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Archive for July, 2006

Death Row, Japan Style

[ 0 ] July 22, 2006 |

Icky.

Prisoners are executed by hanging—a process known to produce “gruesome scenes of slow strangulation and even decapitation.” And prisoners sitting on death row don’t even know when they’ll actually die. No one gives them a date. Prisoners aren’t told “this day will be your last” until the actual morning of their execution, which can come at any time—days or months or decades after their appeals process is exhausted. Their families aren’t notified until after they’re dead. Everyone involved lives under the strain of uncertainty.

Thoughts on Shyamalan…

[ 0 ] July 22, 2006 |

Three observations on the Douhat’s preference of Shyamalan over Nolan, Raimi, and Singer:

1. It’s not reasonable to dismiss films about comic book characters. Spiderman and Batman have as rich a literary heritage as virtually any fictional characters available to us. Directors and actors have much to draw on when creating and rethinking those characters, and can, at the best of times, put together complex, nuanced, three dimensional portrayals. Spiderman 2 is probably the best of the lot; Maguire and Molina in particular do outstanding work giving their characters depth and nuance. That the characters are named Spiderman and Dr. Octopus shouldn’t obscure that fact. The universes are also complex; Batman Begins could have been written by Edmund Burke, and the most powerful moment of Spiderman 2 comes not from any webslinging, but as Peter Parker sits down to eat cake with his next door neighbor. In short, it simply won’t do to give credit to Shyamalan because he “pursues his own vision”; Raimi and Nolan also pursue their visions, and make better movies in the process.

2. The “artist with a singular vision” trope should have been left back in the freshman dorm where it was born. Great art is about both vision and discipline, and for every Magnificent Ambersons (which the studio destroyed) there’s a King Kong or Heaven’s Gate (both cases in which reigning the director in would have resulted in a better movie). I have no sympathy for the idea that directors should be given free reign to do whatever they want, especially after seeing all of the awful scenes that Coppola wanted to include in Apocalypse Now. It’s not even as if Shyamalan is some sort of maverick; he makes movies with big budget actors that drip with sentimentality. He’s not exactly on the cutting edge, making small movies for tiny art house audiences.

3. That said, Shyamalan has his strong points. Watching both Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, you get the sense a) that there’s some real talent here, and b) that this guy has some pretty awful movies in him. Shyamalan does a great job with actors; Willis is very good in the first two, Gibson is supposed to be good in signs, and almost everyone has agreed that Giamatti turns in a fine performance in the latest. A bit of the shine has worn off of Haley Joel Osment, but he was genuinely outstanding in the first film. Shyamalan can also create great set pieces; several scenes in Sixth Sense are terrifying, but there are some even better scenes that manage to convey the inner life of characters without dialogue. That’s some good filmmaking. My favorite Shyamalan (and I really can’t emphasize enough how much I love these scenes) is the first fifteen minutes of Unbreakable. The pathetic effort of Bruce Willis to pick up on the young woman sitting next to him on the train, including his own slow realization of how creepy he’s coming off as, is one of the great uncomfortable moments of American cinema. Shyamalan gives Willis a young child as an audience, so that he knows someone is watching him make a fool of himself. The follow up scene, in which Willis and his family walk into the lobby full of victims’ families, is also very good.

But you also kind of knew that Shyamalan was going to turn in some disastrous efforts. He’s way to fond of using children to convey plot turns, which comes off as both clumsy and sentimental. Even his best sentiment-laden scenes border on dreck; the tearful reconciliation between mother and son at the end of Sixth Sense could have been done much better. Since he depends so much on thick plotting to move his films forward, clumsy and jury-rigged plot elements become particularly evident and glaring, and can really shut the suspension-of-disbelief down when done poorly.

Anyway, I’m not planning to see Lady in the Water, but I’ll be one of the first in line to see Spiderman III.

