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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

News of Wildly Varying Importance

1. Meet Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Then run for your life.

2. Oscar nominations are in. I'm quite pleased to see Munich nominated for Best Picture, Terrence Howard nominated for Best Actor, and Keira Knightley for Best Actress. Sadly (for me) I haven't seen enough of the Oscar nominees to judge who should win (I really should see Brokeback Mountain)...but I'm happy that some of my favorites were nominated.

3. The most important news item in this blog entry: Coretta Scott King, may she rest in peace. With her passing, and that of Rosa Parks, America has lost two shining examples of love, peace, and justice. May their influence continue into the centuries.

Monday, January 30, 2006

1984 in 2006?

The ACLU has a humorous/scary take on what could happen if we have National ID in the Information Age.

(Requires Shockwave.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google Makes My Day

Since my heyday at The Slant, my Google ranking has gone steadily down. Which is to say, when I Google "Ben Stark", I often don't find anything about me on the first page even.

Egotistical to Google myself, I know.

Still, I'm happy to say that this blog is now number 6 on the list when I Google my name.

Of course, as Mike points out, searching for anything on Google could get dangerous unless they stay true.

Now get back to commenting on action-as-art.

"Action As Art" Open Thread

The discussion in my previous post has taken an interesting turn, with Matt Novak suggesting the approach of appreciating action in movies as art in itself. I find that intriguing. This isn't the first time I thought about it.

First, perhaps in slight contradiction to my last post, I must say that I still appreciate the slam-bang-zowie feel of average, everyday action. That's why I'm a longtime James Bond fan. Jeff says he got bored during some of the action sequences in King Kong. Not me. As I keep repeating, I especially loved the T-Rex fight. Oh, man during that part when the one T-Rex was trying to swing itself on the vines and take a bite of Naomi Watts, I had to restrain myself from swinging in my seat to empathetically help Naomi shift her momentum away from the T-Rex. I'm also reminded of a time when I was watching xXx with my dad in the theaters and there was this one young woman who was literally bouncing up and down in her seat during some of the more spectacular action sequences. It helped me turn my brain a little younger and appreciate how freakin' cool the action sequences were....character development be damned.

But usually, I want at least some character development, so I go back and forth.

But back to the topic of this discussion - action as art. I can certainly see that in the "wire-fu" movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, and Hero, with their elegant action that's almost more akin to ballet than battle. On the American (though Asian influenced) side of things the best example that comes to mind is Face/Off. Though less elegant than the wire-fu films - its a film full of guns and explosions - there's a certain beauty to the action of that film, especially the way it plays with the shifting identities of the main characters. Again, even with the guns, some of the action sequences are akin to a dance. I especially love the one scene in a church or something where there's at least 2 or 3 different parties and it's unclear who's on whose side. Many characters have 2 guns pointed at 2 different people and the whole arrangement forms a labyrinth of weapons, ready to fire but afraid of being shot. And John Travolta's character just giggles and says "what a predicament!"

Matt's example of Sin City is interesting. I'm not sure whether it fits. I don't remember anything particularly interesting about the action sequences, with the possible exception of the fight between Marv and Kevin. (A certain Mr. Woodhead has yet to see this excellent film and I don't want to spoil it for him.) (For those of you in this discussion who don't know, I'm referring to Jeff.) (I don't remember whether Mike has seen it.) But the film as a whole is DEFINITELY art. Even with minimal characterization, I felt for the characters. Perhaps because there's a part of me that definitely identifies with the self-hating, protective-of-those-he-loves (usually females) attitude of each of the main characters. Then there's just the look of the film. Dear lord, the film is beautiful. The look of the film makes even the violence beautiful. But Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow had a similar amazing look and that film was...well...lame. Sin City had far more....attitude, for lack of a better word. A wicked sense of humor, combined with an almost despairing sense of righteousness. All packed into a (mostly) black-and-white, ultraviolent comic book of a film. Man, I love that movie. But I'm not sure if its action is art.

So, I've digressed more than once in this post and I've typed right through breakfast.

Any thoughts on action as art? Any other examples of action as art? Feel free to comment on any of my asides.
One last note on King Kong: I think another reason I liked it more than Jeff and Danielle was that I had seen the original and I could see the 10 zillion ways that this film was a loving homage to the original. This film was quite obviously a labor of love for Peter Jackson and I got infected with his enthusiasm.

Also, I saw Match Point yesterday. I think I liked it, but I'm not quite sure yet. Certainly not a happy film.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Big Budget Does Not Always = Bad Film

Time for a scattered rant.

I was going to write a post about the prejudice against big budget films, at least among movie buffs like myself and my friends. Much of this stems from reading, in rapid succession, Danielle's dissing of King Kong and Chronicles of Narnia ("I am tired of movies with lots of shiny special effects. I want movies where the actors act") and some moron telling Ebert that Batman Begins was one of the worst movies of the year.

