Thursday, July 31, 2008

A hollywood replacement

Here's a list of people that I would really like more or less of in hollywood:

More of:

James Marsters - he's fun in everything that I have ever seen him in.

Zachary Quinto - one of the best reasons to watch Heroes.

Milla Jovovich kicking butt or producing another album like her first one, both of which are great.

The return of:

the sponge monkeys - personally the most successful commercial that I have ever seen. 100% of the times I have eaten at Quiznos is because of those commercials.

Less of:

John Mayer - Come on? Can this whiny, repulsive, slimy wank get hit by a car already?

The geico cavemen - we get it, enough already.

The gays - as my grandmother likes to refer to them as. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate gay people I just hate homosexuality as pop-social/fashion trend. Homosexuality isn't easy, trendy, or fun and it doesn't endow you with a superhuman talent for fashion. It isn't a political identity, point of pride or shame, or for public consumption. So tone it down folks, you're embarrassing yourselves.

The virtue of shame

For those of you unaware, Sen. Ted Stevens has been indicted. A politician being indicted should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever paid any attention whatsoever to the political environment of any culture, at any time, in any place on the planet. It happens all the time.

What is more interesting is that he didn't immediately resign. Of course, neither did Larry Craig, David Vitter, or rep. William Jefferson just to name a few off the top of my head. Why is it that they didn't resign? For the most part, their guilt has been obvious and embarrassing and yet they still cling desperately and shamelessly to their offices in a Clintonesque ritual of ridiculous explanations, semantic games, and brazen denials.

You could lament that our society has become more forgiving of moral and occasionally criminal lapses. You could also point out that the political process has become criminalized as each party spends countless man hours investigating the other. Of course, you could also add that our politicians have simply grown more cunning and more shameless and in our sound-bite culture they know that we can't stay mad enough, long enough to ensure their removal from office and so they don't even really worry about it. To me though, it is symptomatic of something much more terrifying, a descent into authoritarianism.

When politicians truly believe that they can be held accountable to the people, then they tend to act accordingly which includes resigning rather than being forced from office. Why? Because the people will resent you a lot less if you leave willingly rather than being dragged tooth and nail. You might then be able to make a comeback in another arena or at a later date. We've seen it a million times. However, when a politician has no fear of the wrath of his constituents then his actions are bold, brazen, and shameless. He will lie directly and boldly to the people making little effort to make his lie believable or even plausible. He doesn't have too. The people, knowing that they are powerless, will be complicit in this farce. They will pretend to believe it and he will pretend that they aren't pretending. That is why Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il, Robert Mugabe, etc. have elections.

Our politicians have no fear thanks to amoeba-shaped districts which ensure one-party domination and party-machines which prize ideological loyalty so greatly that they will overlook nearly anything else, criminal and immoral conduct included. This fearlessness leads to boldness which leads to corruption. A politician without fear of the people is a tyrant in nature if not in name. Shamelessness from elected officials is not only embarrassing to the people, it is one of the primary characteristics of an authoritarian government.

Shame is a good thing for politicians to have. It means that they still respect and fear the judgement of the people. It means that they still serve the people. When they no longer fear you then your liberty is at risk and when they no longer pretend to fear you then your liberty is already gone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Extreme home tragedy... but not the one you think.

If you've read the news today then you've almost certainly run across this "tragic" story. Indeed this story is a tragedy but just not the one that everyone thinks it is. This is a tragedy of charity.

Charity is usually thought of as socially beneficial, personally fulfilling, and intrinsically virtuous act. What's better than helping those in need? What isn't usually mentioned or thought of is how cruel, heartbreaking, and brutally pointless giving can be.

It's sad that this family lost their home but it isn't tragic. What is, is what it must feel like for the 1,800 people who put their hearts and souls into giving this family the kind of chance that most of them will never get. The people who built that house weren't all wealthy or successful. They don't have all of america rooting for their success, helping them through their issues, and giving them a chance when they need it most. No one is helping them. That didn't stop those same people from giving their time, labor, and resources to help this family only to watch them gamble it away.

