Archive for May, 2005

May 31, 2005

DVD Review: Elephant by Gus Van Sant

I’m posting this tonight as I’ll be away from the keyboard most of tomorrow. Here’s hoping nothing happens!

This movie got a lot of positive press when it first came out, but when I watched it I thought it was deeply dishonest, factually incorrect and meant to serve the director’s agenda even though it was supposedly a “neutral” film.

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Gus Van Sant’s quietly released Elephant has gotten quite a bit of praise for its deadpan portrayal of a Columbine-like school shooting. The movie leaves nearly every question unanswered, supposedly forcing the viewer to provide their own answers. The movie’s texture is long, slow takes with little action or dialogue, timelines that cross and loop repeatedly, building to staccato bursts of violence at the end, blank and affectless. The movie intends not to shock, but to confound.

(Note: this review will spoil many movie points. While the story line is already known, there are many directorial choices and tricks that will be discussed.)

I have to say, while this is by no means a bad movie, neither was I especially impressed by it. I kept waiting for “something” to happen, which I guess was Van Sant’s point. While it is supposedly “deadpan” and “realistic” I found it instead to be very, very restrained but deliberate in its use of camera movement, soundtrack and incidental music, and editing. It resembles a documentary in some ways, but make no mistake: this is a work of fiction.

While he uses Columbine as his source material with some fidelity, there is one major authorial thematic intrusion. The first classroom moment we see is a meeting of the school’s Gay Student Association as they discuss stereotyping, knowing a person is gay by their appearance. I may be old-fashioned, but when a school movie’s first class scene is a GSA meeting, I think a point is being made. (It’s even in the credits!) Had this been all, it wouldn’t rate mention, but late in the movie when the killers are showering before leaving for school, they take a shower together and kiss deeply! There is no evidence that either of the real Columbine killers were gay, so this is a directorial invention that unnecessarily rattles. It smacks of making an extraneous point. Some have said that since the beta-male boy has said he’s never been kissed, that it’s a “last wish” thing, but it doesn’t feel that way, in the context of everything else.

Van Sant borrows some documentary techniques, but they are always used in a standard Hollywood way. The film uses static camera POVs, framing that allows some action to happen or to drift out of the frame, long tracking shots without expediting cuts, and long sections without dialogue. But the static camera still pans, sometimes to stop, other times to complete a 360 degree sweep and other times conveniently following the action. He also violates that simulated docu-purity by using slow motion at key moments and by using background sounds or added “music.”

For example, one early scene has the camera focus on a pick-up football game. Action moves around and out of the frame constantly. Then a new character appears in the front of the frame, running track. She stops, looks up and around and behind her, then restarts her run. This makes the important point that we can only know what we see, that things happen outside our view that may be vital to understanding. After she has left, another character approaches the camera, to change shirts, then walk into the school.

Here is another trick he uses. During the long walk into the school, the camera stays with the young man, following the back of his head the whole way. I guess the point was to make the character unknown to us, since we do not see his face or reactions during the walk. Many shots are like this: sometimes behind the character for long stretches; sometimes in front, but then swinging to some other bit of business in the school. It’s not consistent, but used to serve the narrative needs.

Sometimes the long shots are tracking shots, like in a school photo lab, where we follow a trio of students developing some shots they’ve taken, or down long, long hallways with two characters just walking with each other. Van Sant is not above cheap tricks, too, like starting with one character, following their bit of business, only to pick up another, unrelated character and follow their bit of business, etc., etc. Only occasionally do these long shots serve some narrative purpose. Mostly, they’re just long thematic reinforcers.

Although the movie eschews “rock sountrack” music, there is a lot of orchestrally-created sound used to enhance what we’re seeing. Several times we hear animal or jungle sounds; one stretch of hallway-tracking shot is supported by smeared, ennervating noise.

The movie’s biggest “effect” is the use of disjointed narrative. The movie starts before school the day of the shooting, but cuts and loops constantly. We see some events from three different viewpoints during the course of the film. A late stretch turns out to have happened some day or days before the fateful morning. The general drive is forward through the day, with one major detour into the killers’ last evening before we jump back to “now” and the killings we’ve been waiting for.

