From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog: April 2004

Friday, April 30, 2004

Sending out some literary love

My good friend Evil Mike is a writer, and was fortunate enough to get a short of his published on an e-zine that specializes in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fiction. Please go and give "Why Grammy Don't Do Hardbake" a read. If you want to give Mike some love, or constructive criticism, leave it in the comments, and I'll get him to give your thoughts a read.

More curves on the Mike Danton road

Last week I put up this post about the curious case of Mike Danton, a hockey player who had a friend try and arrange for a hitman to kill an acquaintance of Danton's. Speculation on the Danton case ran all over the place. Some new info has since come to light about Danton's agent David Frost, who some reports think may have been the target of the hit.

First a correction. In my post I said that Katie Wolfmeyer, Danton's accomplice who arranged for the hitman, knew that the man she contacted was a dispatcher for the police department. That was an incorrect read on my part. This in effect makes her slightly less clueless, although she's still a damn fool in my book for trying to arrange this thing.

Anyway, according to ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, David Frost was investigated for some kind of incident that occurred at Frost's home three years ago. The incident in question involved Frost and Tom Jefferson, Danton's younger brother and a top prospect. The investigation was confirmed by Jeff Jefferson, an uncle to both players. The nature of the investigation was not revealed. Frost was also charged and pled guilty to assault in an incident involving a player on a team that Frost coached at the time.

There appears to be a whole lot of bad juju surrounding Frost. He has to be a cool customer if he really was the target of the plot, as all he's said publicly was that Danton needed serious counseling. But this bears some serious observation. I don't know if Frost has some of the same bad blood that infected Mary Pierce's dad in tennis, or if maybe there's a connection to the "Danton is gay" rumor that King Kaufman wrote about on Salon, and which I mentioned last week. Schaap doesn't mention if Jefferson was a minor when the investigation he wrote about took place, but if he was, could that be playing into it as well? Is Frost some kind of sexual predator? Or just a "hockey dad" gone way over the deep end? Or is he completely innocent, and there's something else going on? Time will tell, but this story bears watching in a sordid tabloid sort of way.

And damn scary stuff on the road
Jeanne D'Arc at Body and Soul had been the one who turned me onto this subject, regarding a Marine who had posed for a highly offensive picture with a couple of Iraqi children. The soldier is giving a thumbs up with the children towards the camera as they hold a sign that reads "Lcpl Boudreaux killed my dad th[en] he knocked up my sister!"

There was a fair amount of debate in the comments on the post as to whether the picture was faked/Photoshopped or not., where I usually check on these things, has reported the question as inconclusive. Normally they dissect such photos for telltale signs of alteration, but they haven't done anything like that here. They defer to the Military investigation which has not as yet reported any findings on the matter. Jeanne had another post which seemed to indicate that the findings are that it was in fact real. In the interests of maintaining the standard of "innocent until proven guilty" I think I'll withhold judgment until I see something official.

However, the likelihood that this is real seemed to increase when CBS broke this story about a military prison in Iraq.

It turns out photographs surfaced showing American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqis being held at a prison near Baghdad. The Army investigated, and issued a scathing report.

Now, an Army general and her command staff may face the end of long military careers. And six soldiers are facing court martial in Iraq -- and possible prison time.

Jeanne has a link to some of the letters that CBS has received since airing the story on 60 Minutes II at the end of this post. Most of the letters show support for CBS for taking the risk in making this story public and focusing attention on the matter. However there are a few that just make me shake my head.

"Why in God's name would you choose to air such a story at this time? This is something our country didn't need to know now. Everyone in this country is hanging on for dear life to support the troops, and you have taken all our faith in goodness away. How many more reports can we watch like this before support fades?

We are losing our fight with other countries to support us, and now you have just sealed it. ... We've just lost the goal of helping anyone over there because of this show, and God help us. You are no better then those who did these horrible acts. Your reports are bringing down this country."

Um, lady, we lost that fight long ago. That's why we and Britain are the only ones holding down the fort in Iraq, and those that are left are running for the door. These pictures had nothing to do with that, nor does it in any excuse the behavior.

Then we have this gem:

"At one time I would have condemned the way they were treated, but after recently seeing them burning Americans there, I say they should give those troops medals. An eye for an eye."

Makes the whole world blind asshole. I believe that was Gandhi, but will correct if someone can tell me who the true source on that one is.

Daily Kos has this post which points out just how detached from reality W. is. In defending the famous Mission Accomplished photo op, W. said:

As to the carrier speech, Bush said, ``A year ago I did give the speech from the carrier saying we had achieved an important objective, accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein.''

``And as a result, there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq. As a result, a friend of terror has been removed and now sits in a jail,'' the president said.

I hope Kos draws a fair amount of satisfaction from point that out. He got ripped a new one for making some comments about the contractors that got killed in Fallujah. He retracted the comments I believe, but still got lambasted by most of the warbloggers pretty severely. Since it appears that contractors orchestrated some of this, I think anyone who pounced on him needs to apologize and/or vocally condemn the perpetrators of this mess.

Stupidity at home
Couple of prime examples of complete lunacy regarding Iraq this week. First up, we have a college student from UMass who wrote a completely insensitive editorial regarding the death of Pat Tillman.

The column in question was submitted by graduate student Rene Gonzalez and published Wednesday in the Daily Collegian. It was titled "Pat Tillman is not a hero: he got what was coming to him."

Gonzalez writes that Tillman was a "Rambo" who probably acted out of "nationalist patriotic fantasies." In his own neighborhood in Puerto Rico, according to Gonzalez, Tillman would not have been considered a hero, but a "pendejo," or idiot.

Ok, setting aside whichever side of the Iraq issue you happen to lie on, there is no place for this kind of idiocy in any paper. If Gonzalez was against the war, he could have found many more reasoned and articulate ways to voice his opinion without taking shots at Tillman. This wasn't some weekend warrior, militia yahoo who signed up for the war to go shoot some people. Everything written about Tillman has spoken of his humble, unassuming nature. He joined up because he legitimately wanted to serve his country, and the man's effort should not be given short shrift like this. And I'm about as anti-war as you're going to find.

Gonzalez came back yesterday with an apology.

Gonzalez did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages left Thursday by The Associated Press, but in an e-mail to Boston's WBZ-TV, he apologized to the Tillman family "for all the pain that my article has brought them."

Gonzalez said he was trying to convey that Tillman's celebrity came into play when the former Arizona Cardinals player was labeled a hero.

Again, I disagree with his point, but at least this is a considerably less objectional point to make. There would be some fair minded arguments to be had on either side I think. Gonzalez also was quoted as saying that he made his point "in such an insensitive way, that the article was not worth publishing."

I'm happy that he came to realize that the column he put forth was more than ham handed, but I really wish this chooch had given this piece a lot more thought before putting pen to paper. God knows, the warhawks are going to seize on this and say that this is indicative of how the left doesn't care about America, and all that bullcrap.

Anyone who takes a stance against an aspect of the war needs to give the position full thought and voice their opinion in the most intelligent way possible. There's no reason to make it easier for the right to take shots at us.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Sorry for the light posting
Been fairly busy last couple of days. And tonight I have one bitch of a headache. I should have some stuff up tomorrow though.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Kerry Medal "controversy"
Tom Burka gives the Bush criticisms of Kerry's service record all the proper respect they deserve.

Yankee woes
As a Yankee fan, this has been a very long start to the season. My team is lucky to be where it is right now at 8-11. The team could just as easily be mired with a record to rival the Detroit Tigers' ineptitude from last season. ESPNs Bob Klapsich has a column about the team being in crisis survival mode right now. Steinbrenner has supposedly washed his hands of trying to fix the team, putting it all on Torre and Cashman. I suppose I should be thankful if that legitimately means he won't be meddling in the team's affairs, and they can try to play this out.

Added to the Blogroll
Added Jeanne D'Arc's Body and Soul to the blogroll. Some of the best writing I've read in the blogsphere. There's a lot of what she says that goes straight to the heart of some of the issues we see out there every day. Of her most recent posts, this one about the impact low income families could potentially have on the election come November and the problems in courting that vote bears a good read.

Remembering Pat Tillman

The story about the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan has already aged considerably in news cycle terms. For those who haven't been following the story, Pat Tillman was a young man who had a very successful collegiate football career at Arizona State. He was then drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and had a solid football career, playing with Arizona from 1998 until 2001.

