Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent Judge

Today John Jones III, an “activist” judge on the federal bench, ruled that teaching ID as science in public schools is unconstitutional.  The “activist” part is in quotes because it’s something of a joke in this case.  Even the judge acknowledges that.  In his ruling he writes:

“Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court.  Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID…"

I think that about sums it up.  I like the strong wording Judge Jones used, too.  Ill-informed, which is a perfect description of the ID faction, and this passage:

“The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial.”

The “Board” of course is the Dover School Board and their “decision” was to mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design in science class.  The inanity, it’s breathtaking!  And not only inane, but dishonest, as Jones continues:

“The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.”

Those little liars.  Everyone knew that ID was creationism rebranded.  
Okay, well at least I did.  Judge Jones wasn’t fooled for a minute either.  He called ID like it is.  A sham.

Kristol Meth

What the fuck is Bill Kristol smoking?? In the Washington Post today, he writes:

This is presumably one reason why President Bush decided that national security required that he not simply follow the strictures of the 1978 foreign intelligence act, and, indeed, it reveals why the issue of executive power and the law in our constitutional order is more complicated than the current debate would suggest. It is not easy to answer the question whether the president, acting in this gray area, is "breaking the law." It is not easy because the Founders intended the executive to have -- believed the executive needed to have -- some powers in the national security area that were extralegal but constitutional.

So let me see if I understand this right, Billy. You imply in that first sentence that President Bush broke the law because of "national security," right? Am I reading that right? And then you go on to say that it's hard to say whether Bush is "breaking the law." Which one is it, Bill? Is he following the letter of the law? Or is he "bending" it? (And if he is bending it, isn't that really the same thing as "breaking" the eyes of the law, that is?)

We're just going to have to trust him on the founders reserving "extralegal" powers for the executive. Kristol is, after all, a highly paid, highly educated political "expert." He wouldn't lie about the founders, right? (I was always under the impression they didn't want a king who was above the law....but hey, at least "extralegal" doesn't imply royalty.)

Speaking of trust, Kristol doesn't need any legal apparatus to make sure that the president's "extralegal" authority doesn't extend into "illegal" territory. Nope. Trust in the president is really all we need.

That is why the president uniquely swears an oath -- prescribed in the Constitution -- to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Implicit in that oath is the Founders' recognition that, no matter how much we might wish it to be case, Congress cannot legislate for every contingency, and judges cannot supervise many national security decisions. This will be especially true in times of war.

In other words, legal restraint is for pussies.

And just in case you thought, Kristol was kidding, he caps off his op-ed with this:

But to engage in demagogic rhetoric about "imperial" presidents and "monarchic" pretensions, with no evidence that the president has abused his discretion, is foolish and irresponsible.

No, Bill, the foolishly irresponsible thing would be to give the president "extralegal" authority and trust that he doesn't abuse it. Some people...I swear.

Monday, December 19, 2005

More on Spymaster Bush

Maybe Juan Cole is being too pessimistic about this. But he certainly makes a point or two.

Wire tapping the telephones of American citizens without a court order is illegal.

They impeached Clinton for a minor dalliance in which he didn't even get to third base. But taking the Constitution and pushing it through the shredder, why that is just fine and dandy.

He really does believe that it is only a piece of paper, and he is the Prince of the Realm who may do as he pleases, isn't he?

The answer to Ben Franklin's comment about what sort of government the constitution enshrined--"A republic, if you can keep it"-- has been answered. We've lost it, folks. We've got George III in the White House. And, it is now often forgotten, that George was looney as the day is long, too.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. '

That Bush was doing this wasn't even known. How much more is not known?

It was a good run, this United States of America with its Constitution and its Bill of Rights. How sad that a gang of unscrupulous criminals has been allowed to subvert its basic values altogether.

Is there even a single one of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights that Bush and his henchmen have not by now abrogated by royal fiat?

And why? Because of a single attack by a few hijackers from a small terrorist organization? The thousands lost in the Revolutionary War did not deter the Founding Fathers from enshrining these rights in the Constitution! The fledgling American Republic was far more unstable and facing far more dangers when this document was passed into law than the unchallengeable hyperpower that now bestrides the globe as a behemoth.

Have we lost our minds?

Bush, Spy-in-Chief

I'm pissed! Pissed, I tell you! Just from reading the first paragraph of this article:

President Bush on Monday said disclosure of his domestic eavesdropping program was a “shameful act” and said he will keep using it “for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.”

