Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Terri Schiavo Case

To put it bluntly, this case disgusts me. How can we maintain our faith in our legal system when the machinery of the state, that offers so much protection to criminals and terrorists, is being used to kill an innocent person like Terri Schiavo?

The Supreme Court upheld a ruling that extended the All Writs Act protection to the enemy combatants detained in Guantanamo Bay. Yet they refused to even hear arguments in the Schiavo case. As usual the best of the current justices - Antonin Scalia - dissented.

The All Writs Act allows courts to issue orders in aid of their own jurisdiction. This was more than had been asked for by the plaintiffs in the detainees' case. They had originally sought protection under a writ of habeas corpus. As Andrew McCarthy writes on National Review Online, "...the habeas corpus statutes do not provide detainees with a right to counsel - the vast majority of American citizens who file habeas petitions must go it alone."

The U.S. District Court judge (a Clinton appointee) in the case decided that habeas protections weren't enough, and so she used the All Writs Act to grant them the assistance of counsel as well as their day in court. Oh, and you and I are paying for the lawyers for these enemy combatants (you know, the guys trying to kill us).

Contrast this with the courts' treatment of Terri Schiavo. She is an American citizen who has committed no crime. And yet the State of Florida is trying to kill her? Why? Because she married a lout.

In case you weren't aware, Terri Schiavo's "husband" only "remembered" that his wife said she wouldn't want to be kept alive if she were ever in a persistent vegetative state after he had won a judgment of more than a million dollars. The money that was awarded to Schiavo's "husband" was to be used to provide care for Terri. Would it surprise you to learn that if Terri dies the balance of that money would go to this cretin? And did you know that Terri's "husband" has a new girlfriend (with whom he has two children) that he'd like to marry but can't as long as Terri is alive? The "husband"'s conflicts of interest in this case are patent. Yet the Florida courts refused to appoint counsel to represent Terri, ruling that her interests are represented by her "husband".

As I said in the beginning, this case disgusts me. However, it does underscore the importance of a living will. And, as much as you may love your spouse, bet on your parents or siblings. They've always loved you and always will.

For those interested in the legal aspects of this case, I highly recommend the writings of Andrew McCarthy on National Review Online.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Dear Adolph

Some bright bulb named Adolph Hitler (get it?) posted a comment in response to my suggestion that we should disperse Congress back to their home districts and establish a virtual legislature. I've had to delete the comment because it contained profanity. Here's a redacted version, followed by my response to Adolph:

"dude, I didn't know you were such a fascist.

abolish congress ? I suppose we should have a one man totalitarian rule, right ? and george bush jr. is the man to be our absolute ruler, right ? and while we're at it, lets send all the blackies back to africa and kick out all the other non-white people too. and lets force everyone remaining to be a protestant evangelist, right ? oh and lets not forget, we should also get rid of all those rat-f***ing scum who voted for clinton !! put them all on a barge and sink them in them in the middle of the pacific ocean !!

Dude, if you are serious about taking the foreign service exam, I think you should take down this blog. one look at this and your chances at being accepted into the foreign service are shot. foreign service officers are supposed to be capable of critical thinking. foreign service officers must have the intelligence and character to be able to reconsider their own judgments and to be persuaded by a superior argument... not knee-jerk reactionaries

haven't you heard about all the people losing their jobs because of the ranting they do in blogs ? If I was the guy in charge of renewing your security clearance and I knew about this blog, I'd have second thoughts. not just because you are advocating the overthrow of the US government and subversion of the US constitution, but because you have the indiscretion to do this kind of ranting in a public forum.

oh and by the way, butane lighters are banned from checked baggage for the same reason all aerosols are banned from checked baggage... COMPRESSED GAS CANNISTERS ARE F***ING DANGEROUS especially in a depressurized cargo hold. butane lighters are particularly nasty because they can explode like a stick of dynamite with the proper ignition source. an old CIA assasination technique was to shove a butane lighter up the tailpipe of someone's vehicle.