Then I went to see Underworld: Evolution with some vampire-loving friends. I was reminded WHY movie buffs like me usually dislike big budget films. Empty, mindless special effects. Either no plot or TOO MUCH pretentious plot. No acting. And I don't give a damn about the characters. (To Kate Beckinsale: Let's see your resume. Pearl Harbor. Underworld. Van Helsing. Underworld: Evolution. Whatever happened to the days when you appeared in films like Much Ado About Nothing?)

So instead of going on a self-righteous rant against perceived elitism, I pulled back and remembered that, yes, most big budget films do suck. But not all.

There's nothing wrong with being a crowd-pleaser, as long as you actually please the crowd. Let's take a comic book example. X-Men, good. Fantastic Four, bad. Spider-Man, good. Daredevil, bad.

The point is, I don't mind seeing shiny special effects and action as long as (1) the action is interesting, (2) the effects and action are put at the service of a good plot. After all, that's what a movie ultimately is: a story. If you can weave a good yarn with special effects, I'm there. If you can tell a good tale with a small cast of character actors, count me in.

The latter can be screwed up, too. Good small, character-based film: Shopgirl. Bad small, character-based film: Closer.

Oh, and to close...as the ultimate example of a film that weaves together good story, good acting, AND good special effects - The Lord of the Rings series. Cinematic achievement of our lifetimes.

Update: Apologies to Kate Beckinsale. She HAS been in good movies as of late. She played the (sadly under-written) role of Ava Gardner in The Aviator.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Christian Rocker Chicks Get Their Moment In The Spotlight

There are times when I really get tired of Christian radio. There's only so much sappy strings I can take. There's only so much James Dobson I can take (although when he's not talking about politics and confines himself to tips for raising children, he's actually not that bad).

What really bugs me is that Christian radio doesn't play any of the hard rock bands I like. Sure, there's fewer to choose from. For every Jars of Clay or Relient K, there's an awful "Christian Limp Bizkit" like Thousand Foot Krutch. But come on.....Christian radio's been playing Michael W. Smith, Rebecca St. James, and Stephen Curtis Chapman for over a decade now. A little variety might be nice!

So I'm pleased to see a band of one of my favorite Christian rocker chick bands, Barlowgirl, getting some attention on Yahoo Music. (Note: you have to have a Yahoo account to watch the performance, but they have an excellent performance of "Never Alone.") Not only do they rock out, but they have good taste; they list Eisley as one of their favorite bands. Now if only they had a chance to hear red hot up-and-comers Unexpectedly Sober......

Dude! Eisley's coming to the Triangle on March 25! I'm so there!

"I Came, I Saw, I Did Whatever The Heck I Wanted"

Crown prince of political animation Mark Fiore presents a picture of where we are headed if the President's assertions of unlimited executive power stand.

On a brief aside, my dear friend Chris Pryor said this to me in a recent e-mail, regarding my (likely futile) call to impeach George Bush:

I think the impeachment line has to be drawn somewhere, but if it's not in advance of defiling the oval office and perjuring yourself, I'm not sure it can be drawn in advance of what Bush has done, for better or worse.

I draw the line at claiming you are above the law. The worst that can be said for Clinton is that he broke the law. Perhaps that should be enough. Perhaps it depends on the law being broken. Bush is far worse: he claims he does not have to follow the law. The moment we have one law for the "Ruler" and another law for the "Ruled" is the moment we are no longer a democracy. That is the moment when the President becomes the Elected King.

Unlike some lefties, I don't use the word "impeach" lightly. I really fear the extensive powers Bush has claimed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Finally Getting The Press Coverage I Deserve

Dude! I got quoted in the media! Sort of!

For the record, the only reason I was "shouting" was because there was no microphone.

Well, now that I've made the local paper, it's only a matter of time before fame and riches come my way.

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to work at the U.S. Department of Labor's regional office in Atlanta.

Monday, January 16, 2006

How Pro-Lifers Should Act

I believe abortion is murder.

But I also believe that many pro-lifers like myself have tunnel vision. We see the unborn child, and only the unborn child. We ignore the woman, often because we are too busy self-righteously accusing her of infanticide. We ignore the traumatic effects that abortions often have on women. We ignore the harsh situations that lead many women to believe abortion is their only choice.

We also ignore the children once they're born. Most people who are opposed to abortion are also opposed to generous government aid for struggling single mothers. Most never bother to offer even so much as a pack of diapers to such mothers. Most people who fight to protect children from a quick murder inside the womb are content to leave them to the slow "murder" of despair and poverty outside the womb.

And for all the shouting that we call "the politics of abortion", it seems there is nary a quiet voice offering comfort and practical support to mothers and children in difficult situations.

