new column: merry spendmas and other holiday musings

Whew! The holidays are really throwing my writing schedule off. This is my last column until the New Year, and I'm not anticipating having any film reviews until the first week of January. I may, however, arbitrarily update the blog in the meantime - I expect to get back to a regular schedule on January 5th.
With the Christmas season comes all the usual ornaments and traditions including, of course, the biggest tradition of all: spend money. We could consider renaming the holiday “spendmas,” especially when the news reminds us about how much we’re doling out for stuff in comparison to past years. Outlook: not so good. Says the Front Page’s favourite punching bag, the L.A. Times: “The International Council of Shopping Centers has estimated that in November and December, sales at stores open at least a year may decline as much as 1 percent. That would be the largest drop since at least 1969, when the New York trade group starting tracking data.”
Read the rest of Merry Spendmas and Other Holiday Musings.

Happy holidays!


new film reviews: yes man and cycle of fear

Two movies this week.

Yes Man:
The ambiguous label of “B movie” is often reserved for quasi-exploitative genre films. But the definition could be expanded to include any film in which cheap thrills take precedence over meaningful drama. Just as horror films that focus on gore and sex easily fall into the B movie category, and action flicks filled with explosions, car chases and gunfire with nary more than an unintelligible grunt from the hero, the comedy that subsists on gags with only token gestures towards genuine heart is as B as it gets.

Read the rest of Yes Man? Maybe Man.

Cycle of Fear:
The film’s tagline is, “There is No End,” and if ever there was truth in advertising, this is it. There is no end to the recycling of fearful clichés in the horror genre – storytelling becomes affliction, thanks to a low budget. Beginning with the basic premise of a witch unjustly burned at the stake taking revenge on innocent people one hundred years later, “Cycle of Fear” hasn’t even gotten past zippy, swoosh-y credits before instilling the fear of a derivative piece of work. Suddenly, it’s possible to appreciate “The Blair Witch Project” a little more – not because it has any substance, but because, at least, it starts from an intriguing premise and presents it with a clever cinematic gimmick.
Read the rest of (Re)Cycle of Fear(ful) Cliches.

Housekeeping note: blogging is light these days on account of the madness we call the holidays.


crudely sexual

So I went to a press screening of Yes Man yesterday and noticed the film’s rating in the production packet: Rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language, and brief nudity. My question is: why is it always crude sexual humor? Why not refined sexual humor? Intelligent sexual humor? Silly sexual humor? Anyone? Anyone?

And: is the humor crude because it is sexual? If so, what does that say about our culture’s sexual mores? Or is the humor’s crudeness distinct from the fact it involves sex? Let me put it this way: does a randy senior citizen make you laugh uncomfortably? I mean, the scene with Jim Carrey and an elderly neighbor IS funny, but is it funny because we don’t normally put the word “sex” in the same sentence as “senior?”

That’s just a minor spoiler, by the way. Not even minor. A trifle. And I got to use the word “sex” in the same sentence as “senior,” even I did have to use quotation marks.


new column: going for gold - an archery range for culver city

There's a proposal out there to build an archery range in Culver City - great idea. I shoot at Rancho Park, which isn't too far from where I live. But a range at the Culver City Park would be much closer, which means afternoon jaunts to the range for some extra practice sessions. This doesn't mean I'd abandon the Rancho Park range, though, given all the fine people I've been shooting with there.
I am not a sporty guy. Truly. I like hiking, and bicycling, and camping – you know, physical outdoorsy stuff. But sports? Nuh-uh. Oh, sure, I like watching the Olympics, and basketball has a certain appeal to me. But again: sports? Not on the top of my list. I did swim competitively for about three years, though, when I was a kid. The first year was great. Our coach was a swell lady who really focused on proper swimming form, a focus that made swim meets that much more fun. But she left to become a nun in the middle of nowhere, Québec, and year two brought along a wishy-washy coach. Nice guy, but wishy-washy…And then came year three, with a coach focused on winning, winning, winning. The fun got sucked out of the swimming, the competitiveness became oppressive, and suddenly, there was no good justification for getting up at 5:30 on Saturday mornings for swim practice in freezing water. So much for athleticism.
Read the rest of Going for Gold: An Archery Range for Culver City.


new theatre review: aah! scrooge must die!

I'm not one to go for raunch or offensiveness for the sake of being offensiveness, but I kinda dig this new play, Aah! Scrooge Must Die!, at the Ivy Substation. The Actor's Gang sure is a wacky bunch.
Ah, yes. The holidays. Christmas carols over the speakers of stuff-selling stores. Tinsel for the trees. Snow on Disney’s Main Street. The Ivy and the Holly. Ho, ho, ho, and glowing red noses – a certain reindeer’s luminous proboscis and too much rum in the egg nog. Colourful wrapping paper, ribbons and gift cards. Chocolate peppermint bark. Family visits. And maybe, just maybe a dash of that old bah, humbug? In the stress of the holidays, the relentless drive to play a part in unbridled consumerism, the forced smiles and strained good cheers – surely it’s not uncommon to feel a bit like a pre-phantasmic Scrooge amidst the onslaught.
Read the rest of Scrooge Must Die...Laughing.


the salvation army: WTF!?

Despite the role Salvation Army bell ringers have in iconic Christmas scenes – and who among us hasn’t put an ol’ Washington or two in the kettle – I’m rather bothered by the militaristic theme behind the charitable organization. Army? Salvation? Sounds like the zeal to march on the world and gain converts, which isn’t entirely a stretch:

“The Salvation Army has a devoutly religious mission, rooted in its founding in 1865 by an evangelical protestant minister (and former pawn broker) named William Booth, whose early motivation was to convert poor Londoners — and eventually prostitutes, gamblers and alcoholics — to Christianity. Recognizing that his followers needed more than just religion to improve their lives — and that the way to attract the destitute was the provide services — Booth provided meals, clothing and other assistance to his early converts. He was famous for saying, "Nobody ever got saved while they had a toothache." The quasi-military name "Salvation Army" was given to the charitable church in 1878 — Booth had been known as its "general" even before that — and the first U.S. chapter opened around 1880.” (Source: Time)
Regardless of how harmless the Salvation Army may be, I’m wary of military analogies – it encourages flawed reasoning. After all, armies conduct war. If it were called the Salvation Corps, the impression would be different.

In any case, an item in the news came to my attention and I’m just gobsmacked: a Salvation Army officer is facing dismissal over his choice of fiancée. Apparently, officers are only allowed to marry other officers due to expectations that they live and breathe the Salvation Army. Captain Johnny Harsh of Oshkosh, Washington, was suspended from his leadership position after he became engaged to a nurse he met through an online Christian dating website.
“Harsh was suspended from his position as leader of the Oshkosh Salvation Army after he announced his engagement to a woman he named only as "Cia." Harsh's first wife, Capt. Yalanda "Yoley" Harsh, a Salvation Army officer, died suddenly of a heart attack in June. A few months later Harsh said he met Cia, 56, a nurse, on a Christian online dating Web site.

‘I prayed and told the Lord, I can't stand being single. Can you please give me a woman on the outside and inside,’ said Harsh. He said it was love at first sight. ‘One word describes her. Wow.’