In fact, this points up one of the movie’s strengths and its most endurance-testing feature. Nearly all viewers know we are going to see a Columbinish shooting. The movie spends its entire first third just introducing various people (some with title cards). We wonder as we meet each one, “Is it him?” Then, in a surprising moment as one character leaves the building, we see the shooters — we know it’s them because of their camo / aggro-goth garb and the many heavy knapsacks — enter the school. Suspense is tightened up, because we are at last clued in. We’re waiting for the hammer to fall now. It’s only a matter of time. But Van Sant takes us back and forth through the day and around the characters for another third of the movie. We find ourselves watching the corners and backgrounds of the frame, searching for the killers at other moments. Every long tracking shot is filled with dread that the killers will jump out at us.

It never happens. We find ourselves taken to the house of the kids we now know are the killers, to be taken through long stretches of watching them play music and video games, sleeping and hanging out. It’s meant to introduce us to them, to “explain” them in the deliberately obfuscatory and translucent way Van Sant deploys.

It’s only well in the final third that the “action” commences. The first moment of the final act is the two boys in full garb, with weapons, standing in a tableaux, in an empty hallway as an oblivious janitor in the distance does his job. The boys wait, checking watches, for explosions that don’t come. So, they set out.

The first shooting is a girl we’ve been following the whole movie. She’s an “odd” girl with some unexplained problem affecting her gym class. We know nothing about her, though we’ve followed her throughout the whole movie. We only know she’s the “odd” girl from her manner, her appearance (frizz hair, no makeup, large nose and eyebrows, loner affect), from standard Hollywood shorthand. She dies, “pop,” just like that. Sudden, bloody blast and out of the frame. Gone forever.

The violence is a lot like that. “Pow” it happens, spray of blood and the body falls, like in a video game, and it’s over. The movie even goes so far as to make that connection explicit. One of the boys plays a first-person shooter video game the night before that is nothing but walking stiffs in a vast, empty plain. It’s simple and meaningless to pick them off. When they begin the violence, the first scene of shooting is an imitation of a first-person shooter POV, with the gun barrel in the bottom of the frame as kids scatter and bodies fall.

At the same time, while some deaths are very explicit, some are avoided completely. Three girls trapped in a bathroom are surely going to die, screaming, but the film cuts away at the ultimate moment. The movie ends with the jock and his girlfriend (in the movie’s forced shorthand they are the “perfect every-couple” of the school, though we know almost nothing about them) trapped in a meat locker in the school cafeteria. The killer does a taunting “eenie, meenie, meinie, moe” as they plead for their lives. The movie fades as he chooses. We don’t see or hear what we know is happening next.

One of the movie’s few black characters is introduced during the carnage, with title card. We think he might be a hero, as he calmly walks the halls, helps a shocked girl escape, and doesn’t get freaked out by a dead body. We seem him approach one of the killers from behind, we expect he’ll tackle him. But no, he is shot dead before he can act. Bang, end. This is Van Sant playing with our cinematic expectations. We’re primed to think he’s going to do something heroic, but that’s undercut quickly and brutally. Why? Well, just to slam home the movie’s inescapability.

Step back from what the movie’s about (the killings) and what you find this movie is is a well-executed ratcheting up of audience anticipation and fear, without the expected satisfying conclusion. This is, if you will, the “anti-slasher” film. The characters aren’t even stock or stereotypes. We see so little we can’t form any real opinions. Yes, there’s the “jock,” the “odd” girl, the young man-boy, the “bitchy” girls, etc., but since they aren’t played for stereotype, we can’t really call them that. No one “deserves” to die, in classic slasher-film morality, but death meets them anyway. The killings may be random, but the build-up has been careful and sure. The movie doesn’t lull with reassurance, but numbs with blandness, repetition and incomplete set-ups. We are anticipating the killings, since we know the narrative, but also because we want something to happen, to connect it all, to draw a “through-line.”

