De Facto Cannabis Legalization?

Eric HolderThere is amazing news out of Washington today. The Huffington Post reported that the Justice Department is going to stop prosecuting cannabis laws in Colorado and Washington, at least for now. There are, of course, exceptions big enough to drive a SWAT team through. But this is amazing because it is unquestionably a move in the right direction.

It wasn’t until 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act that we had any federal drug laws. Truly, if drug use is an issue, it is a local issue. But at least that was a tax act—a proper form of federal government law, even if it was just a pretense. Since then, even pretense has gone and we’ve been left with more and more laws and harsher and harsher penalties for the sole purpose of allowing politicians to appear “tough on crime” to their constituencies.

What we really need is to repeal the federal drug laws. It isn’t like the states don’t have all of the same laws anyway. It’s not like repealing these laws would create a free for all. And the feds could concentration of the transportation of drugs into the country and across state lines. Again: these are perfectly justified uses of federal power. And here’s the thing: conservatives should love this. After all, the states are supposedly the laboratories of democracy. Will legalizing cannabis destroy society? Well, Colorado and Washington will let us know!

Of course, conservatives especially will be against this. They are always against states rights if they increase the freedom of individuals. That’s why the banner “states’ rights” has always been a joke. It’s just a dog whistle for “oppress minorities.” But to actually allow states to try less punitive solutions to social ills? Forget about it! And notice: Massachusetts was used as a laboratory of democracy with healthcare reform. And it worked! And what was the conservative response: not in my nation!

The problem is not just conservatives, of course. At this point, federal drug laws have been around for such a long time no one remembers when they weren’t. Everyone thinks that they have always been there and if they haven’t, they were put in place for very good reasons. If by “very good reasons” you mean hatred of Chinese, blacks, and Latinos, then yes, they were put in place for very good reasons. Otherwise, no. Drug related problems are far worse since the laws.

So this is good news. But there are so many ways that it can go wrong, it will not shock me if it does. After all, it will only take some teen aged suicide in Colorado who is found to have smoked cannabis. I can see the headlines now, “Teen Dies Because of Colorado Pot Law.” Regardless of this kind of thing, once a Republican is in the White House, I’m sure that the Justice Department will want to reverse course on this. But there is also a good possibility that nothing will go wrong by the time we get a new John Ashcroft, and cannabis tolerance will be the new normal.

When have I ever been this positive about anything?

Afterword

A couple of weeks ago, my nephew made fun of my use of the term “cannabis.” He should have known better than say anything because then he was treated to a half hour dissertation on racist drug laws and the etymology of the word “marijuana.”

And just to head off any complaints: the new cannabis laws relate only to adults. But that will not stop people from arguing that the greater availability of the drug is leading to children getting it. And finally: I personally hate cannabis. It clearly has a more pleasant effect on other people than it does on me.

Conservatives Behind Every Curve

Mark KleimanYesterday, Mark Kleiman wrote a great article over at Ten Miles Square, Martin Luther King vs. Today’s Conservatives. It is written as a letter to conservatives. And what he is addressing is the conservative resentment that the celebration of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom isn’t presented as a national triumph but rather a liberal triumph. “After all,” the conservatives say, “We’re against racism too! We love Martin Luther King Jr too!”

Well, maybe. As Kleinman wrote, “But while [King] was alive, and for some time after his death, your faction hated him, and everything he stood for, and tried to defame him. No prominent conservative or libertarian politician, writer, or thinker supported the civil rights movement he led.” But is it even true that conservatives really love King and the Voting Rights Act today? I don’t really think so.

Over at Gin and Tocos yesterday, Ed wrote Fatigue Factor about how exhausting it was as a conservative to constantly say things that differed from what you actually believed. He specifically mentions the Lewinsky affair. Was it really true that Republicans were outraged about it? No. It was just that they didn’t like Bill Clinton, but that wasn’t likely to be accepted as a reason for impeachment.