Harsh said the organization's rules regarding marriage are outdated, unfair and must be changed, but he doesn't want his personal situation to harm the Salvation Army.”
This is exactly how institutionalized religion can become a detriment to individuals - in terms of freedom, personal fulfillment, and even basic humanity. These are not “divine” rules, but organizational rules that work to keep people in the fold. But Harsh knew what he was getting into, and his first wife, who died of a heart attack, was indeed an SA officer. And his call for people not to stop giving to the charity, which is only second to the United Way, goes a long way from making this exposure a personal vendetta.

For my part, however, I’ve come to realize just to what degree the Salvation Army is really a Christian organization, complete with doctrines of original sin, the holy trinity, heaven for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, and so on. The question is, to what extent does supporting their considerable charitable work a reinforcement for their religious and organizational beliefs?


Nick LaRue and I are writing a book on the topic of living without religion, and we're starting off with some research. Whether you're an atheist or a person of faith, we want to hear from you.

Background in this week's column at The Front Page Online.

...and the book's blog here at goodbyegod.blogspot.com.


new review: the life I lived

Perhaps greater than the fear of that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns is the fear that comes with discovering, then desperately clinging to, regret over bad choices. And many are the stories that take this primal psychological morass as the drive to dig deep into character.
Read the rest of The Life I Lived, and Rather Wish I Had Not


on the topic of truth in scripture

Does the Bible condemn gays or support them? The answer is yes! Religious scriptures are so vague and contradictory, leading to an endless pick-and-choose game to find that bit of text that rationalizes whatever people of faith want to rationalize, it’s no surprise the Anglicans are tearing themselves to pieces:

Theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans formed a rival North American province Wednesday, in a long-developing rift over the Bible that erupted when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop.


new column: what's so great about being the greatest?

As my wife and I prepared for a family Thanksgiving gathering at our home, we had the TV set to the Macy’s parade. Big balloons, floats, marching bands; the whole shebang. At some point, a modestly sized float came into view, a large urban landscape crowning a giant apple. But it wasn’t the float itself that took my attention away from some last-minute cleaning-up. It was the commentator announcing the float with something more or less along the lines of “and here’s the float for New York City, the greatest city in the world.” My first reaction: Sorry, but New York is not the greatest city in the world. My second reaction: What is this obsession with being “the greatest?”
Read the rest of What's So Great About Being the Greatest?


new film review: bolt

Sorry for the delay in posting this. Holidays happen.
Only an overzealous dog lover would make a cat give a speech about having a dog complex defined by a secret desire to be a dog. Why can’t cats get any respect? Never mind. It’s all about the hamster, anyway. “Bolt,” Di­sney’s riff on “An Incredible Journey,” delivered in gorgeously rendered 3-D animation, starts out with Bolt (Travolta), a brave dog who is the victim of a monstrous “Truman Show” deception: He doesn’t know the TV show he stars in as a superpowered canine is all fake. So when his beloved and perpetually endangered human Penny (Cyrus) is separated from him in the latest episode’s cliffhanger and a mailing mishap puts him on the other side of the country, Bolt doggedly sets off, as always, to the rescue.
Read the rest Forget the Dog. It's the Hamster Who Saves the Movie. Also at inkandashes.net.


new column: Sorry, but I’m Skeptical About a ‘Day Without a Gay’

December 10th is supposed to be a Day Without a Gay - call in "gay" day, if you will. I love the spirit of it, but I think it is a strategic error.
Okay, so who am I to talk strategy? My attempt at activism, the Always Choose Love Initiative, didn’t quite go according to plan. Maybe the tee-shirts were too expensive. Maybe tee-shirts in general didn’t suit people’s fancy. I definitely should have had buttons and stickers. (I do now, but more on that later.) At the very least, I don’t have Obama’s capacity to inspire. But having frankly admitted my limitations, I still don’t quite agree with the current strategy underlying Prop. 8 opposition. At the very least, I’m sitting on the fence.

Read the rest of
Sorry, but I’m Skeptical About a ‘Day Without a Gay’


new DVD review: death of a president

With assassination fears and an increased number of threats directed to President-elect Obama, it seems appropriate to review another hypothetical Presidential assassination, one I suspect many people never have heard of let alone seen. When released in 2006, “Death of a President” created quite the hubbub with its realistic depiction of a sitting President’s assassination – the President of the title being none other than George W. Bush. But the filmmakers were aware of the controversy – a controversy fully realized as many have condemned the film as shocking and tasteless. In crafting the film’s style and presentation, director Gabriel Range and his crew successfully avoid face-slapping sensationalism; even the assassination scene itself is too gritty, too quick, too chaotic to be perversely exploitative.
Read the rest of Shots Fired in Controversial Film.

Also at inkandashes.net.


you've lost that lovin' feelin'


what is baseline veganism? part 2

However, a few qualifications are in order. First is that humans are, indeed, omnivores. Our body has evolved to eat a variety of food. However, just because we CAN eat a variety of food types doesn’t mean that we SHOULD. Based on what I’ve read, I’ve come to see nutrition like this: as with sweets and alcohol, we can eat meat in small quantities, but for long term-health it’s best to follow a vegan diet. This brings me to a second point, namely, that in terms of ethics an absolute injunction against eating meat doesn’t really make sense. For one thing, all life is predicated on the consumption of other life, whether we like it or not. Carnivores eat meat, and unless we’re prepared to slaughter lions and wolves and the like because they are fundamentally immoral, then we have to admit that survival is a mitigating factor. Carnivores kill other animals because that’s how they evolved, and meat is what they need to survive. In human, omnivorous terms, this translates to: if the choice comes down to killing and eating an animal or starving to death, I certainly wouldn’t choose to starve to death. Veganism doesn’t work as an absolute.

There are more aesthetic reasons not to be so absolutist: not everything animal-related is harmful to animals. Milk, for example. Even though it’s not especially healthy in large quantities, it doesn’t hurt the cow to drink it. Same thing with eggs, or honey. The point isn’t to argue for vegetarianism, but to say that flexibility in a vegan diet means that we can be sure that the occasional treat of milk and eggs can from well-treated, free-range, organic animals that have not been made to suffer. Even eating meat, on occasion, may be acceptable if we take Michael Pollan’s point that there’s more to food than nutrition. Food is intrinsically tied to culture, to socializing, to enjoying the good life. I happen to enjoy sushi – forget beef and chicken – and like indulging in a good Japanese meal on special occasions. I don't necessarily see a problem when this is the exception and not the rule, although this does play fast and loose with the actual rule.

So this brings me to the rationale behind “baseline” veganism. Baseline, because the vegan diet serves as the, well, baseline for eating on a day to day basis (as opposed to vegetarianism, which allows animal-derived food as part of the diet). But a baseline is just that; a starting point. A guideline from which it is okay to deviate on occasion. A baseline vegan, or bVegan, is someone who adheres to veganism while allowing for limited compromises and deviations.

