Sunday, 23 January 2005
Million Dollar Movie
Last night we got a sitter and went out to dinner and a movie, sans the little phisch. The movie chosen was Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. This being the only of the potential Oscar contenders we’ve seen, I still cannot help thinking that none of the other films stack up to this one. It was simply incredible.
Hilary Swank captured a Golden Globe for her performance, and deserves an Oscar. Likewise for Eastwood and co-star Morgan Freeman. There are few better on-screen duos for dialogue and banter than Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. The film’s script plays to this strength.
Eastwood received a Best Director nod for Unforgiven, and deserves it again for Million Dollar Baby, but this go-around his performance in front of the camera is worthy of Oscar gold as well. We both had the same thought of “He was great in this movie!” afterwards.
I’d still like to see Sideways and The Aviator, but based on what I’ve read, the trailers I’ve seen, et al, I don’t think they or Closer or whatever else gets nominated (Academy Award nominations are released on the 25th) can touch Million Dollar Baby.
Friday, 21 January 2005
Which what Dr. Pepper?
So I’ve now tried my second Cherry-Vanilla Dr. Pepper. I’m still waiting to taste the cherry or the vanilla.
Wednesday, 19 January 2005
This is so pathetic, it’s frightening.
Talk about sending torture gifts to friends who work in cube farms…
More on “disenfranchisement”
“‘Disenfranchisement’ actually means being denied the vote, but Democrats of late have started using it as a dysphemism for ‘losing’.” —James Taranto
You don’t see Republicans and others on the right whining about being “disenfranchised,” do you? But don’t think it doesn’t happen, because it does.
The difference between the two is that the Democrat disenfranchisement-whining is always targeted at voting areas controlled by Democrats, which seems to be an irony of enormous proportions. On the other hand, when Republicans get disenfranchised, it seems to be in those same voting areas controlled by Democrats. It’s rather difficult for the minority party in a voting area to disenfranchise the voters of the majority party, but the Democrats don’t seem to notice this. They just ramble on about being disenfranchised. My theory is that the Democrats are following the old playbook of “if you repeat it often enough, it becomes truth.”
Clint not big on Moore
“Michael Moore and I actually have a lot in common. We both appreciate living in a country where there’s free expression. But Michael, if you ever show up at my front door with a camera, I’ll kill you. I mean it.” —Actor and Director Clint Eastwood
The lie of Social Security “transition costs”
In Social Security, the current generation of workers pre-funds its retirement benefits by making contributions to the program in the form of a tax taken out of every paycheck. In exchange for this tax, the government promises to pay the taxpayer, when he retires, precisely defined benefits, which are specified in law by formula.
The amount of money paid in payroll taxes would be more than adequate to pre-fund workers’ retirement benefits were it properly invested, but it is not. In effect, the federal government borrows the payroll tax payments of current workers to pay the retirement benefits to current retirees. But unlike ordinary government debt, the debt obligation owed to workers through Social Security is not quantified and memorialized by the issuance of bond, note, or bill certificates to the workers. Nor is it formally recorded as debt on the balance sheet of the U.S. government. It is real debt nonetheless.
What pundits have labeled the “transition cost,” is really the short-term cash-flow crunch that will happen when workers are allowed to invest a part of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts rather than loan that money to the government to pay the benefits of current retirees.
This cash-flow problem, however, does not arise because personal accounts create new (i.e., “transition”) costs. To the contrary, the cash-flow problem arises because the government would be borrowing less. Every dollar of a worker’s Social Security payroll tax contribution invested in a personal retirement account is a dollar less debt the government owes to the worker and would otherwise have to pay back in the form of future Social Security benefits.
About that election
Speaking of the 2004 election—where the Republicans retained control of the White House and gained seats in Congress, despite the fact that “the majority of Americans” want the Democrats and Ted Kennedy to speak for them—why does no one in the Democratic Party or otherwise on the Left acknowledge that the voter-disenfranchising districts they’ve been whining about non-stop for the past two months are all controlled by Democrats. It’s kind of hard for the minority party to do the disenfranchising, no?
