Monday, December 29, 2008

More uselessness from Google News

Two "stories" from Google News's front page demand that I once again excoriate the aggregator's editorial choices:
1) Not from the sports section, even: A piece about Tom Brady (New England Patriots quarterback) not proposing to his girlfriend Giselle Bundchen.
2) Condoleezza Rice's "revelation" that she is not a Type A personality.
I know this week is a traditional dead zone for news, but this is beyond silly.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Movie review: "Frost/Nixon", and who is worse?

A fascinating partial rehabilitation of Richard Nixon (the man, at least), "Frost/Nixon" will undoubtedly garner an impressive number of Oscar nominations and make most critics' "Best of 2008" lists, and for good reason. For a movie concerned only with a series of interviews (and the history of how they were organized), the 2 hours+ speeds by unnoticed in the least, because the portraits drawn of these two men and their business partners quickly draw you into their respective worlds, by turns humorous (yes, even Tricky Dick gets some funny lines) and pathetic. One gets the distinct impression that Ron Howard is working at the top of his game with this impressive material, and the performances he captures are riveting. This is a seamless movie from beginning to end--which one expects from Howard, a polished filmmaker for decades now--but more impressively, "Frost/Nixon" is an emotionally (again, expected of Howard) and intellectually (not often a Howard interest) engaging piece of work.
How bad a person was Richard Nixon? is the question with which one leaves the theatre, and it is a fair one--even from this movie the audience can see how bad a President he was. Most snobbish cinephiles will probably chalk up any sympathy one feels for Nixon to Howard's penchant for over-romanticizing his subjects, but I think in this case Howard gets it absolutely right. Nixon the man was intelligent and self-aware, and at heart loved his family, friends, and the country. He was a hateful politician, and as paranoid as the day is long, but in the end he was lost outside the political realm in which he relished living.
Nixon's story is a classic Greek tragedy, because his hubris earned both his rise to prominence and his downfall. We see glimpses of both in the one vignette presented to us in "Frost/Nixon", as Nixon's brains and ruthless tactics carry him to "victory" for most of the interviews, but by the end his inner near-pathological sense of his own worthlessness unravels him in dramatic fashion, finally, brutally, exposed under the lights of a television set. Nixon the President shows up only then in full, and our understanding of Nixon the man thereby grows a bit deeper.
Immediately upon leaving the theatre, my friends and I began discussing what so obviously attracted Howard and perhaps the other participants to "Frost/Nixon" this past year: how do Nixon and Bush compare? What are the parallels here? Some of the lines in the script seem pointed directly to the audience's desire to connect the two men most often cited by those ranking the very worst Presidents in our country's history. Part of the problem we have in finding parallels in the two is that Bush's story has yet to end, although the cynic in me believes not much is going to change after Smirky evacuates the White House on 1/20/09. What we do know, however, is that GWBush is hardly fit to carry Nixon's dog intellectually, and his evident lack of desire to carry out any of the duties of the President (shown most severely by accounts of meetings with his advisers, where even on subjects of grave importance, the word "briefing" carried its original meaning of a drastically shortened summary of a topic) contrasts starkly with Nixon's obsessive attention to the job he prized so highly.
I suppose the real answer, though, lies not in the psychological makeup of each man, but rather in what each man did to deserve his fate. And it is here, I think, that we can see far more easily that Bush has been vastly more sinister than Nixon ever wanted to be. Nixon's crimes, to be honest, were minor infractions of the law compounded hugely by the fact that it was the President of the United States who committed them. (As the script points out repeatedly in "Frost/Nixon", Nixon merely inherited the war in Vietnam, and even though he expanded it beyond that country's borders against Congress's legislative mandate, he also ended the conflict eventually.) While Nixon truly believed that the President was above the law, his actions founded on that belief were restricted to petty acts of revenge against individuals--nothing that J. Edgar Hoover hadn't been already doing for decades previous--or paranoid political gamesmanship--Watergate, naturally. (All Presidents since FDR have bombed countries [and/or authorized overthrows of legitimate governments] we haven't officially declared war against, so the expansion of the war into Cambodia or Laos can be seen as merely a continuation of 20 years of debased Presidential policy.)
The Bush/Cheney Administration, on the other hand, has committed so many un- or anti-Constitutional, let alone immoral (I would say "amoral") and illegal, acts it is mind-numbing to try and recount them all. To start at the top, bald-faced lying about both the reasons we went to war against Iraq and what we hoped to accomplish there, and the underlying "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive warmaking clearly establish this Administration as the most venal the country has yet seen. While the number of overall deaths might--I stress might--be less than were killed in southeast Asia, no one can argue about who started it and who has urged its continuation beyond all reasonable measures. Add to that the defiance of the Geneva Convention's regulations on torture, the refusal to adhere even to our own definitions of justice or law in how we capture and treat prisoners, the blatant disclosures of non-compliance with duly-passed legislation (signing statements), the attempts to bypass Constitutional restraints on Executive power (remember Dick's insistence that the Vice President is in neither the Executive nor the Legislative Branch?) in any capacity, the deterioration or simple elimination of regulatory oversight by such nominally benign agencies such as the FDA, FCC, OSHA, and even the National Science Foundation (remember how its head quit because he was asked to fudge statistics regarding global warming?), and the insistent attempts, since retroactively legalized, to wiretap the entire populace of the country without the Constitutional protection of the 4th Amendment--which I listed just off the top of my head!--and you can see just some of the outlines of the unprecedented destruction this Administration has caused this country, endangering its very existence as a democratic republic. I reviewed his book when it first came out, so I won't go any further but to say that a person as in-the-know as John Dean called it correctly: "Worse Than Watergate".

