Saturday, November 24, 2007

Beliefs, Laid Out (Another Rant)

You get linked on enough political blogs with your crazy ranting, and people start to come out of the woodwork just to tell you how ignorant you are because you don't get your opinions fed to you from the same place that they do. I get blasted at times for being too conservative, and other times for being too liberal. I'm not sure how I come across sometimes, especially when I'm ranting, and normally I don't care. I think my beliefs are pretty simple, actually, and I don't understand why that seems to infuriate people. Maybe it's because when arguments get too political, they stop making sense to me. Sometimes people seem to be trying to protect an institution, rather than actually debate an issue. I'm disappointed by both sides of the limited American political spectrum.

I'm not a conservative, but I do think there are things a government is necessary for. Honestly, I don't think there should be less government in our lives, I just think the focus should be different. What I mean by that is that there should be less privatization. The conservative push for privatizing and corporatizing everything has led us to a disaster. Just look at our shitty health care. What should be a tax-funded government service has become a profit-based industry that places a premium on human life. How has this helped anyone? Corporations are only interested in money, and they don't care who has to die or be ruined for them to get it. Why is the power company a business? Phone company? It doesn't make much sense to me.

The answer I usually get to those questions is: "But, government services are socialism!" Yeah. They are. What's wrong with socialism, seriously? And I mean real socialism, not the Nazi mockery of it, and not the Soviet mockery of it. No one seems to be able to define that for me. We already have social services that everyone uses. Public schools. Public libraries. The frigging US Post Office. We trust the government to get us our mail, but running a health service system is too dangerous? Explain to me how that works. And in a sane way, not in the usual "ur so dumm I cant even argue with u" way that I get in my comments.

I don't consider myself particularly liberal, either. I guess I have some attitudes that fall in line with liberalism, but I've found myself on the opposite side from them, too. And frankly, liberals tend to be as equally adept as conservatives at getting offended and angry when you don't share their accepted beliefs. And I don't like that because, well, it's not particularly in line with the actual definition of the word liberal. Not to offend anyone liberal who's reading this, but there are a lot of smug intellectual snobs in the liberal camp. At least they don't rave like the conservative wingnuts, but still, it's unattractive.

So, how do I define myself? I don't know. Usually I don't. I think labels are less important than how you feel about something. Honest listening counts for a lot more than just calling everything liberal or conservative.

I don't understand the abortion non-issue, frankly. If religious people and politicians want to force women to have children, then they have to extend social programs to take care of them. As far as I'm concerned, no one can be pro-life and anti-nationalized healthcare without being a total fucking hypocrite. This is a case of people who want to stick themselves into the business of others and make their decisions for them, and that's all. And often it's motivated by Santa Claus's twin brother Jesus, the other made-up fantasy figure children are supposed to outgrow. My opinion on abortion is this: unless a woman is pregnant with my child, I don't have to think anything about abortion. I'm never going to have one, because I can't get pregnant.

Also, why is a potential fetus's life more important than someone who is already alive? Being against stem cell research is absolutely the height of ignorance. How can you be against something that could save lives and cure or ease diseases, because there's the possibility that something might evolve into a fetus one day? It's not juiced babies, so grow up and think forward instead of backward.

Civil rights is amazing to me for one reason: we're still talking about civil rights. How can it be the year 2007 and we're still discussing inequalities among men and women, blacks and whites, gays and straights? Shouldn't we really have just grown up about this by now? An ammendment to ban gay marriages because your religion tells you boys kissing is icky? Figure it out. Haven't you seen what strict adherence to made up religious bullshit has done to the Middle East? Is that really the way we want America to be? A place of religious law? Look, whatever your race, whatever your gender, whatever your religious belief, whatever your sexual orientation, you still have to learn to treat people one way and let yourself be treated another. Being an asshole is a result of belief and behavior, not anything you're born with.

Here's a quick aside about the imposed differences between us: I've never once lived my life as though they exist. I was born in 1976; my generation was supposed to be the generation that was raised without preconceived notions about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. My sister and I weren't raised with the idea that women were naturally inferior, and therefore everything they did was an automatic triumph. It rankled my mom that I didn't see something as an accomplishment because of a gender difference, because I didn't see a difference in ability. So a woman can play basketball well; it's still a socially irrelevant quality to be good at sports, but I don't think someone's going to be bad at it just because she's female. I know I'm being idealistic here, but a lot of people I know who are my age remember a sort of multiculturalism in childhood that was just taken for granted. Then, in the early nineties, a bunch of old people decided their generation's prejudices weren't being ingrained enough, and the Politically Correct era started. And a lot of the people I knew who were just coming of age, as I was, were confused and vaguely betrayed. Now we were being told that there was something wrong with us because we took equality for granted. That not seeing differences as something to overcome instead of something irrelevant was somehow wrong. And now we have to have conversations on whether or not Barack Obama is "black enough" for black voters. It annoys the living shit out of me that Hillary Clinton's gender is somehow more notable than the complete and utter evil coming out of her mouth.