I think the same thing is going on with civil rights. Most conservatives I talk to will admit that it was wrong to have laws preventing African Americans from voting. But their position toward all other civil rights causes is negative. Whatever the current law is, it is right—even God given. And all those black and brown skinned people should just shut up. What’s more, among older conservatives there is a strong feeling that while the cause may have been just, there was something wrong with King. He was a rabble-rouser and a communist and just generally not a true American. Of course, only the real bigots will say this in polite company.

Jonathan Chait had a great catch yesterday, Conservatives Think Racism Is Dead. They’re Wrong. He compared the National Review then and now. On 15 September 1963, white supremacists bombed a black church. Four children were killed in the bombing. National Review said, “And let it be said that the convulsions that go on, and are bound to continue, have resulted from revolutionary assaults on the status quo, and a contempt for the law…”

But that was then. They’ve apologized for it! And that’s true, but they are still blaming the African American community for its problems. Chait explained:

National Review’s editorial today pithily summarizes the contemporary line of the conservative movement on civil rights. The civil-rights movement was wonderful. It even concedes, as right-wingers usually fail to do, that the old generation of conservatives wrongly opposed that movement. (“Too many conservatives and libertarians, including the editors of this magazine, missed all of this at the time.”) But it proceeds to argue the evils the civil-rights movement fought against have been “vanquished,” and those that remain are “lousy schools, a thriving drug trade and a misguided governmental response, the collapse of marriage.”

Again with the bad schools! First, as I’ve noted, the huge improvements in education in the African American community have not improved their economic standing. Second, conservatives do everything they can to make the schools of the poor even worse. They are totally behind the idea of local taxes supporting local schools, which means that poor students get fewer educational resources than rich kids. But it is all the fault of the black community!

Beyond that, this is just the same argument that conservatives always make: if blacks are suffering it is their own damned fault. Yes, the rhetoric is less vile. But that’s learned behavior: they know they would be ostracized if they were still justifying church bombings. As Ed indicated, the issue here is that the conservatives never say what they mean. And what they mean now is the same thing they meant then: they just don’t care. They are fine with the status quo and they want minority communities to just shut up.

Mark Kleiman finished up his article by noting that conservatives can’t co-opt King’s legacy:

Martin Luther King died while on a campaign to support a public-sector labor union. You’re entitled to say that he was a bad man and a Communist, as your faction did while he was alive, and that his assassination was the natural result of his use of civil disobedience, which is what Ronald Reagan said at the time. You’re entitled to say that he was a great man but that his thoughts are no longer applicable to the current political situation. But what you’re not entitled to do is to pretend that, if he were alive today, MLK would not be fighting against you and everything you stand for. He would.

I think that conservatives should just avoid the subject all together. The philosophical foundation of conservatism is the end of history. This is the idea that we have arrived at the perfect society (give or take). And so of course civil rights was a just cause in the 1960s. But when the 1960s was in the present tense, it was not a just cause for these very same conservatives. What this means is that in 20 years, conservatives will look back at now and say, of course marriage equality was a just cause. In 50 years (if we are very lucky) they will look back and say of course income inequality was a just cause. But they will always and forever be behind the curve on these issues. They will always and forever be apologizing for previous opinions. And they will never figure it out.

Afterword

I think I may have been too kind to the conservative movement here. I don’t think that the voter ID laws are primarily about getting electoral advantage—at least not among the conservative base. These are deeply racist laws that demonstrate a world view where whites are the “real” America. And they are, after all, just poll taxes by another name. So maybe it is better to say that conservatives are fine with the status quo with a bit of racial animus thrown in.

Syria Intelligence “Undeniable” but Not “Slam Dunk”?

SyriaThis morning, the Associated Press reported, Intelligence on Weapons No Slam Dunk. And it’s first sentence is a doozy, “The intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack is no ‘slam dunk,’ with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say.” Now I don’t want to get all metaphysical here, but that sure doesn’t go along with Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that the intelligence was “undeniable.”

