Thursday, December 29, 2005

Island of the Lucky Blonde Woman


I went to see King Kong last night with a group of friends. The sad thing is, it could have been a pretty good movie. The effects are awesome, and parts of the movie are actually enjoyable. But the movie is over 3 hours long - it didn't need to be more than 2, but I get the sense that Peter Jackson doesn't know how to make a movie that is less than 3 hours. There are scenes that go on interminably. Screaming and screeching natives preparing a screaming and screeching Ann Darrow for sacrifice to Kong seems to never end, and did I mention that it is filled with screaming and screeching? In an effort, I'm sure, to show off the great special effects being employed, a stampede of brontosauruses lasts forever, but at least it provides a theory to how the dinosaurs became extinct. Apparently they were the stupidest creatures to ever walk the face of the the earth and all died from stupidity.

And the movie is so over the top in places that is completely boggles the mind. Miraculous rescues ala deus ex machina happen so often that after a while it is hard to feel any real suspense. You just know that the cornered characters are going to be saved at the last minute by some minor (or major) miracle that will completely defy belief (like Jack and Ann hitching a ride on a flying bat/lizard thing). Ann repeatedly gets so lucky in escaping impossible situations that I think Skull Island should probably have been called Island of the Lucky Blonde Woman.

Then there are the places where Jackson drags out really over the top scenes to really unbearabble lengths. There is the scene where Kong battles not one, not two, but three tyranasaurus rexes for what seems like forever. At various times throughout that scene Kong is portrayed as boxer (he seems to favor the right hook), professional wrestler (he can really throw those dinosaurs around), black belt martial artist (who knew that a big gorilla would be so good at spinning jump kicks?) and cirque du soliel gymnast. Kong and rexes battle it out in the jungle (for forever), at cliff's edge (for forever) and in a maze of vines (for forever) that fortunately fills a deep gorge. Had it not been for those vines, Kong, the rexes and Ann all would have fallen to a gruesome death. Wait, maybe that wasn't so fortunate. If they had all fallen to their deaths, the movie would have been over in 90 minutes. That would have been a blessing. In another scene, several characters are attacked by barrage after barrage after barrage after unending barrage of really big, disgusting bugs. Huge grasshoppers and worms (with really big, sharp, menacing teeth that they never actually use) and spiders and centipedes and dung beetles and scorpions and so on and so on attack our heroes in wave after wave until clearly there is no way they can possibly survive, but of course miracle happens and they are rescued. In one of the most ridiculous scenes within that scene, one character (who it is repeated made clear to us, has never shot a gun before) actually shoots a mass of giant grasshoppers off of another character with a machine gun. He fires hundreds of shots and never once manages to hit the other man, he just miraculously manages to shoot every single one of the bugs attacking the man. And during all of this, for some reason, the other bugs all leave him alone. The real problem is, there is never any real tension in any of these scenes, because you know miracles will take place to save the heros and allow them to go on to the next belief defying danger.

Generally those two things (never ending scenes and outrageously over-the-top plot elements) combine to make the movie pretty unbearable. The New York portion of the movie is somewhat better and moves along more fluidly, but even it tends to drag. And by that point in the movie, I was so ready for it to be over, that I just couldn't care too much about what was going on.

Anyway, that was 3 hours of my life I'll never get back. My recommendation? Time is precious....don't let this happen to you!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How Did We Become So Polarized?