I'm at work, so I'm not watching it live. But that part really gets me.

1) George, it is not a "shameful act" to expose possible illegal spying on American citizens. That's a "good" leak. However, it would be a "shameful act" to expose secrets to embarass your opponents (Valerie Wilson, Richard Shelby's "shameful" leaking of eavesdropping on Osama). I know what Karl told you, but that's a bad leak, my friend. See, George, I bet you would find that most Americans really wouldn't mind if you spied on potential terrorists, or even if you kept that secret. But we can't really trust you to restrict it to terrorists, and that's what you're asking us to do. There is no legal apparatus set-up to make sure that you're only using it on terrorists and not political opponents. You just want us to take your word, and well, George, most people in this country are going to take issue with that. Whether you may know it or not, you have a credibility problem. Now, maybe you weren't lying about the WMD in Iraq, but you were still wrong. We just can't trust you, George. Sorry, no offense. It's just how it is.

2) Also can you be any more vague, George? How long is "so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens?" Sounds like that might be forever to me. Maybe you should change that to say what you really mean: "I'm your God now. Fall and worship me." Yes, 9-11 was a horrible tragedy. Yes, we should mobilize the resources of our country to prevent it. But grow up, George. You don't get to do what you want because some terrorists attacked us. You still have to adhere to the law and American principle. You still have to be able to think on your feet, and sorry, bud, but your vague defintion of "enemy" is weak, so weak to be nearly meaningless. Two words, man. Spare us.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Mighty Kong

I had the absolute worst movie-going experience I think I've ever had last night when I saw King Kong. A few minutes into the movie there was a disturbance about four rows ahead of me. I, along with pretty much everyone else in the theater, was trying to watch the movie we just paid $8.50 a ticket to see, when a man and a woman, probably strangers, started arguing. I'm not sure what the brouhaha was about, perhaps the woman was trying to get a seat and the man wouldn't let her through, but rude comments were exchanged.

Then, as she's walking away, the man started to get really pissed. "Talk shit to me," he said, astonished that his delicate sensibilities had been offended. "You ain't nothing but a fatass. Why don't you go fuck yourself, fatass? Fatass." Of course, I'm paraphrasing since most of what he said didn't make any sense and really, the only intelligble word was "fatass." With every outburst and insult, this man seemed to grow more and more agitated, as if he could not let this injustice stand. He got louder, more disruptive, not satisfied until he had made an ass of himself in front of a theater full of strangers. I heard someone behind me groan. I was tempted to "Shh" him. I was tempted to complain to the management. I was tempted to get up and smack him in the back of the head. But thankfully the woman scurried off far far away from the asshole and the rest of us were spared a loud argument, a fist fight, or worse, a shooting.

As if this lapse in manners wasn't bad enough, it was about a half hour into the movie, after the "fatass" incident but before King Kong is revealed onscreen, that I realized I had made a huge mistake in choosing seats in front of a young couple with a baby.

Number one, babies should not be taken to three hour movies. Get a baby sitter. Secondly, if the baby cooes and caws, as all babies do, do not play the bounce-on-my-knee game. That only encourages more cooing and cawing because the motion gives their tiny voices that weird syncopation that babies find so damn entertaining. (You can approximate the effect by whapping on your open mouth and howling like an Indian.) Put junior into his carrier and stick a baba in his mouth. Please.

So let's add this up, shall we? You take one jerkbag who is rude and insulting, add a cooing baby and his ignoramus parents, mulitiply it by a three-hour movie in a non-smoking theater, subtract the $19 for the tickets, the additional $10 for the popcorn/drink combo, carry the two, reduce the fractions and convert it to a decimal, this is what you get: A bunch of horseshit.

For less than $30, you can buy the DVD in a few months. I don't know about you, but I have a surround sound set-up in my living room. It's not theater quality, but then again, my living room is maybe a 9X12 foot space. The screen isn't 30 feet tall, but it's big enough and I'm not missing anything. I can pause it whenever I want. I can stop it halfway through and finish the rest another day. I can eat whatever I want, not just salty overcooked greasy popcorn. Hell, I can even order a pizza if I wanted and not miss a second of the movie. I can lay down on my couch. I can smoke. I can put my feet up on the coffe table. I can stand up and stretch my legs. I can talk to my company, engaging in witty MST3000-like banter. I can fart, burp, and clip my toenails if I want. And, this is the best part, I can avoid other people and their bad manners.