I was directed to the article by “bloody good war” proponent Jonathan Chait who is now a bit concerned about the whole thing, Obama Better Have the Goods on Syria. His caution is understandable. Even if Syria used chemical weapons on its people, the United States doesn’t have a great justification for bombing them:

The clearest justifications for military action don’t apply. This is not a case of self-defense, or defense of an ally, or the prevention of genocide. There is an international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but Syria didn’t sign it, perhaps correctly calculating that it would one day need to use such weapons. We would be enforcing an informal norm against the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Chait goes on to explain that he still thinks that enforcing this norm is a good idea. But you have to wonder: does the United States have the moral authority to do this? After all, we’ve done nothing while chemical weapons were being used in the past. In fact, we’ve even provided at least tacit approval. That doesn’t stop us from starting a new policy, of course. But I seriously doubt that we would do anything if it was a despot we liked better or even just one that isn’t on The List.

Supposedly, the Obama administration is going to present its evidence against Syria today. And I understand that people like Chait really do care that we get this right. But does it really matter? Remember Colin Powell’s slam dunk at the United Nations? It doesn’t much matter what the administration says. If they say it forcefully enough, the US press will shout headlines like “Undeniable!” And intelligence officers will privately shake their heads and mutter, “Here we go again.”

Goethe and Wimping Out About Faust

GoetheOn this day in 1814, Irish mystery writer Sheridan Le Fanu was born. Russian architect and engineer Vladimir Shukhov was born in 1853. Nature photographer Vittorio Sella was born in 1859. Late Romantic opera composer Umberto Giordano was born in 1867. Here is a bit of his opera Fedora:

Actor Charles Boyer was born in 1899. Writer Robertson Davies was born in 1913. Sociologist C. Wright Mills was born in 1916. He popularized one of my favorite terms in his book, The Power Elite.

Kamandi - Jack KirbyComic book artist Jack Kirby was born in 1917. Last year, I wrote this about him:

When I was a kid, I thought comics sucked. The only mainstream comic I ever read was Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. It was written and drawn by Jack Kirby. But it definitely wasn’t the art I liked. Kirby is a really important comic book artist. He more or less created Marvel Comics as we now know it. And his style was totally new: extreme perspective implying lots of motion. But it was Kirby the storyteller that I liked.

I am not at all a fan of Stan Lee who I think did very little in terms of comic books except to make a lot of money publicizing them. Kirby expanded what comic books did, and Lee kept them as dumbed down as possible to keep those 13 year olds reading them.

Actor Donald O’Connor was born in 1925. Actor Ben Gazzara was born in 1930. And Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground was born in 1942.

Documentary filmmaker and activist Robert Greenwald is 68 today. Actor Luis Guzman is 57. Actor Daniel Stern is 56. Ice skater Scott Hamilton is 55. And comedian Jack Black is 44.

The day, however, belongs to the great writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who was born on this day in 1749. It is generally hard to appreciate writers who do not write in your own language. I don’t have such a problem with Cervantes, because I enjoy his outlook on life and his humor always comes through loud and clear. With someone like Proust, it is hard to get through the translation because the writing is so dense. Goethe is somewhere in the middle. I do appreciate his world view: it seems like he was a gentle soul. Most of what I’ve read is Faust. In fact, I really like the Walter Kaufmann translation, because it has the German on the left hand page. And you can see that it is a lot easier to translate German into English than French or Spanish.

Speaking of his gentle soul: I still don’t know how I feel about his take on the Faustian legend. Goethe gets Faust off on a loophole. In a Romantic sense (the one that he was writing within), this is a cop out. But in a modern sense, it is perfect. It entirely sums up modern America. Faust is loved by God, so of course he isn’t going to let anything bad happen to his boy. Hell is for the poor, the not chosen. It most certainly isn’t for God’s favorites, regardless of how they behave. Welcome to American meritocracy!

Here is a bit of Faust read in German with the English translation on the screen:

Happy birthday Goethe!

Ben Carson’s Ill Informed Conservative Claptrap

Ben CarsonBen Carson, that great truth teller whose truth seems always to say what the power elite want to hear, had a special article for the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech. And what truth does he have to tell? Nothing but the same old conservative line that Martin Luther King Jr would be very very unhappy with the African Americans of today. All that crime and illegitimacy! Tut tut. Check out Ed Kilgore’s take on it.

