Tuesday, November 30, 2004
This is a grittily realistic biopic on the life of Ray Charles, the musician who probably had as much influence as anyone on American popular music from the 60s through the 90s. The only thing about this movie that I can think of to complain about is that it was a bit too long. Although nothing in the movie cried out to be left on the cutting room floor, I think it would have benefited some from tighter editing.
That said, the movie was outstanding. It showed how Charles became blind at age seven form some eye disease, not long after his little brother drowned in a washtub. That tragedy was a seminal event in the boy's life, and it shaped Charles as a man. The film shows Charles' mom toughened his character, how he became a heroin addict, and how he kicked the habit "cold turkey." It also shows how some of Charles' songs were inspired, how he blended several musical genres in his music, the cutthroat nature of the music business, racial prejudice in all its ugliness and how genius can reside in a man along with many flaws.
The casting was superb. The story gripping, and the music extraordinary. Well worth the price of a ticket, and it'll be very rentable when it comes out on DVD. Not for kids under about 14.
Like the "Shrek" movies and "Monsters, Inc." this is a very well-done computer-animated film with something for everyone. It's about a family with super powers. Mr. Incredible is super-strong. His wife Plastigirl is a shape-shifter. Their early-teen daughter is Invisigirl, who can make herself invisible and also project a protective force field. Their grade-school age son is Dash; he can run really fast. They have a baby, too, who doesn't exhibit any super powers -- yet.
Mr. Incredible used to be everyone's super hero, but was put out of business, along with all the other supers, following a spate of lawsuits by people claiming to be injured while being rescued or while the super hero foils an evil plot. The supers are now incognito under a government program akin to the witness protection program. Mr. I. works for an insurance company, and is in trouble with his boss for being too helpful to claimants. He's out of shape and bored, and sneaks out for some surreptitious heroics with his buddy Frozone, under the guise of bowling night. Then comes the mysterious phone call from the too-sexy woman and we're off to the races. I won't go into the plot except to say that it reminded me a bit of the "Spy Kids" formula.
This movie makes me wonder whether, as technology improves, there will be much of a future for live actors in other than voice-over roles. While there's never any doubt that it's a cartoon, it doesn't feel like a cartoon. The story and characters are engaging, and there are enough real-life situations to keep an adult's interest.
It goes without saying that the kids love this film. The nice part is that adults enjoy it, too. Another winner.
For me, this stage performance has to be the crown jewel of the year's entertainment offerings. It's about the life and times of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from their days as a doo-wop group on urban New Jersey's mean street corners until the present. Three of the original Seasons are still alive, and Frankie Valli is still performing in the small venues where he feels most comfortable. This play tells the story of the group's beginnings, their phenomenal rise, breakup and reconciliation at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. It's got everything -- music, sex, gangsters, tragedy and comedy.
Of course, the music is central to the play. It punctuates the narrative with all of the emotions that songs can convey. The miracle of this production is the casting, especially David Norona as Frankie Valli. Not only does Norona look a lot like Valli, he has a voice that matches. His renditions of Valli's falsettos in numbers like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like A Man" are so good it's downright eerie. And he has Valli's mannerisms down to a gnat's eyebrow. The other Seasons, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio, are ably played by Christian Hoff, J. Robert Spencer and Daniel Reichard. There's no lip synching in this production, and the whole cast does a stupendous job reproducing the Seasons' sound.
Des McAnuff directed the script by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.
I don't get to live theater much, but if every play I ever saw was as good as this one, I'd be there every month. If this show doesn't go to Broadway there's something wrong. And the New York folks will be missing a helluva good time.
Monday, November 22, 2004
On the other hand, I'd be willing to bet that Chirac would not consider for a nanosecond replacing France and the UK in the permanent member list with an EU seat, notwithstanding that the EU is supposed to be like a United States of Europe. Nope, ol' Jacques is trying to have it both ways. He wants the EU to speak with one voice internationally (in French) but wants two votes on the Security Council. Actually, he wants three votes, because he suggests that Germany should be a permanent UNSC member, too. Tell ya what, Jacques: how about we make California, Texas, Illinois and New York permanent members of the UNSC, too?
Chirac also advocates expanding the UNSC to 20 or 25 members instead of its present 15. This would further dilute the ability of the US and its allies to get any meaningful resolutions out of the Council. In short, Chirac is advocating making the UN even more anti-American than it already is. And he is moving toward making the US and outlaw, or at least an outcast, nation in the eyes of the rest of the world.
