Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Root Of Conservative Action: Prejudice

One of my most frequently-trotted-out attacks against conservatives is that they rarely understand their own history. They rarely understand that what they are arguing for today is the ideological legacy of maniacs who have come before them, the same maniacs who argued for things that no rational conservative would try to argue today for fear of appearing too much of a maniac. Thank God we have the distinctly irrational Tea Party to be used as an example.

For example, the early anti-abortion movement never had anything to do with protecting babies. Children and women were still frequently seen as, more or less, the property of the husband who could do with them as he pleased. You can still see this logic in much modern religious thought where the man is the absolute head of the household. The classic anti-abortion movement thus avoided the sticky problems that crusaders today have, such as all of the hilarious ramifications that come from declaring that the "person" is created at the point of insemination.

Back then, stopping abortions was all about stopping women from having control. The crusaders then didn't hide this. They wrote about it. They didn't rail against the immorality of killing babies. They railed against the immorality of women freely having sex without the "punishment" of children.

The anti-abortion movement is, and always has been, about misogyny.

But what about the large, modern anti-abortion movement? Where did it come from, and how did it achieve a position on the national stage?

Politico has an excellent article showing how, much like many social problems we face, the modern anti-abortion movement was rooted in something totally different: racism.

As the author, historian Randall Ballmer, says:
[T]he abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.
Also of interest is a good example of how fanaticism can propagate and transmogrify, having gravely deleterious effects on society, all the while trying to claim no connection to its past. It also just gives us another reason to hate Reagan.
The Bob Jones University case merits a postscript. When the school’s appeal finally reached the Supreme Court in 1982, the Reagan administration announced that it planned to argue in defense of Bob Jones University and its racial policies. A public outcry forced the administration to reconsider; Reagan backpedaled by saying that the legislature should determine such matters, not the courts. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case, handed down on May 24, 1983, ruled against Bob Jones University in an 8-to-1 decision. Three years later Reagan elevated the sole dissenter, William Rehnquist, to chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Src: The Real Origins of the Religious Right at

Thursday, May 22, 2014

We Must Always Remember: The Police Are The Bad Guys

Rodney King, post-beating
Not all cops are bad. Some of them are good. Some of them are great. Some of them are the kinds of people who will rush into dangerous situations to save people.

But many, possibly most, of them are not, and society must treat police monolithically. Because all police can shoot us and suffer few consequences. All police are protected by the court system. All police protect one another, and when the protectors protect themselves, who are people to look to?

It is for that reason that we must always remember that the police are bad guys. We should fear them. It is also important to stress that saying so is not a radical thing. It has never been a radical thing. The police have always been the bad guys. They stood against civil rights workers. They stood against anti-war demonstrators. They stood against Occupy Wall Street. They stood against suffragettes. They stood against union organizers. The police have literally been the wall through which justice and progress must punch.

And that is a sad thing to say. The police should be our knights in shining armor. They should be protectors. They should be many things, and they are not. Instead, they are bad guys.

The Cost: What Stop and Frisk Does to a Young Man’s Soul

By the time our boy was an adolescent, big for his age, very grown looking though he was still just a kid, I understood too well what Marilyn’s expression had meant that day in the pizzeria. Of course it wasn’t middle-aged, middle-class white women giving him grief. It was the white security guard at his school, for instance, who found Trey wearing his cap indoors one day in violation of school rules. The guard tried to confiscate it, but Trey resisted—that Yankees cap was a gift from Erick, he was afraid he wouldn’t get it back if the guard took it, and so Trey held on.

The guard grabbed him in a headlock, clamping his arm around my godson’s throat, choking him, and Trey, unable to breathe, grabbed hold of the man’s arm, trying to break free. The guard shoved him against the wall, jerked his hands behind him and handcuffed him. Then he took Trey, not to the principal’s office for wearing a ball cap in school, but downtown to Brooklyn Central Booking, where my godson was charged with assaulting a school security officer. Trey was 14 years old.

So, I Saw Godzilla.

And it was a huge disappointment. I won't go into details, since I could easily do a scene-by-scene analysis explaining why the film is something of a train wreck in spots, but I will point out some of the bits that most annoyed me.