Or, a bVegan is a vegan who isn’t propped upright by a stick up the ass.

what is baseline veganism? part 1

When it comes to food, whether eating out with friends or partaking in the product lunch presentation at work, the fact that I am vegan inevitably creates a bit of a problem. Not so much in a logistical sense, although of course there’s an issue there, but more in terms of labels. While I consider myself essentially vegan, I don’t think the word “vegan” as commonly understood is an accurate label. Reason the first; too many vegans have an insufferable self-righteous attitude, and I’m insufferably self-righteous as it is that I don’t need any more encouragement. I’m talking about folks who refer to people who eat meat as corpse-eaters, for example. I’m talking about PETA, who are otherwise commendable in their efforts for securing humane treatment for animals. Reason the second: the word “vegan” does connote an absolute stance – absolutely no meat, no animal products, never-ever – and I don’t think this is either philosophically justified or realistic in terms of living life.

I’ve resorted to using pragmatic vegan or non-absolute vegan as alternatives, but these are just weasel words, as Wikipedia might put it. After working the ol’ neurons for a long time, I’ve settled on the term “baseline vegan” to label my nutritional stance. Before explaining it, though, I’d like to get on the soapbox and answer the question, “why vegan?” The short answer is predicated on the principle of avoiding or minimizing death and suffering:
  1. It’s healthier for us.
  2. It’s good for animals.
  3. It’s good for the planet.
Nutritionally, it’s Dr. McDougall’s books that persuaded me of the science behind nutrition, along with stuff I’ve read by Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food) and others. Basically, to be healthy and reduce incidence of diseases like cancer, diabetes, what have you, it’s best to avoid processed food and “edible food-like products” and just eat food. Good ol’ natural food, straight from the planet – veggies, fruits, and grains – chock-full of vitamins and nutrients. But it’s also that excess meat and dairy, with high fat, underlies many diseases associated with the Western diet.

Beyond nutrition, the huge planetary population entails a large-scale meat industry, which comes with barbaric practices like debeaking, close confinement, electrocution deaths, and other abuses. I once rationalized these industrial processes as necessary for feeding a large population, but I can’t accept that anymore. Animals are sentient - to varying degrees, of course, but sentient nonetheless. They may not be “human,” but they feel pain; there’s more to animals than we think. To be consistent with acting with compassion, it’s necessary to treat animals humanely, with empathy - not just humans. Not eating meat means not treating animals with cruelty.

Then there’s the planet. The meat industry is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gas that contribute to global warming. Yes, you can say cow farts – the methane of livestock is a greenhouse gas. Between that and the fertilizers, land use, transportation, and so on, the meat industry as it is now is bad for the environment. Other points of contention is how much grain goes to feed cattle (seven pounds of corn to one pound of beef, for example) when it could instead to feeling people directly. The excess consumption of meat, fast-food and otherwise, impacts not only the environment, but the quality of our human civilization.

To be continued...


new column: are the gay rights protests mob justice?

A few thoughts about the tyranny of culture and Mormon hypocrisy....
Although I’m not convinced that the protests serve a strategically useful purpose – and I wonder where the heck everybody was before Nov. 4 – I don’t buy accusations that these are mob justice or disrespectful of “the people’s will.” Insofar as the mob justice canard is concerned, Prop. 8 not only revoked a legal right, it did so on the basis of portraying gay marriage as harmful to children and a threat to social stability. When somebody calls you a threat, immoral and the like, then pulls a stunt like Prop. 8 to interfere in your life, getting upset and exercising free speech rights strikes me as a natural human response. Prop. 8 supporters may not like being the object of anger, they may not like being called intolerant and bigots, they may not like these protests and boycotts, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. People don’t like to be insulted and treated like second-class citizens, and it was, after all, the Prop. 8 people – who don’t seem to understand or care about the pain they are causing – who started it. They could have left well enough alone, living their lives according to their beliefs and leaving others to theirs, but no. Read the rest of Are the Gay Rights Protests Mob Justice?


new film reviews: madascar 2 and quantum of solace

Escape 2 laughs with Madascar: Escape 2 Africa.
So it’s not “Wall.E.” There — I’ve said it. Maybe I’m defending the film from an accusation that hasn’t been made – does anyone really expect a “Madagascar” film to be “Wall.E”? – but,hopefully, with that kind of snootiness out of the way we can get to what makes this sequel to 2005’s “Madagascar” a tasty puff of animation. And there’s nothing wrong with being a tasty puff of beautiful animation. Read the rest here.
Get a wallop of action with your smidgen of comfort - and no, referring to Quantum of Solace as Smidgen of Comfort hasn't gotten old yet.
It’s like that moment on a roller-coaster right after the endless suspense of getting pulled up the ramp and right before the sudden, terrifying drop. And that’s just within the first 10 minutes. “Quantum of Solace,” the 23rd film in a series that needs no introduction, has stunts that fall in the category of unbelievable. Car chases, foot chases, aerial dogfights – if it moves on air, land or sea, it’s in a stunt extravaganza that pounds hearts and drops jaws. Bond’s pursuit of an environmentalist who uses his “green” company as a front for sinister geo-political machinations couldn’t be pumped up with any more adrenaline. Read the rest here.

goths and politics: a survey

Unlike punk, goth has never been associated with the raised fist of revolutionary fervour. Yet with goth being so notoriously difficult to pin down beyond “I’ll know it when I see it,” could it really be so easy to separate politics from goth?
Discover the answer in Goths and Politics at Morbid Outlook.

The results of a survey I conducted to find out what, if any, relationship there is between politics and goth culture have been published at Morbid Outlook...Limited space forced me to set aside some specific questions. For example: how did self-described anarchists respond? Were there any conservative goths? But stay tuned to future blog posts for a breakdown of the survey's results...


a special comment about special comments and anti-prop 8 protests

So this video of Keith Olbermann's very moving special comment on gay marriage and Prop. 8 has been making the rounds:

And the headlines have been, if not dominated, then at least strong-armed, by the anti-Prop.8 protestapalooza that's been going on.

It's all very well and good. Although I question the tactical value of the protests at this stage of the struggle - it's in the hands of the lawyers and the courts now - and worry that too much protesting will dull the impact of these mass gatherings, I not only understand, but share the outrage.

Yet I have to ask: where was Keith Olbermann before November 4th? Where were the people of influence, the soap-box orators, the movers and shakers? It's easy to get upset now, to wave fists and signs after the fact. But setting aside the No On 8 reactive campaign - shouldn't that ad narrated by Sam Jackson have aired sooner rather than in the waning days before the election? - the unfortunate truth is that we didn't do enough. I include myself in this "we." I - we - didn't do enough to reach out to the people to let them know the real cost, the high price, of discrimination. We just didn't. Maybe we took it for granted, thinking that surely in this brave new 21st century, in this golden state, people would not be so cruel as to vote for something so base and mean as Proposition 8. Maybe those hesitant, fluttering spikes in the polls gave us a fall sense of hope. Whatever the reason, we didn't do what we had to do.