Over night last night Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed by the State of California for murdering 4 people. And today the blog world is abuzz with commentary on the morality of the execution. I believe I would be safe in wagering a large sum on saying that it is a fact that approximately 95% of the postings are of the form, "The execution was a prime example the (worst crime)/(greatest service) a government can (perpetrate on)/(perform for) its citizenry because [insert mostly irrelevant and/or meaningless rhetoric here] and if you don't agree with me you are the densest moron ever to walk the face of the earth." Now for the most part, I try to avoid such blogs because they tend to be written by, well, for lack of a better phrase, some of the densest morons ever to walk this planet. But while browsing through the postings of some bloggers I generally respect and enjoy reading, I did come across a posting of this nature. I was surprised, and more, I felt like I needed to respond. Below is the text of my response in its entirety, though to really understand it, I do recommend that you click the link above and read the original post.
I'm not going to say a word about the morality of the death penalty in this specific case here, so perhaps in a lot of ways not a thing I say here is going to mean a whole lot, however I do feel that your presentation of Mr. Williams does call for a response to balance the scales. First of all, Mr. Williams was charged and convicted of ONLY 4 murders, because those were ones that the prosecutor had enough evidence to convict him on. In fact, as the founder and leader of the Crips gang, he was almost certainly directly or indirectly responsible for dozens of other killings. By literally fathering "modern" gang culture in the US he is responsible for thousands of deaths. Second, hundreds of people are nominated every year for Nobel Peace Prizes. It is almost completely meaningless to be nominated. Any politician or professor of history, sociology, or divinity is permitted to make a nomination and most of them do. Oprah gets nominated EVERY year. So does george Bush. The Nobel selection committee throws most of those nominations right into the dumpster. Finally, although he did indeed author many books for young people encouraging them to steer clear of gang life and what not, there is actually considerable evidence that right up to a very short time ago, Mr. Williams was still involved in and even directing the activities of the Crips in Southern California. He was, perhaps, not as reformed as he was often portrayed.

Does any of this mean that he deserved to die? I don't know. The death penalty is such a sticky, complicated issue. I don't agree that it is as cut and dry as you make it out to be. Obviously the words "State sanctioned murder" bring to mind terrible things - the words themselves are polarized. But war is nothing but State sanctioned murder on a huge scale, and as terrible as war is, no rational person can deny a State's right to wage war in its own defense.

Every civilized nation on this earth has "exceptions" to their laws against murder. Self-defense, defense of the life of another, Defense of the reasonable safety and well being of self or another, and the list goes on. The question is, are there times when we must except the State as well. In my opinion that is an extremely complicated question with no simple answer. And what astounds me is when seemingly perfectly rational people become so violently polarized on complicated issues like this one. As if there is one absolute, obviously correct answer; as if they possess the one real truth and anyone who doesn't agree must be stupid or blind. Because there isn't an obviously correct answer, and just because someone disagrees doesn't make them stupid or blind - it very possibly makes them thoughtful and worth talking to because geting other perspectives can often be useful in adjusting your own.

I'll come right out and say it now. I support the death penalty. I also believe capital punishment is a difficult, tangled issue, and I can appreciate that other people hold different opinions on this issue. I also think that executing criminals is an ugly, awful thing to do and in a perfect world there would be no such thing as the death penalty. Just as in a perfect world there would be no war. But we don't live in a perfect world, and I think that in the imperfect world we live in, the death penalty is necessary. I also think that way in which the death penalty is enforced in the United States is terribly flawed, almost certainly not equitable, and needs fixing. But I don't think it should be done away with. I think that the system should be fixed, not done away with.

That being said, I am not going to try to defend my position here. That is a subject for another post. Rather the issue I want to raise here is about the transition in the past 25 years (at least to my observation) in this country (and around the world apparently) in the press, in the media, in politics, and in society from a time when two individuals with opposing viewpoints on an issue could talk to each other; could reasonably discuss the contentious issue; could respect each other's point of view; could peacefully coexist, to now, when two people with opposing viewpoints feel compelled to condemn each other to eternal torment in the fires of hell in the loudest possible voices, if not do actual physical harm to each other. How and why did this happen?

Some of my very best friends oppose capital punishment. With nearly all of them I can discuss the issue calmly and rationally without calling them morons, without fear of them condeming me for my beliefs, with feeling the need to punch them in the face or shoot them in their heads for their beliefs. I can listen to their reasoning and appreciate it, and respect their opinions and AT THE SAME TIME, continue to hold my own beliefs on the matter. Why is this so difficult for the rest of the world?