“Democrats may be in the minority in Congress, but we speak for the majority of Americans.” —Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts
This, of course, explains why the Democrats lost the Presidential election, and lost seats in both houses of Congress. Because the majority of Americans voted for them, you see.
Since we’re talking about other nations
…why don’t we see what a Founding Father thought about caring what other nations think of America?
“It is very imprudent to deprive America of any of her privileges. If her commerce and friendship are of any importance to you, they are to be had on no other terms than leaving her in the full enjoyment of her rights.” —Benjamin Franklin
This includes the right to defend our national security, at home, and abroad, without interference, collaboration, or permission from any other nation.
About those pesky French
The best thing we can do about the French? Ignore them.
Condoleezza Rice, now Mr. Bush’s nominee for secretary of state, was quoted in 2003 as telling colleagues that the United States should “punish France.” This is a tempting tactic, for it holds out the promise of vengeful satisfaction. It was also the motive behind the recent campaigns to boycott French products. Unbeknownst to most of the participants, however, the consumer strategy was tried without much success in the 1960’s. In truth, Paris isn’t worth a boycott.
Thinking otherwise only buys into the Gaullist claim that France should occupy a place of reverence in the community of nations. But why should its views matter any more than, say, Italy, whose population and economy are nearly the same size? The United States may choose to work with France on a few areas of mutual diplomatic interest - Haiti and perhaps Iran - but in general, the marginal amounts of aid and peacekeeping help Paris can offer hardly merit concessions on our part. And if France threatens to undermine American interests with its Security Council veto, we should call its bluff, pointing out that such behavior merely weakens the institution that is the prime source of France’s undeserved prestige. (Despite all the bluster, France has not used its veto power unilaterally since 1976.)
Moreover, making an example of the French is precisely the wrong approach because it elevates France in the eyes of the world’s anti-Americans, who will always be with us. The one thing France and the neo-Gaullists can’t possibly abide is being ignored. Perhaps that’s punishment enough.
Every man’s duty
“It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.” —James Madison
But of course the Founding Fathers were a bunch of atheists who didn’t want any speck of religion in the public square…
Tuesday, 18 January 2005
Mad Cow and illegal aliens
“Is it just me, or does anyone else find it amazing that our government can track a cow born in Canada almost three years ago, right to the stall where she sleeps in the state of Washington. And they tracked her calves to their stalls. But they are unable to locate 11 million illegal aliens wandering around our country.
“Maybe we should give them all a cow.”
—Jack, on World_SIG, from an unknown attribution
Monday, 17 January 2005
Rewriting Precinct 13
So I suppose in the nothing-creative-left-in-our-brains bowels of Hollywood (do you realize how many movies coming out in 2005 are remakes?), if we’re going to remake a film, we simply cannot cast bad guys as bad guys any more. In the original Assault on Precinct 13, the bad guys were a street gang sworn to revenge the deaths of some of their criminal brethren at the hands of police. They plan to do so by taking out the understaffed and soon-to-close Precinct 13.
In the new version, the understaffed and about-to-close precinct that falls under attack seems to be the only plot point making the transition. First, the action moves from Los Angeles to a more snowy clime, made out to be either New York or Chicago. Second, the bad guys bent on taking out those within Precinct 13 are corrupt cops. I guess Hollywood can’t get enough of corrupt cops and rogue military personnel.
Are there corrupt cops and rogue military personnel in real life? Undoubtedly. They are also an extreme minority, as most of those involved in the armed services and law enforcement are every day folks just wanting to serve, do their best, and make it home to their loved ones. You would think, though, from Hollywood’s perspective, that every other officer in blue was on the take and wouldn’t hesitate to erase from the face of the earth anyone who looked askance at him.
Laurence Fishburn’s character in the 2005 remake is a crime lord, temporarily being held in Precinct 13 while a winter storm blows through. The corrupt cops attacking the precinct are in business with the criminal mastermind, and cannot have him testifying against them. Would the action be much different if instead of corrupt cops afraid of being exposed, those attacking the precinct were the crime lord’s minions, bent on recovering their leader? That would certainly change the dynamic between Fishburn’s character and Ethan Hawke’s heroic cop figure. I’m sure there are even real-life examples of something similar, if one was to look hard enough. (Surely not an all-out attack on an entire police precinct, though there are examples of just that right now in Iraq.)