That's why I was happy to read in the NY Times about crisis pregnancy centers:

[These centers] are far from the public battles over abortion laws and the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. But in their quiet way, they represent a dimension of the anti-abortion movement that is just as passionate and far-reaching, consisting not of protesters or political activists but of Christian therapy groups, crisis pregnancy centers, adoption ministries, and support programs for single mothers and their children.

This is what pro-lifers, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians, should be doing. (Yeah, and I'm not doing anything. So I should be doing more.) We should be loving. We should try to convince mothers not to have abortions, but not by yelling at them and condemning them when they are already overwhelmed and frightened. If they choose not to have an abortion, we shouldn't make them regret that choice; we should help them to raise the child. If they choose to have an abortion.....well, Jesus was big on forgiveness. Women who have an abortion may still need help dealing with the after-effects of such a choice. The Christian Thing To Do would be to welcome them back with open arms and help them in the midst of their pain.

And all that is what crisis pregnancy centers do.

Now I'm not certain what to make of some of the more questionable methods these centers engage in. (i.e. taking calls from women wanting an abortion and inviting them in for an appointment without revealing their agenda) Those practices make me uneasy.

But overall, I'm thrilled to see people being consistent and compassionate in their beliefs. Pro-life means more than opposing abortion. Pro-life does not end at birth.

[Note: I must credit bumper stickers I have seen for the last 2 sentences. The first is actually on my car now.]

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Job Update

I just got another job offer - this time from the Department of Labor. Except that, instead of working in DC, they want me to work in Atlanta.

I have good and bad feelings about that.

In general, this job would pay better and not be as high pressure as a Public Defender job. On the other hand, I wouldn't be working directly with poor people. Would it matter that I would have more free time, which I could devote to helping poor people?

I don't know.

But, praise God, I now have a choice to make.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Whoa, Nellie

I've been waiting for months to hear the next album from musical genius Nellie McKay. And waiting. And waiting.

Turns out she's been dropped by her label. Seems they disagreed with her about the number of songs (and which songs) to include on her new album, "Pretty Little Head." Dammit! And the reviewers all have an advance copy of the album and seem to like it. I want one!

Stupid Columbia. Don't you know that the artist is always right? Especially when the artist is the most off-the-wall, creative, edgy-yet-old-fashioned, politically aware, musically diverse artist of a generation.

Get Your Alito Fix

So you're wondering what's going on in the Alito hearings and you want a little more than 3 minutes in the evening news? Good thing you know me. Let me hook you up with some liveblogging.

The New York Times's David Kirkpatrick is posting pretty regularly. It's more of a reporter's eye view of things than legal analysis, but it's occasionally interesting. I basically agree with the Kirkpatrick's quote from one of my professors, Erwin Chemerinsky: Alito is saying a lot of nothing and will therefore have to be judged on his (disturbing) written record.

If you are truly a glutton for detail SCOTUSblog is liveblogging every detail of the hearings. This is a site for lawyers and law students, so it may have more legal mumbo-jumbo than you normal human beings are used to. But if you want to know what's going on in the hearings, this is definitely the way to know.

The media at least is focusing on abortion and the extent of presidential powers. Man does that leave me torn.

Abortion is murder. Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. Fetuses are possibly the last group of human beings that receive no constitutional protection. I would be thrilled if a Justice Alito voted to overturn Roe. (By the way, the Court needs at least one more anti-Roe person besides Alito to overturn Planned Parenthood v. Casey.)

But the President is not a King. Not even war (especially not an amorphous "War on Terrorism") gives him a blank check to trample on the the rule of law and on our civil liberties. One of the fundamental insights of our nation's history (and of Christianity) is that people are easily corrupted by power. Nobody but nobody should have unlimited power. And I sure as hell don't trust a President who holds the law in such low regard.

I don't know what to think. Maybe I wimp out on abortion because most of my friends are liberal and pro-choice (and because I'm president of the Duke Law Democrats...guess what the people I'm "leading" believe). Or maybe I'm justified in passionately opposing Alito because I disagree with him on just about everything except abortion (i.e. presidential powers, congressional power under the Commerce Clause, the rights of criminal defendants, etc.).

So I'm conflicted. Oh, and I once again, by stating my opinion, have ensured that I will never hold political office.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Justice Tom Parker - The Outlaw

Disrespect for the rule of law seems to be running rampant these days.

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker - who ran for office on the promise that he would be like Roy Moore - recently wrote an op-ed criticizing his fellow justices for obeying the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roper v. Simmons, which struck down the juvenile death penalty as violating the 8th Amendment. (American Constitution Society blogs about it here.)

In essence, Justice Parker is calling for the Alabama Supreme Court to break the law by disobeying the binding constitutional decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. It's a recipe for judicial chaos...and the kind of disgusting argument for "nullification" that I thought died after the 1960s.

