Saturday, March 05, 2005

April 4, 1984

Some days, it's easy to be casual about our vanishing individual liberties.

Mostly, they're incremental subtractions from existent rights. But every once in awhile, something happens to remind me of how much our country is changing, and how nervous that really makes me.

http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=19562

A George Rogers Clark High School junior arrested Tuesday for making
terrorist threats told LEX 18 News Thursday that the "writings" that got him
arrested are being taken out of context.

Poole told LEX 18 that the whole incident is a big misunderstanding. He
claims that what his grandparents found in his journal and turned into police
was a short story he wrote for English class.

"My story is based on fiction," said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony
terrorist threatening charge. "It's a fake story. I made it up. I've been
working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about
zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by
zombies."

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. "Anytime you
make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony
in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven
Caudill.

Poole disputes that he was threatening anyone.
"It didn't mention nobody who lives in Clark County, didn't mention (George Rogers Clark High School), didn't mention no principal or cops, nothing," said Poole. "Half the people at high school know me. They know I'm not that stupid, that crazy."


When I was in second grade, I wrote a short story about giant mosquitoes attacking my school. Several of my classmates were sucked dry in horrible ways (namely the kids who were, at the time, making my life harder than necessary). Buffy the Vampire Slayer spent three glorious seasons consistently threatening both students and school itself, culminating in the total destruction of Sunnydale High. Toy Soldiers, an 80's action flick starring a pre-hobbity Sean Astin, a pre-Star Trek Will Wheaton, and the strangely vanished Louis Gossett, Jr., was about terrorists taking over a prep school. Several students die. Is Buffy banned in Kansas? Can I not find a battered VHS of Toy Soldiers in Kansas backbins? Somehow, I doubt it.

But the part of this story that really terrifies me?

It's the part where the kid's own grandparents turn him in to the police. Somehow, I don't get the feeling that they tried to talk this out. And it reminds me of the U.S.S.R. far more than the U.S.A. It reminds me of Nazi Germany, or Red China.

Why are we letting fear and big government run our lives? Why are we turning in our loved ones? Why are we so willing to give up the things our forefathers fought and died for in uncountable numbers? Ben Franklin, a wiser man than I, and one of the great, flawed men that founded this country, said it better than I can.

"Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty, nor safety."

We owe it to William Poole, and to each other, not to let this go unnoticed. What's next? Arresting authors like Stephen King because he uses real towns in his novels? Find a Kansas newspaper online and write to the editor. Because William Poole is me. And if you're reading this, he's probably you, too.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak
out-- because I was not a communist;Then they came for the
socialists, and I did not speak out-- because I was not a
socialist;Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak
out-- because I was not a trade unionist;Then they came for
the Jews, and I did not speak out-- because I was not a
Jew;Then they came for me-- and there was no one left to speak
out for me.

Lay Off Martha Stewart

Welcome home, Martha.

I've never particularly understood the hatred Martha Stewart engenders. I don't have much use for the stuff she peddles, and I likely never will, but frankly, I've always admired her. She seems to me like a self-made, strong woman who has come from an ordinary, immigrant background and made herself successful.

I find it more than a little ironic that, in a country that's based on the idea of individual acheivement, that we've been so eager to tear her down. It's reflective, I believe of a general minset shift in the average American. I'd argue that many people today do not feel as if they can accomplish anything in this country, and instead of seeing Stewart as inspiration for their own goals, they resent her success as something ill-gotten. Rather than admiring the strength of a woman who's built a multi-national corporation with her bare hands, they deride her for her "perfectionism" and "unlikability."

If I were a feminist, I'd be tempted to ask how Stewart is different from any other CEO, aside from her gender. I'd wonder if perhaps the vicious attitude of the media and the public toward her is more a result of her being a woman and a person of power rather than having done anything notably awful.

In a world where corporate heads like Ken Lay has destroyed the lives of countless hard-working Americans, why does Martha Stewart deserve our scorn?

Well, she's a cheap and easy target, for one thing.

