Friday, April 11, 2003

Holy Shit! I'm going to the Flyers game tonight!! My law school friend Dave (well, one of them), asked me this morning what I was doing tonight. I looked at him like he had three heads and said "I'm watching the Flyers", with a clear inflection which conveyed a sense of "What the fuck do you think I'm doing?" I thought he was going to suggest that we go out to some sports bar or something, which I would have had to reluctantly decline. You see... tonight is the big night. Lima Beanz, in a moment of semi-drunken bravado, bet me $10 that he could drink three beers per period during tonight's game. Easy money, it seems to me, because Lima Beanz is way out of shape when it comes to drinking. But no, Dave asked me if I wanted to see the game live. My mind froze. I fell over onto the cold hard cement. I could feel the rain falling gently on the back of my head as I stared blankly into the barren ground, drool falling slowly from my quivering lips. After being resuscitated, I agreed. I can't even express to you how excited I am to be going.

If you're reading this, Lima Beanz, you are NOT off the hook. You have two options: either do the nine per period tonight, and we'll settle up when I see you again after the game, or postpone to another game, with the understanding that if the Flyers are eliminated before you have a chance to do it, I win by default.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Dangerous Dickheads. DailyKos has a post about the Baseball Hall of Fame cancelling their planned 15th anniversary celebration of Bull Durham because Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins are against the war. I'm speechless. Check out the coments on dKos's post and you'll see a fierce debate about free speech. Unfortunately, both sides seem to have it wrong. This really isn't a free speech issue. It's a dickhead issue. It reminds of the proposed Dixie Chicks ban I told you about. [Recap: the 3L class president wanted to band Dixie Chicks music from the annual Barrister's Ball, but was eventually overruled.]

The Baseball Hall of Fame is under no Constitutional, legal, or even moral obligation to celebrate the 15th anniversay of Bull Durham. It sure would have been nice, though, as it is an excellent film deserving of special recognition. But the celebration was cancelled merely because Sarandon and Robbins are against the war in Iraq and aren't terribly fond of Bush. What possible motivation could there be for this decision, do you think? Hmm, well, maybe they could have sat down with Sarandon and Robbins and discussed the issue, agreeing to a no-politics rule. I can't say for sure, but I bet that would have been fine, especially considering Sarandon's performance at the Oscars: she briefly flashed the "peace" sign, and made no other comment. Obviously, Susan Sarandon is not Michael Moore, and she can keep her opinions to herself when she feels it appropriate to do so.

Alternatively, the Hall of Fame could have come up with some lame, obviously bogus explanation for cancelling the event. Even if Robbins and Sarandon were aware of what was really going on, it probably wouldn't have hit the news, and you and I wouldn't be talking about it.

Unfotunately, the Hall of Fame didn't do this. They decided, instead, to cancel the event because of Sarandon's and Robbins's political views, to tell them so explicitly, and now we've got a problem. Why? Because it further ingrains the idea, gaining more power everyday, that dissent will not be tolerated in this country. This is another development in the Republican PC campaign. Apparently, you are not allowed to publicly disagree with the President during war time. I should have to say this, but this is actually a pretty recent development in this country. Well, at least, this is a new iteration. Political dissenters were jailed in the early 19th century, and dissent during World War I was a very, very dangerous activity. But lately, we've all basically come to expect that, in this country, we're allowed to publicly disagree with our leaders.

Not for much longer, I'm afraid. Oh, there's not going to be any law passed any time soon to make it a crime to disagree with Bush. Even the feckless and timid Democrats would stand up to anything like that. But there will be a social cost to dissent, enforced by the P.C. Police (which is just about every Republican politician and pundit in the country). It's that social cost that's be wielded against Sarandon and Robbins. Bull Durham has nothing to do with war in Iraq, or with George W. Bush, or any of that. It's a great movie about baseball. But it won't get it's 15th Anniversary celebration because the Baseball Hall of Fame is run by a bunch of dickheads.

