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.

America either tortures people or it doesn't (updated)

Remember the debate over the torture issue? It was back before the fears of swine flu surfaced, so it's pretty ancient now...I think it was last Friday. Near as I can tell, the position of the old Bush guard (pun intended) is that we do not torture, but it doesn't matter anyway because it's not illegal to torture, which is not something we do, anyway. I'm pretty much sick and tired of the debate, but it is a debate that apparently must be had, because there are seemingly honest, intelligent people in this country who will say with a straight face that simulating drowning by covering a person's face and repeatedly dowsing them with water until they think they are on the verge of death is not torture, but "enhanced interrogation techniques," and that we shouldn't bother with any sort of investigations into the legality of such actions because...well, I guess it's because we have better things to do. Of course, Republicans are always complaining that government is too big, so perhaps we can just use some of the extra weight to conduct investigations and prosecutions, while the important and necessary parts of the government carry on. If the alleged wrongdoers didn't do anything wrong, then they've got nothing to hide, and what would be the harm in investigating, right? Right?

I can throw the quotes of Bushies back in their faces all day, and I'd love to do so, but here's the thing: to say that investigations and prosecutions of torture would "tear this country apart" is bullshit, plain and simple. This is not an issue of right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal, or whatever. It's a question of basic human dignity. It doesn't matter what our opponents do, or what they plan to do, or what they'd like to do to us. We (and by that I mean America) hold ourselves out as the "shining city on a hill" to inspire the peoples of the world. We have squandered every last bit of goodwill that we spent the first 200+ years of our history earning from the rest of the world in the supposed name of keeping ourselves safe from...something. The Bushies never would tell us exactly what...

Investigations and prosecutions are not just necessary, they are essential...not just to regain the world's respect, but to regain respect for ourselves. If this truly is a partisan issue, if there really is an argument to be made for legally sanctioned and clandestine torture, then let that argument be made out in the open, within the hearing of all Americans and the world, open to discussion and debate. If having such a debate would be damaging to our republic, if it would somehow damage our ability to "move forward," it does not matter. If we cannot address our own wrongdoing without ripping ourselves apart, then we are just prolonging the inevitable. America is more than a nation, and at the risk of sounding trite, it is an idea that has endured longer than most states ever have. America is a dream of freedom and liberty under law. Let those laws work, and if it tears us apart in the process, what was it that we were really holding together in the first place?

UPDATE: Gene Lyons at Salon has two excellent pieces on the genesis of this whole debacle here and here.

UPDATE II: Ditto for Gary Kamiya:
Those opposed to reopening the book on the Bush years argue that doing so would tear the country apart. They're right -- but they forget that the country is already torn apart. The gulf between Democrats and Republicans has never been wider. The Republican Party, the home of those who still defend the Bush years, has become a reactionary and increasingly marginal movement that is in fealty to crude demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and whose hysterical denunciations of Obama sound more and more unhinged.

What this means is that those Americans who would be truly outraged by an investigation are already outraged. It could not make them any angrier or more bitter than they already are. And even if it did, how much difference would that make? The GOP base already regards Democrats as terrorist-coddling communists. Are they going to all join militias?
I kind of suspect that Mr. Kamiya has not been to Texas recently, or he might not be so sanguine about the idea of Republicans joining militias. I still prefer that to everyone hiding their true colors.

I suppose it's possible that for some the battle lines have not yet been drawn. I certainly hope not, though.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mocking "conservative" movies, part 2

This is the second installment in my intermittent series poking fun at National Review Online's list of the 25 best "conservative" movies. Mostly, I am mocking the notion that there is a single unified "conservative" ideology anymore at all. Now, then, on to #6-10 (WARNING: Spoilers abound!):

6. Groundhog Day. I actually haven't seen this one, either (that's two so far), but I've certainly heard a lot about it. It's "conservative" cred apparently comes from its moral "that redemption and meaning are derived not from indulging your 'authentic' instincts and drives, but from striving to live up to external and timeless ideals." All I can think to say is duh. If you do anything enough times (as Bill Murray's character is forced to repeat the same day again and again ad nauseam), you're bound to either (a) go insane or (b) discover some deeper meaning to it all. This is hardly a viewpoint upon which "conservatives" hold a monopoly.

