Saturday, January 28, 2006


We ultimately reached our decision by asking ourselves which course would most effectively further Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible. Or, put simply: how can we provide the greatest access to information to the greatest number of people?

It seems to me they did the opposite. Letting China decide which information is accessible, under the pretense of some is better than none negates whatever is "universally useful."
We aren't happy about what we had to do this week, and we hope that over time everyone in the world will come to enjoy full access to information. But how is that full access most likely to be achieved? We are convinced that the Internet, and its continued development through the efforts of companies like Google, will effectively contribute to openness and prosperity in the world.

How is bending over for dictators end the monopoly dictators have on information?
Our continued engagement with China is the best (perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits of universal information access to all our users there.

Let's be honest. This is what really irks me about Google. Dude made a better case for them than they can make for themselves. They just can't bring themselves to simply say that they are a business and they're going to China because they don't want to be undercut by their competitors.

Look at that last sentence highlighted up there. They're not trying to make money. They're trying to bring tremendous benefits to users. Typical doublespeak PR nonsense masquerading as sober talk. Those tremendous benefits being the same state sanctioned information that's probably blown from speaker cars on the weekends. Google has simply signed up to be one more goosestep in the Chinese labyrinth of disinformation.

The real winner in this will be the unknown companies that learn to circumvent the Chinese blockage and actually offer the information that Chinese people want. If and when the walls do come down, those renegade companies in the mold of Kazaa and Napster will own that market, not Google.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Sen. John Kerry will attempt a filibuster to block the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, CNN has learned.

Kerry said he told a group of Democratic senators Wednesday, and urged that they join him. Kerry said he has the support of fellow Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Some senior Democrats told CNN they are worried that the move could backfire.

This is the guy who said that Bush was dividing America and he was a uniter.

It's obvious that the latest poll showing Hillary's negatives is reason to ramp up her rival's rhetoric. Kerry is going to charge forward here and become the liberal darling for the moment.

What a waste of time with 2 1/2 years to go before the election. Nobody even remembers to blame Bush for New Orleans anymore. American politics has become a 4th quarter game. The Gore camp leaking Bush's DUI arrest was more important than any debate or speech or grand gesture.

It won't stop Alito. The best this will do is get Kerry honorary mention on the Huffington Post. But it might also get a lot of liberals complaining that they could have stopped Alito had they only tried something sooner.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Google Inc. launched a search engine in China on Wednesday that censors material about human rights, Tibet and other topics sensitive to Beijing _ defending the move as a trade-off granting Chinese greater access to other information.

Within minutes of the launch of the new site bearing China's Web suffix ".cn," searches for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement showed scores of sites omitted and users directed to articles condemning the group posted on Chinese government Web sites.

Searches for other sensitive subjects such as exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, Taiwan independence, and terms such as "democracy" and "human rights" yielded similar results.

In most such cases, only official Chinese government sites or those with a ".cn" suffix were included.

Google, which has as it's motto "Don't Be Evil," says the new site aims to make its search engine more accessible in China, thereby expanding access to information.

"In deciding how best to approach the Chinese _ or any _ market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interests of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions,"McLaughlin said in an e-mailed statement, .

Google Inc. is rebuffing the Bush administration's demand for a peek at what millions of people have been looking up on the Internet's leading search engine _ a request that underscores the potential for online databases to become tools for government surveillance.

Mountain View-based Google has refused to comply with a White House subpoena first issued last summer, prompting U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales this week to ask a federal judge in San Jose for an order to hand over the requested records.

Although the government says it isn't seeking any data that ties personal information to search requests, the subpoena still raises serious privacy concerns, experts said. Those worries have been magnified by recent revelations that the White House authorized eavesdropping on civilian communications after the Sept. 11 attacks without obtaining court approval.

I'm suspicious as to what Gonzalez is looking for and Google's balk is probably the right reaction. But if you're going to pimp yourself out to China you have very little moral right to rebuff your own government.

Why should anyone care about your right to privacy, when you willingly denied that right to the enslaved population of China?

Monday, January 23, 2006


SOUTH AMERICA – With his hand around a random Latin-American dictator, singer, Harry Belafonte, compared Bush’s handling of Iraq with a recent experience at a local Martinizing establishment.

"I was promised 24 hour service, but when my manservant showed up 26 hours later, they told him the delivery with my bundle hadn’t arrived. So reminiscent of the weapons that Bush couldn’t find in Iraq.”

After touring some humble work camps and watching the villagers bury a goat, Belafonte continued his tirade.

“It must have been nearing 31 hours when the cleaner called with my stuff and I sent my ailing aunt to pick it up. My white shirts had turned decidedly pink which reminded me of the innocent Middle Eastern blood this administration has spilled over nothing but petty oppression that the average peasant has no worry about.”

Belafonte turned to a peasant.