But I was struck by one particular passage in Carson’s article:

King was a huge advocate of education and would be horrified by the high dropout rates in many inner-city high schools. He, like many others, was vilified, beaten and jailed for trying to open the doors of education to everyone, regardless of their race.

This is something we hear all the time from conservatives. If blacks would just get a decent education, then everything would be fine! The problem with this is that blacks have been getting educated. I discussed this very issue earlier this month, Blacks Getting Educated, Then Forgotten. It is based on a bunch of recent work by Janelle Jones at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. All of the information in her work shows that exactly the opposite has happened. The number of black men with less than a high school degree is way down. Similarly, the number with college degrees has almost tripled from 8% to over 23%. Yet the black community has virtually nothing to show for this—not even an attaboy from conservatives like Carson.

Of course, I’m sure that Carson can wriggle his way out of these facts. After all, he pinpointed “inner-city” high schools and provided the ultimate weasel word: “many.” I’m not qualified to talk about that. But it does seem that this is blaming the victim. After all, Carson isn’t calling for equality of funding for all school kids. Quite the opposite, in fact. So I suspect he brings up this cherry picked “many inner-city high schools” so it appears to be related to the entire African American community (what the white establishment wants to believe) while still allowing him to defend himself against anyone who attacks him with the facts.

The second half of his article is all kinds of claims about what King would think and do if he were alive today. No one really knows, so its a fun game that conservatives especially like to play. I try not to take part myself. I can, however, say one thing that King did believe in while he was still alive: unionization. And one of the main findings of Jones’ work was that the decline in unionization has been a major cause of African Americans seeing little or no gain from their educations. Now it is entirely possible that had King lived he would have turned into a union hating, inequality embracing conservative. But the man who actually did walk this earth certainly would have seen Ben Carson’s claptrap for what it is had it been around in 1963.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply

Our Failed Copyright System In Not MLK’s Fault

Martin Luther King JrToday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And apparently, tonight, Chris Hayes will use All In to rebroadcast it and then discuss it. That will be at 5:00 Pacific Time. It ought to be good. But it is something of a big deal because the speech itself is under copyright and will be until 2038 at least. (Congress keeps extending copyright protections because of the threat of total cultural collapse when Micky Mouse faces of threat of being turned into a porn star. Really.)

There are people who are really bothered by this. And while I think our copyright system is completely messed up, I’m not too concerned about the issue here. It ought to go without saying that the speech ought to be in the public domain; it is part of our heritage. Just the same, “Yesterday” ought to be in the public domain too, but I don’t see people getting upset about that. (Other than me.) The truth of the matter is that it is not, as is often claimed, that you just can’t see the full speech. Here is a text copy of the original speech: I Have a Dream Speech. And here is the whole speech on YouTube:

It is something of an faith matter among liberals that King and the speech have been neutered. It is said that people focus on the most lyrical aspects of the speech because that is all that they have heard. I think this is hogwash. People always focus on the poetry of speeches and not the substance. And if the speech were in the public domain that would be all the more reason that television stations would avoid airing it, if its length (17 minutes) weren’t enough.

Of course, there is a bigger issue here. It isn’t just that the “I have a dream” speech is under copyright. The documentary of the civil rights struggle Eyes on the Prize has largely been unavailable since its release due to the increasing costs of archival footage—including the “I Have a Dream” speech. And that’s the thing about copyright: it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do. It no longer, in net, causes more content to be created. And in this case, the King estate has explicitly hindered the civil rights movement. For younger people, most of what they know about the civil rights movement comes from Eyes on the Prize. Keeping it out of print for 13 years over copyright rents is an affront to the civil rights movement and its legacy.

But are we really to blame the descendants of King for being greedy bastards when they are hardly the focus of the problem? I don’t see many children who inherit properties turning them over to charity. And regardless, it was Disney and other corporations who keep pushing for longer and longer copyright. True, the King estate could have done something other than hand the dirty business over to EMI. And so the King estate is part of the problem. But the main problem is systematic and it needs to be addressed.

Meanwhile, watch the speech. It is really good. It absolutely deserves its reputation!

Afterword

Note how I didn’t end this article with something lame like, “We must fix the copyright system so that our cultural treasures are free at last.” Oops!

