Friday, May 28, 2004

Kerry on Iraq

The interactive Kerry on Iraq guide has been created by the Bush campaign (and noticed by Instapundit).

View it skeptically, of course, since the quotes could have been cherry-picked, but what interests me is that Kerry is generally tough on Iraq up through the October 2002 quote, but then gets tough on Bush starting with the January 2003 quote. Could it be that the Democratic defeats in the 2002 elections had something to do with Kerry racheting up the anti-Bush rhetoric?

Vacuum Energy: now with comments

As the long-time readers of this blog will notice, there is now a comments sections for every post. If ModernEmily can allow comments on her diary style blog, and she's gotten into some heavy blog-vs-blog combat over them, then I should be tough enough to allow comments on my movie reviews and political opinions.

Hillary for Vice-President?

The latest assessment of Senator Kerry's potential running mates has a short section on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. The article seems skeptical that she would even get the vice-presidential nomination for 2004 and I personally agree. I can think of a number of reasons why she'll try to hang onto her Senate seat for as long as possible:
  • Incumbancy: Everyone knows that politically connected incumbants are the toughest opponents to defeat in an election. Hillary Clinton is as politically connected as they get, and with a Senate seat in a reliably Democratic state, the odds of her losing a bid for re-election are practically zero. Would running for president force her to resign from the Senate? Would she want to take the risk of losing two elections instead of one and being stuck out of office forever?

  • Sexism: Whether or not America is still a sexist nation for the most part, or whether or not you even believe it is, you still have to admit the possibility that a woman running for president is going to end up losing votes because of her sex. I wouldn't call this a determinative factor in her decisions, but it would be a complication that might make the risks loom larger.

  • The "sleaze factor": Just think about all of things the Clinton's have done that we haven't found out about yet, and which aren't going to go public unless she jumps into presidential politics again. A cozy Senate seat might seem very reassuring if you were one step ahead of an indictment when you were running for it.

  • Cost/Benefit analysis: Presumably being a Senator allows one to pretend at being President without a lot of the nagging responsibilities. In other words, Hillary might not be President, but she already plays one on TV.
Personally, given the average Senator's addiction to television exposure, I believe that Hillary is most likely to be running for president of CBS in 2008.

On the other hand, I'd vote for Hillary Clinton for President in a minute if it meant voting against the Christian secession movement. Let's give her a little credit: she is at least loyal to a vision of what she thinks America should be.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Troy (2004)

Vacuum Energy rating: one star
Background information about "Troy" is available at The Internet Movie Database

"Troy" is an adaptation of The Illiad which shows us both the resiliance of the original when translated into visual form as well as the drawbacks of an apparently rigid three hour running time. The two principles governing the story here are a fairly strict materialism, both physical and political, and a reduction of the original ten-year seige of Troy into a quick dash by the Greeks to storm the city by brute force.

The physical materialism is expressed by writing the Olympian deities and the supernatural out of the storyline. The mother of Achilles, the sea goddess Thetis, is shown as an aging woman, while Achilles' mystical invulnerability is replaced with a unique combat style that lets him win combats with the excellence of his fighting ability (and what will prove to be his infamous "jump attack"). The mystical is not entirely eliminated, since the ancient societies depicted here still have all of the temples, priests and priestesses, and follies associated with a uncritical belief in the divine. The divine intervention is suggested in a more subtle way, as when Achilles strikes the head from the statue of Apollo the Archer, and is later slain by an archer; the conclusion of divine intervention is certainly a natural one to make in this case.

