Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Presidential Press Conference
I watched the entire press conference last night... Partially I was curious about a rumor that the president wears an earpiece during any appearance in which he's not reading from a script. Of course, his performance was so terrible that I'd really hate to think that's what he sounds like with someone else pulling the strings.

Libertarian pundit Gene Healy summed it up nicely:
I find listening to GWB viscerally discomforting to a point that borders on physical pain. And it's not because I hate the guy. It's because, despite it all, I find him sympathetic. And I can't stand to watch sympathetic people in painfully embarassing situations. Why don't they just put him in a tutu and have him respond to reporters' questions in the form of an interpretive dance? It wouldn't be any more awkward and he wouldn't be any more out of his element.
Over at the NRO Corner, John Derbyshire takes a break from his terrified fascination with sodomy to make the following comment:
It sometimes seems that GWB is determined to play to the negative stereotype of him, viz. that he is lazy, sloppy, and ill-prepared. First-hand accounts of the administration, like David Frum's book, don't leave that impression at all -- but only us inside-baseball types read those accounts. To the great majority of voters, Bush is what he appears to be at events like last night's: sincere, human and patriotic, but at the same time lazy, sloppy, and ill-prepared.
An examination of the transcript shows the most embarassing part:
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. In the last campaign you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa.

You've looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11 what would your biggest mistake be, would you say? And what lessons have you learned from it?

BUSH: Hmm. I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. (Laughter.)

John (sp), I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way or that way. You know, I just — I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer. But it hasn't yet.

I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even though I know what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we set up the independent commission.

I look forward to hearing the truth as to exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm.

One of the things that Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons, and their fear of talking about them because they don't want to be killed. You know, there's this kind of — there's this — there's a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq; they're worried about getting killed, and therefore, they're not going to talk.

And — but it will all settle out, John. We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today just like it would have bothered me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually not only had weapons of mass destruction — the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm or paid people to inflict harm or trained people to inflict harm on America because he hated us.

You know, I hope I — I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes; I'm confident I have. I just haven't — (chuckles) — you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not quick — as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.
Missing from the transcript is the fact that after his initial response, he looked confused and didn't say anything for about 30 seconds. Arghghghghgh...

There's another element that you can notice easily in a lot of the Washington testimony right now--the same answers to the same questions, with specific phrases. Pay close attention to the use of "we would have moved heaven and earth" to prevent 9/11, and "we weren't on a war footing". Both arguments are valid; however, the specific phrasing coming from multiple figures in the administration tends to point to either memos or coaching about how to respond. The coaching isn't a problem, but the identical phrases tend to make it look like they're trying to hide something.
Tax Protesters
Reason carries an article ("It’s So Simple, It’s Ridiculous" and its unlinked sidebar, "Five Reasons You Don't Owe Income Tax, Dammit!") by Brian Doherty about the practice of tax protesting, tax honesty, tax freedom, etc. Basically refusing to pay income taxes because of a belief that the government doesn't really have the right to collect income tax.

You'll see a quick one column story on these people every year around tax day. It always gets some passing interest, and I'm sure convinces a few people to refuse to turn in their returns. This article goes into a great deal more depth, and shows how nuts most of these tax protesters are. (And this opinion comes from a libertarian-leaning publication!)

I'm all for tax reductions all across the board, but that requires massive reductions in the size of the government (including the military) and a number of other changes that are unlikely to happen anytime soon in a representational democracy. In the meantime, though, I do believe in being a law abiding citizen, or barring that, being willing to accept the consequences of those actions. These folks seem happy to go to jail, but the religious martyr aspect is a little creepy. Which leads of course, to the main problem I have with their position. It relies on the same logic employed by certain religious fundamentalists who get fixated on a very specific passage or idea, like snake handlers, prohibitionists, polygamists, etc.: take obscure passages written long ago and twist them until the logic appears to match your own desires. In this case, they're arguing a very fine legal point, stretching legal terminology to the breaking point in order to make their point, but ignoring clearer language that contradicts their position, as well as completely ignoring the principle of case law. A society with a strong history of sane case law progress is going to be a fairly sane and free society. Those that rely on pure historical edicts without the possibility of revision tend to stagnate (see much of the Middle East).