“I don’t see you marching for liberty.”

“No, Senor.”

“See. The average peon has no interest in politics or supposed repression.” Belfonte continued. “He’s just living his life peacefully when he hears the sound of big American planes dropping big American bombs on a countryside. It’s as annoying as when I had that old apartment in the 1940s that butted up to the L tracks.”

A reporter pointed out that Belaftonte’s current shirt didn’t look pink.

“I had to buy new shirts. My chauffer and assistant had to travel all over Manhatten to find the right ones. It reminded me of how Scooter Libby’s shirts were being cleaned by American tax dollars while innocent people are dying all over the world due to American policies.”

Reporters weren’t able to identify Belafonte’s host, the current dictator of a South American country so small that even reporters weren’t sure what soil they stood on. But Belafonte and his host did dine on some fine Argentinean steaks and enjoyed cognac and cigars in the moonlight.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Why in the world would Osama want a truce? Is this the man who spoke so forcefully about bringing down the decadant and west? Could it be perhaps that ole "W" is putting a dent in his world wide force. I believe there is a tipping point at which the terrorist groups ability to affect the world on a global, even regional scale is no longer possible. Perhaps, his little band is seeing the light. I loved Cheney's response.

Cheney: No truce with bin Laden |
What a Genius level idea! It combines my two favorite pastimes. Gambling and Space exploration. I know I'd buy a space lotto ticket daily.

A Space Lottery: An Idea Whose Time Has Come - Yahoo! News

Thursday, January 19, 2006

THE FORMER IRAQI REGIME OF Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq. The existence and character of these documents has been confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD by eleven U.S. government officials.

The secret training took place primarily at three camps--in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak--and was directed by elite Iraqi military units. Interviews by U.S. government interrogators with Iraqi regime officials and military leaders corroborate the documentary evidence. Many of the fighters were drawn from terrorist groups in northern Africa with close ties to al Qaeda, chief among them Algeria's GSPC and the Sudanese Islamic Army. Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Iraqi camps each year from 1999 to 2002, putting the total number at or above 8,000.

The discovery of the information on jihadist training camps in Iraq would seem to have two major consequences: It exposes the flawed assumptions of the experts and U.S. intelligence officials who told us for years that a secularist like Saddam Hussein would never work with Islamic radicals, any more than such jihadists would work with an infidel like the Iraqi dictator. It also reminds us that valuable information remains buried in the mountain of documents recovered in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past four years.

National Review endorsed Shadegg last week for Majority Leader. Yesterday he wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal. Here's a highlight:
Every year Congress adopts a budget, and every year we exceed it. Cheats and dodges--supplemental spending without offsets, "off budget" spending--hide this expenditure, but it is added to our national debt, a legacy of irresponsibility to burden future generations. We are still using a budget process that dates from 1974, when Democrats ruled the House and the government was a fraction of its current size. We need reforms in our budget rules to force Congress to stay within the budget it adopts.

No elected official who takes a bribe, including a member of Congress, should get a taxpayer-funded pension. This is a reform I proposed months ago, as soon as we learned about Duke Cunningham's crimes, and it is one that others have urged for years. Who is afraid of this reform?

I grew up watching the example of Barry Goldwater, who worked closely with my father. He taught me that "a government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away."

This is the kind of talk we don't hear anymore.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The opposition to affirmative action has been labeled as racist by supporters of the idea. It’s painted as necessary discrimination in order to level the playing field after hundreds of years of oppression. But the fervent support is really borne out of white liberal guilt, the kind that comes after being caught doing nothing for so many years.

The war in Iraq and the current reaction to the liberation of an enslaved country should bring tears to the eyes of liberals, but they’ve never cared about going out on a limb to save people. For years and years Jim Crow laws existed in the south under southern Democrats because northern Democrats causally looked the other way in order to have a ruling coalition. Wilson, FDR and Truman knew their days were over had they overtly opposed that wing of the party. When the 60s and Lyndon Johnson shifted the nature of the Democrat Party, those same Democrats that were either overt racists or indifferent on the issue suddenly became the great protectors of black people while casting the party that freed the slaves as racists and bigots. It was a decent slight of hand and that history is seldom recollected by our gallant free press.

Besides the fact that affirmative action is contrary to the color-blind society that we praise MLK for supporting, AA hurts the people most it purports to help. AA makes it more likely that kids will be accepted to kind of schools where they aren’t prepared for the work. It makes it more likely that kids who could have graduated in a somewhat less prestigious university quit school altogether.

Senator Clinton’s remarks about the plantation remind me of why the Democrats are currently in the minority. The affirmative action and racial representation that Democrats have gained by suing companies that were suggested employ too few blacks eventually spilled over into gerrymandering congressional districts to insure black representatives. These measures were supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, but Republicans have benefited the most, because the white moderate Democrats that once controlled the swing votes in congress can no longer get elected without the safe black voting blocks that no longer exist. By lumping black voters together, Republicans have easily won a majority of the demographics that were left to gobble up. Political affirmative action turns out to be no great help either.

