Saturday, December 31, 2005


Friday Movie Review (late)

Went with daughter Alex to director Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, the gay cowboy movie. It was pretty good--kinda sad. Alex cried. I didn't. I hate to nitpick from the beginning, but it is a film ostensibly occurring largely in Wyoming (1963 to 1983) shot entirely outside Wyoming--mainly in Canada (looked like Alberta) with a shot or two from New Mexico. Is it too expensive to shoot in Wyoming or are the mountains there not spectacular enough? I was a for real cowboy on the west side of the Wind River Mountains (opposite side from Riverton) in 1979, on a ranch two hours south of Jackson Hole, Wyo, and I think the mountains there are as pretty as they get. Tough to believe it's too expensive to shoot in Wyoming. Also the two cowboys (one time shepherds) may not be completely gay, at least Heath Ledger's character, Ennis Del Mar (don't laugh, that's a good Wyoming name), may not be. I'll get back to that.

I have seen the last two movies of a trilogy Ang Lee made in Taiwan--Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet. (Didn't see Pushing Hands). I can see and hear shadows and echoes of themes in those two movies repeated in this one. Let me explain. The Wedding Banquet is about a gay Chinese man who agrees to wed a 'beard' (a nice Taiwanese girl with no green card) in order not to shame his more traditional family (they find out about his sexuality and don't really care). In the weirdly named Eat Drink Man Woman, a father worries and sacrifices for his three daughters who are having a difficult time find happiness in the modern world while still yoked with the ancient duty they owe their father. In Brokeback Mountain, the gay cowboys also have wives and families and Ledger's laconic character worries and sacrifices about at least one of his daughters. Anne Hathaway (more about her later) has a familiar look of both horror and pride when Gyllenhaal finally stands up to her father. There are more theme echoes.

Because of the very sympathetic portrayal of the gay couple in The Wedding Banquet, I always thought that Ang Lee was gay. I could be wrong. He has been married since 1983 and has two children, sons. (Of course, Ledger's character was married with two daughters--so that's no guarantee). That Mr. Lee is a rabid Calgary Flames fan mediates for his heterosexuality (but I guess a 'beard' can take any form). I was about to declare him straight when I ran across these two quotes about this movie and now I'm back on the fence:

It could be the hidden side of you; I think making movies is a great way to release that. I think it is important to be honest with that, and have fun with it.
There's a private feeling to the movie, an intimate feeling. I think eventually everybody has a 'Brokeback Mountain' in them. Someone you want to come back to. And of course, some people don't come back.

Hidden side of you, huh? Some don't come back. Hmmmm?

Here's why I doubt Ledger's character Ennis is gay. He clearly loves Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Jack Twist, but we never see him troll after any other men. Indeed, he immediatley hooks up with his bride, Alma, and after the divorce, lands another filly, played by the cute little nurse with the diabetic son on ER. Hardly the stuff of hard core gaydom. Gyllenhaal on the other hand admits that the infrequent sex he has with Ledger is not sustaining and we see him consort with a male prostitute in Mexico and make minor moves on other men (which apparently is his undoing). He's really gay even though he is able to make love to and then marry Anne Hathaway, the Texas barrel racer. We get to see her ample yet natural looking breasts (which is a treat); but then also have to watch her turn into a bitter, brittle, loveless Texienne in her late 30s, like many whom we probably know and don't like. Not as big a treat.

This movie is not a tragedy. It is sad because it seems the waste of a love, not at all the waste of lives. In a moment of doubt and pain, Ledger blames his station on his love that dare not speak its name for Gyllenhaal. But was he really going to do better had he not fallen in love with a man? What seems saddest is that the guys can't be what they really are except on pretend fishing trips in the middle of nowhere from time to time away from prying eyes (at least of their wives). But this is a repeated theme from an earlier movie Sense and Sensibility (another triumph for Mr. Lee). In that movie, the women, Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson, were also constrained by the walls society built for them to live behind as poor, high-born women. But in that earlier movie, their savior was love. Here love is the very problem.

In the broadest sense, I thought this was a plea for greater tolerance in America, but I really believe that Mr. Lee is preaching to the choir here (the popular perception of the death of Matthew Sheperd notwithstanding). For this to be a plea to those who need some enlightenment, it would have to have been about two gay sheep-herders in Saudi Arabia. But I digress. The strength of this movie is the reality of the characters' actions and feelings and the bulk of that comes from fine performances, not the least of which is by Michelle Williams as Alma, Ledger's long suffering and perceptive wife. The gossip from the set is that Ledger and Williams fell into actual love and are now a couple.

Some of the credit for the movie's success should also go to Annie Proulx who first published the short story Brokeback Mountain in 1997 in the New Yorker and to the near giant in modern western (that is, cowboy) literature Larry McMurtry, who did the screenplay. It's just that the guys don't talk that much for the writers to take too much credit. I do have a plot quibble, too. Alma is on to her husband's team infidelity not only because she sees him kissing Gyllenhaal, but because they never bring back fish from their fishing trips. I know guys hate to admit this, but there is such a thing as a male refractory period after lovemaking, during which nothing can happen. Couldn't they have fished during at least one of these periods?

And it wouldn't be a real XDA review if I didn't talk about guns. The guys have a Winchester rifle, model 1994 in 30-30 caliber to shoot coyotes and that gun is perfectly good for that provided the coyote is foolish enough to show itself in relatively close range. So they shoot a big elk in velvet. I doubt that a lot. Unless Ledger put one through his eye or something. Hard to believe that Ang Lee got that detail wrong when he was so spot on with the Civil War weapons and tactics in his excellent, but little seen, Ride with the Devil. I blame Ms. Proulx.

Despite the prediction of the NYT's Frank Rich, who appears to be poorly connected with the rest of the country, that this movie would sell a ton of tickets, it's not doing that well at the box office (just over $10,000,000 so far, but $4,000 per screen, which is about twice what Narnia and King Kong are doing) and it's difficult to believe it will have long legs, as they say. Still, it is a very good movie and finally Heath Ledger shows us he can act. (Why is it that Aussie or English actors sound authentically from the place the movie says they're from and the American actors can't hide their east or west coast roots? It can't be that our guys aren't talented, can it?) It's two hours 14 minutes long and stately, but never boring because we care about these guys and their lives in just the opposite way we don't care about anyone in a bad movie like A History of Violence, for example. Go see it.


Decision Time for Jack Abramoff

In this New York Times story it is reported that Jack Abramoff, a powerful Washington lobbyist under indictment for fraud in Florida, has until 3:30 on Tuesday, January 3, 2006 to inform the Court if he is taking the deal offered him by the Justice Department prosecutors or is going to trial on the 9th. Washington is all atwitter because the deal is apparently a global one and would require Abramoff to name names and describe all that he has done.

The story calls Mr. Abramoff a Republican lobbyist but I don't know if that means he is himself a Republican (which he is) or if the scandal the press is hoping will break wide open soon will only involve Republican office holders. Of course, since the Republicans are in the majority in both the House and Senate, wouldn't a lobbyist pursue influencing those in power over those not in power?

I admit I never did get lobbyist. It seems to me that there are only three realities to what they do: 1. They are gifted speakers who for money will try to influence the vote of a politician on an issue of importance to their client; 2. They are frauds who have no influence whatsoever and take the client's money and only produce the illusion of influence or persuasion; or, 3. They are conduits for corruption who influence our representatives by bribes in many forms. Only one out of three seems good. The last seems the worst because not only are the lobbyists criminals but the bribe takers as well (and possibly the client who knowingly offers a bribe through the lobbyist). Perhaps the last is the closest to reality, but I've always been partial to number 2.

As to the power of Abramoff to hurt only the Republicans if he takes the deal, I am a little skeptical. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate minority leader, said on Fox Sunday show two weeks ago that this is a Republican scandal. Rumors of corrupt influence with Democrat Senators Reid and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are often repeated, however. A smart guy would take the deal, name only Democrats and hope for a pardon in January, 2009. Time will tell.


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 192 AD, the bad Emperor Commodus is assassinated by the Palace Guards. Commodus was the bad guy in the film Gladiator. He was played by Joaquin Phoenix and died in the movie in the Coliseum at the hands of the Russell Crowe character (not quite history). Commodus, son of the good Emperor Marcus Aurelius, was 31 when he died and had for years been active in the sword fights in the arena. He was apparently not as skilled as he liked to think of himself and people suppressed laughing at him when he clumsily slaughtered men armed with wooden swords or repeatedly stabbed staked down leopards who bled out in agony. Commodus was replaced with Pertinax, aged 66, but he became unpopular with the Palace Guards and did not last 90 days before his bloody death at the hands of the Guards.


Thought of the Day

There is nothing quite so powerful as an idea whose time has passed.

David Frum

Friday, December 30, 2005


Paranoids Unite--You Have Nothing to Lose

My son, Andrew, returning from his first semester at college (where he did well--or so he says) urged me to watch a documentary he had seen on the web about 9/11 called Loose Change. I downloaded it here and watched it and watched it again with Andrew and his friend Chris with much pausing and discussion. It is sheer lunacy, as biased and one-sided a presentation of so-called evidence as I have ever seen. It makes Michael Moore documentaries seem fair and balanced by comparison.