I'm sorry, but I do believe it's naive to say that the immigration issue isn't motivated by the economy and blatant racism. When people talk about "illegal immigrants," they're not referring to Scandanavians or Germans on an expired student visa; they're talking about Latinos and maybe Indians. That's all it is. Your rich masters have decided to turn you against one another by scaring you into thinking that you're supporting a bunch of border-jumping Meskins who are trying to take what little you have, because they don't want you realizing you should have a lot more than you already do. That's all this is. Immigration has made our country what it is, and despite the fact that idiots are at the wheel and fear has taken over, we still have the bones of a pretty great country here. It's annoying to see the country descend into name-calling over something so obviously racially-based. And trust me, if the GOP gets all the Mexicans out of the country, it'll be poor Americans next in the line of fire. They're offended by the notion of poverty. Maybe it's white guilt. Yeah, right.

The undocumented workers, who do pay their taxes without getting anything out of it, are not the cause of anyone's problems but their own. (I can't believe that people I respect act like having to hear a recording in English and Spanish is a major problem, by the way.) The fact that there are so many undocumented workers is something created by opportunistic corporatism. Corporations who pay almost no taxes and cut corners to bring us poison toys and toxic cat food are so offended by the idea that they should pay anyone a living wage that they go to the impoverished and desperate for something as close to slave labor as they can get, and we want to vilify people for taking the little money they can get to feed their kids? We should be banded together, demanding that corporations act responsibly, instead of getting mad at the cheap labor they find. People's perceptions of this issue are so backwards, it's utterly astounding.

Nationalized health care is an absolute necessity. Corporations should be all for it, because they won't have to spend money on insuring their employees anymore. And don't tell me that there's not money to pay for nationalized heath care, because there is. Those of you who can are paying it to an insurance industry right now. And hey, then maybe you'll get paid a higher, fairer wage at work. If we follow the examples of France or Norway, we'll be making more, not dying of stress from overwork because we're afraid we'll go broke if our kids get sick, and swimming in vacation time. If we at least didn't have that one worry--that we need to work all the time to pay for health emergencies--I'll bet the entire country would just take a deep breath and relax more often. All the stress problems we have... we could just unclench and not be so afraid all the time.

You can't say that marijuana is a gateway drug and let alcohol off the hook. You can legalize drugs; that puts bad people out of business. Control it. Create clubs you can do drugs in, just like there are bars you can drink in. Treat it responsibly. Who's going to pay for meth cooked in someone's garage with god-knows-what when you can go and buy something clean from someplace reputable? There won't be any profit in it, anyway. And you can put a tax on drugs just like with alcohol and cigarettes; there's some extra cash right there. I don't buy the emotionally dishonest argument that it's a moral issue. Are drugs harmful? Sure, but so are cigarettes and alcohol, which are legal. So is eating, when it comes down to it. We don't outlaw Twinkies. All I'm saying is, with responsible treatment and regulation, legalizing drugs is not going to be remotely as harmful or dangerous as people want you to believe. Put the drug trade out of business and create some jobs. And also, you stop sending someone to prison for carrying a joint; why should someone's life be ruined because they like to smoke pot?

By the way, when Bill Richardson says we need to crack down on illegal drugs, and that drugs can never be legalized because they play "an insidious role" in crime, he shows just how out of touch he is. If drugs are legalized, they won't play any role in crime, because most of that crime is to control sale and trafficking. Duh.

Same with prostitution. If anyone in this country really, truly cared about morality, there wouldn't have been a SCHIP veto. Do you know how much we could cut the spread of disease if there were legal places where prostitution could take place? Legalize it, regulate it, tax it up the ass, as George Carlin said. Provide health checks. What's the problem? Seriously, what is the problem? It's a service, and there's no reason it should be illegal. There is absolutely no reason for the government to take any interest in the sexual affairs of two consenting adults. The issue is illegal trade. The IRS quakes at the thought of not getting its percentage of any monetary transaction. Plain and simple.

We are at a critical point with education. The point is not to get kids to graduate; the point is that they come out of school knowing how to learn and how to use their brains, or at least to read at a high school level. I think kids should go to school all year long; the only reason for summer break is traditional. Since no one really needs their kids to be off for three months to help with the farming, there's no real point. They don't deserve the break; they're not coming out smart enough with the time they have in now. I'm afraid that, when the baby boomers die, America is fucked. There won't be enough people left who know how to fix anything. Look at the president we have now: extrapolate that by 20 years. Terrified? Because I am. And kids today aren't only dumb, they're smug in their dumbness. There's nothing to be smug about in not being able to read, do math, or think critically.

If you don't believe in evolution, I don't have to take you seriously. If you believe in a god and think it steers the direction of your life, I don't have to take you seriously. You're free to worship whatever you want, but I don't have to respect your religious beliefs. It's implied in the First Amendment: Congress doesn't have to respect your religion, and neither do I. Stop trying to force me to participate in it or recognize it in some way. I can respect you as a person, but I'll always suspect your intelligence because you've chosen to surrender your critical faculties to something that, frankly, is not real. The government should not be in the business of recognizing religion in any way, except possibly for hate crimes. If someone burns a church or mosque or temple down, it's probably a hate crime. But Congress doesn't get to try to pass a law, as they did in 1994, that only schools allowing voluntary prayer should get federal aid. That's completely irrelevant to the business of government.