Chait’s Careful War Mongering

Jonathan ChaitJonathan Chait wrote an amazing article about Syria yesterday. I do not mean that in a good way.

He tells us that, Syria Isn’t Iraq. Everything Isn’t Iraq. Fair enough. But listening to him over the last oh so many years, it is hard to conclude that Chait doesn’t think that just about any military conflict is a good idea. Sure, he’s not for conflicts like Iran. But anything that he thinks we are likely to succeed at is great.

He attacks Matt Yglesias for having his thinking stuck in the Iraq War mentality. I’m not even sure that that’s true. But one thing is certain: Chait is stuck in the Persian Gulf War mentality. Now there was a “bloody good war”! And he seems to want to keep having them. And I’m still not clear what the point was of that war. About 30,000 Iraqis died—mostly conscripts. But apparently, it was great for Chait because we “won.”

No mention is made of the study that Yglesias quoted that showed that such “humanitarian” interventions usually lead to more civilian casualties. As I wrote last night, protecting the civilian population is not the point of this intervention. How could it be after we’ve stood by and watched over a hundred thousand civilians be killed? Chait is wrong to push this as a humanitarian mission at all.

Chait also makes a very strange argument that anti-war liberals are like conservatives on domestic issues, “The arguments Yglesias poses today against a military strike against Syria eerily echo the arguments conservatives and libertarians make against any kind of domestic government intervention.” I don’t understand this. The conservatives are making ideological arguments, “I don’t care if welfare works; it’s wrong!” The arguments that we are making are practical—just like our domestic policy arguments, “This intervention is likely to make things worse.” Is Chait so blind as to not see this distinction?

By far the worst part of Chait’s article is the last paragraph:

I don’t like killing Syrians. And a lot of Syrians are getting killed. I don’t see any plausible way to stop that from happening. I do think that killing some of the Syrians who are soldiers wantonly killing civilians will probably lead to a net decrease in killing. As I said, it is not an easy call.

This is right out of the politician’s handbook. Of course we don’t want war, but what else can we do? We’re only going to go in to stop the killing. He really ought to watch War Made Easy.

Syria Was on the List So Let’s Attack

Syrian FighterAll I’ve been hearing today is that we have to strike Syria in order to “send a message.” I don’t think this is because people think we really need to send a message about the use of chemical weapons. I think it is because the argument for protecting the Syrian people doesn’t make much sense. After all, we’ve stood by while over a hundred thousand civilians have been killed. Does it matter that this much smaller number of people were killed in a specific way? (For the record: I do think it matters. But I don’t think it should overwhelm all other facts.)

Matt Yglesias pointed out something really important about the whole idea of incentives: they work both ways. He wrote, “For example, did this fierce civil war in Syria break out in part because the intervention in Libya led opposition figures to believe that even a low-probability-of-success military uprising stood a good chance of receiving a NATO bailout?” It’s a good question. But regardless the answer, it shows that bombing Syria for its alleged chemical weapons use will send a lot of messages, many of which we may not be too keen on.

Yglesias also mentioned an academic paper that showed that, “Intervening on behalf of rebels increases the number of civilians who are killed by increasing the desperation of government forces.” So I think we should stop any of this talk about the bombing of Syria being “humanitarian.” And watching leaders speak out publicly for this action has nothing but the self-satisfied air of politicians on the eve of a “bloody good war.”

So if this isn’t about humanitarianism and it isn’t about doing what’s right about chemical weapons, what is it about? I think the key can be found in the video below. In it, Wesley Clark (in 2007) says that shortly after 9/11, he learned of a memo that indicated that the White House didn’t just want to invade Iraq, but 7 countries in 5 years. Those countries? Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. I don’t mean to suggest that Obama especially has it out for these countries. But it is true that that there are plenty of powerful people in this country who will always be for war with these countries. And clearly, the disaster in Iraq hasn’t lessened their power.

