Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) wants to legalize dogfighting

Not a lot in politics makes me genuinely, gut-wrenchingly angry. But Steve King managed to do so when he said he wants to legalize dogfighting and gave this reasoning:

KING: When the legislation that passed in the farm bill that says that it’s a federal crime to watch animals fight or to induce someone else to watch an animal fight but it’s not a federal crime to induce somebody to watch people fighting, there’s something wrong with the priorities of people that think like that.

No Mr King. There is something wrong with your priorities and your capacity to utilize logic, you heartless asshole. Dogs and other animals are coerced into fighting. Humans aren't allowed to be forced into fighting for the entertainment of other people. That someone in congress can't understand that is worrisome. That Mr King doesn't care about the welfare of innocent animals is disgusting.

A lot of people in this country love animals and get as emotional as I do about the thought of them being hurt. But even with that being the case there isn't enough being done to protect animals. In TN, because of the work of Steve Cohen, you can pursue legal remedy if someone harms your pet. As far as I know, TN is the only state in which you can do this. This needs to be done in every state. And people like Steve King need to be voted out of office by people who have a bit of moral decency.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The end of The Dark Knight Rises: a quick thought

Spoilers to follow

I had a quick thought about the issue of Batman dying that was prompted by listening to the Batman on Film podcast. And I couldn't get it out on Twitter so I wanted to put it here. As I've said, I loved the ending. I've seen it three times now and it is more powerful each time. So this is really just a thought for those who aren't completely buying the ending.

What if Batman doesn't know he is going to escape and use the autopilot when he tells Selina that the autopilot doesn't work? What if that last shot of Batman in the Bat is him thinking about the decision and then finally deciding that he can let go of Batman?

He has to make a quick decision when he knows they can't get the bomb to the chamber to be deactivated. And being Batman, he knows he has to get the bomb away from the city. So he has to accept that he will die quickly because he doesn't have time to think through the other options.

What if after he says his goodbye to Gordon and kisses Selina he is finally ready to let go of Batman? Maybe that connection with Selina was enough to help him get over Rachel and convince him that he had something to live for beyond his duty to being Batman. That seems plausible enough to me.

Nerd culture

This post by Ta-Nehisi Coates got me thinking about my own relationship with nerd culture. I have a different experience with becoming part of 'nerd culture'. I was always one of the popular kids. From the very start, I fit it, for reasons I'm not completely aware of. If I had to guess I'd say it's just because I had a friendly demeanor. My mom thinks it could be because people are drawn towards attractive people. Could be. But she's somewhat biased.

But at some point around junior high I just felt disconnected from the popular group and shifted towards being more of a loaner and connecting with the less popular. I think the reason was because I saw many of the popular kids as fake, like they were trying to be something they thought was cool in order to impress everyone, especially girls. That bugged me. My parents' divorce probably exacerbated my feelings. But they were there before that.

During that entire time I liked superheroes and video games. My interest in nerdy things wasn't driven by being an outsider/outcast. I think it was driven more by my personality, which despite being introverted didn't prevent me from being able to connect to people when I chose to do so. But as I've grown older I've become more of a loaner and more connected to nerdy things. Now I embrace the outsider aspect of those things. It's a badge of honor I proudly wear.

I didn't need nerd culture to prevent suicide or anything near that level, which is what Coates' post talks about. But as I feel less and less need for societal interaction I find more and more comfort in nerd culture. For instance, I had a decent time at a party Saturday night. But last night I had much more fun sitting at my computer listening to a 3 hour podcast discussing The Dark Knight Rises.

I think high school had a lot to do with how I am now. I went to an all boys Catholic high school where we had to wear a shirt, tie, and khaki pants every day. It was like a Pink Floyd video circa The Wall but without the actual meat grinder. I think that conformity of everything (dress, class, religion) forced me more inward because I just couldn't express myself. Thus when I went to college I fully embraced different dress (jeans, tshirt, long hair) and just a general way of thinking. Embracing that freedom made me feel better about myself.

And now, being part of nerd culture (wearing Firefly/Battlestar Galactica/Batman tshirts) is how I express myself. Hell, it's all over this blog how much I love sci fi tv shows. So while I didn't come into the culture as a way to feel better about myself in the way that Coates is discussing, I did adapt it as a big part of my life because it did help make me feel better about myself. However you get there, it's a celebration of who you are and an acknowledgement that there are many people who are like you. So wear it loud and wear it proud.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Obama finally speaks on gun control

I can't remember the last time Democrats made a sustained effort at making gun control part of the national political conversation. They have collectively decided that it's not something they should talk about. I'd say they talk about abortion more than guns, which I would think is just as divisive a topic. Anyway, here is Obama:

I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms. And we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation -– that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage.

