Thursday, December 05, 2002

This One's For Tucker. I've talked a lot about my friend Tucker on this blog, and he's mentioned me a fair bit on his. But when I read this article, I thought immediately of him. You see, while Tucker and I have a lot in common and get along very well, we're awfully far apart politically. But more than that even, we approach politics very differently. Tucker has a much more common approach to politics: he reads and watches the news, forms his opinions, and votes his conscious. So do I, obviously, but I'm a political junky, and he isn't. Makes a huge difference... trust me. It's difficult for us to argue about anything at all for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is that we don't hear the same news. Tucker is a big fan of local news. He sends personal emails to one of the local Philadelphia TV-weathermen. I don't know why. As for me, I couldn't name a single Philadelphia area TV weatherman. I don't watch local news. It doesn't interest me at all. I read the New York Times, which Tucker says is so full of "such extreme radicals" that it's "scary". How can I talk to him about progressive values, much less progressive tax cuts? He thinks Al Gore is a socialist who wants to ban the internal combustion engine.

I don't mean to pick on Tucker. It's not that I'm right and he's wrong. We both have valid opinions which can be argued in an honest and respectful manner. But, because our exposure to politics is so different, and comes from such different forms, and is informed by such a different background and upbringing (despite the fact that we live in the same town and grew up in the same church and schools), it is almost impossible for us to really communicate. We speak right past each other, most times.

Anyway, I got this article via The Hamster, who picked it up from the Denver Post. It's about what the word "liberal" really means. And I posted it here, rather than just emailing it to Tucker, because it's a useful reminder to all of us that the conservative demonization of "libruls" is a relatively recent phenomenon. You don't have to go back very far to see a country where liberals were admired for all the good they had done for the country.

I'm proud to be a liberal. I'm proud that my intellectual and political forebears were on the right side of Civil Rights, were on the right side of the New Deal, and were on the right side of the environment, to name just a few examples. We gave the country Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Civil Rights Act, women's suffrage, equal protection under the law for all races, religious, ethnicities, nationalities, and (someday soon, I hope) sexual orientations. What's so evil about all that?
Snowed In. It's December 5th, and South Jersey, along with most of the East Coast, apparently, is under a blanket of snow. That's unusual. It's pretty rare, from my recollection, that this area gets much snow to speak of before January. A White Christmas, for instance, seemed throughout my childhood about as likely as getting "The Whole Collection" of Star Wars toys (a persistent boyhood dream). Fortunately, I don't have anywhere to be today anyway. Although I did just trek out to Blockbuster Video to return In the Bedroom, which is an excellent film that I reccommend wholeheartedly to anyone who has the patience for a serious drama. Anyway, yesterday was my last day of class at Law School, so this is the "reading period" leading up to finals. Finals start Monday, but my first one is on Wednesday. It's going to be a fun couple of weeks, let me tell you. This blog is one of the things that helps keep me sane.

Let me give a snow-covered shout-out to my main man Lima Beanz, who presumably is not substitute teaching at our old high school this particular day, though he has been all week. On the off chance that one of the current students of that particular high school (Sterling, in Somerdale) is a reader of this site, let me just say that Lima Beanz is the one with the body of an Adonis. Make sure you call him Lima Beanz. He loves that.

Onward to more serious topics. Liberal Oasis is kicking some serious ass today, which is by no means unusual. Seriously, and not be be too sycophantic, that site blows me away all the time. Top notch work, and what I wish my site could be. Anyway, today they are talking about the brewing tax debate. We all know the Republican position. If the economy is doing poorly, we need more tax cuts. If the economy is doing well, we need more tax cuts. In fact, no matter what is happening anywhere in the world, the Republicans are ready, willing, and able to argue that it necessitates more tax cuts. Let's cut through the bullshit.

We do need more tax cuts, but as I've argued here many times, not all tax cuts are created equal. A tax cut is a fiscal policy manuever employed by the government (at whatever level) to achieve a desired effect. The way to design a tax cut is to formulate a goal (i.e., stimulate the economy) and craft your tax cut in such a way as to most effectively achieve that goal. But that's all policy, and as we now know, there is very little policy going on in the Bush White House. It's all politics. How does the politics end of it work? It's similar. First, you formulate a political goal (i.e., cut the tax liability of your political support, corporations and the very wealthy), craft your tax cut to achieve that goal, and then tell the country that your tax cut will actually achieve the policy goal, even though everyone who knows about tax cuts knows that it probably won't (or, at least, that it won't work nearly as well, policy-wise, as another tax cut which wouldn't meat the political goal). Is that clear? Because that is exactly what the Bush Administration has been doing all along, all the way back to the days when it wasn't the Bush Administration, but only the Bush Campaign. This is what they do, and they've gotten away with it at every turn. And exactly what policy goals has the Bush economic plan achieved? Well, the economy is still pretty sluggish, unemployment is still high relative to the Clinton years, and likely to be a lot worse next year. You decide.