That said, I think liberals need to cool down a bit on the religion issue. If a kid wants to pray in school, I don't think it's a big deal. As long as he or she isn't trying to force anyone else to, or to humiliate them into it, or bully them, or something, I don't care if a kid wants to pray. Prayer should not be sanctioned by a government institution like a school; the words "under God," which are exclusive, should not be in the Pledge. There shouldn't be specific time and resources set aside to religious observance in public, secular schools. But I think sometimes people take it too far on both sides.

Why do we need to depend on oil? Everyone in Washington acts like it's going to take 20 to 50 years to rid ourselves of oil-based energy. That's simply not good enough, not with the environmental problems we have now. We need something clean and efficient. I've advocated for nuclear power in the past; I know that's not a popular position, but a lot of the alternatives we've been discussing lately are simply ridiculous to me. People are so in love with their wind turbines they've simply not noticed they tend to be gas-powered. I still say that we need to go with soy-based fuel, and we need it now. How do we grow all of this soy? We grow it on the land farmers are being paid not to grow on. That's been my stand for a long time. Willie Nelson is a big advocate of biofuels; he's also the face of Farm Aid. Well, put him in the public eye as the head of this campaign: subsidize American farms to grow soy for biofuels. Call the campaign "On the Road Again." It writes itself, for chrissakes. Start right now; I'll bet we can be off gasoline within five years. Offer tax breaks. Make cheaper cars that run on this stuff. Simply stop making cars that run on gasoline; stop right now, and make all the new cars biofuel-run. Then people have to switch over. Offer a cash incentive to junk your old car and offer a significant rebate and/or price break on getting a biofuel car in trade. Are there any forward thinking business minds out there or what?

Global climate change is real and very dire. Get used to it and start controlling it. What's the problem? America used to be so good at meeting challenges; now people just hope someone else does it for them. Face the reality: in less than 100 years, maybe less than 50, a great percentage of Earth's population is going to die and things are going to get very hard to sustain. Educate people now; stop burning coal, stop polluting. Find a way. Turn things into jobs; think how much unemployment we could get rid of if the government really wanted to--they could create all kinds of federal jobs simply aimed at getting our enviornmental disasters under control. Also, can we please put more people in the National Guard and keep them in America to guard the nation? Because we could've used them in New Orleans and San Diego, just to name two places.

Let's get behind public transit again, too. Electric-powered, or something.

I strongly believe we should listen to our neighbors on the world stage. The war rhetoric is insulting. Iran is going to start World War III? Shut the fuck up. We're only bullying Iran right now because they don't have nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the reason Bush is afraid to do anything but praise Musharraf for taking action against his own country, and it's despicable. We need to realize that Iran is a country with a democratically elected leader. The young people of Iran (i.e. most of the population) doesn't like the oppressive regime; let's not justify it and prop it up by bombing more innocent people. Get the contractors, mercenaries, and profiteers the fuck out of Iraq; why do you think they're resisting Western influence? I'm for all the aid we can give them to stabilize, but we also need to realize that any stability is not going to be what we're trying to force on them. We're making real enemies in the Middle East every day, and we don't have to. They know we don't care about them and we just want the oil; that's why we need to get off the oil. One of many reasons. Let's just be a little more open and honest about what we want and what we can do, instead of getting into shit based on lies. I'm tired of seeing Americans killed because of lies.

And while we're at it, where's bin Laden? Seriously, where is he? Every day that Bush shows no interest in capturing Osama bin Laden is a slap in the face to everyone who lost someone on 9/11. Where the hell was our spy network? Why don't we have a spy network? Why the fuck would Bush go on TV that night and openly blame Osama bin Laden? Does he think bin Laden doesn't watch CNN? He isn't going to see it? Thanks for the open warning; during the weeks it took Bush to dither up a bombing raid on Afghanistan, bin Laden slipped into Pakistan, our grand and useless ally. Bill Clinton would've gone on TV, been very sensitive, promised to catch "whoever is responsible for this atrocity" while giving nothing away, gotten together every spy or warlord or mercenary he could've found that knew the Arab nations, sent them to do their job, then come back on TV and said "My fellow Americans, we've discovered who was behind the attacks of 9/11: al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. We've taken retaliatory action already, and al-Qaeda no longer exists. By the way, here's bin Laden's dead body." And then Clinton would've fucked bin Laden's dead skull live on CNN. But then, Bill Clinton was a good president. He probably wouldn't have let 9/11 happen. If he made one mistake, it wasn't a blow job from a hot skank: it was assuming that the Bush administration cared as much about protecting us from terrorists as he did.

Diplomacy, not war. Stop kissing China's ass. Stop assuming we're better than the rest of the world and don't need anyone. Leave the French alone; when we bully them for not doing what we want, who's really the arrogant country? France won the American Revolution for us, let's stop getting on them about World War II. Drop the illegal embargo on Cuba just for being a Communist nation; it makes us look petty and it enforces poverty on Cubans for no reason other than the rich white mafiosi are pissed off at Castro.

No, I don't support Israel. That doesn't make me anti-Semitic; it makes me critical of Israeli government policy. I'm not saying the Arab governments are better or worse. I'm saying that if Israel wants to hold the moral high ground in the Middle East it needs to stop its aggressive actions against Arab nations and be willing to listen instead of just blowing up a bunch of kids everytime someone gets too close. I don't believe in the moral right of Israel as long as it occupies the West Bank and institutionalizes torture and illegal imprisonment of Palestinians. I'm not singling them out because they're Jews; I'm singling them out because, as the "only" Middle Eastern democracy (have the people who told me that ever even heard of Iran?), they should be doing better.

