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What Would People Think?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Most Important Thing About John Roberts

Everybody should look to me to find out what the most important thing about Chief Justice nominee John Roberts. And that most important thing is, of course, what his favorite movies are. I refer you to this actual excerpt from the hearings:

CHARLES SCHUMER: This process is getting a little more absurd the further we move.

You agree we should be finding out your philosophy and method of legal reasoning, modesty, stability, but when we try to find out what modesty and stability mean and what your philosophy means, we don't get any answers.

It's as if I asked you what kind of movies you like – "Tell me two or three good movies" – and you say, "I like movies with good acting, I like movies with good directing, I like movies with good cinemaphotography"... and I ask you, "No, give me an example of a good movie," you don't name one. I say, "Give me an example of a bad movie," you won't name one.

Then I ask you if you like Casablanca, and you respond by saying, "Lots of people like Casablanca." You tell me, "It's widely settled that Casablanca's one of the great movies."

I am making a plea here. I hope we're going to continue this for a while, that within the confines of what you think is appropriate and proper you try to be a little more forthcoming with us in terms of trying to figure out what kind of justice you will become.

JOHN ROBERTS: First, Doctor Zhivago, North by Northwest…[People in the room

Now, Judge Roberts, do you expect to get away with such prevarication? The American people have a right to know WHY you liked those movies! I mean, I haven't seen Dr. Zhivago since middle school, but I remember thinking it was pretty lame back then. (Then again, I was 13.)

And - while it is true that North By Northwest is awesome even under originalist doctrine - you give no indication of whether you can suspend your disbelief enough to accept the lame scene where he pulls a knife out of the back of a recently murdered diplomat and everybody thinks he's the killer. Can't you even agree that this scene is lame? But doesn't the scene with the plane in the cornfields kick ass? Answer me, Judge Roberts! The future of the Constitution depends on it.

You, dear reader(s), think I'm joking don't you? Just because you're right doesn't mean my line of inquiry lacks jurisprudential value. Turns out Clarence Thomas's favorite movie is The Fountainhead, a movie based on a book by that prophet of selfishness, Ayn Rand. That would have been enough to convince me to vote against him right there!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Lessons of a Hurricane Which Isn't Even Finished Yet

Even if you don't know Mike personally, you should still read his blog entry on his family's harrowing encounters with.....Texas traffic.

Judging by Mike's experiences, I think the New York times may have a point. I'll use their own words:

If Katrina exposed what happens when many people have no cars to escape danger, Rita seemed to show the other side of the coin. The authorities are going to have to become much more sophisticated about developing evacuation plans that do not put every family on the highway in its own vehicle. But the car-obsessed American public is going to require a lot of education before many will accept the idea that they should flee disaster via mass transit.

I'm not sure how the logistics would work and, after Katrina, I think people are justified in not trusting the government to provide them with proper mass transit, especially if those people happen to be poor and minorities. But still, the concept of being stuck on the side of the road out of gas when the hurricane hits you doesn't sound too great either.

On an entirely frivolous note: wonder if people are going to stop naming their babies "Katrina" or "Rita" for awhile. Wouldn't it suck if your name was already Katrina? I think this would be one of those times when someone named Katrina Diane Smith should start calling herself K. Diane Smith.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Freakin' Out.

I'm freaked out by Hurricane Rita. Far more freaked than I was about Katrina. Here's why:

1) It's already Category 5. Katrina was Category 4 when it hit land.

2) I was ignorant of the devastation these hurricanes can cause last time. (The top officials in the federal government, by the way, were not. They just didn't do anything in time.) Ignorance, contrary to Calvin's assertions in the blog entry below, ain't bliss. This time, I'm aware of what Rita can do.

3) I'm not at all convinced the government is prepared. This is the federal government we're talking about! They aren't to good at fixing themselves up in a matter of weeks. There haven't even been any investigations into precisely how they screwed up with Katrina.

