Friday, December 16, 2005

NSA Does It's Gregory Hines Impression

From the NY Times:

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.


The article goes on to say that, thus far, this practice has been limited to monitoring international calls and email. Domestic secret surveillance is not, as of now, in place.

But two portions of the article do concern me, and I think they should concern you too.

In some cases, they said, the Justice Department eventually seeks warrants if it wants to expand the eavesdropping to include communications confined within the United States.


In some cases? Eventually?

At an April hearing on the Patriot Act renewal, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I., "Can the National Security Agency, the great electronic snooper, spy on the American people?"

"Generally," Mr. Mueller said, "I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens."

Generally? This is what us high falutin' legal types call a "non-answer."

It's an interesting article, and it's pretty even-handed. I can't say I have a problem with the NSA monitoring suspicious international activity. But in the wake of the Patriot Act's recent upgrading, and the slow-but-real erosion of liberities in the name of national security, saying that "Generally" the NSA doesn't spy on American citizens, or that sometimes, eventually, a warrant is procured for those activities raises a red flag in my paranoid android brain.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On The Frontlines Of The War On Christmas

This is priceless.

(link courtesy of oliverwillis)

Is Someone Getting The Beast, The Beast, The Beast, The Beast Of You


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - I give you the Beast.

Color me satisfied.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Down to Brass Tacks

There's been a lot of grumbling here of late about "Gay marriage." I've written before about the total lack of justifiable reasons for denying gays a right to marry, and I'll probably write a lot more.

Opposition to same sex marriage comes down to it not feeling "right" or "moral" to people who are not gay, and probably don't know anyone who is.

On a baser, more direct and probably more truthful level, it comes down to not liking gay people. At the end of the day, that's the sum total of it. Protecting the "sanctity of marriage" is a laughable excuse, rendered impotent by our current divorce rates, spousal abuse figures, and adultery polls. If it's the sanctity we're worried about, it's heterosexuals that should be denied the right to marry. We keep fucking it up.

But, at the very least, people are starting to admit that their hate for the gay lifestyle is what's really driving this particular pain train. Their other objections haven't worked, so they've retreated into stubborn bigotry.

From Red State.org:


Repugnant By: On Lawn

I'm tired of people with thier flat little smiles assuming there is some primitive reaction going on to social change. I'm tired of people assuming that same-sex "marriage" is just the next rung in the ladder to civil libertarian social bliss.

Here's how I see it...

Thinking of civil rights conjures up pictures that are often run in popular media. These pictures are framed in the context of a larger social celebration or struggle. The celebration is one that the picture invites everyone to participate in. The struggle is against people who in that context are simply party-poopers. The picture is of two people of the same gender in full wedding regalia.

They look longingly into each other's eyes as if to say, "I love you so much, I'm willing to make the state fund our forgery of marriage and enforce its acceptance on everyone else". Though the romance is laudable, there is an immediate sense of offense to one's values. This isn't like the bigoted offense of seeing a person of a different race move into the neighborhood, as it is often portrayed by same-sex marriage advocates. It is easier to celebrate the love of two people. But here there is offense because depending on how much one values the ideals of equal gender participation one might see something very precious and dear being imitated and mocked. Whether that mockery is intentional or circumstantial, it may be best described as the offense a black-man who may have seeing old vodvillian actors who pretended to be black by painting their face with shoe-polish and saying "Mammie, Mammie" to the laughter of the crowd. Surely bringing the offense to the crowd would make one in that day and age a party-pooper also.
(emphasis mine)



So, Gay marriage = performing in black face.
And "On Lawn" and others who oppose gay marriage apparently = black people.

"On Lawn's" post is offensive on a lot of levels, but what I'd like to emphasize is the way in which the desire for people to join their property, their families, their rights and their lives in a life-long commitment is seen as taunting mockery. In black face, no less.

At day's end, this post is the argument against gay marriage. All that other stuff is window-dressing. At it's core, the argument goes like this:

You are different. Different people are not allowed in our country club.

And that's an argument I think we're all familiar with.

(link courtesy of alicublog)

I'm Your Private Dancer, A Dancer For Money

Jenna Jameson - porn star, adult entrepreneur, living, breathing Barbie doll with nipples - became an advocate for Constitutional liberties yesterday.

Reports that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will star in Backdoor Brothel Brouhaha are, as yet, unfounded.