But when was the last time you heard about an entire SWAT team taking down one of their own department’s buildings?
I’m sure the film will be action-packed, but I can’t see it comparing to Training Day as far as corrupt-cop movies go. (And personally, Training Day doesn’t compare to the highly-underrated The Corrupter, which at least offers the hope of redemption.)
Sunday, 16 January 2005
I never got beyond the first few issues of Frank Miller’s Sin City, but I always thought it was an outstanding comic. I’ve long been an admirer of Miller’s work, notably on Daredevil and Batman. I was very pleased to see that Robert Rodriguez is helming the film version, and it appears Miller is deeply involved with the project. The trailer is great, and what a cast!
Friday, 14 January 2005
Debate 2004 a la Costco
So apparently Costco has little debate articles in its monthly magazines, where “experts” offer a pro and con on the subject in question, and members are able to vote. The latest issue of Costco Connection has the results of all of last year’s debates, so I thought I would share. I’m only including the members’ votes.
Should the national Do Not Call Registry be implemented?
Should the U.S. release the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay?
Has NAFTA been a good thing?
Is the Mars Initiative worthwhile?
Should baseball have the designated hitter?
Are low-carb diets a healthy long-term lifestyle choice?
Should foreign-born U.S. citizens be allowed to run for president?
Can anything be done to reduce gasoline prices?
Should cable and satellite subscribers be able to choose which channels they want?
Should obesity be treated as a medical illness?
Should you give cash to the homeless?
Should we sell naming rights to public places?
Thursday, 13 January 2005
Truth through fiction
Much of his protagonist’s argument can be found in a speech Crichton made last year at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, in which he took on “the disinformation age.” Challenging the belief that this is “a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion,” he argued that the religion to which they in fact give themselves is “environmentalism,” a faith-based fact-lite creed. State of Fear is that 2003 speech in a novel.
In response to the book, as if to prove how right Crichton is, the Natural Resources Defense Council sent out a press release that warned media minions not to be fooled. Enviros are quite used to global-warming scare flicks, like The Day After Tomorrow. When the tables are turned on them, however, they feel compelled to warn “media and policymakers” not to “confuse science fiction with science.”
In fact, according to the group, it is as wrong to question whether global warming is human-induced as it once was wrong for Galileo to believe the earth is not the center of the universe. “Journalists can help keep State of Fear from producing a state of confusion by keeping their focus on the real debate: How will we act to solve this problem?” the council scolded. Translation: You’re not supposed to ask questions. Good people keep the faith.
When the Natural Resources Defense Council reverently cited “climate models” and scientists’ “projections” of more warming, as if models and projections were fact, they were behaving just the way Crichton’s fictionalized versions do. And Crichton’s scientist Kenner takes great joy in referring to the predictions made by enviro darlings that didn’t come true.
The Natural Resources Defense Council criticized Crichton for his “peculiar contrarian take on global warming.” It shows you how establishmentarian the environmental lobby has become.
Anyone else in their 30s and beyond remember the sweeping wave of “scientific proof” in the 1970s that the Earth was headed toward another ice age? I certainly do. What is it in the higher brain functions of seemingly intelligent people that has them trying to prove that every bad thing that happens to the environment is a result of humanity’s “intrusion”? Can we not simply accept the fact that nearly all the time, the Earth is simply continuing on as it has since its creation?
I’ve been looking forward to State of Fear since purchasing it up a couple of weeks ago. Having just finished another novel, this review galvanized me to begin it today.
[The link above requires a paid subscription to view the whole article. Sorry. —R]
It depends on what the definition of liberal is…
A hilarious take on the subject of media bias comes from Hugh Downs, formerly of ABC’s “20/20,” in an exchange on the CBS scandal with host Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country”:
Scarborough: Is there a liberal bias in the media or is the bias towards getting the story first and getting the highest ratings, therefore, making the most money?
