Category Archives: Miscellany

Rob Lowe and Paris and Twitter and Stuff

First, a little context, if you’re reading this weeks or months (or years?) from now. Today is November 14, 2015, one day after a series of terrorist attacks in Paris. I have nothing to say about the attacks themselves. Horrible things happened. Nothing I say will change that, or likely reduce the pain of those affected directly. So, I’m not going to bother.

What I am going to talk about is an article I saw very soon after the attacks. It was about Rob Lowe. Apparently, he tweeted some snarky comments about how French President Hollande was handling the situation. But that’s not what the article was about. It was about the Twitterverse having a collective conniption fit about Lowe, how the actor had been stupid and insensitive.

So, I suppose I could talk about the cult of celebrity that we have now that makes anything a B-list (C-list?) star say worthy of analysis. Which is pretty dumb. Or I could talk about the state of journalism, that this cultish (anti-cultish?) response was, itself, considered by someone, somewhere, newsworthy. Also dumb.

But that’s a pretty deep rabbit hole to jump down, so I’ll leave that as an aside and move on to my main point, which is this:

The angry tweeters response to Lowe is, hands down, the most laughably ironic thing I’ve seen in quite a while. Bear with me. I have a point.

First, let me posit something that is only implied in the angry tweeters commentary: they are implying that Rob Lowe is on the side of ISIS. For him to dare disagree with the leader of the country attacked by ISIS? He must be on the side of the terrorists, right? How dare he! This isn’t said directly that I know of, but that’s the only way that the emotional reaction makes any sense. Hollande’s country was attacked by ISIS. Hollande was attacked by Rob Lowe. Therefore, Rob Lowe equals ISIS! QED.

This reeks of insanity, but that’s how I read it. And I’m not done.

One big difference between Western Society and ISISville, perhaps the defining difference, is tolerance. In the West, if you vocally disagree with those in power…nothing happens. If you vocally disagree with those in power in ISISville…you are beaten and/or jailed and/or maimed and/or killed. And what did Rob Lowe do? He disagreed with someone in power. (I couldn’t tell you if he was right or wrong. I don’t know. And that is irrelevant to my point.) And nothing has or will happen to him. Which is only right and proper in a society ruled by the idea of freedom of expression.

But the angry tweeters, who have attacked Rob Lowe as a mouthpiece for terror…are reacting the way ISIS does! They have heard something they disagree with, and they respond with hate and invective. It’s an astonishing case of lack of self-reflection.

But here’s the silver lining. This is why Western Culture is so resilient. Even when part of the society acts kind of like ISIS, they really don’t. They shouted their anger at Rob Lowe; they didn’t throw rocks at him. They called him dumb; they didn’t storm his house and string him up. The very free speech that they are so annoyed by when it comes from this actor, is the same free speech they enjoy when hating him.

The ironies abound, but for me, there is at least hope for the future.

Though not for the future of journalism. Sheesh, people!

Yahoo Stories Feed

It’s been a while since I’ve cataloged what the stories on the front page of Yahoo! have looked like. I sometimes wonder if they’ll ever shift out of the well-worn ruts they’ve gouged into the soil of internet news. So, what’s up today?

  • 18 stories about politics: who said something untoward, the legislative process and, of course, the 2016 presidential election, which is only a short 502 days away!
  • 11 stories about sports
  • 10 stories about celebrities: what they’re wearing, who they’re kissing, where they live, etc
  • 6 stories about travel
  • 5 stories about crime
  • 4 stories about general business stuff
  • 4 stories about TV shows
  • 4 stories about health and fitness (Dang, that’s low for Yahoo!)
  • 2 stories each about the following topics: heartwarming tales, movies, music, stuff that’s just weird, and sharks. (Yes. Two stories about sharks.)
  • And 1 story each about the following: fashion, gaming, gifts, money (actual currency), the news business, restaurants and North Korea

Despite the continuing preoccupation with celebrity and sports, this is actually a somewhat better distribution.