After 9-11, Tillman's brother decided to join the Army to fight in Afghanistan. Pat walked away from a $3.6 million dollar contract with Arizona to join with his brother and attempt to become an Army Ranger. He passed through Ranger school, and was among the first deployed. He fully planned to rejoin the NFL in three years after his tour was over.

The entire time Tillman served, he did not do interviews about the choice he made. A consistently humble person, he felt that his decision warranted no more media attention than that of any other person who enlisted after 9-11. He just wanted to serve his country.

Several different sportswriters have written about Tillman since his death. I think the one that moved me the most was this piece written by CNNSI's Tim Leyden sent to me by my friend Evil Mike. I learned many things about Tillman from the column. He demonstrated himself to be a man of great intelligence, skill, and work ethic.

I will not say that Tillman's loss is any greater than any other life lost in Afghanistan or Iraq, simply because no one man or woman's life inherently has more value than any others. I also won't say that his loss is greater because from all I have read about him, Tillman would be the first man to disagree with me on that point.

Instead, I think it's important to remember a couple of other things, and bring everyone's attention to them. First, there's this story from Mark Kreidler of that looks at the ghoulish practice of trying to capitalize on Tillman's death on Ebay. There's also a look at someone who has tried to go the other way in protest to these practices. The auction for sanity as it may be termed had gone up considerably after Kreidler's story hit the web. It was up to $1575 when I looked. It now appears to be closed, or pulled. I hope Ebay didn't pull it.

It also seems a good time to remember that there is STILL a military action engaged in Afghanistan. It seems like all the deaths in Afghanistan were being completely ignored in the wake of the Iraq carnage. Tillman's death brought some light back onto those who have died in the original front on the war on terror. Sadly, this light did not last long. Norbizness tried to draw a fair amount of attention back to the matter in this post.

In the end, I am not trying to say we shouldn't remember Pat Tillman or his sacrifice. What I think we should do is remember him along with all the others who have died in Afghanistan as well as those lost in Iraq. We need to press whoever wins the election in November on the fact that contrary to what W may think, the job still is not done over there.

Say a prayer for everyone who serves.

The photos they don't want you to see

Steve from BD Riley's (home from the Austin chapter of the 1759 Society) has a post up at the group blog he contributes to (Bellyfuzz) about the pics that The Memory Hole requested from the Pentagon in a FOIA request. These photos show some of the caskets containing the brave men and women who have gone to war and died for the current administrations deceptions concerning the war on Iraq.

I'm also posting it because the current occupants of the White House don't want you to see these images. They don't attend the funerals, they don't allow cameras at Dover AFB where the caskets arrive, and they FIRED the photographer who posted a similarly respectful image of the care shown to all fallen soldiers as they depart Iraq.

The firing can be read about here. And if you're in Austin, go by BD Riley's and get some love in a pint glass. Tip a Guinness for me, will ya?

Monday, April 26, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Machines Gone Bad
2001: A Space Odyssey

Long before Buzz Lightyear took a large portion of the filmgoing public "To infinity and beyond", Stanley Kubrick took audiences on a much longer journey. From the dawn of mankind to one possibility for the future of the human race, 2001: A Space Odyssey challenged viewers in a way I don't think had ever been seen in film before. There have been few films like it since.

2001 starts at the dawn of history. Two tribes of ape like creatures are competing for scarce resources in a desolate wasteland of prehistoric earth. One tribe appears to have the upper hand. In the middle of the night the weaker tribe is visited by a strange object: a large, jet black, rectangular slab. Nothing visibly changes when these apes touch the slab. It disappears as mysteriously as it arrived. Although nothing visible passes between the slab and the apes, they are clearly different in behavior when they next collide with the stronger tribe. The events that unfold set the stage for the future of humanity. The transition in the story from the distant past to the far future is done in one of the most amazing crosscuts I've seen.

In the late 20th century an excavation on the moon near a human colony finds another one of these mysterious black slabs. The slab emits a single powerful radio blast destined for somewhere in the vicinity of Jupiter. A manned mission is sent out to try and see what the destination of the signal was.

That mission puts us in contact with our primary characters. The mission onboard the spaceship Discovery consists of a group of scientists in hypersleep for the long journey. They are watched over by the human caretakers of Discovery, Doctor Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and Doctor Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), and ship computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). Arrival at Jupiter finds even more mysteries awaiting the visitors, and creates a conflict in HAL's programming that turns deadly for those on board.

This movie is challenging on a number of different levels. Brea lists it amongst her all time favorites. One of the things she found most compelling about it is Kubrick's powerful use of silence. The opening sequence on prehistoric earth moves the plot along without a single word of dialogue. The first dialogue is not spoken until 25 minutes into the movie, and the last 23 minutes are also free of the spoken word. There's a grand total of 88 minutes of silence out of the 139 minute running time. It focuses the viewers entire attention on the action and the actors themselves.

The performances by Lockwood and Dullea are solid if not spectacular. They provide as much as the movie calls for without going overboard. In my opinion, far more compelling is the character of HAL. As the plot unfolds, and we see (or rather hear) HAL have to deal with a conflict in his programming, he becomes the most sympathetic character of the lot. When he and Bowman have their final showdown, the scene is really sad. When Alamo Drafthouse did a special show that was a collection of the top 100 on screen deaths in film history, this one was in the top 10. It's very compelling.

More importantly, this is a movie that really demands that you think about questions that go well beyond the scope of the film itself. This movie presents a perspective on the evolution of man that no doubt gives fundamentalists screaming hissy fits. It also speculates on the possible future evolution of humanity that some would say goes far afield from "conventional" spiritual notions of an afterlife. Or does it? That's just a surface level question that can be raised from viewing this film. The intricacies of the argument can be extrapolated in an almost infinite number of directions, depending on the viewers involved and the religious or philosophical backgrounds they bring into the viewing with them.

This is in my mind the quintessential science fiction film. It tries to tackle bigger questions than just what is contained within the story. This film succeeds in ways too numerous to measure in my mind. I recall a couple of years ago when The Paramount Theater here in Austin showed the movie during their Summer Film Classics series. It was a brand new 70mm print in Dolby Digital surround sound. Seeing and hearing it that clearly on the big screen was a more spiritual experience for me than anything Mel Gibson could even dream of. If there is a God, and I believe that there is, this is a movie that I think God approves of, and shows us what he/she hopes for us to someday achieve as a species. I hope that mankind sees that progression some day.

As I said, the Retrospectives get a week off. Hope to have some more posts on the world around us tomorrow. 'night!

Delays and apologies

The Goddess was irrevocably put off from doing her write up of 2001 last week, due to scheduling conflicts. I'll hit it myself some time tonight to close that week out.

That will be the last bit of movie writing this week. While I had hoped to start talking about biographical epics this week, I had way too much on my plate this weekend to get started on those the way I would have wanted. We'll pick that theme up next week. I will still be putting up posts about the world at large through the week, so please check back at your leisure. Thanks.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Machines Gone Bad
The Matrix

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then The Matrix may qualify as the most flattered movie of the last decade. It's style has been spoofed, borrowed, and in more than a couple of cases blatantly plagiarized. Its subsequent sequels may have suffered as much from comparison by virtue of the fact that they were not nearly as original in story or in style as the original feature.

In a world that seems to mirror our own, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) works a normal desk job by day. At night, he works as a hacker who goes by the handle Neo. Neo has a fascination with a man the press has labeled as a terrorist. This man is known only as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Neo thinks that Morpheus has the key to a question that Neo has sought to resolve for some time. The question is "What is the Matrix?"

After being interrogated by a mysterious government agent known only as Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), Neo gets his face to face meeting with Morpheus. Morpheus advises Neo that he can show Neo what the Matrix is, but once he does there's no turning back. With the assistance of his colleagues Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), and others, Morpheus takes Neo to a place he never imagined.

The time is actually many decades into the 21st Century. Mankind was celebrating what would arguably be its greatest achievement: the creation of true Artificial Intelligence. But the creation of A.I. leads to the downfall of man. There was a great war between the machines and mankind. The machines drove a small cadre of humans deep below the surface of the earth. The remainder exists in a virtual environment that is The Matrix. While their minds live what they think are normal lives in the world of the Matrix, civilization's physical forms are kept in a kind of biological stasis where people are used as a kind of battery to power the machine civilization aboveground.

Morpheus and his crew are part of the cadre that live below ground. They are seeking a way to destroy the machines and free humanity from the slavery of the Matrix forever. Neo is believed to be the key. In what way has yet to be determined.

