Friday, December 11, 2009

Not surprisingly, The Onion covers an issue better than the actual media

From a recent Onion article, "U.S. Finally Gets Around To Prosecuting Mastermind Behind 9/11":
The Justice Department announced Monday that it had finally found enough time in its busy schedule to squeeze in the prosecution of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, more than six years after the high-profile suspect was captured and eight years after the worst-ever terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
That's really the issue here--why hasn't this happened much, much sooner? All of the concerns voiced by those opposed to, uh, the rule of law (not sure how better to phrase that) trot out the same old canards that a trial will make us vulnerable to attack (c/o Mitch McConnell, who seems to have forgotten that we are always targets for attack) or the unbelievably tired "pre-9/11 mindset" arguments (this time c/o Michael Mukasey):
Michael Mukasey...said criminal courts were a bad choice for trying the alleged 9/11 plotters. He said the decision represented a turn from the Bush administration's war footing to a "Sept. 10, 2001" mentality.

"The plan seems to abandon the view that we are involved in a war," said Mr. Mukasey.
Of course, the Congressional Republicans themselves display a shocking lack of any noticeable sense of irony in addressing how trying Mohammed now would only delay justice:
Delayed Justice: In New York, KSM will enjoy the legal rights and benefits of U.S. citizens and resident aliens under the Constitution. A criminal trial will force the government to reveal all of its intelligence on KSM and how it obtained it. Additionally, treating the 9/11 attacks as a simple criminal matter rather than an act of war will hinder U.S. efforts to fight terrorism and sends the wrong signal to U.S. enemies abroad. A costly civilian court trial for KSM will also likely take years. The trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, for example, was tied up in court for more than four years by his lawyers and ended only when Moussaoui pleaded guilty.
Anyway, I've noted before that it is conceivably possible to prosecute unspeakable and unconscionable war crimes in a civilized manner, that most Republicans turn into pants-wetting sissies at the very thought of civilian trials, and that The Onion has a disquietingly prescient sense of humor.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Annual Halloween Crappy Horror Movie Fest movie #3: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Not too much to say about this one. It fills out the story elements hinted at in the first two movies, although it is not strictly necessary to the overall story--perhaps it was just too tempting to create an Underworld trilogy. This installment only brings out Kate Beckinsale in stock footage, opting for the almost-as-hot Rhona Mitra (who was once the model for Lara Croft).

There's basically no suspense, since viewers of the first two films know exactly what's going to happen--the thrill is to finally see vampires and werewolves go at it with swords, arrows, and claws, rather than the oddly modern and high-tech bullets of the first movie. So basically, there are vampires and werewolves, and British women in very tight clothing. Way to be.

Interesting side note: the director, Patrick Tatopoulos, was the "creatures designer" for both The Cave and Pitch Black, making this film choice oddly evocative of my film choice of earlier today.

Annual Halloween Crappy Horror Movie Fest movie #2: Gone

For my next crappy horror film I decided to try Australia's Gone, for the main reason that it supposedly stars "Chuck's" Yvonne Strzechowski (who appears in one scene and has no dialogue, alas).

As if Wolf Creek didn't teach us all what a terrifying, Chainsaw Massacre-esque place Western Australia is, Gone sets out a run-of-the-mill three-person suspense thriller, with a young hip Australian couple terrorized by Scott Mechlowicz (of EuroTrip fame, who, after this movie and Mean Creek, can probably never play a normal person again.) That's really all I can say about this movie. Mechlowicz has fully transformed from the innocent but lovable doofus of EuroTrip to a career as a B-movie creepy guy. There's really no suspense until the last ten minutes or so, with the buildup consisting of various predictable efforts by the villain to create distrust between the Australian couple--he is helped by the fact that the boyfriend is a spazz and the girlfriend is an idiot.

The grand ending (Spoiler alert!) is definitely one to go down in the hall of fame for Frightening Use of Chain Link. Other than that, meh.

Annual Halloween Crappy Horror Movie Fest movie #1: The Cave

This movie just plain sucked, despite having Lena Heady (pre-Sarah Connor and pre-300).

Send a bunch of seasoned spelunkers and biologists into a quasi-mystical Romanian cave system, and the best they could come up with to hunt them was the deformed love child of the Alien and the things from Pitch Black?

This film had a budget of $30 million--I wonder how many cups of coffee a day that could have bought in order to save children?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Classic joke of the day

Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes up and gives Dr. Watson a nudge. "Watson," he says, "look up in the sky and tell me what you see."

"I see millions of stars, Holmes," says Watson.

"And what do you conclude from that, Watson?"

Watson thinks for a moment, "Well," he says, "astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and we are small and insignificant. Uh, what does that tell you, Holmes?"

"Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!"
h/t Mitch Ditkoff

Saturday, June 27, 2009

No one falls asleep during a tattoo session (I think)

Those who follow tattoo news may have heard about the Belgian girl who claims she asked for three stars to be tattooed on her face, then fell asleep and woke up to find 56 stars there instead, and wanted to sue the tattoo artist:

Now, it turns out she made the whole thing up to placate her father, who was, perhaps understandably, upset at her new facial adornment:
[S]he told Dutch TV this week, "I asked for 56 stars and initially adored them. But when my father saw them, he was furious."

The tattoo artist also said [she] had agreed to 56 stars.

"She agreed, but when her father saw it, the trouble started," Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws quoted the man as saying.
I think the moral here is to always get informed consent, and maybe to be a little leery of 18 year-olds wanting their faces covered in tattoos. Kudos to the tattoo artist, Rouslan Toumaniantz, for seeing the real lessons here:
Toumaniantz, who is covered from head to toe in tattoo artistry, said the only thing he was disappointed in was having an unhappy client.

"I don't regret it. To tell you the truth, this has given me some publicity," Toumanaintz told The Telegraph.

He will now require written consent from clients before any procedure, he said.
I had always thought the catastrophic pain associated with getting a tattoo was contract enough--who would do that on accident?--but the man is wise. He didn't do anything wrong, but it would be good for him to have a better way to prove that.

In the meantime, a pretty 18 year-old Belgian girl has a face intentionally covered in 56 stars. Maybe there's a broader issue there than informed consent--just sayin'.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cooler heads might have prevailed

In 1945, President Truman appointed Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson as the chief prosecutor for the planned tribunals to try accused Nazi war criminals:
The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.

This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, is not the product of abstract speculations nor is it created to vindicate legalistic theories. This inquest represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of 17 more, to utilize international law to meet the greatest menace of our times-aggressive war. The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which. leave no home in the world untouched. It is a cause of that magnitude that the United Nations will lay before Your Honors.

In the prisoners' dock sit twenty-odd broken men. Reproached by the humiliation of those they have led almost as bitterly as by the desolation of those they have attacked, their personal capacity for evil is forever past. It is hard now to perceive in these men as captives the power by which as Nazi leaders they once dominated much of the world and terrified most of it. Merely as individuals their fate is of little consequence to the world.

What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power. They are symbols of fierce nationalisms and of militarism, of intrigue and war-making which have embroiled Europe generation after generation, crushing its manhood, destroying its homes, and impoverishing its life. They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names. Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.


No charity can disguise the fact that the forces which these defendants represent, the forces that would advantage and delight in their acquittal, are the darkest and most sinister forces in society-dictatorship and oppression, malevolence and passion, militarism and lawlessness. By their fruits we best know them. Their acts have bathed the world in blood and set civilization back a century. They have subjected their European neighbors to every outrage and torture, every spoliation and deprivation that insolence, cruelty, and greed could inflict. They have brought the German people to the lowest pitch of wretchedness, from which they can entertain no hope of early deliverance. They have stirred hatreds and incited domestic violence on every continent. These are the things that stand in the dock shoulder to shoulder with these prisoners.

The real complaining party at your bar is Civilization. In all our countries it is still a struggling and imperfect thing. It does not plead that the United States, or any other country, has been blameless of the conditions which made the German people easy victims to the blandishments and intimidations of the Nazi conspirators.

But it points to the dreadful sequence of aggressions and crimes I have recited, it points to the weariness of flesh, the exhaustion of resources, and the destruction of all that was beautiful or useful in so much of the world, and to greater potentialities for destruction in the days to come. It is not necessary among the ruins of this ancient and beautiful city with untold members of its civilian inhabitants still buried in its rubble, to argue the proposition that to start or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst of crimes. The refuge of the defendants can be only their hope that international law will lag so far behind the moral sense of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must be regarded as innocent in law.

Civilization asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of international law, its precepts, its prohibitions and, most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will, in all countries, may have "leave to live by no man's leave, underneath the law."
Robert H. Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States, Nuremberg, Germany, November 21, 1945

To compare al-Qaeda directly to the Nazis is of course to give al-Qaeda far too much credit, but there is an obvious analogy to be made. Of all the reasons that the torture and other depredations of the Bush years should be investigated and prosecuted, perhaps one of the greatest and least-mentioned is this: in addition to losing our moral standing in the world, consider what the world has lost in terms of opportunities to bring organizations like al-Qaeda to light, to expose them for the cowards and liars that they are, and to begin the process of redressing the conditions so as to make such acts as the 9/11 attacks inconceivable to all humanity. I am not naive enough to think that war and terror can be stamped out solely through honesty, but the fundamental laws of human dignity and decency did not cease to function in September 2001. It is precisely the calm and measured tone of Justice Jackson that has been sorely missing for the past 7+ years. What if the knowledge gleaned from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's (pre-torture) interrogation had been made known to the world in 2003 or 2004? What more could have been accomplished in stemming the tide of hatred and violence fomented by the bin Ladens of the world if we had kept our sights on them the whole time? We will never know, and that is a loss that should not go unredressed.