Anyway, the gist of the hour long documentary is that 9/11 was a complete fraud--the planes hitting the WTC in New York were not really hijacked planes (they fired missiles just as they hit); there were carefully laid demolition charges which brought the buildings down; the Pentagon was hit by a missile (Lord knows what really happened to Barbara Olsen--I added that); there was no plane crash in Pennsylvania or if there was it was because a plane was shot down (still working on what the filmmaker was saying there) and most of the highjackers, including Mohammed Atta, are alive and well in the middle east here and there.

If you have an hour that you can completely waste, go see what your late teenage boys are seeing on the web and believing (at least for a while). It is truly stunning what some people will profess to believe as well as the sophistication of modern propaganda.


Save Farris

Michelle Malkin has this kinda weird story at her site about the secret travels of Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Florida. This guy shames me. The wildest thing, in the same vein, I ever did was leave school in Andover without permission and hitchhike to Groton. Not quite as dangerous as hitching to Baghdad. Ah, youth.

Here is part of the essay he wrote on his travels:

"There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction."

"Those terrorists are not human but pure evil. For their goals to be thwarted, decent individuals must answer justice's call for help. Unfortunately altruism is always in short supply. Not enough are willing to set aside the material ambitions of this transient world, put morality first, and risk their lives for the cause of humanity. So I will."

Hard to argue with an eyewitness, particularly an idealistic, young one.


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 39 AD, the Emperor Titus is born. He may be Diomedes' least favorite Emperor. As general of the Roman Armies, he captured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.


Thought of the Day

Malus bonum ubi se simulat, tunc est pessimus.


When a bad man pretends to be good, he is then the worst.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


End of the Year Movie Lists

Top Ten Movies I actually saw:

1. King Kong
2. Downfall
3. Cinderella Man
4. Pride and Prejudice
5. Serenity
6. Constantine
7. The Great Raid
8. Layer Cake
9. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Top Ten Movies I never got around to seeing but I believe were good:

1. Brokeback Mountain
2. A History of Violence
3. Sin City
4. Hustle and Flow
5. Me and You and Everyone We Know
6. Junebug
7. Match Point
8. The World
9. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
10. The 40 Year Old Virgin

Worst Ten Movies of 2005 whether I saw them or not:

1. Crash
2. Good Night, and Good Luck
3. The Constant Gardener
4. Munich
5. Memoirs of a Geisha
6. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
7. Syriana
8. Rent
9. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
10. Bewitched

Ten Movies of 2005 which were just OK

1. War of the Worlds
2. Kingdom of Heaven
3. Star Wars (Episode 3)
4. In Her Shoes
5. Batman Begins
6. The Upside of Anger
7. Madagascar
8. Shopgirl
9. Just Like Heaven
10. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

All in all, 2005 was not a good year for movies and the shrinking box-office mirrored the drop in quality.

UPDATE: Saw A History of Violence today and it sucked. Sorry for putting it on the second list. I'll try to update (with a viewing) the ones I didn't see, as soon as I can.


This Day in Medieval History

On this day in 1170. Archbishop and now Saint Thomas a Becket was murdered by henchmen of Henry II in Canterbury Cathedral. I've read T.S. Eliot on the subject. I've seen the movie. I've been to the scene of the crime. I couldn't care less; for some reason the struggle between church and state in late 12th Century England is on the other side of the World of my concerns.


Thought of the Day

Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

Blogger Megan McArdle, who writes under the name "Jane Galt" at Asymmetrical Information

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Justice DeLayed is Justice Denied

Tom DeLay is trying like heck to get the remaining, (probably) baseless indictment from partisan hack DA Ronnie Earle dismissed so DeLay can run next year for the leadership position he had to step down from this year. Earle is dragging his feet (adding credibility to idea that Earle really only wanted to get DeLay out of the House leadership). But DeLay is making progress, according to Kevin Aylward over at Wizbang. Here is a link to a PDF version of his motion to dismiss (actually Motions for Writs of Mandamus and Habeas Corpus). Here is a link to a PDF version of the original Motion for Writ of Habeas Corpus.

To paraphrase regarding the conspiracy charge, DeLay's lawyer says that the Texas law, at the time of the alleged conspiracy, only applied conspiracy to offenses in the Texas Penal Code, unless the statute outside the Penal Code contained words that made conspiracy apply to that statute. Simply put, the Election Code is outside the Penal Code and did not contain the necessary application words at the time DeLay is alleged to have conspired (the Election Code now contains those words) so there simply was no such crime as conspiracy to violate the Election Code with which DeLay has been charged. Seems pretty straightforward. I'll take the lawyer's word about the lack of necessary application language in the Election Code, however, the limitation, regarding conspiracy, only to other crimes contained in the Penal Code doesn't jump off the page at me. This could be an Achilles heel to the motion. Or I might be having a dim period.

Regarding the money laundering charge, it seems to go better. DeLay is charged with laundering $190,000 in checks. DeLay's lawyer argues that money laundering requires, well, money. The action element of money laundering is to do something with funds. Again at the time of the alleged criminal misconduct, the definition of funds in the money laundering statute did not include checks. Now it does; but the change was too late to cover any action of DeLay and the recent change in the law to add checks to the definition of funds is very good evidence that checks were not part of the original definition. That part looks pretty airtight.

Can't wait to see Earle's response to these motions for writs.

The Houston Chronicle has a decidedly less helpful story on this.


Gone and All but Forgotten

Despite a near complete absence of recent news coverage (here is an exception) or widespread caring, some of us still remember an event in Iraq. Unfortunately, the fate of the four kidnapped members of a Christian Peacemaker Team, part of a Canadian-based organization that has investigated allegations of abuse against Iraqi prisoners, remains unclear. The December 10, 2005 deadline for their execution has obviously passed. The Coalition did not release all prisoners in Iraq. Since that day, it's been pretty much silence: No new word, no new videotape, no new demands.

I was skeptical of the reality of this kidnapping. I, of course, hope that I'm right and that these guys were never in danger and are released, unharmed, in the near future when it's clear their bluff was called long ago and they have nothing else.


The Shrinking Coalition

The Bulgarians and the Ukrainians have left (kinda). The Poles will remain but will be a smaller presence (900 troops, down from 1500, all training Iraqi soldiers). Or so reports the AP here.

To the left is Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, visiting his country's troops on Boxing day, their last day in Iraq. I kinda like the Ukrainian desert camo (just as I admired the Bulgarian camo here). I have no idea how effective it is, but it looks cool. The guy in the black vest behind Yushchenko has an AK side-folder. Notice too the Christmas decorations and American soft drinks on the table.

We'll no doubt miss these guys, but the pressing need for crack troops to back up the growing Iraqi forces seems to be waning. I expect our own troop strength in Iraq to lessen over the next few months as well.


Signs the Democrats are Waking Up

In this story in today's Washington Times, it is clear that at least some Democrats are waking up to the fact that criticizing the President for vigorously conducting the war against militant Islamacism is making the Democrats look even weaker on defense. At least Michael O'Hanlon and Mark Penn are (whoever they are), but is anyone listening to them?

Money quote: These Democrats say attacks on anti-terrorist intelligence programs will deepen mistrust of their ability to protect the nation's security, a weakness that led in part to the defeat of Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, last year.

I had written about the many conservatives warning the Democrats about just this here. Several problems remain: Will the MSM get the memo? Will the leadership tone down the anti-Bush rhetoric? Will Dean actually help the party of which he is chairman?


You can almost always count on the Democrats to make the Republicans look good in comparison.


This Day in Medieval History

On this day in 1065, Westminster Abbey was dedicated. The building was started by the last of the Saxon kings, Edward (son of Ethelred the Unready--that is, Ethelred the poorly advised). Edward died just a few days after the building was dedicated and his death set the stage for the Norman conquest (Harold, son of Godwin, claimed that Edward had made the nation over to him on his deathbed. But William, Duke of Normandy, said Edward had left the kingdom to him in his will. William won). Although the original building was pulled down and rebuilt by Henry III, the extant building has been the religious center for nearly all of England's royalty in that all but one king or queen since William the Conqueror have been crowned in it.


Thought of the Day

The plural of anecdote is not data.

Roger Brinner or
Frank Kotsonis

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 537 AD, Patriarch Menas of Constantinople consecrated the architectural masterpiece Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), a church built at incredible expense by the Emperor Justinian. It became a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople by Ottoman Turks in 1453. In 1934, Kemal Ataturk secularized the site and it is now the Ayasofya Museum. Some might see a lesson in that turn of events.


Thought of the Day

Illum ipsum consultum suum non sine causa sed sine fines laudabat.

Seneca the Younger

He praised his own achievements, not without cause but without end.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Thought of the Day

Frugalitas miseria est rumoris boni.


Thrift is misery with good rumors (sometimes translated 'with a good press agent').

Sunday, December 25, 2005


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 1 AD, God, that is, the son of God became flesh and was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem so that those who follow him will have everlasting life after their death.

There are a lot of Mithraic elements in the Christmas story--shepherds, humble birth, Jesus called the Prince of Light--but it is a unique and quite lovely story.

Ann Coulter points out that Joseph and Mary were not homeless people (as a lot of lefties try to imply), but were traveling back to their hometown so that they could be taxed--a scheme, Ann says, that could only have been thought up by a collectivist, in that particular case, the Emperor Augustus. I have to admit that I do not know what political theory Augustus followed. Merry Christmas and God bless us every one.


Tought of the Day

Numquam poetor nisi podager.