The Congressional Black Caucus should be taking a lesson from the U.S. Senate and the gang of 14 specifically. 14% of the senate ostensibly controls who gets appointed on federal courts. What if the CBC renounced their membership in the Democrat Party immediately after the 2006 elections and decided that they would build a coalition with either party depending on the issue at hand. They could act as their own gang of 14. Now it’s true that Republicans would still hold a majority, but that majority would be much more open to the concerns of the CBC if their support were up for grabs. And though the media barely reports it, there are issues that the average black voter agrees with the average Republican. For instance, a majority of black voters support the idea of racial profiling in airport screenings of terrorists by a margin higher than white voters. They also support the idea of school choice and limits on late-term abortion among other things.

The problem, of course, is that the CBC is made up of individuals that are connected Democrats. Their identity of party outweighs their identity to the race issues they frequently site. The clapping at Hillary’s speech was done by a bunch of people who know that the House isn’t a plantation, but they also know that such rhetoric is a good substitute for actual work on issues that really matter to their constituency. If you help the Democrats demonize Republicans you can better justify your lock step march with a party that only pays lip service to human freedom and the real issues that concern black voters.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton sparked a Martin Luther King Day political firestorm yesterday by describing the GOP-controlled Congress as a "plantation" during a speech before an African-American congregation in Harlem.

"When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about," Clinton (D-N.Y.) told an audience at the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ during an event sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network.

"It has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard," she added to thunderous applause.

You have to have real contempt for your audience to say something as childish as this. Anyone can introduce legislation into the House. It's just that you need a majority to have your ideas passed. 90 miles from America a real plantation exists; a virtual slave state. Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte and Charles Rangel love that plantation owner. They call him Fidel. That's about as far as you have to travel to compare to the old south to the modern world.

To compare our representative democracy and the Republican majority with slavery should receive a chorus of boos or at least silent disbelief. Hillary has no intention of lifting that audience up by speaking well of America, of the opportunity here or of how far Black America has come since the 1960s. She uses the occasion to invoke easy metaphors that conjur emotion all the while talking about how George Bush has divided America.

GWB spoke once about the soft bigotry of low expectations. It's obvious that Hillary and her ilk campaign with that soft bigotry at the top of their minds.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Dr. King believed that the Founders had set the nation on the right course. He did not reject the principles of our nation because contradictions existed; instead he hoped that racial groups would put aside their differences and acknowledge the principles that unite all Americans. Today, it is conservatives who seek to unite. In a nation divided by cultural diversity, conservatives defend and celebrate the characteristics that we share as Americans. As America drifts from the ideas and ideals of the Founders, conservatives stand with King as believers that the principles of the American Founding are as relevant today as in 1776.

He proclaimed, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Racial judgment is inherently unjust, but judgment based on moral character is essential. King wanted his children to live in a colorblind society but not a value-neutral society that rejects all standards of judgment. Today, this is the conservative message. Moral character as expressed in our social interactions is at the center of self-government, which in turn is the sustaining force of American democracy.

King aimed to unite a divided America behind the goals of the Founders, not to shift fundamentally unjust public policies to favor different groups. Affirmative action stands outside King’s legacy because it requires the government to see Americans as members of privileged and disfavored racial groups, not equal individuals. This is also the conservative view.

This dream, Dr. King's conservative message, is nearly lost amidst the worship of cultural diversity and moral relativism. It is still a dream worth pursuing.

Friday, January 13, 2006


SKINS ALIVE: You can hardly tell from reading the Seattle Times, but that city's football team faces the Washington Redskins in an NFL playoff this weekend. Only "redskins" is an un-PC term at the paper, so its reporters have been laboring to write about the game without mentioning the opposing team's name. The Washington Post labeled the naming restriction a "cheap shot" but also pointed out a journalistic flaw in the Seattle Times strategy: "The Redskins will be referred to almost exclusively as Washington--which could get a little confusing for local readers who also live in that state."

James Taranto had some fun with this earlier in the week.

Check out the article which is linked at DRUDGE.

In the long view, what does it matter who stepped on it first? Nobody did a thing about it until the Spanish, Portuguese, French, and British started carving up chunks and settling in. So China wants to be able to say that they knew about America hundreds of years before they started coming over as slave labor? Not exactly a point of pride, in my opinion.

When I was reading Donald Keyhoe books a couple of years ago, he had a story that went something like this: American Naval Officers came into possession of an ancient map that was created by a Turkish Naval officer named Piri Reis in 1513. Reis had copied the map from sources supposedly dating back to antiquity, perhaps having survived the burning of the Alexandria Library. Keyhoe was writing in the late 1950s about contemporary Naval investigations to get to the bottom of this map, because the map showed not only the Americas in great detail, but also Antartica.

