Email notification to Brandon Starr's blog has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol in two-toed sloths, and has been used as an effective exfoliant.
Saturday, April 10, 2004
What bothers me about Rice's testimony
Ms. Rice presented the picture of a government utterly useless in preventing the 9/11 attacks.
I understand perfectly that the attacks are the responsibility of the criminals who planned and carried them out. But Rice says,
Yet, as your hearings have shown, there was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States, something made difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
So the attacks came.
No magic bullet? So the attacks came? That's it? That's all there is to it?
In a better administration, there would be a lot more feeling for those who were killed in the crimes of 9/11. Instead, Rice here is playing duck-and-weave. She's hoping her boss keeps his job in November, and nothing else. No apologies, no offers of resignation, no assignment of blame in the failure to tear down the "structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information." Note that the "structural and legal impediments" are the subjects of the clause; they are the ones who "prevented the collection and sharing of information," not some person, such as herself, or the President. Just nice, anonymous impediments doing what impediments do.
Note the use of the phrase "no magic bullet." This is just magical thinking, of the kind often used by the religious. It's along the lines of "God's will." Ah well, there was no magic bullet; it was inevitable; it was fate.
Bull. There was nothing inevitable about the destruction of two of the world's most famous buildings. There is no fate except that which we make. Hell, even the fourth plane wasn't able to execute its terror mission, due to the speedy flow of information via cell phone. Those passengers took things into their own hands to try to save themselves, and at the very least saved hundreds of lives who would have been lost on the ground had they done nothing.
No silver bullet? "So the attacks came?" These are the words of people who don't want to face up to their own failure.
At least Mr. Clark had the decency to apologize.
Movie suggestions for my sister, part two
Here's the second part of my email on classic movies my sis should see. Check out yesterday's blog entry for the first part.
Today: Action/Western, Musicals, Comedy
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY: Eastwood in his famous Western role. Famous directorial stylizing by Sergio Leone. Reasons to watch: The music, the look, the famous three-way tension and climax all make this a great film. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE were similar and also good, but this is the one everyone remembers.
HIGH NOON: Gary Cooper, an aging lawman who has just taken a wife, has to face four criminals arriving on the noon train. No one in town will help him. The clock relentlessly takes us toward the climax. Edited in something approximating real-time.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC: You've probably seen this one. But if you haven't, you really must. Moving tale of an Austrian family as their country falls under the sway of Nazism. Great music, strong acting, even from the kids.
MY FAIR LADY: Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, who is taken in by a professor of speech on the bet that he can make a lady out of the gutter-accented flower girl simply by improving her way of speaking. Fun music, great acting, funny--and Hepburn is never better. ROMAN HOLIDAY and CHARADE are my two other favorite Hepburn movies.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN: Great writing, directing, and acting make this spoof of the classic monster story fun throughout. Some would argue and say that Mel Brooks's other early film BLAZING SADDLES is better. If you like both, check out THE PRODUCERS.
MONTY PYTHON'S THE LIFE OF BRIAN: All three of the main Monty Python movies are funny (M.P. AND THE HOLY GRAIL and M.P.'S THE MEANING OF LIFE being the ones not based on the TV show), but this one manages to be funny throughout and also to say something about blindly following authority.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: Not so much a ha-ha comedy as a good-ending comedy, it's Jimmy Stewart in the movie that shows how much any one person can affect the people around him for the better, without him even knowing. This movie and everything in it have become part of our culture because the movie has been shown every Christmas season since the copyright was accidentally allowed to expire decades ago. The best movie to ever fall into public ownership.
Friday, April 09, 2004
Movie suggestions for my sister (part one)
I've been bummed out by all the negative stuff I've been writing about lately. Here's something more upbeat. The following is part one of an email sent to my sister. While well-educated, she realized over Christmas break that she really hasn't seen many films from before her teen years. While not intended to be complete, it does represent my very favorite films by genre.
