Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cultural Assholes

Here is my question. Is it okay to point out a behavior in a culture at large as being negative or "assholic" as the case may be?

For example, this recent dust up over the Danish cartoons. It's strange that this issue has become a real touchstone. No one doesn't have a strong opinion about it. Here's where I stand: I understand that there are prohibitions against depicting Muhammed and that this is greatly upsetting to Muslims. The cartoons were in questionable taste, but free societies can publish what they want.

Okay, that's the standard bipartisan answer. One side of this thing is behaving like a bunch of assholes. And I fear that political correctness prevents us from pointing that out. So it leads me to a deeper question, certain cultures engage in some pretty assholic behavior. I'm sorry, there's no other way to put it. But is it "-ist" to call a spade a spade like that?

I tried to hit at this point with a post a while ago about Athens and Sparta, but I think I was being a little too oblique. So here's the thought, it is wildly inappropriate to make a judgment based on someone's race or sex because that is something immutable and uncontrollable. But behavior is not either of those things? Should assholic behavior be awarded some deference just because it occurs on a cultural scale or is it really okay to say, "Hey, man, don't cut off that woman's clitoris." Or "hey, man, it's kinda shitty when you just grab a woman's ass like that." Or "Hey, lady, I was in line first."

Now, here's the thing. I realize those vague comments I just made could be considered "stereotyping", but A) stereotypes can be true and B) when stereotypes are true (ie, a large majority of a given populace shares a certain behavioral trait) don't we just call it "culture" anyway?

I leave you with that.

I have returned

I've returned, though I'm not sure I have much to say. Okay, I'll do it. I'll say it. Crash kinda sucks. But at the same time, there's something kind of charming about it. Not in a moviegoing sort of way, but in the way that Crash so desperately wants to be important. It's like the role of a retarded person but over an entire movie. How could a movie that tackles the oh-so serious issue or racism not be nominated for an academy award?

I don't know why I'm so invested in seeing Crash fail. After all, they gave best picture to Gladiator a few years back, so I guess it's not that big a deal. The moral of the story is we're all racist, but we all have families, too.

But really, explain this situation to me. Jennifer Esposito's character gets in a car crash (at the scene of a crime. Coincidence, oh, I forgot there's only the twelve people in LA), and as law enforcement officer, the first thing she does is bitch out the Asian lady. Wow, that is some shitty police work.

Anyhoo, I just wanted to rant about something to get back in gear. Gotta get back to watching the olympics.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Oh no, I'm quite lowbrow

Check out this paragraph from some chick who likes to show her boobies.

I know what it's like to need to breastfeed and be in a situation where there's nowhere private to go. One time, back in the early 80s, I breastfed my baby at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I remember feeling I was doing something really wrong and that I was about to be discovered at any point and treated harshly. So I like these laws. What are you supposed to do on a plane? You can't occupy the bathroom that long, and anyway, that would be a disgusting environment for a baby.


Now -- wait for it -- replace breastfeed with masturbate.

Tee hee!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I dunno.

Is it just 'cause I hate her saccharine movies or does Nora Ephron really come off like an ass here?

Yeesh!!

Every time I hear a news bit about W. Mark "Deep Throat" Felt, one singular thought keeps popping into my mind, "I wish they'd waited till he was dead." Hold on, now. I don't mean that in the Pat Buchanan/G. Gordon Liddy sort of way. I have a couple of, I think, legitimate reasons for this.

  • There was always something mythological about this faceless character Deep Throat. From the name that required dancing around the subject with small children to the now-archetypal "dark meeting" in an underground parking lot. Seeing a frail, old man waving to reporters burst the bubble of one of the most mysterious figures in American History. Not that important in the grand scheme of things, I suppose, but waiting till after he was gone was always the plan.
  • Now, I don't know if it would've worked out this way. SwiftBoating is rapidly becoming an art. But I also believe that the criticism would be more muted if he were dead. I suppose I underestimate the 'Licans. But even if they still went full-bore, I think that would've been dampened by the eulogizing at his passing. But I suppose I'm being naive.
  • And what appears to be the cashing in by he and his family (though, in his mental state, I suspect more of the family) would not be nearly as salacious. Money taints everything. I wish it didn't. And if, after he died, his family wanted to cash in on the legacy, more power to them. But he would've been gone and spared that indignity.
As it was, he was a flawed character. But that shouldn't taint his legacy. I just wish the secret had held out just a little longer.