I haven't seen their business plan nor do I know the exact circumstances of it's failure but what I do know is that any business is a risk and we need people to take those risks. We need them to take them with their own labor, their own wealth, their own heart and soul because we know that they won't squander it then. It's no promise of success but it at least ensures that they won't fail for lack of caring. There's nothing wrong with trying and failing but that isn't what they did. They didn't lift themselves up and reach for solid higher ground, instead they stood on our shoulders and so they could live with their heads in the clouds.

How many times have we seen this before? How often have you wondered what would happen if only you could help the destitute? The truth is that most of the time when we give, we don't follow up and we do so in order to feel good about giving without having to endure the cold reality of our  futile and wasted efforts.

Charity isn't a bad thing nor is it intrinsically noble either. It is a selfish act that makes us feel good because it might, just might make a difference in someone's life who really needs it. Even if we know that it probably won't.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The horror of the farm lobby

So let's say you have a problem with illegal immigration, who do you blame?

Big business? Sure, a little bit.

Republicans? Oh  yeah, they definitely get some blame.

Ted Kennedy? Hell yes.

Democrats? Of course.

The mexican government? Well yes, they are partly responsible for using our borders states as a relief valve for social and political pressure.

The immigrants themselves? A little bit I guess. Remember that they are simply responding to economic incentives.

How about the farm lobby? Probably not but you should rest a lot of blame on them. I hold firm to the notion that they are more responsible for the illegal immigration situation than any other group or politician in the country.

One of the things the farm lobby in this, and many countries, has done is to lobby for ridiculous subsidies and it has been wildly successful in doing so. As a result of those subsidies, farm innovation has diminished as the competitive environment has been corrupted by said subsidies. One of the results of this is that farming technology has grown very stale (with most growth coming by way of biotech) leaving very few ways in which to increase yields or lower costs in an environment of growing labor costs. So what they did instead was simply import people who would be willing to work well under market value doing work that should be done by machines. Machines which weren't invented or put into use because the farm lobby was able to use the government to provide them with artificially cheap labor.

This is just another one of the many problems brought about by America's most powerful lobby.

Unintended consequences

I would like to write a running column discussing the unintended consequences of government action, something that I believe is often overlooked when we constantly pine for government to solve our problems. So here is my first entry:

California bill AB 1634 "the healthy pets act" authored by Lloyd Levine is the latest bill to completely overlook those pesky unintended consequences. This bill would require all cats and dogs in california be spayed or neutered unless they are a police dog, service dog, or a breeding dog owned by a licensed breeder AND of an approved breed.

Think about this last part for a second as it is the most important part of the bill. Gone are the neighborhood mutts, in fact gone are all kittens and puppies unless they come from a licensed breeder. So california is attempting to create a monopoly on pet breeding which would naturally drive the cost of pets to insane levels because all of the competition would be wiped out.

Not to mention the fact that many purebred dogs have health problems that mutts do not which would drive the cost of long-term pet care to astronomical heights.

This bill almost seems deliberately written to please specialized dog breeders and resellers.

So to Lloyd Levine and Judie Mancuso I say "nice going geniuses, any more brilliant schemes that I should be looking forward too?"


So I saw The Dark Knight today.

It was okay. The plot was a little ridiculous. The movie a bit too long. The sound balance a bit off.

All in all I give the movie a solid 7 of 10.

Heath Ledger though, delivered everything promised. Even though his character wasn't quite where he could have been, Ledger's performance was incredible. He was creepy, crazy, brilliant, funny, scary, and never once appealing. He made the Joker a despicable, and incomprehensible lunatic. I'm rooting for that performance to get an oscar nod - it really did deserve it.

