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What Would People Think?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Seeking Help From My Readers

1. As I mentioned yesterday I can't figure out why various people are calling for a line-item veto when the line-item veto was declared unconstitutional back in 1998. It can't be simply that EVERYBODY'S that ignorant.

I'm asking for help from any of the legal-type folks who occasionally read my blog to help me figure this out. Zhubin, Amy, Erin, Matt Novak, Barzelay.....I'm looking at you!

2. I'm trying to pick a song list for my wedding reception. We got a DJ, and they have a relatively extensive list. There's so many songs I like....but I'm guessing that a reception full of Everclear and Jars of Clay won't make for much of a celebration.

I need some suggestions from people with impeccable (read: similar to my own) taste in music.

Mike, Jeff: I'm looking at you.

You go to this site, select "Wedding" then go to the song list.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Has Superman Returned?

Roger Ebert on Superman Returns:

This is a glum, lackluster movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating...........But when the hero, his alter ego, his girlfriend and the villain all seem to lack any joy in being themselves, why should we feel joy at watching them?

James Berardinelli - another reviewer whose advice I often follow - on Superman Returns:

Superman Returns is near the top - if not at the top - of the superhero movie pile.

You'd think movie reviews were just opinions or something, instead of what I know them to be - documented observations of scientific fact. What's especially funny is how Ebert and Berardinelli come to exact opposite conclusions about each aspect of the film: the casting, the special effects, the romance, etc.

I'm inclined to trust Berardinelli over Ebert on this - partly because I want so much to like this movie, partly because Berardinelli, like me, is a confirmed comic book geek (well, I was one in former years). Oh well. It's not like anything's gonna keep me from seeing the movie. I just hope it doesn't make me weep over wasted potential like the previous Superman movies and X-Men 3.

Am I Missing Something Here?

Okay, so Bush is pressing for Congress to pass a line-item veto.

Wasn't the line-item veto declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998? (Full text of the opinion here.)

Why is this even an issue? If it's unconstitutional, why is it even before Congress? Am I missing something blindingly obvious here?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Heeeere's Benjy!

[Spoiler warning: Do not read if you have not seen, and ever intend to see, The Shining.]

OK, it's been far too long since I've blogged about movies. But Roger Ebert wrote an interesting essay that's got me thinking again.

I'm not always a fan of the horror genre. Too many "horror" films are just gore-fests which inspire more revulsion than fear. (They aim to make my stomach feel sick instead of making my heart pound.) But such films make me all the more grateful for good horror films: The kind that tap into your deepest, darkest childhood fears. The kind that make you identify with characters and then be afraid for & with them as they encounter something truly horrific.

And, in my mind, there is no greater horror film than Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining. Here's a movie that doesn't bother with the high body count. Although blood is copious, it tends to spew from elevators, not teenagers. The film takes its time - is even boring at parts - and slowly builds up tension before finally spiraling into a frenzy of madness and terror.

I still get goosebumps when I think of some of the movie's signatures scenes: "Come play with us Danny. We'll play forever, and ever, and ever." "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Blood from the elevators. The woman in the bathroom. Bye-bye, Scatman Cruthers. What the hell's with the man in a bunny suit? "Redrum."

The stuff of nightmares, man. And of glorious film-making.

So I was excited when Ebert wrote about the Shining in his biweekly (semi-weekly? every other weekly?) "Great Movies" column. He talks about something that never occurred to me. We never really have an objective point of view as to what happens in the movie. I always just assumed it was a haunted hotel creating visions for the slowly unraveling family inhabiting its halls. Perhaps I did that because I connected the film to the Stephen King book upon which it is loosely based. I should know better than that, since I always try to consider books and movies as separate works of art.

Ebert discusses how each of the characters is unreliable as an observer of objective reality. Jack is clearly deranged. Danny.....well, Danny has a "little boy inside his mouth." He's also an abused child with a possibly overactive imagination. Wendy seems the most sane, but Ebert describes a deleted scene which throws into question even her grasp on reality. Chef Hallorann, the doomed outsider to this twisted family drama, gives us some sense that bad things are happening in the hotel (through his communications with Danny and, well, his death). But how much is really happening?