One last point is the use of clouds and sky. The movie opens with a soundtrack of kids just talking and doing something we can’t figure out, though to me it sounds like mild bullying of someone. I could be wrong. What we see is a teal-colored sky with fast-moving, high cloud cover. At the point in the film after we know who are the killers and that they are about to act, we get a long shot of the same colored sky, but with building clouds, thunder, and storm clouds. At the end, we close with a dark sky where the sun seems to break through. It is, without question, a framing device, much like the title cards.

I’m not sure the movie does what its fans claim: putting Columbine in a neutral context that forces us to confront the violence naked. There is too much manipulation of elements and the audience; we are directed to the Van Sant’s point, rather than having it revealed. The movie isn’t neutral. It’s explicitly anti-gun, even to showing the boys buying a gun through the Internet and mail, then signing for the delivery themselves. (I checked with Say Uncle who assured me that it’s been illegal to do that since 1968 without a Federal Firearms License! It’s completely bogus, propaganda! It wasn’t the case with Columbine, I’m pretty sure.) Where the real Columbine killers had ample evidence laying in the open in their homes, the two Elephant boys have none at all, only lots of teen-angst art and the usual teenboy clutter. You can even make an argument that Van Sant fetishises their “cave” as some kind of gay idyll.

The actors are all good, though none stand out for acting talent, unsurprisingly. The two killers are a pair: one looks like a young John Cusack and the other like a suburban-wannabe Eminem. Most of the kids are visually distinctive, but blend together personality-wise. Most of the male actors have that Van Santian “boi” look to them.

As a formal exercise in building fearful anticipation in a formalist, Last Year at Marienbad way, or as a study for film students, I could recommend this movie. He tries to make points about the incompleteness of seeing and knowing, about the photographic instinct as a way of seeing, and about propaganda. But as a way of coming to understand the Columbine killers, I think this movie fails. Too much liberty is taken, the director pushes and prods everything too much, to do that. He’s borrowed the media narrative, which was wrong. The truth is much darker and weirder than most folks understand. His additions come from some other agenda. Seeing the two boys kiss in the shower is just off-putting and not in the source, though consistent with Van Sant’s homoerotic themes in his other films.

The actual DVD comes only with the movie (in widescreen and theatrical formats), the usual language and subtitle choices, the trailer and a video-diary of the film’s making without narration, though there are a couple of comments made by the actors that are surprising and in one case stunning. These I won’t spoil! There is no director’s commentary, which isn’t a surprise. Van Sant’s serious about leaving the viewer on their own.

I think this is a failed film, though a fascinating one. Not really recommended.

Another Space Milestone

Burt Rutan’s Space Ship One was the first privately launched rocket to carry a human to the edge of space. They won the Ansari X-Prize for it. The achievement is comparable to Alan Shephard’s famous first flight to the edge of space and then back down. No earth orbit, just getting up there.

Now comes word that another rocket, the Falcon-1 from Space Exploration Technologies, had a successful engine test firing today. This means they are “go” for a human-rated launch later this year.

There are several more groups around the world that are nearing readiness for launch. It means an era of commercial space flight, cheaper access to space, and maybe space tourism. Not too much futher down the road, we can hope, will be space stations.

My Political Views, Part One

This is a mammoth trio of posts limning my politics, my beliefs and my view of the American experiment from late 2003. Reposted here in part because Say Uncle sparked them and because I think this is a sympathetic audience whose opinions and thoughts I’d like to hear.

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Two posts that caught my eye, one from Say Uncle, who writes about his differentiation of Libertarian and libertarian, and this one from Rich, of Shots Across The Bow, who runs down his political beliefs, got me thinking that maybe I should do something similar. So, here we go.

I am something of a contrarian by nature. If everyone is going this way, I will automatically look for the other way. I think it’s a leftover from the days of ego-definition during childhood. I had strong-willed parents and had to fight hard to create a “me” that wasn’t them. I also went my own way a lot, which led to a lot of parental fights. So, I’m stubborn and contrarian.