That may sound like I'm trashing the Constitution, but I'm not. Most of what people love about the Constitution comes from the changes made to it over the years, particularly the first ten amendments made right after the founding document was written.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Movieblogging: Escape from New York
Guilty admission time again... Tonight is my first-ever viewing of Escape from New York (1981). Like Major League, I've seen the sequel, but not the original. I enjoyed Escape from L.A., and from the comments of my friends at the time I could pretty much figure out the plot of the first flick.

The opening sequence with Air Force One was pretty creepy--the plane flies directly into a building that's damned close to the World Trade Center towers. Wow. Of course, the date really, er, dates the movie. A fascist dictatorship in 1997? A lot of youngsters who watch this and other movies from the era (like Red Dawn) won't realize what it was like to live under the steady menace of the Cold War. It was sort of like living next to a volcano that might go off at any moment... Or like a storm constantly brewing on the horizon that never gets any closer. Though I never learned a single useful fact about Communism until after the fall of the Soviet Union, I understood the menace from a very young age.

On the other hand, a lot of the worst-case-scenario New York looks like modern day South Africa.

It appears as though the character of Snake Plissken lives on in other media, namely anime and comics. I've always enjoyed dystopian science fiction... "Enjoy" maybe isn't the right word, but given my quasi-engineering mentality, I have a healthy respect for any look at everything that can go wrong in a given situation. Some of my friends find me overly cautious at times, but that's only because I've screwed up or seriously injured myself in similar processes.

That reminds me of something... I was recently helping out The Ring Bearer with a mulching project, and all sorts of long-dormant landscaping tips floated to the top of my consciousness. I joked that it was because of my father screaming at me while I had to do yard work as a kid, but I suddenly realized something important: when my father forced me to do all sorts of menial and unpleasant tasks around the house, he wasn't trying to be mean or exerting laziness (as I felt at the time), rather he knew that the best way for me to learn was by doing it myself, as often as possible, and to learn from my mistakes. I don't know that I've got the stomach to so educate any Schroedinger's children I might have in some horrific alternate universe, but I appreciate the lessons. Whether fixing a clogged toilet or changing the starter in a car, I have my father to thank... At some point I'll get around to telling him that in a way that doesn't make me sound like a jerk or invoke a spontaneous playing of "Cat's in the Cradle".

This is a geek classic on many levels, and I realize I'm one of the last of my kind to see it, but I keep finding interesting side things to comment on... At the fifty minute mark, Ernest Borgnine throws a Molotov cocktail. Back when I was twelve or so, my brother and I made a few Molotov cocktails and tested them out under safe conditions. There was a solid concrete drainage ditch (some 50 feet wide) near our house that served as the exit point for all of the storm sewers in the neighborhood. Between the solid mass of concrete (30' concrete walls topped with chain link fences) and the constant running water down the center, it was a pretty safe area to test any manner of explosives. (We also hunted copperheads and fished in the adjacent natural creek areas.) Unless thrown on a person or a house, I don't see the usefulness of a Molotov cocktail. Yeah, with a decent wind it has an amazing psychological effect, but it tends to burn itself out pretty quickly and can't do too much damage.

OK, the movie's halfway over, and I'm loving it... Isaac Hayes has made his first appearance. Awww yeahhhhh... So I'm going to close this post, sit back, and enjoy the rest.


Monday, April 12, 2004

Movieblogging: Vampire Hunter D
OK kids, it's eleven at night, and I've got to be at work in the morning because I'm pulling double shifts. Why? Because my esteemed co-worker is putting on a Samuel Beckett play and needs a few days off. Payback will be sweet. In the meantime, I'm blitzed on cheap rum, and have decided that an anime horror flick is the best way to spend my evening. Thanks again to these weird new channels I've got, I'm finally getting to see the acclaimed anime classic Vampire Hunter D (1985), a.k.a. Kyûketsuki Hunter D a.k.a. バンパイアハンターD.

(By Omoikane and all that is holy, it took me a full half hour to get that katakana text to show up properly. I hope all of y'all appreciate that. To the random Japanese bloke that's stopping by, ohayo gozaimasu!)