Read Ebert's essay. It puts a whole new twist on the film which I had never considered. How are we to experience or think about a film where reality itself is in question? There's a number of films that mess with the nature of reality (i.e. The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, Identity, Mulholland Drive) but all of them, with the exception of the equally creepy Mulholland Drive, eventually tell us what is reality and what is madness/hallucination/virtual reality. It takes things to a whole different level when we must wonder what is real...when we know at least some of what we see is real.....when our protagonists perceive an awful threat, but can't tell how much of it to fear.

How deliciously twisted. The Shining stands on its own with all this reality-bending, but Ebert's take on it just makes it that much better.

[Note: Ebert reviewed an old silent film based on an Edgar Allen Poe short story that also dealt with the possible insanity of every major character: The Fall of the House of Usher. I'd love to get my hands on that movie at some point. Old silent films are kind of hard to come by.]

Incredibly Brief Thoughts on the Swift Program

Sorry I haven't blogged in forever. Been with Christy AND studying for the bar for a week. I suppose this does not bode well for me blogging much once I get married, but we'll see.

I'm sure you've heard about the SWIFT Program, the latest War on Terror measure by the Bush Administration performed with good intentions but little or no legal basis. In a nutshell, I agree with the Times editorial: this kind of program is a good idea, but should be done with proper oversight. Also, the Bush Administration should stop with the utter indifference to whether what it does is legal. On the other hand, I'm not so sure the Times made the right decision in publishing this. Unlike with the wiretapping, exposure of the program could kill its effectiveness.

Update: Times editor Bill Keller gives a thoughtful response to the criticisms of his paper for publishing this story.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Chicken Fingers - Children

Random stuff that I've been meaning to blog about for a while....but I've been too busy studying for the bar exam.

1. The weird title for this blog post stems from the RSVP cards on my wedding invitations (arrived today). See, there's a list of 4 dinner options for the reception. The final is listed as "Chicken Fingers - Children." Yep, we're only serving the best quality children for dinner at my wedding!

(There, I said it. I know every single one of you who gets it will be thinking that. And I know you'll know it's saying we offer chicken fingers for the kids. Now that I've pre-empted you, you can just order the chicken marsala and be done with it.)

2. Yesterday, one of the fact patterns the lecturer used mentioned a "Meredith Grey." I did a double take, thinking of everybody's favorite former Slant editor, currently surfing the web under the name "g". Apparently there's this TV show called Grey's Anatomy that everybody else but me is watching. (If it ain't on a DVD, I ain't watching it. For that matter, if it ain't 24, Lost, The Shield, or Deadwood, I probably haven't seen it. Oh, and occasionally House.) So....I learned 2 things. (1) I'm not up on pop culture. (2) Major TV characters are named after my friends, slightly misspelled. Also, John Malkovich characters are named after me.

3. The Slow Death Of The American Dream. Remember the idea that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps? The driving idea of America - anybody can start at the bottom, work hard, and make it to the top....or at least to a comfortable middle-class life-style. It was nice while it lasted. Welcome to the second coming of the Gilded Age.

You owe it to yourself to read that article before you can talk about class issues in this country. Maybe one day we'll wake up to the reality of poverty and once again take education seriously. Meantime, we're becoming more and more stratified.

4. The Laws Are All Changing. Aside from being the title to an awesome New Pornographers song, that statement is a fact of life. Just three days ago, I learned that when the police violate a defendant's 4th or 5th Amendment rights, the evidence discovered as a result of that violation is excluded (including any evidence they would not have discovered but for the violation). In a ruling today about a violation of the (rather perfunctory) "knock-and-announce" rule, the Supreme Court suggested the Exclusionary Rule may be severely restricted. Today's case is rather limited, but if the Court carries through on its implications, we may see (a) a lot less evidence excluded and (b) a lot less respect for the 4th Amendment.

See the analysis here at SCOTUSblog.

As Jeff and Mike point out, it seems limiting our constitutional freedoms is in vogue.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Beware Your Facebook

It's not the first time I've heard this story. Someone posts something on the Internet, thinking it's only going out to friends and perhaps the occasional random person out there in cyberspace who doesn't affect our lives in anyway. Then an employer or potential employer Googles this person's name and - presto! - no job.

