Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Film critics battle over "Inglorious Bastards"*.

Daniel Mendelsohn has written a review of the latest Quentin Tarantino-directed film, "Inglorious Bastards", that seems to be attracting some criticism. The film is about a team of Jewish-American soldiers who are infilitrated behind the German front lines of World War II to commit attacks, usually extremly sadistic in execution, against as many Nazis as possible. Mendelsohn comes to the following moral conclusion about the film:

Tarantino, the master of the obsessively paced revenge flick, invites his audiences to applaud this odd inversion—to take, as his films often invite them to take, a deep, emotional satisfaction in turning the tables on the bad guys. ("The Germans will be sickened by us," Raine tells his corps of Jewish savages early on.) But these bad guys were real, this history was real, and the feelings we have about them and what they did are real and have real-world consequences and implications. Do you really want audiences cheering for a revenge that turns Jews into carboncopies of Nazis, that makes Jews into "sickening" perpetrators? I'm not so sure. An alternative, and morally superior, form of "revenge" for Jews would be to do precisely what Jews have been doing since World War II ended: that is, to preserve and perpetuate the memory of the destruction that was visited upon them, precisely in order to help prevent the recurrence of such mass horrors in the future. Never again, the refrain goes. The emotions that Tarantino's new film evokes are precisely what lurk beneath the possibility that "again" will happen.
Jason Rosenhouse at Evolutionblog refers to this as "pure crap" and counters with a varient of the "why don't you just turn your brain off and enjoy it" argument:

Pure crap, and it is downright obscene to suggest that Tarantino has turned Jews in to carbon copies of the Nazis. Doing violence to them that wronged you is a far cry from trying to exterminate a race of people. Revenge fantasies may be ignoble (emphasis on “may”) but they are a deeply human reaction, and it is satisfying to fulfill them in fiction precisely because we know we can not fulfill them in real life.
It should be clear that this totally ignores Mendelsohn's argument, which is that a large number of people do not want to satisfy their revenge fantasies in fiction or find the notion of revenge fantasies to be deeply immoral. That's not to say that "doing violence to them that wronged you" doesn't have a certain moral sanction to it. Presumably nearly all of the people who refuse to gratify revenge fantasies would have judged the Allied war effort against the Third Reich to have been morally justified. The moral objection here is not to violence but to indiscriminate violence, the distinction is between waging war with a navy and waging war by paying off bands of pirates.

Or to reframe Mendelsohn's argument in a way that Evolutionblog might more readily understand, suppose that a major Hollywood studio made a film in which Islamic fighters infiltrate the United States, committ atrocities against Americans in gory, explicit detail, and then try to assassinate the President. Would Evolutionblog really be so eager to write this off as pure, harmless fun in this case?

* I agree with film critic James Bowman that critics should refer to this film with it's proper English spelling. My hypothesis is that this is how a Nazi who had encountered the "basterds" might attempt to spell "inglorious bastards" in English, perhaps after hearing the phrase spoken aloud. Is Tarantino implying that you're a Nazi by spelling his title this way?

Vox Day thinks that the human soul is made of water.

Every since René Descartes' proposal that the "seat of the soul" was contained within the pineal gland, philosophers have recognized that the theory of the physical soul is a royal road to personal humiliation. In perfect obliviousness to this danger, here is Vox Day's latest discussion of the human soul:
Moreover, there absolutely is empirical evidence that something goes missing when a being transitions from life into death, which is why the early physicians tried weighing bodies after death to try determining the weight of a soul. Now, you can certainly elect to call it electrical impulses or bio-software if you prefer, but there is certainly empirical evidence of what can quite reasonably be called a soul, which is neither personality nor behavior.
While it is true that a human body will weigh slightly less after death than it did before death, it has been proven that this is due to the evaporation of water vapor through the skin.

In reality, there is no empirical evidence for the existence of a physical soul and this isn't for lack of effort for trying to find one.

The Obama recession is not an accident.