I only recite poetry when my feet hurt.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


This Day in Medieval History

On this day in 1167 AD, King John I is born. He is the king who signed the Magna Carta and is also the bad guy in the Robin Hood movies.


Thought of the Day

Spot check, Billie got down on his hands and knees,
He said, hey, momma, hey, let me ckeck your oil, all right?
She said, no, no, honey, not tonight.
Come back Monday, come back Tuesday, and then I might.

Lowell George (in Little Feat) in Fat Man In the Bathtub

Friday, December 23, 2005


Fisking Former Senator Daschle

Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader, former Senator and current...(what is Tom Daschle doing now?) throws in his two cents on the NSA leaks in the Washington Post today. Here we go then with a real time analysis:

In the face of mounting questions about news stories saying that President Bush approved a program to wiretap American citizens without getting warrants, the White House argues that Congress granted it authority for such surveillance in the 2001 legislation authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda. Here is one clear divide between the parties: The Democrats always describe the targets of the wiretaps as American citizens; Republicans always describe the targets as al Qaeda operatives. On Tuesday, Vice President Cheney said the president "was granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that's what we've done." Yes, the Vice President said that, but it was by by no means the only explanation for the inherent (that is, coming from the Constitution) power the President has to order interception of foreign origin communications.
As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel's office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I have no doubt this is true because they never intended to say which types of force the President could use--it was understood that he could use all of them. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. So, let me get this straight, you gave the President authority to kill al Qaeda members, that is, to take away all their rights--everything they had and everything they would ever have, but the President couldn't listen in on their telephone calls? Ok, I'm clear now. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance. Ah, now I know what Tom Daschle is doing now, he's become the new Kreskin the mind reader. And notice his description of the NSA action, for the second time in the paragraph, as "domestic" surveillance. It is not domestic surveillance, it is foreign surveillance. If he doesn't even know the basics, how can he hope for us to listen to him?
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. But, Tom, isn't he specifically surveilling al Qaeda communications? What is your point here? Do you wrongly claim that we're not surveilling al Qaeda? Do you claim that the authorization for the use of 'necessary and appropriate force' does not include the ability to find out what al Qaeda is planning? If you ever were making sense, you've certainly lost me now.
Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.
The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration's request for an unprecedented grant of authority.
OK, you didn't add the words 'in the United States.' Once more, the NSA was conducting surveillance of communications which originated outside the United States by known or suspected al Qaeda members. OUTSIDE the United States. Foreign surveillance. I knew that your mistaken belief that it was domestic surveillance would ruin your analysis.
The Bush administration now argues those powers were inherently contained in the resolution adopted by Congress No, the administration argues that the President has inherent power (that is, from the Constitution, specifically Article II, you should read it sometime) to be the commander in chief of the Armed Forces, which have always used scouts and spies to try to learn what the enemy is doing -- but at the time, the administration clearly felt they weren't or it wouldn't have tried to insert the additional language. More mind reading and very tepid analysis. Assume the President believed he had the inherent, but unnamed, power as commander in chief to intercept foreign communications, could he not hold that belief and still want as specific a grant of war powers as possible? Just asking.
All Americans agree that keeping our nation safe from terrorists demands aggressive and innovative tactics. I have to doubt this statement; unfortunately not all. The ones who seem unwilling to act prudently and sanely in light of the war being waged against us are largely in Tom's party. They would prefer that our Armed Forces be blinded to foreign threats so as not to give up, even theoretically, some amorphous civil rights. I prefer to retain my inalienable right to life, thank you very much, and so do most right thinking people. This unity was reflected in the near-unanimous support for the original resolution and the Patriot Act in those harrowing days after Sept. 11. But there are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Little projection going on there, don't you think. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans' freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. What a strawman, as if the choice was between preservation of freedom and breeding fear. The choice is between effectively fighting the war without tying our arms behind us and failing to fight the war effectively because of a fear of some future, theoretical abuse of power.
If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate, the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, I have to doubt your ability to efficiently analyze the Constitution here, and the entire judiciary, most recently in In re: Sealed Case No. 02:001, is against your mis-analysis here and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. What you think of the law is the last place we look for enlightenment, the first place we look is to the words of the law. The idea that a grant of authority to use 'necessary and appropriate force' does not include the ability to intercept foreign origin communications is a stretch, no, it's just plain silly. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, The administration has explained it (with a little help from law savvy bloggers, many of them law professors) Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president's justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. Can't the Congress just research the law? It is 100% for the President's position.
In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. The President doesn't seem to think the current legal architecture is insufficient, the Constitution is clear and the case law all in support of what the NSA was doing. I do admit that the FISA law has not kept up with technological changes but that would be Congress's job to change it, not the President's.
That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat
Wow, what a finish. We defeat terrorism by foreswearing our first great advantage, our technology, with which we once secretly listened in to conversations al Qaeda had with operatives here in the United States.

As a final historical note, in WWII we broke the German and Japanese codes--they did not break ours. We listened to their radio traffic and knew almost everything they planned during the war. It was a little bit of an advantage. Did President Roosevelt need a warrant for that listening in? That's precisely what Mr. Daschle is proposing here. We are at war and the Democrats (except Joe Lieberman) just don't get it.


This Day in Ancient History

This was the day of the Roman one day festival (during the Saturnalia) called the Larentalia, supposedly a funerary ritual at the purported tomb of Acca Larentia, who was the wife of the shepherd who found Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf. Man, is that a slim connection to the mytical founders of Rome or what?


Thought of the Day

Well my telephone was ringing
And they told me it was Chairman Mao
Well my telephone was ringing
And they told me it was Chairman Mao
You can tell him anything
'Cause I just don't wanna talk to him now

I've got the apolitical blues
And that's the meanest blues of all
Apolitical blues
And that's the meanest blues of all
I don't care if it's John Wayne
I just don't wanna talk to him now

Lowell George (of Little Feat) in Apolitical Blues

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Just When I Think I'm Out...

Remember, back in March, the Italian journalist for the Communist paper there who was supposedly kidnapped in Iraq; and once freed she and her rescuers sped up to an American checkpoint near the Baghdad airport and one soldier there had no choice but to shoot when the vehicle did not respond to signals to stop? The journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, was slightly wounded but an Italian intelligence officer, Nicola Calipari, was killed in the shooting.

Well, the Italians have not forgotten and are investigating the soldier, who opened fire, for murder. They say the car wasn't going as fast as we claim it was.

Police and ballistic experts assigned by Rome prosecutors to examine the car have concluded the Toyota was traveling slower than the U.S. military claimed. (How can they tell the car's speed by ballistic examination?)

I thought we showed that Segrena was lying about only going 30 mph or so by spy satellite coverage of the incident. They have a tape--they know the distance the car covered and the time it took and they can figure the speed of the car. It was going 96 km/hr or over 60 mph. Or so say master bloggers Charles Johnson and Ed Morrissey et al.

I expect the un-named American soldier isn't in too much trouble.


Thought of the Day

Pessimus inimicorum genus, laudantes.


The worst kind of enemies, those who can praise.


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 244 AD the Emperor Diocletian is born in modern Split, Croatia (I'm not making that up). He stabilized, for a time, the near chaos caused by the choosing of a new Emperor. He brought England back into the Empire and defeated Rome's enemies far and wide. He also started a Christian persecution late in his 20 year reign as Emperor. His buildings of note were the palace in Split and his baths outside Rome. The lasting thing he did was to prepare the way for splitting off the Eastern Empire and thus continue the Roman Empire there for nearly 800 years after Rome fell. Under his reign, the once vaunted Senate became merely the local council of Rome and all vestiges of the Republic disappeared in Diocletian's second wind for the Empire.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Not So Fast There

I had argued that the Government's decision to abandon its position that Jose Padilla was an enemy combatant and go the criminal indictment route for Padilla's overseas actions was motivated by the wish to avoid the straight-jacket-like embarrassment of the Supreme Court saying every enemy combatant born in the USA or to US parents could only be held with a criminal indictment in place or in the works. I still think I'm right.

However, the 4th Circuit, with Judge Michael Luttig writing the opinion, has thwarted the Government's plan to avoid the Supreme Court by refusing here to turn Padilla over to the authorities for a criminal indictment awaiting him in Florida (Padilla is in a South Carolina Navy brig) or to dismiss the action. Judge Luttig thinks it's too important a question to moot out at the last moment. I knew I liked this guy.

I was in grad school at the University of Virginia when Luttig was in law school there. I might have seen him, but I never met him. I recently asked some friends in law school there at the same time if they knew him and could tell me some embarrassing gossip. They said Luttig's circle was "above" theirs and they never had any contact with him. Huh? I thought my friends were pretty cool and accomplished. Of course, they're not on the federal bench either, so I guess it all makes sense.


Noscitur a Sociis

The translation of the title of this post is: It is known by its companions. This is a legal maxim that helps courts interpret statutes, et al. If a word in a contract or, more often, in a statute is ambiguous, its meaning is determined by the words it is associated with in context.

However, you don't have to limit the maxim to law. Do we not judge people by the company they keep? We tend to avoid our friends who have gained new, horrible friends (and we say it's because we don't like the friends, but it's because we think less of our friend as well).