According to a story on the NY Times, many employers are not only Googling potential job candidates, but researching them on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. College kids who post photos of themselves passed out drunk suddenly find they aren't getting any job interviews.

Part of me feels like this is an invasion. Many, perhaps most, college kids do stuff they wouldn't want employers or their grandma to know about. These social networking sites feel like a safe place to be silly and immature. But I guess that's just naive.

This poses a dilemma I've been trying to figure out for a while. I've often debated whether to post my more controversial opinions on this blog. In the spirit of free speech and, especially, free debate in the marketplace of ideas - I want to post whatever random idea pops in my head and hash it out with friends and acquaintances. I may change my mind. I may be convinced by what a friend says. (Indeed, that seems to be much of the idea behind the blogs of a number of my friends and acquaintances.) But now anything I say is recorded in stone for anybody to see. Even if I eliminate the blog, there's probably some way it can be found. If I'm going to be all sterilized, what's the point?

On the other hand, there's some stuff that doesn't really NEED to be posted. Anybody out there who lists "smokin' blunts" as one of your interests on Blogger, Facebook, etc. might want to reconsider.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Christian Thing To Do

So in the comments to my last post, Barzelay called me out on excusing my un-Christian joy at another man's death because I'm "only human." Much as I appreciate Mike's defense of me (and Jeff's agreement with me), I think Barzelay's right. If something's wrong, then it's wrong. My fallibility is not a moral shield that makes it ok.

So is it wrong for me to rejoice in the death of evil men? I don't immediately have an answer. The man who died, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, was a vicious man who killed people in gruesome, spectacular ways in order to sow the seeds of chaos and suffering. Were he alive today, he would continue to plot more suffering for the sake of his sectarian agenda. It's difficult to mourn the death of a man like that.

But then again, I'm repulsed by the cavalier attitude toward death shown by some Christians these days. Case in point: Left Behind the video game. (Hat tip: Jeff, via Barzelay. And also Nathan Chapman). A shoot-em-up game where you convert or kill the enemies of Christ. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, as Newsweek jokes. What were its creators THINKING? I'm embarrassed.....no, ashamed on the behalf of all Christians for this crap.

And I can't ignore the words of Jesus:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

That's the standard I aim to live up to. "Loving" and "praying for" my enemies would seem to rule out rejoicing at their death.

So what's the right response then? Is relief okay? Iraq will probably still spiral into civil war without him, but at least it's less likely now that he's gone. Is it okay for me to rejoice about that?

I ask this not in a spirit of defensiveness, but in soul-searching. Like I said, Barzelay's right. I should not be rejoicing in another's suffering and especially not in his eternal damnation, however natural that reaction may be when considering such a monster.

So what's the proper response? What's the Christian response? (Please, no snide remarks about how many Christians act. I'm talking about the response Christians should have.) I'm asking you, my friends, Christian or otherwise, to help me figure this out.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Buh-Bye, Punk!

It's not very Christian of me to celebrate the death of another. But I'm only human; I lack God's all-consuming love for every human being. And right now I am pumping my fist about the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, is responsible for thousands of deaths of innocent civilians, including peace activists, reporters, and bureaucrats that he personally beheaded. He is most likely the mastermind behind the mosque bombings that plunged Iraq into civil war. He was a remorseless and cunning killer who actively plotted the suffering of an entire nation to further his sectarian ends.

Last night, Zarqawi died in a bombing via American missiles. The consequences of his actions will doubtless continue, but his personal reign of terror is at an end.

So buh-bye, Mr. Zarqawi. Good riddance. Did it hurt as that bomb burnt you to a crisp? It's only going to get hotter. While you're down there, tell Hitler & Stalin I said "screw you."

Monday, June 05, 2006

In Defense of Bush

......and Stone Temple Pilots.

Had you going for a second there, didn't I? You were thinking of the wrong Bush. I'm not referring to the President who has no use for the rule of law.

I'm referring to this now-defunct British grunge band headed by Gavin Rossdale. When Bush first hit it big in the mid-90s with Sixteen Stone, they were derided as Nirvana wannabes. Rossdale was condemned as a pretty-boy poser who wanted to be, but never could be, Kurt Cobain. Rock critics and too-cool-for-school alternative fans proved the bona fides by bashing Rossdale.