This man is dangerous! He's like Michael Moore with a political base. Chirac doit être détruit! (Politically, I mean -- I'd never advocate his physical destruction.)
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Mr. Baker had posited that public media (e.g., NPR and PBS) are the natural replacement of the Old Media (e.g., the New York Times and the three major broadcast TV networks) as the primary source of unbiased news and "quiet, thoughtful, non-partisan" programming. The readers whose responses the Journal printed were, um, unconvinced. But I digress.
It occurred to me that a major reason the Old Media ("Established Media" "Entrenched Media") are the way they are is inbreeding. Journalists from Old Media lecture and teach at journalism schools, thereby inculcating in their students the lore and customs of the Old Media. Since many journalism majors are attracted to the field because they dream of being the next Bob Woodward or Walter Cronkite, they already lean to the left at the outset, at least a little bit. J-school reinforces these leanings.
Upon graduation, these students are absorbed into a culture that overwhelmingly identifies with the political left. People tend to do what it takes to get along at the office, so any young journalist who might think differently soon learns to keep his/her opinions under wraps. Journalism, like most professions, has its own subculture; the subculture of American Old Media journalism has as its right wing the political center, and as its left wing the left end of European socialism. A journalist cannot help but be influenced by the total immersion in such an environment. Thus the journalism subculture perpetuates itself, reinforcing its own unrecognized biases.
The result of this intellectual inbreeding is similar to what is seen in inbred biological organisms. Defects begin to emerge, such as blindness, deafness and inability to adapt. Some of these defects actually improve the chances of survival and reproduction within the group, but the group as a whole becomes more and more separate from its species, and becomes less able to adapt to changing conditions. The group is just fine as long as its own environment is undisturbed, but any disruption of that environment can be catastrophic.
What we have seen in this election cycle just completed is a major disruption of the environment in which Old Media have existed for decades. The blogosphere consists of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, each with his or her own interests, viewpoint and area of expertise, and each of those bloggers is an activist -- nobody forces anyone to start a blog.
When Old Media publishes something that touches upon a blogger's area of interest, the blogger comments on it. If the media story is wrong, a blogger with expertise in the area will debunk it. And because the blogosphere is so widespread and interconnected, the information will be disseminated almost with the speed of light. The CBS memo debacle is a perfect example of the phenomenon. Within 14 hours after CBS posted the forged memos on its website, bloggers with credible expertise had demonstrated that they were fakes and had duplicated them, thus demonstrating how they were faked. Not much later, bloggers demonstrated why the memos couldn't have been created when they were purported to have been.
So far Old Media haven't adapted well to the environmental changes created by the emergence of the blogosphere. Mostly the reaction has been a mixture of whining, disparagement and attempted bullying in an effort to make the bloggers go away. Won't work -- too many bloggers with too many talents. Some members of Old Media will eventually realize this and adapt. Those who don't will become extinct -- eaten alive, not by bloggers but by upstart competitors who "get it." Those competitors will make sure that they bring in viewpoints and expertise from outside the journalism establishment, and more importantly, put people with those other viewpoints and expertise in editorial positions. In the long run, the journalism profession and society as a whole will be the better for it all, but in the short term journalism will be an uncomfortable place for the Old Media honchos.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
One thing the major media didn't show at all is that another wounded terrorist is lying on the floor about 8 feet from the one that the Marine shot. In the video, this man does not move until after the Marine shoots the other one. Then he immediately starts waving his arms around and talking -- clearly surrendering. He does not get shot.
According to Hindrocket at Powerline Blog, following is the text of an email from a Marine in the 11th MEU. Hindrocket is a practicing lawyer and is not one lightly to throw away his credibility, so I am inclined to think the email is genuine and accurate.
This is one story of many that people normally don't hear, and one that everyone does.
This is one most don't hear:
A young Marine and his cover man cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with Ak-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insurgent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded, lying in a pool of his own blood. The Marine and his cover man slowly walk toward the injured man, scanning to make sure no enemies come from behind. In a split second, the pressure in the room greatly exceeds that of the outside, and the concussion seems to be felt before the blast is heard. Marines outside rush to the room, and look in horror as the dust gradually settles. The result is a room filled with the barely recognizable remains of the deceased, caused by an insurgent setting off several pounds of explosives.