So, now that I've expanded on the experience of the movie, what about the movie? Short answer: It was worth the wait. Long answer: Read on for random, unpolished thoughts and observations.

King Kong is a flawed masterpiece. After making billions and winning all the awards, it's hard to imagine a studio saying no to Peter Jackson on anything. He truly is a gifted filmmaker, a future hall of famer, as they would say in sports, but in King Kong, he would have benefited from a little restraint, not much, mind you - his vision is extraordinary - but there are times when Kong is a bit self-indulgent. The running time (the aforementioned 3+ hours) is a case in point. There really are no dry boring bits in Kong, but after 2, 2 and a half hours, it's only natural to start squirming in your seat.

The first hour could have been trimmed down a little, some of the subplots maybe condensed, the set pieces honed down. For instance, the Skull Island bits are absolutely fantastic, but do we really need to see our heroes battle dinosaurs (brontosaurs, velociraptor things, big ugly crocodile beasts, and a T-Rex or two, just for good measure), man-eating bugs, vampire bats, plus the main attraction, a giant ape with a thing for blondes? Peter Jackson is well-known for having a love of creatures and monsters, but once the list gets up to a half dozen, maybe it should be whittled down a little. Technically, all of the creatures were brilliantly conceived and executed, but it was still too much.

Also, there were a few cliches, some plucked straight from the original that have since been absorbed by the popular culture, some just story conventions that were overly relied upon. Kong beats his chest like a cartoon ape, and at one point, even does the successful hunter pose, one foot on his prey, arms raised in victory. It's as cute as it is obvious. Then there was the curmudgeonly captain of the ship, who pisses and groans for the whole movie about the worthiness of the adventure, but somehow keeps showing up when the heroes get into a tight spot with machine guns and more crew members to feed the beasties. It should be a rule. A single character gets one Deus-Ex-Machina moment per movie. Han Solo used his wisely in Star Wars. The captain gets several chances.

Now for the good stuff, and believe me, there's a lot of it. The special effects, the production design, the costumes, the make-up, everything technical about this movie was, in a word, awesome. The 30s are vividly evoked, vaudeville, art deco, tophats and showgirls. The natives, dark-skinned but not neccesarily African, are of some indeterminate race that could only be classified as zombie. They're as scary as some of the beasts, if not more because they're not some CGI image.

Kong himself is excellent. No longer is he a twine and rabbit fur miniature. Now he's a full blown CGI character, peformed by a live person (Andy Sirkis) and really given a life of his own. He's festooned with convincingly rendered details like scars, heartbreaking facial expressions, and hair that flutters in the wind. It's not hard to give in to the illusion because it's done so well.

The cast, besides Kong, has it's moments too. Naomi Watts owns the Ann Darrow character. She's more down on her luck than damsel in distress, and when it comes time to do what her character does best, scream, she does with great accuity. Rather than being an expression of her helplessness, her screaming is more like a bat signal, summoning our super hero/ape. Her relationship with Kong, still too close to bestiality for some tastes, is no longer a rape metaphor. She develops a bond with him, empathizes with him, dare I say, almost falls in love with him.

All the while, poor Jack Driscoll (played by a miscast Adrien Brody) is falling in love with her and trying to rescue her from her protector. I say Adrien Brody is miscast, because let's face it, folks, the guy is not very "heroic." Perhaps Jackson is trying to play fast and loose with the hero archetype, to put a new spin on it. I don't think so, though. He embraced the story as it was told in the original version, including the setting and basic plot. As I've described above, Jackson didn't hestitate to use cliches, so a "heroic" hero wouldn't have been inappropriate. He does try to make the chracter fit Brody a little better by making him an airy-fairy intellectual playwright, but that just strains plausibility even more. (You'll see what I mean when you see Brody typing furiously into the night in an early seen, then using a machine gun like a mercenary in a later one.)

Alright, I didn't intend on writing a treatise on King Kong, so I will stop eviserating it. Despite my in-theater experience and all the criticisms I've just aired, I enjoyed the movie immensely. I've mentioned my appreciation for the artistry, which is only one aspect of film-making, but I also found myself genuinely moved by several scenes, which means the story works too. Most times a movie will have either a great story or technical wizardry. King Kong has both.

I'm looking forward to seeing it home.