Army of Fun

 

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Friday, December 20, 2002

 
Blast From The Past

So this was first posted way back in October over on Suckful dot Blog which is in the process of moving over to the Suckful domain proper. Obviously, I am affiliated with the producers of Suckful which has a glorious if erratic history stretching back to early 2001. Anyway, this isn't that great but I do want it archived here for my convenience. And, yes, I would like to meet Noelle Bush. She might actual be kind of cute, though its admittedly hard to tell from the mugshots.


An Open Letter To Noelle

Noelle, liebchen, darling addled flower of the Florida Bushes, may I, to borrow a phrase, say I feel your pain? May I go further and say I would like to scoop you up im my arms, hold you closely, and with my gentle fingers bestill the coke-induced quivering of your lubricious lips? For you are alluring, related to the powerful, and presumably as well-educated as one can expect a Bush to be, and because I too know the pain of being raised by the hand of high-handed arrogance in an ethnically mixed family (in my own case Leichtensteiner and Turk).

I too, Noelle, dumpling learned in the bosom of my family that chemical enhancement could ease the pains of life. How vividly I recall those mornings out on the garden terrace where my parents would swill smuggled duty-free liqour, my father regally settled in a fine deck chair, my mother taking nips while scrubbing the expensive tile which, my father would say, was naturally befitting a Turk (my sister Cassandra and I were assigned the task of polishing the silver). Too soon I was also calming my tender nerves at the family trough and from there it was but a short step into full-blown dangerous drug dependency as I traipsed through the party spots and back alleys of the continent and the States. Embarassing to the family? Surely. Particularly after it was discovered that papa was keeping some of the residents of the family properties in what amounted to serfdom. My failings made it all to easy for base critics to howl that we were decadent, atavistic aristos. I ended up in rehab as papa fought back mightily, rightly pointing out that it was the government's job, not his, to free its citizens from peonage.

As for myself, the rehabilitation process was difficult. More than once I was caught in the ecstatic throes of a drug binge at the facility in which I was ensconced, and subsequently yanked from there and consigned to languish in the dungeons of the traditional family seat of Rotarschaffen Schloss for up to two miserable weeks. My trials finally ended when I became tired of being bounced hither and yon, and co-incidentally my father gave up his quest for power. My family was able to come together to focus on what was truly important and provide the loving support I needed. So, Noelle, do not give up the fight just yet. There is hope in the form of your own strength and Bill McBride. And, perhaps, one day we could get together?

Fyrste, 6:40 PM
 
Clearly, I am irresponsible. Ok, perhaps it's not so clear from reading this blog, which only has three entries of which this is the third, but if you knew me better you would say "Young Mr. Fyrste is clearly irresponsible", and when you said it you would pronounce my name correctly as feerst-uh rather than first, and you would probably also think that in addition to being amazingly irresponsible that I am very pretty for a boy, and might even conjecture that the latter has something to do with the former, and it's even possible you might resent me for it, but, in addition to being irresponsible, pretty and seemingly comma-happy, I am also modest and generous and I would probably forgive you for resenting me, and if we knew each other quite well, I might even acknowledge that your conjecture (that is the irresponsible/pretty connection) may have some merit.

Now, my readership may be asking, what has the above to do with anything? So, the readership adds, assuming that you are telling the truth, it is now known that you are pretty irresponsible and irresponsibly pretty. So what? And, even though you admit to being flawed in one way isn't gratuitously lauding your god-given good looks the very definition of vain? And, doesn't that put the lie to your claim of being modest? And, isn't that the very definition of false modesty?

Dear reader, if you would just back off for a second I'll tell you. Here's the thing; while I, after many half-assed attempts, have discovered that I cannot help myself, and while seeking your help would be a mutual waste of time, help is, as they say in more benighted regions, a-coming. Thanks to the noble efforts of the noble administration of our noble president at least one aspect of my rampant irresponsibility shall soon be curbed.