And we certainly apply it in politics. This brings us, at last, to the point of this post. A lot of people on the right are warning the Democrats that if they keep up their attacks on the President's conduct of the Global War against militant Islamicists, they are going to be branded with the label 'soft on defense,' or worse. I don't think the leadership is listening. And the anti-victory statements of the leadership--Dean, Pelosi, Kerry, Reid, and Murtha (I guess) rubs off on the rank and file.

Let's review:

Howard Dean talking about Iraq earlier this month.
"The idea that we are going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong."

"I will be supporting the Murtha resolution," House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said of his plan calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq at the earliest practicable date... "

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) on the successful filibuster by Democrats of renewal of critical parts of the USA PATRIOT Act:
"Think about what happened 20 minutes ago in the United States Senate. We killed the Patriot Act." (Applause). See the video at the Political Teen.

Representative John Murtha (D-PA) on his plan to cut and run in Iraq:
My plan calls:
To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.

To create a quick reaction force in the region.
To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.
To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

And recently the Democrats have filibustered renewal of the effective parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and an appropriations bill, the bulk of which is for defense, that is, for our troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. (They'll have to hold a bake sale for more .223 rounds, I guess).

President Bush was vulnerable last election, but the Democrats ran Kerry and it all turned out fine. The Republicans have made many misteps these past few years (out of control spending and lax border enforcement being the worst for me) but the Democrats inability to actually support America in this war (other than good guy Joe Lieberman) makes the continued Republican control of the House and Senate all but assured. But they can't say they weren't warned.

Here are some of the warnings:

David White at the AIE.

Vice President Cheney in this Reuters story.

Rush Limbaugh on his radio show, listened to by 18,000,000, on average.

Jonah Goldberg and Linda Chavez at Townhall.


This Day in Ancient History

Early on, that is, beginning in about 216 BC, the first day of winter was the start of the one to four day festival called the Saturnalia. Later, in the late republic and Empire period, the festival lasted seven days. It sounds pretty familiar-- rejoicing, songs, parties, feasts, and gifts, but there was one thing we no longer have. For one day masters and slaves traded places (to a degree). I think there's a distant echo of that in some office parties today.


Thought of the Day

When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.

Japanese Proverb

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Warrantless but Perfectly Reasonable Search

Many of the lefty news guys are trying their hand at playing a lawyer on TV, or on the radio (I just listened to Hugh Hewitt smack down Jonathan Alter from Newsweek for not reading the recent case on the issue, et al.) regarding warrantless interception of foreign phone calls by the NSA. Most of them go wrong from the beginning-- from the mistaken starting point that a warrantless search is an illegal search. Wrong! Silly, School-Boy's Book of the Fourth Amendment level wrong. The Fourth Amendment only protects us (in our persons, houses, papers and effects) from unreasonable searches and seizures. In a completely different clause it says that warrants shall issue only for probable cause. There is case law that says a warrant (if well supported) will make the search it allows reasonable, however, there are plenty of exceptions to what is called, merely for convenience, the warrant requirement. The most famous one, the one even the news guys might even know about, is exigent circumstances. No warrant is required where there is no practical way to get one in time. Another exception, according to In re: Sealed Case No. 02:001 is the ability of the President to act as a commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the United States. Money quote for Sealed Case:

The Truong court, as did all the other courts to have decided the issue, held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. 26 It was incumbent upon the court, therefore, to determine the boundaries of that constitutional authority in the case before it. We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President’s constitutional power.

When asked previously (in 1972) to comment on this, in the Supreme Court in the so-called Keith case, took a pass: "We have not addressed, and express no opinion as to, the issues which may be involved with respect to activities of foreign powers or their agents." United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. at 321- 22, but the Court then, in footnote 20 (much of the good stuff in a case is in the footnotes), said:

For the view that warrantless surveillance, though impermissible in domestic security cases, may be constitutional where foreign powers are involved, see United States v. Smith, 321 F. Supp. 424, 425-426 (CD Cal. 1971); and American Bar Association Project on Standards for Criminal Justice, Electronic Surveillance 120, 121 (Approved Draft 1971, and Feb. 1971 Supp. 11). See also United States v. Clay. 430 F.2d 165 (CA5 1970).

So, based on cases (cited and quoted from above) by the Supreme Court of the United States and by the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (which reviews the FISA court) there is nothing unreasonable about warrantless listening in on the phone calls from known al Qaeda operatives to persons in the United States especially after al Qaeda declared war on us in 1998. I'm sorry if one half of the conversation is by someone in America who may well be an American. If we could stop listening when the American is speaking without doing damage to our understanding of the conversation, perhaps we could try; but we all know that wouldn't work because then we wouldn't know what the al Qaeda guy was talking about if all we heard was half the conversation. That there is an American on the line of a foreign call doesn't make listening in unreasonable, especially when the person he or she is talking to is with al Qaeda. I believe it would be unreasonable to say the President can't try to discover what our self-declared enemy is planning. But of course I would say that, I'm a Republican. Here's the short version of what the President is doing at the NSA: Not unreasonable, not illegal, but in fact perfectly legal, reasonable, necessary and prudent. No warrant is required for reasonable searches.

On the other hand, I have heard some other people, news types again, talking about a civil suit against our President by the Americans who had their telephone conversation with Uncle Ali in Karachi , for example, listened in on. Well, if precedent is any guide, these Americans, if any are ever identified, would get their case bounced out well before trial. As Diomedes pointed out in one of his first posts here, being surveiled by the government whose agents then create a file on you (and only that--there is no case brought against you) gives you no standing to sue the government. See Laird v. Tatum, 408 U. S. 1 (1972) whose money quote follows:

The decisions in these [previously cited First Amendment] cases fully recognize that governmental action may be subject to constitutional challenge even though it has only an indirect effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights. At the same time, however, these decisions have in no way eroded the

"established principle that to entitle a private individual to invoke the judicial power to determine the validity of executive or legislative action he must show that he has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining a direct injury as the result of that action . . . ." Ex parte Levitt, 302 U.S. 633, 634 (1937).

The [war protestors bringing the suit] do not meet this test; their claim, simply stated, is that they disagree with the judgments made by the Executive Branch with respect to the type and amount of information the Army needs and that the very existence of the Army's data-gathering system produces a constitutionally impermissible chilling effect upon the exercise of their First Amendment rights. That alleged "chilling" effect may perhaps be seen as arising from respondents' very perception of the system as inappropriate to the Army's role under our form of government, or as arising from respondents' beliefs that it is inherently dangerous for the military to be concerned with activities in the civilian sector, or as arising from respondents' less generalized yet speculative apprehensiveness that the Army may at some future date misuse the information in some way that would cause direct harm to respondents. Allegations of a subjective "chill" are not an adequate substitute for a claim of specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm; "the federal courts established pursuant to Article III of the Constitution do not render advisory opinions." United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 89 (1947).

So, no crime, no impeachment, no lawsuits. Bush's second term is turning out to be very different from his predecessor after all.


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 69 AD, the Emperor Vespasian enters Rome after rival Emperor Vitelius (whose motto is 'paulum statis est') is killed in the palace. Vespasian becomes the unchallenged ruler of the empire and establishes the Flavian dynasty. His achievement in building is the Coliseum, which still stands (after a fashion) and is the very symbol of Rome.


Thought of the Day

I got women to the right of me.
I got women to the left of me.
I got women all around me,
But I ain't got you.
No, I ain't got you

Calvin Cater (of The Yardbirds) in I Aint' Got You

Monday, December 19, 2005


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 82 AD, the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus burns down. Again. The Emperor Domitian will rebuild it. My question is how does a building of brick, marble and tile catch on fire?


Thought of the Day

They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

Andy Warhol

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Democrats Don't Have a Clue

Although we have heard from Democrat leaders time and time again criticism of the President for not having a plan in Iraq (even though he does--it's called Victory), the Defeaticrats now have to admit that they don't have one. So they can tell you what they don't like, but they can't tell you what they want. Great. Just great. I've dated women like that. It was a drag. But enough about me.

From a Washington Post story: "Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq."

UPDATE: My idol, Mark Steyn (who coined the Defeaticrat label), throws down today in the Sun-Times on the lack of loyality in the loyal opposition:

Heigh-ho. The Iraq election's over, the media did their best to ignore it, and, judging from the rippling torsos I saw every time I switched on the TV, the press seem to reckon that that gay cowboy movie was the big geopolitical event of the last week, if not of all time. Yes, yes, I know: They're not, technically, cowboys, they're gay shepherds, but even Hollywood isn't crazy enough to think it can sell gay shepherds to the world. And the point is, even if I was in the mood for a story about two rugged insecure men who find themselves strangely attracted to each other in a dark transgressive relationship that breaks all the rules, who needs Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger when you've got Howard Dean and Abu Musad al-Zarqawi? Yee-haw! And, if that sounds unfair, pick almost any recent statement by a big-time Dem cowboy and tell me how exactly it would differ from the pep talks Zarqawi gives his dwindling band of head-hackers -- Dean arguing that America can't win in Iraq, Barbara Boxer demanding the troops begin withdrawing on Dec. 15, John Kerry accusing American soldiers of terrorizing Iraqi women and children, Jack Murtha declaring that the U.S. Army is utterly broken. Pepper 'em with a handful of "Praise be to Allahs" and any one of those statements could have been uttered by Zarqawi...