But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals –– that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities. I believe the majority of gun owners would agree that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons; that we should check someone’s criminal record before they can check out a gun seller; that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily. These steps shouldn’t be controversial. They should be common sense.

Pretty well said. It should be common sense. But nothing with modern Republicans is. You have to live in reality for it to be common sense. And they simply don't. We regulate all sorts of things that people have the right to buy and use. And I'd guess that nearly all of them don't kill as many people as guns do. Beyond that, there is no reason the constitution wouldn't allow for very strict gun regulations.

We don't give people the absolute right to speech, to assemble, or to practice their religion. We can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theater because it could harm people. We can't assemble wherever we want whenever we want in part because of public safety concerns. And we don't allow people to kill other people because their religion says they can, which the bible and other holy books clearly say they can. Nearly everyone thinks gov't can regulate those things. So it doesn't really follow that gov't then shouldn't be allowed to regulate a thing that does much more harm that the rights laid out in the 1st amendment.

Putting aside the ridiculous argument that we need guns in order to defend ourselves against the gov't, just because the gov't puts strict regulations on guns doesn't mean you still wouldn't be able to own them and use them to protect yourself if the gov't turned on us. These aren't difficult arguments to make. I know it can be difficult to get a message out there while you have Republicans making ridiculous and simple-minded arguments against you. But that's why Democrats have to ignore what they normally do and make their argument forceful and often. They can't afford to just make a speech whenever some tragedy pops up.

Like with gay marriage, this has to be a sustained effort to get the policies we want passed. And I'm not sure why Democrats shouldn't push for it just as hard as they do other policies. Social issues like gay marriage are fairly popular with the public. But that's another part of the point. If you are constantly out there making your arguments you can eventually sway some people's opinions. Support for gay marriage didn't all of the sudden change. It was a gradual changing of people's minds. If Obama and the rest of the Democratic party really want stricter gun control they will keep the conversation going instead of just making a speech or two in order to save face after a tragedy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More on The Dark Knight Rises

There will be spoilers in this post.

I've been reading people's thoughts about the movie on a few message boards and blogs. While most seem to like it or at least think it's pretty good, there seem to be a lot of people who had problems with some parts of the plot. I haven't really dug into a lot of the specific points they are making because I just don't think they matter all that much in relation to the plot as a whole or to the themes of the movie. Frankly, I think it's just a lot of nitpicking by people who were expecting something different than what they were given.

Anyway, I wanted to point you toward this excellent post that was tweeted via The Bitter Script Reader, who I recommend you follow and check out his site. It talks about why the movie worked despite whatever issues with the plot there may be. Here come the spoilers:

That said, a lot of people really didn't like it and multiple bloggers have laid down their case either for or against on various blogs and sites around the Internet. One of the reasons I've decided to write this is that despite the many flaws of the film, I still found it to be an enthralling and entertaining experience. And so have many others. Why?

I actually think there's a great lesson for filmmakers here, one that even the best directors and writers continually fail at. I believe it's what separates great films from good ones; memorable films from forgotten ones.

Why did I like The Dark Knight Rises so much, despite it's logic flaws, despite those things that have already been pointed out by other writers/reviewers? Why can I forgive those things? Because unlike most movies these days, The Dark Knight Rises made me feel. I connected with it on emotional level. I was left reeling when Gotham was turned upside down. I felt a collective sense of hitting bottom, wondering "how can they come back from this?"
Now of course, you're probably saying, "Well, yeah, that's what everyone wants." But for me, it's less about what I "want" and more about what I "felt." I felt it. This movie about a man dressed as a bat connected with me on an emotional level. I don't fully know why and choose not to dissect it, but it represents and executes what, in my opinion, movies are all about: that feeling of being a little kid and looking up at a giant screen and seeing a hero right there before your eyes.

That was my experience as well. I felt every emotion the film was trying to make me feel. It's certainly possible that problems with the plot can force you to not feel things. But I just wasn't even close to being pulled out of the story by issues with the plot. The only thing I question is the ending, but I only question whether it could have been made even better by doing something like this:

And at the end, when I thought Batman had died, I not only felt loss, but I felt...okay with it. I'd like to pretend that Alfred's sighting of Bruce is really nothing more than a vision, than an idea that, while dead, perhaps Bruce has now gone to a better place, free of his demons, free of the weight he carried with him. I'd like to think that part wasn't real, that it wasn't part of some trick to make you go "Whup, look!" I'd like to think that Nolan is smarter than that. He has too much power. He could have done whatever he wanted. I very much doubt he would have tacked on a happy ending because the studio made him. (Funny enough, I was just discussing with my wife and we both thought that Alfred was going to look up, smile, but that we wouldn't cut to what he was seeing, that we would have been left wondering...in many ways, that would have been better.) I think Batman died saving the citizens of Gotham from one of the worst things imaginable -- that he gave them "everything."
I'm sure many people will speak to the moment of realization that the auto-pilot was always working as a clue to saying "Oh, he must have jumped out (or something)." I'd take the opposite look at it: that, in fact, the auto-pilot did work, but that Batman knew he couldn't leave something like that to chance. That the only way to ensure that Gotham was safe was to do it himself, as he always had before. And that having done that, having returned and become the hero, Bruce Wayne is now in a better place. Alfred's "sighting" was just a vision, a hope, a belief that, perhaps Bruce has finally found peace.

This does kind of speak to Nolan's style across the rest of his career. If you want to think of the ending in this way I'm ok with that. But I don't think Nolan was trying to suggest Alfred was just fantasizing. Granted, Alfred does put it in those terms early on in the movie. But I just think it was too direct to have Fox be told that the autopilot was fixed. I'm content leaving it at face value, at least for now.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises review: spoiler edition

I've seen it twice and I have a more firm opinion of the film. I love it. I still felt the full brunt of all the emotional aspects of the film. I still think it was shot and paced well. And I just don't have the problems with the plot that some seem to. Spoilers from here on.

I won't summarize the whole plot. I'll just talk about the highlights for me. The end of the first act is the first confrontation between Bane and Batman. It was as brutal and awesome as I was expecting. They both just pound the hell out of each other. And Bane talks shit the whole time. As I said when the prologue came out, Bane is supposed to be the physical equal, if not superior, to Batman. The Joker was a great villain. But he wouldn't last long in a straight up first fight with Batman. Bane and Tom Hardy completely delivered on giving Batman an equal foe, which for me made the fight scenes more entertaining and dramatic.

This of course leads to Bane breaking Batman's back and throwing him into the prison Bane was from, supposedly. I liked the time in the prison because it showed one of my favorite aspects of the Batman mythology, overcoming obstacles. Not only does Bruce have to recover physically, he has to look inward and find something he hasn't had in a while and something he had to overcome in the first movie, fear.

After escaping the prison, Bruce goes back to Gotham to once again become Batman and try to stop the city from being destroyed. And this leads to the second confrontation with Bane, this time amidst a big battle between the cops and mercenaries. Once again it was a fantastically brutal fight. Even when Bane's mask is broken he really takes it to Batman. But this time Batman gets the best of him. That only lasts about a minute before we get the big twist of the movie, when Talia al-Guhl stabs Batman.

I was genuinely surprised when it happened, both because Cotillard and the rest of the Nolan team denied it from the beginning and because I thought that was going to be the death of Batman. Technically that wasn't where he died, but it lead to him sacrificing himself for Gotham. It turns out that Bruce didn't actually die, which is kind of having it both ways. But I don't care. I love it and the entire ending. Bruce finally seems at peace with himself and gets to be with Selina (who I really enjoyed). Gotham finally gets the hero it needs and deserves. And in case Gotham still needs help, John Blake gets to take over as Batman.

I love the ending and the movie as a whole because even though he suffered greatly and made mistakes, Bruce achieved what he set out to achieve in becoming Batman. He made the criminals of Gotham afraid and he inspired the citizens of Gotham to stand up to those criminals and make their city better. He showed why Batman is so awesome and why we love him, which is that he overcomes his human limitations to become a symbol that stands for the best in all of us and inspires us to follow his example.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises review

This will be a short and spoiler-free review. I want to give people a chance to see it without possibly being spoiled. And I'm still forming my thoughts about it. It's so big and epic that I need to see it again to make a final judgement.

I just woke up a while ago because I spent all of last night watching the entire Batman trilogy. It was really fun to see Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in the theater again. Batman Begins is a really good movie and turned out to be a great refresher for what happens in The Dark Knight Rises. I strongly recommend you watch BB before you see TDKR because Nolan draws on it quite a bit. Even after seeing The Dark Knight at least 10 times, it was still great in theater. Heath Ledger's Joker never fails to be completely riveting. I would also recommend seeing it before TDKR since TDKR deals with things that happened in TDK.

While being part of the same trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is a slightly different film than BB and TDK. The tone, both visually and thematically, is different. It's still full of Nolan's typical shots and framing. And it's done just as beautifully as ever. I really wish I could see it in IMAX. Put simply, this film is brighter than TDK, which, beyond the thematic significance, served the movie well visually.