In the end, I think I am hopelessly cynical about all of this. I don’t even think it has much to do with egos of pride. It is just that politicians have control of armies and God damn it, they are going to use those armies. And they will use any justification they can. It’s humanitarian! Or not. It’s to make the world safe in the long run! Or not. And what’s the worst that could happen? Certainly they aren’t going to die. In fact, regardless of what these western leaders do, they will never be held accountable. So let the bombs drop. Only little people will be harmed—like the guy in the picture above, even though we are bombing to protect him.

Hegel, Popper, and the Right

HegelOn this day back in 1730, the proto-Romantic philosopher Johann Georg Hamann was born. One of the founders of mathematical logic, Giuseppe Peano was born in 1858. Novelist Theodore Dreiser was born in 1871. Composer Rebecca Clarke was born in 1886. Here is her Morpheus, which is beautiful:

One of the great surrealist Man Ray was born in 1890. Novelist C. S. Forester (not E. M. Forster) was born in 1899.

And Leo Penn was born in 1921. Who was he? A TV director. He is better known as the father of musician Michael Penn and actors Sean Penn and Chris Penn. I bring it up only to show what ridiculousness the whole idea is of meritocracy. I don’t much care for Chris, but I think Sean is very talented, and Michael is a great songwriter. But example and access have profound advantages. I especially have a hard time believing that Chris and Sean would have become actors, given that neither of them were very attractive. This doesn’t take away from what they’ve accomplished. But it ought to take away from this notion that any kid in America can grow up to be president because it just ain’t so.

Daryl Dragon of Captain & Tennille is 71 today. He is suffering from a “mild form of Parkinson’s disease” which limits his public appearances, although he and Tennille are still married after all of these years. Actor Tuesday Weld is 70. Actor Paul Reubens is 61. (I would have said “great actor” before watching Mystery Men last night.) Actor Peter Stormare is 60. Here he is as Lucifer in Constantine:

And actor Aaron Paul is 34.

The day, however, belongs to the great philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who was born on this day in 1770. I disagree with a great deal of his work, but there is no question of the importance of the work. However, there is an unfortunate tendency to disparage his work today. This mostly comes from Karl Popper, who basically painted Hegel with an extremely broad brush, claiming that he was nothing but a relativist. This allowed him and others (e.g. Leonard Peikoff) to argue that Hegel was responsible for communism and fascism.

I don’t understand about this conservative attack on Hegel. His major work seems to go right along with conservative ideology. Absolute idealism, for example, is the idea that thought and existence are interrelated. I don’t accept this, but most conservatives don’t even think it is an issue. His historical dialectic is one of the slow advance of progress—yet another idea I reject but which conservatives hold so tight it must be the case that deep down they too know it is garbage. And his master–slave dialectic means just about anything you want it to, and conservatives love that kind of thing. So what is the problem?

Regardless, Hegel was an important thinker in his own time and all the way to today. And I say that as one who doesn’t find him persuasive. But the same can be said for much of Aristotle. People have to be given their due.

Happy birthday Hegel!

MSNBC Still Losing the War

Steve BenenSteve Benen is something of a legend as a blogger. And now he pretty much single-handedly writes Maddow Blog. He is really good, but I often have problems with him. They are usually the same problems I have with Rachel Maddow and the whole of the MSNBC nighttime lineup. First, they are too actively partisan. Second, they are not very effective in their partisanship. I think of them very much the way I think of Obama: in a perfect world, we largely agree. But given political constraints, their priorities are very often not mine.

Today, Benen took an opportunity to go after Rand Paul. That’s all fine. Paul is an idiot. But the framing was all wrong. Benen compared Chris Christie’s “practical conservatism” with Paul’s “ideological conservatism.” Then he argues that there isn’t even much to Paul’s ideological thinking. But he leaves the impression that Christie somehow is practical and therefore, at least somewhat reasonable.

There is a reason that Paul claims the “ideologically purity” throne and Christie claims the “get stuff done” throne. Paul is a United States Senator. Chris Christie is a governor. It is the nature of their jobs. Christie is no less ideologically rigid than Paul. In fact, if you look at the men’s last battle, it was Christie talking about how Rand Paul should shut up regarding NSA surveillance because Christie has to look in the faces of the widows. It was pure politics of the lowest common denominator—absolutely vile, disgusting stuff.