Salon.com has a great article that makes all these points in a much better fashion than I can. You have to sit through a brief ad to read it, but buck up, campers. It won't hurt.

http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/2005/03/04/martha_zacharek/index.html

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Life and Art of Vern

Who is Vern?

That's what I want to know. A supposed ex-con with a shady past, Vern writes film reviews and longer pieces on his thoughts about culture, politics and the world over at:
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Veranda/3556/

I say supposed ex-con because, despite his stated writing limitations and tough guy persona, amidst countless misspellings, Vern is a very smart, thoughtful guy. When you read him, there's always a part of you wondering if all of this is a put-on. Whether "Vern" is actually some College professor with too much office hour free-time on his hands.

Here's a brief excerpt from Vern's recent The Next Karate Kid review, starring recent Oscar winner, Hilary Swank:

"Swank plays Julie, a pouty, sullen teenage girl who lives unhappily with
her grandma after the death of her parents. Anything anybody says to Julie, she
takes offense and throws a hissy fit. You know how old people are, they try to
be nice but they don't really understand where your teenage mind is coming from,
so they offer you some lemon bars or something and you're like "GOD DAMN IT WHY CAN'T YOU JUST LEAVE ME ALONE?!" and run out of the room crying. So then Julie goes in and stabs grandma to death in her sleep, while jerkin off. Or was that a different movie? I can't remember."

See what I mean?

Go read his stuff if you haven't. It's uniformly entertaining.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Logging for Christ

Sitting in my Environmental Law class today, my professor told us about a recent interview with Bill Moyers that touched on the Environment, and the current administration's policies regarding it.

Apparently, Moyers is convinced that people like Bush actively want to hasten the destruction of the planet, because it will bring about the rapture and subsequent second coming that they've all been waiting for.

I don't know if I can accept that. Shortsighted policies on environmentalism have been common for a long time now, with no indication of a scary fundamentalist motivation behind it all. Hell, under Clinton, the great white liberal hope, our policies weren't really any better. They may have been worse in certain respects.

I do think its eyebrow raising that Bush has such an evangelical bent to his words and actions. But I think it's too easy to say that the man's Pat Robertson-nuts. It wraps things up in too neat a bow.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The End is Near?

Getting on the F Train this afternoon for the long ride back into Manhattan, my eye caught on one of those giant subway posters they plaster to the walls in periodic rotation. No product mentioned, no film or release date, just a reddish orange sunset with the dark shapes of birds taking flight with this creepy phrase in giant letters: "Omnium Finis Imminet."


My latin's a little rusty, so I went over to a few Latin dictionary sites. Weirdly the word ominum doesn't appear to HAVE a definition.

Stranger still, no one seems to know what these ads are about. Some speculation that they're viral marketing for War of the Worlds, but you'd think they'd have a website up to correspond.

The Rise of the GPS Nation

http://talkleft.com/new_archives/009897.html

Our Surveillance society grows a scary new appendage this month, as our government will begin tagging legal, law abiding immigrants with electronic dog collars to monitor their movements 24/7.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I would rather take my chances and die as a free American, than give in to this sort of panicky quasi-1984ish behavior. This is insulting to every immigrant who ever came to America looking for their dream. Since we are, at heart, one big nation of immigrants, this should disgust our senses of individualism and freedom. It's one thing, in my opinion, to tag a felon under house arrest. They've DONE something. It's another thing altogether to treat innocent people as cattle.

Why not just round up all the A-rabs and put them on an island? At least then you're honest about your uncontrollable fear and xenophobia.

History Channel Special Soon to Follow

The why is really not important.

http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodsandwiches.html

If you've ever wanted to read a comprehensive history of sandwiches, from their ancient origins to their modern day mutant brethren, look no further and pine no longer.

Tim Powers: An Appreciation

I'm just about half-way through "Declare," Tim Powers' novel of the Cold War, Kim Philby, and the Supernatural. It's not everyone's cup of tea, obviously. But I'm a Powers fan from way back, and count The Anubis Gates and Last Call among the best books of "fantastic" literature I've read, alongside such wonderful works as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, Wizard and Glass, and Perdido Street Station.