The government needs to stop discouraging people against voting. We should make Election Day a holiday. Let's be honest: the only reason for Election Day to be a Tuesday is so that fewer people will get a chance to vote. The whole system is archaic and needs to be changed. First off, Election Day should be a four-day weekend, Friday through Monday. Hell, maybe it can start on the middle of Thursday. Then everyone can get a chance to vote at some point over the holiday; why not vote early and get a start on the vacation weekend? And you should be able to vote at multiple locations. There is no reason that the computers we trust to handle our banking and our business transactions cannot be trusted to handle our elections. There's a way to make computer voting viable and preferrable. And everyone has to vote; there should be some kind of tax penalty for not voting. Make it incentive-based. Our system only works if people participate, and not enough people do. And we should move elections to April, around the same day we pay our taxes. That should get some honesty out of someone.

I'm not sure how to go for gun control. A lot of it seems racially motivated to me; people want to stop black people from getting their hands on guns but not responsible, rich white people. It has to be all or nothing. Mostly, I think people can be responsible with guns. School shootings are a non-starter; if someone wants to hurt a lot of people, they'll find a way. Gun control laws now seem to penalize the responsible people who obey the law; it does nothing to deter someone who is absolutely set on getting their hands on a weapon. There has to be a more responsible way to go about controlling the amount of guns and who has them. This is also another poverty issue.

Human rights are important. You can't be for human rights and also for torture. Torture is ineffective; people will say anything to make torture stop.

If you want illegal immigration to stop, offer better routes to citizenship. I think people have basic human rights, but if someone doesn't become a citizen, they shouldn't be able to access the rights of citizenry. Still, there are ways of doing this that don't amount to rounding people up and shoving them out of the country. Immigrants pay taxes in some form or other; they should be able to pay into the system legally if they want to live and work here. They should have driver's licenses. The border wall is worthless; it's morally wrong, it divides families, and it stops no one from getting through. It's a stupid, stupid thing to do. Why are we so bent on dehumanizing immigrants in our country? Stop treating them like criminals just for being here. We can find a way to legalize them without being dicks about it. If I went to Canada and broke my leg, their health care system would patch me right up; I don't see the problem with doing the same for someone else. The idea that nationalized health care would create a flood of immigration is just idiotic; it hasn't done so elsewhere. Immigrants should have access, because they live and work here; but they should also be allowed to legally pay taxes, too.

I'm all for raising the minimum wage, but it needs to be a lot higher than $7.50. Nationalized health care will help that, too, because employers will be able to pay more without insurance costs hanging over their heads. I know this sounds idealistic and ignorant, but I do believe it's possible to pay people more, spend more on human services, and fix our environment without bankrupting the country. And I think people who pull out made-up numbers to argue otherwise are ridiculous for helping those in power--who only want to take all of the money they can and not share anything, ANYTHING with any other person in this country--continue to pretend that there's nothing we can do about it. Those people are enablers who are not interested in change, even beneficial change; they want to maintain the status quo, even if the status quo benefits them nothing. Hey, how come people always ask where the money for health care or higher wages or better education is going to come from, but no one ever asks where the money from the war is going to come from?

Man, I could go on forever. I hope this exempts me from writing about politics for a while. Sorry that just went on and on. But it's what's been on my mind all week. That all seems painfully obvious to me. Is it to anyone else? And if it is, why don't we have any of it yet?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Illegal People and an America Rant

According to this story at Latina Lista, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has asked officials in Irving, Texas, to "stop referring illegal immigrants who have been arrested for Class C misdemeanors." Which means that, hopefully, the Latino population of Irving can breathe a little easier and stop worrying about being harrassed by police simply for driving and standing in their own backyards. Hopefully they'll stop being subjected to intimidation, fear tactics, and outright abuse by people hired to protect the entire community. Hopefully.

I keep hearing how immigration is going to be the big issue in the 2008 election, something I've also heard now about the war and defense spending. I never hear about how health care and education and the economy are important issues. The environment only gets lip service; at least, until the Republicans can find a way to say that the only way to fix the environment is to invade Iran. But then, the Republicans would have to admit there's a problem with the environment, and that just won't happen. As long as the money's coming in, there's nothing wrong.

I get so pissed off over the immigration bullshit, I don't know who to direct my ire at anymore. It's nothing more than poor people blaming other poor people for their own near-poverty. It's people who have stupidly believed what the administration and the corporations who own the administration have told them: that your problems are caused by someone else and not by them. I don't know what's going to cause the sudden moment of clarity that a lot of people are banking on in 2008; I don't even know if it's going to happen. But please, people, stop stop STOP blaming Latin Americans for your problems. Long waits in the emergency room are perfectly natural in this country, because our health care system is fucked. Most poor people (myself included) have no other choice in a medical emergency than to go to a county hospital because we can't afford any insurance. Because insurance is a for-profit business; our taxes don't go to making sure Americans don't die of a cough.