When The Matrix was first released, it was one of those movies that everyone was talking about in sort of coded language. The secret of what the Matrix was was half the surprise of the movie. I only talk about it so freely now because I think it's reasonably safe to say that the number of people who haven't heard about the movie were residing in spider holes with Saddam.

What had people really talking about the movie was the radical new style in which the effects scenes were shot. Christened "bullet time", the movie featured scenes that seemed to take you all the way around a central fulcrum in such a way that everything around it slowed down to an almost dead stop. The technique by which this was done is one of the neater extras on the DVD. The filming technique blended computer animation, a variation on stop motion technology that used multiple cameras taking still shots simultaneously, and the martial arts choreography of Chinese action master Yuen Wo Ping. The end result changed the way action sequences were shot on all big budget films to come.

I am a huge fan of the original Matrix. I also recognize the weaknesses of the film. The dialogue is a bit clunky at times. The pontificating of Morpheus as the one true believer in Neo's place in the grand scheme of things gets to be a little too faux philosophical. And lets be honest, you have to worry about any movie that pitches Keanu as a selling point. These problems while minor in the first film, blew up exponentially in the sequels. But the strengths of the movie far outweigh its weaknesses.

For one, the action sequences helped open up a new generation to the joys of Chinese action films. The style sometimes referred to as "wire fu" is breathtaking to watch when it is done well. Yuen Wo Ping is a true master of the art form. His skills have also helped bring subsequent films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and both volumes of Kill Bill to a much higher level than they might have achieved otherwise. The movie is just a joy to watch for the action alone.

And there are some good performances in the movie. Weaving chews the scenery like there's no tomorrow as Agent Smith. He provided the only strong points in the sequels, cementing him as the real draw of the series from an acting standpoint, rather than Neo. Laurence Fishburne has some classic moments as Morpheus. I had hoped that perhaps the movie might be a springboard for a new career for Laurence as an action star who can act. That hasn't happened yet, but there's still hope. Carrie-Anne Moss has some interesting moments as Morpheus' right hand and Neo's love interest. Her skills in the martial arts sequences are accentuated by her slender form. They make her seem fragile even while she's kicking ass. Combined with her cool demeanor, it made her a little bit removed from the standard love interest in an action film.

In the end, the movie made a more than modest profit, going absolutely ballistic on the home video market. In many respects, this movie is what made DVD a commercially viable medium. The various features that illustrate how the movie was done, and a hidden scenes feature called "follow the white rabbit" made this the must own DVD for a long long time. And while it didn't quite follow through on its promise in the followup films, the movie still holds up very strongly on its own merits. Combined with some really bad ass machines, and it's a good party movie to watch with friends and just get rowdy.

Tomorrow or Saturday, Brea will have up the last feature for Machine Gone Bad week: 2001. I'll be back on Monday to start next week's theme: Biographical Epics. There will also be regular posts scattered hither, thither, and yon.
Have a good night!

And to the MCC

To Whom It Concerns:

I am writing, as a former resident of Michigan and as a Catholic, to express my extreme disappointment at your support of the above referenced legislation. Your vice president for public policy, Paul A. Long, is on record as stating "Individual and institutional health care providers can and should maintain their mission and their services without compromising faith-based teaching..."

May I ask exactly which selective faith-based teaching you are referring to? How could this law possibly be in harmony with the themes of Catholic social teaching articulated throughout this century by papal encyclicals and conciliar documents, especially those of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops? I am referring particularly to The Life and Dignity of the Human Person, the Option for the Poor and Vulnerable and Solidarity. My Catholic faith exhorts me to "love God with all my heart, all my soul and my neighbor as myself," and to follow in the all-inclusive footsteps of Christ. How can one love thy neighbor as thyself if you are denying them necessary medical care under any circumstances, much less based upon a private criterium that NO health care provider has any business asking?

I am not arguing that it is inappropriate for physicians to ask questions about a patient's risky behaviors (this includes smoking, drinking, and use of ANY controlled substances), it is indeed appropriate and in many cases necessary. It is, however, utterly inappropriate, irrelevant and I would venture to say illegal to question a patient about their sexual identity. Therefore this law also begs the question of how it could possibly be enforced without the the most heinous violations of patients' legal rights to confidentiality? Please remember that the doctor-patient relationship is every bit as sacrosanct as the penitent-confessor relationship.

We are Catholics, we are Christians, we are not God. We do not judge, lest we be judged. And I personally do not wish to be judged by such acts of hatred, cruelty and inhumanity. I will pray for all of you, that you may come to know the God who is Love for all living creatures, and to know his son Jesus Christ who brought the good news of God's love to the world. The entire world, ladies and gentlemen, not just those pockets of humanity here and there that He was not entirely comfortable with.

In Fellowship,
Austin, Texas

The Goddess replies to Richardville.

Dear Mr. Richardville:

I am writing in response to the above referenced legislation, sponsored by your, and recently passed in the Michigan state legislature. Please note that I would be writing to you as a citizen of this nation, of this world, and as a member of the human race. I would be writing to you even if I were not Catholic, and even if I were not a former resident of the state of Michigan (Ottawa Lake, Monroe Country, 1973 - 1979).

May I ask how, as anyone claiming to be an American and indeed an elected official under oath to uphold the principles of liberty and independence upon which our nation was founded, you could possibly justify the introduction of such an inhumane and hateful law? For make no mistake, Mr. Richardville, this law grants legal credibility to hate.

How could anyone claiming the above possibly deem it appropriate to embed the practice of discrimination, which you may have learned in grade school was the very reason the pilgrims journeyed to and overcame great misery to settle our land, on ANY basis into the legal code?

And lastly, please explain to me how anyone who could describe themselves as conservative, Republican or indeed republican (small case 'r' intentional) would possibly grant themselves or any other person the legal power to once again swell the size and power of government by taking punitive action against those whose intimate practices take place in their private homes?

This law is not an act of religious or moral courage, as you probably assure yourself whenever you have to look at yourself in the mirror, but a cowardly act of pandering to those special interests who have decided that they can not and will not treat other human beings with dignity or respect. Many members of the Michigan Catholic Conference were present in the legislative chamber when this law was passed. How many of them, Mr. Richardville, immediately went home and wrote a check to your elective efforts? How many wrote checks prior to your sponsorship of this bill? Rest assured that I will research the question, assuming such demographic data is available, of how strongly your re-election (or previous election) success rests on the far right Catholic/Christian/religious vote.

I am,
A Catholic who loves ALL others as my neighbor,

Oy freaking vay.

Via both Atrios and Jesus General:

Doctors or other health care providers could not be disciplined or sued if they refuse to treat gay patients under legislation passed Wednesday by the Michigan House.

The bill allows health care workers to refuse service to anyone on moral, ethical or religious grounds.

The Conscientious Objector Policy Act would allow health care providers to assert their objection within 24 hours of when they receive notice of a patient or procedure with which they don't agree. However, it would prohibit emergency treatment to be refused.

Three other three bills that could affect LGBT health care were also passed by the House Wednesday which would exempt a health insurer or health facility from providing or covering a health care procedure that violated ethical, moral or religious principles reflected in their bylaws or mission statement.


Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) the first openly gay legislator in Michigan, pointed out that while the legislation prohibits racial discrimination by health care providers, it doesn't ban discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation. (Full story here)

Weeping creeping Jesus. How in the hell can anyone think this is in anyway acceptable? How can any doctor even remotely be comfortable with taking advantage of what this bill would allow them to do? I mean, are any legislators in Michigan even remotely familiar with the Hippocratic Oath?

...I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God...

Representative Richardville (sponsor of this piece of trash) can be emailed here.

The Michigan Catholic Conference can be emailed here. You can also reach them at:

Michigan Catholic Conference
510 South Capitol Avenue
Lansing, Michigan 48933
Phone: (517) 372-9310
Fax: (517) 372-3940

Thanks to a poster in the comments at Atrios for the MCC info.

These people need to know just how utterly repulsive this is. Pass it on to friends. Make your voice heard.

Weird Science

Via Hesiod at Counterspin Central, we have...well...I guess we'd call it the Virgin Minnie.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Machines Gone Bad

There are times when I am still impressed by the changes I've seen in technology during my lifetime. When I was a kid, I had an old Commodore 64 computer. Back then I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I remember the dinky little games I used to play on it. Having to switch 5 1/4" floppies to get to the next level (that was the size right? Been so long, I barely remember). Now computers have gotten so advanced that the laptop I am writing this on has more power and can do more things than the ones that powered the Apollo rockets I think.