The Navy commissioned some geologist/cartography types to survey the northern coastline of Antartica to see how it compares to the map. Everyone was surprised to find that the map not only correlated precisely, but described the coastline as it exists below the permafrost that has been in place for no less than 6000 years. Their conclusion was that there is no way this map could have been created without aerial surveying, and therein lies the mystery.

The magnitude of the Gulf Coast story presents tremendously interesting policy questions, yet has all but disappeared from the news. I have talked with friends on the ground there recently and there remain many questions about what happens next. While waiting for those answers, not to mention their insurance checks, people have spent several months elsewhere, enrolling their kids in new schools and maybe finding jobs locally, making the choice to return to the Gulf Coast another major life change decision. In the background, the greedy developers are trying to knock down houses that are not condemned. The rental property and labor markets are crazy. Businesses, hospitals, and schools are trying to decide whether to press on, change course, or fold. The Red Cross is wondering how to spend a zillion dollars in charitable contributions. And what is the government's role in all these issues? There are a million stories to mine.

FEMA yesterday increased its count of people displaced from the Gulf Coast by hurricanes Katrina and Rita by nearly a third, to about 2 million people. A FEMA spokeswoman attributed the sharp rise to a reporting error.

According to a news release, FEMA is paying rental assistance to 685,635 families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the Aug. 29 and Sept. 24 storms, an increase of 167,000, or 32 percent, over a month ago.

In December, the agency counted only recipients of a transitional housing assistance program created Sept. 23, FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said. Shortly before Christmas, FEMA discovered that it had not counted families receiving rental assistance under a traditional disaster aid program, she said.

"We've never had a situation where an entire American city was evacuated, and they weren't able to go home," she said. "These numbers represent that phenomenon."

The figure exceeds initial post-hurricane estimate of 300,000 displaced families and an October estimate by FEMA to Congress of 450,000 to 600,000 households.

The estimate of 2 million displaced also dwarfs the number of people forced from their homes by past U.S. natural disasters, such as hurricanes Andrew, Charley, Ivan or Hugo, as well as the Dust Bowl migration.

Also yesterday, a federal judge in New Orleans ordered FEMA to allow hurricane evacuees in that city to stay in subsidized hotel rooms until March 1, extending a Feb. 27 deadline FEMA set Monday. FEMA also was required to continue providing lodging for at least two weeks for occupants nationwide whose eligibility for rental housing assistance is determined after Jan. 30, whenever that occurs.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I'm listening to some of the Alito hearings on C-SPAN radio. He is coming across to me as being more forthright than some expected, and is basically saying in response to questions on judicial activism that the Court:

- should play its role and not try to play roles that are not assigned to it.

- should decide the case that is before it and not go outside that to address society's ills.

- should interpret laws and statutes as written, without adding to them or subtracting from them.

- should not make policy nor try to engineer certain results.

That's all this conservative wants from a Supreme Court justice.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Our aging population creates serious economic, social, legal, medical, and ethical dilemmas with important cultural implications. This excellent article treats the issues with sensitivity and intellectual honesty, albeit with a conservative bent.

Following are excerpts from the long article, with some summarizing and paraphrasing by this editor. I attempted to maintain the core content and flow intended by the authors.

Cast Me Not Off in Old Age

Commentary, January 2006, by Eric Cohen & Leon R. Kass

Today, old age is the norm. Average life expectancy in the United States is now seventy-eight years and rising (up from forty-seven in 1900), and those over age eighty-five are already the fastest growing segment of the population.

Roughly 40 percent of deaths in the United States are now preceded by a period of enfeeblement, debility, and often dementia lasting up to a decade. That number will rise substantially in the coming years.

Yet precisely as the need is rising, the pool of available family caregivers is dwindling. Families are smaller, less stable, and more geographically spread out.

All this creates a perfect social storm.

Medical progress often leads to greater debility in later years even as—and precisely because—it cures deadly diseases at earlier ages. This is the paradox of modern aging: we are vigorous longer and we are incapacitated longer.

Medicare and Medicaid are costlier because more people are living longer

Endless chatter about “healthy aging” is at bottom a form of denial. Our vitality, our faculties inevitably degenerate.

In 2001, the completion rate of living wills nationwide remained under 25 percent, and even the chronically ill do not draft living wills in significantly higher numbers. Further, living wills often do not get transmitted to those making medical decisions. Finally, the written instructions contained in living wills—even when they are consulted—often have little effect on the actual decisions made. What mattered most was a lifetime of familiarity: family members predict patient preferences better than physicians, and primary-care doctors better than anonymous experts reading legal documents.