Rather than repeating the whole debate for you, just check out LiberalO's analysis of it in today's post (follow the link above).

And be sure to scroll-down to the Quick Hits section, where it is revealed that Bush doesn't know what TANF is. If you're not a policy-wonk, you probably don't either. It's what is commonly referred to as welfare. The President not knowing that is roughly equivalent to a pilot not knowing what altitude is. I would like to thank Dean Barkley, the Independent Senator from Minnesota who is filling the gap between Paul Wellstone and Norm Coleman, for pointing out, matter-of-factly, that the emperor is stark fucking naked. The article is here.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

The Bond Project: The Man with the Golden Gun. The ninth Bond film is a huge improvement over the previous two, but still leaves a lot to be desired. Its assets include the one and only Christopher Lee as the main villain Francisco Scaramanga, the Man with the Golden Gun. It also boasts a star, Roger Moore, who has grown considerably more comfortable in the role since his debut outing. But, it suffers from some of the same problems as the last two entries. Camp has grown out of control. We see here the return of Sheriff J. W. Pepper, this time vacationing in Hong Kong (say what?!). Yes, his inclusion in this film represents the single worst creative decision in the history of the franchise. Pepper does nothing to advance the story (no, he brings it to a halt), and he provides no entertainment value, unless you delight in revelling in coarse, offensive, cultural stereotypes.

Still, there is some good in this film. It starts a little slow, and it isn't really until rather far along that the story starts to come together. First, the audience thinks that Scaramanga is trying to kill Bond. So, Bond tries to find Scaramanga first, and his investigation leads him to the man who makes Scaramanga's bullets, which leads him to Scaramanga's mule, the lovely Maud Adams in her first Bond-girl role. Eventually, we learn that Scaramanga isn't out to kill Bond at all, but is actually working for Hai Fat, and the whole scheme was about retrieving this Solex Agitator thingumajig and, umm, I guess, kinda, ruling the world somehow. Whatever.

This doesn't last very long, though, because pretty soon, Scaramanga kills Hai Fat and takes over the movie (which, given the title, isn't much of a shock). Scaramanga retreats to what would have been Hai Fat's lair, with only his girlfriend, his diminuitive manservant, and an anonymous security guard. He also abducts Bond's helpless partner, Mary Goodnight, who is ostensibly an intelligence agent, but shows all the cunning, resourcefulness, and intellectual prowess of a ham sandwich. It's here that the movie really starts. Everything before Bond's arrival on the island (that is, everything before the final act) is just prelude. Everything important in this film happens on the island. The rest is just ninety minutes of build-up of practically no consequence. Start the film at Chapter 24 of the DVD (which, according to the booklet, is called "Expected Guess", but wouldn't "Expected Guest" make more sense?) and the movie will be significantly shorter, and no less enjoyable.

The crux of this film is the battle between Scaramanga and Bond. Scaramanga is meant to be an "evil" version of Bond, but he's not so much evil as ruthlessly amoral. I like that in a villain. Evil is so over-the-top. Scaramanga is also debonair, sophisticated, tasteful, and deadly, just like Bond. Scaramanga is also a rapist, just like Bond, but he doesn't seem to have Bond's legendary ability to acquire after-the-fact consent by the mere proficiency of his lovemaking. Scaramanga also dies in the end. Those are the essential differences.

The problem with this truncated version of the film is that it ends up giving far more time, proportionally, to the elaborate and totally corny lair in which Scaramanga battles his foes. But then, I told you the film was campy. Plus, it actually seems reasonable, given Scaramanga's circus background, that he would have something like this. My only question is why, before Hai Fat was killed, when Scaramanga was simply an assassin employed as a means to an end, Hai Fat would have permitted Scaramanga to construct his lair on the same island as Hai Fat's own lair. But this is precisely the sort of detail-oriented, picky, plot-question that the Bond films try very hard to dissuade you from acting (usually by employing spectacular stunts with hideously cheesy sound effects to completely undermine the intended effect... the second worst creative decision in this particular film).

The Bottom Line: For all its faults, and I've mentioned more than a few, The Man with the Golden Gun is a significant improvement on the last two entries in the series, and shows that the franchise was heading in the right direction.

The Bond Project will continue with The Spy Who Loved Me.