Friday, June 30, 2006

Superman, male bimbo

I haven't seen "Superman Returns" yet, but I've been getting the impression that Superman is portrayed as something of a dip-dope from the reviews. One controversy that has already appeared is that Superman's trademark motto "Truth, justice, and the American way" seems to have been slightly modified. It is now apparently "Truth, justice, and all that stuff".

If this were simply a case of putting "the American way" in the American release and dubbing it over with "Vive L'Europe" for the French release, that wouldn't really bother me. If this were simply a case of making Superman more relevant with a still nominally noble yet modernized motto like "Truth, justice, humanity", I could live with that too. I can accept that going around claiming to be fighting for "the American way" can sound noble to some, ignoble to others, and outdated to both. But updating the motto with "all that stuff" just makes Superman sound more like an American freshman frat boy than anything else.

Don't go whack over the Iraq attack, Jack!

Vacuum Energy friend e-man writes:
I don't have a particular interest in Senator Clinton, so maybe that's why I would've skipped this news...What I find of particular interest is the idea president Bush has in mind to contain the growth of US deficit.. nothing really big, better, is more than enormous.. just $8 trillion. As everybody can see, exporting democracy with tanks in the war against ghosts and is not being very successful.
Suppose that you are an eighteenth century Prime Minster of Great Britain. One day when you're out of the city, news arrives that a pirate fleet has somehow managed to sail up the Thames, cause thousands of casulties by crashing a fireship loaded with gunpowder into Tower Bridge, cannonade the Parliament building trying to kill you, and cannonade Buckingham Palace trying to kill the King. What do you do? Certainly, you would order every ship in the Royal Navy to hunt down the pirates, try them, hang them, and then organize a punitive expedition to destroy the pirate bases.

So far so good. But lets say that you then find out that all of the captured pirates speak only French, that some of the pirates managed to escape and find refuge in France, and that the infamous First Consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, is both praising the heroism of the pirate attack and building his own pirate fleet armed with the most powerful cannon available. Then what do you do?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Howard Dean, a blogger's best friend

One interpretation of the phenomenon that is Howard Dean is that he is a Republican infiltrated into the Democratic Party, his goal being to undermine and paralyze the party over the long term by articulating a nominally friendly yet ideologically heterodox position. Think of Dean as the France to the Democratic Party's United States, or as the Chairman Mao to Senator Clinton's Kruschev.

Based on the content of this speech, I think Karl Rove's underground spy network may have upgraded Dean from "passive" to "active". For example, the article states:
Dean said he is looking for "the age of enlightenment led by religious figures who want to greet Americans with a moral, uplifting vision."
Any conservative worth his salt knows this is immanentizing the eschaton, which is conservative secret code for "I am a bleeding-heart liberal wacko moonbat".

Here's another example:
Another mistake Democrats made in the '60s, Dean acknowledged, was that "we did give things away for free, and that's a huge mistake because that does create a culture of dependence, and that's not good for anybody, either," he noted, a reference to the Great Society welfare programs created by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960s.
I'm not sure if Dean realizes this, but the whole point of liberalism, the Democratic Party, the Welfare State, the Great Society, and the New Deal is to give things away for free. That's the whole point of 20th century government: increasing taxes on part of the population to give free stuff to the other part of the population. For Dean to say that giving away things for free is a huge mistake is akin to him saying that 20th century America could have just not bothered to elect Democrats ever. Only someone who drinks the wrong flavor of political Kool-Aid with breakfast could say something like that.

After breaking his deep cover for the conservative media in the beginning of the speech, Dean plays it straight with some relatively conventional liberal flam-flam:
"If you work hard, you ought to be able to support your family," the DNC chairman noted, and "in America, you need the opportunity to work hard, and that means some level of support from government -- no handouts, but some level of support so that you really do have a genuine opportunity to contribute to the country."
Yes, that's right, Dean apparently believes that nobody can genuinely contribute to America or even support their families without getting support from government that doesn't involve getting free stuff. As if we'd all be starving in poverty without goverment officials to give us a rousing "Good work, citizen" followed by a hearty pat on the back.

Or it could be that Dean was just shamelessly kissing butt:
"I came in the wrong door when I first got here," Dean said. "I came in the back, and everybody was talking about praising the Lord, and I thought, 'I am home. Finally, a group of people who want to praise the Lord and help their fellow man just like Jesus did and just like Jesus taught.' Thank you so much for doing that for me."
A move straight out of the Clinton playbook. Nothing conveys the impression of sincere admiration for someone better than claiming to have had a religious epiphany just by being in the same room.