Arts & Letters Links

[ 0 ] July 22, 2006 |
  • I was happy to see that Criterion has finally issues a good DVD transfer of Edward Yang’s magnificent Yi Yi. If you haven’t seen it, get it in your Netflix queue forthwith.
  • An entire Drive-By-Truckers concert, gratis. Admittedly, it leans slightly more heavily on The Dirty South and A Blessing And A Curse than would be optimal, but 1)it still skims most of the cream from the two great albums that preceded the two good ones, and 2)as the Yankee ticket agent told the player who was complaining about the nosebleed tickets his friends and relatives received in Ball Four, “How’d they like the price?” (Via Henley.)
  • An interview with Rainer Maria, whose new album I agree is very underrated. (Via AltWeeklies.)
  • I really wish I could arbitrate the dispute between Ross Douthat and pretty much every other critic on earth in re: M. Night Shyamalan, but alas I’ve never actually seen one of his movies, so that will have to be left to the comments. On the abstract issue, I can appreciate Douthat’s admiration for a director that pursues an idiosyncratic vision rather than churning out product. But the catch is that if your vision leads you to stuff as bad as The Lady In Water sounds, it’s really better to churn out some well-turned superhero movies. (TLIW seems to have created a Jersey Girl turn, a picture so incredibly bad that critics finally stop defending a director many people (including me, in Smith’s case) feel they should have stopped defending several films ago. But I don’t really plan to find out if it’s true…)
  • Apparently there will be new Pynchon in December. I’m not sure if I can steel myself up for this one or not…

[ 0 ] July 21, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Stromboli

A Posteriori–Ha Ha, What a Wit!

[ 0 ] July 21, 2006 |

I think we all knew where Muir was going to go.

Alternative Shorter Chris Muir: Anyone who believes that Loving v. Virginia was correctly decided is a nihilist, because not believing that the precise form of existing social arrangements is just is equivalent to believing that making moral judgments is impossible.

Ray of Rationality

[ 0 ] July 21, 2006 |

I’m not sure how this article got through, but apparently the New Republic has fallen into the grip of unhinged Kantian nihilistic blogofascism:

But, while all these interpretations may be true to some degree, the fundamental reason for Lieberman’s travails–a reason that a number of the senator’s friends and supporters are increasingly willing to share–is Lieberman himself. Despite efforts to imbue the senator’s troubles with greater significance, in reality they are largely the result of his and his reelection campaign’s own missteps–from his behavior prior to the race to his belated realization of the serious challenge Lamont posed to his continued insistence on doing things that served to anger Democratic voters. “I think it’s a mess,” one Lieberman friend says of the campaign. “And, frankly, I think much of the blame lies with Joe. … It’s almost like he goes out of his way sometimes to make a difficult situation more difficult.”

Was that so hard? Always tell the truth–it’s the easiest thing to remember.

Gaping in Dumbfounded Awe at the Audacity…

[ 0 ] July 20, 2006 |

Shorter United States Army LTC Ralph Kauzlarich: Pat Tillman’s parents are only unhappy about the death of their son and the subsequent Army coverup of that event because they aren’t Christian.

In an interview with ESPN.com, Kauzlarich said: “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more- that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don’t know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough.”

Asked by ESPN.com whether the Tillmans’ religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, “I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know.”

Yeah. Because of their lack of religious faith, the Tillman’s don’t trust the system. Pat, who was also an atheist, clearly didn’t believe in anything. He gave up a lucrative NFL career to go fight in Afghanistan for… some reason.

Read the rest. Mike Fish and ESPN have done a good job; Fish conveys very well the life of a Ranger platoon in Afghanistan. The Army is clearly at fault here, not because Tillman died (these things, sadly, happen) but because of the subsequent efforts at covering its own ass.

Via Bloodless Coup. More from Attaturk.

Weisberg Should Take a Vacation

[ 0 ] July 20, 2006 |

Jacob Weisberg has decided that the most critical journalistic task surrounding the Israel-Lebanon War is the absolving of George W. Bush:

We do know enough, however, to divide responsibility for the current war among these players: Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. This has not stopped many analysts in Europe and the United States from laying blame for the violence squarely at a less obvious doorstep—that of the Bush administration.

I’m not sure why Israel escapes all blame, either, especially as the many analysts blaming Bush are also blaming Israel, but that’s not the key point. After all the idiocy being deployed on the Right in the last few days (is this World War III, or World War IV, etc.), and with all the productive commentary that could be made about the crisis, Weisberg thinks that his bandwidth is best spent defending George Bush from his leftist critics. As it happens, I don’t even wholly disagree; it’s hard to draw a clear line of responsibility to the Bush White House, and some have probably been too ready to make connections. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see what Weisberg thinks an important contribution really is.

Via Mrs. Coulter, via Dan.