And yet the notion that computers are limited by their inability to reason was something that lay at the core of John Badham's WarGames. Coupled with lingering Cold War fears of the omnipresent Soviet threat, Badham and screenwriters Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes created a movie that still has some resonance today.

A drill measuring human response when ordered to execute a nuclear launch demonstrates that some soldiers would be reluctant to do so even in the face of a first strike by a foreign power. After some heated debate, Dr. John McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) convinces some Presidential advisors that human beings need to be taken "out of the loop". Computerized monitors are installed in missile silos where human beings once made the decision to launch. This is done against the wishes of NORAD C.O. General Jack Beringer (Barry Corbin).

All monitors are connected to a central computer called the WOPR (War Operations Planning and Response). The WOPR is constantly running simulations of all conceivable military engagement patterns to determine which strategic launch decisions would be most beneficial and efficient for the US. The theory is that removing the human element might eventually save lives.

Enter David Lightman (Matthew Broderick in his second film role, and first as a star). Lightman is a high school computer buff. One of the first hackers, he hopes to impress a girl he likes (Ally Sheedy, also in her second film) by showing her how he can adjust their grades in school by breaking into the schools computer system. On a later visit, he shows Jennifer how he has his computer programmed to dial random numbers in the hopes of connecting to a computer software company. He hopes to sneak a peak at game software they have slated for release later in the year. What he inadvertently finds is a back door into the WOPR's simulation system. And when he thinks he and Jennifer are playing a "game" titled "Global Thermonuclear War", he has no idea that he may be kicking off World War III for real.

The technological aspects of the film are fairly dated. I had to laugh when I saw Lightman settling the handset of his phone into the cradle of an old 1200 baud modem. One shudders to think what Lightman might have done on the modern internet. In the same way, my mind reels when he grabs an 8" floppy drive and I think about how many of those would fit onto one CD-ROM today. But the question of whether the human element should be removed from the decision making process that determines whether 20 million people live or die is still relevant. As computers have become more powerful, and the operating systems more complex, one has to wonder about the wisdom of giving more control over to computers and automation. In only takes one email opened in Microsoft Outlook these days to bring an entire company's productivity to a screeching halt.

Broderick as Lightman is very believable as a forefather to today's techie. His character is motivated less by an interest in causing mischief and more by an insatiable desire to learn more and test the limits of his abilities. Breaking into the WOPR is a challenge for him. It is a means by which he can measure how much he knows about the software and hardware. It's obvious from a scene showing the troubles he has in school that he has a great deal of intelligence. The mental muscles he has are simply not being tested by those he "learns" from in school.

Sheedy's character of Jennifer doesn't get much in the way of screen time. She's mostly there to give Broderick something to draw his attention away from the machine, if only for a little while. One of the best secondary characters in the film is Professor Stephen Falken (John Wood). Falken is the person who with McKittrick helped give the WOPR its "intelligence".

Though not a true A.I. as we think of it today, this intelligence within the WOPR does become a third character. It is given a voice via a modulator that Lightman runs from his computer. And it has a name a personality that were bestowed on it by Falken in the programming: that of his late son Joshua. It's through this mechanical voice that the audience gets to feel some of the menace from the machine. The fact the voice is completely devoid of emotion makes it all the more frightening to think that this unfeeling device may decide whether the population of a city lives or dies. Falken's frustration at not being able to imbue Joshua with any sort of understanding of the notion of futility in respect to nuclear war makes the threat more real. Falken is very much a father struggling to make his "son" learn.

The ending is a bit contrived and falls back onto some standard Hollywood "save the day" tropes. But the whole enterprise is still very entertaining and fun to watch. This film was one of the staples of my youth. It surprised me at how much of it is still very entertaining and holds up so well. I also find it interesting to see how the concept of Joshua plays out on screen. Joshua is very much the great grandfather of Skynet that comes into existence in The Terminator the following year. The difference in the capabilities of the two systems I think reflects just how quickly our concept of the power of computers had changed just in a year or two. It would mirror the actual changes in the technology itself.

If Skynet could be thought of as the grandson of the WOPR, tomorrow we'll be looking at a movie that feature what could be Skynet's cousin. It also was a film that completely redefined how action movies could be shot. So tune in tomorrow as we look at the question of "What is The Matrix?"

I'd like to think this will slam the door...

...on any negative aspersions the wingnuts may throw on Kerry's military record. Sadly, this has already proven to be a false hope. Read the comments, for a note about a completely unsubstantiated accusation from the conservative punditry regarding Kerry's Purple Hearts.

This should not be tolerated. If you're of a liberal bent like myself, make sure to bring this comparison to the attention of anyone who would parrot disparaging comments about Kerry's service to the country. If you're of a conservative bent, I would welcome any reasonable discourse on why you still think W. has any sort of claim to being more knowledgeable on national security or military affairs. I'm always willing to listen, but remember I said reasonable discourse.

Leave it to a cartoonist

To make points and ask questions the media won't. Keith Knight, who draws The K Chronicles hits on a point regarding the "historical information" contained in the August 6 PDB, as well as about Shrub's wonderful attendance record (view the daily ad to see the comic).

I also think it's been interesting seeing some more established cartoonists really try and bring the impacts of the war home. Garry Trudeau has started a storyline in Doonesbury this week that shows the impact on longtime character fave BD (the link takes you to the first strip, published on 4/19/04. Click on "next date" link to see the subsequent strips). But Trudeau has always been unafraid to take on topical and controversial issues. What surprised me was when I saw a cartoonist of a decidedly less political bent bring the Iraqi conflict into his world. That brings me to the start of this storyline in Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley.

Should be some good reading in the next few weeks, if very sad. I'll let you know if there's any particularly good strips that go up over the course of the storylines.

Founding Fathers 1, Judge Roy Moore 0

Meant to link to this sooner, but Philosoraptor has dug up the strongest answer yet to counter Judge Roy Moore's defiance of the law in not moving his Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda in the Alabama courthouse where he once presided. Given a choice between the interpretations of Moore or John Adams, I think Adams has a bit more credibility as to the intention of the Founding Fathers.

The Hitman and the Hockey Player

Not to be confused with The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

Don't know if anyone has been following this story. Last week a center for the St. Louis Blues named Mike Danton was arrested for allegedly asking a friend to find a hitman to kill someone for him. Danton allegedly told a female friend that a hitman from Canada was coming down to kill him over a debt, and asked if she knew anyone who would be willing to kill this person for him.

Danton apparently doesn't have very smart friends as the woman (Katie Wolfmeyer) then asked a male friend of hers to do the job. The male friend also happened to be a dispatcher for the Columbia, IL. police department. Wolfmeyer knew this when she asked him to do the job. When he realized this wasn't some kind of joke he notified the FBI and became a cooperative witness in the sting to catch Danton and Wolfmeyer.

Since the arrest there's been some speculation as to Danton's motive. The story about the debt appears to have been made up out of whole cloth. Instead, the speculation has focused on the following two statements (taken from the ESPN story linked above):

" The complaint alleges that Danton actually was trying to kill a male acquaintance after an argument Tuesday in which the two fought over Danton's "promiscuity and use of alcohol." The complaint said Danton feared the acquaintance, who is not named, would talk to St. Louis Blues management and ruin Danton's career.

In a telephone call recorded by authorities, the acquaintance asked why Danton wanted to kill him. According to the complaint, Danton broke down and sobbed, and explained that he ordered the killing because he "felt the acquaintance was going to leave him." (my emphasis added)

The acquaintance in question is male, which has led to speculation that Danton is in fact gay. King Kaufman from Salon has a good column here about whether the day of the gay Jackie Robinson may soon be at hand. There has since been a report that Danton was targeting his agent for the killing. Under those circumstances, if true it would also make sense, though not seemingly to the degree that would warrant Danton wanting to kill his agent. An agent certainly would be upset with his client over possible alcohol abuse and promiscuity due to the potential PR damage it could cause. And such irresponsible behavior could potentially motivate an agent to drop a client.

But would that alone enough to motivate Danton to want to kill his agent? Seems like a rather irrational response but this is hardly a normal situation. And alcohol abuse will lead to irrational behavior to be sure. However, I personally don't think that this seems like an entirely plausible explanation. The possibility that Danton might be gay and wanting to protect his secret seems a lot more realistic.

For me personally, it matters not one whit whether a professional athlete is gay or not. If he plays for my favorite team, he'll have my support as much as any other player on the team. If he plays for an opponent of my teams, I'll razz him as much as any other player on that team. His sexuality won't have a damn thing to do with it. But I know that I am (sadly) in the minority on this particular front. Kaufman speculates in his column that the fairly evenhanded displays of support from a couple of Danton's teammates indicates that the level of acceptance in locker rooms may be on the rise.

