My First, My Last, My Privacy!

What was Samuel Alito Thinking?I hate to write about two judicial case in the same day, but what am I going to do? The Supreme Court did something really good. I have to say, a lot of the time, I figure Samuel Alito listens to a case. Then he meets with his team and says, “How can we view this case so that it hurts the maximum number of people?” But today, David Savage at The Los Angeles Times reported, Supreme Court Rules Police Cannot Search Smartphones Without Warrant. It was a unanimous decision. As Louise might say on Bob’s Burgers, “What is this feeling I’m having? It’s like I’m feeling the most conservative members of the Supreme court actually take their jobs seriously. Is that a thing? Am I going crazy?”

Not really. I know that a great deal of affirmative action has gone on at the Supreme Court where mediocre conservatives are appointed because there are so few capable judges who can deal with the cant that is now required by the Republican Party. But nonetheless, they aren’t complete idiots and bind ideologues. Sometimes even they understand that our police state has gotten out of hand. The truth is that it hasn’t been legal for an officer to pull you over and then demand to look at your cell phone. But that doesn’t mean that officers don’t do it all the time. The biggest career criminals are police officers. But this case is even better!

The Court found that even when an officer arrests someone, it isn’t okay to search his cell phone de rigueur. They must have a search warrant, just as they would if they wanted to search the home of someone they arrested. This is exciting news! I don’t mean this in a personal way because everything I do that is even a little questionable, I do in public (ie, this blog). But this is a great increase in freedom. There has been a very long trend in the United States toward destroying the Fourth Amendment. It really is very simple:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

What’s particularly exciting about this decision is that the Supreme Court has updated this to the modern era. They have equated our cell phones with our computers and our computers with our homes. As the editorial board wrote in The Los Angeles Times wrote, “This is a historic decision because allowing police to sift through the contents of a modern smartphone gives them access to a wealth of information about a person’s most private and personal affairs, from email messages to family photos to bank statements.”

I still have to admit that I’m surprised with the unanimous decision. As regular readers know, I usually find a great deal of common ground with conservatives (as long as we aren’t talking about something that Fox News is actively propagandizing). But on this issue, conservatives (young and old) have this idea that they have nothing to worry about. Let the NSA record their telephone calls; let the local police bug their kitchens; they have nothing to hide! Except that they do. It’s really as simple as this: what I do in my private life is really no one else’s business. Now, I would define this broadly. I would say that if I want to smoke crack alone in my bedroom, that’s my choice. But even if you want to counter that idea in the various ways that the government has since the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, it certainly should be no one’s business if I dance around in my room to the cool sounds of Barry White.

Put together with the No Fly List decision, this is a great day for liberty. And I mean real liberty, not the pretend kind that the right has defined as the liberty of the super rich to pay no taxes. These decisions make every person in the United States freer!

Update (25 June 2014 8:40 pm)

Reading a bit more, I see that Alito actually only concurred. He thought the majority opinion was too broad. So I was right about Alito. What was he thinking? Nothing much. He’s basically a fascist. And what does that say of the political party that appointed him? A lot.

The Spencer Collins Library Controversy

Spencer Collins - Library

Will forwarded me an article I have extremely mixed feeling about, Kansas Boy Forced to Remove Little Free Library From His Yard. Nine-year-old Spencer Collins created a little library in his front year. His grandfather built a small structure to house the books and the policy is: give a book and take a book. Well, it turns out that the city of Leawood, Kansas has a law about free standing structures. The city received two complaints about it so the Collins family was told they had to take it down. Cue outrage.

There is no outrage here. There is a little disappointment that I will get to shortly. But there is no cause for outrage. The city has laws. Citizens complained that someone was violating the laws, and the city had to act. I feel certain that if the Collins family goes to the city and asks for a variance for the structure, they will get one. Problem solved. This is not an issue of “big government destroying out freedom!” In fact, I think the ending of this story will be, “Responsive government acting reasonable.”

What is disappointing are the two complainers. I mean: really?! They had a problem with a charming and totally positive project of a local nine-year-old? I mean, this wasn’t a structure that was going to bring in a “bad element” to town: a bunch of pre-teens hanging out at the library, smoking cigarettes and reading The Phantom Tollbooth, “Dude, you gotta check out this children’s adventure novel and modern fairy tale by Norton Juster; it will blow your mind!”