That's another thing that pisses me off; people get really pissy about the idea that their taxes are going to support all of these "illegal immigrants" so their kids can go to school, etc. Hey, guess what? That's how your taxes work. Or at least, how they're supposed to work. Your taxes are supposed to pay for social services that ANYONE can have access to. But instead, they go for killing children in Iraq and corporate land deals. We spend so little on education in this country that we should be ashamed of ourselves and a little frightened. Bush wants trillions to force democracy on Iraq while denying that it even exists in Iran; meanwhile, Ken Burns has to make a documentary on World War II because a far-too-high number of American children think the Nazis were our allies.

What is the answer? Clearly, something's wrong. And it's not "illegal immigrants." It's not terrorists, either, unless you're referring to the way we're terrorized by our own government institutions and the people we pay to protect us from outside harm. America has been battered by hurricanes and torn apart by wildfires; it's endured bridge collapse and racial violence and is facing an educational crisis. America can't even keep levies fixed and bridges standing. America, the country that only took three years to defeat one of the most efficient military-industrial complexes in the history of the world (the Nazis, once again), can't find peace in Iraq in over five. We are the richest country in the history of the world, and yet we have a president who thinks spending "not enough" is "too much" to spend on insurance for children. America is a nation so disinterested in the issues of a presidential campaign that they're more interested in focusing on Obama's blackness and his lack of an America flag pin than on what he actually is or isn't saying. America: land of the open debate on established scientific facts. A land of people constantly hedging their bets instead of saying what they believe because someone who believes in magic fairy tales might get a little upset with them.

A land that is so open to the idea of diversity that it has to actually create divisions in people so that they don't get too close to even resembling a real unification. Where all voices must be heard, no matter how ridiculous, because all ideas are treated equally--which means that the perfectly sane argument that stem cells help save lives has to compete with the ridiculously made-up cry that stem cells are bad because a fictional wizard might sob over it. A land where things are never plainly obvious because, well, they might not be.

Where are all the people who want to make America better? And why aren't any of them running for president?

Quick Political Question

Sadly, I know a number of people who have told me this year that they like Rudy Giuliani because, for whatever reason, they think he's a moderate Republican. I guess because he's okay with abortion, this somehow makes him less kill crazy than some of the other GOP candidates. What I wonder now is, with Pat Robertson's endorsement, do they still feel the same way? Because when Pat Robertson endorses a candidate, isn't he essentially saying that Giuliani is the best hope for continued intolerance the country has?

God, the guy who thinks gay people caused 9/11 teamed up with the guy who used 9/11 to revive his failing political career. Two men, for lack of a more scientifically correct term, who have worshiped President Duh unconditionally in the past seven years. I am absolutely terrified of the upcoming elections. Because if there's one thing America has shown in the new millennium, it's an overwhelming willingness to always make the wrong choice.

The Shah of Pakistan

Go and read this excellent column by Ali Eteraz comparing Musharraf to the Shah of Iran and detailing the many reasons why Bush's support of Pakistan is so damn tragic.

"The current tyrant, meanwhile, is not only less popular than Bin Laden, but he is completely inept in counteracting terrorism. He has: failed to reform the madrassas; cultivated a Kangaroo Sharia court in his backyard for six months which he could use for political benefit; killed those that kept the Taliban at bay; considered appeasing the militants by letting them implement Sharia; turned Pakistan into a state sponsor of terrorism; made alliances with pro-Taliban parties; and even engaged in what are being called crimes against humanity. My editor at Jewcy reminded me that Musharraf is so frightening to terrorists that al-Qaida mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammad literally lived within 10 miles of him. This is the man that John Negroponte at the State Department considers 'indispensable.'" [Emphasis mine.]

And there's so much more to it. It has to be read.

Do you ever feel with this administration like we're just in a race to the finish line? Like everyone's just waiting to see if sanity will beat armageddon to January 2009?

A Completely Innocent Post

This has nothing to do with anything you think it does, just to wish one of my favorite Disney stars a happy 18th--er, 15th birthday. Seriously, quit looking at me like that.

Happy Birthday, Miley!

On a completely unrelated note, did you know the age of consent for girls is 16 in 33 different states, as well as the District of Columbia? 14 in South Carolina. Just read that somewhere...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

All My Love to Long Ago

The 2007 Doctor Who Children in Need Special is absolutely marvelous, and a must-see for Who fans. Peter Davison is as spot on as ever. This takes place in continuity, right after the close of the third series, just to warn anyone. Everyone else, Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy.

The Real Reason for the Parade

Happy Birthday, Scarlett!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who's the British Rudyard Kipling?

Spot the incredibly idiotic misstatement made here by J. Michael Lennon, the literary executor for Norman Mailer, in this Washington Post reminiscence about the deaths of Vonnegut, Mailer, and Styron.

"Vonnegut was the American Mark Twain."

If you don't know why your jaw should have hit the floor, I'm truly sorry.

Evaluating Disney: 1944

1943 was a busy year for Disney, with most of the film produced going towards fulfilling government contracts and making propaganda shorts. 1944 was comparatively thrifty and smaller-scale--only 12 shorts were released this year, plus the second package feature of South American cartoons--but the studio still managed to lose money. This, it seems, had become Walt's curse. To become flush with money, only to see it all lost on his perfectionism and his driving need to innovate and try new things. One has to credit him with imagination, if not in subject matter, than at least in mechanics. Walt had gambled on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs--taking millions made from Mickey Mouse cartoons and merchandising and experimenting with expensive cameras and techniques on something unproven--and had won. But his gambles on the far more expensive Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Bambi had proven destructive. A new studio, a strike, bad publicity, the loss of European markets--all had damaged the Walt Disney Studios. Walt and his brother Roy had been forced to grab on to government contracts and South American relations to keep the cash flowing.