See, in addition to my general cavalierity and many other shirkings, I use the wide-world ten thousand myriad interweb irresponsibly. Why, look at my first post. Not only do I rip off the WaPo's IP wholesale, I also conceivably slander former, present and potential members and allies of the current presidential administration and the GOP as a whole. I mock their positions using crude and obscene neo-logisms and portmanteau words. I use hyphens far more often than a proper American should. Hell, I even implicitly imply that there are certain government officials and pundits I might like to kill. Add to this that I may have, at some point in the past, out of simple curiosity looked up bomb-making instructions on the internet. Not that I'd want to blow anybody up; I'm just saying.

Thankfully, I may now be stopped. At the very least I should definitely be looked into. But up 'til how could I be monitored surfing the web and toiling away in obscurity.

The Bush administration is planning to propose requiring Internet service providers to help build a centralized system to enable broad monitoring of the Internet and, potentially, surveillance of its users.

While the proposal is meant to gauge the overall state of the worldwide network, some officials of Internet companies who have been briefed on the proposal say they worry that such a system could be used to cross the indistinct border between broad monitoring and wiretap.

An official with a major data services company who has been briefed on several aspects of the government's plans said it was hard to see how such capabilities could be provided to government without the potential for real-time monitoring, even of individuals.

The official compared the system to Carnivore, the Internet wiretap system used by the F.B.I., saying: "Am I analogizing this to Carnivore? Absolutely. But in fact, it's 10 times worse. Carnivore was working on much smaller feeds and could not scale. This is looking at the whole Internet."

A technology that is deployed without the proper legal controls "could be used to violate privacy," he said, and should be considered carefully.

If you're anything like me that last statement had you worried for a second. Like, maybe, those "legal controls" might prevent the feds from saving me from myself, but then I heaved a sigh of relief as my thoughts turned to AG John Ashcroft, and "enemy combatant" designations, and "detained without recourse to counsel." And I knew, "legal controls" aside, my gum'mint would always look out for me.
Fyrste, 4:46 PM

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

 
A post in which politics is blissfully ignored and a pop culture entertainment phenomenon is examined: A Not So Brief (as it turns out) Review of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

Like many people I've really been looking forward to this film. Like many, I first read this trilogy as a child. As the ploddingly stout, quick to anger, duskily complected, yet red-headed product of a Samoan-Irish union they were a godsend. I could easily imagine myself as one of the Fellowship setting of to do just battle against the cruel forces of total evil.

The years passed and I grew into adulthood. I became a more patient man, a man comfortable with his large, imposing body (a no longer plodding body thanks to the Atkins Diet, for which, sadly, I had to give up coconut mashed potatos, mmm coconut mashed potatos, but it was worth it), a man with a future, a man with fond memories of Tolkien's trilogy. Then, still in my early twenties, I made a grave mistake. I read the Lord of the Rings again. It was a shattering experience. Had the psychic pain of freakdom I'd felt as a child made me stupid? These were truly terrible books. The turgid prose, vapid descriptions, mind-numbing digressions, weak characterizations and those "songs", those god-awful songs, the appearance of which on the page would set my eyes aquiver as they sought the exact frequency that would cause themselves to rupture and spare my brain future exposure to this tedious rubbish. On re-appraisal of the Rings I found myself forced to agree with Edmund Wilson's judgement that it was " a children's book which has somwhow gotten out of hand" and not a very good one at that. Philip Toynbee summed it up as "dull, ill-written and whimsical", and while I have nothing against whimsy, the first two descriptors are dead-on accurate of the books' unforgivable flaws.

Still, when I heard that Peter Jackson was going to make the three books into movies I felt a bit of a thrill. Trapped beneath the dead weight of Tolkien's eye explodingly bad writing was a decently plotted adventure tale with dark overtones. If anyone could save Tolkien's work and restore it to it's former place in my heart it was Jackson. I'd enjoyed what I'd seen of his early "splatstick" work and I count his brilliant "Heavenly Creatures", an exploration of fantasy and murderous violence, among the better of films of the 1990's.