The global recession has already ended in half of the world. In the United States, every time Barack Obama sees his shadow, it means six more months of recession:
U.S. unemployment will surge to 10 percent this year and the budget deficit will be $1.5 trillion next year, both higher than previous Obama administration forecasts because of a recession that was deeper and longer than expected, White House budget chief Peter Orszag said.

The Office of Management and Budget forecasts that the U.S. economy will shrink 2.8 percent this year, worse than the 1.2 percent contraction the OMB projected in May. For next year, the budget office said the gross domestic product will grow 2.0 percent, less than the 3.2 percent expected in May. By 2011, the economy would be well on its way to recovery, growing at a 3.8 percent annual rate, according to the administration’s mid-year economic review, released this morning.
This is not an accident. This is President Obama's socialist policies openly damaging our economy. Here's the latest concession to redistributive social justice:
The Federal Reserve chose a labor leader to succeed a former Goldman Sachs executive as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of New York's private-sector board of directors.

Denis Hughes, president of the New York state branch of the AFL-CIO, had been serving as acting chairman of the New York Fed board since May, when Stephen Friedman stepped down from the position.
Barack Obama thinks that union bosses should be running corporations instead of CEOs, so say hello to your new commissar, comrades!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Obama has already been defeated on health care.

The problem is that the liberal Praetorian Guard have captured the Emperor and won't let him surrender. For example, Paul Krugman wrote:
It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Obama has wasted months trying to appease people who can’t be appeased, and who take every concession as a sign that he can be rolled.

Indeed, no sooner were there reports that the administration might accept co-ops as an alternative to the public option than G.O.P. leaders announced that co-ops, too, were unacceptable.

So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.

You can tell that the Democrats are in serious trouble...

...when the squishy, moderate Republicans start acting tough. Even RNC chair Michael Steel is ready to "lock and load" over ObamaCare:
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Thursday dared Democrats to try a one-party push to overhaul the nation's health care system.

Steele told reporters that he thinks if Democratic senators think they have the votes, they should try a tactic that would allow them to get around a bill-killing filibuster without the 60 votes usually needed. Steele said he didn't think Democrats would do it because of potential voter backlash.

"Get it to the floor. Up or down, baby," Steele said at a news conference at the state GOP headquarters. "Put it on the table. And if you don't think you've got enough votes to get to 60, you've got the nuclear option. You've got 51."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

British views of British health care are not relevant to Americans.

The Financial Times reports that the British socialized health care system has strong bipartisan support in Britain:
The US right has used the NHS as an example of the potential pitfalls facing President Barack Obama as he tries to push through a healthcare reform bill.

Some Republicans have ridiculed it as a bureaucratic and “Orwellian” system that often denies care to the elderly – with Sarah Palin, the former Republican presidential candidate, decrying it as “evil”.

But in Britain, where since 1948 all citizens have enjoyed free healthcare from birth to death, the attacks are widely seen as wrong and insulting.

Such is the strength of public support for the NHS in the UK, that the two main political parties have agreed to ring-fence its expenditure in the coming years – in spite of cuts to almost all other departmental budgets.
Of course the population of Britain strongly supports socialized health care. That's the point the American conservatives have been making all along: once the national government seizes control of the health care system, the mass of the population will have no choice but to support it. The goal of government control is to reduce the population to the status of serfs, not to improve services to the population. Would you really want to put your future health care at risk by criticizing your nation's health care monopoly?

If that is to melodramatic for you, then think about nationalized health care in terms of political rhetoric. Nationalized health care then has an immense political advantange over alternative systems because its opposition is self-negating. However much you speak out against nationalization, your opponents know that you'll come crawling back to the system on your hands and knees someday, or that you'll mark yourself as a dangerous elitist by accepting private care or care in a foreign country.