The Marines' remains are gathered by teary eyed comrades, brothers in arms, and shipped home in a box. The families can only mourn over a casket and a picture of their loved one, a life cut short by someone who hid behind a white flag.
But no one hears these stories, except those who have lived to carry remains of a friend, and the families who loved the dead. No one hears this, so no one cares.
This is the story everyone hears:
A young Marine and his fire team cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with AK-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insugent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded. Suddenly, he pulls from under his bloody clothes a grenade, without the pin. The explosion rocks the room, killing one Marine, wounding the others. The young Marine catches shrapnel in the face.
The next day, same Marine, same type of situation, a different story. The young Marine and his cover man enter a room with two wounded insurgents. One lies on the floor in puddle of blood, another against the wall. A reporter and his camera survey the wreckage inside, and in the background can be heard the voice of a Marine, "He's moving, he's moving!"
The pop of a rifle is heard, and the insurgent against the wall is now dead. Minutes, hours later, the scene is aired on national television, and the Marine is being held for commiting a war crime. Unlawful killing.
And now, another Marine has the possibility of being burned at the stake for protecting the life of his brethren. His family now wrings their hands in grief, tears streaming down their face. Brother, should I have been in your boots, i too would have done the same.
For those of you who don't know, we Marines, Band of Brothers, Jarheads, Leathernecks, etc., do not fight because we think it is right, or think
it is wrong. We are here for the man to our left, and the man to our right. We choose to give our lives so that the man or woman next to us can go home and see their husbands, wives, children, friends and families.
For those of you who sit on your couches in front of your television, and choose to condemn this man's actions, I have but one thing to say to you. Get out of your recliner, lace up my boots, pick up a rifle, leave your family behind and join me. See what I've seen, walk where I have walked. To those of you who support us, my sincerest gratitude. You keep us alive.
I am a Marine currently doing his second tour in Iraq. These are my opinions and mine alone. They do not represent those of the Marine Corps or of the US military, or any other.
Monday, November 15, 2004
Is my memory faulty, or didn't someone recently say something about "the coalition of the bribed?"
The UN is reportedly stonewalling and not cooperating with the senate committee, and in fact is actively hindering the committee's investigation into the Oil for Food Scandal. When this story is told in its entirety, the UN will be exposed for what it is -- a debating club for despots. Without drastic and obvious changes in that organization, any US candidate who proposes to let the UN have any say whatsoever over US international policy -- even as an "advisor" -- will be laughed out of the country.
If there were an alternative organization that could actually accomplish something, I'd vote for leaving the UN, and kicking the whole organization out of the US. It costs us a lot more than any benefit it returns. In the meantime, I guess it's good for keeping tabs on those debating despots.
John Kerry lost and George Bush won because, as someone once famously said, "You can't beat something with nothing." A quick Google search reveals that this idea is not in the least originalwith me. It also reveals that the phrase was used alot by commenters long before Election Day, in reference to Kerry's campaign. Well, the reason cliches become cliches is that they contain a nugget of truth. In Kerry's case, it was a truth that his campaign never recognized.
The bald facts are that Bush had new ideas, and Kerry had old ideas -- old ideas that had been tried before and failed. Bush had a record that he ran on, and Kerry had a record that he ran from -- how can someone who's been in the Senate for 20 years actually think that the voters cared more about his Vietnam experience 30 years ago?
Now, don't misunderstand -- I'm not saying that Bush's new ideas aren't controversial, or that everyone signed on to them (48% of the voters didn't) but at least they break out of the intellectual rut that politicians of all stripes seem inevitably to fall into. Examples: preemption doctrine; national tort reform; tax policy reform (as in, "simplify"); Social Security restructuring to keep it from devouring the national budget 30 years hence; tax exempt medical savings accounts.
By contrast, Kerry's ideas: renew alliances (that have arguably outlived their usefulness); trust in the UN (!); no tort reform (gotta keep those trial lawyers' political contributions coming); make the tax code more progressive (tax the "rich"); don't touch Social Security (kick the can down the road for our kids to work out -- ever see "S0ylent Green"?); government funded medical care (Hillarycare redux).
Like I said, old ideas.