Even with my faith in Jackson, when I sat down to watch "Fellowship of the Rings" I felt some trepidation. Could he streamline the story and get at its cinematic potential or would he get bogged down in an ill-advised attempt at utter faithfulness to Tolkien? Thankfully, he got it. The film genuinely wowed me in a way no film had since I first saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark". It isn't a deep movie, but in terms of pure entertainment it's hard to imagine anything much better. It's beautiful, well paced, compelling plotted and occasionally moving. Jackson extracted great performances from his cast, particularly Ian Holm as Bilbo. It's a bit part but one requiring a range of emotions which Holm captures beautifully. I love "Fellowship" and it stands up after repeated and repeated and repeated viewing.

Now then, on to the question at hand: Does "The Two Towers" measure up to "Fellowship"? Keeping in mind that the question is kind of unfair, on which more later, the short answer is no. It's to fragmented and too busy by "way", even though it elides chunks of Tolkien's text and ends earlier than the book. This is more Tolkien's fault than Jackson's, and Jackson does an admirable job of being as faithful to the plot as possible, but having to cut between the three plotlines of the scattered members of the fellowship robs the second film of the first film's momentum and left me caring a bit less about the characters. That said, it is a fun movie and I will watch it again. The set-piece battles are well done which is a good thing since they make up a lot of the film.

The Battle of Helms Deep, where the vastly outnumbered remnants of small kingdom along with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make a desperate stand against Saruman's dark army, that takes up much of the last hour of "The Two Towers" is particularly spectacular. It's all darkness and rain and flights of arrows and clashing steel; grunting foes and bloody pitched fighting and breaches stuffed with the bodies of orcs and men. On the downside, we never really feel like our heros are in peril, and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli come off as essentially indestructable. Contrast this to, say, Branagh's "Henry V" where though the outcome of battles are similarly never doubt they are much more desperately and heroically moving. Of course Branagh was working from Shakespeare.

Well, anyway, let's move on to the adventures of Frodo and Sam. This for my money is the best thread of the movie. The only one where the characters really display some depth. I looked forward to returning to their adventures throughout and was a little let off whenever we cut away from it, which is appropriate I think since their mission to take the One Ring to Mordor and destroy it is the heart of the story. Plus, we have Frodo, the only character whose outcome is truly in doubt, who comes increasingly under the sway the Ring of Power. Plus, we have Sam, the best friend a hobbit or man could ever have, who struggles to cope with his companion's growing unhingedness. Plus, we have Gollum, captured early on by Frodo and Sam, who, in addition to being batshit crazy, is the best CG character ever. Ever. I can't say enough about Gollum. His appearance is truly amazing, just fucking incredible. He looks practically real. I mean he's clearly not but I can't say why, nothing in particular sticks out. Maybe his textures are a shade off from "real-life" textures, but just a shade. Really, there aren't the words. You'll just have to see it for yourself to believe it. I'll just say this: if the best revenge is living well, then the best fuck-off to JarJar Binks is Gollum. Choke on it, Lucas. Gollum is all this and a fully fleshed out character as well, albeit, as I mentioned earlier, one who is batshit crazy; torn, as he is, between his desire for the ring and the possibility of redemption. There's actually a scene, several really, that consist of nothing but the conflict of the two sides of this digital character that are entirely credible. That Jackson and the designer's and Andy Serkis, who provided the voice and movements, managed to pull this off is nothing short of a cinematic landmark.