Downs: Well, I think the latter, by far. And, of course, when the word liberal came to be a pejorative word, you began to wonder, you have to say that the press doesn’t want to be thought of as merely liberal.
But people tend to be more liberated in their thought when they are closer to events and know a little more about what the background of what’s happening. So, I suppose, in that respect, there is a liberal, if you want to call it a bias. The press is a little more in touch with what’s happening.
So you see, it’s not that journalists are biased, it’s just that they know more than everyone else and thus are “more liberated in their thought”! Don’t you feel silly for thinking they were arrogant elitists?
Sunday, 09 January 2005
A senator after my own heart
We need a few more Peter Fitzgeralds in the Senate, and the House. Like the article says, if all 100 members of the Senate were like him, nothing would get done, but if we had ten or fifteen, more might actually be accomplished for the good of the nation.
The notion of prophets being viewed without honor in their native land is an ancient one, stretching back to the book of Mark in the Bible. Here’s hoping that tradition doesn’t hold true this time. While residents of Illinois celebrate the remarkable rise of Barack Obama they should also recall how much better their state is for the fact that Peter Fitzgerald didn’t give a damn if he was re-elected senator.
Saturday, 08 January 2005
Stopping the next terror attack at home
So we are more likely to get hold of the end of a planned terrorist attack if we have our ear to the ground in the right places and that means human sources of information in, not the caves of Afghanistan but the Islamic bookshop in downtown New York, the extremist mosque in North London or perhaps the college in Paris. It means sensitizing the public to be alert for the sort of thing to look out for—comings and goings at night at the lock-up garages, the apartment occupied by a group of young men where the blinds are always kept drawn. There may be perfectly innocent explanations, but the public needs to know how to report its concerns and to be made to feel welcome when it does. From just those humble beginnings many a successful counter-terrorist operation has resulted.
The Schwartz is weak in this one
There are three arguments being made in favor of privatizing part of Social Security. First, the Social Security Trust Fund needs money and privatization will, in the long run, increase the amount of money available to retirees. Second, privatization will give people choice, and choice is good. And third, “it’s your money,” and you ought to be able to do with it as you wish.
Each of these arguments is dubious, or disingenuous, or both.
To use a popular phrase from the 1950s and ’60s: “What a pinko leftist commie.”
First, it doesn’t take an economist, much less a professor of psychology, to figure out that 401K plans are giving better long-term return rates than Social Security. So actually, yes, Mr. Schwartz, privatization would put more money in the Social Security Trust Fund.
Second, yes again, Mr. Schwartz, privatization, of some level, would give people more choice over how to save their retirement money. With my 401K plan, I have a range of funds to choose from. Should I not make as much money at the end of the year, that is as much my fault in picking a particular fund as it has to do with the fund manager’s choices in the companies placed within the fund.
Finally, it is my money, you pompous, socialist twit. I can see the money coming out of my check and being deposited in to the largest legal Ponzi scheme (as an accountant I am fond of likes to refer to Social Security—hi, Fred!) in existence. The money I don’t see is the matching funds my employer has to put in to the largest legal Ponzi scheme in existence. Money that I could be taking home with me, money I could be investing in something with far better long-term returns, money that would generate me more in a simple savings account than I will see back from Social Security when I’m 80, or whatever the age will be when I retire.
I should be able to do with my money whatever I wish. If I want to work on my retirement funds by going down to the dog track and betting on the one that does his business just before the race, then that’s my business. If I want to dump it all in my best friend’s fad-of-the-moment business, that’s my business, too. It’s not your job, Mr. Schwartz, to ensure that I have money to live on when I’m old. It’s not the government’s job, either.
I’m not saying a partial or total privatization of Social Security is the answer. I’m saying that a President and members of Congress need to put the good of the nation before their re-election bids and have the guts to kill Social Security. Pick a year, grandfather in all persons born in that year, and the rest of the population is on its own. There will be a generation or two that will have to both fund Social Security and pay for their own retirements. I would hope there is a generation or two willing to do that, if it means their children and grandchildren wouldn’t have to worry about funding the largest legal Ponzi scheme in existence.