This is the first part of the email. More to follow. Please comment with anything you feel very strongly about for each genre.
Genres covered in part one: mystery/suspense, and horror
Here is a list of older or sometimes-overlooked films I think you should check out; I am forwarding this to Mom and Dad so they can add ones they feel I missed. With each one, I'll put a couple of reasons I think it's a great or enjoyable film.
Most or all of these movies have scenes, characters, lines, or themes that are referenced constantly by later movies, TV shows, and so on.
By broad genre:
REAR WINDOW: Jimmy Stewart is a wheelchair-bound photographer who, bored, starts to spy on his neighbors. But is that a murder he just witnessed across the common area? And if so, will the murderer find out he's being watched? Other great Hitchcock suspense films: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, DIAL M FOR MURDER, ROPE.
PULP FICTION: Quentin Tarantino's best film. It is very much a pulp-fiction story, full of thugs, criminals, and lowlifes, brought to life by amazing dialogue and direction. The way the storylines are cut together takes it out of chronological order, but puts new meaning into the movie as a whole. This technique has since often been imitated, but never improved upon. If you like it, then check out Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS: Movie about something that should never happen--a lineup made up entirely of criminals. Who is throwing them together, and why? And what does it have to do with a semi-mythological crimelord, Keyser Soze? Kevin Spacey is great in it. Other great Kevin Spacey films: AMERICAN BEAUTY, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, SE7EN.
PSYCHO: Hitchcock's classic of horror. Reason: Hitchcock's masterful playing with film conventions. In every movie you see, the main character is introduced within the first few minutes. So, you expect that the person you're meeting in that time will be the one whose story you follow throughout the movie. What happens if that psychological rug is pulled out from under you?
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: What could have been another B-grade horror film made on a shoestring budget is lifted up by good writing and direction, and the interesting (and then-rare) idea of having a black man in the hero role.* Lots of undercurrents from the times (Vietnam, civil rights movement, racism) come out in subtle and interesting ways. Oh yeah, and it's creepy too.
JAWS: Spielberg's masterpiece. The movie that made summer movies. Fortunately, Spielberg had trouble with the special-effects shark. Instead, the movie becomes about what he DOESN'T show you on-screen. Also, watch for the powerful speech about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: The only horror film to win Best Picture Oscar. Gripping performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. Well-plotted and -directed film makes this the complete package.
* This is the email as written. I realize now it's unclear. The way I see it, Romero found a good actor who happened to be black, rather than writing the part for a black actor. This really is rare even, or especially, in today's racialist environment.
Thursday, April 08, 2004
Church group whips Easter Bunny in front of kids
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Using capitalism to clean the sky
Wired: using capitalism to clean the sky
Now this is the sort of environmental action I can get behind. Forget using the legislative and judicial branches of government as a bully, or worse, using terrorist Earth Liberation Front tactics. Instead, give environmental damage an economic face--by commodotizing it. Then it becomes something which must be bought by polluters.
The twist is that ANYONE can buy the pollution rights. So if you're an environmentalist with a few hundred dollars, you can bid on the rights to a few tons of sulfur dioxide emissions. If you then win them, you simply tuck them away so no one can use them. This drives up the price of useable emissions permits--and if enough of them go off the market, the polluters can't buy enough permits, and either must stop production totally or pay hefty EPA fines.
And if you're a major environmental group with a few million dollars available?
Well, it hasn't happened yet. But the system is set up so it can.
This is like my other favorite environmental movement--the purchase programs. Environmental groups buy property, and simply don't do anything with the land. The purchased land is protected--without the heavy hand of government or other threats--and the cost of other, still-useable land goes up as well. It's fair, because it uses property rights instead of abusing them.
Anyway, the emissions auction article is interesting. Check it out.
Murder suspect plucks out own eye
Murder suspect yanks out own eye with his bare hands
The murder suspect quoted a Bible verse, Mark 9:47: "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell."