7. The Pursuit of Happyness. Long story short, single dad sacrifices everything to provide for his young son, and becomes a fantabulously successful stockbroker in the process, all during the Reagan administration. Possibly Will Smith's best performance ever, and it certainly does demonstrate the ostensibly "conservative" virtues of self-reliance, family values, and accumulation of wealth. I have a few bones to pick with NRO's analysis of the film, though:
  • "[T]his film provides the perfect antidote to Wall Street and other Hollywood diatribes depicting the world of finance as filled with nothing but greed." Perhaps you missed the scene where Will Smith's character gets the idea to become a stockbroker from a man driving a Ferrari.
  • "They’re black, but there’s no racial undertone or subtext." Except for the one you just created. Seriously, you already said it was a Will Smith movie, so why was this sentence necessary?
  • "Gardner [Will Smith's character] is just an incredibly hard-working, ambitious, and smart man who wants to do better for himself and his son." Who takes an unpaid internship based on the dream of a Ferrari and the ability to solve a Rubik's Cube (see above YouTube link).

Those quibbles aside, this was a terrific movie. Certainly some liberties were taken with the facts, but the story ought to inspire anyone who sees it.
An amusing side note: after getting the job at Dean Witter, Gardner was then recruited to Bear Stearns.

8. Juno. Sigh. If this movie has any sort of anti-abortion message to it, it's really just one that viewers impose onto it. Juno's only stated reason for leaving the clinic is that it "smelled like a dentist's office." More importantly is the fact that Juno chose to leave the clinic after running a gauntlet of a single protester. The protester was more an object of satire in the film than anything about Juno's decision to seek an abortion. A common problem in the whole abortion debate is that people see it as only being two-sided: you oppose abortion rights, or you think it's all hunky-dory. I always thought "pro-choice" was a great choice of labels, because you can support the right to choose without actually liking the procedure itself. But back to the film: aside from the imposed "pro-life" meaning (and I hate that label for reasons I'll discuss some other time), the NRO reviewer doesn't have much nice to say about the movie: "The film has its faults, including a number of crass moments and a pregnant high-school student with an unrealistic level of self-confidence." Actually, I thought it pretty much depicted the teenage years as a series of crass moments. Juno is not a particularly realistic individual 16 year-old, but she is a pretty good cypher for a generalized teenage mindset: torn between all the various pressures and expectations of late childhood, and trying to maintain her own sense of self throughout it all, blah blah blah...point being, there is a lot more going on here than just a "pro-life" or "conservative" message. Finally, recall that the movie ends with the baby being adopted by a single mother. Yikes!

9. Blast from the Past. If you wanted evidence that "conservatives" have no sense of irony or satire, look no further. "Brendan Fraser plays an innocent who has grown up in a fallout shelter and doesn’t know the era of Sputnik and Perry Como is over. Alicia Silverstone is a post-feminist woman who learns from him that pre-feminist women had some things going for them." I haven't seen the film in a good long while, but I'm trying to imagine the two actors discussing the merits of Valium-addled '50s housewives versus Prozac-addled late-'90s career-driven mothers, etc., etc. It could be that I'm too cynical. Maybe I need a good dose of 1950's-era idealism! Well, it's sure a good thing I'm not a gay black communist woman--I hear the 1950's weren't so great for those groups. This is just the same tired old "conservative" cliche that there existed some mythical past when Everything Was Better, and modern society has somehow lost its way.

10. Ghostbusters. Really? Well, there was a very Reaganesque ethic to the movie, which I think is the sole basis for including it on this list: "[Y]ou have to like a movie in which the bad guy (William Atherton at his loathsome best) is a regulation-happy buffoon from the EPA, and the solution to a public menace comes from the private sector." Of course, the EPA buffoon as portrayed utterly failed to follow any of his own agency's procedures for information gathering, but that allowed Bill Murray to have a funny smackdown scene with him. The shutdown of the containment facility was a sterling depiction of Bush II-era disregard for the rule of law in the interest of national security (they had a warrant none of the Ghostbusters were allowed to see.) But seriously, my main concern with this movie's "conservative" creds arises from two facts: (1) a god not mentioned in the Bible tries to destroy the world, and (2) salvation is left to the New York National Guard and four snarky private contractors--four smart-asses defeating ultimate evil? That's what the movie is really about, and it's a little too timelessly awesome to just be "conservative."