The TSA has been trying to ban them for a long time, but were prevented by congress because of the tobacco lobby. I know, my friend works for TSA. Lets say you have a fire in the cargo-hold mid-flight. The presence of compressed gas cannisters in that cargo hold can mean the difference between a recoverable mid-air crisis vs. a catastrophe. ... and don't say "awww, thats never gonna happen" FAA and TSA's job is to prevent disasters BEFORE they occur. keeping compressed gas cannisters out of cargo holds is a worthwhile step to improve safety.

Are you such a cheapskate that you can't spend 50 cents to buy another lighter when you get to your destination ? if so, why don't you write to TSA and recommend that all the lighters they confiscate from departing passengers be put in a big bucket in the baggage claim area for the arriving passengers to grab for free so they can light up the instant they step out of the terminal. anyway, good luck on the foreign service exam"

Dear Adolph,

The more I read your comment, the more I despair for the future of our country.

Who's the knee-jerk reactionary here? Like most people on the left, you've completely misread what I wrote and have instead substituted your own characterizations of me. For your information, I am more than capable of critical thinking. The fact that you don't like them doesn't mean I haven't arrived at my conclusions with logic.

As for the Foreign Service, don't First Amendment protections apply there as well? Frankly, if they decide they don't want to hire me because I have opinions that may not be in lock step with the rest of the Foreign Service cadre, I probably don't want to work there in the first place.

You've taken a provocative suggestion (the dispersion of Congress and the creation of a virtual legislature) and - with NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER - characterized me as a fascist. Don't you see the irony in that?

It's people like you that are trying to tar and feather Lawrence Summers and run him out of Harvard. People like me are the ones sticking up for freedom. People like you are the ones firing people for having opinions you don't agree with.


Monday, March 14, 2005

Four-Movie Recap

Here in Brazil, I've been catching up on movies I'd missed back home. Rather than offering full blown reviews, I thought I'd recap and offer a few thoughts on each. In the order in which I saw them, they are:

Million Dollar Baby

By now you should all know that Baby was this year's big winner at the Oscars, netting a Best Support Actor award for Morgan Freeman, a second Best Actress award for Hillary Swank (her first was for Boys Don't Cry), a second Best Director award for Clint Eastwood (his first was for Unforgiven), and Best Picture.

Simply put, the movie deserved all of these awards. It's another Eastwood masterpiece coming on the heels of the equally critically-acclaimed Mystic River. Baby is better than River. The character development focuses on just three characters and is deeper. Eastwood's gruffness hasn't been this suited for a role since he played Gunny Highway in Heartbreak Ridge. He's quietly been carving out his niche in the pantheon of great American directors ever since his first effort, 1971's Play Misty for Me, the far superior inspiration for 1987's Fatal Attraction. Did you know that Eastwood also directed High Plains Drifter, The Eiger Sanction, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, Heartbreak Ridge, Bird and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil?

I thought the Academy would be reluctant to award a second Best Actress Oscar to Hillary Swank so soon after her win for Boys Don't Cry and so early in her career, but there really was no way for them not to reward her for this role. First of all, this year was a weak field. Her only real competition came from Annette Bening in Being Julia and Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both Julia and Mind are comedies (albeit with serious dramatic overtones) and the Academy doesn’t like comedies. Besides Bening and Winslet, Swank was pitted against relative unknowns Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace). These two fall squarely into the "It's-an-honor-just-to-be-nominated" category and never really had much chance at winning (although Staunton's performance in Drake is exceptional). That being said, one shouldn't attribute Swank's win solely to a weak field. Her Maggie Fitzgerald is a study in trailer-park pluck and determination and Swank carries it off effortlessly.

Freeman serves as the film's narrator and Eastwood's conscience, gently goading him into training Maggie and chiding him for his lack of belief in another fighter who has abandoned him. If this isn't Freeman's best role, the rest of his body of work cried out for an Oscar and here he is rewarded.

Much has been made of Baby's dark turn at the end (which I won't reveal here), but it is this turn which, to use a boxing analogy, gives the movie its punch.


I was predisposed to like this movie. It wasn't because of any reviews, (I don't read them anymore) but because it's based on a comic book, specifically DC/Vertigo Comics' Hellblazer. Hellblazer isn't a marquee title like Batman or Spider-Man but has a devoted following nonetheless.