George Clooney, the matinee idol, made an interesting point the other day. He said that "liberal" had become a dirty word and he'd like to change that. Fair enough. So I hope he won't mind if I make a suggestion. The best way to reclaim "liberal" for the angels is to get on the right side of history -- the side the Iraqi people are on. The word "liberal" has no meaning if those who wear the label refuse to celebrate the birth of a new democracy after 40 years of tyranny. Yet, if you wandered the Internet on Thursday, you came across far too many "liberals" who watched the election, shrugged and went straight back to Valerie Plame, WMD, Bush lied.

Bush lied, people dyed. Their fingers. That's what this is about: Millions of Kurds, Shia and Sunnis beaming as they emerge from polling stations and hold up their purple fingers after the freest, fairest election ever held in the Arab world. "Liberal" in the American sense is a dirty word because it's come to stand for a shriveled parochial obsolescent irrelevance, of which ''Good Night, and Good Luck,'' Clooney's dreary little retread of the McCarthy years, is merely the latest example. (Clooney says he wants more journalists to "speak truth to power," which is why I'm insulting his movie.)

The Anglo-American political tradition is the most successful in the world in part because of the concept of "loyal opposition." Yes, the party out of office opposes the party in office and hopes to supplant it, but not at the expense of the broader political culture. A party that winds up cheerleading for a deranged loser death cult is the very definition of pointless self-defeating sour oppositionism. So, as Zarqawi flails, Dean and Murtha and Kerry flail ever more pathetically, too. Just wait till the WMD turn up.

Near perfection (except I want to see the gay shepherd movie because I think Ang Lee is the World's best director right now).


Friday Movie Review (late)

Went to the new version of King Kong yesterday afternoon and liked it a lot. I can do some nit-picking, as I am wont to do, but I'll hold off for a while. It's long, 3 hours and 7 minutes, but never really drags, especially after they get to Skull Island. Let's do some comparison with the 1933 version. In the original, Skull Island has a big mountain that looks like a skull (a natural rock formation) but it also has a nice beach with palm trees and a native population that looks West African in origin (how they got to the middle of the Pacific is anyone's guess) and that population is healthy and thriving (there are babies and fat ones and they have outrigger canoes so they can leave the island and fish). There also is a big wall in good repair with sound wooden doors. It's not that unpleasant a place, at least on the side of the wall where the natives live.

The new Skull Island is a freaking scary place. It's rockbound--no palm trees next to a gently sloping beach. Everything is hardscrabble, barren rock, shot through with ruins ancient and rotten. There are skulls everywhere (but no big rock formation on the mountain, so guess where the island's name comes from). The natives, who look largely Melanesian with some southern Indian (India Indian) are freakshows. They have large bone piercings and the filed teeth cannibals have (now we know where the skulls are coming from) and they are in poor health. There is nothing growing on their side of the wall (although there are fish hanging from the omnipresent but otherwise purposeless bamboo poles). It looks like a rough place to scratch out a living and these guys are barely hanging on. I'm instantly reminded of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) where Polynesians thrived, ruined the ecosystem and crashed into cannibalism. They didn't have any boats to get off the island either. I'm not sure they were the world champion pole vaulter like the new scary natives were though.

So the natives are there, with no boats, a crumbling wall, only fish and humans to eat and an ape religion (left over from the ancients--notice all the old carvings in ape motif) which requires them to sacrifice regularly their most comely women folk (shudder) to a giant ape who proceeds to pull them apart. No wonder they're so mean. Even the pretty little girl they first encounter doesn't want the freaking chocolate and bites the hand that tries to feed her. They instantly fall on the film makers, dispatching one with a spear through the chest and another ceremonially with a sharkteeth encrusted war club, and our heroes and heroin are saved only because the German captain of the tramp steamer is German to the core and comes in the nick of time shooting his P-08 Lugar into the body of the native executioner. The crew is armed also with the Mauser 98s (with the straight bolt handle) and about 30 Thompson sub-machine guns (1928A-1s with 100 round drum magazines) the captain keeps under his bunk. The black first mate has a 1911 Colt but is unable to make good use of it. Despite the weapons, the filmmakers are not out of the woods by a long shot even after the armed rescue and they have to be rescued again, from giant arthropods and other invertebrates.

In the 1933 version, Kong kills most of the surviving crew coming to rescue Ms. Darrow by throwing them, on a big log, into a deep ravine. They filmed what happened to the guys at bottom of the ravine by creepy crawly horrors but when they screened it, it was just too frightening and they cut it and destroyed the footage (at least no one has ever shown me any stills). The only thing that survived from that part is the back-legless, toothy thing crawling up a vine that nearly gets Jack Driscoll as he's hiding from Kong in a shallow cave below where the giant log had been.

There is no such restraint by director Peter Jackson in the new version and what happens at the bottom of the ravine just goes on and on in ways certain to give many young children nightmares for the remainder of their childhood. It's pretty good, but what a horror. The worst were the giant gastropod/tube worms that consume poor Andy Serkis whole. I might have nightmares about them. OK, some nitpicking. In the Pamplona running of the sauropods scene, it is highly unlikely that humans can run alongside 20 or so galloping brontosaur-like dinosaurs and survive. It is equally unlikely that eyes closed, anyone could use a Thompson to shoot giant chiggers off a thrashing human body. So unlikely were these two scenes, that the whole movie was hurt by my inability to suspend my disbelief here. Also, what's with the long fanged, giant bats? Large bats in the real world eat fruit and the carnivorous or blood sucking ones are tiny. What were these supposed to prey on, Kong's family? Just silly. OK, nit-picking mode off.

Except for the three talons on the upper limbs (should have been two) the Tyrannosaurs were extraordinary. The difference from the Willis O'Brien version 72 years agio is that these have no lips, just big honking teeth (too big) and a giant maw. I can't praise these scenes too highly; this is what movie making can sometimes be about; showing us realistic visions that before only existed, and only could exist, in our minds. Fantastic in every mode of meaning of that word.

I like that the Broadway show Kong becomes is a pretty accurate recreation of the native scenes in the 1933 version, including the coconut shell bras. I like the inside jokes regarding the original version. I liked that Kong recognized Jack Driscoll and comes after him at a gallop. I like the tophat symbol on the biplanes that come to get Kong (it is a U. S. Navy squadron that still exists) and the unshrouded Lewis guns on swivels for the back seat gunners. Heck, I liked almost everything. The movie is a technical triumph, an intense adventure, a fair to middling human drama and a must see. And I swear that there were plenty of people in the theater crying when Kong gets shot. Plenty. When's the last time you cried for a computer projection? King Kong may not be heaven, but it gives you every dime of your money's worth.


Martian Strip Mining

The terraced area in this Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) image is an outcropping of ancient, sedimentary rock. It occurs in a crater in western Arabia Terra near 10.8°N, 4.5°W. Sedimentary rocks provide a record of past environments on Mars. Field work will likely be required to begin to get a good understanding of the nature of the record these rocks contain. Their generally uniform thickness and repeated character suggests that deposition of fine sediment in this crater was episodic, if not cyclic. These rocks might be indicators of an ancient lake, or they might have been deposited from grains settling out of an earlier, thicker, martian atmosphere. This image covers an area 3 km (1.9 mi) across and is illuminated from the lower left. (h/t Malin Space Science Systems).

Looks like a strip mine to me.

There are areas on Mars which make the rock formations around Moab, Utah look tame yet we keep sending missions to the Nebraska of Mars because it's safe. Yea, safe and uninspiring. Whatever happened to going boldly where no one has gone before?


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 125 BC, the city of Tyre, part of the trading confederation of city states called Phoenicia, created the Tyrian Era by declaring this day one of year one. The use of this Era to determine Phoenician calendars lasted many centuries. Happy New Year Phoenicians, where ever you are.


Thought of the Day

Neque enim omnia deus homini facit.


For the divine does not do everything for humanity.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Less than Loyal Opposition

Let's get down to basics. Here is a situation in law enforcement I have seen; it involves confidential informants. Usually drug cases and vice or narcotic cops have them, but the police force in general develops snitch networks of criminals and wannabes who will sell to the officers information of criminal activity the snitches have participated in or seen from the sidelines. (I told you this was basic). The individual cop takes the information, puts it in his or her affidavit to support a search or arrest warrant. The cop identifies the person witnessing the crime only as a confidential informant ("CI") who is known to the officer and who has provided reliable information in the past. That's the bare bones necessary for a judge to sign the warrant and allow the search or arrest.

Once the case goes to court, the defense attorney attempts to get a different judge to order the cop to reveal the identity of the CI. The attorney alleges something wrong with the warrant that only examination of the CI can get to the bottom of. Usually the judges do not order such identification, but once in a while they do. The cop then says I'm not giving up (burning) my CI and we prosecutors have to dismiss the case to protect the CI.

Something similar happens when the terrorists are prosecuted in federal court. Through the disclosure of evidence and witnesses through the discovery process, the terrorists can learn a lot about the sources and methods through which they were detected and captured. So criminal indictment of terrorists is a bad idea. Either they learn how to avoid capture and our sources (snitches--CIs) are put in danger, or the case has to be dismissed. The Clinton administration in particular insisted on treating terrorism as crime (rather than as war by different means) and to protect the CIs of the spies (alphabet soup organizations like the CIA, NSA and the like) when the FBI brought a case through the justice department, a wall (Jamie Gorelick's wall) was put up between the spies and the federal cops and prosecutors so the spies' sources and methods weren't revealed, and the CIs weren't burned. Of course the wall blinds the feds to what's coming at us from overseas and thousands of our citizens can die as a result of the purposeful blindness, like they did on September 11, 2001.