Is a daughter simply to be the executor of her father’s wishes, or is she first of all a moral agent with her own moral responsibilities?

And what about the professor himself? One can admire his desire to spare his child the burdens of long-term care and the pain of witnessing his extended demise, but he is probably deluded in thinking that accelerating his death will prove less painful to her.

No legal instructions written in advance can replace the need for loving and devoted caregivers. The living will perpetuates an illusion of perfect independence, isolating individuals at the very moment when they need others most of all.

However, trusting others makes sense only if there are others who are trustworthy—willing to care, able to care, wise enough to care well. Sad to say, this is often not the case—either in medicine or in families.

We stand in greatest need of family doctors and general practitioners just as medical super-specialization has turned them into endangered species. One doctor treats our failing heart, another our wheezy lungs, a third our sluggish bowels, a fourth our tired blood, and a fifth our fraying nerves, but often no physician is willing or able to look after us.

In an aging society, we stand in greatest need of families just as family life has been most weakened. When a neglectful parent needs care from their children, the sins are often repaid in kind.

Studies indicate that only someone with three or more daughters or daughters-in-law can reasonably expect to escape institutionalization for long-term care. It is passing strange for a whole society of adult children to be summoned to care on a long-term basis for those who once cared for them. As the Yiddish proverb has it, “When the father helps the son, both laugh. When the son helps the father, both cry.” No child wants to uncover the nakedness of his father or mother. No mother or father wants to stand incompetent before the children.

More fundamentally, there is also a disruption of the naturally forward-looking thrust of intergenerational life. For a grown child best “repays” the gifts of his parents by raising children of his own, and grandparents have a greater interest in seeing grandchildren flourish than in maximizing the comfort of their own last days.

Are we really helping Dad by extending a life that seems so diminished? Is that life still worth living? Until now, our society has been largely spared such questions. Most Americans are committed—at least in the abstract—to the view that all human beings are “created equal.” But as we saw in the Schiavo debate, this general agreement regarding equal human worth can disappear in certain cases. As the American population ages, we can expect to hear even more talk of people with “low quality of life,” unworthy of the resources “wasted” on them.

Against this danger, the assertion that “life is sacred and should always be sustained” will prove an insufficient defense. Is it love or is it cruelty, for instance, to cure the pneumonia in an elderly person suffering from a painful form of terminal cancer?

Traditional medical ethics has been very clear about its duty never to kill, always to care. But traditional medical ethics has also long taught that benefiting the life a debilitated person still has does not mean taking every possible medical action to extend it. And so, while “active killing” may be incompatible with true caregiving, “letting die” is always part of it. Yet as we enter the mass geriatric society, it is clear that our new technological capacities are putting pressure on these sensible distinctions.

Here then is the most poignant dilemma faced by caregivers: not wishing to condemn the worth of people’s lives, yet not wanting to bind them to the rack of their growing misery; not wishing to say they are better off dead, yet not wanting always to oppose their going hither.

How we age and die are not only private matters. Our communal practices and social policies shape the environments in which aging and caregiving take place.

We cannot pretend that individual families, or society as a whole, will have unlimited resources, particularly in a populace with more elderly persons and fewer young workers. Americans will need to make hard choices among competing goods, and to confront the limits of even our own affluent society.

Americans increasingly regard old age as a bundle of needs and problems demanding solution, or as a time of life whose meaning is defined largely by the struggle to stay healthy and fit. This outlook has generated discontent with the life cycle itself, producing an insatiable desire for more and more medical miracles, and creating the fantasy that we can transcend our limitations—or that death itself may be pushed back indefinitely. More deeply, this same outlook has engendered the illusion that independence is the whole truth about our lives, causing us to undervalue those attachments and obligations that bind and complete us.

We live already in a world in which the life cycle has largely lost its ethical meaning. Aware as we may be that we are on a solitary journey that ends inevitably in the grave, few of us take our bearings from nature’s eternal teaching that there is a time to be born and a time to die. We learn little from the rhythm of growth and decay, everything in its season, our own finitude transcended and redeemed by generation upon generation of new birth and renewal, transforming each singular finite trajectory into a permanently recurring cycle of life.

This cultural myopia is no trivial matter. Indeed, in the mass geriatric society it could have deadly consequences. For unless we learn to accept both our frailties and our finitude, we are likely to find the burdens of caregiving intolerable. And unless we learn how to let loved ones die when the time comes, we will be tempted to kill—self-righteously, in the guise of a false compassion. Sooner or later, when the medical gospel of healthy aging and the legal gospel of living wills are shown to have been false teachings, we may easily fall prey to the utilitarian gospel of euthanasia, whose prophets are patiently waiting in the wings for their time upon our cultural stage. Paradoxically, a dogmatic insistence that patients must be kept alive regardless of the depth of their disabilities—that severe dementia or unmanageable suffering deserves no consideration in deciding when to “let nature take its course”—may only make mercy killing appear to be the more compassionate remedy for the miseries of extended decline.