The movie stars Keanu Reeves in the title role. He is joined by Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, Confidence), Shia LaBeouf (Holes, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), Tilda Swinton (The Beach, Orlando), Gavin Rossdale (the former lead singer of British rock band Bush, Little Black Book), Djimon Honssou (Galdiator, Amistad) and Peter Stormare (Fargo, Minority Report).

The plot is a complicated mish-mash of Catholic theology, exorcism and lore from the Book of Revelations and not worth delving into here.

Unfortunately, Reeves in his first post-Matrix role is miscast here. First of all, John Constantine is blonde. Secondly, Reeves captures all of Constantine's world-weariness but almost none of his sarcasm. Constantine's quips fall flat from his mouth.

The supporting cast were the standouts. Tilda Swinton's capacity for androgyny, used to great effect in Orlando, was just what was needed for her portrayal of the archangel Gabriel. Rossdale as the demon Balthazar is handsomely menacing and under-utilized.

I found young Shia LaBeouf most impressive as Constantine's apprentice , Charles "Chaz" Kramer. During the film's climax, when Constantine falters, young Chaz steps in to shoulder the burden and he's most impressive at it.

The Flight of the Phoenix

A few months back I posted a review of the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. In it, I was very critical of Hollywood's recent efforts at remakes. Phoenix shows that sometimes Hollywood can take a fine, older film and update it to great effect.

The original starred Jimmy Stewart as Capt. Frank Towns, a pilot for an oil company. While flying a group of roughnecks out of North Africa, their plane crashes. The crew, riven with personal conflicts, is forced to pull together in extraordinarily harsh conditions to build a new airplane out of the wreckage of the old (hence the title reference to the bird of Egyptian mythology).

In this version, Hollywood has kept the core of the story and tweaked it only slightly. Instead of crashing in the Sahara desert, they crash in the Gobi, and one of the main characters is a woman (Australian Miranda Otto, last seen upstaging Liv Tyler in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as the Shield Maiden of Rohan, Eowyn, who is Tyler's rival for the affections of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen)).

This film features a fine ensemble cast with no big stars. Dennis Quaid takes on the role of Towns. Former male model Tyrese Gibson (Baby Boy, 2 Fast 2 Furious) is Town's co-pilot A.J. Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) reprises Hardy Kruger's role as the enigmatic and authoritarian airplane designer Elliott. Hugh Laurie (now seen in the lead on Fox's House, and best known for playing Bertie Wooster in PBS' productions of the Wodehouse novels about Wooster and the ultimate "gentleman's gentleman" Jeeves (Stephen Fry)) plays the oil company "suit". Jacob Vargas (Get Shorty, Traffic) is basically stereotype-cast as the Latino cook who longs to return to California and his lady love so they can open a taco stand (honestly) but Vargas, who is becoming an accomplished character actor gives humor and warmth to the role.

Quaid's Towns is actually a little more controlled and contained than Stewart's. Ribisi probably gives the best performance as Elliott. I like Ribisi, but he can be really hit or miss. I loved him as the soul of the squad, the medic Wade, in Saving Private Ryan, yet I hated him as he moped his way through the lead in the awful day-trading drama Boiler Room.

The Aviator

This was the other movie I was most anxious to see. Aviator was the other major contender for Oscar glory this year. Having seen it and Baby I think the Academy was right to honor Baby over Aviator.

Aviator is a hugely entertaining and well-made movie. It's a real piece of bad luck that Scorsese had to find Aviator pitted against Baby. In any other year, Aviator would likely have been the big winner.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of his young career as the brilliant but eccentric Howard Hughes. The supporting cast is impressive as well, featuring Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, Veronica Guerin) as Katherine Hepburn, the stunning Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Van Helsing) as Ava Gardner, Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October, Dress Gray) as Pan Am chief Juan Trippe, Alan Alda (M*A*S*H, Same Time Next Year) as Maine Senator Owen Brewster, and Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fifth Element) as Hughes' chief meteorologist and factotum scientifica.

The movie doesn’t shy away from depicting Hughes' obsessiveness, but it offers only the barest explanation for its origins. The movie opens with a young Howard being bathed by his mother as she warns him of the dangers of disease. Now, this failure to offer compelling insight into what was a large part of the Hughes persona is hardly Scorsese's fault. We don't know, and probably never will, why Hughes was the way he was. But that doesn't stop the viewer from wanting to know the answer to this essential question.