Clarification: To be sure, Weisberg can write anything he wants, and I bristle when people suggest, for example, that LGM should be covering some issue or another. But this is part of a pattern with Weisberg; regardless of the issue, he seems to find a way to attack liberals, rather than bother with conservatives who are making egregious and unsupportable claims.

The Czechs are Scaring Me

[ 0 ] July 20, 2006 |

I’m sure that everyone recalls this recruitment video for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (you just can’t watch it enough, really). At the apparently resurrected Defense Statecraft, Macgyver has assembled recruiting videos for the Czech Army, the Irish Army, and the Philippine Marine Corps.

The Czech Army looks badass…

Sink or Scrap?

[ 0 ] July 20, 2006 |

In April 2005 the USN sank USS America, a Kitty Hawk class supercarrier, off Virginia in order to determine how resilient US carriers were to particular kinds of attacks. In May of this year USS Oriskany was sunk to create an artificial reef. According to Defense News, USS Belleau Wood (an amphibious assault ship) and USS Forrestal (the first supercarrier) will be sunk within the next year. Why the sudden interest in sinking aircraft carriers?

Apparently, the cost of scrap metal has crashed to the point that it is now cheaper to sink old ships than to scrap them (Forrestal would cost $65 million to scrap, and only $25 million to sink). 19 old Spruance class destroyers, for example, have been sunk while only five have been scrapped. Scrapping older ships also raises certain environmental concerns; French efforts to scrap the old carrier Clemenceau have run into all kinds of obstacles. Initially, Turkey refused to scrap the ship. After France sold the carrier to an Indian company for scrapping, Greenpeace lodged a series of protests regarding the ship’s transit through the Suez Canal and eventual dismantling. Clemenceau made it through the Canal, only to be refused by the Indians and sent back to France, where it currently rusts.

Defense News indicates that USN procedures for decontaminating old ships have improved to the degree that disposal at sea doesn’t pose a hazard. I’m a little bit suspicious of this; the bulk of the sinkings seem to have taken place since 2001, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that either EPA standards had been gutted or enforcement has become lax. What Rumsfeld wants, Rumsfeld gets, especially when environmental concerns are the only obstacle.

Still, kind of an interesting phenomenon. The French are apparently asking for advice about how to dispose of their old ships, as are the British. I suppose that an end at sea is a little bit more poetic than the final trip to the scrapping yard.

"Pro-Life" Illogic Alert

[ 0 ] July 19, 2006 |

In justifying the very first veto of his term, which appropriately enough was pretty much the only decent piece of legislation to be passed by Congress since he took office, Bush claimed that embryo-Americans are “[t]hese boys and girls are not spare parts.” This line has been picked up by his dead-ender supporters:

Undoubtedly, we will hear plenty from critics that Bush has endangered the health of Americans through his veto, a conclusion bordering on the absurd. Putting aside the fact that we shouldn’t grind up humans to save other humans, this veto doesn’t ban any kind of research at all. It just makes human embryonic stem-cell (hESC) research ineligible for federal funding.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Captain. Here’s a question: if stem cell research involves “grinding up humans to save other humans,” why the hell aren’t we banning it? Do Bush and his supporters believe that murder should be legal, but not state-funded? Would this be an acceptable compromise? Leaving aside the obvious point that given the way stem-cell research actually works the ban on federal funding is a serious impediment, Bush’s position is ludicrously incoherent and indefensible. If stem-cell research is murder, merely withdrawing state funding is hardly adequate. But, of course, almost nobody thinks (or is willing to act in a way even minimally consistent with the idea) that a cluster of 150 cells is a “boy or girl”, just like very few people really believe that a fetus is like a child. The position advanced by Bush and his apologists is self-refuting nonsense, and the veto is a disgrace in an administration that is pretty much an endless procession of them.

John Cole provides a handy list of the Senators who voted against the legislation, which was denied a veto-proof majority.

Random Sports Notes

[ 0 ] July 19, 2006 |
  • Fer Chrissakes, what exactly did the city of Seattle do to offend the Gods of Officiating? What a year. Well, as a commenter at USS Mariner noted, the bottom of the ninth at Yankee Stadium is always the toughest five outs in baseball…
  • There are a lot of ways for organizations to be bad (cf. the aforementioned Mariners.) But I would say that firing the General Manager you hired last month so you can install your backup goalie in the job is a real innovation…yikes, that makes the Devil Rays look like they’re being run by Branch Rickey.
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