But even these proved costly to Walt. He was still a perfectionist trying to keep up with the desires of his audience. After all, the serviceman seeing a training film was still, Walt hoped, a fan of Disney films. Why not keep it that way? If 1943 had been profitable, 1944 saw the loss of that profit as Walt began to spend his own money on making the films as perfect as he thought they could be. Just because the audience was specialized, that didn't mean standards could be lowered.

All in all, I think fatigue shows in 1944. It's harder and harder by now to deny that some of the old Disney magic has been lost. The care and detail and visual depth have been replaced by a sort of workmanship that, occasionally, manages to be very witty. Pleasant seems to have won out over innovative, entertaining, and involving. Here are the shorts released in 1944.

1/7: The Pelican and the Snipe
Special cartoon. This is another of Disney's Latin shorts, meant to be included in The Three Caballeros, but instead released on its own. There's not much to it; it's not particularly Latin, either. A pelican, Monte, and a snipe, Vidi, live on the top of a lighthouse off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay. Their friendship is tested because Monte unknowingly flies in his sleep, and Vidi tries to keep him from doing so. Sterling Holloway narrates a rather saccharine, dull cartoon.

1/28: How to Be a Sailor
Goofy. In my opinion, the first rather lackluster entry in the normally great Goofy "How To" series of cartoons. There are some good sight gags (my favorite is King Neptune watching a boat fall over the edge of the world) in the clever "history of nautical navigation" at the opening, but I thought most of the gags were predictable and tired.

2/18: Trombone Trouble
Donald Duck. Carl Barks delves into Donald's dark side this time (along with Jack Hannah and Jack King, the presence of the three already making this better than a number of other cartoons this year). Pegleg Pete's trombone playing is so awful so late at night that he not only angers his neighbor Donald, but the gods themselves (Jupiter and Vulcan, both ducks, natch--plus, I think Vulcan is Thurl Ravenscroft). So, in revenge, they give Donald powers and he exacts his revenge. Of course, he turns out to be just as big a pest as Pete. Not one of the best of Hannah, King, and Barks, but still pretty damn good.

3/10: How to Play Golf
Goofy. Best opening line ever: "Contrary to popular belief, golf is not a waste of time." This is more like it; Jack Kinney does a much better job with Goofy here than in How to Be a Sailor, turning out one of his best and funniest "How To" shorts. Every sight gag cracks me up, and even though Goofy gets into predictible trouble while following the golfing maxim "Always play the ball where it lies"--it's a chase, it's always a chase in cartoons--the whole damn thing is hilarious. One of the best of the year, topped only by another round of Goofy sports.

3/31: Donald Duck and the Gorilla
Donald Duck. Donald, Donald--you must learn to control your anger. As always, the nephews decide to get revenge on Donald, this time by buying a suit and pretending to be Ajax, the gorilla who has escaped from the zoo. Then, just as Donald figures it out, the real gorilla arrives. In a way, it seems to be a remake of The Gorilla Mystery, where Mickey fought Beppo the gorilla, but this one is a little faster and definitely funnier. I love the shorts with Huey, Dewey, and Louie, especially when Carl Barks is writing them. Great animation on Ajax, too.

4/21: Contrary Condor
Donald Duck. Not a very interesting short, but an amusing one. Donald is an egg collector trying to nab a condor egg; instead, the mother condor thinks Donald is one of her babies. I love the design on the condor baby and mother, and Donald is his usual cruel and irascible self, but there are dull spots.

6/2: Commando Duck
Donald Duck. I admit, I miss Donald's basic training. The absence of Sgt. Pete is felt here. Still, this is a very, very good short, and it even gets some of the old Disney surrealism in. Donald, now a commando, is ordered to destroy a Japanese airbase on his own. This short is mostly famous now for its racist jokes and caricatures of Japanese soldiers, but it wouldn't be realistic to not expect them in a propaganda cartoon (nor would it be sophisticated to hold them against Disney now). Some of the disastrous happenings (especially the flood in Donald's emergency raft) are hilarious. Well-animated, especially for 1944, another year of skimping on background detail.

6/23: Springtime for Pluto
Pluto. This is an uncharacteristic Pluto cartoon: instead of trying to kill everything little and cute, he wants to frolic with them in the new spring woods. The animators still seem to have a taste of Latin fever, but this is a much, much better short than last year's Pluto and the Armadillo. This time, Pluto's antics are fun to watch (I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not a fan of the Pluto shorts), and the little animals are friendly. Always love those little Disney quails. There are some surreal, almost Fleischeresque flourishes, too, the best being when an odd little caterpillar forms a cocoon on Pluto's tail to a somewhat creepy song sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, then emerges as a sexy Latina who does a dance on Pluto's snout. The cartoon as a whole is just wonderful, with lots of nice little details and a wry sense of self-parody. Charles Nichols directed this, one of Pluto's best.