Touche, Harry Reid

That's what I'm talking about. Harry Reid in an upcoming interview with Rolling Stone.

RS: You've called Bush a loser.

HR: And a liar.

RS: You apologized for the loser comment.

HR: But never for the liar, have I?


I especially enjoy the snarkiness.

What is War?

Here's a question I've always had that maybe some of my fancypants lawyer friends could answer for me. Does a Congressional Declaration of War mean anything at all? Has it ever? And in the wake of the War Powers Act (my knowledge of this is limited, but I know the basics) does it mean even less?

Basically, I've always wondered that since the President has the power to order the military to do basically what he wants it to do, what sort of extra shit do you get when Congress declares war? Are there any safety locks that come off the really big guns? Or has it always been a rehtorical device/sham that wasn't really acknowledged until Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973.

Here's an example. Back in 1941 Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. We declare war on Japan. Japan, Germany and Italy declare war on us. And somewhere in there we declared war on Germany. That's a lot of declarations going around. And that's all fine and good, but do you really need to declare war when you're already bombing the shit out of each other?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Wading into mega-nerdosity

So I saw Revenge of the Sith this weekend and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But like the other two it got me thinking about what I would have done differently. Of course, I can do this with the benefit of someone who did not have the weight of the most popular movie series of all time starting over his shoulder at every turn. And I have the benefit of hindsight. And I have the benefit of not actually having to write anything. So, with all those disclaimers out of the way, let me begin.

1. Yoda: Yoda was perhaps the biggest shock to my system in the whole thing. And he's indicative of a larger problem I had with the series. Namely, that the Jedi were an overtly political body. The way Ben Kenobi described it, and the way everyone in Eps IV-VI reacted to it, the Jedi were practically a myth. Han Solo barely even believed they existed. "I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other and I haven't seen anything that would make me believe there's some all-powerful Force controlling everything." Really? But the Jedi had a seat in congress up till when you were about five years old.

I guess I alwyas thought of them more like Shaolin Monks, only coming down from their mountain hideaway to interfere when things got really dicey. If they had any political motivations, it would be done in the background like the Bene Gesserits. You don't establish a mythology about yourself if you've got an office on the equivalent of K street in D.C.

But even setting all of that aside, Yoda was even further over the line. From what we see of him in Empire and Jedi, Yoda would never have waded into the sewer of politics. He was a mystic. A priest in ultimate control of the force. He's the guy who ran the dojo where all the Jedis trained. It's as if Pai Mei had decided he wanted to run for office. That just wouldn't happen. I refuse to believe that his whimsical attitude upon first meeting Luke was all a smokescreen. He was serious when he needed to be serious, but when he didn't need to be, he was quite the little munchkin. Politics. Pffft.

2. The timeline: This is something I started thinking about before the prequels came out. But it really solidified for me after they came out. Movies in general tend to rely on a compressed version of time for drama and pacing. But this runs right in the face of the nature of an epic where size, scope, and time are all on -- for lack of a better word -- an epic scale.

The Holy Trilogy managed to sidestep this issue by relegating all of these epic events to merely passing reference and occurring sometime in "the past" (the Clone Wars, The Old Republic, The Jedi Purge). If you thought deeply about them, you'd realize that they all had to happen pretty quickly. No more than the span of twenty or so years (Luke and Leia's age). But the way they were referenced, it felt like they took place a long, long time ago. As long as you didn't look at it head on, the illusion held.

Unfortunately, the prequels required looking at things head on and then some. And in so doing, the illusion collapsed and we realize that the Galactic Empire, the most destructive force the galaxy had ever known, in fact, lasted less than a third as long as the Soviet Union. Suddenly it doesn't feel so epic.