I think that’s a small part of why I am Libertarian. That is, politically a member of the party. The herd is Democatic or Republican; not me. But I’m also deeply impressed by the incredible experiment that is the American Revolution. The men who launched it were all largely self-educated and quite knowledgeable about their political history. We are their beneficiaries. I take quite seriously what they set out, and hew closely especially to the Jeffersonian ideals. We stayed, as a country, within their shadow for longer than the Founders expected, until Jacksonian democracy (or Hamiltonian anti-federalists, take your pick) began the long, slow slide to corruption.

I believe “that which governs least, governs best” at the Federal level. National government is a powerful and dangerous tool. It’s too far removed from the people themselves to be given more than the most fundamental and broad duties: protection of our borders, defense from our enemies; regulation of commerce across the States, collecting and publishing information from and about the Nation, ensuring equality of access and opportunity in our basic liberties.

Social engineering was never in the plan and never should be. It is the right of the people to create the society they want, free from the government telling them how it “ought” to look. We launched out into that experiment in the late 19th century with the Progressives and it’s warped our society and nation in all kinds of ways. I firmly believe people should have the freedom to associate as they wish, and then be given the consequences of those choices. If people want to do stupid things, we should try to talk them out of it, but if that’s their choice we are then beholden to leave them free.

It’s not the job of government to stop someone from doing something repugnant to me. It’s my job to educate them, or if they choose not to listen, to educate everyone else. Together, the rest of us can go on. The better ideas will win out, as they always do.

When I went from blindly following what I was taught to thinking for myself is when I went from Catholicism to atheism. It’s also when I went from Republicanism to Libertarianism. Even despite his criminality and venalism, Nixon was a disaster; China may be his lone, true accomplishment. I think that’s when I started to turn. Reagan was a great President, but he never got to put Republicanism into government; Democrats still controlled the mechanisms. Seeing G.W. Bush’s Republican Party today, finally given the reins and squandering their chance, has only confirmed my beliefs. Both parties are only separate wings of the same over-class; men and women concerned only with their own power and privilege, to the exclusion of true principle.

The Libertarian Party is the closest to my own political stripe. I acknowledge that the Party has a lot of problems. I’ve heard allegations about the national office and how it’s run. Look up the stories for yourself; I don’t know enough to comment more than this.

The Party is also afflicted by True Believers, those who want it all now. Far too many who run the Party at the important levels brag about overturning drug and sexcrime laws, tearing down public education and the social safety net, stripping out a vast body of law, etc., the day after the election. It’s the whole thing, right now, deal with it. Best of luck to the winners; good riddance to the losers. Theirs is a smug and condescending view that doesn’t sell well at all, as we’ve seen.

Well, any idiot knows that won’t happen. And expecting people to embrace a radical change with welcome is naive. Progressives/Socialists/Communists/Democrats have trumpeted their own agenda for a century, sometimes by letting the most honest voices be cast to the fringes so that the agenda won’t be stopped. They never turn away a small victory because it isn’t the whole victory they sought. They never stop, and have worked hard to get their hands on the levers that control our society.

This isn’t to label most Democrats/Socialists as evil conspiracists. (Some are, and I would encourage you to learn much, much more about Antonio Gramsci, who laid down a blueprint that should be frighteningly familiar.) But most are honestly motivated by a misguided compassion and desire to do good that has been coopted into a view of government that is paternalistic and smothering. It’s the Mommy State; and we know what Momma’s Boys and Girls end up like.

True adults must be made through tough love, education, instruction, discipline and facing adversity. Most grown-ups today (I have to include myself if I’m going to be honest here.) aren’t true adults: strong people with strong moral codes, a willingness to do what must be done to defend their family and property and society, and littler tolerance for those who fritter away what has been given them or endanger those around them. Not everyone will become a true adult, but it’s not the job of government to assure that, nor to pick up the pieces of the messes they’ll make. When I know someone else will clean up the mess, I’m not encouraged to be careful, skeptical and thrifty. But if I’m the only person who is looking out for me, then I’m very, very careful indeed.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have help for those who need it. But it should come from the people directly, through the agencies they themselves create and operate, not through a third agency of the government. A society is only as moral as the people must be. When my moral duties are taken over by another, I become less of a moral person. I don’t have to help you because there is a nebulous “someone else” to do it for me.

