Friday, April 30, 2004

The UN begins to crumble?

Here is commentary on a recent speech by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. The speech itself can be found with the Paul Martin Times website.

The article has the following shocking first sentence:
With yesterday's landmark speech, Paul Martin tacitly acknowledged what Canada's foreign policy establishment has refused to accept for decades: that the United Nations is a failure, for which there is no solution.
Assuming for the moment that the Prime Minister's remarks will be allowed to stand, we have a non-hegemon, non-hyperpower actively admitting that the United Nations needs to be replaced. I can already hear the great tidal wave of outrage building from the American Left.

The Left's entire political project for building a "just world politics" will have to be throw in the garbage if there were no United Nations to accept America's surrendered sovereignty. Just think of all those American laws that can't get overturned by judicially activist judges when they don't have the United Nations to make precedent anymore.

Back to reality. Despite the United Nations' incredible ineptness, staggering inefficiency, and the oil-for-food scandal, it is still way too valuable to the American Left's dreams of global domination to be eliminated any time soon. You'll know that there is a serious movement to eliminate the United Nations when the American establishment media becomes the "All-UN, all the time" echo chamber.

Monday, April 26, 2004

For future reference...

Roger Ebert explains his rating system.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Wake me when the Middle Ages are over.

Here is a nifty quote by Senator John Kerry (as part of an answer to a question related to Iraq) on Meet the Press last Sunday:
I will immediately reach out to other nations in a very different way from this administration. Within weeks of being inaugurated, I will return to the U.N. and I will literally, formally rejoin the community of nations and turn over a proud new chapter in America's relationship with the world, which will do a number of things.
When, exactly, did the United States get literally, formally barred from the community of nations?

Somehow this quote makes me wonder if our world isn't just playing out the Middle Ages all over again. Instead of the Catholic Church, we have the United Nations. Instead of the Holy Roman Empire, we have the United States. Unilateralism is now one of the seven deadly sins. And I'm sure that Jacques Chirac would agree that any country that joins in a coalition of the willing with the "excommunicated" United States is also in peril of "excommunication" from the "community of nations".

Perhaps President Bush might just have to stand outside of the gate at Canossa, so to speak, to get back into the good graces of "Pope" Kofi Annan.

Blogging with greatness

Blogger ModernEmily and her father have tracked down and photographed the real life Indiana Jones. Amazing!

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Kill Bill, Volume 2 (2004)

Vacuum Energy rating: no stars
Background information about "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" is available at The Internet Movie Database

Here is the long awaited sequel to Vol. 1, in which The Bride finally tracks down and kills the remaining members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Budd and Elle Driver) and their leader, Bill. To give director Quentin Tarantino credit, there is substantially less gore and violence in this installment, although if the gore and violence were what you liked about Vol. 1 then this film is going to be a major bummer. This movie almost seems to go in the opposite direction, as if the director was overreacting to the violence in the original by developing a horror of bloodshed in the sequel. This disconnect between original and sequel remains a constant throughout the film.

The first target of The Bride is Budd, who appears to have declined substantially from his days as international assassin making huge sums of money to barely getting by as the bouncer in a two-bit strip joint. He is warned by Bill that The Bride is coming for him, but Budd is willing to take his chances alone. This is all well and good since The Bride is speedily incapacitated by Budd when she just jumps through the front door with a sword even though she knows Budd is right there on the other side. And yet, since a movie titled Kill Bill can't have the main character predecease Bill, Budd merely knocks her down with a shotgun loaded with rock salt.

This sets up the first of the obligatory and characteristic scenes of Quentin Tarantino's work, which we might call a "Tarantino" moment, in which the slow motion threat of physical death confonting a character makes even the most ludicrous dialogue seem to have a psychological weight entirely out of proportion to it's literal meaning. In this first instance, we have The Bride unconscious at the feet of the evil Budd, lost to the world in the middle of nowheres, but for the most part Budd makes nothing of it. Budd does labor to have The Bride buried alive, which gives us Tarantino at his most sadistic as he shows as nearly as possible with the film medium what it is like to be buried alive, then cuts away for a flashback as soon as the last spade of dirt is tossed onto the coffin.

The second Tarantino moment is given to Elle Driver, who is offered The Bride's Hattori Hanzo sword by Budd in exchange for a million dollars. As she appreciates the sword, Budd is attacked by a black mamba hidden in his briefcase full of cash (to make it look like The Bride, aka Black Mamba was to blame) and swiftly declines into paralysis from the venom. As he dies, Elle decides to lecture him about a web page on the black mamba that she found interesting, but Budd and the audience for the most part could not care less. In any case, Elle Driver soon meets up with The Bride (you didn't think she'd really stay buried alive, did you?), and is given the film's one true gross-out moment while, suprisingly enough, allowed to survive a movie devoted to her character's death. A third Tarantino moment pops up near the end, but given that it occurs in flashback, it plays like a listless pro forma concession, as if every Tarantino movie had to have three such moments and Vol. 2 was one short.