Olbermann's comment is a model of eloquence and passion - and of the cavalry arriving too late.

new theatre review: school of night

I love the theatre space at the Mark Taper Forum...the things they do with sets that assemble and move like clock is quite impressive. Too bad I can't be similarly enthusiastic about the play currently on stage...
An alleged Elizabethan-era association of free-thinkers devoted to science, philosophy, poetry, politics and the repudiation of religion, is an inspired topic for a play – especially when this association encompasses the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe. The School of Night’s history is so murky – even the name is, apparently, a retroactive indulgence by modern writers taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour Lost – that it lends itself to intriguing historical speculation. Toss in a turbulent political climate under Queen Elizabeth I and we have a fertile setting for a provocative drama involving freedom of religion and thought and the birth pangs of science. Read the rest of No Need to Stay Up Late for the School of Night.


capsule review: suspect zero

Most critics, understandably, view Suspect Zero as an overly stylized (read: insubstantial), derivative and even pretentious genre effort. But while it doesn’t escape from the clichés that come with serial killer procedurals, Suspect Zero does have a few flashes of inspiration – call them twists of the knife – that make the film worthwhile. Begin with E. Elias Merhige stylish direction, marked by fascinating, off-kilter camera angles that, along with clever editing and scene splicing, create a visually arresting film. At times slow to take in the scenery, at times fast to convey the disturbing imagery that haunt two of the film’s characters, Merhige puts in a lot of artistry in the film’s composition, the result of which is a film drenched in atmosphere. It’s worth noting that despite the gruesome deaths, the film isn’t particularly gory and has very little on-screen violence. Suspect Zero is, above all, an exercise in creeping, skin-burrowing dread.

The story has its own flourishes, the first of which is the way in which the paranormal ability of remote viewing is woven into the film. Without the self-consciousness of an X-Files episode, where the premise of the FBI using clairvoyance to remotely find criminals would be right at home, Suspect Zero is a science fiction film that doesn’t make a fuss about being a science-fiction film. In fact, the premise is so effortless presented as plausible that we are free to focus on the other nice flourish, namely, the notion of a serial killer who preys on other serial killers, and the Suspect Zero hypothesis of a serial killer who is truly random in his method, motive, and choice of victims. Cue in a deliciously intense performance by Sir Ben Kingsley as the man who may or not be “Suspect Zero,” along robust performances by Aaron Eckhard as Agent Mackelway and Carrie Anne-Moss as his partner Fran Kulok, and Suspect Zero becomes, not so much a crime thriller, but a psychological thriller on the nature of confronting evil in the world punctuated by intensely dramatic character moments.

Where Suspect Zero stumbles is in failing to flesh out its ideas. There are worse things, however, than being left with wanting more, and the film proves surprisingly enjoyable.


new column: Obama won, yet I'm not ready to celebrate

I've remained silent on the November 4th election - AKA liberation day for the sensible and the Russian Revolution for the hard-nosed right - mostly because I've been utterly depressed over Prop. 8 passing. But now that a bit of time has passed, I'll chime in with a few semi-contrarian thoughts on Obama's victory.

Okay, so the headline isn’t, strictly speaking, true. I am plenty pleased that Obama won. President Bush and the GOP had eight years of governance, they botched it, and now comes someone new. Obama brought to the campaign a better set of policies and, more importantly, a superior vision and temperament than McCain. That Obama inspired so many to become involved in the political process is commendable. That the world is jubilant about Obama’s win and looking forward to renewing diplomatic relations that frayed under President Bush is encouraging. And, except for the hardcore Republican base who see Obama’s win as the Russian Revolution and will continue to see it that way no matter what, Obama stands a good chance of truly achieving a government that doesn’t shut people out the way Republicans have shut out Democrats and dissenters in the past eight years. Read the rest of Obama Won, Yet I’m Not Ready to Celebrate.
As for Prop. 8, well, the short answer is that it's in the lawyers' hands now.


new review: body of lies

A devious spymaster, the wary and morally conflicted field operative, the relentless enemy, the high stakes, a larger-than-life plot, the inevitable reach for analogies involving spiders, flies, and webs – the military-espionage thriller gang’s all here, albeit dressed up by Ridley Scott into a gripping, uncompromising, brutal portrait of the global war on terror as fought in the Middle East. Scott’s ability to direct clear action scenes possessed of a visceral, documentary nature – unmuddled by unnecessary cuts and quirky camera angles – strips “Body of Lies” of a superficial exploitative sheen, much like “The Dark Knight” stripped Batman of his comic book-ishness, to deliver a film that entertains without sacrificing its topical integrity.
Read the rest of 'Body of Lies,’ a Very Moral Film With a Certain Vagueness


because a spade is a spade

A fellow named David Link writes to the LA Times:
I agree with so much of your editorial against Proposition 8. It is a shame you had to invoke bigotry in its final thought.

I have been working on securing legal rights for same-sex couples since 1985, and I served on the task force that led to Los Angeles becoming one of the first major cities in the world to recognize same-sex couples and offer them benefits, in 1988. Although I have seen my share of bigotry against lesbians and gay men, calling Proposition 8 supporters bigots insults many people who are struggling with this issue. Gay or straight, we all grew up with an understanding of marriage and civil society that did not include homosexuals or viewed them as sick, sinners or criminals.

It is only in the last 50 years that homosexuals have fought to take their rightful place in our communities as equal individuals. And it is only since the mid-1980s that we have begun to achieve legal recognition for our relationships.

The domestic partnerships that L.A. helped pioneer have helped a lot of people -- very possibly a majority -- understand that our relationships are as important to us and our children as the ones that we were raised in were to our parents. But 20 years is not a long time.
People of goodwill who are still wrestling with this are not bigots. This is the kind of intemperate language that makes it harder, not easier, for same-sex marriage to ultimately prevail.
But suppose we made a slight alteration to that second paragraph:

I have been working on securing legal rights for interracial couples since 1985, and I served on the task force that led to Los Angeles becoming one of the first major cities in the world to recognize interracial couples and offer them benefits, in 1988. Although I have seen my share of bigotry against blacks and other minorities, calling Proposition 8 supporters bigots insults many people who are struggling with this issue. White or black, we all grew up with an understanding of marriage and civil society that did not include blacks or viewed them as sick, sinners or criminals.

Of course it’s bigotry. While it may hurt people’s feelings to accuse them of being bigots, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re actively supporting discrimination, and the vast majority justify themselves using the Bible. But since going around saying “God hates fags,” a la Fred Phelphs, or with a milder “God loves fags but hates homosexual behaviour,” doesn’t exactly inspire the warm and fuzzies, Prop 8 supporters hide behind alleged risks to children and society. It may be that this bigotry is culturally ingrained and that many are, indeed, “people of goodwill” – but good is as good does; intentions are bricks for roads in hell. Much like the racists who kept black people down and worried about the end of civilization with black suffrage and full equality, these “people of goodwill,” intentionally or not, are acting like bigots in supporting discrimination. Maybe David Link is right that we should be nicer – but nice doesn’t see to get anywhere. There’s no call for being nasty, but please, let’s call a spade a space and a bigot a bigot.


a reminder to vote NO on prop 8


review: changeling

There were three reasons to be enthused about seeing “Changeling.” In no particular order: 1) Angelina Jolie who, when not collecting a paycheck from comic book detritus like “Wanted” or simply gallivanting (admittedly to our delight) as Lara Croft, is certain an actress of note. 2) Clint Eastwood, the quintessential director’s director whose mastery of filmcraft consistently yields handsome, unassuming but polished work – classical in the best sense of the word. And 3) J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), the man behind the milestone science-fiction series “Babylon 5”, an insightful writer who marks his first foray into feature films after years in television.
Read here to learn why Truth Really Is Stranger Than Fiction.