But they're dangerous dickheads, because everytime the P.C. Police enforce the Party line against foolish dissenters, the societal pressure to conform gets stronger. Welcome to the New America. Agree with Bush, or Shut Your God-Damned Face, You Treasonous Fuck!
So What? Philippe de Croy at The Volokh Conspiracy has been listening to NPR a lot lately (and so have I). He claims that he's figured out the anti-Bush playbook. Well, I hate Bush, and I have my own little internet soapbox where I discuss that quite openly, so I'm something of an expert of the anti-Bush playbook. So let's take a look: First, he says, we must "Make clear that it was obvious all along what the military outcome would be, and that skepticism about it formed no part of your opposition to the war." Time out! It was obvious all along what the military outcome would be. Everybody said so. Liberals said "It might not be as easy as the White House is leading people to believe," and it wasn't. But everybody knew that the U.S. military would win militarily. That's what they're trained to do, and there's no better military in the world. Yes, the Super Bowl champs have beaten the local High School squad. So let's have a party and re-elect Bush while we're at it, because only a truly great President could have pulled off the military defeat of Saddam Hussein!!

Ok, let me wipe the vomit off of my chin, and then we'll continue. "State that of course you are happy for the Iraqi people -- those who weren't killed in the invasion -- but be careful never to end a sentence that way. Instead, always follow that sentiment with another that begins "but," or "; I only wish..." or "I only hope..." and then segue into other concerns -- the "diplomatic mess" we've created, or the "long term" picture, or "winning the peace," and so forth." Ok, I do this all the time. In fact, I did something like this just yesterday in an e-mail to Keith. But this is entirely in keeping with what I will call the liberal conception of the war. First, secure the military victory, which might be difficult but will definitely be achieved. Second, turn your attention to the deeper issues, the thornier problems, and the potential diplomatic pitfalls. Right now, we're on the cusp of that divide. Therefore, I'm very happy for the Iraqi people, but I hope we do better with Iraq than we did in Afghanistan. I was very happy for the Afghans, too, when women began throwing down their burqas and attending public schools. But, a year later, the situation in Afghanistan has not progressed, and is threatening to slide back into Taliban hands. I've said from the beginning that this entire enterprised must be judged, and can only be judged, by the situation in Iraq post-Saddam. So far, it's a kind of jubilant anarchy, as far as I can tell. For the rest, we'll have to wait see, and liberals would be well advised to mention the considerable difficulties that the Bush Administration will have to face, to try to make sure that those challenges are met.

"Talk a lot about things that "aren't clear" or that "remain to be seen." These sorts of assertions are good because they are hard to falsify. E.g.: "it's not clear how much of the excitement the Iraqis are showing is because Saddam is gone and how much of it is because of all the looting they are able to do." Or: "it remains to be seen whether the factions in the country can be governed in anything like the way the administration is imagining."" Is it clear what the Iraqis are celebrating? Is it clear that the factions can be governed? In other words, are these not perfectly good questions?

"Be forward-looking. Or past-looking. The point is to de-emphasize the present. Dwell on what hasn't been done, not what has been done. The sudden liberation of millions of people from tyranny is not, repeat not, the most important thing. Say that what counts is what comes next, that all this will only be meaningful if it ends up leading to true democracy and prosperity for Iraq." Excuse me? Let's try a thought experiment: imagine that the next leader of Iraq is a cruel and despotic dictator named Dassam Suhhein, who terrorizes his citizens, executes political dissidents, and starts trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction so he can sell them to international terrorists, then what's this war been for? Is it a good thing that Saddam Hussein is out of power? Certainly! But what comes next is more important, because we don't yet know what exactly the Iraqis have gained. We know that they will no longer be terrorized by Saddam Hussein. Do we know that they will no longer be terrorized? No we don't, and we must make it our mission to assure that they are not.

"Remember: you haven't been proven wrong about anything, and the neocons haven't been proven right about anything." Speaking for myself, I can't think of anything I've been proven wrong about yet. The neocons? They've been proven wrong about Iraq being a "cakewalk". It wasn't. It still isn't.

What really annoys me that de Croy doesn't refute, or even address, and of the claims or arguments he is attributing to the Bush-haters. He is merely objecting, I suppose, to the structure of those arguments, and their presentation. So what? Are these arguments wrong? Why?