The Liebermanization of Senator Clinton continues.

The Drudge Report's latest flash today is a report that Senator Clinton was "snubbed" by the Democratic party leaders including Democractic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. To quote the flash:
Apparently, Clinton and her staff felt snubbed when party leaders organized a news conference in which they vowed to block efforts to give Members of Congress a pay raise until Congress approves an increase in the minimum wage. Clinton has introduced legislation along those lines, but she was not involved in planning the leadership’s news conference to trumpet the issue.
I'm skeptical about whether this report is true or not, but assuming that it's true, it is most definately a snub of Senator Clinton. Although not necessarily the oldest trick in the book, "forgetting" to inform someone of a key meeting until the last minute is certainly one of the first things taught in "Politics 101". This is also one of those tricks that is hard to reply to. If Senator Clinton doesn't respond, she's sending the implicit message that the Democratic Party doesn't need her to make decisions, which is akin to saying that her views on things don't matter. If Senator Clinton does respond, she risks looking like a prima donna who puts personal perogatives ahead of the good of the party. If you're curious about what this feels like, ask Newt Gingrich about it someday.

The conspiracy theory likely to be deduced from this event is that this is another shot in the supposed "Kos-Hillary" feud over the future of the Democratic party. As speculative as the idea sounds, it certainly appears as if Kos has become the secret puppetmaster (or, if your prefer, secret clonemaster) of the Democratic Party's Senate branch.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Just when you think someone is a conservative...

they go liberal on you. Here is an excerpt from Andrew Sullivan's comments about Warren Buffett's multibillion dollar gift to charity (author's italics):
Nepotism is indeed a corrosive element in a democratic society; dynasticism is poison to democracy. I know it's only natural to want to hand over all your wealth to your children, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it as such. But it is not the only moral claim; and those who elevate the biological family to supreme status in our society seem to me to be missing something important. Take care of them, of course. But keep them in their place. Along with the rather base impulse to benefit one's own genetic material, there is also philia -- the love based on choice and acceptance of another free human being -- and agape -- the love for all as one loves oneself. These two other forms of love and giving are clearly morally superior to "family values."
This is an exercise in the muddying of waters. Mr. Sullivan is indeed correct in a limited sense. It seems to me plausible that any moral imperative, family or otherwise, can be outweighed by a sufficiently compelling moral counter-imperative. For example, although conservatives generally believe that the private ownership of property is a fundamental human right, conservatives would also conceed that a sufficiently dire external threat to a nation -- say, an invading power bent on total annihilation -- would indeed justify a nation's government in confiscating private property, if necessary, to continue the war effort.

So assume that a nation is in the normal condition of peacetime affairs. Is nepotism still a corrosive element in a democracy? In the sense of bestowing offices or jobs upon relatives irregardless of merit, or in abusing a public office or position of trust to bestow privileges upon family members, nepotism is bad for democracy. Nepotism in the sense of bestowing a gift of private property to a family member hardly seems more dangerous to democracy than simply not bestowing such a gift at all. Unless, of course, one comes from a family of undercapitalized narcoterrorists. But if large accumulations of privately owned property, as such, are not corrosive of democracy, then why would expect divisions of such property to be any more corrosive?

Is dynasticism poison to democracy? If we suppose that dynasticism means previously elected offices becoming hereditary priviledges, then of course it is. On the other hand, if by dynasticism we mean more than one person from the same family cooperating to accomplish some legal goal by legitimate means, then it's hard to see what the fuss about. Again, as long as the freedom to campaign for office and the freedom of economic contract are not poison to democracy in themselves, it's not clear why these freedoms somehow become more sinister when people who are related or who are family members exercise them.

And thus we come to the argument that agape love is morally superior to "family values". In the context of property rights, this sounds suspiciously like the familiar assertion of liberals that 9/11 should have been followed by a massive surge of volunteerism and public sacrifice, all on behalf of and orchestrated by Big Government. Perhaps the least relevant argument one can make either for or against this assertion is a scholastic ranking of the various forms of "value" and "love" into a heirarchy: a conservative could just a plausibly argue that "family values" are of supreme importance but that good citizenship and public spirit should be included as good values. What really matters to conservatives is that family values can be morally superior to and serve as a bulwark against what we might call "government values".