4) As much as the images of the suffering people in New Orleans seared my soul, I must confess it wasn't personal for me. A flaw in my own limited compassion and all-too-human heart. This time, it is personal to me. My good friend Mike Mott lives in Houston. I don't think he's in the area slated for evacuation and he and his family are keeping close tabs on the news. And he's keeping me and his other Vandy friends up-to-date via e-mail. But I'm still worried.

Mike, if you have any doubts as to your safety......GET THE HELL OUT!

Ok, I gotta go back to living my life or something.

Update: Mike and family are in the evacuation area....they are headed for Shreveport, LA. Y'all are in my prayers.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Careful.....we don't want to learn anything from this!

Well, for my first post in 2 weeks, maybe I should write about my job search. Or I could keep it less personal and write about politics. Or movies - those are a common topic on this blog.

No, I think I'll simply give you an update of the most important event in human history. I'm talking, of course, about the release of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. It's every single comic from the strip's 10-year history. What are you waiting for? Why aren't you storming out of the room, jumping in your car, and driving with heedless joy to a bookstore to buy it?

Well, don't do that just yet....I'm not quite sure whether it's out yet.

I love Calvin and Hobbes. I have been known to quote it on a daily basis. Whenever I think of the theologian John Calvin, the first thing that comes to my mind is not predestination. Similarly, when I contemplate the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes....I can't help but let my mind wander away from the Leviathan. No, I first think of a freakishly intelligent, impulsive, selfish, and hilarious six-year-old and his possibly-real, possibly-stuffed tiger. I, personally, already own every C&H comic. But if you are one of those unfulfilled souls who doesn't yet......allow me to give you just a taste of the Calvinic (is that a word? now it is) wit.

"He fires his hyper-jets and blasts into the fifth dimension! Into a world beyond human comprehension! Into a world where TIME HAS NO MEANING!........Man, this class lasts forever."

"I have a hammer! I can put things together! I can knock things apart! I can alter my environment at will and make an incredible din all the while! Ah, it's great to be male!"

CALVIN: "I'm not going to do my math homework. Look at these unsolved problems. Here's a number in mortal combat with another. One of them is going to get subtracted. But why? What will be left of him? If I answered these, it would kill the suspense. It would resolve the conflict and turn intriguing possibilities into boring old facts."
HOBBES: "I never really thought about the literary possibilities of math."
CALVIN: "I prefer to savor the mystery."

And finally, one of my all-time favorite comics:

[Calvin and Hobbes are careening in their red wagon through the woods.]
CALVIN: "It's true, Hobbes, ignorance is bliss! Once you know things, you start seeing problems everywhere. And once you see problems, you feel like you ought to try to fix them. And fixing problems always seems to require personal change. And change means doing things that aren't fun! I say phooey to that! But if you're willfully stupid, you don't know any better, so you can keep doing whatever you like! The secret to happiness is short-term, stupid self-interest!"
HOBBES: "We're heading for that cliff!"
CALVIN: [covering his eyes] "I don't want to know about it."
HOBBES: "I'm not sure I can stand so much bliss."
CALVIN: "Careful! We don't want to learn anything from this."

So, to conclude, it's truly a great moment in Western Civilization that these comics are now available and everybody should take all that spare cash that they've been leaving lying around and go buy the books.

Mike, feel free to point out great C&H quotes I've neglected. I have a feeling you'll do that anyway.

In other happy humor news, Dave Barry is writing columns again. Once he publishes his next anthology, guess what will be on my Christmas list. (Hint: I already own every single Calvin and Hobbes comic.)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Well-Constructed Thriller

(Wow, this post is going to seem bipolar and trivial after the emotions of the last post. Guess that's what happens when life happens between blogging.)

It's time for yet more Ben's Unsolicited Expert Advice on Movies You Should See!

I just got back from seeing Red Eye, an above-average thriller starring Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy. I didn't quite like it as much as my Mom, who was raving about it, but it kept me on the edge of my seat at times. I appreciate this film.