It seems to me that conservatives everywhere do not merely want to declare the military mission to be a victory, but they seem to want to claim, or imply, that our objectives have been achieved and we should all pat ourselves on the back. Well, our military objections have been achieved, mostly, and that's wonderful. But liberals have been saying all along that the military phase would be the easy part, and many liberals, including myself, opposed this war in part because they didn't trust the Bush Administration to handle the hard part, which is starting now.

The point is, if you want to criticize the liberal critics, do it. But de Croy's snarky post is entirely without content, and fails to address any of the legitimate and very serious issues raised by the "Bush-haters".
Battleground God. I was telling Lima Beanz and Jenna about this quiz about belief in God. Before Keith jumps down my throat, let me make clear that this quiz has no stake in pushing for a particular religious view. If you take the quiz, and I hope you do, you will be asked 17 true or false questions. Your answers will be evaluated on two levels. One, if any answer is logically inconsistent with a previous answer, you will take a "direct hit" (your character, innocently walking through the philosophical quagmire, will be shot). Two, if you have an opinion which most people would find ridiculous or what-have-you, you must "bite the bullet".

The idea behind the quiz is to prompt people to think more deeply about their beliefs concerning God. I took the quiz and got a perfect score, in that all of my answers were internally consistent. This doesn't mean, of course, that my views are correct, or that someone with very different views would necessarily score worse. The idea is to promote discussion of these ideas.

Take the quiz. Check it out. Let me know how it goes.

UPDATE: I don't mean to sound like I'm boasting about my perfect score. I'm not. I was a philosophy major, so I spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about things like this and caring about the internal logical consistency of my beliefs. In other words, I'm a freak, deserving of pity, not praise. But then, you all knew that already, didn't you?

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Today Was a Good Day. I didn't even have to use my AK. But seriously, Josh Marshall, long-time Terminus favorite, has this post, the first in a series (scroll up) trying to put today's dramatic events in ther proper context. The key points are these: 1) on a basic level, it is very good news that so many Iraqis seem to be jubilant at the overthrow of Saddam Hussein; 2) in the long term, this could turn out to be really really good news if it translates to a fundamental change in perception throught the Middle East and the world, 3) the toughest battles will still take place after the war, and they'll be fought not by soldiers, but by politicians and beauracrats, and there's still a lot that could go wrong if we're not careful.

Despite the difficult road ahead, Josh wittles it down for us, and says simply and eloquently that today was a good day.
NHL Playoffs Begin Tonight. Once again we are at that wonderfully exciting time of year: the NHL playoffs are about to begin, the NBA playoffs are around the corner, and Major League Baseball is underway!! The Flyers open a seven game series tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Philadelphia. Shortly, I will head over to Duke's apartment to commence my annual tradition of drinking two beers per period of Flyers playoff hockey. It's fun and exciting, and makes sure that, no matter what the result, I will be in the proper frame of mind. Happy drunk or sad drunk: it's all up to the Flyers.

I have a good feeling about this series, and a good feeling about tonight's game. I think if the Flyers can out strong, they can put the Maple Leafs on the ropes early. Looking ahead, if the Flyers could manage to win the first two gams in Philly, it'll be all but over for Toronto. On the other hand, Toronto is going to play a very tough brand of physical hockey that would wear anybody down. That makes them a very difficult team to come back against. If the Flyers fall behind, it will be a very difficult series for them to win.

Fortunately, the Flyers finished the season fairly strong, unlike last year when they couldn't buy a goal in the final month of the season. They're playing well, and they look like a team. They've got scoring threats on every line, their defense has been solid, and their goaltender, Roman Cechmanek, has had a sterling year. Their powerplay is still something of a liability, but they've managed to pick it up a bit lately. It should be a really good series, because Toronto is a quality club that plays very hard (and very dirty). If this series goes into six or seven games, things will probably get pretty damn crazy.