Important update! No on Prop 8 Campaign Under Attack! Please Donate!

noonprop8.com went down for a while yesterday. As I suspected, it was a victim of a cyberattack. Geoff Kors explains, and asks for donations:

Beginning last night and continuing this morning a coordinated cyber attack on the No On 8 website prevented some donors from being able to contribute. This attack is being investigated by federal authorities. Fortunately, there was no breach in security and we are again able to accept contributions online.

As if that attack isn't outrageous enough, at a recent Prop 8 rally an official campaign spokesman actually compared the right of same-sex couples to marry to the rise of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany. Watch the video.

This insanity needs to stop. Prop 8 needs to be defeated. It's wrong. It's unfair. The people supporting it are fanatical, intolerant and willing to do and say anything to eliminate our rights. Period.

We cannot let them succeed.

Let's do this once and for all. Help us reach our goal of $3 million by Friday.

Tony Perkins, national crusader in the effort to eliminate the right to marry, has said the battle to pass Prop 8 is more important than the presidential election. The result is that they have raised $4.5 million in the last two days and purchased another $2 million in advertising.

That's how critical this fight is to the other side. That's how much they care.

I believe you care more. So what more are you going to do?

Call, write and talk to your friends and family. It's vital you ask them to donate at noonprop8.com today!

Make another donation.

We cannot allow this cyber attack to prevent us from having the resources necessary to get our message on the air -- especially when the other side is buying $2 million in ads a day. Please, donate now at noonprop8.com

I know we can succeed. We have to.

In solidarity,

Geoff Kors
Executive Committee Member
No On 8


irony in city of ember (spoilers!)

If you haven’t seen City of Ember and don’t want any spoilers, I suggest skipping this post. If you have, or you don’t mind having the end revealed, then read on…

In my review of City of Ember, I pointed out how the film lacks the kind of irony that gives characters depth. The best example lies in the character of Mayor Cole, played by Bill Murray with amusingly detached self-absorption. In Ember, the Mayor is not only responsible for managing the city, but for protecting a box with a timer gradually counting back from two hundred to zero. This is the amount of time that the city’s builders estimated it would take for the Earth surface to become habitable again after an unspecified apocalyptic disaster. And what’s so important about the box? Instructions on how to leave Ember.

In one of the film’s common-sense defying, but necessary, plot contrivances, the box gets lost sometime during the succession of mayors. Mayor Cole, then, may know about the box’s existence, but he clearly doesn’t have the mayoral knowledge that was passed down with the responsibility of safeguarding the box. Of course, the film is set at the time when the timer reaches zero. Ember is in a state of severe deterioration, the city’s hydroelectric generator is failing, food and other supplies are desperately low. Naturally, the Mayor does what any greedy bastard would do: steal supplies and hoard them in a secret lair where he can retreat too while everyone else perishes.

Naturally, Mayor Cole reaches an end befitting his villainy. The city discovers his duplicity while the kid heroes make their escape, and Mayor Cole heads for his lair, locks out his faithful accomplice…only to get attacked by a giant mutant mole rat. Ho, hum.

Let me present a different scenario. The city is desperate. The generator is at the critical breaking point. The kid heroes have discovered the box and figured the way out, but the Mayor’s hollow promises and obtuse politicking have left them no choice but to strike out on their own. Yet not all the population is fooled; they know something terrible is happening. In the confusion and disorder of an increasingly panicked population, the Mayor is revealed for what he is: a coward who put his own welfare above the people he ostensibly served. Fearful, Mayor Cole makes a run for his secret lair. Eventually, the kids find their out and, with the adults perfectly capable of tracing their footsteps given the machines they activated on their way, the remainder of Ember’s population follows. The city then collapses. The underground river overflows, flooding the streets and underground tunnels that make up Ember’s infrastructure – including the tunnel leading to Mayor Cole’s lair. With no way out, but guaranteed a lifetime’s supply of food and air, the Mayor is essentially buried alive with no way out. Depending on how vicious you want to be, he could either be oblivious to the fact that Ember’s people escaped, or he could be fully aware and helpless to do anything about it.

Now that’s irony, and it would work especially well if the character were developed to be more than just a weak, cowardly man, but a man whose dedication to public service became eroded by cynical fatalism and debauched indifference.


new column: what do prop. 4 and prop. 8 have in common?

Dichotomies go boom:
One proposition would require parents or families to be notified when a teenager seeks to get an abortion. The other would throw love under the bus and ban same-sex couples from marrying. Two different propositions, but one underlying issue. Read What Do Prop. 4 and Prop. 8 Have in Common?

quote of the week: alan greenspan

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."
-Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan
No shit, Sherlock.

Here's a twist of the knife.

new film review: religulous

If I weren’t the proverbial tree falling in the forest, I could imagine getting comments about Religulous review akin to the waving fists big-timers get whenever they review a politically loaded film. Comments that would accuse me injecting my own personal views and not doing a straight-up review. After all, people don’t read reviews for politics or religion…they want to know about the movie. Right?

Well, no. While it’s important to judge a movie on its own merits, it’s also important to contextualize it. And critics inevitable contextualize a film by drawing on his/her own experiences and philosophies. There is nothing dishonest about this; dishonest is the critic who pretends to be somebody else. In fact, knowing something about a film critic’s ideological stance – and it needn’t be “ideological” per se – can help put the review itself in context. For example: an atheist (like me) reviewing Religulous will have a different take on the film than a Christian. Potential questions arise, such as: what does it mean if a Christian enjoys a film that is critical of religion? Or, what does it mean if an atheist doesn’t like a film promoting atheism? There’s more going on than simply supporting or rejecting a film simply on the basis of ideology, and that’s another example of honesty; just because a film has a message you like doesn’t mean it’s a good film. Differences in perspective, then, can only be good; they yield richer interpretations.
The man behind “Politically Incorrect” on Comedy Central and, currently, “Real Time” on HBO, launches a bold, sorely-needed broadside against religion. The result is typical Bill Maher; unapologetic, blunt, and (mostly) funny as hell. But for a film that, with an irreverent game of gotcha, points out the ridiculous in various religions’ beliefs, Maher’s cannonade isn’t so much aimed at creating cognitive dissonance in believers but to shake atheists from their timidity in the face of nonsense. Read the rest in Bill Maher Takes Aim at the Ridiculous in Religion.


a dose of skepticism regarding an Obama presidency

There’s no such thing as miracles in politics.

And the warping effects of power should never be underestimated. Hence, this rule of thumb:
People who want power should not be trusted with power.
So as much as Obama really does embody an irrepressible optimism and hunger for something better, there are details of his campaign that indicate that for all the inspiration, Obama is an establishment candidate. Fundraising, for example.