As for Bill, it turns out that he's been living a pretty comfortable life with The Bride's (and his) daughter. Given The Bride's aversion for violence in front of children, and some residual respect that she shares with Bill, the final death is only achieved after a considerable length of time tying up loose ends. And when the time finally comes for the climactic battle, Bill is killed in a few moments of fighting in a way that leaves no physical marks and which gives him a few moments to prepare for a dignified exit. Given the strange resignation of these characters to their fates, you could be forgiven if you thought they they basically all wanted to die, which in yet another way makes the strange driving passion of The Bride to kill them all the more bizarre. The movie's point seems largely to be that everyone could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had all just not bothered in the first place.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

A thought about "Kill Bill, Volume 2"

You knew it was going to happen. After months of media stories about the violence and perverse sadism of "The Passion of the Christ", the sequel to the equally violent and perverse "Kill Bill, Volume 1" was practically destined to get favorable reviews.

The process has already begun: David Edelstein, writing in Slate, states that "Tarantino is a sadistic freakā€”but, unlike some other filmmakers I can think of, he wears it proudly."

Reality check time

I just got done reading Andrew Sullivan's advice to Senator John Kerry on how to produce a coherent, liberal, and electible position on terrorism and Iraq. There is also an New York Times op-ed by Paul Berman on the same subject.

The kind of discussion that Sullivan and Bremer are making here just might work to get Kerry elected, for all we know, but I think these arguments have some problems that Sullivan and Berman haven't mentioned. The most obvious one, and in a sense the most critical one, is that the dangers that "Bush's Vietnam" pose to the United States are miniscule compared to the dangers of a potential "Kerry's Weimar Republic". The geopolitical situation of Iraq does bear a resemblance to that of post World War I Germany: both are powerful regional states made temporarily anemic by war, both are sustaining bodies of armed insurgents trying to reimpose an authoritarian regime, and both are caught in the crossfire of ideologies conflicting on a global scale. Mushy, feel-good liberalism is exactly the wrong thing for Iraq right now. Would you trust the Senate's most liberal senator not to promote that in Iraq as President?

Another problem is the complaint that President Bush is too "polarizing" of a figure to effectly engage our allies in the war on terror or to bring peace to Iraq. Of course, given that President Bush is the leader of a center-right administration in a world full of center-left welfare states, it would be nearly miraculous for President Bush to have avoided becoming a polarizing figure. And why is it that disagreements over American domestic policy, which is certainly a major component of the Bush "polarization", are only supposed to impeach the credibility of Republicans on national security issues?

By the way, maybe somebody should ask Senator Kerry (and Sullivan and Bremer) if the Democratic Party's campaign to "delegitimize" the Bush administration after the November 2000 elections hampered the Bush Administration's ability to address terrorism?

A lot of this argument is misdirection. For example, Paul Bremer writes:
His national security statement of 2002 flatly declared that totalitarianism no longer existed - a strange thing to say. War requires clarity. Here is incoherence
One the other hand, the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States states that:
The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom - and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.
Does a "decisive victory" over totalitarianism necessarily mean that totalitarianism "no longer exists"? Or to put it another way, can the President who had to replace the phrase "states of concern" with "axis of evil" in the popular lexicon really be the leader with the major confusion about the nature of good and evil or freedom and totalitarianism?

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Hindsight Bias and 9/11

Here is a great post from The desk of Jane Galt about the role of hindsight bias in the current political battle being waged around the 9/11 commission.

One of the games conservatives used to play back in the Clinton years was trying to guess what sorts of horrible disasters were getting swept under the rug, only to rear their ugly heads in the next administration. Asked for my guess (circa 1998 or 1999 or so), I replied with a recession and a major terrorist attack.

The logic on the recession was that given President Clinton's cozy relationships with Big Business (you don't really think that Enron was playing by the rules until Bush came around, do you?), Clinton would try to postpone the upcoming major recession as long as possible and hopefully have it fall on the head of his Republican successor. As for the terrorist attack, I assumed that if Clinton was depeleting the capabilities of our armed forces and that his Republican successor would naturally try to improve the capabilities of our armed forces, then the "local minimum" in America's military might, i.e. 2001, would be the ideal time for our enemies to launch an attack. Of course, given that the most pissed off belligerents around were Middle Eastern terrorists, I assumed the major 2001 terrorist strike would be on Israel, and not the United States.