Playoff hockey is damn near a totally different sport than regular season hockey, and every little thing takes on huge signifcance. A defensive zone face-off is an edge-of-your-seat moment, and a penalty kill can create nearly unbearable tension. It's extremely exciting, and I can't wait to get started.
Land of 1000 Wars. I know we're all thinking about Iraq right now, but we should start thinking very seriously about Syria. It's beginning to look like the next war could get started pretty damn soon. Last week, the U.S. Secretary of Offense warned Syria to stop sending night-vision goggles into Iraq. There is significant debate on the question of whether or not Syria was actually doing anything of the kind, but now Rumsfeld isaying that they haven't stopped. See this, from BBC News (scroll down to the entry for 1852 GMT). Is Syria the next target? It's certainly beginning to look that way, especially now that Rummy is claiming that high level Iraqi officials are hiding out in Syria. This could be the beginning of the big media campaign aimed at the American public, to convince us to get behind an expansion of the current war into Syria.

I'm very much afraid that we're going to start leapfrogging from war to unnecessary war, one after the other. And if Afghanistan is anything to go by, we might not wait to finish one war before we start the next. The American people didn't sign on to this. They just barely signed on to Iraq, and they only did so after being barraged by false and distorted "evidence". On the other hand, the country is gripped by the patriotic furore of war, and they are much more likely to follow their leaders with little question.

In the meantime, as we go from war to war to war, Republicans in Congress, in newspapers, on television, and on the internet, will continue to hammer any and every Democrat as "unpatriotic" for any and every disagreement or objection they give voice to.

So let me get out in front of this one: Syria does not threaten us. There is no earthly reason we should put our soldiers in harm's way. Invading Syria will not make us safer in the short term, and the long term is anyone's guess. An invasion of Syria is unjustified, unwarranted, most probably illegal, and simply not a good idea. Iraq is going to be a big problem long after the war is nominally over, just like Afghanistan is a big problem right now.

Win the war. Stop the war. Concentrate on the peace.
Another Step Toward Tyranny? Republicans in Congress are gearing up to try to make post-9/11 security measures found in the USA PATRIOT Act (which few legislators, if any, actually read before voting on it) permanent. As it stands now, many of the provisions on the Act are scheduled to expire at the end of 2005 unless they are re-authorized. The Republicans just want to skip the re-authorization process entirely and just cut to the chase: make them permanent now.

This is a terrible idea, and a threat to liberty in America. Even now, the government of this country is holding American citizens in prison with secret evidence, no access to counsel or family, and no access to judicial review. What this means is that the government, currently, has the power to arrest literally anyone for literally any reason (or no reason at all), and hold them literally forever, without trial, without a lawyer, without even charging them of a crime. Even if we assume that, to date, no one in the government has abused this authority at all, this is still a state of affairs that every freedom-loving American should oppose. We cannot allow the government to have that kind of power. Rather than make these these permanent, they should be repealed.

Everyone always talks about terrorism, and how we need these new laws to protect us against terrorists. Yet, no one has ever managed to show exactly how these things are supposed to help. More importantly, no one has been able to show that simple civil rights protection mechanisms, which would help protect against both intentional governmental misconduct as well as honest law enforcement mistakes, would in any way hinder our security. Since 9/11, the government has taken every opportunity to expand its powers, expand its ability to compile and maintain detailed data on all citizens, expand its ability to incarcerate people, restrict the ability of the public to act as a watchdog on federal power. Remember, the Republicans are supposed to be the "small government" people.

I know that when anyone hears this stuff they just sort of roll their eyes and ignore it. But imagine if it were you. Even worse, imagine if it was someone you loved. Imagine if some FBI guy, honestly or not, decided to arrest and incarcerate your father, on secret evidence, with no charges. Your father, an American citizen, couldn't see visitors, would have no attorney, and would never get a day in court. You would never know why he was taken, what crime he was suspected of committing, if any, or even where he was being held. Seriously, take a moment and imagine that. If you have white skin, then it's very unlikely that you will ever face this situation. But shouldn't the Constitution apply equally to all people, regardless of race? In fact, doesn't the Fourteenth Amendment specifically say that?