So barely past the opening credits, we have a few gratuitous fan service shots. Seriously, what is the big fascination with panties? I'm reminded of some of the more perverse forms this fetish takes in the land of the rising sun. I'm actually disappointed at the hour mark... From the box art (that I've glanced at hundreds of times over the past decade), I assumed that this movie was drawn in a stylized gothic style rather than the standard anime/manga formula. The story is nothing to get excited about. Though this version is dubbed, I don't know that subtitles would have helped. (Obviously I wouldn't have wasted a lot of time making the Japanese characters display correctly if I had to read subtitles.)

Please understand that in a general sense, I enjoy anime. Hell, if I'm sleepy and bored enough, I'll even watch an episode of Pokémon with pleasure. But this movie... Maybe I'm just not in the right mood, but after seeing it on the schedule, I was looking forward to this all evening. Not even a few quick flashes of gratuitous nudity helped out. (Though let's be honest--a lot of anime nudity tends to be more disturbing than alluring. This falls into the former category.)

OK, the movie's almost over, and I'm going to have to stop writing now, because for some bizarre reason I keep slipping in and out of Dutch and it's difficult to catch.

Tot ziens.
Movieblogging: The Master of Disguise
Between apathy and good taste, I haven't gotten around to seeing The Master of Disguise (2002). I really wantedto see this when it came out in the theaters, but you know, the whole public movie theater boycott... Then it came out on DVD, and I never bothered to check it out. Finally, it happened to come on one of the movie channels that has mysteriously appeared on my digital cable lineup. (Seriously, I have about a dozen new commercial-free movie channels, including gems like the Sundance Channel and the Independent Film Channel.)

I just noticed that this movie is ranked #49 on the IMDB Bottom 100. What the hell?

I've always enjoyed the talents of Dana Carvey, though I think that timing probably harmed this film. Those who grew up watching Carvey on Saturday Night Live are in their late 20s/early 30s now. This is a children's movie through and through, but anyone born in the last 15 years has no idea who this guy is, especially since he hasn't worked much since the mid 90s...

I'll take a side moment out to draw attention to Carvey's really badly stereotypical Italian accent. It's roughly accurate, though... While it hasn't really been seen on the big screen since the early 80s, the "Thatsa spicy-a meat-a-balla!" accent is pretty damned close to the bad English spoken by Italians with only a passing familiarity with English. But it's important to note that Italians as a whole are overwhelmingly tolerant of bad Italian spoken by the English-speaking masses. I'm nowhere near fluent in la lingua bella, but I discovered while there that just knowing the basic phrases was enough to get you hugs and kisses from large grandmotherly women. Simple conversational skills will get you an old drunk guy at your table. Slightly higher proficiency will permit you to haggle with hotel owners and customs agents. (I once expedited some paperwork by pointing out on my passport that I was from la citt? di Elvis Presley.)

Back to the movie... The main bad guy is played by Brent Spiner, best known as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Probably my favorite character on the show, and I was young and stupid enough to really enjoy it. For anyone who hasn't seen it, his performance as the ostrich farmer in Dude, Where's My Car? was hilarious. He's not so great here, particularly since all of his lines are unnecessarily punctuated by flatulence. And I'm more than willing to laugh at a good fart joke, but these are just bad. Fortunately he's not on screen too much...

Our hero's mother is played by the incomparable Edie McClurg, whom most people know as the school secretary in Ferris Bueller's Day off. And don't forget her long history of playing important roles as a cartoon voice actor.

Minor pause: having just seen the infamous "Turtle Club" scene.... Not that funny, and rather weird. What's really weird is that I have so much energy to write about the bad movies.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Anti-Canadian Sentiment
There's a new blog out there, sort of like The NRO Corner, but based off a right-leaning Canadian magazine. It's called The Shotgun, and I just found an interesting post about anti-Canadian sentiment in the world of American professional wrestling. Apparently the "good" wrestlers from Canada are being called American, and some of the "bad guys" are switching to Canadian personas. This bit was just surreal:
For example, the "anti-American tag team known as 'La Resistance' -- their shtick includes waving the French flag and blasting the Yanks for their role in the Iraq war -- recently had their announced hometowns changed from Paris to Montreal."
I don't watch wrestling, but am glad that someone is paying attention to this trend...
Movieblogging: Isn't She Great?
The last one for the evening, Isn't She Great (2000). Fairly well done, but I didn't really get into the movie. I haven't read Valley of the Dolls, but am familiar with the life of Jacqueline Susann. I seem to recall that in 2000 this was hyped up so much that you couldn't open a newspaper or magazine without reading about her.