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A few easy pieces

  • The Drudge Report has a flash item mentioning that a "crazy" Saddham thinks that the Americans might make him president of Iraq again. Makes perfect sense to me. If I were a deposed Ba'athist dictator that just found out the Senator Kerry wants to invite Ba'athist Syria to discuss the political future of my country, I'd announce that I was okay with being set up in power again. You know, just in case that 1 in 1000 chance that Senate Democrats were willing to "go there" works out.

  • Senator McCain denounces Republicans for excessive growth of government. Let me restate that. Senator McCain, who is known as Mr. Campaign Finance Reform in Washington D.C., who was one of the the rare Senate Republican proponents of the Tobacco Settlement legislation, and who wants smaller tax cuts to better balance the budget, denounces Republicans for excessive growth of government. And believe it or not, Senator McCain -- probably the most shamelessly un-Reaganesque Republican in today's government -- even considers himself a Reagan disciple.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Liberal wierdness on Iraq

I've been growing suspicious that liberal public opinion is melting down over Iraq. Half of the liberal web sites that I visit are insistent that there is a civil war in Iraq and that redeploying our troops out of Iraq will save them from the inevitable, intense sectarian violence. The other half of these liberal web sites are insistent that the American occupation is generating most of the violence and that everything will end up just fine as long as we stop provoking insurgent violence by redeploying our troops out of Iraq. Given a choice between supporting "redeployment lite" for the equivalents of "great taste" or "less filling", you can't really blame Congressional Republicans for sticking with the President's position instead.

Yet another liberal argument for a reployment of troops in Iraq is that they can be just as useful for dealing with events in Iraq by being stationed in, say, Kuwait. Isn't that like arguing that the best way to protect New York City from another terrorist attack is to give all of New York State's federal homeland security money to, say, Connecticut?

And then, perhaps just to underscore that there are deep, untapped reserves of lunacy in the Democratic Party, there is this week's plan on Iraq from Senator John Kerry. It states, in part:
The President to work with the new Iraqi government to convene a summit that includes those leaders, the leaders of the governments of each country bordering Iraq, representatives of the Arab League, the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, representatives of the European Union, and leaders of the governments of each permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, to reach a comprehensive political agreement for Iraq that addresses fundamental issues including federalism, oil revenues, the militias, security guarantees, reconstruction, economic assistance and border security.
This proposal is so nuts, I could keep Vacuum Energy running for a week just discussing this one paragraph alone. To give credit where it is due, Senator Kerry did politely invite the existing Iraqi government to participate in governing its own country. For Senator Kerry, that's a major concession of legitimacy. Or notice that our good friend United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan doesn't get invited to the party; obviously, after what happened with the last government of Iraq, even Senator Kerry isn't crazy enough to invite Kofi Annan to discuss "oil revenues" ever again.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Comments on the AFI's most inspirational films

Here is the list of 100 films judged to be the most inspirational by the AFI. Here are some random comments about films on the list that I've seen.

4. "Rocky": This is a movie that is not only inspirational, but inspirational and set in Philadelphia with a hero who is a Philadelphian as well. In Phily, this movie is celebrated and loved to this day as the iconic Philly movie.

Being from South Jersey means that you're trapped with Phily as your cultural capital, but "Rocky" still has a certain resonance. South Jersey is just a little further out in the Philadelphia boondocks than Rocky's neighborhood. But there is no iconic South Jersey movie that I can remember. In Hollywood, South Jersey doesn't exist. In New York, South Jersey is basically known for things like:

  • Security camera footage of a suburban mom spanking her kids in a shopping mall parking lot that gets played ad nauseum on the Today show.

  • Donald Trump and his casinos in Atlantic City.

  • The relatively discreet men's rooms in the rest stops on the low-numbered end of the Jersey turnpike.
6. "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial": The last time I watched this was ages and ages ago when it was in its original theater release. My thoughts about the movie when it was over (and remember that I'm only about 9 at the time) was something like "That was so amazing that I'm actually crying in a movie theater. Wait a second. I'm a boy, so I shouldn't be crying at the ends of movies. That movie tricked me!" Welcome to Mr. Spielberg's world.