Ever since 9/11, the Constitution has been basically ignored, especially (but by no means exclusively) by the Republicans. The damage has been done, but it can be limited, and overtime, rolled back. The American Civil Liberties Union has been on top of this issue right from the start. I hope that, this time, the Libertarian Party, which claims to support individual liberty and Constitutional rights, stands up to their Republican paymasters and demands that the Constitution be upheld.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Phone Booth. I saw this film on Saturday with Lima Beanz, The Duke, and Jenna. I enjoyed it tremendously, and I was very happy to notice that it won the box office this weekend with $15 million. According to IMDb, the film only cost $10 million. Anytime a film makes 150% of its budget in its opening weekend, that film is a huge hit, even if doesn't make all that much money.

The film is driven by a fantastic performance by Colin Ferrell, and also by Kiefer Sutherland as the menacing voice on the other end of the phone. The film is extremely short, clocking in at only about 80 minutes, and this is a huge benefit for it. It's compact, and it doesn't include a lot of superfluous material. It's very tight, which makes for a very effective thriller. I also love the of a disembodied voice on the other end of a telephone holding a man's life in the balance, and punishing the man for his sins. There's a sense in which any person exerting control or passing judgment on another person is "playing God", but this set-up makes the link that much clearer, and that much more effective.

But one of the most surprising aspects of the film is its humor. The main character, Stu, is an extremely quick-witted smart-ass, and he deals with the unimaginable stress of his situation by employing sarcastic humor at every turn. The Voice, on the other hand, also uses some lovely homorous flourishes, which makes him that much more interesting than your standard homicidal maniac / serial killer.

Lima Beanz, I think, was disappointed that the villainous character was never given very much motivation, but I think that's fine. A clear part of Stu's predicament is the arbitrariness of it. Stu is a pretty shitty guy, but he's not evil, or a child-molester, or anything like that. There must be millions of people in New York City alone who are at least as guilty as Stu, but Stu was targetted. This makes a crucial point about the arbitrariness of God's judgment (a point made in far more depth by one of my favorite Woody Allen films, Crimes and Misdemeanors). If you're one of those religious bigots who thinks that AIDS was God's judgment against homosexuals, you have to concede that AIDS spared a lot of homosexuals, and kills a lot of heterosexuals. Seems a pretty arbitrary punishment, right? If you believe that God actively punishes wrongdoers, you have to wonder if He's always paying attention.

Of course, talking about God-metaphors in movies tends to put off the general viewer, and I don't want to do that. It is a very tight film, highly entertaining, and wonderfully tense. I recommend it without reservation.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Mosco Missed the Point. My friend Mosco has written this witless and moronic post on his witless but highly amusing blog. Who's heard this hip-hop song that goes "I know I can / Be what I want to be / If I work hard at it / I'll be where I want to be"? I don't remember the title or the name of the artist, but I've seen the video several times. Let me go on record saying that I think the song sucks hard, but it has an excellent and important message which Mosco managed to miss entirely.

The song is directed at urban minority youths, who unfortunately did not enjoy the priviledges of Mosco's middle-class suburban upbringing. Mosco's claim is that the message, as quoted above, is simply wrong. Technically, I suppose I have to agree with him. But the song is so much more than. The point isn't that any kid can do anything they want if they work hard enough. The point is that every kid has a multitude of options. The point is to keep your head up, don't get yourself dragged down by the pimps, pushers, and prostitutes, the gangs and the guns, the thugs and the dealers and the crooked cops. The point is that you don't have to conform to the "Thug-Life" culture, you can make your own way. The point is that blacks are the inheritors of a gloriously rich cultural and historical legacy, which is de-emphasized, if not ignored, in American public schools. The point is that urban minority children must actively resist te defeatist elements that surround them, and rise above the special obstacles that they were unfortunate enough to be born into.

The song makes an important statement that rap artists are in a particularly good position to make. Despite the fact that I don't care for the song on a musical level, I'm glad that it's a hit, and that it gets radio-play and air-time on MTV. As a longtime fan of Public Enemy, I'm always gratified to see other musicians pursuing music that has a message deeper than "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes."
Depressing Developments. I'm tempted to rage against the incompetent short-sightedness of the Bush Administration, and there's no doubt that they deserve it, but I just don't have the strength. I just feel dejected and helpless. Is this really the best we could manage?