In the end, there is no “solution” to the problems of old age, at least no solution that any civilized society could tolerate. But there are better and worse ways to see our aging condition. The better way begins in thinking of ourselves less as wholly autonomous individuals than as members of families; in relinquishing our mistaken belief that medicine can miraculously liberate our loved ones or ourselves from debility and decline, and instead taking up our role as caregivers; and in abjuring the fantasy that we can control the manner and the hour of our dying, learning instead to accept death in its proper season as mortal beings replaced and renewed by the generations that follow.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Remember Barry Scheck? He was OJ’s DNA expert and he runs this organization called the INNOCENTS PROJECT.

DNA testing has been a major factor in changing the criminal justice system. It has provided scientific proof that our system convicts and sentences innocent people -- and that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events. Most importantly, DNA testing has opened a window into wrongful convictions so that we may study the causes and propose remedies that may minimize the chances that more innocent people are convicted.

It’s a worthy idea to get innocent people freed. States should offer to fund DNA testing on all of their death row inmates with the agreement that if a convict’s DNA does match they will forego any further appeals and make ready to be executed within 10 days. It would be using science like the NFL uses the instant replay. The results would trump all else.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


I had little time for movie watching in November and December. I can usually watch this many films in a single month. I did get to watch 18 episodes of YOU BET YOUR LIFE on DVD. I never tire of Gorucho.

FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975) – Robert Mitchum plays Philip Marlow in Raymond Chandler’s third novel. Unlike Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE made two years earlier, FAREWELL sets Marlowe back in the 1940s where he belongs. The shame is that the producers felt compelled to inject the material with 1970s sensibilities. Whereas Chandler always treated his fictional cops as a nuisance, the filmmakers decide to make them corrupt. And unlike the books, Marlow is using his share of swearwords to toughen up his character. They also play up the racial element a bit too much. Mitchum himself is good despite the distractions, but the same material was filmed much better as MURDER MY SWEET (1944) with Dick Powell playing a surprisingly effective Marlowe. Powell may have been the best screen Marlowe in film history, being that Bogart was great in THE BIG SLEEP (1946), but his iconic image tended to overpower the character. You can’t imagine anything bad really happening to Bogart while Powell always seemed to be in the middle of danger. Like Bogart, Mitchum doesn’t ever really seem to be in much danger, but that is mostly due to the studio’s reluctance to stick to the actual storyline from the book. John Huston knew that he couldn’t write better dialogue than Hammett and he instead just filmed the book when he made THE MALTESE FALCON. If someone ever wants to try to make a really good Marlowe movie they should consider doing the same.

MONA LISA’S SMILE (2003) – I remember being given a lecture in 1989 about how little boys need to find their inner poet rather than take to heart the rat race of commerce and career. Like DEAD POETS SOCIETY, MONA LISA’S SMILE is set in the same confines of anal 1950s America. But this movie has a different take on the same system. Instead of praising the society that allowed women the leisure to remain in the home reading Keats and Whitman while their husbands play cutthroat on Manhattan Island, this movie wants women to experience all the negatives things that come with the dog eat dog reality of career. Don’t these film makers know that the option of a career outside of the home will become an expectation of society and sooner or later women will be forced to jump off the roof of their dorm room because their parents scorn their decision to pursue the soft arts instead of Wall Street? PLEASANTVILLE did an excellent job of taking the 1950s cliché setting and finding humor to go along with it. Too many other movies present this time as dire instead of hokey. Hopefully someday there will be a slew of movies about our uptight politically correct society of today masquerading as enlightenment. MONA LISA seems like it was written in a screenwriter’s workshop with the characters of DEAD POETS put into female form. Remember that crazy before-his-time bastard from POETS named Nuwanda? Here we have Maggie Gyllenhall playing that character running around with older men and in possession of, get this. . . a diaphragm and I don’t mean the kind you speak from. Remember the character that wanted to date the cute blonde girl, but couldn’t get past the boyfriend? Here you have the chubby girl who pursues the geeky guy all sweetly before she realizes that he’s engaged to someone else. You also have Kirsten Dunst who blindly follows her mother’s demands to the point of misery which I suppose is Robert Sean Leonard from POETS. The climax of POETS was Ethan Hawke’s Beau Gest at the end of film showing his independence from the authorities. Here we have Julia Stiles and she gives up her chance to attend Yale Law School despite the wishes of Julia Roberts. She’ll no doubt spend her time reading Whitman and Keats instead. DEAD POETS worked chiefly because it made you feel the confines of that school and it assumed the greater confines of society as a whole. There was no room for the individual in that universe and it touched our deepest human desire to be free. Knowing that the characters had to conform to make a living in that world was enough to give us pain. Everyone has to eat. Maybe just a little bit of poetry would help the medicine go down. Here the rat race is painted much more realistically as an opportunity rather than a burden and it’s great fun to see Hollywood have to acknowledge that before shaming that culture for its insensitivity.