First, Aaron Taylor Johnson is a human potato. Whenever he is on screen the film drags to a near stop. I don't know whether it was him or the director, but a damp rag would have put in a better performance.

His leaden performance was exacerbated by all of the best actors either being killed or given nothing to work with. Bryan Cranston gets offed early on; Juliette Binoche was hired to deliver four lines before also dying; and Ken Watanabe spends the movie doing his best facial impression of a person who is terrified that the fart he just pushed out may have included some poop.

Strange then, you might say, that Cranston is killed fifteen minutes into the movie but appears to be the star in the trailers. That's because the people making the trailers knew full well that Bryan Cranston is the only thing of interest in the film and they damn well better use everything they have.

I'm not kidding. They used everything. Combined with the clips online and the trailers, most people have seen Cranston's entire contribution to the movie.

Second, Aaron Taylor Johnston's character is unnecessary... as are the characters of most of the military, the young boy that Taylor Johnson meets on the commuter rail in Hawaii, Bryan Cranston's wife, Ken Watanabe's side-kick... really, anyone who isn't Watanabe, Cranston, or David Strathairn could easily be dumped from the script.

Third, as with Nolan's Batman films, this is a stupid movie that takes itself waaaaaay too seriously. Pacific Rim was leagues better than this film if for no other reason than because it recognized that it was silly.

And while talking about Nolan's Batman films, I thought the hydrogen bomb run at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, where Batman takes the bomb out to sea to save Gotham, was stupid. He would have never gotten the bomb far enough away in time.

Godzilla does Nolan one better. Instead of having the bomb on a high-speed, flying Bat-Thing, the bomb is on a clunky tug boat!

In the film, the military men describe the Hiroshima bomb as being like a firecracker in comparison to the bomb they're using, so let's assume that it is similar to Ivy Mike, the first full-yield hydrogen bomb that the US tested. I'll let Wikipedia take it from here.
The blast created a crater 6,240 feet (1.9 km) in diameter and 164 feet (50 m) deep where Elugelab had once been; the blast and water waves from the explosion (some waves up to twenty feet high) stripped the test islands clean of vegetation, as observed by a helicopter survey within 60 minutes after the test, by which time the mushroom cloud and steam were blown away. Radioactive coral debris fell upon ships positioned 35 miles (48 km) from the blast, and the immediate area around the atoll was heavily contaminated for some time.
There is no way that San Francisco would have survived. None. Unless that tugboat was doing four-hundred miles per hour, San Francisco, Oakland, and basically all of the Bay Area would been turned into an atomic wasteland.

Again, none of this would matter if the movie didn't take itself seriously. Pacific Rim also ends with a stupidly-wrong atomic bomb solution, but who cares?! It's a movie about giant robots punching monsters! Godzilla desperately wants us to take it seriously, to experience the movie as though it were possible, and it falls on its face because of this.

Fourth, the premise of the movie is entirely wrong. In the original Godzilla, Godzilla is an ancient creature that is released by an atomic blast. In the 1998 Godzilla, Godzilla is a lizard that is mutated. I like the latter explanation, but that's not what's important. In this Godzilla, the creatures "eat" radiation. They evolved over a billion years ago, when the Earth was much more radioactive than today. Alright. Fine. But they have the creatures eating atomic bombs.

That's ridiculously stupid. Let's ignore that you don't just "get" radiation by eating a bomb. Let's ignore that there is no way to digest the bombs. Let's just focus on the fact that the creatures would not be able to tell that the bombs were radioactive. Bombs are completely shielded. They emit little-to-no radiation.

And even if we assume that the bombs emitted TONS of radiation, at the distances that these creatures are detecting the bombs, they would be unable to tell the difference between a radioactive block of Uranium and the radiation coming from the Sun. And if these things are hunting radiation, why aren't they congregating around Chernobyl? Or the Bikini Islands? Or the Yucca Mountain storage facility.

They actually have one of the creatures leave Yucca Mountain! Why the hell would it leave?!