I’ll even let them have their shark stories.


I heard a story the other day that kind of set my head spinning. Terrell Owens, who is apparently a mildly annoying football star, was playing against the Dallas Cowboys on their home turf a some time ago. After a touchdown, he took the ball and ran out to the center of the field to attempt a celebratory spiking on the huge star. One of the Cowboys, incensed by this lack of respect, tackled him.

Now having seen the footage, the hit was far less violent than I had been led to believe by the storyteller. Wearing that much protection, it was little more than rough-housing. Still, the tackler had to be pulled away from Owens, presumably because he wanted to inflict some more damage.

Apart from the idiocy of getting that worked up about a game, I was struck by the sheer number of levels of symbolism and misplaced understanding at work here, mostly from the fans who were booing Owens.

When discussing this with someone more sport-savvy than me (i.e. someone other than me) I was told, in effect, “That’s something you just don’t do.” The subtext was that violence was a valid response to spiking a ball in the center of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium field. And, trying to wrap my brain around that got me thinking about symbolism.

So, when Owens spikes the ball on the Dallas Star, his action symbolizes disrespect. (It also symbolizes jubilation, but that’s irrelevant to the Cowboys fans.) But, technically, at this level, it is only disrespect to the Star itself.

At the second level, the Star represents the Cowboys. A team of however-many football players, and the attendant staff. But really (and this is where things get a little muddy) the symbolism also extends to the entire history of the Dallas Cowboys, back through the mists of the last half of the Twentieth Century.

But why would the fans care? Because the Dallas Cowboys function as a symbol of Dallas, and to a lesser extent, all of Texas. (A case could be made that they symbolize the entire USA, what with the talk of them being, “America’s Team”. But that’s not going to sit well with fans of… well, any other NFL team.)

Still, why would the fans care if Owens disrespects a graphical symbol of a team which is a symbol of a city? Because they see the city as a symbol for themselves. “I am a Texan, therefore disrespecting that Star means you’re disrepecting me!”

So, my question is, how is it reasonable to have such a deep emotional reaction, to the point where violence is not only indicated but desired, when the only thing happening is a symbolic gesture (spiking) against a three-times-removed symbol of a person: Star->Team->City->Me? This is a remarkable example of a large group of people each confusing the symbol with that being symbolized. If someone wants to spike a ball into your head, yeah, I’ll condone the use of violence to stop that action. If someone spikes a ball into a star that’s a stand in for a team that’s a stand in for a city that’s a stand in for you…? Not so much.

What’s more amazing is how often this kind of thing shows up. How much better would the world be if people stopped confusing symbols with that which is symbolized? No more fights about burning a flag. Also, no more flag burning. No more calls for the killing of cartoonists who dare draw an unflattering depiction of Muhammad. No more cross burning. No more outrage at cross burning. No more Twitter explosions when a young man of questionable musical talent steps on a picture of a Native American that’s been plastered onto a high traffic parcel of floor.

I wondered, then, if I am simply being a hypocrite. I don’t care about football, so there’s zero chance I would care about symbolic gestures that disrespect a football team. On the other hand, what do I care about?

I care about movies. But if someone writes a bad review of a film I really like, I don’t feel compelled to punch them. I feel compelled to argue with them. I feel compelled to respond in kind. If someone were to stage a public burning of posters of the Lord of the Rings films, I would not vow to bring them to justice. I would actually find it funny.

In a less trivial example, I care about my country. I could not care less if someone burns a flag. I suppose I might care if that’s an indication that they want to do something actually damaging. But fire-roasted colored cloth does little to move me.

The 9/11 attacks were a great example of something which was both a symbolic and a real attack on the US. The symbolic attack is irrelevant, at least when it comes to the use of force. The actual attack is what’s important. The actual attack started a war, and got lots of people (including the guy who ordered the attack) killed. That’s rough justice, but in the arena of global terrorism, that’s really the only justice to be had. The symbolic attack required a symbolic response. We’re building an even taller building on the site. We’ve created a memorial. These are absolutely the right responses to the symbolic attack on our nation and its institutions.