I think that this is a somewhat naive hope. I think that one only has to consider the perspective of Billy Beane, a former outfielder for the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres who came out after he retired. He wrote a book about his life in professional baseball that talked about the difficulties he endured, and the elaborate ruses he went through to try and keep his sexual preferences a secret. There's not much from his story to indicate there's any measure of acceptance in Major League locker rooms. He played in the late '80s/early '90s. There may be some who would say we've progressed as a society since then. I would point to the comments made by Jeremy Shockey who called Bill Parcells a "homo" prior to the last NFL season. Before that look at any one of a number of comments made by former Indians relief ace John Rocker. In professional sports it still appears that greatest disparagement you can throw at an opponent is to call him a "fag".

I think that in men's professional sports there's still a tendency to associate "masculinity" with the ability of a player and the perception of society's sports heroes. You heard a lot of jokes about Shawn Kemp's promiscuity, having fathered seemingly countless children by a number of different women. But you don't actively hear people condemning the lifestyle he leads beyond maybe saying he's setting a bad example.

There has been very little commentary about his problems with alcohol. That is as it should be. Alcoholism is a disease, and those that suffer from it deserve sympathy and support as they try to get their lives together. But you don't hear people really condemning Kemp for that lifestyle, and I think that is in part because being a hard drinking, hard partying figure is what we associate with male athletes in professional sports. It's what we're paying for ostensibly.

Rocker, Shockey, and others like them were condemned for saying the things they said. The impression I always got was it was as much for saying what they thought out loud, and thus being bad for business, and less for the actual attitudes themselves. If you listen to the hue and cry against gay marriage and how by wanting equal consideration this is somehow detrimental to conventional marriage, you have to figure if a player came out in a high profile sport like football, baseball, basketball, or hockey that those same people who say that gay marriage undermines straight marriage will find some way to argue that a gay high profile athlete will somehow be destroying the moral fabric of today's youth as well as (insert shocked gasps here) destroying the integrity of the game somehow.

I really want to believe that Kaufman's right, and that the support Danton has gotten in the wake of the allegations is a sign of progress. But I fear that what Kaufman hears is still the voice of the minority. I think that once the time comes and a high profile athlete comes out, it's going to be hellfire and brimstone coming from every corner. No one on earth will be happier than I if I am proved wrong. I hope that I will be. (edited for clarity and gross overpunctuation)

The Autoplagarist Online

My friend Elaine has an interesting thing going on at her website here. If you have a moment, check it out. Then grab a book and contribute. That last line will make sense when you get there.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Machines Gone Bad
The Terminator

In thinking about a way to start talking about this movie, it dawns on me that perhaps George W. Bush may have been influenced by this movie in formulating his Iraq strategy. After all, fewer movies demonstrate the art of the pre-emptive strike better than this one.

Linda Hamilton plays Sarah Conner, a typical single female living in Los Angeles in 1984. She lives an average life working as a waitress in a diner. She lives with her roommate Ginger, and an iguana named Pugsley. There's nothing in her life that makes her out to be somebody exceptional at a glance.

Her life is turned upside down when she is approached by a man named Kyle Reese (Cameron veteran Michael Biehn). Reese claims that he is a visitor from an apocalyptic future world. In Reese's world, humans were pushed to the brink of extinction by machines that had become self aware. The machines waged war against humans for domination of the planet. Victory seemed to be in the machines' grasp when the humans are led in revolt by a single man: John Conner, Sarah's as yet unborn child.

Connor led the humans in a successful counter attack that destroyed Skynet, the central intelligence behind the machines power. Skynet, in a last desperate attempt to maintain superiority, sent a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill Sarah Conner, and prevent the human revolution from having a leader. Reese was sent back by John to save Sarah and ensure that John is eventually born to save the human race.

The Terminators are cybernetic organisms: a machine endoskeleton covered in living tissue. The tissue allows the Terminator units to be able to infiltrate human encampments. In the universe that James Cameron created with this script, the human tissue exterior is what makes it possible for the Terminator to be able to travel through time (something about only living things being able to make the jump). But it is the machine base that makes the Terminator a near unstoppable killing machine. It's this relentless destructive force that drives the tension in the movie as Sarah and Reese stay on the run while trying to think of a way to destroy it.

Though only Cameron's 2nd screenplay produced (and his first major directing assignment, unless you consider Pirhana II: The Spawning major), it still ranks as one of his strongest efforts. It's my second favorite of his movies after Aliens. Like his other films, it features a strong female lead (or more accurately in this case, a woman who has to find her inner strengths in order to survive). All of this draped over a moral addressing the importance of the choices we make and the impact those choices have upon our future.

A lot of the strength in the film lies in the duo of Sarah and Reese. Hamilton does a convincing job of making the audience feel her helplessness and frustration in the beginning. She feels she is truly forced into a situation where she's in way over her head. As she progressed through the story, her strength comes out in small glimpses until we get to the end, when she's as tough as she needs to be to try and pull herself and Reese through the climactic battle. It's all an effective counterpoint to Biehn's portrayal of Reese. Reese is a survivor. He's cold and efficient in doing what needs to be done. It's his compassion towards Sarah's vulnerability that makes the love story angle between them believable. Her vulnerability makes him open up and warm up. And it's his strength that motivates Sarah to become a much tougher nut to crack.

All of which makes Arnie's portrayal of the Terminator almost secondary. It's a good role for him, don't get me wrong. He is menacing from the moment he appears on the scene, and keeps the running through the whole movie with his dogged relentlessness. Originally he was slated for the role of Reese, but felt that he would work better as the Terminator. I think it would be at this point that a snide comment could be thrown out about how it works better because it requires him to speak so very little, but that's not entirely fair to the big lug. Compared to the other big action star of the decade (Sylvester Stallone), Arnie comes off as positively Shakespearean by comparison. This was the movie that put him on the map in Hollywood for a reason (and ostensibly launched his ascension into the governor's mansion in California, for better or worse).

There are elements of this movie that are fairly dated. Austin's own Mr. Sinus Theater did a really good job of ripping those elements to shreds. The elements that do work for the movie work well. When held up against its sequels, I feel like the movie has aged much better. The sequels have more style with the technological advances in the special effects. The original I think has more heart and soul than its brethren though. I think that's what sets it apart from those movies as much as humans are from machines. The sequels are just way too cold by comparison.

Tomorrow, we have to answer the question "Shall we play a game?" with WarGames.

With or against us, eh?

Via my friend The Goddess, we have this story from The Sierra Club, which shows just how complicated the entanglements between "legitimate" businesses and terrorist groups can be. She described it as reading like the plot from a Robert Ludlum novel. That's not far from the truth.

Poll this...

Billmon shows the absurdity of polls...

Monday, April 19, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Machines Gone Bad

It's always a dangerous moment when a person has a chance to turn fantasy into reality. There's always the question of whether fantasy will translate into reality successfully. What does the person do if it fails to live up to the ideal? What if the fantasy turns ugly? In the case of Westworld, the more pertinent question is "What happens when it turns deadly?"

In the not too distant future, Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) are two businessmen who are leaving for a vacation at a resort called Delos. Delos is comprised of three different "worlds": Westworld, Romanworld, and Medievalworld. Each area recreates with almost flawless detail an environment consistent with the theme of its particular world. It could be thought of as a sort of adult Disneyland.

Instead of rides, however, the illusion of each world is further enhanced by a variety of cyborgs that interact with the resort's guests. In this way, each guest has an opportunity to live out whatever fantasy they desire. If you want to slay the Black Knight and marry a princess, Medievalworld is your ticket. If you want to be a desperado, and throw down with gunslingers, head to Westworld. The cyborgs are designed to respond to and fulfill the whim of every guest, whether they desire to be adored, worshipped, or loved, physically or emotionally.

Naturally because of the potential for harm to their clients, the people who run Delos have safety measures built in to protect the guests. Guns read heat patterns in Westworld as signs of human life and will not fire. And the cyborgs are programmed with weaknesses that are supposed to prevent them from harming guests. When something goes wrong, the cyborgs turn on their human masters, and all hell breaks loose.

Though most people today know Michael Crichton as an author who preaches against the dangers of technology (most famously in Jurrasic Park, which turned into one of the all time box office champions), in the case of Westworld, he served double duty as both scriptwriter and director. Though he won't be mistaken for the next Hitchcock, he acquitted himself decently with this sci-fi suspense yarn. A good amount of the credit goes to the cast.