I got to the theater and sat in my seat at about 5:15pm. And TDKR started at about 12:05am. So I was a bit worried that by halfway through TDKR my ass would be numb and I would be uncomfortable. It was probably because I was going an adrenaline. But I felt fine throughout the whole movie. That was probably helped by what I thought was good pacing. There's a lot going on but I never got the sense that it was rushed, which is par for the course with Nolan.

Nolan doesn't give you fluff in his movies. Everything that he puts on screen has a purpose for the plot and theme. TDKR is no different. The way in which Nolan finishes the movie is very Nolan-esque as well. And just like with the pacing I thought it was done well. I'll leave it at that for now. At worst this is a good movie, probably on par with Batman Begins. At best this is right up there with The Dark Knight as a great movie. After seeing TDK you realize what a challenge it was to make The Dark Knight Rises try to top it. I think they put forth a damn good effort and gave us a very satisfying conclusion to this Batman trilogy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Breaking News: Mitt Romney is still a liar

This may come as a shock to some of you. But it seems as though Mitt Romney has been caught in another lie. Andrew Sullivan has the details:

But even the WaPo concedes that Romney cited his active Bain business ties from 1999 on in 2002 under oath to help establish residential eligibility to run for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. And Kessler admits that Romney's sworn testimony on this contradicts his legal SEC filing, and several filings Romney made as CEO in the period in question.

Like with basically everything else, Romney wants to have it both ways. He says his experience as CEO of Bain gives him an understanding of the economy that will benefit him as president. That advanced knowledge of the economy is what he says he has more than Obama, which is why he should be elected over him. At the same time, he says that he isn't responsible for any of the negative things Bain has ever done, even when he was CEO in name only and still getting paid by the company.

This man's pants have been lit on fire so many times by his lies that even his vast wealth is having trouble paying for new pants. I haven't been paying close attention to this Bain issue because I don't need it in order to not like Romney. But if you press me for an opinion on it, I'd say that what Bain did under Romney is probably not all bad. Though for me it highlights something fundamental about Romney, that his sole purpose in life is to obtain power.

Bain was purely about making money, not about creating good things for the public. And as a politician, one of the things Romney actually did for the benefit of the public, is one of the main things he is criticizing Obama for, which is the individual mandate that is designed to try and insure as many people as possible. His party is part of why Romney acts the way he does. But the fact that he lies so often and plays so much to his crazy party shows how empty he is.

Update: Romney responds to this situation with faux-outrage:

“What kind of a president would have a campaign that says something like that about the nominee of another party?” Mr. Romney asked during a brief interview with CBS News. Earlier, on CNN, Mr. Romney called the accusation of criminal behavior — which came on Thursday from Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager — “disgusting” and “demeaning” and said it was destructive to the political process.

Ugh. What a hack. Here's Andrew's reaction:

I'm getting the feeling that Romney thinks he is above the level of accountability required in a presidential candidate or even in an average ethical businessman. He seems genuinely offended to be directly challenged with facts - which he still won't address or rebut in detail. So he simply huffs and puffs and uses words like "disgusting" for a perfectly valid charge in the big boy world of presidential politics.

Of course he thinks he is above any level of accountability and the law. He's a rich and powerful person. They genuinely are above the law in many cases. This could become a big issue. And Obama seems not afraid to push hard on it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The nature of political power

I was reading Glenn Greenwald yesterday and he said something that made me think about an argument I made about the individual mandate. He said something along the lines of the old adage that once the gov't takes some power it's likely it will keep taking more and more. He said that in relation to the executive power to do things like monitor/spy on civilians and other things related to 'war on terror' policies.

I generally agree with Glenn that when the executive takes that kind of power it is likely to expand it. Obama has done so with drone strikes. Bush did so with numerous policies. And history is riddled with similar instances.

I made kind of the opposite argument about the power congress has in relation to the individual mandate. I said that just because it can force people to buy health insurance doesn't automatically mean that it can then claim the power to force people to eat broccoli. Further, I think the supreme court should allow congress to use that power because it's not likely that the adage Glenn was talking about would follow in relation to congress' power.

Am I contradicting myself when I defend the expansion of a power by congress but condemn an expansion of a power by the executive? I don't think I am. There is always the possibility that a given institution will seek to expand it's power. The founders thought it was so likely that they built that assumption into our system of gov't. And aside from electoral checks on power, the separation and sharing of power between our branches of gov't serves as a check on power. Basically, ambition checks ambition.