I don't really know what Lucas could have done on this one. It seems that the conflict between showing the rise and fall of just one man and keeping the setting epic is too difficult to overcome. The only thing I could say that Lucas might have done differently is to remember the first rule of epics. They always start in medias res. Do what Star Wars did, relegate everything to the past. Don't show the beginning of the Empire. As far as any of our characters have knows, it's always existed. Keep the Old Republic a myth. It fell a thousand years ago. And so on. I don't know if this would actually work, or if it's even close to the story Lucas wanted to tell, but it's the only solution I have to that rather sticky problem.

3. Anakin's Fall: Something I didn't think of until after seeing Episode III. The first two movies made a point of showing Anakin being both a badass (well, at least in ability to wield a lightsaber and fly a starship) and also a very good candidate for "most likely to succumb to the Dark Side". But wouldn't it have been a much further and more tragic fall if he'd been nearly pristine. What if he really was the greatest Jedi ever? And yet something so human was what tripped him up. In Episode III, his love for Padme is what ultimately seals the deal, but he was already very far down the dark path. But Lucas didn't need any of those other minor moments of loss of control. They only made his antihero seem petulant and whiny. That was the problem. He never seemed like "the Chosen One" which is why his fall wasn't as tragic as it should have been.

That's all I have for now. Maybe more later.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Compromise

I'm still waiting for all of the details of this compromise to shake out. But for now, I agree with Digby on this one.

I think the most important thing the Democrats could have done in this case was to stand firm. If the Republicans wanted to lay nuclear waste to the Senate, so be it. They have the power and, apparently, the will to do it. The Democrats were going to lose something in this battle one way or another. Although I hate the word, I think this was a battle to go down as martyrs. Stand firm. Scream as loud as you can while the Republicans tear apart the rules of the Senate. Hopefully, people will remember the screams and remember who turned the Senate into a wasteland.

Well, even as I wrote that I realize that relies on just about as much wishful thinking as the compromise does. Maybe Reid saw an opportunity to draw a little blood in exchange for... I'm not quite sure yet. Yeah. I'm back to my original thought. Better to give the Republicans a pyrrhic victory than to put any stamp of legitimacy or bipartisanship on this one.

I hope I'm missing something.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Supporting the troops

Okay, so I'm gonna inch ever closer to the latest third rail in the political world. Supporting the troops. Via Digby This report in the New York Times is enough to turn your stomach. A choice excerpt:
Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.


Jesus Christ.

Now here's the thing. Damn, do I admire the people who would volunteer to put their lives on the line to defend us. I support the troops. I really do. But I don't support them unconditionally. And I condemn this.

So, the question is at what point does this sort of atrocity become prevalent enough that you can no longer support the troops as a whole. When have the "bad apples" grown so prevalent as to destroy the integrity of the entire institution. There is a line out there somewhere even if it's invisible to us right now. But will we even know it when we cross it?

And what really peeves me is that most of these bad apples probably wouldn't be bad apples were it not for the fact that they're in an impossible situation. And war "does stuff" to you. That for me is probably the biggest reason to always view war as a last resort and never for such touchy-feely things as spreading democracy. Because war breeds monsters. And those monsters will be doing your work.

I swear it's as if the guys in the White House running this whole shit storm have never seen a war movie or read a war book not written by Tom Clancy. It's the common theme. Apocalypse Now? Full Metal Jacket? War makes assholes out of everyone. How long before we're all assholes.

Jeebus.

You don't even have to believe the Brits. Lessons learned from A Few Good Men.

Digby, again in rare form talks about the Downing Street Memo, which is receiving all the traction you'd expect hard documentation of our worst fears to get. None. But I digress.

The Downing St. Memo contains another smoking gun that I haven't heard anyone mention. It says:

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss [the timing of the war] with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.