Estimates for the cost of this election campaign from the Center for Responsive Politics defy imagination:
…more than $5.3 billion will go toward financing the federal contests upcoming on Nov. 4.

The presidential race alone will cost nearly $2.4 billion, the Center predicts. Already the candidates alone have raised more than $1.5 billion since the election cycle's start in January 2007. This is the first time that candidates for the White House have raised and spent more than $1 billion, and this year's total is on track to nearly double candidate fundraising in 2004 and triple 2000.

Weeks before Election Day, the 2008 cycle has already surpassed $4.5 billion, $300 million more than the $4.2 billion that had been raised by the conclusion of the 2004 cycle. The overall estimated cost of the 2008 election would represent a 27 percent increase over the 2004 cycle.
5 point 3. Billion. Dollars. In other words: that’s a lot of bloody zeros. For an election.

If ever there was proof that American democracy is elitist and plutocratic, there it is. As the Center for Responsive Politics Sheila Krumholz says, "You can't win a seat in Congress without being personally wealthy or knowing a lot of wealthy people who are willing to back you with their money."

The winners of all of this are, of course, the Powers That Be (and the Powers That Wannabe) and, Amy Goodman points out, the corporate media:
The $2-billion presidential race also guarantees vast profits for the broadcasters, the national networks and the local television stations. Hundreds of television stations are using the public airwaves, imposing themselves between the candidates and the public.
McCain’s complaint that Obama reneged on his agreement to use public financing doesn’t seem quite so crotchety. Catch-22: Obama has the ability to draw in large donations, thereby eliminating Republicans’ past financial advantage and win the spin wars. But the principle of inclusive, accessible elections not beholden to big-time contributors gets lost in the process. (Goodman points out how “A Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows, though, that only a quarter of this [Obama’s] vast number of donors fall into the "small" category (under $200), which is a smaller percentage than that achieved by George Bush in his 2004 run.) The choice is: win by compromise or lose with integrity.

So no, there is no such thing as miracles in politics. Not unless there are fundamental philosophical and structural changes to “the system.” Obama is transformational in the sense of changing the nature of the national conversation, of bringing empathy, intelligence, and cooperation to the political stage. But I remain skeptical that the substantive, deep-down-in-the-sould transformation the US – the world, in fact – needs is something he can accomplish. It’s one thing to temper idealism with pragmatism, but there’s an undercurrent of realpolitiks in Obama’s campaign. Don’t get me wrong; Obama is, hands down, a better choice than Bush III, but unconditional faith in our “leaders” is what got this country into a mess in the first place.


portishead's third; thinking about music criticism

If art criticism could be defined as the art of objectifying a subjective experience – of filtering a visceral experience through rational evaluation – then music criticism has to be the black sheep of the criticism family. Resistant to the kind of analysis that can take apart a novel or film, music can obviously be judged on the technical side of music theory, but in the end boils down to the visceral, pre-rational experience. This aesthetic kind of criticism, limited only by the obvious requirement that musicians hit the right notes – is more of a genealogical, historical, comparative affair. Which explains why music reviews often read like a catalogue of analogies, snap judgments, and unsupported assertions. The film critic, at least, can point to a film’s technique (writing included) to justify why this or that aspect of the film works or doesn’t work. With music, however, once a certain proficiency threshold has been passed (and the bar isn’t necessarily that high), criticism yields to interpretation. At which point, the only thing to do is listen to an album and decide for yourself whether you like what you hear or not. Perhaps distinguishing between “criticism” and “review” is actually useful here.

I’ve only once done music reviews, for Morbid Outlook way back in August 2007. It was a fun experience and I’d do it again, but there’s something about reviewing music that feels like mere opiniating, like passing judgment without the net of reason beneath to catch the loose ends of the purely subjective. Music reviews are the equivalent of lazy film critics who settle for summarizing a film’s plot instead of dissecting the plot’s manifestation through cinematic technique. As an example, here’s Rob Sheffield’s review, at Rolling Stone mag, of Portishead’s long-awaited third album:
It's been ten years since the world last heard from Portishead, the U.K. trip-hop trio, and they do not sound like they've spent the past decade going to therapy, listening to new music or making friends. Actually, they sound like they spent it locked in a tea cupboard underwater off the coast of Bristol, with a piped-in orchestral soundtrack from Dario Argento horror movies. Is this a problem?
No way — nobody ever listened to Portishead for their sparkling personalities or musical variety. What they're brilliant at is obsessively textured studio dread, and Third is an unexpected yet totally impressive return. Beth Gibbons still has her high-pitched trill ("Wounded and afraid/Inside my head," she sings in the opener, "Silence" — big surprise), but she's just another sound effect in the audio creep show of Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley. "We Carry On" is a smashingly claustrophobic two-note electro riff, with heavy echoes of the Silver Apples' "Oscillations." In highlights like "The Rip," "Small" and "Machine Gun," Portishead mix up dub, break beats, cathedral organ, Moroccan drones and even surf rock into a headphone album for sour times.

Can I do better? Unlikely. (Well, maybe a little?) Here’s my take on Third:
Portishead’s eponymous second outing illustrated the hazard of achieving that holy grail of music, a distinctive sound: the hazard of getting stuck in an endlessly-repeating groove. But the album was solid in its own right, a masterful and necessary continuation of the scratchy, sample-laden, and tripped-out mourning vibe that made Dummy so singularly special and genuinely brilliant. And the concert album, Roseland NYC Live, proved that Portishead could work its way with different kinds of instrumentation, a quality of musicianship also revealed by their remixes and artist collaborations. Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, along with Beth Gibbons, are musicians, not monkeys acting out their training.
So Third presented the band with the challenge of being Portishead without being Portishead. Consummate musicians that they are, they meet the challenge head-on with a superlative album that comfortably fits the mood of a dimly-lit room. Veering away (more or less) from hip-hop and into electronic territories laced with industrial, Third is both reinvention and reassertion, possessed of the same introspective melancholy that gives Portishead’s music a gothic flavour, but juiced up by ever-unexpected rhythms, sonic booms, burrowing melodies, and aching lyrics. And, of course, there’s Gibbons – whose voice is often raw, but with a plaintive, breaking quality that is just right for songs of sorrow.
Typical of Portishead, Third is the kind of album that makes adjectives nervous. A hip-hop flavour there, a trace of Trent Reznor here, surreal soundscapes everywhere; this is an album from far out of left field. Just as the Portishead “sound” had long reached overexposure, Third comes along to shake up the music world’s complacency with an effort that evades crass commercialism and preserves the scrappy spirit of musicians developing their own voice in the wilderness.
In all fairness, it is possible for music reviews to go beyond simple aesthetic reactions – see Brian Hiatt’s review of AC/DC’s latest. But I still have to ask: if somebody doesn’t like the way a piece of music sounds, can a music critic change that with a review?