Anyway, I've rambled on quite enough for the present, and besides I hear a spam and whiskey smoothy (which would be the national drink of my people were there enough of us to form a nation, or a people for that matter) calling my name. I think I have some more to say about this film but I'll wait to see it again, which I will in the short term future. To sum up as if my opinion matters: I liked "The Two Towers" but I don't think it's as good as "Fellowship". If you really liked "Fellowhip" you'll really like this. Of course, if you haven't seen "Fellowship" don't go see this until you have. I mean why would you? Which reminds that I almost forgot to say why I thought my question "Does 'The Two Towers' measure up to 'Fellowship' was unfair. It's unfair because this obviously isn't a stand-alone movie. It's more dependent on the films that book-end in than any other movie I can think of and Jackson to his credit knows that. We don't get a lot of repetition in this move and there's not really a beginning or end in a traditional sense. I can't wait to sit down and watch the entire trilogy back to back to back. I think it's only then that we'll be able to give the movie the appraisal it deserves. Given that this has been released as a seperate film, maybe that's an odd thing to say. Nevertheless, I'm convinced that the "Rings" trilogy is a whole different animal, with a much greater depth of, and dependence on, continuity, from series we've seen before.

Fyrste, 11:47 PM

Monday, December 16, 2002

 
Until last week I'd been in something of a self-imposed media blackout since the woeful events of a certain Tuesday in November. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and I find myself once again slogging wearily through the morass of good ole US of A politics and media. Don't cry for me. I'm already dead.

So then what have I found upon my lamentable, by me, re-awakening to Dubya's America? Pretty much what I'd expect:

Poorly concealed bigotry in Republican leadership?
Yeah. Well. Check.

Imminent stacking of the federal courts with wingnut activists who can't see an implied right to privacy in the Constitution, no doubt because the 2nd Amendment is the only one in the Bill of Rights that they don't view as a polite but unnecessary suggestion?
Yeah. Well. Check.

Rapacious environmental policies bought, written and overseen by corporate contributors?
Yeah. Well. Check. (Hey, looks like I hit the trifecta)

And, finally, increased taxation, both relatively and absolutely, of the poor and middle-class?
Hey. Wait a minute. What.The.Jibb.Tuh.Fuck. I'm missing something here, right? No, no apparently not. Look, I'm just as aware as everyone else in America (possibly the world) that the more or less official Republican economic policy is "I gots mine", but what the hell? This is the plan? Hey, you know what? Don't follow that link. I'll just steal the WP's intellectual property and post it here (solely, for the purposes of examining what I can only delude myself into hoping is an incredibly ill-conceived and ill-starred trial balloon). Come, let's go to the newsprint.

Warning: Snark Condition Red

New Tax Plan May Bring Shift In Burden
Poor Could Pay A Bigger Share

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 16, 2002; Page A03

all credit where credit is due, after all

As the Bush administration draws up plans to simplify the tax system, it is also refining arguments for why it may be necessary to shift more of the tax load onto lower-income workers.

Ahh, simplification. Urge to kill rising.

Economists at the Treasury Department are drafting new ways to calculate the distribution of tax burdens among different income classes, which are expected to highlight what administration officials see as a rising tax burden on the rich and a declining burden on the poor. The White House Council of Economic Advisers is also preparing a report detailing the concentration of the tax burden on the affluent and highlighting problems with the way tax burdens are calculated for the poor.

Oh, those put upon affluents. Paying taxes must be such a burden on them what with all that money.

The efforts would thrust the administration into a debate that until now has lingered on the fringes of economic policy: Are too few wealthy Americans paying too much in taxes for too many, and should the working poor and middle class be shouldering more of the tax burden?

Well of course they should since as any free-wheelin' geniusified CEO would tell you, go where the money, er, isn't?

"The increasing reliance on taxing higher-income households and targeted social preferences at lower incomes stands in the way of moving to a simpler, flatter tax system," R. Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, warned at a tax forum at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday.

Taxing higher incomes...target "social preferences" at lower incomes. Yeah, well that's the definition of a progressive, no liberal, no socialist tax system. Jerk. Urge to kill...rising.

The Council of Economic Advisers' "Economic Report to the President," scheduled for release late next month or in early February, is to include a section arguing for new methods to calculate the distribution of tax burdens on various income groups.