Another, better way to handle overseas terrorists coming here to kill us is to treat it like war with either incommunicado incarceration or military tribunals with no harmful discovery for the captured terrorists and then the wall is no longer necessary. The wall was pierced by the USA PATRIOT Act, and we could, through the Act, do against the terrorists the exact same things the FBI does every week against the Mafia. But because of some fundamental ignorance, the Defeatocrats have voted yesterday en masse in the Senate not to renew the sun-setting PATRIOT Act and thus necesarily to rebuild the wall and blind the FBI to what the spies know. I, for one, think this is stupid.

On the Fourth Estate/Fifth Column front, the New York Times is leaking highly sensitive classified material about our efforts to discover other terrorist plots against us. Now the terrorists know that we are intercepting their calls to their operatives here in America and they can seek out other methods of communication. Way to help out the effort, NYT. Good show. Our President has talked about this disloyal act without really mincing his words here. (h/t Little Green Footballs)

Almost daily the leadership of the Defeatocrats are asking for detailed plans from our President about the war in Iraq. Here's an example from history that I believe reveals the utter stupidity of asking for that. In May, 1944, there were no Republicans asking President Roosevelt for the detailed plans of the war--when precisely would we be invading Europe, where would we land, with how many troops, etc.? The reason Repuclicans never asked for that information is because the Germans would have used it to prepare and to defeat us. The Republicans in 1944 were the loyal opposition. If you, for example, talk about which troops are to be pulled out of Iraq, by this certain date, you give away for free intelligence which the terrorist (AKA insurgents) would otherwise have to work for or do without. They can adapt to the changing situation with foreknowledge of our plans and make things worse for our troops and ultimately for our national interests.

I have been underwhelmed by the intellectual ability to grasp of the situation by the Democrat leadership such as Dean, Pelosi, Reid and Kerry. Either they are too stupid to realize that you do not reveal your warplans to the enemy or they want us to fail. There doesn't appear to be another explanation for their actions. Either way, the Democrats can simply not be trusted with the reins of power during this very difficult war. I have thought and thought and decided that they are not merely stupid (although they are pretty stupid), but that they, at least at some level, want us to fail in Iraq and in the general war against militant Islamicists, or at least they are in reckless disregard of that possibility. They are, therefore, the less than loyal opposition.

Major support for this thesis is contained in the vote yesterday of a non-binding resolution in the House calling for Victory in Iraq. 150 or so Defeatocrats (the 109 who voted against it and the 40 or so who merely said present during the roll call) could not vote in favor of that resolution. They could not vote for Victory in Iraq. What else are we to call them?


Holiday Cheer

One of the good things about the Christmas season is the parties and not just the office one. I went to a fundraiser, for hounds for the Arapahoe hunt, which is 75 years old and would be hounds and rich folks on horseback after foxes if the coyotes hadn't eaten all the foxes and taken over their niche. So it's guys in pinks and everyone dressed up on nice horses tearing out after coyotes. When in Rome... Heck, I'd take care of their coyote problem in a week with a recording of screaming rabbits and my Winchester Model 70 in .223, but what would be the fun in that.

Anyway, the fundraiser was advertised as a wine tasting but the focus was very narrow, in that they only had one wine and a chardonnay at that (but a good one). The owner of the vineyard was there, as were old friends, a client, artists and world travelers. Heard thrilling tales of stag and roebuck hunts from horseback in France and heard about something I might have picked up on before--metal clays.

About 15 years ago a Mitsubishi Corp. subsidiary invented metal clays, that is, pure silver or gold powder in an organic matrix which can be fashioned and worked like real clay, fired in a kiln and the pure metal is left in exactly the shape of the clay. It's called one of the first real breakthroughs in metallurgy in over 200 years. Here is more on it. Mitsubishi and now Aida Chemical Industries provide the clay to America. Now anyone can make clunky ugly to exquisite jewelry pieces with absolutely no metal working skill. Cool. $6 for 3.5 oz. of the silver clay on E-Bay. I hear a whole new hobby's siren song.


Poem of the Month

I Want It Back

I lost the thread, I lost the map
It's not a feeling, it's a fact
I had it once, I was on track
Why won't it stay?

I want it back

I see you there in that magazine
You're looking smart, you sound supreme
You got such lip, you know the street
You been around, you took some heat

You mighta killed, you might be cruel
You might be stupid but we love you
You're in the paper, you're in the air
You're in my head, you're everywhere

I want it back

You're so extreme, you're feast or famine
You got one mission, just like a salmon
You said in life, mistakes are many
How come you never admit to any?

Are you for real or are you bluffing?
You really get me, famous for nothing
And every morning you got a name
In a world where people all look the same

I want it back

I can't give love, I don't know how
I write in code so you won't know
I was on drugs, I took a nap
I didn't mean it, I want it back

I dreamed again of paradise
I floated steady, it felt so nice
to sell your soul, just think of that
I'm halfway there, I want it back

I want it back

Shawn Colvin and John Leventhal

In the book Uncoupling, there is the concept regarding who has the power in the relationship. That book says it belongs to the one willing to leave. I think it exists all the time, not just before a breakup, and the relationships which last the longest are those where the power is close to 50/50 between the two.

This is a song by Shawn Colvin and I, like many who know it, believe the "it" she wants back is the power in the relationship. Some women don't ascribe to that and say the "it" is a purer sort of love or some such treacle. They're wrong. Let me explain.

The "it" she's lost is not a feeling but a fact in the first stanza. Isn't love a feeling? The next two stanzas describe the object of her affection ending with you're in my head, you're everywhere. I'm reminded of the pop tune that gets in one's head and can't be gotten rid of. These are images of loss of control (through an infatuation type love, I'll grant you).

The next two stanzas are more praise for the object of her love, then the telling stanzas. She can't give love (more evidence the "it" is not love). Then she gives excuses for the loss (I was on drugs I took a nap) and then says she didn't mean it. Mean what? Has she given some sort of offense? Most likely these are her rather pathetic excuses to her self for allowing herself to get into the position where she doesn't have the power which, she reminds us, she wants back.

The final stanza removes all doubt about the identity of the "it." She dreams again of the paradise. The floating nice feeling she wants back. But she admits that she's halfway to selling her soul. That's an allusion with a pedigree. Between the Devil (the buyer) and the seller, who has the power? Is this an image or allusion to love? No, Faust sells his soul for knowledge and power, not for love. She's halfway willing to become even more powerless, souless, in fact, and she doesn't want to go the whole way, because she does not want to be the fawning powerless half of the relationship. She wants the power back. QED.


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 546 AD, Rome is sacked but Totilla the Goth. I think that's the name of the drummer in Bauhaus. I could be wrong.


Thought of the Day

I said I didn’t mean to take up all your sweet time,
I’ll give it right back one of these days.
And if I don’t meet you no more in this world
Then I’ll meet you in the next one and don’t be late, don’t be late.

Jimi Hendrix in Vodoo Chile Slight Return

Friday, December 16, 2005


Samurai Champloo

I've had trouble watching all of the newest anime series (2004) from Japan, Samurai Champloo (Saturday on the Cartoon Channel at 9:30 pm with a repeat later that night and on Thursday at 11:30 pm), but the ones I've seen are pretty darn good. The drawing is often beautiful; the story quirky, usually funny, and sometimes compelling; and, the characters are nearly complete enough to pass as real. Set during the Meiji restoration, when Japan was finally going modern, it's like nothing you've seen before. Those of you with social lives as barren as mine should check it out.


Future History

There are some things--discrete, even small actions--which tell you something about the greater whole. The first thing I think of, along this line, is the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk in Viet Nam in, I believe, 1964. Young people mainly know of this symbolic protest as the arresting cover of a middling 1992 Rage Against the Machine CD. But it told us a lot at the time, namely, that we had lost the moral high ground there and would never regain it.

The similar telling action regarding Iraq is more difficult to pinpoint. I've narrowed it down to two things--the holding up of the inked finger several million times in 2005 or the bombing of the wedding in Jordan. We know from either of these that what the MSM calls the insurgency in Iraq will fail. And honest, thinking people know it absolutely.

Here's what will be written about the Gulf War 2 in 50 years: America, Britain and a small coalition liberated Iraq from the Hitler-like despot Saddam Hussein who was captured, tried for his crimes and executed.

Whether that sentence will be followed by: This liberation ended in tragedy for the Iraqis as their experiment with democracy devolved into savage Civil War; or future historians will write: This liberation was the beginning of a democracy movement throughout the Middle East, is unknowable at this time. Keeping a democracy going is a difficult, constant struggle. But the opportunity for the Iraqis to succeed or fail is a wonderful gift from, well, mainly the United States, made worthy and noble by the sacrifice of our troops. It is the thing that will be remembered in the future when Murtha, Dean, Reid, and Pelosi are merely forgotten footnotes in the grand volumn of the history of the World.


Victor Davis Hanson's Bon Mot

Not known as a wit, able historian Victor Davis Hanson penned a good one in a good article over at NRO. Here's the line:

Europe’s policy about Iran’s nuclear program can best be summed up as “Hurry up, sane and Western Israel, and take out this awful thing — so we can damn you Zionist aggressors for doing so in our morning papers.”