But if I know there’s not going to be help unless I provide it, then suddenly it’s my personal morality and ethics at stake. For example, I spent a year in alcohol and drug treatment, by my own choice. But I later spent almost eight more years working in the field, because I wanted to be sure that I paid back for what I’d taken for so long, and to be sure that the same help I got was there for the next man or woman. Doing so derailed the life I had intended to live, and the money I might have made, but I don’t dislike the life I live today, and I’m very grateful to have given what I did to someone else.

Government can’t do that for me. It’s an impersonal and overarching manacle to the soul. Federal government should only be given, as it was in the Constitution, those duties that cannot be performed adequately on the local level. We shouldn’t have a national drug treatment system; one size fits all wouldn’t work. But treatment options that arise from the needs of the local community will effectively deal with the local problem. To keep itself going, it will inform and educate the local citizens of the problems in their own community, motivating local action.

For example, Memphis Mayor Herenton at one time advocated the City buying a local hospital that was closing to turn it into an adjunct of the jail. People arrested on alcohol and drug charges that didn’t involve other crimes, like public intoxication or reckless behavior, would be sent to this facility overnight instead of the jail. The next day, they would be given a chance at treatment, which would also occur at the facility. If they decline, they go to the judge; if they accept, they immediately go into treatment. Following treatment, they’d go back to the judge for dispensation. That’s a great idea, as it relieves a lot of the crowding at the jail that alcohol- and drug-related behavior brings. It keeps the dangerous folks locked up and keeps the non-criminal from getting a free introduction. I supported this kind of government program because it is local in origin, intent, operation and action. I can go down there and see for myself what’s going on. I can meet with my City Council representative to talk about it. I can show up at government meetings to voice my opinions. I can protest outside the appropriate agency if there’s something wrong.

That’s the difference. With a Federal program, it’s all far, far beyond anything I can do. Everything becomes vast, faceless. Bureaucrats can shift me around forever.

Well, I certainly didn’t intend an essay here. And I still haven’t explicated my own philosophy. I guess that’ll be Part Two.

My Political Views, Part Two

So, what do I believe?

I’m against abortion, but recognise that it’s a necessary evil. I think a woman should have access to an abortion, but the government has, in the interests of protecting the unborn life, a right to impede (but not block) her. There simply are times, agonising horrible times, when an abortion is the only solution. That’s rare though. Most abortions today, something upward of ninety percent, are for the woman’s “convenience.” We should work to make abortion be seen as the evil it is, and something shameful. We should also work to make adoption noble again; something to be hallowed and applauded. The folks who work so piously and feverishly on the poles of the abortion debate should focus their energies there, and be productive.

Marriage should be a social contract, not a government one. It should be a religious and civil institution. Marriage laws came about to insure that inheritance would work, plain and simple. They ensured that the children of marriages really were the rightful descendants of their putative parents. We can do that far more accurately today with science. We don’t need a fear of King and jail to ensure fidelity. Let churches handle marriage and then anyone can marry anyone they want. This will not result in an aberrant society. The numbers of oddball marriages will be low, of course. Very few people really want to make a polygamous or homosexual marriage; it’s no threat to anything.

We need a more public awareness of, and recognition of, the fact that government is based on the individual by necessity. That is democracy, a polity of ones for the good of the ones. It can’t be a democratic republic any other way. But society is based on the family. It has to be. That’s the best way to transmit values, to create healthy children, to build future societies. Trying to make society work on the individual, and having government pick up the slack whenever the shortcomings occur, is leading us to the society we now live in, and the worse place we are heading toward.

Capitalism is the best method of allocating resources. There simply isn’t enough brain power to run a centrally planned economy, no matter how mildly done. Remember, any time you create a position of power, no matter how noble the intentions or the initiators, it will attract those who crave power and position. They will take it, and then deform the thing created to serve their power and position. History is so clear on this matter, I can’t believe it’s not an article of faith in the average man, as it once was. That’s why power should stay as close to home as possible, to keep it from getting out of hand.