The New York Times reports this morning that the Taliban is still very much a force in Afghanistan. This is the quote that kills me: "...the Taliban is not only determined to remain a force in [Afghanistan], but is reorganizing and reviving its command structure." Read the article. Ask yourself, who the hell is in charge of all this shit?

Homeland Security is about a lot more than color-coded warning systems and draconian reductions in civil liberty protections. Our homeland security depends on the political stability of the Karzai regime. It is not politically stable. If the Taliban, or something like it, is allowed to regain control of major portions of Afghanistan, then we'll have to deal with them all over again. Unless, of course, we're too busy with Iraq, Syria, Iran, or whomever.
The Bond Project: Tomorrow Never Dies. The first thing I think of when I think about this film is the title. It was supposed to be "Tomorrow Never Lies", which makes an awful lot more sense given the story, but it somehow got miscommunicated at some step along the way, and the producers, foolishly, decided to go along with the error. Still, "a rose by any other name" and all that. Had the title been the more appropriate "Tomorrow Never Lies", this film still wouldn't be all that good.

Beginning with the positive, we have an extremely slick and glossy modern action movie. The Bond franchise continues to maintain a very high standard of special effects, and this film is chock full of spectacular action set-pieces. The problem, as usual, comes down to the script. We have in this film a man who might just be the dumbest Bond villain in history. Consider how MI6 figured out that Eliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) was behind everything: they deduced that they printed their newspapers before the news possibly could have been known. What an obvious blunder! Proceeding from this is the usual cat and mouse sequence in which Bond socializes with the man he already knows to be guilty for the purpose of discovering is overall masterplan.

This film throws Teri Hatcher into the mix, in a role bursting with unfulfilled potential. Hatcher's character was underwritten, and Hatcher's performance totally failed to add any interest or depth to her character. The set-up of having Bond rely on a gilted former-girlfriend for vital information allows the development of an added dynamic to the film. Fortunately or unfortunately, Hatcher's character is killed off very abruptly with very little fanfare. The scene immediately following her death is awful also. Vincent Schiavelli's performance as the sinister Dr. Kaufman is awful. It works extremely well as a stand-alone scene, and it's far past time that someone took a few jabs at the hackneyed "torturer taunting the intended victim" scene, but the humor of it hits a very bad note in context with the death of the film. The movie asked us, the audience, to care about Hatcher's character, and then followed up her death with a humorous scene, making clear that this apparently big event is to have no impact whatsoever.

Michelle Yeoh's appearance is much applauded by Bond fans, but I don't really see why. She's basically a pale retread of Anya Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me, without the emotional element. Ok, so she kicks ass, and as nice as it is to have a "Bond-girl" who really is a near-equal to Bond himself, it would be better still if the filmmakers bothered to make an interesting character out of her. They did not. As impressive as the fight-scenes and stunts are, Wai Lin is actually an even less interesting character than Paris Carver, which is admittedly something of an achievement in itself.

What works about this movie is the themes and ideas bubling beneath the surface. Elliot Carver is a wicked amalgam of Rupert Murdoch and Charles Foster Kane (and I never imagined to see a Bond film making reference to Citizen Kane, but then, The Spy Who Loved Me used a musical cue from Lawrence of Arabia, so why not? This film actually makes powerful points about several issues that are near and dear to my heart: the power of the media, and the dangers of media conglomeration. But, if anything has been made clear by this point, a Bond film does not live and die by its underlying themes.

Despite welcome appearances by Joe Don Baker (Mitchell!) and Geoffrey Palmer (whose interactions with Judi Dench are particularly delicious if, like me, you are a fan of "As Time Goes By"), this film is, all in all, rather slight and unsatisfying. It isn't bad, by any stretch, and it's actually a lot of fun. But it tilts a bit too far toward humor, which undercuts the power of the visuals, the action, and the themes.

The Bottom Line: Not a great film, but an enjoyable action film despite its flaws.

The Bond Project will continue with The World is Not Enough.

UPDATE: Permalinks are all screwed up, so I haven't been able to add this to the navi-bar yet. This may delay the final conclusion of the Project.