But the whole thing is great (with the possible exception of the boil analogy carried out to its logical end).


Tony Snow's Wisdom

Usually Tony's Snow's regular column over at is well written but, well, pretty lightweight. Sorry, Tony. Not today. This is must read. Now.

Money quote:

[Democrats] believe human events unfold in a neat and predictable manner. Call it the Theory of Human Orderliness. The idea is that one can harness the insights of science and the methods of engineering to perfect societies. Theorists believe sound plans can impel people to behave in an ordered manner -- like asteroids tracing their paths through the void.
Thus, John Kennedy launched a war on poverty, asserting in his Inaugural Address that we had it within our power to vanquish hardship and want. Within years, the government began dumping untold billions into like-minded efforts to clean the air and water, provide health care for all, and ring in an era of manageable economic growth and prosperity.

The only flaw in the Orderliness Hypothesis is that it doesn't work if people are present. The war on poverty looked great on paper. It failed miserably in real life. Air-cleansing regulatory schemes looked great in computer models, but failed abysmally in reality. Centralized health care boasted of chalkboard elegance, but is breaking the bank right here, right now. The myth of managed affluence collapsed with the Berlin Wall.
And yet, failure has not altered Democratic thinking an iota. John Kerry boasted dozens of times in his debates with George W. Bush that he had a plan -- for everything: dental care, tree planting, street paving, book binding, teen rutting, mass transit, air circulation, steel production ... you name it. He announced these schemes with a sense of triumph, as if having a plan were superior to having a clue.

I knew that Democrats loved plans but hated action, but this puts it all in accurate historical perspective. Thanks, Tony.


This Day in History

On this day in 1944, German troops start a counter-attack through the Ardennes forest in Belgium in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. The German plan was to retake Antwerp in Holland and deprive the Allied troops of their closest port for resupply. They didn't make it and their failure paved the way for our rapid sweep to and over the Rhine in 1945. Still, it cost us about 75,000 killed, wounded or missing, which remains the greatest single battle defeat we Americans have ever suffered. The different outcome from the beginning of the war (May, 1940), when the Germans main attack was through the Ardennes, was largely because Americans kept fighting after the first break-through, and even when surrounded. This gave us time to redirect our own counter-attack and crush the Germans. Four and a half years earlier the French speaking troops surrendered when the Germans broke through and the Germans didn't really stop until they hit the English Channel and then Paris.

I had an uncle with the 10th Armored Division in Bastogne and a cousin with the 82nd Airborne near St. Vith. They both made it home from the war.


Thought of the Day

Time is of the essence when you're hanging by a thread
And the answer to your questions won't unravel in your head
When you're staring at forever from the edge of life's abyss
No one's gonna tell you how it all came down to this
If you say different your a liar I'm just preachin' to the choir

Rodney Crowell in Preachin' to the Choir

Thursday, December 15, 2005


King Kong Watch

Probably my second favorite memory of discovering a good movie on TV was the 1933 King Kong when I was, I think, 6 or 7 years old. (My favorite is The Third Man--just the sewer scenes). As I recall I watched it with my dad and mom in their bed late into the night (I fell asleep just after they got to New York). So I'm a huge fan of the movie and I'm sure the new version is great. It opened to less than $10 million (which is 21st all time for Wednesday openings), but I do not despair, because usually the Wednesday opening is a school holiday (this one, that is, yesterday, was not). Friday Movie Review will be about King Kong but it won't happen until Saturday.

UPDATE: My daughter Alex just got home from work at the cineplex and says she watched 15 minutes of King Kong. She says it stunk. Uh ho.


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 37 AD, the infamous Emperor Nero was born.


Shamelessly Begging for Votes

Hugh Hewitt's producer, Duane Patterson, has a blog called Radioblogger. He has a contest there for best Narnia review and I am in it (with few votes). So please, go over there and vote for me and urge your friends and family members to do so as well. But only if you think I wrote the best review (which I think I did).


Thought of the Day

After all, what is your hosts' purpose in having a party? Surely not for you to enjoy yourself; if that were their sole purpose, they'd have simply sent champagne and women over to your place by taxi.

P. J. O'Rourke

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Pre-Election Violence

Talk to the hand. The photo shows Palestinian gunmen from President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party storming the Palestinian election committee headquarters in the Gaza December 13, 2005. (photo credit goes to Mohammed Salem/Reuters). This sort of armed intimidation would be a standard story from Iraq in the last year, and it would get the standard, that is to say, extensive coverage. But what's happening in Gaza-- namely, the third straight day of political gunfights and polling places being stormed and closed (not only in Gaza but on the West Bank as well) and armed men demanding a delay in the vote for a legislature, slated for next month (the first in nearly a decade)--is not getting quite the same coverage (although Reuters has a short item here), even though what's happening in Gaza sounds, to me at least, a lot worse than what's happening in Iraq.

If the Palestinian state devolves into a Beirut style civil war, will the Palestinians take the blame themselves, or will they continue to blame Israel?


This Day in History

On this day in 628 AD, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.


Thought of the Day

Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis.

St. Augustine

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Bonus Movie Review

Went Sunday night to Syriana which I didn't like at all. I've spent some time thinking about it in case I was wrong about this movie and it really deserves all the hype it's getting. It does not. It is a move so dense as to be nearly impenetrable, cold as Tilda Swinton's breast, pretentious, pointless, puerile and absolutely inconsequential. It's not doing too well at the box office either and I can see a further drop off in ticket sales real soon.

The only other movie it reminded me of was Traffic and that was a fortuitous choice because the writer/director of Syriana, Stephen Gaghan, was the writer of Traffic. Go figure. Those two movies are similar in the myriad of actually unconnected stories they tell. Traffic was, however, an excellent movie. This one just doesn't have the goods.

Not to say that the performances are not uniformly excellent, including, prominently, George Clooney and Matt Damon. It's not the actors' fault. It is also quite beautifully shot--beautiful scenes of nihilistic crap. Here's the short version of this review: Oil people are getting nefarious things done; Pakistani workers are mistreated; the CIA eats its own: everyone is damaged or corrupt; the Americans do something bad for very little reason; you don't care about anyone in the film; terrorism; but, life goes on. And two hours six minutes are gone forever.

Here's a technical flaw which I find telling. Clooney, the old hand CIA operative, sells two Stinger shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles and then doublecrosses the buyers. One of the missiles ends up with the mistreated Pakistani oil laborers in some unidentified country on the Persian Gulf (I guess all those countries are fungible). I thought clearly it was Saudi Arabia. The terrorist recruiter/trainer in the film makes a big deal about the shaped charge warhead of the Stinger (a big olive drab thing big as a 2 and 1/2 half pound coffee can). The terrorist says the shaped charge will send a jet of molten copper through 30 inches of steel. Now this is true of the shaped charge warhead (maybe just 20 inches of steel) on a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) which is an anti-tank weapon, but the Stinger's warhead blows coiled steel wire (like a slinky) in a pretty big radius in the hope the hurling bits of wire will cut though something important in a jet engine and bring the aircraft relying on that engine down (or slice up the pilot for the same effect). There are very few steel armored airplanes other than the A-10, and no need for a shaped charge warhead; in fact, a shaped charge warhead is exactly the wrong thing to have on a Stinger, because it would mean that the warhead would have actually to touch the aircraft before it exploded, which is tough to do. Now, if the director/writer got that little detail that wrong, why should I believe him about anything else he has in the film? And the short answer is that I didn't.

The CIA is just lousy. They don't protect their operatives; they lie about Saudi prince's terrorist ties; they murder foreigners; and, turn on their own (for no discernible reason) and hang Clooney out to dry for doing just what they told him to do (actually this might be the most accurate part of the film--I'm kinda down on the CIA lately). And they take out Saudi princes with remote controlled Hellfire missiles for reasons that have nothing to do with national security. They blow up the innocent prince and his wife and kids because of the prince's position regarding an oil deal. What? Every American in the film (with the possible exception of Matt Damon) is corrupt and/or extremely vindictive, or is damaged goods. Many of the foreigners have a lot of dignity and integrity.

But I'm not faulting the underlying anti-Americanism of the movie. The flaw is that by having so many negative characters, the viewer turns off a switch in his or her heart and feels nothing for anyone, even the good guys. Not just because of unlikeable characters, but also the cold souless business of the plot acts like some sort of sympathy lock out. In a way it is a remarkable achievement--we don't care what happens to anyone. I can't recall a movie where I was such an emotionally isolated spectator. It may be remarkable, but it is a hollow achievement and one which at the core ruins the film. And there is little redemption (maybe the corrupted lawyer and his alky father). Clooney's try for redemption just fixes the wrongful target in place. Mat Damon returns to his family bleeding from the ears but has an 80% chance of a subsequent breakup from Amanda Peet. Nor is there any justice in the movie. The Pakistani workers are beaten for no reason. The guys going down for malum prohibitum type crimes seem largely picked at random (and the justice guy, David Clennon, wants two scapegoats, but we never know why) . The true lawbreakers are not punished; one of them wins oilman of the year. The World in Syriana seems a lot like the Protestant version of Hell, without the brimstone. It's not a World I recognize or accept.

Ian Anderson once sang "I may make you feel, but I can't make you think." This movie has the opposite effect, so that even after horrible things happen, you shrug your shoulders and think "Well, life goes on," which I think is a Beatles line.