I must say that this answers definitively one of the biggest questions I had in the run-up to the war. I had always wondered how, if anyone believed even for a second that Saddam had serious biological or chemical weapons, that we would ever have placed 100,000 American soldiers like sitting ducks in Kuwait over the course of several months before the war. It was an incomprehensible risk, I thought, considering that everyone knew that the war was unnecessary in terms of the terrorist threat. Even Bush couldn't be that craven and stupid. And he wasn't. He expected a razzle dazzle military "cakewalk," not a catastrophic loss of life, and that's what he got. It seemed clear to me then that we knew with certainty from the start that there wasn't a serious WMD threat in Iraq.


Now, I really like that 'cause it reminds me of A Few Good Men. Even if you think the Downing Memo is full of shit -- which I don't, but even if you do -- how do you square this military maneuver? It's along the lines of

KAFFEE
Your honor, these are the telephone
records from GITMO for August 6th. And
these are 14 letters that Santiago wrote
in nine months requesting, in fact
begging, for a transfer.
(to JESSEP)
Upon hearing the news that he was finally
getting his transfer, Santiago was so
excited, that do you know how many people
he called? Zero. Nobody. Not one call
to his parents saying he was coming home.
Not one call to a friend saying can you
pick me up at the airport. He was asleep
in his bed at midnight, and according to
you he was getting on a plane in six
hours, yet everything he owned was hanging
neatly in his closet and folded neatly in
his footlocker. You were leaving for one
day and you packed a bag and made three
phone calls. Santiago was leaving for the
rest of his life, and he hadn't called a
soul and he hadn't packed a thing. Can
you explain that? The fact is there was
no transfer order. Santiago wasn't going
anywhere, isn't that right, Colonel.


This is the piece of evidence that you look back at at the end of the movie and realize your worst fears have been confirmed.

I'd always given Bush the benefit of the doubt in the small area of, "Well, I think he cooked and exaggerrated intellegence, but I believe he honestly thought there were some WMDs in Iraq." But he sure as shit didn't act like a man who believed that.

Can we handle the truth?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Bartenders

I realized in my last post I gave short shrift to another pet peeve of mine. Motherfucking bartenders. Trained monkeys, the lot of them. And yet we revere them. We support them like we support the troops.

How the fuck do I make less than these assholes? Yeah, I'm bitter and I'm jealous. But should I not be? That a college education yields a job that pays less than that of a glorified Coke machine?

Every bartender on the planet thinks they're the greatest bartender in the world. "I make an awesome martini." No, you don't, fucktard. Ketel One makes a great martini. Grey Goose makes a great martini. You, my friend, pour shit in a glass. It's not that hard. I should know. I do it every fucking day.

But yet we're supposed to revere these people people who know the perfect ratio of Jack to Coke. But I already know the perfect ratio of Jack to Coke. It's three parts Jack, zero parts Coke. Everything else is just tipping the game in favor of the house. All jokes aside, do you really think there's that much skill in pouring a couple things in a glass? You've memorized a book. And often not even that.

And why do you think there are so many attractive bartenders and bartendresses? Because hot people like to rise to the challenges? Sure. Hot people who don't have to work for any aspect of their lives are just lining up for the challenge of alcoholic alchemy. 'Cause if there's one thing we know about hot people, it's that they love a challenge. That's why I tend to hang out at NASA and shit like that. It's shocking.

And, sexy bartendresses, please listen. I know you think that keeping the bottle opener in the waist of whatever butt-hugging getup you're wearing is sexy. And I'll admit. If I knew you, it would be sexy. But I don't. So all you are to me is a skank. And I don't need any skank thigh-sweat anywhere near the mouth-hole of my bottle. Just leave it on the bar in the spilled swill of the rest of the customers.

Off-duty bartenders. You're the worst. You're almost as irritating as non-smokers. I love to talk about alcohol as much as the next guy. But I don't need every conversation to steer itself to how you can rattle of the ingredients of some semi-obscure drink. Awesome. You memorized a book. Your parents must be somewhat proud. Maybe if you applied that book-learnin' to school you'd actually get a real job and not pouring drinks...

...making more than me.

Goddammit!