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Prop. 8 and the lefty Obama backers

For those of you who don't follow along with every perturbation on the left, there are a great number of bloggers and commenters on blogs such as Daily Kos who are telling the GLBT community to essentially "Shut up about Prop 8. We'll get to you later." Their attitude is one of desperation, at heart; they feel so distressed from 8 years (at least) of conservative oppression and so precarious in our victories lately that they don't want anybody to say anything negative about Obama or the current state of affairs for fear of losing what we are on the brink of getting. For them, the cries of pain and betrayal stemming from the passage of Prop 8 among those affected directly are hysterical, out-of-proportion to reality, and hypersensitive.
To all those who feel that way, I demand that you read this incredible diary, posted today. To any others, please read it also, as a reminder that we can never really know for sure how someone else feels, or why, and that taking the time to consider someone else's experiences before speaking, writing, or even voting, is the hallmark of decency and maturity. Be generous of spirit in those times when conflict arises; it rarely costs anything substantial, and far more often results in a better outcome. Fighting for what is just, right, or ethical is hard, and anyone choosing to do so deserves respect, at the very least.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Auto industry begins its collapse

Of the Big 3, Chrysler has always been a poor sister, but I've also always had a soft spot in my heart (head?) for it as the underdog. My first car was a hand-me-down Plymouth Valiant (1972)--my dad only owned Plymouths for almost as long as I have been alive, and right up until he died. So it was with a pang of sadness that I read that they are shutting down all of their plants for a month solid starting after this Friday. (The same article tells us that GM is following suit for the plants that are making the Volt engines, so that's more bad news as well.)
While one has to admire the pluck of Chrysler believing that things will turn around after January 20th--as we all want to believe--no one can think that any of the workers there can survive losing a whole month of income without some severe ramifications. Most likely, this is just the first of the dominoes to fall due to the Republican Party's senators' intransigence in lending a helping hand to the final great American industry. Let's hope it's also the last.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Dancing with the Devil brings consequences? Gee . . .

The LA Times has just put out a column by Steve Lopez in which Lopez bemoans the fate of one Margie Christofferson, manager of the LA restaurant El Coyote. You see, Christofferson donated to the Yes on 8 campaign and the restaurant was subsequently boycotted vociferously thereafter. Lopez tries to get us to sympathize with poor Margie by saying how upset she is that her life has been thrown into turmoil. (Lopez hastens to add, of course, that he opposed Prop. 8, I suppose lest we think that his article was derived from bigotry instead of idiocy.)
I'm sorry to tell you two clowns, but more lives were disturbed by Prop. 8's passing than ever could have been by its failure, in a far more profound way, and your article is outrageously patronizing, Steve. It may indeed be a shame that Christofferson's life has cracked, but the shame lies entirely within her soul. No one put a gun to her head forcing her to donate money--earned in large measure (apparently, based on the success of the boycott as mentioned in the article) from those opposed to legal bigotry--to the Yes on 8 cabal, and your feeble attempts to humanize the story beyond that are laughable. Christofferson was free to do so, just as we are now free to hold her accountable for her hate. Maybe she should have thought about the consequences of her actions before stabbing her gay patrons in the back as she was "schmoozing" them.
What gives the lie to her true feelings, and what makes this article reprehensible in and of itself, is that when given the chance to rectify her shortsighted bigotry, she chose not to donate a like sum (or more) to help those she has wronged, but instead simply "left in tears." Boo freaking hoo, Margie. And Steve? The story that you wrote is not really about Ms. Christofferson getting hurt, but instead concerns her whining about getting caught being a bigot. She offers no restitution or apology (which could have made for a relatively more humane story), and instead of calling her out on that, you take her side, making excuses for her that even she doesn't voice! Bravo, jackass.