Without going too deep into resumes, during the last 4 years or so Bush has been President of the United States, has had to deal with the economic fallout of the dot-com bubble that burst at the end of the Clinton administration, as well as the attacks of September 11, 2001. Whether or not you agree with his response, you must at least credit him for acting decisively in toppling the Taliban and ousting Saddam. However you think he's been conducting the war, you have to admit he didn't shrink from a difficult decision.
During the same period, John Kerry was a rather undistinguished member of the Senate, whose role was primarily being a kind of Mini-Me to Ted Kennedy. No committee chairmanships or leadership positions (even after 16 years), no major legislation sponsored. Being from Massachusetts, where being a Democratic candidate at the federal level is almost equivalent to being elected, John Kerry never had to defend his positions much, because almost everyone agreed with him (or is it that Kerry just blew in the wind and adopted all the positions that were popular in Massachusetts?) In fact, to discover anything really remarkable about Kerry, you have to go back to his days as a swift boat skipper in Vietnam. Perhaps that's why he emphasized that part of his resume during the campaign, instead of his more recent, um, exploits.
If there had not been a large minority of the voters who were vehemently anti-Bush, I think Kerry would have gotten maybe 30% of the vote. He just didn't inspire many people. The fact is that Kerry and the Democrats were banking on Bush hatred to win the election for them, along with a dependable credulity on the part of some percentage of voters in the middle. It wasn't enough. They basically ran against "something" with "not-something," and the voters in the middle weren't as credulous as they thought.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
Friday, November 05, 2004
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Mr. Bush is a proven leader, and he is followed by about half the registered voters in the country. He has led our country through some difficult times in the last 3 3/4 years. He inherited a recession from Bill Clinton, and has dealt with the attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath, an unprecedented event in the history of the world. He responded boldly, with tax cuts to bolster the economy, and with military action to unseat the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, one of the greatest supporters of terrorism. Mr. Bush's boldness and initiative have produced tangible, and favorable, results. Today the perpetrators of the attack are running and hiding, their former base has conducted the first democratic election in its long and tortured history, and in Iraq we stand on the verge of establishing the first true democracy in the Middle East.
Through it all, Mr. Bush has led -- he has determined the goals and the strategy to achieve them, and then has convinced others -- the UN Security Council, the United States Congress, and more than 30 foreign allies, to support his goals and strategy. To be sure, there have been mistakes and setbacks -- what great human enterprise does not encounter, and overcome, such things in accomplishing what it sets out to do? At every point, Mr. Bush has been out in front of the effort -- he has taken immense political and diplomatic risks to achieve the goals that he established, and has suffered immense criticism all along the way from those who oppose him, including "the coalition of the bribed," i.e., France, Germany and Russia, who were all on the take from the UN Oil for Food program, and who are no doubt irritated that the golden goose no longer produces eggs, and the Michael Moores of the world, who are either fools who don't recognize the nature of the enemy, ideologues who think of nothing but advancing their own philosophies, or selfish opportunists who seek profit from any available source.
If Mr. Bush is re-elected, we can expect more of the same, but probably with a few surprises. Because Mr. Bush will not have to worry about being re-elected, he will have greater freedom of action, particularly on the domestic front. It is clear that there will be no letup in the war against Islamofascism. Iran and North Korea will get more attention as Iraq moves closer to democracy. The message to the rest of the world will be, "Don't mess with US." We will also be telling the world that we will stand by our commitments.
What can be said of Mr. Kerry? What indicia can we examine to determine whether he is a leader, and what kind of leader would he be?
The earliest indication is his military service. He served well enough as a junior officer on a destroyer, before he volunteered for swift boat duty. At the time he volunteered for the PCFs, their mission was relatively safe -- patrolling the coastline of Vietnam to prevent smuggling. By the time he had completed his training, however they were engaged in the much more dangerous duty of river patrol. The enlisted crew that served directly under Mr. Kerry on the swift boats mostly support him. However, the other officers in his squadron -- his peers -- are mostly aligned against him, primarily because of his activities with the VVAW after he returned from Vietnam. He was awarded medals for valor, which suggests that Mr. Kerry exhibited boldness and initiative, but it appears that at least some of the awards were based on after-action reports that Mr. Kerry wrote himself. The SWVT claim that Mr. Kerry exaggerated the facts to make himself look better, especially in the incident that led to his second Bronze Star, in which Kerry retrieved Mr. Rassmussen from the water. Mr. Kerry received three Purple Hearts, which under the regulations at the time made him eligible for early transfer out of the theater. None of the wounds for which he received the Purple Hearts was serious -- he never missed a day of duty on account of a wound. Some have been described as "a scratch ... barely broke the skin." There are conflicting reports about whether all of the wounds were in fact sustained as a result of enemy action. The important fact is that Mr. Kerry applied for the early transfer out of Vietnam after 4 months of service there, while other officers serving in similar duty chose to remain in-theater even after sustaining much more serious wounds that would have made them eligible for a shortened tour of duty. Bottom line -- Mr. Kerry has a following among his own crew members (with one notable exception) but not among his fellow officers.