I've no idea if Powers is read by many people, but I've yet to see a "New York Times Bestseller!" blurb on his bookjackets, and that's a pity. He's probably the best writer of 'realist' fantasy (fantasy set in believable history, present or past) I've ever read, and Declare is another well-written and imagined addition to his canon.

If you like Spy novels, magical realism, Neil Gaiman, or simply good, simple prose, Declare is worth looking up.

If a retelling of the Fisher King myth set in modern Las Vegas amongst ghosts, superstition and the world of semi-professional gambling, pick up Last Call.

And if time travel, Egypt, and shaggy dog-men are more your thing, there's the Anubis Gates.

Seriously. The man's a smokin' writer.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Fraulein Ann Coulter, First Lady of the Aryan America

The most frightening thing about Ann Coulter is not the insanity of her rhetoric (though it is bat-shit crazy stuff). It's that she's a best-selling author, popular columnist, and frequent talking head. The scariest thing about Ann Coulter is her continued popularity.

Because that means people, quite a few people, judging from her book sales, agree with her views. Coulter tends to frame her oppressive, racist, elitist attitude as populism. Somehow, she continues to get away with this. Here's a not-very-brief sampling of her at her most drunk-on-the-blood-of-Kali insane.

On Muslims:
"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to
Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler
and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians.
That's war. And this is war."


On intimidating "liberals":

"When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that John
Walker is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John
Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that
they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors."


On the environment:

"God says, "Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.""


On sensitivity:

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times
Building."

This woman has sold a lot of books. She's all over Fox news. And she's spouting the sort of fascist, intolerant gobbledeegook thats supposed to be anathema to the denizens of a free country.

But here's what I'm starting to realize - there are an awful lot of people that don't want a free country. All around us, intolerance is bubbling up from under the surface, emboldened by fear. Our country has been heading in a progressive, acceptant direction for a while now, and frankly, your neighbors do not like it. They don't want their children taught by gays. They don't want your Hannukah or Kwanzaa mentioned during their Christmas holidays. In fact, they don't want your religion around at all, really. These are the people that won't swim near a black person in a pool, because the water is "dirty" (and yes, I saw this with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears). The people that think the homeless would disappear if they'd just go get a job, already.

They are not our friends. They distrust us, and our differences in color, sexuality, nationality, theology and morality frighten and anger them.

The difference between a "conservative" like Ann Coulter and one of the "evil liberals" she so despises is pretty simple, once you've looked at her words. She is fascist, and we are democratic. We see a democracy that behaves like one, a democracy that embraces the truths of free expression voiced in General George Washington's letter to a Jewish congregation. She believes that choice is bad. That freedom, real freedom, with all its sprawling independence, is unamerican.

It shouldn't be as simple as us vs. them. I know a lot of sane conservatives. Real conservatives. Smart, compassionate people who believe in small government and restrained fiscal spending, not bigotry, hate and mindless invective. But there's a new, cruel breed of political animal out there, masquerading in the clothes of the conservative majority.

My New Years resolution this year is to stop minding these people. Like all resolutions, its destined to be broken.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Limbless Torsos Fine For Tots. Janet's Nipple Still a No-No.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/TV/02/28/media.privateryan.fcc.reut/index.html

"The Federal Communications Commission unanimously decided that ABC television affiliates did not violate indecency regulations when they aired the movie on
Veteran's Day in November, despite complaints about profanity and violence."

Well, that's a relief. But I'll admit to some confusion over what, exactly, indecency means, and why we're policing for it. Are we worried about the children? If that's the case, I'd be a lot more concerned over a six year old sitting through the opening 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan than being exposed to the half-second nipple shenanigans of Janet Jackson.

But then, I'd rather take the trillions of dollars we're pouring into the middle-east and buy a teacher a sandwich. So, my priorities are all screwy.

Oscars, Schmoscars.

Without a doubt, the single least interesting Oscar show I've ever seen.

Maybe its because I didn't have a horse in this race. I've seen most of the films that were up for awards tonight, but none of them had me rooting for them, particularly. It was nice to see Chris Rock be Chris Rock, if only intermittently. I think the sizzle has gone out of my relationship with the Oscars. Seeing Halle Berry's tearful/scary meltdown/acceptance speech on repeat today didn't help.