The reason I am less inclined to embrace the kind of executive power Bush and Obama have sought and largely gained is because it goes mostly unchecked by congress and the courts. The executive is afforded more power of foreign policy and national security than congress, and for some good reasons. Congress is still supposed to check that power. But given that most of it is inherently vested in the executive history seems to show that it's difficult for congress to check that power and refuse expansions. In current cases, the very nature of the power is secretive, which they argue is needed because it pertains to national security. So that makes it even harder for congress to check executive ambition.

I could get into the specific policies in question and compare the negative consequences of them. Briefly, being forced to buy health insurance is much less an intrusion on freedom than having your phones tapped and private messages read without a warrant. But even though I think that would be the case on average, I think the different dynamic regarding ambition being able to check ambition is enough to merit more caution in foreign policy/national security issues.

Update: Here's a post from Conor Friedersdorf about Abraham Lincoln's views on the executive power to wage war:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Climate change

I'm getting around to watching Up w/Chris Hayes, which was aired early this morning. The big topic for today's show was climate change. They touch on why they call it climate change instead of the more familiar "global warming". Global warming is causing climate change. But now that Republicans are crazy and have denied global warming and try to attach negative connotations to the term, everyone who isn't crazy is trying to use climate change because it's a more encompassing term.

Basically, Republicans can't deny climate change just because it snows during the winter. Well, they can. But they can't easily do it with semantics when we use climate change instead of global warming. Scientifically, it's the difference between climate and weather. The warming of the planet doesn't mean it will always be hot. It means that the temperatures will be consistently higher that they usually are. For example, in the summer, it will be 104 instead of 100. In the winter, it will be 34 instead of 31.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, makes a good point in talking about the people behind Republican opposition to climate change. The fossil fuel industry and it's ties to the Republican party is a big reason actual voters deny climate change. There will probably always be some conservatives that don't trust science. But I have a hard time believing that there would be such a wide disbelief in climate change if it weren't for the efforts of business interests and conservative media. I'm not sure how Bill thinks we can stop the business interests from spending money to distort the facts.

And that makes me skeptical that we will be able to change many conservative voters' minds through messaging and debate. Sadly, I think we will have to wait until some extreme situation arises that shocks them into believing. That or we Republican leaders and politicians need to have their mind's changed and then tell their voters that action is needed. Again, I'm just not sure how you get them to do that. And that's beyond the usual depressing state of Republicans. It's scary.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My five freebies

The annual vote for your five freebies is going on at one of my favorite sites, pajiba.com. Here's the link that explains what the list is and where you can cast your vote. Basically, you just choose the five celebrities you would sleep with if you could without your significant other getting mad. Since us over at pajiba are a bunch of elitists we tend to pick the not too obvious celebs and make actual talent part of the criteria. And we also try to make it current. So here's my list for this year.

My first two are holdovers from last year. Alyson Hannigan just keeps being the most adorable woman in the world. She only gets better with age. And she is still doing good work on How I Met Your Mother. As you will see, doing good work is a key factor in getting on my list since pajiba is a site about current film/tv/pop culture. Thus, while Kristin Kreuk and Sarah Michelle Gellar will always be on my all time list, they aren't on this year's list because of their lack of solid work.

The other holdover from last year is Alison Brie. She is also one of pajiba's hall of famers (Thus she won't be eligible for the list again). But I couldn't leave her off the list because she is still awesome in Community and she is just as beautiful/adorable as she was last year. The thing that sets both Ms Brie and Ms Hannigan apart is that while they are gorgeous, they are great in the roles they take on. And I feel like they would be genuinely nice and enjoyable to be around in person.

Next on my list is Krysten Ritter, star of my favorite new show "Don't Trust the Bitch in Apt 23". I first saw Krysten in the underrated movie "She's Out of My League" and thought she was uniquely gorgeous. In her new show she is given free reign to be funny and bitchy and she does a great job with it.

Fourth on my list is Aubrey Plaza. I'm in love with her character on Parks and Recreation. And every time I see Aubrey out of character, she seems very similar to that character. I love how cynical and introverted she is, and how she really cares about some people deep down. I just feel like we are kindred spirits. And she is really cute.

Rounding out my list is Anne Hathaway. I've always liked Anne. She is beautiful and sexy without being a stereotypically beautiful Hollywood actor/model. And she just has a charm about her that makes her appealing in every movie I've seen her in. Plus I'm expecting her to kick ass in TDKR (which is only two weeks away, AHHH!!!, can't wait).

There you have it. Those are the ladies that have most rocked my world in the past year. And I fully expect them to keep doing so for years to come. Just for fun, my all time list would probably include the aforementioned Kristin Kreuk, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Alyson Hannigan. Those are the locks. Alison Brie is pretty close to being a lock as well.