For new methods, read "Obfuscatory, plutocratic niu-se*"

The Treasury Department is working up more sophisticated distribution tables that are expected to make the poor appear to be paying less in taxes and the rich to be paying more.

What I just said

Answering critics who say the working poor do face high taxes because they pay high Social Security payroll taxes, outgoing White House economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey told the AEI tax forum that the 12.4 percent Social Security levy should not be considered when tax burdens are calculated. Lindsey said the Social Security tax is ultimately returned to the taxpayer as a benefit.

Hey Mr. Lindsey, the point of taxation in a republic or a democracy is that money is pooled for collective benefit. Idiot. That's the point. We can argue over who should pay what, and increasingly thanks to your ilk whether the appropriate people benefit (e.g. actual people rather than say well-heeled, thieving corporations). But if you know of some tax money that isn't benefitting taxpayers in any way, well can I have it? Seriously, half-wit, even the Heritage Foundation guy quoted further down gets this (which helps boost my desperate hope that this is just a trial balloon of stupid that'll go down quicker than an Iraqi kite in a no-fly zone)

Lindsey compared the Social Security tax to a deposit in a neighborhood bank's Christmas Club. In such clubs, periodic deposits are returned in a lump sum during the holiday season, and Lindsey said no one would consider such deposits a tax.

sigh

Early this month, J.T. Young, the deputy assistant treasury secretary for legislative affairs, lamented in a Washington Times opinion article: "[Higher] earners cannot produce the level of revenues needed to sustain the liberals' increasingly costly spending programs over the long-term. . . . If federal government spending is not controlled, then the tax burden will have to begin extending backward down the income ladder."

I can only imagine that by "liberals" he means the non-bigot wing of the GOP since last time I checked the Republicans were set to be in charge of both branches of the guvmint which request, set, authorize and yes "control" spending. Seriously, again, who's tax-and-spend now? C'mon, who?

The tenor of the administration's policy discussions marks a dramatic shift from early in 2001, when Bush sold his 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut as a tool to "take down the tollgate on the road to the middle class," emphasizing its beneficial impact on workers "on the outskirts of poverty." At that time, the administration fretted over the tax burden on the working poor, which the White House calculated to include federal income taxes, state taxes and the Social Security tax.

Yeah, but that was apparently before the entire Republican Party doubled up on their HubrisilTM (provided gratis, incidentally, by the pharmaceutical industry).

When administration officials pushed the need to create private investment accounts to supplement Social Security, they specifically warned that taxes paid into Social Security would not necessarily be returned unless the system was reformed.

Which, by the way, would render sub-moron, has-been Lindsey's point both null and void.

William W. Beach, an economist at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said he was sympathetic to Lindsey's argument that the Social Security tax is not really a tax. But, he said, it was a dangerous argument for a Republican to make.

"Do I allow defense spending to offset my income taxes since I like to be defended? Do I allow road taxes to offset my profits taxes because I use the roads?" he asked. "If you do start down that road, it's hard to see anything as taxes."

Well, duh, that about sums it up.

But for the purposes of a tax reform debate, removing Social Security taxes from consideration could have a sizable impact. The top 5 percent of the nation's taxpayers paid 41 percent of all federal taxes, a hefty share, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. But that same group paid from 56 to 59 percent of all income taxes, an even more impressive burden.

That would be the effect of removing payroll taxes alright, considering that after a certain point you don't pay them anymore. Hell, why not exclude all wage-based taxes from the debate that way the top 5 percent can end up paying, like what, 85 percent of all personal taxes, which is even more "impressive". Urge to kill still rising.

"If we take out Social Security, the poor will look very lightly taxed," said Robert S. McIntyre, of Citizens for Tax Justice, a tax research group backed by organized labor.

Whoa, look, an actual quote from a non-conservative organization. Oh, they're backed by organized labor though, unlike AEI which apparently recieves no backing and is just a group of free-thinking intellectuals

Democrats say the shift could prove ominous for lower-income Americans. And they appear eager for the fight.

