The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

The Life and Times of Judge Roy BeanI just watched The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. I remember vaguely it being very successful. And when I saw it was directed by John Huston, I thought I would give it a try. I should have looked closer.

Troubling signs occurred during the credits: written by John Milius. But I stuck with it. Right off, it looked like a dumb person’s idea of combining The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Of course, it was filled with Milius’ notions of romantic violence. But even apart from this, the film really misses. I like Huston as a director, but this didn’t work. He is no Hill, much less Peckinpah. This is material that just doesn’t work to his strengths. The action is too realistic and the comedy too broad. (It doesn’t help that Milius provided an episodic script filled with awkward, predictable violence and awkward, predictable comedy.)

It is interesting that Huston and Millius couldn’t create an interesting story for the film. After all, they had some interesting characters to work with: Roy Bean, Lillie Langtry, Grizzly Adams (although Adams has no actual connection to the real life story). I think, as is often the case in movies, they were just too in love with their idea.

Overall, the film looked good. The filming and art direction worked. But other than that, pretty much everything else is weak in this film. The score by Maurice Jarre is overbearing. The editing was stilted, but I figure this was because Huston didn’t provide sufficient coverage. The make-up even seemed wrong, although the women looked beautiful. To top all of this off, the acting was surprisingly bad. It seemed like everyone was having a good time, but no one seemed to be working—except for maybe Victoria Principal. (I also liked Anthony Perkins, although I have a soft spot for him.)

Perhaps I’m being unfair. When a film doesn’t work, all of the parts stand out as bad. For example, if the movie had been more engrossing, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the music. But there is no getting away from the fact that The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is almost a completely unwatchable film.

Amongst Our Problems with Monty Python…

Monty Python's Flying CircusMy biggest complain about Monty Python’s Flying Circus, is that it is not that well written. It has good ideas and often takes them in bizarre and delightful directions. But most of the time, instead of ending a skit, they simply stop it. Their favorite way of doing this is to just start an orthogonal sketch. This is the basis for, “And now for something completely different.”

This approach can get brilliant. The Spanish Inquisition show is a good example of this. The first time the papal trio show up, it is the same old thing that Monty Python always gives us. But when it is repeated, it becomes something more. And when the episode ends with the mad dash of the Spanish Inquisition to the court, only to arrive late, it is brilliant. “Oh, bugger!”[1]

Here is Monty Python at their meta best. They explicitly make a joke out of their tendency not to complete a skit but rather just to move on to something else. It is the “Argument Clinic” sketch:

I suspect that they bring this up because a lot of critics at the time complained about this. I’ve never claimed to be original. This has long been my complaint about Saturday Night Live. But SNL doesn’t have the excuse of having clever transitions. (No one beats Mr. Show for that, however.)


[1] Note that the theme for this chase is Devil’s Galop, the same song used by That Mitchel and Web Look in “The Surprising Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caesar.”

Chicken Hawk Down

Chicken HawkI have long thought it curious that conservatives are drawn to the language of Republicans about small business and self-reliance. These are shown to be myths by their actual policies. But now I am more inclined to think these conservatives only believe in the Republican bellicosity. So the conservatives only use the nice words to justify their belonging to the Republican Party. Their real reason is that they too like the “kick ass, take no prisoners” tough talk of the Republicans. This does, of course, explain why women tend to be Democrats.

There is a fundamental difference in the way that Republicans and Democrats see themselves. Democrats seem themselves as caring about others. Republicans see themselves as caring about individual rights and “freedom.” Both groups fall short of their own ideals. However, the Democrats at least vote for their ideals. Republicans tend to define “individual rights” as “my individual rights.” Conservatives have a fundamental lack of empathy. For example, see Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean.

Think for a moment about the Cheneys. They are extremely conservative—except on the issue of gay rights. If their daughter weren’t gay, they would be unable to imagine what it is like to be gay in America. Just the same: the poor are just a bunch of ne’er do wells to them, because the Cheneys have no experience with the poor and no empathy with which they can understand them.