I wouldn't normally post an ad, but...


new column: letter to a (potential) prop 8 nation

This week, I'm talking to those people who are considering voting for Prop 8:
I’ll be upfront. I am not a native son of California, and my arrival here was not the result of me waking up one morning, stuffed with visions of sun, surf and bikinis, and saying, “I’m packin’ up and movin’ to California, eh.” Nope; while I obviously made a conscious decision to move here, my coming to the Golden State, instead of another state, was largely the product of circumstance. Read the rest of Letter to a (Potential) Prop 8 Nation.
Always Choose Love.


what john cleese thinks about sarah palin

new film review: city of ember

The setting is extraordinary. An underground city a flicker away from total darkness, kept alight through thousands of streetlamps and suspended lights powered by a hydroelectric generator. Director Gil Kenan’s vision could be described, to coin a term, as grimepunk – steampunk’s proletarian sibling. Post-apocalyptic, decrepit, stylish in its lack of style, a focus on utility rather than prettiness, a patchwork aesthetic of grimy, rusty machinery barely maintained by a peasantry who know what the machines are for but not how they work. The city that gives the film, and the book on which it’s based, its name is like a low-tech, rudimentary analogue to Alex Proyas’ “Dark City.” Kenan gives Ember a claustrophobic, stagnant atmosphere, which is appropriate given that, as the prologue tells us, the confines of the city are all that generations of people have known throughout 200 years of isolation from an undescribed global disaster.
Discover the chilling end to A Tale About a Mysterious Underground City That Could Have Been So Much Stronger. (Also at inkandashes.net, of course.)

word definition of the day: palindrone

Palindrone: n. A constant, annoying sound that occurs whenever Gov. Sarah Palin opens her mouth, and possessing the unique property of sounding exactly the same whether she speaks from the left side of her mouth or the right.


hey! morbid outlook has a writing contest going on!

Over at Morbid Outlook, Mistress McCutchan says:
We have DVD copies of The Undertaker and His Pals to give away, so I decided to run with that theme... We are seeking zany, creepy stories about food and/or cannibalism! Spill some guts and tell us a story that will make our skin crawl! Three winners will be chosen and have their work published in an upcoming issue of Morbid Outlook.

The absolute maximum word limit is 2000. The contest is open to our North American readers only. The deadline is Friday, November 7, 2008.

Email your entry here by pasting it into the body of your email or snail mail it to

Morbid Outlook Magazine
772 Dovercourt Road
P.O. Box 334
Toronto, ON M6H 4E3


capsule reviews: elizabethtown and atonement

Elizabethtown: Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst are terrific in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and it’s good to see them both stretch beyond their blockbuster franchise roles. But their performances can’t keep the film from succumbing to an awww and shucks. Elizabethtown, with its comical situation and colourful characters – including Alec Baldwin as the CEO of a shoe company – comes across as a bit of wishful thinking that gratifies on paper but ultimately doesn’t ring authentic. The event that launches Drew Taylor’s (Bloom) downward spin stretches credibility: could a single shoe designer really be the one on which to hang the albatross of a $900 million corporate loss? And what about Dunst’s role as saving angel? It’s like a depressed person’s self-affirming daydream, in which all of life’s grittiness is polished away by a forced cheerfulness. Elizabethtown ultimately suffers from a case of contrivance, with each scene manufactured for effect instead of rooted in a genuine psychology.

Atonement: The only quality that makes Atonement a contender worthy of the august company of The Assassination of Jesse James, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men is Joe Wright’s phenomenal direction in partnership with Seamus McGarvey’s photography. (OKk, to be fair, the performances are beautiful tuned too. James McAvoy especially shows himself better than trash like Wanted.) That long take of soldiers miserably biding their time while awaiting evacuation from the beach of Dunkirk is a masterstroke of surreal, moody, visceral film work. And that’s just the most obvious bit of artistry in a film defined by beautiful imagery. But while the film starts off with a knock-out tragedy, the film devolves into a variation of “it-was-just-dream” that undercuts the drama of later scenes. A bratty, stupid, inappropriately imaginative young girl is reintroduced as an old woman who is more aware, perhaps, but also cowardly. Atonement teases with promising scenes of characters squeezed through the ringer, only to fall back on a gimmick that undoutbtedly worked better in the novel. Great visuals, great premise, a resolution that is the very picture of anti-climax.


new column: what is cool? hint: it's not the edison bar

I shy away from using my column as a grinding stone for axes...pettiness isn't an attractive trait in a columnist, or anyone else for that matter. But every so often, something galls my gizzard enough to make me want to write about it. The trick is tying it into a bigger picture. In this case, a ridiculous incident at the Edison ties into the bigger picture of sexist double-standards in fashion:
The first time I was mortally offended while going out, I was 10 (give or take). It was an upscale restaurant in Old Montreal, an establishment called Chez Queue that is amazingly still there, and I had ordered a dessert of strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Only, I didn’t like vanilla at the time. So I asked for chocolate ice cream instead. The waiter pulled a face, a disgusted face, as if I had ordered the strawberries with relish and hot sauce or something equally weird. I was outraged. My parents were far from impressed, and we never went back. Oh, I look back and laugh now. But the incident, and the sheer absurd insult of it all, is the defining memory I have of that place. And that is pretty much how I feel about a recent experience at the Edison bar. Read the rest of What is Cool? Hint: It's not the Edison Bar.
As a postscript, it's worth mentioning that while wandering away from the Edison in search of drinks at a friendly venue, a fellow walking past me spontaneously complimented me on my sandals. Vindication!


new film reviews: nick and norah, five moments

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist:
The first question that came to mind when watching the trailer for “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” was: why Nick and Norah? What possible relationship could the film – based on the book by Rachel Cohn – have to the classic “The Thin Man” book and six popular movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy? After watching the movie, I still don’t know. Maybe it’s a reference to the pajama collection. Or maybe the book’s authors just liked the alliteration and the reference to those classic films is purely a pop-cultural by-product. Read the rest in It's No Song for the Thin Man, but Nick and Norah Do Have a Nice Playlist.
Five Moments of Infidelity:
Stories about infidelity come with a certain amount of risk. It’s easy to get caught up in the melodrama of a person cheating on another, to dwell on the sexual and/or emotional betrayal in a way that renders the characters as caricatures drawn in black and white. Hard is resisting the impulse to moralize. Harder is presenting a nuanced psychology. Harder still is examining infidelity as it occurs in multiple sets of interconnected characters. Yet, writer/director Kate Gorman pulls it off. “Five Moments of Infidelity” is the “Crash” of frail human relationships, although where “Crash” gets it wrong and ends up a blunt, brutish thing that leaves one sullied and bruised, “Five Moments” is perceptive, humane, and fully capable of handling the synchronicity of its ensemble cast. It is remarkably organic, a quality manifested as much in script’s meticulous construction as in the liquid, almost dance-like camerawork that elevates “Five Moments” above similarly-budgeted indie films – although flat, characterless cinematography does the film no favours. Read the rest in Five Moments of Infidelity - A Film That's Faithful to the Aches of the Human Heart.