In addition to that, Rand Paul’s position is the liberal position in that fight. I’m sure that Steve Benen has no trouble understanding that regardless of how effective “stop and frisk” may be (it isn’t), if it isn’t constitutional, it’s still wrong. But he’s more than willing to give a shout out to Christie in his political campaign for the surveillance state.

Christie isn’t just a vile man on this and most other issues. He is also running for office. Rand Paul isn’t running for another four years. If you’re going to be a partisan, be an effective one. Christie will likely win his re-election bid with lots of help from liberals who just don’t know what they are voting for. And here is MSNBC portraying him as the anti-Rand Paul, even though Christie is actually worse on the issues than Paul. Brilliant!

Afterword

The title for this article is a reference to an earlier article I wrote, MSNBC Winning Battles, Losing War.

Film Blunder Blunders

The MatrixI found a YouTube account CinemaSins, which produces a series of videos with titles that start, “Everything Wrong With…” It sounded like fun, so I watched Everything Wrong With Jurassic Park In 3 Minutes Or Less. Some of it is remarkably observant and often funny. But it is wrong at times. For example, it notes a page from a tabloid taped on the lab refrigerator that proclaims, “Space Aliens Stole My Face!” The video notes sarcastically, “Exactly the kind of article I would expect archaeologists and paleobotanists to hang on their fridge.” This is not an error. This is the video maker assuming that scientists are stodgy and humorless. When I was in graduate school, I had numerous covers from the Weekly World News covering my lab walls, including the classic “Bat Child Found in Cave.” It was observant of the video maker to see the story, but clueless not to realize it was put up as a kind of joke.

It also makes other errors by simply assuming the worse. For example, it misunderstands what is happening when Hammond gets out of the helicopter. But overall, it isn’t bad. It seems that CinemaSins is mostly interested in humor. Things are far, far worse for MovieBlunders. This isn’t to say that it is bad. As a matter of fact, the level of detail is truly amazing. The problem is that the blunders are sometimes their own, and since they take it more seriously, it is worse when they are wrong. I watched their video Everything Wrong With The Matrix, but it is actually about the whole series:

Before getting to that, the first thing they bring up is something that has always bothered me (although they don’t make it clear). Neo and Trinity cut the elevator cord, sending the bomb down and them up. But how do they get out of the elevator shaft? Wouldn’t the elevator falling cause them to be crushed at the top of the elevator? Of course, this is not actually an error. This is what we call “off screen action.” I’m sure our daring duo jump from the cord out of the shaft in the nick of time. Just because the film didn’t show it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

They ask how Mouse didn’t manage to hit anything as he was firing while being blown away. I don’t want to play apologist here (which I could do for most of the things they mention), but the movie doesn’t indicate that Mouse hit no one. He clearly didn’t hit everyone and so was shot and died. A similar situation goes on when Trinity shoots Agent Jones. We see her when she shoots so we don’t know where he was shot, only where the gun was pointed when the shot cut.

Most of the things they note are amazingly trivial. For example, they note that bullets don’t make cars explode. That’s true. But it wouldn’t be a movie if bullets didn’t make cars explode. What’s more, they didn’t have any problem when later a sword made a car flip over and explode. They also have an odd fascination with guns. Two separate blunders were the lack of rifling marks on the bullets. And two other times they mention the fact that when someone was shot, the bullets did not land in the rear wall. And at least three times they complain about bullet casings.

But there were a couple of things that really annoyed me. One was at the beginning of the film when the phone trace is started on Trinity. The time stamp was 13:24. They note that it was the middle of the night and this would indicate the time was midday. Have these people never heard of local time? This kind of thing is anti-apologetics. It is taking something in a movie and not making a reasonable assumption about it. Instead, they make whatever assumption is worst. That’s not reasonable.

Finally, we get to the real reason I wrote this: painful misunderstand of movie making! When Neo and Morpheus are plopped down on a rooftop in the training simulator, they are far away from the stairway entrance. But after the cut, the stairway entrance appears to be close behind them. This does not mean what these guys think it means. The filmmakers are doubtless using a telephoto lens, which causes all of the scene to be crammed together. This is why I’m not fond of them, even though some of my favorite directors have used (overused) them.