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Two kinds of "bailouts," two kinds of responses

This may sound hypocritical of me, but while I excoriated the bailout for the finance "industry", I'm all in favor of helping out the auto makers. Three real world reasons: 1) The auto industry did not facilitate (or perhaps more accurately, cause) our economic meltdown, so they shouldn't necessarily be held accountable for its effects; 2) it is one of the last actually American industries left standing, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans earning decent wages; and 3) the amount of money involved is so miniscule comparatively that it doesn't engage my natural gag reflex. There are also a couple of political/ideological reasons: 1) The people who are against it are only interested in taking down the last truly strong union--the UAW--that represents workers (there are immensely strong unions in sports and entertainment, but by and large, the main beneficiaries of those unions are fairly wealthy already); and 2) the only people voting against it are Republicans, which these days automatically makes it something any good Democrat/liberal should fight for.
As with the bailout we were forced to swallow for the financiers, I support this only with a few serious reservations. The managers of the Big 3 need to be fired. How far down the decision-making apparati this "restructuring" needs to go depends entirely on how far down we can trace the responsibilities for being stupid. I realize selling SUVs, for a prime example, was a sound business move for an industry needing to hit quarterly revenue targets, but the only reason that's even of any importance is because these companies have become useless at taking any risks whatsoever that might affect the stock prices in the short term. (By the way--all American companies, with a vanishingly small number of exceptions, are useless in those terms. I digress.) We have known for quite a while that our oil-based energy system is in decline, and none of the Big 3 pushed for alternative fuel vehicles until Toyota (and to a lesser extent, Honda) showed them that yes, Virginia, hybrids will sell here in the USA, and in eye-catching volume, with little to no hard sales pitches at all. (When's the last time you can remember seeing a TV ad for a Prius? I can't recall ever seeing one . . .)
I have no problem giving the auto industry help, as long as we the people get something in return, which we are so obviously not getting from the financiers. Whether it be equity in the companies, interest on the loan, a say in how the companies are run, or something equally valuable--perhaps a meaningful restriction on executive salaries?--I don't much care, but we need something. Otherwise, even if we get the current bosses capped, we will run into a "meet the new boss/same as the old boss" syndrome here as well.
To sum up, the finance world may have been "too big" to fail (but even at that we can't figure out how to save it properly; don't get me started!), but the auto industry is definitely too important to fail. It has been the backbone of our workforce as a country for nearly a hundred years, and its salience in that regard has only increased given the evaporation of all our other homegrown manufacturing and knowledge-based businesses since the Reagan era began. We can save it, and we should. It's not that difficult a call, really.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Of course they are . . .

Smirky and the gang are opposing a free national wireless internet plan. Naturally. The rationale? "The administration believes that the [airwaves] should be auctioned without price or product mandate." Of course, the reality is that "the airwaves" belong to all of us--the public--and shouldn't be auctioned off at all. Free internet access is exactly the kind of thing for which the airwaves should be used. The beat (of Smirky and the felons selling us down the river) goes on . . .

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Smirky and the boys say: Poison's all right by us!

I hope everybody out there already knows that the outgoing felons in the Administration are doing everything they can to destroy what's left of, well, everything they can. Regulations--those regulations that still exist after 28 years of gutting, that is--are being eliminated, standards for healthy living are being relaxed, and virtually any Executive branch oversight is getting cut. The latest on the chopping block--perchlorate, a toxin derived from rocket fuel (just in case you might think this is no big deal) that has found its way into the water of 35 states; over 150 public water systems are already known to contain it. Smirky has given the ok, though, to actually exempt restrictions on perchlorate. The EPA is set to stop testing our drinking water for it by the end of the year.
You might think that this disgrace, in addition to all the others, can be instantly corrected by the incoming Obama Administration, but you'd be wrong. To get a substance added to the list of things that the EPA monitors takes years, especially given the incredible legal and political resistance put up by the industrial polluters and their lobbyists. Unfortunately, it only takes a few strokes of a pen--and the complete disregard for human life that the Republican Party's leader in the Executive Branch has--to take them off.
Among other things, perchlorate reaches breast milk and therefore any babies that might be breastfeeding, and has been proven to negatively affect the thyroid gland. "It is known to lower thyroid hormone levels in women; it poses a particular threat to pregnant women and breast-feeding children, whose long-term neurological development can be stunted by youthful hormone imbalances." Water filters that include activated charcoal will remove perchlorate, so please make sure everyone you care about is filtering their tap water!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Privatization is not an option

Halliburton and KBR, the contractors Dick Cheney runs, are the main beneficiaries--surprise!!--of unmitigated government largess in the military. (All those who don't already know this, please wake up.) We've heard many, many stories of pure greed and negligence (unarmored Hummvees, anyone?) regarding these two, but now there's a capper: a civilian CAD technician is suing the companies for any number of things most likely falling under the rubric of "breach of contract" stemming from the ghastly conditions they created in Iraq. Among the problems? Providing unsanitary water to the troops and contractors, to the extent that they shipped ice in "mortuary trucks that 'still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains in them when they were loaded with ice. This ice was served to U.S. forces.'" ZOMG! Un-freaking-believable. No, wait; completely freaking believable. Utterly disgraceful.

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