Hopefully, if the 9/11 plot had been to toilet paper the World Trade Center, America would not have expected the government to hunt anyone down to kill them.

I just wish humanity could pull themselves out of this sort of caveman thinking that pictures can have as much meaning as people.


Kate’s Body

bbSo, there are people talking about Kate’s baby-bump, and telling her how to get rid of it.

Then there are people talking about those people, telling them that they shouldn’t be shaming her like that.

Then there are people talking about those people, telling them that by calling attention to the first batch of people, they’re really still shaming her by telling her “It’s okay to look that way,” as if it wasn’t already.

Then there’s the reporter telling me about all of those people.

(Then there’s me writing this post.)

((There there’s you reading this post.))

Talk about a meta-waste of time.

links for 2010-11-27

Life with the iPad

I was e-mailing some friends last week, waxing enthusiastic about the wireless keyboard I had picked up for my iPad, and one of them commented about its impracticality. That struck me as an interesting impression, since if anything, I'm rather taken by the iPad's versatility. It led me to think a bit about my experience with the device so far, and how I use it.

So just how practical is the iPad, anyway? Of couse, as with any device, that depends on what you're trying to do with it. Until I got the keyboard, I'd have said the iPad is best understood as a Super Kindle, rather than, say, a quasi-netbook. And indeed, I pretty much stopped using my Kindle when I got the iPad, though I continue to read and buy Kindle books for the Kindle iPad app. The iPad is like a Kindle you can also use to read full-color magazines, surf the web (enjoyably), play games, look up flight details, write e-mails, navigate, and watch TV and movies. I use mine as I walk between terminals in the airport and as I'm standing in line to board. It's the first thing I reach for in the morning when I wake up, the way I might have reached for a newspaper, back in the distant past–the 90's, say. It's much better than a netbook for doing anything but intensive writing on a plane, especially in coach on those airlines that provide only minmal room between you and the person in front of you–which is unfortunately most of them, these days.

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Russell’s Pre-Review of the 2010 TV Season

I enjoy
pretending that my opinions matter.  I
mean, this is the internet, after all, the home of unmotivated whonking.  Here are my uncalled for, unreasoned, and
unnecessary thoughts on the new TV season, in the order that the shows will

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Missing the Point

Via Jim Treacher, what they’re saying about the 8/28 rally.  Read to the end.

Fun with Polls

Specifically, polls that make conservatives look foolish.

"A new poll showed that nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, believe Obama is Muslim. That was up from 11 percent who said so in March 2009. The survey also showed that just 34 percent said Obama is Christian, down from 48 percent who said so last year. The largest share of people, 43 percent, said they don't know his religion."  (Quotes from Yahoo! News.)

Now, this isn't a poll of just conservatives.  This is a poll of everybody.  But we all know who disseminates these kinds of foundless rumors, don't we?

But here is the part that's particularly fun.

"The Pew poll found that about three in 10 of Obama's fiercest political rivals, Republicans and conservatives, say he is a Muslim. That is up significantly from last year and far higher than the share of Democrats and liberals who say so."

IOW, nearly twice as many conservatives are plain wrong on this point compared to the entire population.


Of course, this is all just a distraction from the bigger question: why does it matter?  Is it so terrible, the thought of having a Muslim president? 

It's funny that conservatives are wrong.  It's scary that they care in the first place.

links for 2010-07-23

  • In recent years, scientists have shown that they can reprogram human skin cells to an immature state that allows the cells to become any type of cell. …However, the techniques now used to transform cells pose some serious safety hazards. …Now, for the first time, MIT researchers have shown that they can deliver those same reprogramming genes using RNA, the genetic material that normally ferries instructions from DNA to the cell's protein-making machinery.