Democrats eager for the fight? Wow, this really must be ominous. Cue organ music and thunder claps.

"These people are setting the tone in saying the poor really are not being taxed enough and that the burden is too high on the rich," said New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. "We're going back some 70 years."

"Back some 70 years"? Ah, music to Trent Lott's ears. He must be getting ready to whoop it up under the GOP's Bigot Tent. Still, "these people are setting the tone"? That don't sound like fighting words to me.

Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif.), a member of the committee, said: "I don't think there's any question you have a number of extremists in the Republican ranks that would like to see the wealthy do very well. They're going to try to make the case that the average American is overtaxed and subsidizing the poor."

But to some conservatives, the shift is long overdue. Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has argued for two years that the nation is entering a dangerous period in which the burden of financing government is falling on too few people. In such an environment, the masses will always vote for politicians promising ever-more-generous social programs, knowing they will not have to pay for such programs, DeMint warned.

"This issue is coming to a head," DeMint said earlier this month, just minutes after making his pitch to outgoing Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill. "You can't maintain a democracy if the people who are voting don't care what their government costs."

Right, because this is all about defending democracy.

DeMint and his allies have called for a national sales tax to replace the income tax. For those below the federal poverty line, sales taxes paid would be refunded, but under the system, at least they will have seen the cost of government, he said. The working poor would accept a higher tax burden because they would be relieved of the need to file a tax return.

And there you have it America, clearly some, if not all, conservative politicians believe that if you make less than like 75 grand a year you must have gone to school on the short-bus, the sped-sled, the sweet pickle wagon; and they see no harm in taking advantage of your presumably imbecilic selves.

DeMint called his ideas "the duck's feet under the water," propelling his proposals forward invisibly.

So that's what he calls it. I call it the asstastic musings of an ass-hatted ass-clown.

Conservative thinkers at the Heritage Foundation and other think tanks have begun expressing similar opinions. Last month, the Wall Street Journal editorial page made waves with an article titled, "The Non-Taxpaying Class."

"Workers who pay little or no taxes can hardly be expected to care about tax relief for everybody else," the editorial stated. "They are also that much more detached from recognizing the costs of government."

sigh

But advocates of this new line can expect a furious backlash. Liberal commentators have already reduced the argument to an appeal to tax the poor, and even conservatives worry that the label will stick.

"It's hard to conclude it's anything else," said the Heritage Foundation's Beach.

Only because that's exactly what it is.

Michael J. Graetz, a Yale University law professor and tax reform expert, said he could not figure out where the administration's arguments are supposed to lead.

"I would be very surprised if the agenda is to put more people on the tax rolls," he said. "That doesn't seem like a good political agenda."

"I mean, really, at least when the first Bush Administration scored crack in Layfayette Park they didn't smoke it, " Graetz did not add.

But Democrats say that is exactly where the administration is heading. Matsui said he sees the seeds of a disastrous Republican overreach.

Yup, HubrisilTM

"The president is making the case that people who earn between $50 [thousand] and $75,000 a year should be paying a third more taxes," Matsui said. "I'd love to debate him on that."

But McIntyre worried that in the marketplace of ideas, the new argument could carry the day.

"I would hope the public would find it repugnant," he said, "but I suppose you never know."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company

You know, sadly, you never do know. In a country where just about everybody thinks until their dying day that maybe, just maybe, they'll be the next Bill Gates or at the least, Larry Ellison, you might just be able to convince them to go along with this kind of crap cause they figure when they're all rich and sleeping on a bed of shredded hundred dollar bills that they gots theirs so the hell with it. What's a bit more in taxes today? When I'm stupid wealthy and really need the money it'll be there.

Urge to kill rising.

*niu-se is Mandarin Chinese for bullshit, which you might have been able to guess. The meaning that is not the language, though maybe that too.
Fyrste, 3:00 PM