Our Federal government should be a fraction of its present size. We should have a strong military corps that can be expanded when needed by a Reserve force, not unlike what we have now. Our borders should be patrolled by this military. We shouldn’t be in the business of income redistribution and social engineering. Get rid of the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Housing, Agriculture, Education, etc. Beef up the Department of Commerce.

Laws against what we do privately, and to ourselves, should be abolished. Suicide, prostitution, gambling, drugs, etc. should go. What people choose to do privately is their business, period. If people choose to do something stupid, let them. Try to get involved and talk them out of it, of course, but it’s their choice. Get to know your neighbors, get involved, so that you’ll know who to watch out for and why. Be smart, armed and vigilant. Be pro-active. Be unapologetic.

America should learn the difference between Republic and Empire. We should be a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world, generous with our friends and deadly to our enemies. We should only intervene if America is in direct danger. Then, we need to do the job, clean up, set things back up to ensure democracy and freedom, then go home.

No UN. National sovereignty is nothing to be ashamed of. Great Britain birthed the American Experiment. Our original setup was the best in the history of the world, and has irrevocably altered its destiny. We have been the model the rest of the world wants to adopt. Diluting ourselves under a supranational world government is a sure path to enslavement under a totalitarian regime. We must stand for ourselves, help others, fend off those who would harm us. For over two hundred years that’s worked just fine. Slowly, through adopting our example, more and more nations on Earth become democratic republics. Not one has adopted the UN model.

I’m opposed to capital punishment. It’s the only punishment that cannot be undone. Mistakes will always be made. We can free a jailed man, even give him money in recompense though we cannot restore his time. How can we correct a wrongful death? Besides, if capital punishment was done properly, that is quickly, then which would be worse: to spend a year or so in fear of death, or to spend decades in a concrete box?

Prisons should be as minimal as possible. Concrete boxes. It should be an awful place, one no sane person would want. We should segregate jail/prison: the mentally ill go one place, the non-violent (i.e. property crimes) in another, and the violent in a third. The non-violent should be oriented toward restitution and restoration and rehabilitation.

Courts need to be realigned. It is the jury that is the power in a courtroom, not a judge. The judge is more like the ref, keeping all sides honest and riding herd. We need to restart teaching Americans that principle. Juries can rule as they please, not be constrained by agenda-driven judges. Dishonest prosecutions can and should be thrown out of court via juries refusing to find guilt, when proper.

I think most matters of law should be given to civil courts, which should be expanded. That way, as society changes so do the courts reflect that change by altering precedents. In other words, a law stays on the book forever, but judges come and go. New judges reflect the new society they arise from. They should be elected, not appointed, and subjected to up/down retaining votes from time to time to keep them attached to the society they sit over. This way, those judges who stray too far from the mainstream can be gotten rid of, rather than live on and on until they die.

Laws which attempt to reshape society should be struck down. This includes affirmative action, of course, but also laws which prohibit people from doing with their property and businesses as they please. If someone doesn’t want to serve me, fine. He should have that right. But I have the right not to shop there and to let others know what kind of person he is; we can drive him out of business, which is the strongest punishment. Someone can refuse to rent to whomever they choose, for whatever reason, but will have to suffer when business is slack, until he learns to loosen up. Insurers shouldn’t be forced to take everyone. Let the virtuous have the best rates, and the less-safe pay for their choices.

I’m stuck, though, between my idealist belief that people should be free and the realisation that most folks will squander that freedom, even in a libertarian society that will make them bear the burden. Most folks today falsely believe that theyl share the “costs” of problems because of decades of miseducation and social engineering by Progressives, Communists, Socialists, Democrats, etc. If we have a government that takes up those costs, then yes, that’s true. But if we let people rise and fall on their own merits, and bear the responsibility of their choices, then no. Part of me truly believes that given the motivation, most folks will rise up. But I’m still torn.

Freedom is, as John Adams put it, the “great animating contest.” That’s the source of national and societal vigor. Stifle the freedoms and the nation is stifled too. Constrain the people and you will strangle their souls. We have seen it time and again: liberate and educate a people who are secure in their persons and property and they will soar.