See, Red Eye is part of a genre - if you can call it that - I like to call The Well-Constructed Thriller (WCT for short). Examples of these movies include (in no particular order) The Net, Cellular, Panic Room, Phone Booth and (the best example of the genre that comes to my mind) Collateral.

These movies aren't particularly meaningful. I don't look to them for any commentary on life, politics, or the human condition. They are pure escapism. They range from the cartoonish (Cellular) to the powerful (Collateral). But they are alike in this: they are smart.

First, and most obvious, characters aren't stupid. Nothing bugs me more in a thriller than a character engaging in Movie Behavior. The soon-to-be-dead character walks down a hallway by herself and says "is anybody there?" (See: Any horror movie.) The helpless woman cringes while the hero and villain/creature fight it out right in front of her...even when the hero is in grave danger. (See: Buttercup watching Wesley get bit by the Rodent of Unusual Size in The Princess Bride - not a thriller, I know.) Cary Grant's character pulls the knife out of the recently murdered diplomat, thus appearing to be his killer, in North By Northwest. (Which is otherwise a superb example of the WCT genre. Come to think of it, Hitchcock is probably the father of the genre.)

But WCT characters don't do that. They react as real people would in these unreal situations. Or at least, as real smart people. Hero and villain alike play a game of cat and mouse. They try to outsmart each other and behave in occasionally unpredictable fashions. Sandra Bullock stops running and puts her computer smarts, and a fire extinguisher, to good use at the end of The Net. Chris Evans finds 101 new uses for a cell phone in Cellular.

Second, with the possible exception of Cellular - which launches right into its elaborate plot with little exposition - WCTs take the time to get to know their characters. They treat them like real human beings who exist outside of their place in this movie plot. Jaime Foxx engages in a long conversation about hopes, dreams, and fears with Jada Pinkett Smith in Collateral, long before Tom Cruise becomes his second, fateful passenger of the night. Jodie Foster and her daughter move into a new house and fight before any robbers arrive in Panic Room. Rachel McAdams handles crises at work, her bored and divorced father, and rude airline passengers before the plot is sprung on her in Red Eye.

I like the care with which these films treat their characters because it makes their actions more meaningful later in the film. You get to see how later behavior is in keeping or against their character. Character MATTERS in these films, not just explosions (although those may exist, too).

Third, I like the care with which WCT screenplays are constructed. That's how the got their name. Small details which happen early in the plot - and help enrich the characterizations - suddenly become crucial by the end. The plot isn't in a rush to jump from one exciting moment to the next....it takes time to slow down and set up its surprises and thrills.

Fourth, all this setup and careful craft pay off. By the end of every single one of these movies - once everything had fallen into place like clockwork - I was on the edge of my seat (sometimes literally). The tension is deliciously unbearable and the outbursts of action and violence are that much more satisfying for their context.

None of these films will win any Oscars. They aren't the movies that inspire and move me (there are plenty of those). They aren't cinematic masterpieces.

But enjoy them for what they are: well-executed film-making which delivers your money's worth.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Poverty, Chaos, and Death

I can't stop thinking about Hurricane Katrina. From the ecnomic effects (potential Depression on its way) to the human suffering to the sheer magnitude of the thought that almost an entire city is flooded............it has a way of occupying the mind.

Newsweek has some photos of the suffering taking place in New Orleans, especially near the Superdome. [WARNING: Some of the photos are very graphic.] Looking at the photos of the people still stuck in the city and at the Superdome, I couldn't help but notice how......Black they were. Hardly a Caucasian in sight.

It's always the poorest and the disadvantaged who are most screwed by these things. Many lived closest to the most dangerous areas and lacked the resources to get out. And now, even in America, the effects of poverty are dramatically, violently spread out on the TV news for the world to see. A friend of mine is already referring to the looting and chaos as a "class riot."

For the love of God, donate!