.

I know, it’s nutty: this election was about so many important things, and people were worried that Kerry was going to legalize gay marriage? As if he said that he wanted to, or as if this was anything but about the 100th most important item on the agenda?

I mentioned this to my good friend, John Blackburn, this morning, and he said, “No, no…do you think so?”

But yes, I do. It’s not the only reason that people voted for Bush, obviously [amazingly, security was another big draw, and that’s just crazy talk], but it was enough of an issue to tip the scales. 22% of those polled said that moral values were their most important issue, and 79% of those voted for Bush. And even though I’m a reclusive Computer Scientist, I still know two (count ’em, two) people who alluded to Gay Marriage when asked why they would vote for Bush.

What do other Industry Figures say? Let’s check with the media elite!:

Jon Stewart: Were you surprised that [voter] turn-out did not work in the Democrats’ favor?

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY): Yeah. We all thought, yesterday, that Kerry was going to win, that turn-out would put us over the top, and, uh, they did a better job, and the interesting thing is, it’s in places you don’t even know about, you know, all these places, the churches and everything else turned out people. I mean, this was an interesting statistic: half of the new Hispanic voters (which, traditionally young, Hispanic, have been Democrat) voted Republican, mainly on these values issues, so we’ve got, we’ve got a lot of thinking to do…

Jon: It was–I honestly have to say, this was the first time in my life I think I’ve understood the culture war, in the sense of being a guy who lives in New York, and feeling helpless about, uh, the ability to control whatever political destiny occurs in my own area, and I realized: it’s sort of their revenge for us controlling the TV’s…It’s them saying, “You know what? We’re not crazy about Will and Grace, so…so here’s what we’re going to do about it!”

Sen. Schumer: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Right! More Bonanza reruns.

Jon: Right! It, it’s, it’s a really interesting phenomenon, and I think, uh, the big shock is, there’s more of that than I think everyone realized, and that maybe the thought process of, “Yeah, you know, things are, uh, not, the country doesn’t agree with what a lot of us assume are bedrock values.”

Sen. Schumer: Exactly right. I think seriously there’s going to be a lot of thinking going on, I mean, I’ve been on the phone all day, commiserating, really, with my colleagues, and we’re all scratching our heads and saying, “We’d better do some thinking here, ’cause, we really thought that we’d win this election, and the amazing thing is, when people say the country’s moving in the wrong direction, they think the Iraq war is a mess, that the economy isn’t good, and we still lose?”

Jon: It really seems like none of it trumped the idea of dudes kissin’.

Sen. Schumer: (laughs)

-The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

“Eleven states approved anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives yesterday. Clearly, our deep national fear of hot man-on-man monogamy drove turn-out among the nation’s so-called values voters.”

-Stephen Colbert

“Let’s be honest: this moral values: it really is a lot about the gay ammendment that was on the ballot in 11 states. That was this year’s Willie Horton: they got the Bush voters into the booth to vote against gay marriage, and while they were in there, you come for the gays, you vote for the Bush.”

-Bill Mahr

…and finally, a link sent to me by John this evening:

“The [gay] marriage issue was the great iceberg in this election,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. “Most people saw only the tip and didn’t realize the great mass was affecting races all over the country, right up to the presidential contest.”

The Washington Post
Thursday, November 4, 2004; Page A39
“Same-Sex Bans Fuel Conservative Agenda”
By Alan Cooperman