So what you’ve got here are three factions. First, you have a government that I am certain will do the right thing about the library. Although I have to say, now that it has gotten so much publicity, it could (at least temporarily) bring a lot of unwanted traffic to the neighborhood as people drive by to see it. But given that the library is still open, just sitting inside the Collins’ garage, the neighborhood is probably already getting that. Regardless, cities provide variances all the time and I see no reason for Leawood to deny this one.

Second, you have what I’m sure are some old fuddy-duddies who are part of the “no fun” brigade. These are people with nothing better to do than complain about just about everything. I feel sorry for them. I know the type. They would be so much happier if they used the library rather than complain about it. Literature for people that age is generally quite good—better in general than the stuff people write for adults. But whatever. I’m sure once the library is legal, they will find something else to be angry about. Perhaps birds singing or children skipping down the street.

Third, you have young Spencer Collins who is just the best of what we are. Maybe his generation will save us. Instead of “Make Love Not War!” it will be “Build Libraries Not Investment Banks!” And in my way, I am an optimist. I suspect that even now, young Mr Collins is getting a lot of donations for his library. They may want to design a larger structure.


Image cropped from KMBR.

Who’d a Thought: Due Process in the US!

US District Judge Anna BrownWould you like some good news for a change of pace? Well I got news for you: I provide you with plenty of good news around here, like how Kagemusha is a great film and the meaning of Jade’s Trick in Shakespeare. But if by “news” you mean “political news” or “news of the day,” well, I have some of that that is good too!

Timothy Phelps and Michael Muskal at The Los Angeles Times reported last night, Federal Judge Declares Government No-Fly List Rules Unconstitutional. The ruling by US District Judge Anna Brown found that it was just a matter of due process. Names are put on the list and people with those names have no way of contesting them. And even when the name on the list really does apply to a particular person, the government has no stated reason for the labeling.

According to the article:

She ordered the government to come up with new procedures that protect citizens’ due-process rights without jeopardizing national security. Passengers must be given notice of their inclusion on the list and a rationale for the designation and be allowed to submit evidence to challenge it, Brown said.

The No Fly List was created, like so much that is bad in America, after 9/11. But it is pretty clear that even if we had had a No Fly List with 21,000 names on it on 9/11, it wouldn’t have stopped the attacks. Has it kept us safe since then as Democratic Senator Most In Need of Retiring Dianne Feinstein has said? Who know?! This is one of the reasons that the government likes to run a tight ship information-wise: when we don’t know anything, we can’t challenge their claims.

This is really all about government laziness and hubris: the idea that it’s too much work to deal with a real threat properly mixed with the idea that only the “little people” get hurt. None of Dianne Feinstein’s or George Bush’s friends ever need worry about boarding a plane. So Judge Brown is doing exactly what the courts should have done years ago: tell the other branches of the government that the No Fly List is a No Go.

I tend to think the ruling will stand, although when it first went to District Court, it was thrown out. It was only when appealed to the 9th Circuit Court that it was reversed and the lower court was told to consider it. At the Supreme Court level, I suspect that Thomas and Alito would overturn this ruling, but I feel that Scalia and Roberts would probably uphold it. The case is so clear and unlike similar cases, the No Fly List isn’t a secret list that allows the court to chicken out and claim defendants can’t prove they’ve been harmed. The harm is clear here. And there is no due process.

So life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness wins one for a change! As Kermit the Frog would say:


Image via Oregon Live.

Kagemusha Is a Great Film, Of Course

KagemushaI recently watched Akira Kurosawa’s film Kagemusha. It is one of his films that gets neglected—at least by me. I think I’ve watched it once since seeing it in the theater when it was first released. But as I was watching it, I got really excited. I thought, “This is the best Kurosawa film!” And then I thought that was just silly. The truth is my favorite Kurosawa film is pretty much always the last one I’ve seen.

I know, I know. I hate how much I like Kurosawa. It seems like such a cliche. But it isn’t like he’s the only director I love or that he’s the only Japanese director I watch. I’m pretty fond of Japanese film generally. I’ve written about Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion as well as Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy and Vengeance Is Mine (a modern story about a serial killer). But it is true that Kurosawa does stand out as one of the top couple of directors who tend to make me giddy.