I am constantly surprised to meet young men who are Republicans. They don’t particularly agree with Republican orthodoxy. In fact, like most Republicans, if asked about their opinions, they will give you a list that fits much better in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. But they will maintain their allegiance to the Republican Party because it is the testosterone fueled one—the chest thumping one. The Democrats may be just as much a bunch of warriors (much to my despair), but they don’t make a party of it.

Update (20 October 2012 6:28 pm)

Howard Kurtz interviewed Tom Friedman recently, and it touches on this:

[Friedman] describes the GOP approach this way: “Democrats are wimps. Republicans are tough. Obama’s been a wimp. I will be tougher… It’s a real stretch.” He says foreign policy has been a back-burner question in this campaign, even though “Republicans are used to owning this issue,” because “mainstream Americans are basically satisfied” with Obama’s stewardship.

The Wonderful Reagan Years!

The Reactionary MindOn December 5, 1982, Ronald Reagan met Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt in Honduras. It was a useful meeting for Reagan. “Well, I learned a lot,” he told reporters on Air Force One. “You’d be surprised. They’re all individual countries.” It was also a useful meeting for Ríos Montt. Reagan declared him “a man of great personal integrity… totally dedicate to democracy.” He also claimed that the Guatemalan strongman was getting “a bum rap” from human rights organizations for his military’s campaign against leftist guerrillas. The next day, Daniel Wilkinson tells us in Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala, one of Guatemala’s elite platoons entered a jungle village called Las Dos Erres and killed 162 of its inhabitants, 67 of them children. Soldiers “grabbed” babies and toddlers by their legs, swung them in the air, and “smashed” their heads “against a wall.” Older children and adults were forced to “kneel at the edge of a well,” where a single “blow from a sledge hammer” sent them plummeting below. The platoon then raped a selection of women and girls it had “saved for last,” pummeling their stomachs in order to force the pregnant among them to miscarry. They tossed the women into the well and filled it with dirt, burying an unlucky few alive. “The only human remains that [later] visitors would find” were “blood on the walls and placentas and umbilical cords on the ground.”

—Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind

Schumer on Tax Policy

Chuck SchumerEzra Klein has a really good interview with Chuck Schumer over at WonkBlog. Schumer is wrong about a lot of thing, of course; but he makes some excellent points. He is clearly a thoughtful guy. It’s too bad he is such a New Democrat. Still, his heart seems to be in the right place (in his chest as opposed to where a Republican keeps it: in a box under ground). And he’s right about a number of things.

Schumer’s main argument is that the Republicans are not being honest when they say that they want to change the tax code in a revenue neutral way. I’ve been long saying this. You just don’t start a discussion of the debt with: let’s make it worse!

He puts this into sharp relief by proposing how Democrats would act if they were similarly disingenuous:

When Republicans say the first thing you do when you do deficit reduction is reduce rates, it would be like Democrats saying the first thing you do when you do deficit reduction is provide free Medicare at age 55. We’d like to do that! But it won’t bring the deficit down. That’s for sure.

It just makes no sense and I’m surprised so many have swallowed it for so long. If your number one goal is deficit reduction, you don’t start out by lowering the rates. You don’t need a PhD in economics to understand that.

Exactly! What’s more, I think most non-PhD economists ask a reasonable question, “If your marginal rate tax cuts will be revenue neutral, why are you doing it?” There is a reason for this, but I’ve never found it that compelling. The claim is that it will make the tax code fairer and thus increase growth. (This is an issue that involves the wealthy and the really wealthy—it has nothing to do with the middle classes.) But Schumer is certainly right when he speculates:

I think the goal of many on the right is not really cleaning up the code but getting that top rate lower.