Also, see the comments to the ACS blog post, where my friend Ian Millhiser blows to pieces the bullshit talking point that the Supreme Court relied on international law instead of the Constitution in banning the juvenile death penalty.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Our President - The Outlaw

[Preliminary Note: Happy New Year y'all]

I don't believe it. I just can't believe it.

President Bush, in signing the Defense Budget (including the anti-torture McCain Amendment) signals his willingness to entirely ignore portions of the statute. You know, 'cuz the Commander in Chief power makes him King and all...enabling him to ignore the law whenever he says it's for National Security.

Go back to the links in my post here and look at the Daily Kos links to see how the Bush Administration is indeed arguing (badly) that he can do anything in the name of national security.

I can't quite tell from the confusing language Bush (or more likely, his lawyers) use with respect to the McCain Amendment how much he intends to ignore that, too. But conservative mag The National Review thinks it knows: "the signing statement . . . conveys the good news that the president is not taking the McCain amendment lying down."

Or as Marty Lederman more colorfully puts it: "
Translation: I reserve the constitutional right to waterboard when it will 'assist' in protecting the American people from terrorist attacks."
I've never been a big fan of Bush, but my opinion of him keeps dropping. I actually considered voting for him in 2000, that long-ago time when the biggest issue was how to spend the surplus. I agreed with Bush on abortion and the like, but I agreed with Gore on the environment and how to spend the surplus. I disagreed with both on the death penalty. So I went for Gore, but not with rage in my heart.

Then came the Iraq war. Even in the beginning, I thought the war was unnecessary and first became politically active by joining in antiwar marches. Now, as it has become increasingly clear that Bush and company misled us into a tragic, unnecessary war, I'm even more angered. Still, I considered the "impeach Bush" crowd to be blindly angry left-wing psychos. Making a historically tragic and idiotic decision did not strike me as an impeachable offense. Making such decisions, right or wrong, is what presidents do. And lots of presidents have lied to us, even FDR.

But this....Now with the illegal domestic eavesdropping and this signing statement, Bush is displaying an entirely new and frightening trait: a casual disregard for the law. Anything Congress does that he disagrees with....well that's just part of his Commander-in-Chief power. So neener, neener Congress. Even if there's NO NEED to break the law. (And there wasn't with the wiretapping - FISA allows retroactive warrants in emergencies. There isn't with torture - as John McCain has ably argued, it's counter-productive in most cases. When the North Vietnamese tortured McCain for names of some important soldiers, he gave them the names of his favorite football team.)

Bush just doesn't seem to care enough to even check whether there's a legal way to do things. And THAT, my friends, is the end of democracy. I'm probably going to wimp out and back down on what I'm saying now....but for the moment I'm serious as a heart attack:


Why am I so pissed off? Because I believe in the rule of law. I'll close with the immortal words of Henry Hyde (used in the context of the Clinton impeachment...but so much more relevant here):

That none of us is above the law is a bedrock principle of democracy. To erode that bedrock is to risk even further injustice. To erode that bedrock is to subscribe, to a "divine right of kings" theory of governance, in which those who govern are absolved from adhering to the basic moral standards to which the governed are accountable.

We must never tolerate one law for the Ruler, and another for the Ruled. If we do, we break faith with our ancestors from Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord to Flanders Field, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Panmunjon, Saigon and Desert Storm.

Let us be clear: The vote that you are asked to cast is, in the final analysis, a vote about the rule of law.

The rule of law is one of the great achievements of our civilization. For the alternative to the rule of law is the rule of raw power. We here today are the heirs of three thousand years of history in which humanity slowly, painfully and at great cost, evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies.

We are the heirs of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law: a moral code for a free people who, having been liberated from bondage, saw in law a means to avoid falling back into the habit of slaves.

We are the heirs of Roman law: the first legal system by which peoples of different cultures, languages, races, and religions came to live together in a form of political community.

We are the heirs of the Magna Carta, by which the freeman of England began to break the arbitrary and unchecked power of royal absolutism.

We are the heirs of a long tradition of parliamentary development, in which the rule of law gradually came to replace royal prerogative as the means for governing a society of free men and women.

We are the heirs of 1776, and of an epic moment in human affairs when the Founders of this Republic pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor - sacred honor - to the defense of the rule of law.

We are the heirs of a tragic civil war, which vindicated the rule of law over the appetites of some for owning others.

We are the heirs of the 20th century's great struggles against totalitarianism, in which the rule of law was defended at immense cost against the worst tyrannies in human history. The "rule of law" is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between all of us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom in ways that honor the freedom of others while strengthening the common good. The rule of law is like a three legged stool: one leg is an honest Judge, the second leg is an ethical bar and the third is an enforceable oath. All three are indispensable in a truly democratic society.