10. "Saving Private Ryan": I'm going to got out on a limb here and state that any movie that is about beating the Nazis counts as inspirational. Of course, in order to defeat Nazi Germany, American liberals were forced to make a cynical alliance with a nation that they viewed as thuggish, ruthless, imperialistic, and harboring expansive territorial ambitions for the post-war world. But, luckily for them, the British Empire gradually collapsed in the post-war years.

19. "The Right Stuff": A great movie because it had Chuck Yeager as a character. If your idea of a cool fighter pilot is "Maverick" from Top Gun, then you've got problems.

26. "The Wizard of Oz": It blew my mind when I found out that the movie is actually a giant metaphor for the problems plaguing 19th century rural America. The Wicked Witch of the East, for example, represents homelessness, which is why you can only kill her by dropping a house on top of her.

29. "Ghandhi": This is an absolutely stunning, wonderful movie. Long before "The Phantom Menace", this movie made the word "Viceroy" synonymous with the phrase "ridiculous bad guy". You've really got to admire Ghandi for taking on His Royal Majesty's Imperial Viceroy of India, the 5th Earl of Dumbbutt, and coming out on top.

30. "Lawrence of Arabia": This is a brilliant movie, although Andrew Sullivan probably views it as having been "sanitized for your protection". It also brings to mind the first mysterious omission from the list, namely, "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

32. "Casablanca": One of the best movies ever made. Nowadays, "Casablanca" has a reputation as being a "chick movie", which is a little wierd since it has Nazis, assorted scum and wierdos, and Peter Lorre in it.

37. "Forrest Gump": I remember reading an article that argued that this movie was a critique of the "great man" theory of history. The idea is that if history is really just a product of vast, impersonal forces producing a scientifically predictable evolution of trends, then, eventually, even someone like Forrest Gump could end up making great, historical achievements just by virtue of being alive. It's no accident that the fictional movie target for guerilla action in the last reel of "Cecil B. Demented" is called "Forrest Gump 2: Gump Again".

My candidate for an inspirational movie to replace "Forrest Gump" on the list is another glaring omission: "Henry V", starring Laurence Olivier (or, if you prefer, starring Kenneth Branaugh). In hindsight, this should be a no-brainer; "Henry V" is the Shakespearean play that English-speaking nations give to their troops before shipping them into battle. How much more inspirational than that can you get?

41. "The Sound of Music": This movie probably bored the hell out of me when I was kid, assuming that I got stuck watching it at some point. But watching it at an older age made me realize that it is a much better movie than I originally gave it credt for being. And the last reel is about beating the Nazis, which is another inspirational plus.

Here's an interesting historical irony. When America's Central European foe was a multinational empire (i.e. Austria in 1916), one of American liberalism's central principles of war was the "self-determination of peoples". On the other hand, when America's Central European foe was the dictator of a monoethnic splinter state engaged in aggrandizement via "ethnic cleansing" (i.e. Serbia in 1999), American liberals were willing to fight on behalf of "preserving multinational republics".

43. "Gone with the Wind": This is the second movie on the list that I've seen (to be honest, only in part in this case) that probably shouldn't have been included. The burning of Atlanta in the Civil War doesn't seem all that inspirational to me. Scarlet O'Hara does resolve that "as God as my witness, I will never go hungry again", but doesn't she screw it up at the end?

As a replacement for "Gone with the Wind", I offer the next film on my startling omissions list: "Jurassic Park".

44. "Spartacus": Another movie that probably shouldn't have made the list. I guess it got included at #44 for a nominal anti-slavery message, but that seems weak given that all of the escaped slaves end up getting crucifed at the end.

Ok, so half the cast of "Jurassic Park" gets eaten at the end. "Jurassic Park" at least has some freaking dinosaurs in it, man.

47. "2001: A Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick" was an amazing genius. It just boggles the mind that people can lionize someone like Quentin Tarantino as some kind of brilliant filmmaker when Stanley Kubrick's movies can still be watched. Even "Eyes Wide Shut" was a better movie than "Pulp Fiction". Beam me up, Scotty.

The first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey was on a Halloween night as a kid when my mom took everyone else out for trick-or-treating and I stayed home to watch the movie on tv with my dad. I remember thinking that this was a really serious (in the sense of being about profound things that matter instead of boring stuff like the nightly news) grown-up movie, although I think I took a nap somewheres between the monolith on the moon and "What are you doing, Dave?"