Great. Another Christian psycho.
All right. Let's go through this once more.
1) First of all, quoting this particular verse after plucking out your own eye while in jail on suspicion of murder is tantamount to a confession. He's currently being evaluated psychologically, so it may not be an issue. This is a minor point.
2) This sort of verse is why the self-psychotics known as Christians do nutty things, like refuse to donate their organs. They think they're going to need them later. They're not.
3) This particularly nutty Bible verse implies that any damage you do to your body remains after death in your "soul." So, if your body is slowly torn to shreds by some torturer, and you survive a few hours, you'll end up in heaven all cut up, with parts missing? If you're born blind, you'll also be blind in heaven? Or does it only count if it's self-inflicted? Ah, but who can make sense of the senseless?
4) The true damage done to the human psyche by religion, and particularly by Christianity, is hinted at here: "if your eye causes you to sin." This is, of course, a moral cop-out. Eyes don't cause you to do anything, good or bad. YOU do. If you murder someone, it wasn't your trigger-finger or your clutching, choking hands that caused you to do it. YOU did. Similarly, you are not born guilty. "Original sin" is a crime against humanity. You are responsible for your life, the good and the bad--but only in the things you do yourself. The thought that babies are born with crime on their hands, whether you call it sin or whatever, is sickening to the rational. Similarly, no one can "die for your sins." If you commit a crime against someone else, you're the only one who can possibly make it right. And it can only be made right by actions which undo the damage. Anyone who thinks that they can cause damage to others, and it'll be okay once they repent,* because "Jesus died for my sins," is a moral pervert.
Obviously, this blog entry isn't going to convert anyone from Christianity or any other religion to rationality. I'm being way too confrontational. But at least I'm being clear.
* Repenting for sins by prayer is a moral perversion in two ways--both because it assumes that someone else, this dead "Jesus," will take care of the sin, and because it is a mere thought, and not an action designed to make things right with the person wronged. Corollary: actions which do no harm to others are not morally wrong. "Thinking bad thoughts" is not morally wrong; only doing actions which do harm to others. The "thought sin" is another perversion of morality by religion. This is also why atheists and agnostics tend to gravitate towards civil libertarianism.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
And another reason to go into Iraq bites the dust
al-Qaeda terrorist's link to Iraq not true
That is the sound of a mind. A mind which, on this very blog, bought into the entire case for invading Iraq. A mind which then defended the invasion of Iraq--repeatedly and vociferously. A mind which has seen point after point after point after point of that case be leveled as being inadequately researched, a case of misleading the investigators, just plain wrong, or even old-fashioned lying.
I'm not happy. Not happy at all.
No more hand-drawn animation on Disney's slate
Upcoming Disney films no longer include hand-drawn animation
For those of us with an interest in the history of animation, this definitely is the end of an era.
Disney was, of course, the icon of feature-length animation for the 20th century. The golden era started with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and lasted through "The Jungle Book," the last film Walt Disney worked on personally.
Disney animated features were, to say the least, uneven through the 1970s and 1980s. But then a renaissance occurred; "The Little Mermaid" kicked it off, quickly followed by "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," and "The Lion King." True, there have been a few clunkers since, but overall Disney feature animation has been top-notch.
Recently, however, with Pixar's unbroken string of successes, and the cost pressures of the labor-intensive hand-drawn animation process, it has become inevitable that computer animation would replace the hand-drawn type.
For those who collect animation cels, original (not sericel or limited edition) feature film cels from Disney stopped by the time of "The Lion King." By then, even though much was hand-drawn, the cels were then scanned into computers, added together with often-computerized backgrounds, minor characters, and special effects, and then transferred to final film. The cels were never released to the public, and would rarely look like the final film version in most cases anyhow.
There will still be room for the traditional-looking 2D animation, but it will be done completely by computer. And 3D animation, in the Pixar vein, is likely to take over as the most common type.