RUNAWAY JURY (2003) I understand the book was about a tobacco suit, but the storyline was dropped after THE INSIDER vilified that industry to death. So screaming right out of the headlines is litigation about gun manufacturers responsible for the people who shoot innocents. The movie lets the advocates for the 2nd amendment say their peace in the most practiced and lukewarm manner so that the real heroes can speak their opposition to guns with passion and conviction. We’re supposed to believe Dustin Hoffman as the New Orleans lawyer bringing the case to trial. I know I couldn’t keep a straight face. The plot is basically John Cusack and his girlfriend Rachel Weiss conspiring to get him onto a gun jury in order to extort money from the lawyers. It wasn’t a bad idea for a book and maybe it worked alright in the book, but the movie resolution is such that everything that came before it made little sense. The only real positive is getting to see Gene Hackman play his umpteenth Grisham villain.

THE ISLAND (2005) – The problem with science fiction movies is that they need to start with an interesting premise and sometimes create an entire alternate universe. Both of these can be done successfully and yet the filmmakers can still fail at putting a good human drama into that setting. That’s the struggle here. THE ISLAND begins as a decent mystery, but as you try to unwind the universe you come across the derivative elements from movies like LOGAN’S RUN and THE MATRIX. Casting Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson was a good idea because they are both talented enough to bring the right kind of audience empathy, but once the movie evolves from psychological drama to action film, they cease being human as they trade up for super hero capes. I did enjoy the movie all the way through, but I don’t think it’s as watchable a second time. Being one step ahead of characters is a movie like this spoils the fun.

BAD NEWS BEARS (2005) Walter Mathau has never been acknowledged for the true greatness he brought to these kinds of roles. Put him into the part of amiable schmuck who is a little smarter than he initially seems and you have screen magic. Billy Bob Thorton is an actor with decent range if you compare SLING BLADE, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, THE ALAMO and INTOLERABLE CRUELTY. But Thorton doesn’t have the magic in his eye that Mathau had and he suffers by comparison. Mathau’s character in the original was simply a lazy bum not too far from his Oscar Madison while Billy Bob’s Buttermaker is decidedly sleazy. But the real problem with the movie is opportunity for realism is squandered for cheap laughs. I laughed at this film several times, but no more than I did the original. The difference is that the 1976 version took time to create real human moments with seemingly real children. The fat Englebert and the feisty Tanner were funny and yet real in the first film. You could laugh and yet feel for them at the same time. Here, they are just cartoon characters. And it’s not the actor’s fault, because they seem to pull off their scenes just fine. The usually reliable Richard Linklater just doesn’t bother to show us the quiet moments. He also makes these kids seem too self-aware, confident and cool. In the first film they would put on acts with guts and tough talk, but they were still scared kids underneath who needed re-assurance from their coach. It made scenes like the opposing coach’s tirade real and you felt real empathy for them. I read a review that said that Vic Morrow portrayal of the Vince Lomardi coach was intended as parody, but I played little league in the 1970s and though it may have been stronger than anything I personally witnessed, it wasn’t a terrible stretch. Greg Kinnear’s character doesn’t retain any of the inner menace. I think the main problem is that the original wasn’t trying to be a blockbuster. It was happy to take its time with the struggle of the team and the personal growth of the individual players. By the end you felt that you knew them in a real way. From the trailer it was evident that this movie was made for a big opening weekend and little more. I implore anyone who has seen the remake or wants to see it to go back and watch the original and see the difference. What I most noticed was the way both movies ramped up the final game with the coaches getting a little too serious. The difference is that when you see the kids react to the Morrow incident, it’s also when you see Mathau realize that he too has gone too far. It’s a very simple thing to show us and yet Linklater skipped right over it. The original film also shows you how movies were made in the pre-politically correct era. The original kids were foul-mouthed even sputtering occasional racial epitaphs and Buttermaker let them drink real beer. Billy Bob has to settle for O’Douls which like the movie offers some flavor at first, but little long term effect.

SKY HIGH (2005) – I groaned when I saw this as the next choice on the plane coming back from Rome. I wanted to see THE ISLAND and I was happy enough to watch BAD NEWS BEARS for free, but I felt that this was just too kiddy to bother with. Thankfully, I decided to give it ten minutes rather then be bored with more reading. Here is a movie aimed at kids that is clever enough to entertain adults too. I think one of the chief strengths is the affability of Kurt Russell as the superhero dad wanting his son to follow in his footsteps. The movie is about the son attending the special high school for superheroes and how the coach breaks the kids down into heroes and sidekicks. The movie has fun with political correctness by having the sidekick’s teacher refer to them as “Hero Support.” The plot is nothing special, but the laughs are decent and that made it surprisingly better than you might expect.