9/1: The Plastics Inventor
Donald Duck. Barks, Hannah and King revisit 1941's Chef Donald, but this time time the Duck is listening to radio instructions on how to construct a plane out of plastic. Apparently Donald didn't learn from The Flying Jalopy and A Good Time for a Dime that he just shouldn't fly, man. Of course, like much plastic of the mid-forties, the plane is brittle and weak and subject to changes in temperature. Donald tries to fly through a rainstorm with disastrous results. Funny without being frustrating.

9/15: How to Play Football
Goofy. The best Disney cartoon of 1944 and the best of the "How To" shorts, this is a real classic. Every one of the hundreds of people on the screen is Goofy, including two college football teams, Taxidermy Tech and Anthropology A&M. Nicely irreverant about the purpose and the playing of America's favorite sport, hilarious and exciting to watch, with lots of references to the names of animators. Art Babbitt, who had been hired back at Disney, worked on this short, and it shows, as this short has some of the punchiest animation of any Disney short.

9/22: First Aiders
Pluto. Minnie Mouse, in one of her increasingly rare appearances, is practicing wartime first aid on Pluto, and leaves him bandaged at home. Figaro decides to torment him, and the cartoon is mostly gags and chases. It's cute (I love the animation on Figaro, especially the way he scrunches up his face) but sort of tired, too.

12/8: Donald's Off Day
Donald Duck. After his golf game is rained out, Donald makes the mistake of taking his anger out on his nephews. They take their revenge by making him think he's dying of a disease he read about in a medical book. Some good gags, but not one of Donald's best.

There were more war films for the government this year: Air Brakes: Principles of Operation, Attack in the Pacific, Automotive Electricity for Military Vehicles, Basic Map Reading, Battle of Cape Gloucester, Carburetion: Basic Principles, The Case of the Tremendous Trifle, Electric Brakes: Principles of Operation, The Equatorial Front, A Few Quick Facts, Flying the Weather Map, Fundamentals of Artillery Weapons, The Howgozit Chart, Howitzer 105mm M2A1 and Carriage M2, It's Your War Too, Operation and Maintenance of the Electronic Turbo Supercharger, Theory of Simplex and Phantom Circuits, Tuning Transmitters, Two Down and One to Go, Ward Care of Psychotic Patients, Weather at War, Weather for the Navigator, and Your Job in Germany.

There was also work for Inter-American Affairs once again, including the short film The Amazon Awakens. By the end of the year, Walt had released his second package feature of South American shorts: The Three Caballeros, originally titled Surprise Package. Where Saludos Amigos had been a success, The Three Caballeros was badly reviewed and lost money for the studio (I'll touch on this more in the 1945 entry, as the film was released in America in 1945). What Walt had really enjoyed in making the film was working on the combination of live action and animation, something he hadn't done since the Alice Comedies of the 1920s. Animation was becoming for Walt a means to an end; he was now more interested in the technological aspect of a new challenge, and his grand plan to keep making package features in order to keep the studio solvent. Already, he was having a script written for a package film based on the Joel Chandler Harris stories of Uncle Remus. There was even talk, according to some sources, of turning the long-gestating Alice in Wonderland into such a film. Another name mentioned was Currier & Ives. In a way, it's surprising that no one thought to mention Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, the long-abandoned collaboration with Samuel Goldwyn that had nearly happened in the 1930s; it was meant to be such a package film, but Walt had decided he couldn't act on that challenge. Now, as with so many, he was taking that challenge on his own terms.

The animators, for their part, were finding it harder and harder to remain excited about the work they were doing. A certain ennui had set into most of the shorts, with rare exceptions or moments of fun and/or inspiration. It's another mark of the feeling the animators had towards Mickey Mouse that he didn't even appear as a supporting character in any of the shorts in 1944; there hadn't been a film in the Mickey Mouse series since 1942. The animators hadn't really felt they'd gotten their hands on a good, worthwhile project since Dumbo and the completion of the stressful Bambi experience. Good ideas were running scarce, and with Walt's interest in the actual storytelling waning lower and lower, they didn't seem about to come back.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE DEAL (2003)
Peter Morgan's first movie about Tony Blair; he, director Stephen Frears, and star Michael Sheen would team up again to make The Queen. This movie details Blair's rise to power alongside (and eventually in front of) Gordon Brown (played very well with bluster and strength by David Morrissey, marking the first time I've ever liked him in anything). Perhaps "details" is the wrong word to use; the whole thing runs about 75 minutes, and if you aren't pretty familiar with late twentieth century British politics, it's easy to get lost. There's no real meat here, unfortunately, but there are some very good character scenes between grand gestures and small talk about Labour policy. Interesting, especially as a precursor to The Queen. *** stars.

