16 August 2010

Internet Link Sausages of Dubious Origin

Internet link sausages... and edible link sausages. For some value of both "internet" and "edible."

  • In the name of trying to reconcile incompatible viewpoints, op-ed columnist Ross Douthat only adds to the xenophobia surrounding the proposed mosque near Ground Zero. His basic position appears to be that the origin-blind, "constitutionalist" (his word) view of America and the English-first, ancestry-matters "cultural" (again, his word) view both have valid concerns regarding the proposed mosque; he eventually takes a left turn toward the Twilight Zone, but eventually stops just short:

    Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes. By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

    (fake paragraphing corrected) Of course, that ignores the context in which Rauf — who would be the administrative and spiritual leader at the proposed mosque — made those statements and/or ducked questions. Worse, it makes the fundamental error of lumping all of Islam together; in doctrinal and cultural terms, that's the equivalent of lumping all of Judaism and Christianity together — and I mean all, both "religiously" and otherwise — in the course of explaining "religions of the Bible" to an adherent of the Greek religion. And that is the problem here: A mosque in that location — regardless of the leadership's views — is no more or less an imposition on the legacy of the victims of a political incident of terrorism than would be a Reformed synagogue near Golgotha. Instead, it degrades the memories of the victims of 9/11 to be so inaccurately bigoted... or have we forgotten so quickly that centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe (and Arabs are also Semitic) used the same damned arguments?

    Admittedly, I'm one of the more radical assimilationists: I believe that time and the Constitution do a more than adequate job of assimilation into a society that is founded on the concept of dissent and difference as a strength, not an obstacle to the rule of kings. If we no longer accept the inscription on that statue in New York harbor, we should just send the damned thing back. Too, all of this debate assumes that so-called "places of worship" should have any privilege of any kind; I'd be much more concerned with, say, a new BP management complex on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico as being an insult than I would with a mosque I'll never attend a few blocks from the World Trade Center site.

  • Branding matters in the arts. Just try valuing previously unknown negatives attributed — or not — to Ansel Adams. Or, better yet, try finding someone to authenticate those same negatives.
  • In something that shouldn't surprise anyone in this workout-crazed culture, here's some anecdotal support for the idea that hard books are good for your brain. Actually, any book that makes you think at all is good for your brain; there's plenty of evidence that reflective engagement is one of the best ways to delay, or fully avoid, senility and other late-life loss of cognitive function. Whether Jonathan Franzen's book qualifies is yet to be seen; Michiko Kakutani thinks so, but her track record on what she likes has been somewhat less reliable of late than her dislikes.
  • The mind boggles at the implications of a disturbing security breach at Universal Studios. Only in H'wood would this happen... and/or be a story if/when it did. Hint: Before comparing this to Homeland Security, perhaps you should remember a few episodes of The West Wing, or maybe ask a few questions on how twelve-step programs get handled on and near military bases.
  • A few musings on female heroes and their physical representation that would definitely not pass muster at an RWA convention... which is, on balance, a good thing.
  • I've always thought that "tax-bracket creep" referred to particularly loathesome IRS agents, but here's a postmodern spin on how tax brackets should be calculated.

    I have a somewhat more-radical solution: Eliminate the concepts of brackets, but not for a "flat tax" — for a tax based on a relatively simple function between limits. That opinion piece criticizes the number of tax brackets as being from the nineteenth century, without acknowledging that a tax system that appears more like a nineteenth-century table of logarithms has deeper problems than the number of digits shown in the mantissa. Further, a disturbingly high proportion of eventually disallowed deductions and other dubious tax-avoidance (which is legal; tax evasion is illegal) behavior occurs at the bracket boundaries. Eliminating the concept of brackets — except at the extreme limits — would eliminate this peculiarity. And in this day of umpty-eleven different tax-preparation programs and even a working IRS system that "calculates your tax for you" online, we don't need to rely upon tables to determine taxes anymore in the first place.

    But I'm in favor of greater progressivity in taxation anyway, including eliminating most nonprogressive taxes such as "sales taxes" and imposing asset taxes at times other than death. Taxes are the price of civilization, and I don't think anyone can legitimately claim that we've got an excess of civilization... particularly since it takes civilization to make externalities possible in the first place.

  • If you think determining the contours of an author's rights under US copyright law is a frustrating process with no clear answer, just be glad that droit morale (moral rights) are seldom at issue Over Here. What this really points out is that copyright is not an all-encompassing legal rubric for the rights (and, to an extent, responsibilities) of creators of expressive works.