Fifth, Gareth Edwards seemd to understand that this sort of movie must be a game of anticipation. You can't simply throw all your monsters on screen early in the film. This is a calculated, skillful philosophy that should, in this era of Michael Bay-style movies, be commended.

Unfortunately, that meditative philosophy does not extend to his direction and editing. Cuts are short, dialog is perfunctory, and camera angles and movement are basic. The actual craft of the movie is amateurish. Still, I would rather have good philosophy and poor craft than the opposite... which is Michael Bay.

Sixth, filmmakers don't seem to understand the physics of tsunamis. As Godzilla is approaching the shoreline in Hawaii, the water recedes before coming back in a wave. When that actually happens in tsunamis, that only happens because a large section of ocean floor suddenly dropped three feet relative to some other bit of the sea floor. If a giant object — like, say, Godzilla — is heading toward land, that water is just gonna' come at 'ya. It's not leaving, before. In his defense, Edwards isn't the first one to do this. For example, Deep Impact has it happen.

You know what doesn't precede a massive shock wave? A vacuum. But Hollywood seems set on believing otherwise. This is absolutely nitpicking, but it's just one of those things that annoys me.

I don't like to bash things that people have obviously put a lot of work into, but this was such a large disappointment that I'm angry. They should have hired whoever did the trailers to do the movie, because the trailers were awesome. They made the movie appear far more epic than it really was.

What they really did was make it appear like it was going to treat Godzilla in a mythic, almost 2001: A Space Odyssey sort of way. The actual usage of 2001 music in the trailer reinforced this. That's what I was expecting. That's what I wanted. Instead, I got a pretender. Godzilla is a very simple film that thinks its message is far more profound than it really is.

Godzilla deserved better. Whether it would have gotten better is up for debate, since Hollywood is mostly talentless. In that sense, we're lucky. Lord knows, we could have gotten another 1998, and that would have been painful for all involved, especially the audience.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I Received A Copyright Notice Today

I recently received a copyright warning from my ISP via e-mail. They said that my IP had been associated with an illegal download of a movie. In this case, the movie was I, Frankenstein. This is the first warning of such kind that I have ever received. And yes, I did indeed download I, Frankenstein from Pirate Bay.

First off, I was pissed. I was pissed because contrary to what copyright-pushing corporations would like you to believe, there is nothing wrong with piracy, as this video perfectly illustrates.

That's not to say that piracy isn't an issue that needs to be addressed; it certainly is. The problem is that current laws are a poor tool to address the issue, and the issue itself is incredibly complex, with aspects to it that are economic, social, ethical, and legal.

But that's all for another post. For this post, all that you need to know is that I was pissed. I was made to feel like a criminal for simply taking data that was freely floating around the interwebs. Some of you will undoubtedly think that this feeling is reasonable, and I should feel like a criminal. An explanation as to why you are wrong will likewise have to wait for another post.

Secondly, along with being pissed, I was confused as all get out.

I don't pirate that much anymore. Back in the day, I would pirate everything I could get my hands on. The vast majority of it I never watched or listened to, and the vast majority of the software would never be installed. Still, I pirated it. Today, I might download a movie once per equinox. So it was a real shock to receive a warning long after my pirating days were mostly done.

Furthermore, what an absolutely bizarre movie about which to get a warning! I downloaded the movie specifically because it was purportedly so bad as to be nearly a master class in how not to make an action movie. When your movie is famous for being terrible, you should be happy that anyone wants to watch it at all.

And again, shouldn't you, oh hypothetical interlocutor, be more interested in protecting the movies that people actually wanted to see in the first place. Let's face it, after failing miserably in the box office and being drawn and quartered by critics, I, Frankenstein isn't exactly a valuable piece of media. Most of my motivation for wanting to see the movie was to see a ripped Aaron Eckhart.

In the end, there was a good fifty-percent chance that I never watched the movie. Now that I have received this warning, there is a one-hundred percent chance that I will not watch the movie. I have deleted the file.

Someone, somewhere, thinks that this is a victory for copyright protection. I may as well argue with an evangelical Christian.

So congratulations, whichever company sent that notice. You have successfully stopped someone from watching your colossal bomb that has a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You go, boy. You go.