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 304 AD, St. Lucy of Syracuse was martyred. A good Christian girl, Lucy did not want to go through with an arranged marriage to a pagan. The rejected suitor ratted Lucy out to the governor of Sicily who sentenced her to a life of forced prostitution. However, when the guards went to fetch her, they found they could not move her, even with a team of oxen. The governor changed the sentence to death. The guards gouged out her eyes and surrounded her with bundles of twigs which they lit on fire. The fires went out. One guard then stabbed her in the throat. Some of these early women saints were tough to kill.

St Lucy is mentioned in the prayer "Nobis quoque peccatoribus" in the Canon of the Mass. She is the patron saint of a long list of things including eye trouble and sore throats (appropriately), stained glass workers and saddlers. Again, what an odd combination.


Thought of the Day

Inopiae desunt multa; avaritiae, omnia.

Publilius Syrus

Poverty lacks many things; greed lacks everything.

Monday, December 12, 2005


Saturday Morning Memories

One of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon shows in the 60s was George of the Jungle. Hated the movies (except for Cleese's voice for the gorilla suit guy). One of the best things about the cartoon was the Tookie Tookie bird, a reference, I believe, to the near omnipresence, on the sound tracks of black and white, B jungle movies, of a bird call that, as it ended, sounded something like tookie tookie. Perhaps my memory is failing.

So, it's been hard to take Tookie Williams seriously. I keep hearing George of the Jungle theme music in my head at the mention of his name. It's especially hard when you learn that Tookie is the guy's real middle name (one his father had too) and not a nickname.

As I emailed a friend a few days ago, he's toast.

Could do without the countdown though.

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg writes this funny and clear-eyed analysis of Hollywood's campaign for the mass murderer:
The film "Redemption," starring Jamie Foxx, was little more than a spiritualized hagiography in which the murders that landed Williams on death row are glossed over so as to avoid confusing the viewer with the emotionally distracting fact that Williams executed four unarmed people with a shotgun. Williams' apostles prefer to describe his past as "poor choices," a nicely sanitized euphemism everyone can relate to, as if Williams was put to death for choosing to go to San Francisco State instead of UCLA.


This Day in History

On this day in 1941, Bulgaria, Hungary and Rumania declared war on the United States. How did we ever survive that political catastrophe? But we're all friends now. In fact, Bulgaria and Rumania have troops in Iraq helping us there.


Thought of the Day

Trahimur omnes laudis studio.


We are all led on by our eagerness for praise.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Why Isn't This Front Page News?

Reuters, from Sunni hotbed cities Falluja and Ramadi, reports that Saddam loyalists, who opposed Sunni participation in the January elections have done a 180 and are now urging fellow Sunni Arabs to vote and warning al Qaeda militants not to attack.

This news (which I think was on page 35 in my paper) is extraordinarily good and it devastates the Chicken Little Defeatocrats who say there already is a civil war in Iraq between Sunni and Shia. No, it appears that there is a viable and hopeful political process proceeding with growing strength against a backdrop of fading, desperate terrorism (which is increasingly having the opposite effect the terrorists want--except here in America).

First money quote:

In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Second money quote:

But Saddam loyalists have turned against Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant whose fighters travel to Iraq from across the Arab world to blow themselves up in a bid to spark sectarian civil war.
"Zarqawi is an American, Israeli and Iranian agent who is trying to keep our country unstable so that the Sunnis will keep facing occupation," said a Baathist insurgent leader who would give his name only as Abu Abdullah.

OK that last part about Zarqawi being an agent for America, Israel and Iran is pure moon barking lunacy, but the other part is good news.

And to answer the question in the header about how little coverage this news is getting, the largely liberal main stream media does not prominently feature good news from Iraq because the overwhelming majority of workers in those media are also members of the less than loyal opposition who apparently want us to fail in Iraq and are doing what little they can to make that happen.


Gaining Strength

This story from the AFP in Tel Aviv, Israel, reveals that Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has left the conservative Likud Party to join the new Forward Party recently started by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, also formerly of the Likud Party.

Two things: Benjamin Netanyahu is more likely to lead Likud in the near future; and, the Forward Party is looking less and less like the Bull Moose Party and Likud is looking more and more like the Whigs. Not necessarily a bad thing, but change is always a little painful.

The story's biggest surprise to me was that Likud was only founded a few decades ago in 1973. Before that, apparently, all political parties in Israel were leftist. (Just kidding, but for reasons that still escape me, way too many Jews are socialists in their politics when the overwhelming majority of the socialists are anti-Semitic--What the heck? Israel's best friends here in the United States are Republicans. The Palestinians best friends are Democrats. This would appear to be a no-brainer).


This Day in Ancient History

On this day in 361 AD, Diomedes' near favorite Emperor Julian the Apostate enters Constantinople as Emperor and soon after begins the Christian persecution which will last for 2 years, until Julian's death in battle.


Thought of the Day

I have an extensive seashell collection, which I keep scattered on beaches around the world.

Steven Wright

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Saturday Movie Review

Went to see the Narnia movie today, which is based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Christian writer C.S. Lewis, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It was a darn good movie. There were a few bits that weren't so hot, but we'll get to them. On the whole it was fun and moving; what else do you want from a overtly allegorical fantasy written by a somewhat tweedy British scholar, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien? It was filmed largely in New Zealand by a Kiwi director (just like Lord of the Rings--is there a rule about British fantasy and New Zealand which no one has told me about?) The director was Andrew Adamson, who did the Shrek movies and very little else. It has four good child actors; the youngest is the best. Tilda Swinton is the white witch of the title (and a darned fine villainess) and James Broadbent is the extraordinarily kind and wise professor who takes the children in. And it has lots and lots of pretty good special effects, the best of which is the lion of the title, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). What a triumph of computer generated images Aslan is (with the only tiny flaw the whiskers--too thick and stiff). All the talking creatures are really good.

OK, let's do some nitpicking. We start with night-time bombing of London by what looks like the Luftwaffe's entire supply of Heinkel 111-Fs. They got the detail that German bombs dropped ass end first out of the plane, quickly reverse and then fall like normal bombs, but the altitude of the German bombers couldn't have been 5,000 feet and the pilots and crew were all on oxygen. What were they, the Emphysema Corps? On the other hand, the station scenes of the evacuation of the children by steam train put a lump in my throat, so Adamson was doing something right. The Nazi beginning sets the deep magic tone--a straightforward but powerful good versus evil.

Once the little girl, Lucy, backs out of the magic wardrobe into Narnia, things get going after just a tiny bit of a slow period. She meets a Faun (mixed goat and human features) who takes her back to his art nouveau styled, middle-class British cave, but can't go through with turning her in, as the witch has commanded. Lucy escapes back to the English countryside estate where no one believes her. The second foray is with her and the contrarian younger brother Edmund and then the trouble begins with an unconscious betrayal. Then Edmund consciously betrays Lucy by lying about Narnia, a place he very well knows exists. Later Edmund bats a ball through a priceless stained glass window and the four children, in a panic to avoid the housekeeper's wrath, flee to the wardrobe and back into Narnia in the depths of the 100 year winter. After that, it's pretty much full on adventure.

They meet a talking beaver who tells them of the prophesy that they four will bring down the white witch and free, and rule, Narnia. Now, we have seen countless examples in literature of people hearing a prophesy and trying to escape their doom by making moves, ironically, which ensure the prophesy will come true. The powerful who hear a prophesy of their downfall would be wise to do nothing as the prophesy begins to come true and thus not help it come to pass, but the powerful doomed by prophesy are apparently also prophesized to help the original prophesy and always do. No different here. Tilda Swinton is smart enough but she's too much the cruel fascist to treat Edmund well and send the four back to England. Noooo, she has to make him betray his siblings and, by her cruelty, turn him to the good as she turns the faint-heart Susan and indecisive Peter into heroine and hero. Also the betrayals she extracts from Edmund set into motion Aslan's sacrifice and rebirth (Aslan is Jesus, for the learning disabled) and her own doom. Perhaps I've told too much of the plot here. Aslan dies and disappears at the end--that's all the facts you need to know. Forget I said the rest (for the few, like me, who will see this but never read the book).

More nitpicking. The good guys--cheetahs, rhinos, centaurs, good dwarfs, gryphons, fauns and full goat guys--look pretty good. That bad guys--minotaurs, cyclopes, bad dwarfs, pug uglies, ogres, giants, and pig-guys look bad--horribly stiff and made up. Only the wolves are as good as Aslan. Great trash talkers, the wolves. I know I would be unnerved.

The battle scenes are pretty good but bloodless. You don't see centaurs and cyclopes going at each other, hammer and tongs, with swords and lances every day. Slight nitpicking: Don't you have to practice some with a sword to be good enough to fight bigger, more experienced guys and win? Peter doesn't. Still, there was a sense of noble service and sacrifice and the essential nature of heroics (defense of a narrow place against odds). Once the four are in Narnia, the movie is just a delightful sound and light show that made you feel good too.

It's well over two hours long but went by too quickly. Stay for the credits, even though they stretch out to the crack of doom. There's a nice song by Alanis Morissette during them and the movie finishes with a Tim Finn number (the director is from New Zealand, mind you) which is very good.

I can't say it had the grandeur of the Lord of the Rings movies, but I think it had more emotional impact. Go see it with your kids and talk about if afterwards to make sure they got it.

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