From yahoo:

Internationally known actress Jenna Jameson says she will launch a referendum effort to overturn a newly passed ordinance that would effectively put her out of the cabaret business. Ms Jameson said, "We are outraged that Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross and the City Council have enacted an ordinance that will effectively put our law-abiding and tax-paying cabaret out of business. They have created unfair and uncompromising rules governing the distance dancers have to be from cabaret patrons. This distance restriction will not be feasible within the small constraints of my cabaret Babe's, and would force me to shut down. This action was taken despite the fact that the dances the girls provide for customers are protected by our First Amendment rights under Freedom of Expression.

"I believe this would not have become an issue if I hadn't invested in the club. The mayor and her council members used my fame to generate publicity that panders to the religious right wing, without regard to the rights of the majority of our citizens who simply want to enjoy adult entertainment. The mayor and council are clearly set in their ultra conservative ways and out of touch with what the people want. I plan to redouble my efforts to make sure everyone realizes the implications of their action. I have instructed our lawyers to begin a referendum action to recall this absurd ordinance, which was drafted by a hired gun from Tennessee named Scott Bergthold who has made it his business to take away freedoms of expression and choice for consenting adults. I understand that this religious zealot gets paid to create situations like this, ones that will require lawsuits, and then he personally benefits by consulting or representing the city in resulting legal actions. We want to give the people of Scottsdale a voice in this matter, and the referendum will provide that opportunity."

Damn, girl. Sling that silver tongue.

And now, a moment of prurient repose:


(yahoo link courtesy of oliverwillis. Pic courtesy of justjennajameson)

Food For Thought

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom of all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

-David Foster Wallace


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Too Many Queer Guys For the Revolution's Eye

I wasn't aware that the website Conservative Revolution existed before today.

Nor was I aware of the "onslaught of gay movies out there" right now:

I don’t know if the rest of you have noticed this, but there is currently an onslaught of gay movies out there. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the movie studios are complaining about low movie attendance and gay movie central is not going to help. Here is just a smattering of the gay movies currently in theaters:

Brokeback Mountain
Breakfast on Pluto
Capote
Memoirs of a Gaysha


Memoirs of a Gaysha? That's the funniest thing I've seen so far this week.

Let's take a look at this "onslaught" of gay films really quickly.

The top ten domestic film distributors release, on broad average, around two hundred films a year.

TWO HUNDRED. (see top ten distributors for 2003 here, lest you think me full of shite)

That's a lot of films. Of these TWO HUNDRED films, three of them (four if you count the movie about the "Gaysha's") have got some gayness goin' on.

Three. Out of two hundred.

Yessir, a veritable onslaught. A proverbial Gallipoli campaign of Gayness.

Gay-o-RAMA.

Love the nod toward political correctness, too. "Not that there's anything wrong with that" belongs up there alongside "some of my best friends are black people" in the Most Unconvincing Display of Tolerance pyramid (2005 edition).

Ahhh...It's good to vent. These pipes...are clean.

Put Your Hands On The Wheel...Let The Golden Age Begin

Golden Globe nominations are in, biznatches.

Best Actress in Drama
Maria Bello - A History of Violence
Felicity Huffman - Transamerica
Gwyneth Paltrow - Proof
Charlize Theron - North Country
(?) Zhang - Memoirs of a Geisha

Best Actress in Musical/Comedy
Judi Dench - Mrs. Henderson Presents
Keira Knightly - Pride & Prejudice
Laura Linney - the Squid and the Whale
Sarah Jessica Parker - The Family Stone
Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line

Actor in Musical/Comedy
Pierce Brosnan - the Matador
Jeff Daniels - the Squid and the Whale
Johnny Depp - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (good god, why?)
Nathan Lane - The Producers (good god, why, part deux)
Cillian Murphy - Breakfast on Pluto
Joaquin Phoenix - Walk the Line (hell, yes)

Best Picture - Musical/Comedy
Mrs. Henderson Presents
Pride & Prejudice
The Producers
Squid and the Whale
Walk the Line

Best Director
Woody Allen - Matchpoint
George Clooney - Good Night, and Good Luck
Peter Jackson - King Kong
Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain
Morales - the Constant Gardener (I didn't catch this director's first name, and am too lazy to look it up)
Steven Spielberg - Munich

Best Actor - Drama
Russell Crowe - Cinderella Man
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Capote
Terrence Howard - Hustle and Flow
Heath Ledger - Brokeback Mountain
David Straithairn - Good Night, and Good Luck

Best Picture - Drama
Brokeback Mountain
Constant Gardener
Good Night, and Good Luck
A History of Violence
Matchpoint

No real surprises, for the most part. Nice to see "Good Night" and "A History of Violence" getting some awards love. For the life of me, I don't understand the unending gravy/money train that is the Producers. Gene Wilder wipes the floorboards with Matthew Broderick's campy, self-conscious performance, and I liked Nathan Lane's Zero Mostel impression a lot more when Zero Mostel was doing it.