Even if this was a great idea—and I doubt this—a big problem is that if such a plan started with this idea, it would end with the lower tax rates with none of the deductions cut. Or at best, the deductions would be put back in the years going forward. The main thing is that Republicans only want to do this so they can cut taxes on the wealthy.

Ezra Klein makes an excellent point during the interview:

One frustration I have with the discussion is you only ever hear about progressivity and regressivity on the tax side. But if we manage to do revenue-neutral tax reform that holds the burden on the top 1 percent constant, as Romney says he wants to do, and then reduce the deficit by cutting Medicaid and food stamps, we haven’t spread the sacrifice. We’ve reduced the deficit in an incredibly regressive way.

Which is the whole point! Republicans and, to a lesser but profound extent, Democrats only hear from the rich. Their campaigns are funded by the rich. People on food stamps don’t much matter. Especially when they can manipulated by TV commercials and, if all else fails, simply deprived of the right to vote.

All Good Ducks Go To Heaven

The Good DuckThe Lester & Charlie Review send us to the Huffington Post and a story about the results of home schooling, New Zealand Teen Proclaims ‘Ducks Could Take Over The World’ If Gay Marriage Is Approved. But before I get to the letter, I want to tell you why it makes me so happy.

New Zealand! It’s not just us: there are ignorant and evil people in New Zealand too! In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if such people exist in Canada. Now all those idiot conservatives can stop chanting, “We’re number one!” and start chanting, “We’re not the only one!”

Originally, Gawker grabbed the article from New Zealand’s Northern Outlook (but good luck trying to find the original article there). I have taken the time to transcribe this letter because I think it is important to demonstrate the way that conservative Christians think:

Ancient Behaviour

Homosexuality, including same-sex marriage, is not an enlightened idea. The Romans practiced homosexuality. Surely, after 2000 years, our level of intelligence should have evolved somewhat, so that we can pride ourselves on being cleverer than our forebears.

If homosexuality spreads, it can cause human evolution to come to a standstill. It could threaten the human position on the evolutionary ladder, as say, ducks, could take over the world. Ducks always nest in pairs, and if we allow same-sex marriage, then the ducks will have evolved further than we have. We will be in danger of all being equal with ducks more equal us. [sic.]

We should learn from history and not be suck with copying ancient behavior. The government has no right to bring up back to the stone age. I don’t want my children to have to compete with ducks. I want them to evolve further than I have. Any self-respecting human would aim for that too.

None of this really bears any weight for me, because I do not believe in evolution. However, the powers that be believe in evolution, and have made many decisions based on it. They should be consistent: If you believe in evolution, you can’t be in favour of homosexuality, or the ducks will get you in the end.

Jasmin Harrison
Homeschooled, Scargill

My first thought was (and almost always is) that this must be a hoax. But no. There is an article on 17 October Northern Outlook about all the attention the letter is getting. (Sorry, there is no direct link.) The reporter spoke to Mrs. Harrison, Jasmin’s mother, who “said her daughter was well spoken, but not outspoken, and was a committed Christian.”

PZ Myers over at Science Blog gives this letter all it deserves in terms of science. And history. And theology. It is this last part that I find most interesting. What I find troubling about conservatism generally, is how simplistic its world view is. By its thoughts, life is some kind of race to the top. There is a pinnacle that we reach. For economic conservatives, an unregulated capitalism is perfect. They can’t admit that things like inheritance and property rights are necessarily unnatural and unfair. (Note that what these people really pine for is a feudal system.)

For theological conservatives, the issue is even worse. For Christians, this means that the peak of thinking in this area occurred 2000 years ago. And this is what we get from young Jasmin in the form of an evolutionary “ladder.” By this thinking, the whole point of evolution was to create us. And going forward, evolution will improve us. If we don’t watch out and stop having butt sex, God will get mad and make the ducks the chosen species. Then, the whole purpose of the universe will be to improve the duck design. God won’t love us any more, and only good ducks will go to heaven.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet duck:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!