All of the actors were fantastic--Nathan Lane, Bette Midler, Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, John Cleese, Amanda Peet, and more--but I got annoyed at the main character. There's a little bit too much of that "unwilling to ever do any actual work" that grated on me. So she's barely a celebrity, but decides to live up to the worst stereotypes and be worshipped for it. Hurrah. And then she dies of cancer. Obviously it doesn't really work as a comedy, though I suppose it's a decent enough biopic. I'm glad I got it out of the way, but I can't recommend it nor do I think I'll be seeing it again.
Movieblogging: Major League
I don't know why I never got around to seeing Major League (1989). I saw the sequel, and based on hearing various parts of it quoted ad nauseum by friends at the time, I managed to easily infer the plot. But somehow it slipped through the cracks.

I generally like baseball movies. There's been enough of them by now for it to qualify as its own genre, and most of them have been pretty good. This one plays on the classic underdog story, with the requisite big win at the end.

James Gammon is great as the gruff coach--it's always good when he gets to be as angry and coarse as he wants. What's really surprising is the number of fairly big names in a ensemble comedy: Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bernsen, Charlie Sheen, Rene Russo, and Bob Uecker. Well, maybe not that last one, but he did drink continuously throughout the movie, so you've got to give him credit for that. But it's impossible to imagine any three of the above working together in any other movie since then (except for Major League II in 1994). They've all taken very different paths. While none of them are top A-list talent (maybe Russo), they've all held steady careers.
Movieblogging: Ishtar
Saturday evening, I was bored and it was raining, so I managed to fill in a lot of gaps by watching three bad movies in a row... First up was Ishtar (1987). For a movie with such a terrible reputation, it wasn't that bad. Probably the worst problem is that it should have had other actors in the lead roles. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty are excellent actors, but the story was a cheap ripoff of the old Road to... movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hoffman and Beatty aren't good comic actors, and neither can sing worth a damn. The latter is played for laughs, but it mainly comes across as pathetic. Obviously audiences felt the same way, as the movie cost $55 million to make but only earned $12.7 million at the box office. It's a bad sign when you perk up as Charles Grodin appears.

Still, I've seen far worse. As I've devoted a lot of space to pointing out, the 80s produced a lot of really bad movies. The production values were pretty good here. Not $55 million good, but not that bad. I was amazed that it was set in Morocco and actually filmed there, given the subject matter (the CIA aiding the corrupt royalty, a band of Communist-leaning ragtag revolutionaries, guess who we're supposed to sympathize with). There are a few good moments, namely every scene featuring the blind camel. Beatty's southern accent was pretty horrible, but since he kept forgetting to use it, I didn't have to suffer for the entire film.
Movieblogging: Cannibal! The Musical
Here's something that I'd been dying to see: Cannibal! The Musical (1996), the little-known movie made by Trey Parker of South Park fame. (South Park collaborator Matt Stone has a large role, as does constant live action partner Dian Bachar.) Out of Trey Parker's movies, I think Orgazmo was probably the best, with BASEketball a close second. This movie comes as a distant third.

Also known as Alferd Packer: The Musical, this was a B movie with surprisingly good production values. Aside from the general Donner Party theme, the other big claim to fame is the music. There are big musical productions (a la Oklahoma!) at random moments... Funny at first, but we started fast forwarding through them about halfway through. (A couple of years spent as a lighting tech for a high school theatre effectively killed off any love for musicals I may have had.) The movie is pretty bad--it's distributed by Troma, for God's sake--but I'm really glad I got to see it. There are a few moments that are priceless, like the Japanese Indians and the goofy cannibalism scenes.

I've heard that the commentary track is quite enjoyable on its own, so I might give that a listen tonight.

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