Other head-scratchers include Sarah Jessica Parker's nod for "The Family Stone," Paltrow in "Proof" (was that released this year??), and Johnny Deep for "Chocolate Factory," a performance of high-campiness that's almost willfully unenjoyable.

Thoughts? Omissions? Addendums?

V for Very Anticipated


I like comic books.

There. I've said it out loud. That's not as hard to admit as it used to be. In recent years, comics have begun to shed their reputation as literature's red-headed stepchild and have come to be recognized for what they are: a vital, vibrant medium of expression that is singular, powerful, and capable of greatness.

And in terms of greatness, there's no writer more worthy of acclaim and genuine admiration than Alan Moore.

Moore is the writer of Watchmen, one of Time magazine's 100 greatest works of fiction, From Hell, a meticulously researched, phone-book sized exploration of London during the Jack the Ripper murders (amde into a decidedly-average film starring Johnny Depp) and V For Vendetta, amongst many others.

Next year, the Wachowski Bros. (creator/directors of the Matrix) are releasing V for Vendetta, an adaptation of Moore's "graphic novel," into theatres. As of now, it's the film I'm most looking forward to seeing in the new year.

V for Vendetta is an uneasy, politically charged story of terrorism, revolution, and governmental corruption. You may have seen a trailer for the film playing earlier this year. It's the one where some guy looking like an over-sized Henson puppet walks into a government building with a bomb strapped to his body. And he's the "hero."

Moore's work is powerful stuff, and for people raised with the notion that comics are supposed to be about men in tights and the young boy sidekicks who love them, it's strikingly spandex-free. It's also quite brilliant.

Over at AICN they have the first full review of the film, which was scheduled to open this fall until terrorist bombings in real life threatened to render the movie an easy scapegoat for media pundits who like to blame the ills of society on things like television and heavy metal. If you haven't read the original work, the review is full of "Spoilers," which you'll want to avoid if you want to be surprised. Below, I've excerpted a few spoiler-free passages to stoke your interest.

If you want to be unspoiled about the film and the story, I'll say this: I think this is an extraordinarily important film, but the ad campaign that the WB is presenting at this time will make the film really hated by a lot of people.

For those having not read the book, V FOR VENDETTA is a brave film that tries to find the truth in our confusing times - what is our role in our government? And how much can we stand up to oppression before it becomes terrorism?

I think that if people let it, V FOR VENDETTA could change lives. And at the same time, I am afraid of how wildly misinterpreted it will be....V FOR VENDETTA's subject matter will be very uncomfortable for a lot of people. Let's start with the word "terrorist." How does one define a terrorist? Does their motive have anything to do with it, and are their motives for violence an excuse for their actions?

'Tis The Season To Be Gruesome

Gruesome's a good word. It's a strong word, meaning "shockingly repellent; inspiring horror."

It's the first word that popped into my head when I saw the "front page" of CNN this morning.

From CNN:

"Warden: Williams 'Frustrated' Execution Didn't Go Quickly"

Stanley Tookie Williams, the co-founder of the Crips gang who became an anti-gang crusader while on death row, was executed by lethal injection today. The warden at San Quentin said Williams seemed annoyed it took awhile to get a needle into his left arm. "He did seemed frustrated that it didn't go as quickly as he thought it might," said warden Steven Ornoski.

The death penalty, as philosophical/moral/ethical debate topic, is worth reporting on.

I do, however, tend to question the motivation of news outlets that post video of witnesses describing the execution. That's supremely creepy stuff, gruesome stuff, if you will, and too close to The Running Man territory for my taste.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Johnny-Come-Lately

The "Biopic" is not my friend.

I'm not the sort of person, for better or worse, who really loves sitting down in a darkened movie theater to watch someone's "life story" unspool on the screen. I say "life story" in quotation marks because as Vern, the great sage, seer, and filmatist writes in his latest column, they're all basically telling the same story no matter whose life it is; a string of "dramatic" events hung together in a pretty/inspiring/provocative row.

It's like a recipe for shortbread, minus the actual bread. Add one part drug addiction, two parts marital infidelity, a cup of parental misunderstanding/abuse, and a healthy pinch of guilt over childhood tragedy. Bake for two hours.

"Walk the Line" ends up adhering to this E-Z Bake oven approach, yet I walked out of it remarking to my date that the Johnny Cash biopic is one of the best films I've seen in years.