Another question which arose in my mind, and which Scorsese makes no attempt to answer is the contradiction between Hughes' obsession over germs and his sexual appetite. It's hard to imagine a man who is so obsessed by germs bedding down so many starlets. Insight into this paradox in Hughes' character is completely lacking.

In this case, the supporting cast doesn't overshadow its lead (as in Constantine). Instead they complement him to great effect. Cate Blanchett took home this year's Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Hepburn. Scorsese makes no effort to use Hollywood trickery to make Blanchett look like Hepburn. Instead, it's all in her speech. She channels Hepburn effectively. How do I know? Because Blanchett's Hepburn is every bit as annoying and abrasive as the real Hepburn. At least we learn that she came by it honestly in a scene in which Hughes is bullied by her family, especially Hepburn's mother, during a weekend lunch.

I hadn't known of Hughes' near fatal crash while test piloting the Air Corps' reconnaissance plane, the XF-11. When we learn the extent of Hughes' devastating injuries, it is amazing he even survived and no surprise that he became addicted to opiates later in life. He must have lived in immense pain for the rest of his days as the result of his injuries.

I am at a loss as to what Alda did to deserve his Best Supporting Actor nomination. He's not in very much of the movie and he doesn't really stand out. In the movie's climax, Brewster is completely upstaged at a Senate hearing in which he seeks to smear Hughes as a war profiteer. The hearing is an attempt to intimidate Hughes into giving up the fight for trans-Atlantic routes for his TWA, and anoint Trippe's Pan Am as the national carrier. Brewster fails miserably and is humiliated by Hughes.

What makes this episode so surprising is that Hughes' eccentricities and reclusiveness, as well as his extensive injuries as a result of his near-fatal crash, are by now well-known to Brewster and Trippe. They mistakenly believe Hughes will give in rather than face the intimidating publicity of a televised hearing. They badly underestimate him, and Hughes totally bests an unprepared Brewster.

I thought Baldwin as Juan Trippe more deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Baldwin, once one of Hollywood's biggest leading men has undergone a Kevin Bacon-esque transformation into talented character actor.

DiCaprio seems to capture Hughes' essence well. He bears a strong (if not total) resemblance to Hughes but can't quite doff the boyishness that plagued him in Gangs of New York but upon which Stephen Spielberg capitalized in Catch Me If You Can.

I said earlier that Million Dollar Baby deserved to be the big winner at this year's Oscars. It's because, while Aviator is a well-told tale of one of the towering American figures of the 20th century, it simply can't engender the emotion in the audience that Baby does.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Ok, so it's Congress that should be abolished

Thanks to my Dad for pointing out that it's Congress' fault that we can't flick our BIC on airplanes any more. Apparently the language calling for such regulations was buried deep within the intelligence reform bill passed earlier this year by Congress.

But this is the perfect segue for an idea I've been nursing for at least five years. If we can't abolish Congress, at the very least we can send them back to their districts where they belong, doing the job for which they were elected, namely representing their constituents.

Think about it: a virtual Congress. One of the biggest complaints about Congress is that they spend too much time inside the Beltway and lose touch with their constituents. I think that Rep. Smith and Sen. Jones might be more sensitive to the concerns of their constituents if they had to patronize the same businesses, worship in the same churches, send their kids to the same schools and generally interact with them more than they do now. Something tells me that there are fewer lobbyists in $1500 suits in places like Sumter, S.C., Tulsa, OK, and Puyallup, WA.

Twenty years ago such an idea would have seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. But today, with the advent of the Internet, a virtual Congress is easily within our grasp. Each representative could be linked to the others via a secure, high-speed data, voice and video network. All their business could be conducted via voice or video conference. The influence of lobbyists and special interests would be diluted since all of their targets would be dispersed across the U.S.

So, while we can't abolish Congress, we can send them packing.

Send 'em home, I say.

This is why government needs to be reduced

Folks, we've created an insatiable monster. Check out this from the Washington Times:

"A planned program in Oregon would tax drivers by the number of miles they travel instead of by the amount of gasoline they use to compensate for an expected loss of revenue caused by increasing use of more fuel-efficient vehicles. "

We need to beat back this beast before it's too late!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

If they can't make it, what hope is there for the rest of us?