FINDING NEVERLAND (2004) – Johnny Depp is maybe the best actor of his generation and yet I never seem to want to see any Johnny Depp films. Looking through his list of roles I find quirky characters and oddball stories. Ed Wood is probably my favorite Depp film because for as kooky as Ed Wood was, he’s a real person by comparison to many of the others. I don’t know much about JM Barry, but Depp comes off quite naturally in this role, although I struggled to find anything interesting in how Depp’s character develops Peter Pan through his personal experiences. I suppose this movie is an descendant
to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, but it lacks the humor and theatre in-jokes that made SHAKESPEARE fun entertainment. Peter Pan probably wouldn’t even be iconic had Disney not made the animated film years after Barry died. So the whole thing comes off as an attempt at importance without anything interesting enough to sustain attention.

INDIAN RUNNER (1991) – Sean Penn’s first directorial effort has some very interesting qualities though it already seems a bit dated. David Morse (underrated) and Viggo Mortensen play brothers, Morse a Sheriff and Viggo the hellion just back from Vietnam. Viggo wants nothing of this small town life and has to see both of his parents, Sandy Dennis and Charles Bronson die before he decides to return. The question is whether Morse can convince Viggo to give in to Middle American values. Penn’s politics answer the question before you see the movie. The Indian Runner symbolism is a bit much and some of the rambling dialogue in the latter half reminds me of Penn’s incoherent interview on Larry King following his Iraq trip. Still, it’s interesting in the way all of Penn’s films are interesting although you probably wouldn’t want to see any of them a multiple times.

CLINT EASTWOOD: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (2000) – Morgan Freeman narrates this Eastwood Documentary that spans just the right amount of time without shirking his days on Rawhide or some of his lesser films. But I still think it’s difficult for any documentary to capture Clint Eastwood fully, because Hollywood doesn’t really understand him. They know he’s an artist and therefore his work is up for serious consideration, but what to make of films like Dirty Harry where getting the bad guy means violating his Miranda rights. I think the filmmakers would appreciate if Clint just apologized for the whole film, but since he hasn’t, they let the half-ass sequel Magnum Force be the apology. That’s the movie where Hal Holbrook runs a secret vigilante cop squad and Eastwood brings the operation down. MAGNUM FORCE is preposterous and if it’s really a repudiation of DIRTY HARRY then how do you explain SUDDEN IMPACT, where Harry lets Sandra Locke get away with shooting those who raped her sister? Hollywood loved UNFORGIVEN too and they made a point of rewarding Clint not for the art alone but some sort of perceived growth in his overall character. But Eastwood’s heroes were always more ambivalent than John Wayne’s. William Munny shoots down Little Bill at the end much like Callahan kills Andy Robinson or Josey Wales got the men that did that to his family. What’s different except that Eastwood reflects on the realness of the killing with poetry like “It’s a hell of a thing killing a man, taking all he has and all he ever will have”? I think Hollywood either doesn’t understand Eastwood or just refuses to accept him on his own terms. Just the same, you can enjoy this documentary if you don’t mind their bumbling.

TIN STAR (1957) Anthony Mann Western with Henry Fonda stepping into the James Stewart role as a bounty hunter bringing in a fugitive for money. The town hates Fonda and the anarchy he represents, but the young sheriff, Anthony Perkins seeks Fonda's mentorship because the job has a lot of nuances that that no maual can teach. We learn that Fonda too was once a lawman and he left the profession after becoming disenchanted with the way things really are. Therefore, Perkins gets to mentor Fonda in the importance of social order while he's learning what it takes to wear a badge. It's an entertaining enough film, but slight seeming in the context of other psychological westerns of the time.

SIN CITY (2005) – You have to admire Robert Rodriguez who seems to be the hardest working director in film. And when you read about how he gave up his DGA card so that he could work quickly in his own way without union trouble and in the comforts of his own home, he’s revolutionary. Here he somehow seems to capture the graphic novel nature by making the film both cartoon and live action. Despite the first-rate cast and great look, it takes a lot out of you. The heroes don’t always meet the ends you’d wish and it makes the end result a little less satisfying. Still, days later I remember more scenes than I thought I would.

NOBODY KNOWS (2005) Japanese film about neglectful mama more interested in running around with men than taking care of her four kids. It begins with small lapses and then becomes long absences. The oldest son that can’t be more than ten becomes the man of the family scrounging food and trying to keep the kids together. In some ways, it’s an adventure for the kids, and they deal with it in different ways at different times. You expect everything to work out in a conventional way, but it doesn’t. It’s not quite Lord of the Flies, but it isn’t Culkin fighting Pesci either.