I don’t mean to be down on the people who make these videos. And in fact, I think they are great. What’s more, I’m a same way: I love to over-analyze films! But you have to expect some push back, especially when you overstate your case.

Afterword

No one ever mentions what I think of as the two biggest problems in The Matrix. The first one is really basic: why didn’t the machines power the matrix off squirrels or some other animal that wasn’t constantly trying to reject the matrix programming? After all, they are just using the humans as batteries (Also a ridiculous idea!) so any warm blooded creature would work. But I can get past that. It’s a movie. The second problem is the worst.

Why do the agents “bug” Neo? Couldn’t they just monitor him, wait until he meets Morpheus, and take over his body? Morpheus even tells Neo that the agents can take over anyone still connected to the matrix. It isn’t “any weak minded person.” So why didn’t they just do that? In fact, it is pathetic. Switch holds a gun on Neo until the bug is removed. Some good that bug did! Too bad the agents are too stupid to think of changing into him right before he got into the car! It seems that The Wachowskis were just being lazy, because I can think of loads of ways to avoid the problem.

Loser Superheroes

Mystery MenI was surprised to see that Netflix gave me a “best guess” rating of 4.1 stars for Mystery Men. I recalled watching it a long time ago. I really wanted to see it because it looked like the kind of silly madness that I very much enjoy. But the film turned out to be only okay. There are obvious problems with it. The acting is jarringly uneven. (This is always a problem when Ben Stiller is in a movie, but it goes beyond that here.) Much of the humor is infantile. And the whole thing is over produced and distracts from the charm that the film has.

But I sat down and watched it again. And I have to admit that it was funnier than I had remembered. It certainly suffers from too much high concept, but there are times when it works. I very much liked the whole Bowler character of Janeane Garofalo. She is the sanest of the superheroes, except that she is always having conversations with her dead father whose skull is inside her bowling ball. And Hank Azaria’s The Blue Raja is very funny in that he throws cutlery—but no knives. That would be too obvious.

The main problem is that the script seems like it was written by two writers. Only one writer is given credit, Neil Cuthbert, but I seriously doubt that a $68 million comedy didn’t have a string of writers working on it. Screenwriting credit normally goes to whatever writers nailed down the dramatic structure. But the problem I see is that there are two kinds of loser superheroes. There are those who have bizarre but real abilities like Paul Reubens whose Spleen character can launch targeted farts that incapacitate foes. And then there are those like Ben Stiller’s Mr. Furious who are simply deluded.

The problem with this is that the viewer is never settled. You’re not sure what world you are in. I think both ideas are brilliant. We all know the successful superheroes. But wouldn’t there be a lot of not so successful superheroes who have lesser powers? The film is based on Flaming Carrot Comics, which takes the other approach. The Flaming Carrot is just an idiot who succeeds through luck and a gun. Indeed, the characters from the series that show up in the movie are of the deluded variety: Mr. Furious and The Shoveler.

But why would The Bowler have anything to do with The Shoveler, a character whose only real super power is the ability to hit people with a snow shovel? Or Mr. Furious who once pushed a bus, although the driver helped by applying his foot to the accelerator? The Bowler is a real superhero—in a bizarre take on Captain America. So is (God help us!) The Spleen—in a bizarre take on every superhero ever. And to a lesser extent so is The Blue Raja. So it’s just a mess.

Add to this the fact that a much better film could have been made out of Casanova Frankenstein and Captain Amazing, and you have a very frustrating experience. It isn’t that I want Mystery Men to be something different than it is (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea). It is just that I want it to be something. The whole script seems like the result of a lot of creativity. But the writer never pulled it together into a cohesive whole.

All of this isn’t to say that it isn’t an enjoyable film. It is, for example, better than pretty much every straight superhero film ever made. Because it, at least, knows that the whole genre is a joke. And Mystery Men does a good job of lampooning most aspects of it. So it is worth watching if you have any interest in superheroes or are just looking for a silly and often funny film. But it could have been great.

Afterword

I think that Netflix is right, though; I have to give it four stars.