On a side note: will people in hollywood please, please, please stop hiring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Her droopy, sagging eyes coupled with her natural lack of charisma, sexiness, or class makes her just unbearable every time I see her in a film. Enjoyable movies such as The Dark Knight or Stranger than Fiction have been marred by her presence in them. I don't know who keeps saying "You know who would be great? That creepy girl from the movie Secretary. Let's hire her for a completely inappropriate role." Please, for the love of all that is good and decent on this earth, stop giving that woman work.

The audacity of hope

I hate Barack Obama.

I really do.

Not because he is for petty regulation, massive government programs, and is willing to use our military to score political points. All of that is true... it's just not why I hate him.

It also has nothing to do with him being black. Don't get me wrong... it annoys me to think that our next presidents name will be Barack Obama but that just isn't why I despise him as much as I do.

The real reason is this: this country has serious problems and it really need legitimate change and a real sense of hope that comes from finding someone who is truly capable of and willing to bring that change. It can't be done alone though... change is the product of a fundamental shift in a societies values. Barack Obama isn't change... he's a symbol of nothing real.

He's a false prophet spouting empty and generic platitudes. He changes his story, his facts, his loyalties to suit the prevailing winds. He has no new ideas and no good ones. There is no ideological, social, or philosophical shift preceding his arrival. He is going to do exactly what he is meant to do... get elected and disappear.

Some people are excited for a variety of reasons but a hope for change isn't one of them unless they admit that the only change they care about is his exotic name and blackness. That's the only thing about him that prevents him from being Michael Dukakis... with less experience.

I hate Mr. Obama because of who he is. A phony. He's phony where we need integrity.  He's empty and bland where we need intellect and courage. He's pizza Wednesday at the school cafeteria - still mediocre but it looks and sounds just good enough to get you excited. He's Kennedy when we need Jefferson.

Barack Obama will likely be our next president and I can assure you of this: in twenty years he will be hailed as a great man for all of the wrong reasons. His record will be raised beyond the facts and beyond reason. He will soar on the wings of his historic time in the white house. He will be the next Kennedy.
In forty years he will still be the next Kennedy... an inexperienced senator, too young and full of fluff to be a good president but who got the job on charm and the utter lack of charisma of his opponent. Unlike Kennedy though, he will live to serve as much as two full terms and we will be able to look back upon his achievements and groan for we won't be able to idealize him anymore.  We will see exactly what he is... an empty shirt.

Of course, he's still probably better than John McCain.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hail to mankind!

With the release of Pixar's sci-fi fantasy WALL-E comes the latest public flogging of mankind as wasteful, stupid, evil monsters aimed squarely at children. Setting aside the logical fallacy intrinsic to its Malthusian theme, there is the vastly more troubling Bambi redux that is Pixar's ninth film.

Humans in WALL-E are either fat, consumeristic, wasteful boobs or amoral, short-sighted plutocrats. At least we've grown more complex since our days as callous hunters in Bambi.

Bambi convinced generations of children of the ultra-rousseauean idea that primitivism equates to virtue (setting aside the obvious fact that mother nature is a murdering, rape-mongering sociopath) and that animals, in their simplicity, are more sensitive, heroic, and loving than we could ever be.

It's the "all you need is love" philosophy of the world. Complexity be damned!

What WALL-E attempts to do isn't just to take that a step further and condemn humans outright, it also diminishes our greatest achievment... the business and the businessman. This is the theme that I find most troubling and it isn't unique to Disney or Pixar. 

Corporations are often potrayed as greedy, recklessly tyrannical, abusive, malevolent pushers of soul-crushing conformity. While I don't dispute that many corporations have acted immorally, is that unique to them? Are businessmen more prone to evil and destruction than they average person? 

I propose that this line of thinking is not only appallingly wrong but also destructive and evil. Movies like WALL-E teach millions of children that not only are humans bad, but that their most ubiquitous socio-political creation, the corporate world of capitalism, will inevitably lead to a nightmarish end of ecological disaster and meaningless consumption. 

*UPDATE: I was incredibly tired when I wrote this but I'm going to leave it in this mangled form because it amuses me to read it like this. I hope you enjoy it as well.