THE ANGEL LEVINE (1970)
I hate to admit it, but this is a film I'm having trouble with. It's based on a Bernard Malamud story, which should be a sign; Malamud is an excellent writer, but his stories bear a lot of thought and aren't so easy to categorize. My trouble comes from the film's inconsistent use of symbolism and magic realism; is the story meant to be straightforward and literal, or is it a fable? Zero Mostel plays a struggling Jewish tailor whose wife is critically ill. He has lost his faith in God because of the hardships he's faced, and the film is partially about redemption. An angel, Alexander Levine (Harry Belafonte) comes into his life one night and tells him if he will just believe in a black, Jewish angel, his wife will live. Levine is recently dead and needs to earn his wings by performing this miracle, but he, too, is troubled with the same biases as Mostel's character: racism, feelings of betrayal, unfulfillment, and a lack of trust. It's a horribly depressing film, but it also never talks down to the audience or asks it to take anything for granted (even the veracity of a black Jewish angel). What the film really amounted to, for me, was a rumination on the place of faith in a world that is harsh and unordered, and the way that faith asks someone to give up what they know about the unordered world and believe that all randomness has a point to it. And it's a rumination between two men who aren't equipped for it; they're both bitter and dissatisfied and too concerned with how forces are out to get them. I guess part of the point of this movie is that what we believe is the truth is the truth; when Mostel starts to let himself believe, his wife begins to improve. But he can't make the final leap until it's far too late. There are no second chances. This is a story about two men who need each other for the same reasons, but cannot step far enough out of their own circles to accept or give what must be accepted or given. I don't think it quite sustains its running time, but Zero Mostel is appropriately excellent and sympathetic, and Belafonte's naturalistic performance is surprisingly affecting. ***1/2 stars.

ARSENE LUPIN (1932)
John Barrymore as the great French thief acting opposite his brother Lionel as the inspector out to get him. Sounds like a dream, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. It's terribly disappointing, and I can't forgive it. *1/2 stars.

HAIRSPRAY (2007)
It wasn't until I put this movie on that I thought about how much it had the potential to suck; I just didn't want there to be a movie with Amanda Bynes in it that I hadn't seen. I heard the CD a few months back, but I wasn't much invested in whether Hairspray was going to be any good. And actually, I loved it. How much? Enough not to care that the evil alien Zac Efron was in it. Or the evil, alien-worshipping John Travolta, for that matter; he was actually fairly good and strangely dignified as Edna Turnblad, although I really, really, really, really wish it had been Harvey Fierstein, my favorite part of the CD. The music sounds better here to me, quite probably because of the added energy of the dancing--of all of the post-Chicago musicals, this one is the most fun, the most energetic, the nicest to look at, and the only one with any good dancing. I wouldn't have thought I'd say this about the director of Bringing Down the House, The Pacifier, and Cheaper by the Dozen 2, but Adam Shankman really knows how to stage a clear, dynamic musical scene. All of the cast is good, including my Mandy Pants (looking very womanly in her final scene, packed into a dress that really shouldn't be danced in), but I especially thought Elijah Kelley as Seaweed Stubbs was a blast. James Marsden, whom I've never liked before, really impressed me. And Nikki Blonsky--who are you and where have you been all my life? Blonsky as Tracy is adorable and delightful, so perfectly Tracy and so damn enjoyable (and she sings way, way better than Marissa Jaret Winokur, which is a bonus). Everything, from the color scheme to the music to the powdery tone, just perfect. I loved, loved, loved this movie. **** stars.

THE SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE (2006)
It's barely a movie, really. I hated the first movie--it's right up there with Santa Claus: The Movie and One Magic Christmas in the realm of awful movies about Santa. Everyone whines and bitches and moans and we learn that family is more important than Christmas, blah blah. Then the second movie was actually fun. This movie falls somewhere in-between. There's no real story, there's lots of whining, and we've seen it all before, but Tim Allen is likable and Martin Short is at least not annoying. But still, meh. Not substantial enough to have much of an opinion on. **1/2 stars.

WWNPHD?

I ask myself that every day.

Awesome.

Ingrid Pitt

Ingrid Pitt, star of The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula and one of my favorite ladies of the screen, turns a very distinguished 70 years old today. I adore her and I always will.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, meine Liebchen!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ads from Late Seventies Men's Magazines

Since Becca is helping her grandmother clean out her house, it's been interesting to see what kind of finds are being made. For example, she found a bunch of her dad's men's mags from the late seventies. And you know what really interests me for some reason? The ads. The stupid, stupid ads. Here are some prime examples.

I don't know why O.J. has three legs, but, man, I just want to punch him right in his smug face.

Great argument. What's next? I know you are but what am I?

Darn. You mean there's no more of those back home?

Because you enjoy the bad breath, hacking cough, and the taste of tar in your mouth all day and, well, I don't?

Care to bet on that? Bill Maher put it best when he described Old Spice as the fragrance that reminds women of the creepy uncle who molested them.

I can guarantee Kool does not taste like a fresh mountain waterfall.

If you're drinking the liquor in this ad, you have given me permission to laugh at you, ese.

Rather hits the nail on the head, doesn't it?

"Captain Outrageous"? Was there ever a time Ted Turner didn't come across as a doddering old twit?

There's no such thing as a smooth Canadian. And if there is, this isn't it.

Tomorrow looks a lot like yuppie.

If this is a look you aspire to, slap the tinfoil back on your head, Jethro, you lost the reception.

Now, that's just nasty.

I still can't believe this is the slogan they went with. Does anyone want to be this guy? Or this girl?

Then explain the necklaces and the chest fur.

That's just bizarre, daddy-o!

Clearly.

Mucho creepy.

Extra length, in case you have anxiety over the size of your paper and tobacco penis substitute.

But I'll bet people ask him to take the money and spare their own lives more often.

Something tells me this cat's going to need a LOT of aftershave.


Oh, man, I need to find more of these things.