After the war, Mr. Kerry famously served as spokesperson for the VVAW, testifying before the US Senate that the commission of war crimes by US military personnel in Vietnam was commonplace -- condoned if not encouraged by the entire chain of command. While he certainly had a following during this time, it seems to be based more on the idea of antiwar activism than on Mr. Kerry's personal character. It is unclear whether Mr. Kerry attended a meeting of the VVAW at which assassination of political opponents was discussed; it is clear that Mr. Kerry resigned from the organization about that time, but didn't report the discussion of assassination to law enforcement authorities. So Mr. Kerry was not able to shut down the discussion of unlawful activity, and did not report potentially criminal activity.
In his 20 years in the United States Senate, Mr. Kerry's record is remarkably bland. He seldom has been out in front on any issue, instead preferring to play a supporting role to the Democratic superstars like his colleague from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy. No major committee chairmanships, little public campaigning for any issue. Few bills introduced, none of great import.
If Mr. Kerry has the characteristics of boldness and initiative, if he has the ability to inspire that a leader must have, it has not been apparent over the last 20 years. Indeed, many polls have stated that Mr. Kerry's support comes, not from his followers, but from people who wish to see Mr. Bush defeated. These people don't much care who is elected to the Presicency so long as Mr. Bush is ousted, and their support for Mr. Kerry derives solely from their belief that he is the Democratic candidate who has the best chance of accomplishing their goal. Upon winning the Presidency, Mr. Kerry's backing would melt away like snow in a January thaw. What, then, could we expect from a Kerry administration?
Mr. Kerry's record and his public pronouncements suggest that the watchwords of his presidency will be caution, indecision, endless negotiation, unclear vision for the future -- public approval and private contempt by foreign leaders. A sigh of relief from Europe: "They're just like us after all." In short, a combination of the worst features of the Clinton and Carter presidencies.
Because his campaign has been based on unseating Mr. Bush, rather than specific stated goals and strategies for the country, if Mr. Kerry is elected the near-50% support that he appears to enjoy will begin to evaporate on January 20, 2005, if not before. Realizing that Mr. Kerry is a compromise candidate with no clear following of his own, the various factions of the Democratic Party will be maneuvering to increase their influence within the Party. They will each call in their respective political chips and Mr. Kerry will be under immense pressure to submit to their will. As a result he will bend like a straw in the wind depending on the direction and the force of the pressure being applied. Seeing this, North Korea and Iran will be emboldened. Other countries will cut their own deals with little attention being paid to the United States. Even though Mr. Kerry believes that diplomacy will accomplish everything the US needs, we will become more isolated from the "international community" than we are now, because other countries will understand that the United States does not have the will to lead. We will be like Gulliver in Lilliput. Kofi Annan will rejoice.
This is why today's election is so important. God bless the United States of America.
UPDATE: ARRGH! This is what happens when you are rushed. I meant to make the point set out in boldface, above.
Thanks to Senator Kerry for conceding the election and not subjecting the people of the United States to a reprise of 2000.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
I live in a pretty upscale area, and there was no hint of anything inappropriate at the polls. Every voting booth (maybe 15-20) was occupied but there was no line. By the time I had checked in, a booth was available. The people were in good spirits all around -- the poll workers were cordial, and the voters were diligent and serious -- nobody was electioneering.
I didn't notice any bumperstickers on any of the cars parked near the polls, so I have no idea which way the tide is running, other than to say that historically this has been a relatively conservative precinct so I suspect Bush will easily carry it. Not that it'll make any difference to the electoral vote. I think California will remain solidly blue and (unfortunately) will re-elect Barbara Boxer to the Senate, notwithstanding the popularity of Gov. Schwarzenegger.