Because lists are demanded in these instances, I proudly unveil the winners of the first annual Irrelevants (as in "these awards are..."). All picks are from movies that I've seen, obviously. So those films that went unwatched are disqualified from competition. Sorry Jamie Foxx. You'll have to cry yourself to sleep tonight on a mattress made of cooing women.

Best Film I Saw Last Year - Garden State.

I think Sideways spoke to critics in their late 30's and 40's in the same way that Garden State ended up speaking for a lot of 20-somethings. The idea that this is Zach Braff's first film - as star/writer/director/soundtrack supervisor/possible superhero - is boggling to me. I'm no film critic, but this is good solid confident filmmaking that really made me feel something deep and satisfying afterward. The feeling I used to get all the time as a kid, but that seems to grow more elusive with each year. The feeling of being moved by something. For that reason alone, its the best I saw this past year.

Worst Film I Saw This Year - Blade 3

Just awful. The first Blade signified the beginning of Marvel Films' reign atop the box office and was a solid action movie that predated the Matrix with nutty wire-fu, slowed down bullets, sleek leather trenchcoats and sunglasses. The third film is a quivering mass of celluloid that, Thing-like, threatens to devour all that was good and pulpy about the first and (to a lesser extent) second movies.

Apparently, the poodle is returning to cinemas with a vengence. But this is not your father's poodle. Your father's poodle makes him look like a sissy. This is the terror-poodle. He popped up first in the Hulk, all bulgy eyeballs and slobbering, clawing, fluffiness. He returns in Blade 3, now with killer-starfish jaw action.

The rest of the movie is a lot like the poodle. It's got some fangs, but mostly its just a big dumb dog that probably eats his own poop. Err...

Parker Posey is wasted. Wesley Snipes is a non-entity in his own movie. Dracula IS the winner of Project Runway. Ryan Reynolds is alright, but I've already seen Die Hard, buddy, and you are no freakin' Bruce Willis, as the great Sage and Seer Vern would say.

Enough. Terrible. Moving on.

Single Greatest Moment in a Film This Year - Dash Lets Loose

In a just world, the Incredibles would have been nominated for Best Picture. Is Finding Neverland a good film? Yes, I thought so. Is it as good as the Incredibles? Not by a long shot. The best moment in one of the year's best films? Hands down, its the moment when Dash finally gets to cut loose. As he tears around that eerily real CG jungle, the audience finds itself feeling the same exhileration that we imagine him feeling.

Best Performance Only A Geek Could Appreciate - Ron Perlman

Working with make-up on is damn difficult. Ask any actor and they'll tell you how difficult it can be to emote through all that stuff on their faces. Perlman's Hellboy was a marvel of effortless expression, underplayed and realistic and so natural that you forget you're watching a guy in a silly red suit and start believing in the character he's playing. They don't give Oscars for acting in a film like Hellboy. But they should have some sort of award to honor the performance. Consider yourself awarded, Perlman!

Best Song - Freedom Isn't Free

The creators of South Park, Cannibal the Musical, Orgazmo and That's My Bush are closet high-school musical theatre geeks, and we're all richer for it. South Park: The Musical is one of the best musicals, animated or not, of the past ten years. Team America isn't as good, but its really really funny. This ballad is the best of the bunch; a drippy country song about loss that is awful and really good in a sappy, Dionne Warwick kind of way. Faith Hill could sing this and, except for the lyrics ("Freedom isn't free! Yea, there's a hefty fuckin' fee!"), it would sound just like everything else she sings.

More to come, should the inspiration strike.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Oerwinde's Deep Thoughts....Revealed!

Fellow Chud Chewer Oerwinde has a blog over at http://www.atomicholocaust.com/

It's his thoughts on life, politics, movies, tv...basically the same stuff I write about.

Glad to hear he's on the "Lost" train. Despite its current inert-ness in the larger plot department, it remains the best show on the wasteland that is network television.