Also at inkandashes.net.


translating the news: palin's alaska report

From an AP report on Alaskan lawmakers meeting in secret to discuss a report on whether or not Gov. Palin abused her authority in the firing of her state public safety commissioner (who, in turn, was being pressured to fire a state Trooper involved in nasty divorce and custody battle with Gov. Palin's sister):
Some Republicans have questioned why the committee has insisted on finishing the investigation Friday, which they said was an arbitrary date meant to damage the McCain-Palin campaign with less than a month to go before Election Day.
Translation: We don't care if she's guilty or not, and you won't either because after she's elected, there's fuck-all you can do about it. Except whine. Which is what liberals do. Neener-neener, you justice-loving liberal pansies.

The McCain campaign sought to pre-empt the potentially embarrassing report this week by releasing its own analysis, attributing Monegan's firing to a legitimate dispute over budget priorities and control over the department.
Translation: We've investigated ourselves and can say with complete and pure objectivity that we are not guilty. Let's be clear: we did not have improper power trips with that public safety commissioner's job. Oh, and we [heart] Dick Cheney. I mean, we really [heart] the big lug. He can shoot us in the face any day. That's how much we [heart] him.


presidental debate the second...a few thoughts

It didn’t take a degree in political science to figure out that last night’s debate wouldn’t be a bloodbath; voters will accept a boxing match, but won’t go for mud wrestling. And of course, as the pundit parade has already discussed ad nauseam, Obama was very cool and calm – presidential – while McCain, with his “that one” comment, endless “my friends,” and painfully lame attempts at humour, was the angry old curmudgeon mired in the quicksand of a campaign falling apart from all the cognitive dissonance. Both spouted the same old, same old – Obama just was more engaging and consistent. Does this mean Obama won? Sure. If winning actually means anything. But it wasn’t a real debate, it wasn’t a discussion, and I didn’t ultimately see the point of this whole “town hall” format fakery.

There was a surprise, however, and it didn’t come from the candidates. Rather, it came from my reaction to Obama: the Senator from Illinois felt like a politician to me, more so than he has in the past. Smart, likeable, accessible, yes, but still he had that politician’s quality, that combination of sales pitch and rhetoric that feels like it’s been carefully crafted to appeal to all people at all times. Granted, he said the right thing when he called healthcare a right – unlike McCain’s weasily “responsibility” answer. But that’s the thing. He said the right thing, just like he hedged his bets when talking about foreign policy in a way that would make him seems as tough as the neocon warmongers, but cuddlier thanks to increased diplomatic efforts. I've always viewed Obama as an establishment candidate, but last night just drove the point home.


Obama proved yet again that he is not the great liberal hope, but is indeed a centrist. This begs the question: how much is political rhetoric necessary in order to wage a successful campaign, and how much is actual policy? To put this in perspective, Obama is running as the candidate of change, but isn’t above negative campaigning – yet with McCain drudging the gutter, political realities dictate aggressive campaigning. The issue: how much talk is talk, and how much talk is walk?

Make no mistake, I still believe Obama is a vastly better choice than McCain, hands down. But maybe I should say that Obama is the vastly lesser evil of the two. That unnerving sucking sound you hear? That’s real hope exhaling its dying breath. It’s the difference between springing to life after a long illness, and merely hanging on for a few more moments of life support. The biggest question of this whole isn’t whether Obama will prevent a further slide into the pit dug by Bush, with McCain eagerly reaching for the shovel. It’s whether Obama can guide a reversal of Bush’s policies.


predictions for tonight's debate

I didn't think the VP debate would be a bloodbath. Of course, I never wrote it down so it's easy to say, "yeah, yeah, smart guy, you say that NOW, in hindsight..."

So this time, I'll put my predictions down and we'll see what happens.
  1. It will not be a bloodbath.
  2. McCain will indeed resort to character assassination, as his campaign promises.
  3. Obama will counter-attack with Keating - all the while staying focused on the economy, which is, obviously, McCain's biggest weakness.
McCain is in a defensive position brought on by his turn to negative campaigning. If he goes beyond casting doubts voters accept as fair to launching attacks seen as baseless, he will come across as desperate and bitter.

All Obama needs to do is stay cool, talk about the economy, and focus on connecting with voters. Biden was good at mixing in some personal talk with the policy talk; it defused Palin's single-minded focus of trying to bond with voters via the small town folksiness. If Obama can pepper his focus on the issues with more personal stories, more anecdotes from everyday folk, he'll connect really well. Bonus points: subtly needling McCain in a way that doesn't scream "bait" but will provoke McCain into overreacting.


new column: sex and the GOP

Suppose a politician proposed the following:

Provide economics education to children in the K-12 grades, using age-appropriate and fiscally accurate information, including information on how to stop the transmission of Ponzi schemes, prevent fraud, and detect con artists.

Not very objectionable, right? Now replace the word “economics” with sex:

Provide sex education to children in the K-12 grades, using age-appropriate and fiscally accurate information, including information on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.

Has anything changed?

Read the rest of Sex and the GOP...

where has all the romance of space travel gone?

When I was a kid, I fully expected the new millenium to bring with it the next giant leap for humankind: Mars. Yet as the Powers That Be and their enablers, the voting public, have become lost in dangerous philosophical immaturity and the geopolitics of war corporatism. We know we should be up there – on a moon base, for starters – pushing science forwards and living up to the famous Star Trek mantra, yet except for the excitement of Mars landers, we are still very much Earth-bound. Have we lost our ambition? Or is just that it’s hard to get worked up about exploring space when we can’t pay the bills? It’s a fair point – but what sort of age would we live in if we had a trip to Mars to inspire us, if we fully embraced our scientific challenges? Green technology, space travel; this is the stuff international cooperation and goodwill is made of. This is stuff of human evolution.

It’s disappointing to read about the US reliance on the Soviet space program in the gap between the shuttle’s retirement (2010) and replacement (2015). Not for the political reasons involving our tense relationship with Putin, or because it would damage US pride for the Chinese to reach the moon before we do, but because the romance of space exploration seems little more than a quaint dose of nostalgia easily taken for granted.


the Iraq war will cost HOW much??? WTF??

new film review: appaloosa

A Tale of Love and Bullets - Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris didn’t share nearly enough screen time in David Cronenberg’s comic book treatise A History of Violence. But along comes Appaloosa, a classical Western rooted in a mature formulation of the buddy movie, to show just how comfortably these two pros fit together. As two friends and partners in the peacekeeping-for-hire business, Mortensen and Harris (who co-wrote the screenplay and directed) bring a wordless chemistry into the surgically-precise dialogue. Read the rest...
Of course, there's always ink [and] ashes.


a few observations on the VP debate

  1. It was not a bloodbath.
  2. It was a battle of familiar talking points that could have been phoned in.
  3. Talking points simplify issues to the point of meaningless.
  4. Sarah Palin pronounces it "nukular."
  5. Biden broke hearts by being for civil unions but against gay marriage - like Palin.
  6. Biden debated well; personable, knowledgeable, sane.
  7. Palin held her own - style-wise. But how anybody can take seriously someone who calls for stricter economic oversight while later complaining that "government is the problem" is a mystery to me.
  8. Sarah Palin is of the Dick Cheney school of the Vice Presidency. Can I have more power, sir? Please, sir? More power?
  9. Joe Biden pronounces it "nuclear."
  10. As usual, the pundits win.