The cultural rampage of blogging expands...

This made a conservative blogger's day.

Bush's Secret Tax on Democrats written in Slate bemoans how the alternative minimum tax is targeting more and more taxpayers.

Apparently originating as a solid "class warfare" tax on the rich, the AMT has mutated into an out of control tax monster now hunting down more and more of the middle-class. Don't hold your breath waiting for liberal Democratic champions of the middle class to turn against tax increases for the rich though.

Somehow it's all the Republican's fault, as usual:
Republicans don't want to fix the AMT because fixing the AMT would require undoing their beloved tax cuts. Without the billions generated by millions of taxpayers getting slammed by the AMT, the marginal rate cuts would be impossible to sustain for the next several years, let alone make permanent. Without the AMT, the deficit picture would look far worse than it does.
Yeah. One week Republicans are dastardly anarchists cutting taxes until deficit spending causes the government to collapse, and the next week Republicans are evil stingy bastards penny-pinching the middle class to keep revenues up.

Conservatives, on the other hand, don't like the AMT either.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

More internal politics at Vacuum Energy headquarters

Blogger ModernEmily wonders why her coworkers at Vacuum Energy headquarters are unresponsive to her announcement of acceptance into the JET program.

Give yourself a little credit ModernEmily. How do you think we feel about the prospect of replacing such a valuable coworker?

Saturday, April 10, 2004

The past presidents game

A popular entry into the game, given the Bush Administration's deficit spending and presumed "dirty tricks" from the 2000 elections returns, is that Bush is Nixon. Even Senator Kennedy has now endorsed this position.

Here is a rebuttal by John Trever of the The Albuquerque Journal, in the true Vacuuum Energy style. The best touch is how he depicts Senator Kennedy as a sort of bourgeoisie version of Baron Harkonnen.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Internal disputes at Vacuum Energy headquarters

Among the few successful and many unsuccessful topics for debate here at Vacuum Energy headquarters, some have gained nearly legendary status for the vehemence of the opposing sides. One such topic, flaring up into battle from time to time only to disappear as suddenly as it came, is the infamous internet "Kirk vs. Picard" controversy.

The dispute is as simple as the debate is intense: compare Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise from "Star Trek" to Captain Picard of the starship Enterprise-D from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and decide who is the superior in some arbitrary catagory of comparison. The intensity apparently arises from the presumed Left/Right characteristics of the two figures, with Captain Kirk being the Right-wing "Space Cowboy" while Captain Picard is the Left-wing "multicultural wimp".

Personally, I view this as more of a dispute between conflicting schools of criticism than as geek versus geek combat (but that is an entirely different conflict here).

To join the battle, watching episodes of the two shows is essential, but you can get some information at STARTREK.COM. Case in point: according to the official biographies, Kirk made Lieutenant upon graduating from the Academy at 21, made Captain of the Enterprise at 31, and made Admiral at 36 while Picard only made it onto a starship as Commander 6 years out of the academy at 28, made Captain on the same ship sometime within the subsequent 22 years, became Captain of the Enterprise-D 36 years out of the academy at 58, and turned down promotion to Admiral at 59. One character is the rising star of Starfleet groomed for a top position at the very start, while the other is your workhorse "Joe Captain" who made it through longevity.

But, if you don't believe me, examine The Top Infinite Reasons Kirk Is Better Than Picard. Although, to be fair, also examine 101 Reasons Why Picard Is Better Than Kirk.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Vacuum Energy is back

I think I learned the hard way that there are unreviewable movies out there. About 3 weeks ago I rented "Avalon" intending to post a review, but after multiple attempts at getting something written evolved into a major hiatus, it was time to give up and move on. I think you can consider this a no-star rating for "Avalon" also.

Wishful thinking on this scale is no longer unprecedented.

The Bush Administration has issued an economic report predicting that the 2007 level of non-farm payroll employment will be 10 million jobs higher than the 2003 level. This average rate of increase of employment is 10 million jobs over 4 years, and according to Paul Krugman, it is must be wishful thinking on an unprecedented scale that is evidence of a thorougly corrupted policy process.

On the other hand, John Kerry's detailed agenda is to add 10 million jobs in his first term. If you assume that's a net figure, then John Kerry is forecasting essentially the same average employment growth over the years 2005 to 2009 that Bush had forecasted for 2003 to 2007. Has political propaganda replaced professional analysis in the Kerry campaign?

If you believe that Kerry's figure is an estimate of gross employment growth, you might want to ask Kerry how many job losses the economy will generate during his first term.