48. "The African Queen": Another great movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. And a nice candidate for a modern-day remake destined to send the brilliant careers of a certain husband and wife acting team currently cavorting around Africa down to the bottom of Lake Tanganyika. Yes, Brad Pitt, this movie will be your "Gigli". Muhahahahahaha.

52. "Dead Poets Society": This is another movie that I think probably shouldn't have been included, although my memory is a bit fuzzy on this one. Sure, every class of students trapped in the demoralizing world of the Herr Professoren wants to break free with a "cool" professor at some point. It's also not unheard of for the teaching staff to strike out at "the System" but lining up college students against it. Think of the myth of the agent V as freedom fighter that pops up early on in the movie "V for Vendetta". Is V interested in human freedom and civil rights as such, or is V posing as being interested in those things as a means of "sticking it to the Man", so to speak?

The next candidate on the egregious omission list is the controversial "The Passion of the Christ". But again, any movie about the life of Christ that doesn't involve sex is, by definition, inspirational.

56. "Ben Hur": There's only one man who can out-act Charlton Heston and that's Shatner. William Shatner.

58. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind": What is it with Spielberg and space aliens?

59. "Dances With Wolves": Another movie that I last saw ages ago and didn't really "get into". Back in the early 90's, I kindof bought the idea that Kevin Costner's character, after arriving at a fort in the middle of nowhere that's been burnt to the ground by Indians, would just continue normal fort operations as if nothing had happened. That's just him portraying a loyal foot soldier in Pharoah's army, right? And that army officer out in Missouri somewheres who wets himself was just driven harmlessly deranged by the isolation, right? I mean, nobody would just pack up and move to the middle of the unexplored wilderness just to see what happens when nobody else is around to watch, right?

62. "Braveheart": In the 90s, Mel Gibson's movie characters are usually exceptionally clever, but at some point they end up getting tortured by being too clever. William Wallace in Braveheart is a continuation of this trend: he wins battles and thwarts his foes with brilliant tactics and insight, but, hey, don't get captured by the English, dude. This movie is also notorious for displaying the non-existent English feudal right of prima nocte (It's the Middle fricking Ages people! A villlage full of dirt-poor medieval serfs with 15 children each aren't going to give a hoot.) This movie is also notorious for the comment about "Englishmen being good with their tongues", which in hindsight must have been a reference to the English soldiers being braggarts before losing battles to the Scots.

63. "Rain Man": Raymond. Rain main. Get it? There's also the horrible thing that happens in the casino, as if good things in movies ever happen to good people who go to casinos.

64. "The Day the Earth Stood Still": Another vaguely remembered movie, aside from "Klaatu, verada nicto". It's funny, but did you ever notice that they don't make sci-fi movies about advanced aliens who land on earth and shut down the world to keep George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden from nuking each other (as opposed to, say, keeping George W. Bush from nuking himself and blaming it on Osama Bin Laden)?

74. "Gunga Din": Should this really be on the list? Wasn't this one of those movies that came close to sparking riots in India?

79. "The Ten Commandments": I've seen most of this. If I remember correctly, ever in the Biblical account it's assumed that Pharoah's soldiers could never be so stupid as to venture down into the parting in the Red Sea. Even a total fool back in 1000 B.C. (or whenever) could see that that parting would close in on any Egyptian who followed the Israelites down into it. Again, assuming I remember correctly, the Bible has God driving the Egyptians mad with rage so they charge down into the parting after the Israelites and get destroyed.

And again, if "The Ten Commandments" can make the list, "The Passion of the Christ" should have made the list also.

98. "The Karate Kid": Kids today think they have it tough. Well, let me tell you something. In my day, you could flatten someone with a karate kick to the head and everyone would cheer. And we wouldn't wear helmets or boxing gloves or any other protective gear either.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A thought about Iraq

I can't remember where I was reading it, but the other day I stumbled across an article where the author was trying to explain why opposition to the conflict in Iraq seems to be relatively low key compared to opposition to the Vietnam war.

The answer is simple when one contemplates the Vietnam war for a few moments.

The Johnson administration's approach to the Vietnam, escalation, turned out to be a disaster. The Nixon administration's approach to Vietnam, Vietnamization, turned out to be relatively successful by comparison. So what approach does President Bush take in dealing with Saddham Hussein? He orders the absolute mimimum amount of escalation necessary to depose the dictator, then follows up with an immediate switch to Iraqization.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Au contraire, mon capitaine!

He's back!