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan makes a nice example of how British citizens become enemies of the state if they are even suspected of being disloyal to the British National Health Service (NHS; emphasis in original):
Still, I do wonder at the tone and nature of the criticism [of himself]. It seems to be based on playing the man rather than the ball. My detractors say that I’m out on a limb, that I’m in the pay of the insurance companies, that I’m insulting those who have had successful treatment from the NHS. (What? How?) If supporters of the status quo were truly confident of their case, surely they would extend their logic. I mean, why shouldn’t the state allocate cars on the basis of need, with rationing by queue? Or housing? Or food? I am reminded of the debate over asylum ten years ago, or Europe ten years before that. Remember the way even the most moderate and tempered proposals for stricter border controls were decried as “playing the race card”? Or, earlier, the way any suggestion that the EU wasn’t democratic was dismissed as “xenophobia”? Remember how keen supporters of the existing set-up were to shut down any argument? There are good and honourable people who support the NHS; and there are good and honourable people who don’t. Is that really such an extreme thing to say?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Thoughts about "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

  • In my analysis of the recently released film "Star Trek", I identified the directors' hatred of the Federation as being the essential flaw of the Trek franchise. In the Transformers franchise, the essential flaw is that director Michael Bey apparently believes that the transformers robots are too weird and alien for his audience to accept. This belief completely dominates both of the Transformers movies.

    The original Transformers animated cartoon was more than happy to accept the transformers as essentially human-like in thought and feelings, and so nearly all of the dramatic action involved only the transformers. The Transformers films are not willing to do this, and so the job of making the story intelligible to the audience falls upon the extensive human-centric plot lines. This comes in two flavors. The Witwicky family along with government agent Seymour Simmons drive most of the action with a series of comedic pratfalls, funny one-liners, and teenaged Sam Witwicky's romantic interludes with his hot girlfriend Mikaela. The other flavor is a sense of valorous military competence that is the job of Major William Lennox, his fighting team, and various reinforcements that they can call upon.

    The net effect is that the transformers themselves are almost entirely superfluous in a movie that is ostensibly devoted to them. Some of them idle away the entire movie in car form until called upon to lob a few missiles in the final act. The film doesn't even need transformers to kill other transformers (with one exception). The American military is more than willing and able to throw enough metal at this things to blow them apart.

  • The next major drawback of the Transformers films is the ridiculously bad visual design of the transformer robots. Roger Ebert describes this nicely:
    The action scenes can perhaps best be understood as abstract art. The Autobots® and Decepticons®, which are assembled out of auto parts, make no functional or aesthetic sense. They have evolved into forms too complex to be comprehended. When two or more of the Bots are in battle, it is nearly impossible to distinguish one from the other. You can't comprehend most of what they're doing, except for an occasional fist flying, a built-in missile firing, or the always dependable belching of flames. Occasionally one gets a hole blown through it large enough to drive a truck through, pardon the expression.
    Again, the original transformers cartoon did this a lot better, since the television format forced the cartoon to visually simplify the robots as much as possible. "Revenge of the Fallen" director Michael Bey seems aware of this problem, but his remedies are to do things like painting some of the transformers in bright primary colors or to give other transformers easily identifiable ethnic accents. In other words, Bey seems to be completely impotent to alter the design of the most important visual components of his own film.

  • Another strange aspect of this film is that the transformers seem to behave like biological organisms despite the fact that they are also technological constructs. The transformers of "Revenge of the Fallen" have this annoying habit of using what must be radiator fluid or brake fluid to simulate human emotions like tears or spitting. There is even a scene where it is revealed that baby Decepticons are "grown" in womb-like pods full of amniotic fluid!

    The transformers of these films seem to be a technological version of the alien from John Carpenter's "The Thing". In that film, the alien was a shapeshifting creature that could take over other organisms and turn them into shapeshifting aliens. When under duress, John Carpenter's aliens would tend to explode into a miasmic blob of random biological organs rather than respect the bodily integrity of their impersonated form. The transformers seem to work exactly the same way by impersonating innocent non-self aware vehicles to fit into human society and exploding into a humanoid-shaped assemblages of car parts loaded with guns and missile launchers when in danger.