Why, when a polician stands up and says we need to consider a new strategy in the war in Iraq do opposing politicians feel the need to call that man a coward and traitor? At the same time when a politician stands up in reasoned defense of the same war why does the other side do little more than shout out accusations of deceit, war profiteering and imperialism? How is it possible that a single woman in a vegetative state can literally reduce this nation to a civil war of violent, hateful, hyperbolic rhetoric? What happened to reasonable discussion and debate without getting angry or ugly or violent? I don't get it. But I'll tell you this - the loss in this country by so many people of the ability to respect those with different viewpoints is dangerous beyond belief. Slowly but surely the fabric of this nation is being ripped apart by this loss of civility and the consequences get uglier day by day.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Well, She IS Blonde After All

A direct quote from Ann Coulter, "I love to engage in repartee with people who are stupider than I am." Well of course you do Ann. The only question is, how do you manage to find people stupider than you? I mean really, there just can't be that many of them. Perhaps she engages in frequent chats with Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and well maybe she even gets to talk to the president from time to time. She must REALLY love that.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Down the Slippery Slope

WOW....I haven't posted in a while, have I? Actually, that isn't entirely true. I've been posting, it just hasn't been here. I've been posting comments on other blogs and that is almost the same as blogging myself, right? Yeah, yeah, you say, what ever gets you through the day....

Well anyway, I have something to say, so here it is....

You've probably heard about this on the news - a number of right wing "christian" organizations have called for a boycott of Target stores this holiday shopping season because Target no longer uses the word "Christmas" in their advertising or promotional campaigns. Here are the exact words being used by the American Family Association to promote the boycott:
[Target management is] fearful they may offend a small minority who oppose Christmas, but they aren't concerned about offending Christians who celebrate the birth of Christ as the Reason for the season. Therefore, they banned the use of Christmas....[We are]offended that Target has banned "Christmas" in their in-store promotions and retail advertising. [We are] offended that they want to make money from those celebrating the birthday of Christ but are not concerned if Christians are offended.

Hypocritically, the AFA acknowledges that Target is not the only retailer to stop using the word "Christmas" in their advertising and promotions, but Target is the only retailer being targeted by the boycott. In fact the AFA explicitly mentions Wal-Mart as a retailer that has also adopted this "Christmas" ban, and yet Wal-Mart is immune from the boycott despite the fact that Wal-Mart is a bigger corporation than Target. Why the hypocrisy? Could it be because Wal-Mart has always pandered to the religious right and has financially supported numerous right-wing organizations? Or how about the fact that a huge percentage of the religious right's membership would be absolutely lost if, all of a sudden, they were told they could no longer shop at their favorite store and very possibly wouldn't go along with the boycott. Target was a safe and (excuse the pun).

Because the truth of the matter is, this whole to-do isn't really about a boycott or about "Christmas" or about Target specifically. It is about sending a message. Read the quote above again and notice two simple yet meaningful phrases: "small minority" and "oppose Christmas." You see this whole matter is about the fundamentalist Christian right reinforcing the message it has been getting more and more vocal in proclaiming.

Let's look at the message more carefully. The phrase "small minority" - what does it mean? Who does it include? Well it would include Jews, Muslims, Atheists, African Americans who have embraced the celebration of Kwanza and anyone else the fundamentalists hate (trust me you can lump homosexuals in there regardless of whether they celebrate Christmas or not), in other words, literally tens of millions of Americans. And how should we feel about this "small minority"? Well consider that this "small minority" apparently "oppose[s] Christmas." The AFA throws that phrase in there to vilify these groups. As if because a group does not celebrate Christmas or does not celebrate Christmas in the same way that the religious right does, means that they oppose Christmas. But you see if you can make that argument, you can go one step further: clearly those groups hate Christmas. See? Think about it - those Jews and Muslims and all the rest, they don't celebrate Christmas right? So of course they obviously hate Christmas and thus clearly they hate Christians. It's a twisted and insidious logical chain that leads to one clear imperative: they (those non-celebrating Christmas people) hate us (fundamentalist Christians) so we must, in return, hate them. This is precisely the type of rhetoric that breeds hatred, mistrust, suspicion, prejudice, violence and warfare. Hurt them before they hurt you is the philosophy of this type of thinker.

The religious right in this country has made it clear: They are in power now and it is open season to hate. Any semblance of toleration in this sub-culture has been thrown out the window (ironic considering that in name, they are an organization based on the teachings of a man who did nothing but preach tolerance and good will). They are actively targeting the groups they don't like and pushing an agenda of hatred and persecution.

I hate to make the hackneyed and cliched comparison, but doesn't anyone see that this is frighteningly similar to the road that Germany was traveling down in the late 1930's?

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