Benjamin provides a good role as Martin, an amiable attorney who is getting over a bad divorce. Brolin's Blane is obviously not just someone who has been to Delos before, but somewhat of a more worldly figure. He has clearly brought Martin to Delos to try and forget about life for a while. Martin is very reluctant to come out of his shell at first. It takes some prodding by Blane to get Martin to really immerse himself in the illusion. Blane finally convinces Martin to go head to head with a menacing gunslinger played by Yul Brenner (appearing if I'm not mistaken in the same costume he wore in The Magnificent Seven). When Martin kills off the gunslinger, his confidence grows almost exponentially over the course of the next couple of days. It serves him well when the robots go haywire, and Benjamin finds himself running for his life from Brenner's cyborg.

Watching this movie actually should call to mind another film that I'll be writing up this week, The Terminator. Brenner's Gunslinger would appear to have influenced the performance of Schwarzenneger's Terminator in the way both have a single minded relentlessness in their pursuit of their quarry. Brenner looks and moves like a human in all respects, but there's a cold steel look to his eyes that served him well in Magnificent Seven as it does here. The only thing that really isn't all that believable is the way Benjamin plays scared on the run. It's a little too calm for the insane nature of the situation, in my opinion.

That doesn't detract too much from the overall picture though. It's still an entertaining, tense picture. It also proves more than a bit prescient. The technicians at Delos early in the film start tracking a series of malfunctions in the robots. They describe it as following some kind of vector similar to a human illness. But they know that machines don't get sick, and can't infect one another as people can. In an era when work productivity can be brought to a screeching halt by a computer virus, it's interesting to see how accurately Crichton portrayed the trajectory of computer viruses well ahead of their time.

There's also an amusing connection in the casting to another futuristic society. When Brolin and Benjamin visit a Westworld brothel, it's run by a robot Madame named Miss Carrie. Miss Carrie is played by Majel Barrett, known better to sci-fi geeks as the wife of Gene Rodenberry, and the voice of the Enterprise's computer on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Considering how often that show had episodes that featured a malfunction on the ship's holodeck, Crichton wound up foreseeing the future on two fronts :-).

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the Gunslinger's future cousin in James Cameron's The Terminator.

Expect to hear more crap about "appeasing" terrorists

Daily Kos has a post about the list of countries that may be following Spain's lead to blow the Iraqi popsicle stand in a hurry.

Turkey on wry rye, hold the mustard gas

Via Jesus General, we have this potential future ad for the Bush/Cheney 04 campaign.


So let me get this straight. From what we learned in the 60 Minutes interview with Bob Woodward over his new book:

Bush gave a heads up on the Iraqi invasion to the Saudi ambassador. Prince Bandar got to see classified materials that no one else should have seen. And Bandar found out before our own Secretary of State?

"But, it turns out, two days before the president told Powell, Cheney and Rumsfeld had already briefed Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador.

”Saturday, Jan. 11, with the president's permission, Cheney and Rumsfeld call Bandar to Cheney's West Wing office, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Myers, is there with a top-secret map of the war plan. And it says, ‘Top secret. No foreign.’ No foreign means no foreigners are supposed to see this,” says Woodward."

For their "support" of this action, Bandar agrees that the Saudis will manipulate the oil markets so that Bush has low gas prices before the election.

"Prince Bandar enjoys easy access to the Oval Office. His family and the Bush family are close. And Woodward told 60 Minutes that Bandar has promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election - to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day.

Woodward says that Bandar understood that economic conditions were key before a presidential election: “They’re [oil prices] high. And they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly.”"

Now according to Kevin Drum, the right wing pundits are defending this as perfectly acceptable diplomatic positioning.

This would be diplomacy with the same country that was homeland of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers, and one which we have reasonably good intel on that the state does in fact provide monetary support to terrorists (unlike, oh, say...Iraq).

Never mind this doesn't pass the laugh test. Any conservative who agrees with this logic needs to ask one simple question of themselves: Would I support this kind of positioning if Clinton had done it instead of Bush? I think that the answer would be a resounding no. Instead we'd get a whole lot of crap from Rush and the like talking about how Clinton was selling out the country to terrorists. If it wouldn't hold up with Bill, then it can't hold up as an argument defending W. And the main difference is that W. did apparently auction this intel off for lower gas prices. Clinton didn't.

Update: Crooked Timber also has some really good points on this.

Missed putting this up last week

While I was doing the late night Kill Bill double twice in a row. But this AP story found via Josh Marshall.

"Some Iraqi nuclear facilities appear to be unguarded, and radioactive materials are being taken out of the country, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency reported after reviewing satellite images and equipment that has turned up in European scrapyards."

What the hell? I thought we went in to keep them out of terrorist hands? But we're not keeping this stuff from getting out? You have got to be frigging kidding me.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Chicks Kick Ass
Big Bad Mama

Producer/Director Roger Corman has a long and well established track record as a purveyor of trashy cinema. Yet his history as a director who works fast and cheap hasn't kept him from drawing a long list of current Hollywood a-list talent who got their first opportunities in filmmaking through Corman. The big names he helped on the way to stardom includes Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich, and Joe Dante. Big Bad Mama keeps with Corman's cinematic values. The movie is trashy, lurid, and in a very campy way a fair amount of fun.

Angie Dickinson stars as Wilma McClatchie, a poor single mother of two daughters in Prohibition era Texas. She starts the film by stealing her daughter Billie Jean away from the church where Billie Jean was about to get married to poor boy of limited means. Wilma doesn't want either of her daughters to have to scrap and struggle for anything they might have in life. So she, her other daughter Polly, and her bootlegging brother Barney break up the wedding, and make a break for it. Barney gets killed in the escape by federal agents who are trying to stop his bootlegging.

After putting him in the ground, Wilma realizes that bootlegging might be the means by which she can give her daughters a better life. She and her girls embark on an escalating crime spree that moves from running liquor, to bank robbery, to kidnapping. Along the way they evade the law at every opportunity, and add a couple more unscrupulous characters to their "gang". Fred Diller (a very young Tom Skerritt) is the man who puts the McClatchie's onto bank robbing, and William J Baxter (William Shatner) is smooth talking conman from Kentucky who takes to robbery pretty well.

Their criminal activities become more complicated as the relationships between the various members of the gang develop. Diller and Wilma couple early on, but once Baxter comes into the fold, Wilma finds him much more appealing. Diller doesn't mourn long as he winds up in bed with young Polly. Billie Jean doesn't get left out, as the more worldly Polly generously "shares" Diller with her inexperienced sister (and yes, it is every bit the "ewww"moment you might be imagining). In the end, Wilma gets an idea for one last big score that will allow them to retire. But will the romantic entanglements that have developed stand in the way of the job's success?

Dickinson is never going to win any Oscars for her acting. That having been said, she does a decent job of spreading the cheese around in this little adventure. She's very much the tough minded independent woman trying to the best she can by her two daughters. Unlike the other movies I've looked at this week, this movie is never going to be the subject of feminist debate. But in her own way, Dickinson does portray a strong minded, strong willed woman who's not afraid to take the initiative. And I think it speaks fairly well for her confidence to do the love scenes she does at her age (she was 43 when the film was made). She has a good body, and isn't afraid to show it off.

Is this a great movie? No. But it's a good cheesy late night romp that would be right at home with some beers, friends, and a fair amount of derisive comments hurled at the screen. And Wilma is pretty handy with Tommy gun. Any woman who knows how to handle her firearms, you don't mess with lightly. If you have a craving for some good 70s trash, you could do a lot worse.

Next week's theme: Machines Gone Bad.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Coming this November

Via Defective Yeti
we have this.

I'm assuming it's a response to the feature being spooled out by Rush Limbaugh: Bill Kills.

Movie Review: Kill Bill Vol. 2
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) Director - Quentin Tarentino; Starring - Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Gordon Liu; Screenplay - Quentin Tarentino, from a character created by Quentin Tarentino and Uma Thurman; Rated R for violence and language, plus one scene of drug use (yes, apparently the MPAA counts them now).