Other major corporations' studios and smaller animation studios will follow. In many cases, they already have. Today, Disney; tomorrow, all.
And after "The Simpsons" goes off the air, you can bet there will be few hand-drawn animated TV series of any quality or importance.
One possible exception: the recently-resurrected "Family Guy."
Call it another cast-off technology.
Monday, April 05, 2004
Philip Morris, EU close to $1 billion settlement over cigarette smuggling charges
The makers of Marlboro aren't being charged with doing the actual smuggling. But they are about to be charged a load of money over something nearly as scuzzy. They sent additional cigarettes to neighboring countries, knowing they would then be smuggled.
Having harangued Philip Morris, however, let me say this: the EU brings the smuggling down on its own head. The cigarettes are being smuggled from countries with 10% excise taxes to countries with 200%+ excise taxes. It doesn't take an Adam Smith to figure out that someone's going to try to figure out a way to make a profit off of the difference.
Heck, even in the U.S., with differences between various state excise taxes and Native American reservation excise taxes, smuggling does on. And the difference isn't usually 200%.
So, the socialist EU governments try to make heavy coin off of tobacco, and end up paying $1 billion per year trying to stop the smuggling, and new criminals, they themselves create.
Remember that taxes are essentially a use of governmental force. When a government heavily taxes anything, it means they want less of it in their society and are willing to send out their agents, both tax and police, to stop it. In socialist governments, they want less tobacco. They also heavily tax gas, which means they want less gasoline used. Finally, they heavily tax high incomes. This means they want less success in their society. That's right. They'd like to see everyone at home, not smoking, and having roughly the same income as their neighbor, regardless of how hard they work or how good their ideas are.
Be very careful when you cheer high taxes, even if it's of something you despise. My dad's an asthmatic, and I saw growing up in the '70s what widespread public smoking did to him. I bear no love of the tobacco industry. But I'm very leery of the high taxes levied on them.
And, by the way, I see the big multi-state settlement as a way for the tobacco companies to ensure that the states don't allow anyone to drive them out of business
. The lawyers and governments made things so bad, they saw a multi-decade, multi-multi-billion-dollar settlement as the cost of doing business.
It's scary to anyone with a love of the small-government vision this country was founded and prospered on. Let's be careful out there, people.
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Saudis: OPEC not reason for high U.S. gas prices
Saudis: OPEC not reason for high U.S. gas prices
They happen to be correct.
The refinery capacity in this country is strained mightily. It's to the point where if any plant goes down, even for routine maintenance, prices rise.
The refineries are getting enough crude oil from U.S., OPEC, and other sources. They just can't turn it into gasoline fast enough. During the winter, the refineries have to also make heating oil. This winter was very cold and rough on the East Coast, so the switchover back to gasoline was delayed.
Why don't we make more refineries? Well, the incentives just aren't there. In addition to winter and summer blends, there are a few dozen local blends mandated by different states. It's one of the costs of "environmentalism"--even though presumably only a few blends at most would be needed to make environmentally-friendly gas, many localities have forced through their own special legislation. This makes gasoline hard to make in big quantities, and changes are constantly being forced on the refineries. Thus, the benefits aren't there for the refiners.
Having said that, there's another reason not mentioned in the article. Gas prices are high because the dollar is low. Oil, and in fact all commodities, are denominated in dollars. Dollar down, commodities up. Thus, the crude oil that becomes gas is in fact becoming more expensive. Reason: when they sell a barrel of oil to us at a certain number of dollars, they get less value for that number of dollars. To get the value they're used to, they need a higher number of dollars, or they will lose out. Thus, the tendency is to hold back a bit until they are getting the value they need to keep their oil-based economies going.
So, the reason really isn't OPEC. It's the weak dollar combined with a lack of refinery capacity. And neither are likely to change much soon. Now, if OPEC truly turned off the spigot, or a refinery went down hard, you'd see gas prices really rocket up.