Similar treatment awaited their American counterparts, Stone Temple Pilots. Scott Weiland's arena rock band was "positively vilified" as "fifth-rate Pearl Jam copycats." Whenever Weiland made one of his frequent trips to drug rehab, some of his harsher critics actually gloated at his misfortune. Like Bush, STP was wildly popular on rock radio but passionately condemned by those who considered themselves the pure guardians of the alt-rock revolution.

Only after their bands broke up have Rossdale and Weiland begun to get any respect. Partially, that's because the late '90s-early 2000s pulled hard rock into the Limp Bizkit/Kid Rock garbage heap. In comparison, the earnest post-grunge of STP and Bush seemed positively charming and pure. But even as rock radio slowly rose from the depths in the last few years (thank you, White Stripes, Strokes, System of a Down, etc), Rossdale and Weiland have begun to be recognized as carriers of the hard-rock, post-grunge flame. Weiland formed Velvet Revolver with the disgruntled Axl-less members of Guns 'N Roses. VR was correctly hailed as the reincarnation of the kind of muscular hard rock that once filled stadiums and showed rock radio what a guitar solo is. Rossdale's new band, Institute, has not fared as well - but as he stays true to the guttural, start-stop, angst-filled sound of Bush long after it has ceased to be popular, critics are finally realizing he "was one of the few post-grunge rockers to really, truly believe in this stuff."

This is a good thing. I've been listening to STP's greatest hits album and to a Bush "greatest hits" mix CD that Mike made for me (brilliantly entitled "Silence Is Not The Way"). I've come to realize how consistently these 2 bands created solid rock songs. No, they weren't revolutionary rock geniuses like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But neither were they the no-talent corporate posers their critics labeled them. They were simply damn good rock bands. What's so wrong with that?

I've had it up to here with self-styled guardians of artistic purity. If an artist makes music which sounds like someone else's music, maybe it's because they LIKE that kind of music. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Why can't bands be judged on their own merits? If the next Gavin Rossdale's gravely vocals reminds you of Kurt Cobain, perhaps it's not a calculated attempt to make money.....perhaps it's because, like me, this new Rossdale/Cobain wannabe has been playing Nevermind or Sixteen Stone incessantly and dreaming of following in their footsteps.

I remember a Strokes concert I went to once at River Stages concert festival in Nashville. Singer Julian Casablancas remarked that Puddle of Mudd was playing at a nearby stage and some fans started booing. Casablancas cut them of "none of that. I'm not going to disrespect them for doing what they like. Like all those people who hate us because we don't sound like Metallica. F--- that!"

My sentiment exactly. Enough with "artistic purity." Enough with "street cred." I love new and creative bands as much as the next Nellie McKay fan, but that's no reason to be elitist about good solid rock 'n roll. I may have music I hate (i.e. cruel, misogynistic songs like Puddle of Mudd's "Control" or Nickelback's "Figured You Out"), but it's sure as hell not because I think of them as "corporate sell-outs."

Which inspires my question to all of y'all, assuming you read this far: What popular, yet critically despised act do you think will be better respected in a decade?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Speakin' Out

Haven't had much time lately to write the long, drawn-out posts my "fans" have grown to love. So I'll have to provide a series of links to make it appear like I'm doing work. The theme of these links is speech.

1. Speaking very loudly (in hopes that Erin is reading my blog, since I know Kenny isn't): "HEY KENNY! YOU OWE ME $25 FOR OUR FINAL ELECTRICITY BILL!" Yes, it would be a lot easier for me to call Kenny. But why do things the easy way when blogs are so much more inefficient?

2. Speech in China. I'm proud to see Churches acting Christian again. The highest Catholic cardinal in China calls for human rights and an investigation into the Tiananmen Square killings of 1989. This is exactly what the Church should be doing: speaking truth to power. It may or may not be necessary or right for nations to compromise their values to "normalize" with China. Such compromise is definitely not the place of the Church.

3. Speech of Public Employees. I really intended to write a lengthy post about the Ceballos opinion, wherein the Supreme Court limited the 1st Amendment rights of public employees, but I simply haven't had the time. So, instead I'll provide you with links to the ever-incisive analysis at SCOTUSblog. 4 Posts: here, here, here, and here.