I wrote up Kill Bill Vol. 1 yesterday. While I think I managed to stay fairly spoiler free with that post, with this one, it will be much harder. There will be spoilers aplenty in relation to Vol. 1 and possibly Vol. 2. If you want to be surprised by either/both movies, you should refrain from reading this until you have had a chance to see them both.
I admit freely to being gaga over Vol. 1. I saw it 3 times within a 24 hour period when the movie first opened, due to commitments to see it with other people. Prior to the first screening, I have to admit being really nervous just because it had been so long since Quentin had released a new movie. He was branching out into new territory both in genre and stylistically. I wasn't sure what I would be getting, but I was more than pleasantly surprised with what I got. Vol. 1 was thrilling, hyperkinetic ride full of action, blood, and some truly kick ass characters. Depth was lacking to a degree, but I certainly didn't mind.
I had heard through the grapevine that Vol. 2 would be a different approach to the same characters. So again, I had some mixed feelings, but not the same feeling of trepidation, since I knew I really liked what I had gotten so far with the first half of the story. Now, having the whole story laid out before me, I can say that Vol. 2 is a radically different movie in my mind, but still a very solid and satisfying end to the story that Tarentino started last November.

What's the story for this Volume? (WARNING: Spoilers as pertains to Volume 1)
The Bride (Uma Thurman) has learned all that she can about the various member of the Deadly Vipers and their current whereabouts. She has also taken care of two of the names on her "Death List 5". She continues her search for revenge against the surviving members of the Vipers: Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and Bill (David Carradine), the leader of the group and The Bride's former lover. We know from the cliffhanger ending of the first Volume that the child The Bride thought she had lost when Bill shot her four years ago survived and was delivered while she was in a coma. What part will The Bride's offspring play in her search for vengeance? Will she be successful in knocking off all members of the "Death List"? And will we learn The Bride's true name?

Well? How is everybody? (more spoilers, both Vol. 1 & 2)
That's an interesting question. I feel very strongly that Vol. 2 takes us to the end of the road, but in a manner that is so different than Vol. 1 because it relies so little on the action, and so much more heavily on the dialogue and character development. In that respect, I feel like this is a more traditional Tarentino film.

Take as an example Uma's Bride. In Vol. 1 we know she was pregnant with Bill's child. We know that she was on the verge of marrying someone who wasn't Bill when the massacre occurred. But we don't know why she was marrying someone other than Bill. After Vol. 2, we know why she wasn't with the Vipers anymore. And while we don't really get anymore insights into the motives behind Vernita Green's (Viveca Fox) or O-Ren Ishii's (Lucy Liu) actions, we do get some appreciable insight into Budd and Elle, and a whole lot of insight into Bill's.

Michael Madsen's Budd is a really interesting character for me because he runs so against type compared to the others. While all of the other former Vipers are still very serious, and potentially very deadly people, Budd has really let himself go. He's a bouncer at a strip club in some backwater town. He lives in one of the nastiest trailers you ever did see. And while he's not happy about it, he's made his peace with who he is and where he is. In many respects, he's the anti-Bill: random, disheveled, a bit chaotic.

Elle Driver is also a serious piece of work. If Budd is the counter to Bill, I think Elle is very much cast as the dark side of The Bride's character. Once again, a study in the contrast between The Bride's controlled, single minded purpose and direction versus Elle's duplicitious nature, which I think divides her focus, especially when coupled with her arrogance. It really adds a lot of tension to her matchup against The Bride, and makes the resolution of that conflict almost more satisfying for me than The Bride's battle with O-Ren in Vol. 1.

But for my money, the centerpiece of this story really is Carradine's Bill. Carradine surprised me some with how much presence he exuded in limited screen time in Vol. 1. That still didn't prepare me for how much stronger he is in the second half. Bill is a study in vanity coupled with some very shrewd observational skills. There's a scene involving him, Uma, and their child that is a really fascinating thing to watch. The conversational material and tone in which its delivered really took me out of the movie for a minute. It could have been a random conversation being held among any modern family in a normal household. I think that made it much more jarring when not 5 minutes later, Carradine almost comes unhinged doing some very crazy, random stuff. And even then, within the context of the character Carradine has created, it's not crazy, it is most definitely not random.

But does it hold together as a story though?
I think so, absolutely. I mean, I freely admit, it is a flawed feature, much more so than the first volume in some respects. I feel like the pacing was just a little off. There is some very Quentin style dialogue throughout the movie (Carradine gives what for me is this film's answer to the "Madonna" speech in Reservoir Dogs, centered around Superman). There are moments where I think it runs a little long (most notably in a moment between Budd and Elle). But it's hard for me to see what could be cut. The story itself is very satisfying in the way it plays to the end. If Vol. 1 was an homage to martial arts style revenge flicks, this one is very much a spaghetti western style film with martial arts stylings. The final conflict between Bill and The Bride reminds me some of the showdown between Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Not in the way it's shot, but in the way the two characters measure each other up one last time to see who will be left standing.

That sounds like a good endorsement, but I detect some apprehension...
I think that's because while I found it very satisfying overall, I think there might be the potential for this movie to really struggle at the box office. In a conversation I had this afternoon with my friend Robert, who got to see it last night also, the first thing he said was that he thought there would be a significant backlash because of the change in style. He thought that with Vol.1 as a combined story it's good, but could stand editing.

I was fortunate enough to see the two films back to back last night at the Alamo Drafthouse (one of only two theaters in the country getting to show the double feature). I would have to agree with him viewing it as a 4+ hour affair. It really makes me a little angry at Harvey Weinstein at Miramax for not taking the chance and releasing Tarentino's original 3 hour cut. I hope like hell when Vol. 2 comes out that they do a special set where you can see that version and see what would have been taken out in the original vision.

But on the other hand, I think the flow of the narrative is much stronger having the two movies run together, than just viewing Vol. 2 by itself without seeing Vol. 1 somewhat recently before it. Without having Vol. 1 right there to provide some balance to the experience, I worry too many people will come out of Vol. 2 by itself and say "This isn't anything like the first one. This sucks." When watching the double last night, there was a group in front of us who were talking during the break between the two. I couldn't help overhearing one person complain about Vol. 1, because it didn't have good dialogue like Tarentino's other works. I think it's ultimately going to hurt this movie more if people fail to keep in perspective that this is all one body of work, and needs to be taken like that. If the box office doesn't reflect well on this effort, I worry it's going to adversely stifle other directors (including Tarentino) from really trying to take chances and breathe new life into some of their favorite genres.

Considering how rarely Hollywood really takes chances, I think I've earned the right to be. Take a look at this post from Norbizness that lists off some new projects that have recently been approved (the info in italics, Norbizness' biting commentary on the news in regular print). Tell me which of those on the list he provides really needed to be made. Which of them really are taking chances in an original way, not in an "Oh my god, the apocalypse is nigh!" kind of way? I don't think any of them qualify. Tarentino and Thurman really took a chance with this movie. I think Uma's more than acquitted herself to the point where I think she can get some really meaty action roles that are fun, in addition to some good dramatic work, throughout both parts. It's Tarentino who I think might stand to lose if the movie doesn't do well. I encourage anyone who liked the first half to definitely give Vol. 2 a shot, and make sure you do it with an open mind. Take it in the context of a complete story between the two, and not as a sequel. I think you'll get a lot more out of it that way.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Chicks Kick Ass
Kill Bill, Vol. 1

Kill Bill Vol. 1 had me hooked from the very beginning. The opening scene in front of the credits is as brutal a moment as Quentin Tarentino has had in his work since Reservoir Dogs. From there he moves to the mournful voice of Nancy Sinatra singing Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). The total time from that opening moment to the end of the song and credits is five to seven minutes tops. And it sets the mood as nicely as anything he's done.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 introduces us to The Bride (Uma Thurman). She was once a member of a group of assassin's known as the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. The Bride sought to get out of the business to have a baby, a husband, and a normal life. That would appear to have not set well with the head of the Vipers, a man known only as Bill (Kung Fu's David Carradine). He and the other Vipers crash the wedding, kill everyone in sight, and leave The Bride for dead. She survived the attack somehow, languishing in a coma for four years. Now she's back and looking to kill the whole stinking lot of them.

Originally filmed as one movie that clocked in at 3+ hours with Tarentino's original edit, the studio gave him a choice. Either trim the whole thing down to under three hours, or release it in two parts. QT settled on the latter, following indirectly in the footsteps of the more hyped Matrix sequels. It proved to be shrewd choice in my mind, because the first half is edited smartly, lets us appreciate the characters and action, and gives a solid cliffhanger ending that will carry momentum into the second half to be released today (4/16/04).

This is a significant departure for QT in regards to his scriptwriting style. The film is driven by the action, rather than the dialogue that marked his previous forays. I still regard Pulp Fiction as one of my all time favorite movies because of its skill at the art of small talk. The conversations about what seems to be nothing tells us much about the characters in that film. While that isn't nearly as present in this movie, it doesn't suffer for it in any way.