CNN is reporting that Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen are getting divorced after less than three years of marriage.

On the positive side, this means that Denise Richards is single.

TSA Must Be Abolished

Ok. I know I may not be the most objective person when it comes to assessing the TSA. After all, I have averaged about 150,000 miles of air travel a year these past three years.

That being said, what the heck are these guys smoking? The latest proclamation from the morons at TSA is the banning of cigarette lighters on board aircraft. I really don't have a problem with this since you can't smoke on the plane anyway. (I know, I know. What about the people who want to grab a smoke during a layover? Still, most people agree that we must give up some liberties in order to be safer and having to bum a light in a smoker's lounge doesn't seem like such a great hardship.) However, the stupidity of this regulation is that they aren't banning matches because they have no way to detect them!

Where the TSA regulations get positively Kafka-esque is in the banning of cigarette lighters in checked luggage! You read that right. Not only does TSA not trust us to carry a lighter on a plane, they also want to prevent you from putting one in your checked bag. Can someone please explain this to me? Just where is the threat in a BIC locked in my Briggs and Riley suitcase, safely tucked away in the cargo hold of the aircraft where no-one can get to them anyway? (Actually, anyone stowing away in the cargo hold of an airliner would probably need a BIC to keep them from freezing to death.)

Folks, this is exhibit 4,672 as to why the federal government should be kept out of our lives to the greatest extent possible: they just don't do most things well.

CBS Should Drug Test Dan Rather

MSNBC is reporting that Dan Rather thinks he is leaving on a "high note". I think he's on a high note all right. I think the guy is smoking crack if he thinks anyone with an IQ higher than that of a soapdish believes he is leaving on a high note.

Dan, you resorted to unethical tactics in your obsession to bring down the son of the man who made a fool out of you once during a news conference. You got busted by a bunch of pajama-clad amateurs. And you were forced out of your job as a result. Deal with it.

Now, please just go away!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Mexico to the United States: Waaaaaah!

A group of citizens from around the U.S., fed up with the federal government's willful refusal to do anything about the illegal immigrants flooding our borders, have organized a month of patrols along a 20-mile stretch of the Mexico-Arizona border (http://www.minutemanproject.com).

These modern-day Minutemen have vowed not to try and apprehend any of the illegals. Their purpose is merely to report their presence to the authorities. Obviously the Minutemen are calling the government's bluff. I mean, it's not like they can claim they don't know about the illegals reported by the Minutemen, right?

Predictably, victims' rights groups in the U.S. have denounced this move as anti-immigrant. Uh, wrong. It's anti-ILLEGAL immigrant.

However, the award for most chutzpah goes to the Mexican government itself. In a letter to the U.S government, Mexico has expressed concern that the Minutemen might violate the rights of the illegals. “Mexico doesn’t want the rights of its citizens transgressed,” says Geronimo Gutierrez of Mexico’s foreign ministry.

Here's a thought: Mexicans in the United States illegally have ONE RIGHT: to go back to Mexico and get in line like everybody else!

An Inspired Choice for the U.N.

We conservatives can gauge the quality of a nominee for any post in a Republican administration by the amount of bleating coming from the usual suspects of the left (the media, human rights groups, victims' rights groups).

By any measure then, President Bush's choice of John Bolton as the next U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. is a home run. Bolton is currently the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security at the Department of State, where he has been especially critical of North Korea's Kim Jong-Il (referring to him as a "bloodsucker" and "human scum"). Bolton, a Yalie and a lawyer by training, has had a long career in public service at the Departments of State, Justice and the Agency for International Development.

Critics of his nomination are likely to focus on Bolton's public criticism of the body to which he has been nominated to represent U.S. interests. Bolton has been quoted in the past as saying it wouldn't matter much if 10 stories of the 38-story U.N. headquarters just vanished. (God, I love people that say what they think and mean what they say!) He is characterized as someone who does not believe in diplomacy for diplomacy's sake - a man after my own heart. His desk is decorated with a model of a hand grenade.

Frankly, I think it's high time that the U.S. sent a message to the U.N. that they can't continue to bite the hand that feeds them.

Go get 'em, John!