Why?

Well, for one thing, that Phoenix kid can act. And sing. And play guitar. Ditto, that Witherspoon gal. Hell, the woman plays an autoharp in the film. Easy to learn or not, that's pretty impressive to me.

You want to talk "Best Actor" accolades? This year, you have to start with Phoenix. Like Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, Phoenix seems to realize that he's playing an iconic force as much as he's playing a man, and he summons Cash in a performance of calculated detail and uncalculated ferocity.

Reese Witherspoon - an actress that, to be honest, I've never much cared for - does something similar with her role, and she's just as (if not moreso) musically talented than Phoenix. The girl can sing, yo. And she's got chops. Dramatic ones, that is. She's also got a hell of a pair of legs, but that's neither here nor there (great legs, though). Her June Carter is an angel, and one hellish muse to Johnny Cash. She, if I may use the vernacular, done fucked him up real good.

Their relationship is the heart of the film and I'd venture to say that Walk the Line is the date movie of the year. The love story between Carter and Cash is mythic - all the more so for being true. I don't think its spoiling anything to tell you that Cash spent ten years, some of them very-much-married years, pining for Carter. On screen such a lengthy courtship might threaten to bore the bejeezus from you, but both performers sell their attraction to one another with such intensity that I found myself fascinated with them.

Heart's not enough to make a classic, though. Any pianist'll tell you that it's all about soul; Walk the Line's soul is suffused with the glorious agony of creative expression. That sounds like a term paper thesis, but stay with me.

I'm what you might call a creative type. I love to write, whether its words or music; more than love, actually. I need to do these things. Without some outlet I think I'd wither up and die. Not in the poetic, figurative sense but in the literal, actual sense. Life does not make sense to me without the creative impulse, and I say this not with pleasure, but with a mixture of fondness and melancholy.

Because needing anything, whether it's a woman, a drug, or a creative outlet is not romantic business, though it can be. In the end, it's scary business; its addiction - good or bad.

Walk the Line nails the feeling of needing to create something - of wanting, aching to take the unspoken, unsung thoughts in your head and pour them out into the waiting world. Phoenix's performance - all nervous, twitching energy and subdued fire at first - wrings buckets full of subtext free about what that kind of need can do to a man. I've never seen that feeling played out so eloquently onscreen before. It's both reassuring and unnerving, and that's how I tend to like my movies.

Talking about the film without talking about its music would be like talking about Sin City without talking about Carla Gugino - possible, but silly.

The music in the film is extraordinary for two reasons. The first reason being, of course, it's sheer Johnny Cashiness. Cash was an American original, the creator of a singular sound, and his music is beloved by country music traditionalists, rockabilly hipsters, Wilco-listening mopheads, Hell's Angels, and the elderly, amongst others. His sound transcends the label of "country." It is, as one character in the film so accurately observes, steady as a train and sharp as a knife.

The second reason is that Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon perform the equivalent of an on-screen seance (minus the cheese cloth). Unlike say, Ray, where Jamie Foxx lip-synched to the real Ray Charles, all of Walk the Line's musical numbers were performed by the actors, looking like they're channeling the spirits of June Carter and Johnny Cash out from some deep inner well-of-the-souls.

When we watch Johnny Cash and his band performing for Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, we're really watching actors Joaquin Phoenix, Dan John Miller, and Larry Bagby play and sing for us, the audience. This is outstandingly cool on a number of levels. For starters, Phoenix is good. His voice recreates Cash's revelatory, resonant baritone in a way that's reverent, but respectful. It doesn't so much imitate Cash's sound as pay homage to it, tapping into the memory of the real man's voice as much as the timbre.

On another level, it's cool because just as Phoenix's Cash is auditioning for Phillips, Phoenix is auditioning for the audience. It's oh, so very "Meta." Starting out looking unsteady and unsure, we watch as Phoenix visibly and aurally transforms himself into the legendary singer before our eyes, and it's a crackerjack moment of performance, complete with prize.

The rest of the music, courtesy of O Brother, Where Art Thou's producer, T Bone Burnett, is just as good. We get to see a young Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis rockin' out live, as well as June Carter's solo autoharp performance, and it's all rock-solid stuff.

Walk the Line's been out now for weeks, but if you haven't seen it yet, do so. It's a good film, one of the best mainstream flicks I've seen in recent years. See it for the love story, which is stirring and moving. See it for the way it distills the passion for creation. See it for the performances, which are true and mighty impressive. See it because I said so, and my word is LAW.