I think that Kagemusha may well be the best film to use to introduce people to Kurosawa. Unlike a lot of his films, the story of Kagemusha is very simple. There are three war lords in Japan, fighting over control of the country. One of them dies due to a fluke, and in order to not allow the entire Takeda clan to be destroyed as the other war lords use the chaos of this power vacuum, the other Takeda leaders use the deceased war lord’s kagemusha (impersonator) to play the part full time. That sounds complicated, but really all the film is about is the kagemusha’s evolution from a petty thief to being in a sense, the lord (not “war lord” because of course he doesn’t act in that capacity except as a symbol). This is ultimately, his downfall. The film ends with a tragically beautiful gesture by the kagemusha.

Here is the trailer, which gives you a small idea of how visually stunning the film is, but not much more. And it is cropped. And it doesn’t include what I think is the most stunning scene. And it doesn’t give you much of an idea about what the film is really all about.

The film stars Tatsuya Nakadai as the war lord Takeda Shingen as well as his kagemusha. You may remember him as the villain in Yojimbo, Unosuke who has a pistol. But he is probably best know for his lead role as Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (the King Lear character) in Ran, which was made five years later. I also know him from other non-Kurosawa films like Harakiri and Samurai Rebellion. He’s a great actor, and at 81 years old, he’s still working—a lot! I think he is at his best in Kagemusha because it is a subtle part. Although the film has big and beautiful battle scenes, it is the slow evolution of the kagemusha that we care about.

Despite the film’s epic feel, I noted that there were scenes where Kurosawa was clearly cutting corners. The film had a reasonable budget for the time, but considering the hundreds of extras and the enormous costume and set needs, it’s amazing what he managed to get on film. So if a couple of scene seem notably less inspired, it can be forgiven. And these scenes are only early on, so they probably don’t stick out to a first time viewer. Kurosawa also saved some money by not showing so many battle scenes as just the results of the battles. But I also think this was a choice. After all, the film is not ultimately about the destruction of the Takeda clan, but about how the kagemusha eventually comes to see himself as a member of that clan.

Kagemusha is the only Kurosawa film currently available on Netflix instant watch. And as is quite common, the print is not great and the subtitles are actually on the print and they are of middling quality. I’m looking forward to getting the film on the Criterion Collection DVD, where I’m sure it will look fantastic. Regardless, it is worth checking out. I know that the basic idea of the film is tired—poor man takes the place of the great man, from The Prince and the Pauper to Dave. But Kurosawa does something really different with it. Netflix users gave it an average rating of 3.7 out of 5 stars. But it’s “best guess” for me was 5.0 stars. And it was right, as usual. Kagemusha is a great film.

June Lockhart

June LockhartAnother day, another birthday post. Last year I did George Orwell, although I actually talked more about the composer Francesco Araja. I feel my life adrift except that I have a birthday post to write each morning. I used to hate doing them, now they seem like the easiest part of my day. It’s actually a good bit of advice for new bloggers: pick something concrete to write about every day. Finding something you want to write about is often the hardest part. Anyway, here we go again.

The actor June Lockhart is 89 today. She came from an acting background. Both her parents we professional actors—especially her father Gene Lockhart, who played the idiot sheriff in His Girl Friday. Similarly, June’s eldest daughter Anne is also a successful actor. I’m very interested in these kind of thing. It isn’t primarily that parents can get their children breaks in the industry, just like people with union jobs can get their children union jobs. It is that if your parents are in a particular business, it just seems like the thing you do. And in June Lockhart’s case, she was in a film along with her parents at the age of 13.

For people of my generation, Lockhart is known primarily for the part of Maureen Robinson on Lost in Space. I haven’t seen the show since I was a kid, but it was not one of my favorites. I was more a Gilligan’s Island kind of kid. But I would probably get into it more now, because of the Dr Smith character, who I hated as a kid. Lockhart, of course, played the mother character. This was typical of her. Before Lost in Space, at the age of 34, she played Timmy’s adopted mother in Lassie. And after Lost in Space, she played the mother figure Dr Janet Craig (replacing the deceased actual mother Bea Benaderet) on Petticoat Junction. (I can’t find any DVDs with the later seasons that had Lockhart in them.)

Lockhart also did a lot of work in the theater and in film. Actually, I shouldn’t use the past tense, because she is still working. IMDb has her listed as acting in 167 films and television shows. That’s counting the 207 episodes of Lassie as one show. The same goes for the 84 (including the un-aired pilot) episodes of Lost in Space and 45 episodes to Petticoat Junction and 9 episodes on Robert Montgomery Presents and on and on. And here she is in a Crest commercial:

Happy birthday June Lockhart!