Uma Thurman is utterly amazing in this movie. Her much publicized breakup with husband Ethan Hawke coincided very closely with the release of the movie. I can't help but wonder if they would still be together if the movie had come out earlier. Because after watching this movie, I think the first thought in Ethan's head would be "If I cheat on this woman, she's gonna kick my ass!" For someone who has no real experience with action movies in this vein (unless you count the twin disasters of Batman and Robin and The Avengers), Uma looks comfortable and confident as the killer that The Bride is. In the action sequences that pit her against her former colleagues Vernita Green (Viveca Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Thurman is some serious business. She may not be in the same class as martial arts masters like Michelle Yeoh or Zhang Ziyi, but I think she easily outclasses Carrie-Anne Moss's moves in any of the Matrix films. The sequence towards the end of the film titled "The House of Blue Leaves" is simply breathtaking. I've seen it 5 or 6 times, and it feels fresh and new every time.

The other women are equally impressive. Fox has a limited amount of screentime as Green, but she does the most with it she can. Liu is all business as O-Ren Ishii. After Thurman, she has some of my favorite moments on the screen. I think I can safely say that the Enron scandal would not have played out the way it had if she'd been put in charge. And most surprising for me was Carradine's performance as Bill. He has only a very small amount of screen time in this volume, but his presence is almost overwhelming. Considering how cheesy Kung Fu was as a series, and Carradine's subsequent series of Tai Chi videos, seeing David Carradine playing a bad ass was about the last thing I expected to see.

It should be noted that the movie is bloody violent. I mean really bloody violent. You've seen the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Think that run through the Xerox machine a few dozen times. More severed limbs than you can shake a samurai sword at. Tarentino is also a big big fan of old school Japanese and Chinese style martial arts films with great spewing jets of stage blood. And you know what? That's ok. Not that I think violence is necessary to have a good movie or anything like that. It's just that in the context that QT has set, the universe he's created, it's all perfectly normal. One sequence that tracks the story arc of Oren's life is done in Japanese style animation. For fans of the anime, it's an interesting way to break some of the tension of the movie, and at the same time give you a real solid taste of what is to come. It's my second favorite sequence after House of Blue Leaves. And further establishes Oren as every bit the cold killing machine that The Bride is. I think it makes the final payoff when the two meet much more satisfying.

I'll be writing up Vol. 2 later today tomorrow, having seen a sneak of it last night tonight. Other blog posting tomorrow will be light, since it was a will be a very late night for me last night tonight.

Change of schedule
Going to save Big Bad Mama for the weekend. Kill Bill Vol. 1 up shortly, Vol. 2 up tomorrow, and Big Bad Mama on Saturday.

Is it just me
Or does anyone else find the concept of an Adult Happy Meal a little unsettling?

The hamburger giant outlined plans Thursday to introduce the "Go Active!" meals for grown-ups at all 13,500 of its U.S. restaurants May 6 along with other steps designed to make its fare -- and its image -- more healthy

People, it's freakin' McDonalds. I don't care what changes they make, it's never going to be a "healthy" alternative. They've added choices to make things a little healthier, but it's not ever going to be something people will (or should) choose to be healthy.

There's a part of me that really wonders if this isn't going to turn around and bite them in the ass in the future. Although they seem to think there might be less ass there to bite I guess.

Added some new sites to the blogroll

Of particular note, check out Crooked Timber. Listed under politics, but they do good coverage of a lot of different topics. Same with Pandagon. Enjoy.

Well, everybody needs a hobby, I guess. has this post about military reenactments that asks a lot of questions I have asked myself from time to time.

When I worked at the Paramount Theater here in Austin, I worked with a gentleman there who was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or some such group. They did Civil War reenactments out in the hill country, as I recall, amongst other things. I would think that there's some issue with these folks in the same vein as the movement to remove the Confederate stars and bars from state flags and what not. I would have been in that same camp. I know that the argument against this usually has something to do with the idea that it's about history and heritage rather than about clinging to racist ideals. I don't buy that argument much. When this particular person I knew once made an offhand comment about how my supporting the NY Yankees would have had me hanging from a tree in the 1860s, how can support of that kind of "heritage" be something to be proud of? (Side note: while I did find his comment more than a little disturbing, I never heard word one like that before or after from him, so I put it aside. I also gave him a little leeway, as his Atlanta Braves had once again been dumped in the playoffs, and knew he was more than a little ticked off about that).

This piece from Crooked Timber has me wondering about the reenactment hobby on a different level. WWII reenactments? Does that automatically mean that people who reenact the German side are automatically Nazi sympathizers? Doesn't seem to make much sense to think that. It's not that I don't think Nazi sympathizers exists, I know they do. It's just that it wouldn't seem like social hobbies like this would be the venue by which they would choose to show off that "heritage". Maybe I'm missing something.

And I can understand the interest in it from a certain strategic standpoint. As a person who has a lot of friends who are gamers, I know just how far and wide the strategy game market is in providing means by which you can reenact various WWI and WWII campaigns. I am part of a group that has taken to semi regularly playing Diplomacy, a very good strategy game that allows you to battle for Europe during WWI. Though I admit to not being very good at it (been trashed twice, once as the Italians, once as the Germans), I enjoy the game, and the dynamics that are involved in playing it. But that's on a board game, in the comfort of someone's home, with a small circle of people. I just can't wrap my brain around doing it on a full scale basis. Ah well.

Python purists may not care for it...

But dammit, I thought this was funny...

Culpability of the press

Atrios points us to this column from Richard Cohen. While Atrios notes this passage:

If that is the case, and it sure seems so at the moment, then this commission has to ask us all -- and I don't exclude myself -- how much of Congress and the press went to war with an air of juvenile glee. The Commission on Credulous Stupidity may call me as its first witness, but after that it has to examine how, despite our vaunted separation of powers, a barely elected president opted for a war that need not have been fought.

I wonder what the wingnuts are going to think of this earlier paragraph:

Yet it explains, as nothing else can, just why Bush is so adamantly steadfast about Iraq and why he simply asserts what is not proved or just plain untrue -- the purported connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, for instance, or why Hussein was such a threat, when we have it on the word of David Kay and countless weapons inspectors that he manifestly was not. Bush talks as if only an atheist would demand proof when faith alone more than suffices. He is America's own ayatollah.

On wonders if the dittoheads and whatnot will call for Cohen's head on a pike for associating Fearless Leader with some aspect of the religion of the enemy. Why, you'd think Rush might call for a wingnut jihad against the Post.

Oh, wait a minute...

Israel continued

Norbizness has linked to this post from the Head Heeb (an explanation of his handle is here). The Head Heeb doesn't think that the proposal by Sharon I mentioned yesterday is all that bad. Flawed yes, but he reads it as allowing more wiggle room than Billmon did.

Still another take is offered by Josh at Talking Points Memo. He seems to take the matter as closer to Billmon's interpretation.

I don't pretend to know a lot about the Israeli/Palestinian situation. There's a lot of complex issues involved, and I am only now getting around to dipping my toes in the water. But there's a lot of food for thought between these three posts.

Update 4/15/04 1148 CST: DailyKos also takes a very negative look at the Sharon proposal...

Okay, so the Arab world is supposed to trust our intentions in Iraq (and everywhere else in the world) while we basically choose a side so drastically regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

Hearts and minds my ass.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

More Middle East fun

Billmon at Whiskey Bar has a very informative post on Bush's press conference today with Ariel Sharon. It's a very informative read, if very scary.

This is a shameful capitulation. As the Reuters story notes, the statement overturns in one stroke almost 40 years of official U.S. policy -- a policy Shrub's father actually showed a fair amount of political courage in defending. For decades, Israeli leaders (Likud and Labor alike) have worked to create those "new realities on the ground" -- as the statement, with the usual neocon arrogance, describes them -- through illegal land expropriations, relentless discrimination against Palestinian landowners, and lavish government subsidies for Jewish settlers. And for decades, the U.S. government has refused to accept Israel's bully boy tactics, despite the relentless, continuous efforts of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

That's gone now -- and probably for good, as I'll explain in a moment. Today's statement essentially guts the road map (itself a largely gutless process) by deleting the essential principle that the final status of the territories will not be determined by unilateral action on either side (which in the real world, means on the Israeli side.) It also negates the fundamental premise of UN Resolution 242 -- the bedrock of all peace efforts over the past 40 years -- that territory will not be acquired by force.

There's more. Read on.