Now for some video:

Question re: pirate standoff

OK, I understand the importance of safeguarding the captain held hostage aboard the pirates' lifeboat, as well as the 200-odd other hostages held by Somali pirates elsewhere. This isn't something where we (and by that I mean the U.S. military) should charge in guns blazing--those times are quite rare, if they exist at all. Keeping the hostages safe is the most important factor, although I think "never negotiating with terrorists" is strongly vying for the top spot among priorities. And yes, just because your motives are pecuniary and not ideological doesn't mean you are not a terrorist--just my $0.02.

Here's what I don't get, though: the U.S.S. Bainbridge, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, is "keeping its distance, in part to stay out of the pirates' range of fire."

I am no expert in naval strategy and tactics, nor do I have any proficiency in hostage negotiations (particularly where there are potentially multiple hostages in play in multiple locations). But really, unless they are carrying suitcase nukes, what could the pirates possibly have on board the lifeboat that could seriously threaten the Bainbridge? The only shots fired so far appear to have been fired by the pirates during an escape attempt by the hostage. Does the Bainbridge have any Marine snipers on board or anything? Maybe I've just seen too many movies, but when the most powerful Navy the world has ever known is held at bay by a lifeboat, something just seems a bit wrong.


Monday, February 23, 2009

I triumphantly return to blogging by mocking the idea of "conservative" movies

It's not difficult to point out some movies that are decidedly "liberal," at least based on the overall tone and plot of the film. A few titles come to mind such as The American President and Dave, wherein Republican politicians receive their comeuppance by Democratic politicians or a likeable everyman character. For some reason, it seems harder to label a particular film "conservative," particularly using the present-day meanings of the words "liberal" and "conservative." Sometimes I think "liberal" ideas just make for better drama--stories of an underdog triumphing against the odds are much more compelling than stories of the struggle to remain abstinent or to retain one's tax cuts. I jest, somewhat, but the reason I'm even writing this is because I have been haunted for the past several days by the National Review Online's list of the 25 best "conservative" movies (h/t Chez Pazienza at HuffPo). What, you may ask, is a "conservative" movie? Well, in this case it refers to films "that offer compelling messages about freedom, families, patriotism, traditions, and more." With such a generic definition, this should be an entertaining list. Personally, I think it shows the utter bankruptcy of the very concept of a single "conservative" ideology in 2009 America. Cue the snark.

1. The Lives of Others. Beyond a doubt, this is one of my all-time favorite movies. Set in East Berlin in 1984, it tells the story of a Stasi spy assigned to snoop on a barely-tolerated subversive playwright, and how the spy comes to sympathize with the playwright's ideals and freedoms over the Communist system he has devoted his life to. Thinking that communism and totalitarianism suck is hardly the sole domain of "conservatives" anymore, though, so I hereby reclaim The Lives of Others for my fellow political independents.

2. The Incredibles. Another one of my favorite movies, said to "celebrate marriage, courage, responsibility, and high achievement." These are "conservative" values? I think someone missed the last 8 years.

3. Metropolitan. I haven't seen it, but it apparently involves a normal guy showing up a bunch of effete New York snobs. And that's really what conservatives are all about.

4. Forrest Gump. The title character is described as "an amiable dunce who is far too smart to embrace the lethal values of the 1960s." I suppose that is one way of interpreting it, but I got a rather strong anti-everything-stupid vibe from the movie, not just limited to hippies. Meh.

5. 300. Seriously. 300 is considered a conservative film. Beefcake in leather speedoes being fed into a meat grinder in the name of defending a society that kills unfit individuals at birth. It is worth noting that a major cause of the eventual smackdown they receive (aside from being horrifically outnumbered) is the betrayal of one of those "unfit" individuals who was allowed to live, and man was he pissed. I suppose the lesson is that freedom isn't free and must be defended at all costs, which is why so many College Republicans have volunteered to go to Iraq. Oh wait...

I think I'll have to make this a series of sorts, since I'm not going through all 25 in one sitting. Besides, I like to leave my reader(s) wanting more...