The political realism doesn't play out quite as well, since the concept of any kind of ancient army storming the most heavily defended citadel in Asia-Minor in a single decisive blow must seem completely ridiculous (unless you're a liberal Democrat; I can still imagine an ancient counterpart to Maureen Dowd crying "Quagmire! Quagmire!" the moment the Greek army starts landing on the beaches before Troy). But as the narration suggests, and as we might have expected from the politics of the day, the fact that King Agamemnon of Mycenae and King Priam of Troy were the rising powers of the Adriatic alone would have forced one to attack the other at some point. Agamemnon is seen as power-hungry but relatively sane ruler who at least recognizes the wisdom of winning allies instead of obliterating them. Priam is seen as passive and past his prime but still wily, and the Trojans seem to realize that Helen's flight from Sparta gives them just as many new opportunities for power as it gives the Greeks.

Aside from the "quagmire" that the Greek Army lands in, the death of Agamemnon at the hands of Briseis, as well as the death of Menelaus at the hands of Hector, both presumably for offending the goddesses with the sin of "patriarchy", are the other major flaws in this film. The Encyclopedia Mythica has Agamemnon at least surviving the sack of Troy and has Menelaus and Helen living happily ever after. I would assume that the feminist subtext is possibly a sin qua non of modern filmmaking, while in compensation the PC ethic at least spares us "the old white guy in a robe" cliche from those old mythological monster epics.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

More Bloggers in Syracuse

I just discovered a philosophy blog created by the graduate students and some faculty here at Syracuse University: OrangePhilosophy.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Equilibrium (2004)

Vacuum Energy rating: no stars
Background information about "Equilibrium" is available at "The Internet Movie Database

The future of humanity is decimation in a nuclear holocaust, followed by the inevitable post-nuclear radical restructuring of society. In this case, humanity concludes that human emotion itself was responsible, and the that for humanity to survive extinction the human capacity to feel must be eliminated. Thus, everyone takes a daily dose of Prozium, a new chemical that renders all human feelings completely inert. But just in case rebelious "sense offenders" decided to buck the system, a new class of super law enforcers, the "Grammiton Clerics" have been created to search them out and destroy them.

If the background information sounds familiar, it's because we essentially have a contemporary re-imagining of the origin of the Vulcan culture from "Star Trek". Of course, the idea that a human society that incorporates a less-than-perfectly-rational culture is destined for destruction has been around in science-fiction for a long time. And it is an idea that has a lot of potential in filmmaking, as demonstrated by films such as "2001: a Space Odyssey" or "Alphaville". The major flaw of "Equilibrium" is that it expects its audience to respect this theme without incorporating it into the film in a serious way.

The society of "Equilibrium" is an oppressive police state of a type that should be immediately familiar to an American audience. All of the genre conventions necessary for conveying "brutal dictatorship" are present: the dictator is a big talking head mouthing propaganda from omnipresent video screens, the dictatorship is a rigid patriarchy since the male dictator is named "Father" while the women are invariably sense offenders to be executed, the architecture is the typical ridiculously outsized grandiose style, people attend mass rallys to be exposed to the same propoganda they see twenty-four hours a day, and there is even a scene with a young child in a Nazi-style uniform ordering stormtroopers to drag some poor loser off the street in broad daylight. With the possible exception of the Grammiton Clerics, the notion that logic and democracy might be compatible, or in other words that perfectly logical intelligent humans might have value as autonomous agents, seems to have been completely forgotten. In addition, the film seems to have had no realization that a perfectly logical society would be largely immune to propaganda and would have no need for awe-inspiring mass rallys.

Thus we are left with the Holloywood conclusion that conformity is bad, which in the film's terms translates into the dictatorship having a much more precarious hold on its subjects than we are initially led to believe. And as the movie progresses, we learn that the rebels are right on the verge of toppling the dictatorship if only they could find someone brave enough to assassinate the big talking head for them. Convieniently enough, one of the Grammaton Clerics, who are given the necessary super-human fighting skills to defeat giant armies of opponents, misses a dose of prozium and comes to realize that he must defeat a giant army of opponents in order to assassinate the big talking head. The ending is not going to surprise you one iota, but the film is billed as being better than "The Matrix", which gives you an idea about what the combat scenes are like.