Clean Sports Act of 2005

The politicians in Washington keep passing laws for us and the latest feel good act is the Clean Sports Act of 2005.

It is just full of the heavy penalties that Washington loves to put into its failed war on drugs.

Penalties:

First violation is two-year suspension without pay, and a second violation is lifetime ban in all professional sports

Leagues can lessen penalties if the athlete can prove that he did not know or suspect that he used the substance, or if he is a whistleblower for abuses by other people (including coaches, agents, managers, trainers, etc.)

The identities of positive players will be publicly disclosed within 30 days of the positive test

So my basic question is this. If they are doing this to keep the sports clean why are they not passing a law to randomly drug test themselves? I would love to see them get pulled aside for a good broad based test for drugs. Lets just say that the Betty Ford center would have a lot more guests then they normally would have when congress is out.

Lets push for a “Clean politicians act of 2005”.

My Political Views, Part Three

This is a continuation of what started here and wandered some more over here. This post is just a few odd items I didn’t work in somewhere down below.

While doing my usual Saturday morning idle surfing of the Web, I ran across this explanation of American Classical Liberalism, by Lew Rockwell. It says a lot that I said down below, but in far more elegant language and better composed thoughts. Lew is a lot farther along the spectrum than I am in his belief in limited government, and his article tellingly makes no mention of police and courts, but its still good stuff. Maybe I am a Classical Liberal? We’ll see….

I really believe the most important struggle going on in America today is the misunderstanding of what government and society mean to each other. As I note below, government must be founded in the individual; society must be founded in the family. Many of our problems are in the disconnect between these two fundamentals. A society based on individuals is lost. It cannot transmit its values nor properly educate and train its young. Government cannot fill that gap, as it must continue to teach the primacy of the one. You get Big Brother, where the government is the society. Nor can government be based, as it once was in this country, on the family. You subordinate the females and adult children to the head of the household. This is anti-democratic.

But finding the balance is tough. This is where the Democratic Party is destroying America. In allowing itself to be dominated by identity-politics groups, which worship the individual, it is moving further and further into government as family, into replacing lost institutions and mechanisms of the family with government substitutes. This cannot work. We see this every day in modern America. Put brutally, no one can be paid or compelled to care as much about your family and children as you will.

Next, I guess the best label for me would be conservative, traditionalist libertarian. I’m conservative in the broad, root sense of the word, one who views change skeptically. I believe change must be for a reason, it must be an improvement you must show me the benefit of. Obviously, I would support ending segregation and gender discrmination, because they enable more Americans to exercise their fullest freedom and liberty. But I’m skeptical of government funded day care — it serves to undermine the need for family, it supports bad decisions. I’m not convinced of the social good of it.

I’m traditionalist in that I don’t see anything wrong with doing things the way they’ve always been done. This comes through the conservatism above, recognising that change can be good and needed. But I recognise the importance of ritual and formality. They are the structures which deepen and make more meaningful the rites of passage in our lives. Look at marriage. It used to be an enormous family and community ritual. The incredible fuss and formality made going through it something that was deeply impressed on you. You were standing before family, friends, community, church, priest and GOD swearing to something. It became hard to ignore later on when the luster wore off. Today, marriage is something you can knock off one day, something you can get out of very easily, and so something that means little. Look what it’s bought us. Tradition brings depth and meaning to our lives; a connectedness to what has come before that transmits through us to the future.

Libertarianism is the political philosophy I’m most close to. Combined with the above, it can often be confusing. I am frequently called a conservative Republican by those who think with their prejudices. I’m not. Democrats have sold their soul to a philosophy that will destroy our culture and society. Republicans have shown they can be just as mercenary as the stereotype, but also be hypocritical enough to do it with the government’s money — my money. I reject the arguments of Republicans and Democrats that voting Libertarian hands a “victory” to the other party. They are one and the same today. I vote for whom I want, not against whom I fear.

So, there you go. More, I’m sure, to come.

DVD Review: Tokyo Godfathers

Animation director and writer Satoshi Kon has two previous movies: Perfect Blue and Millenium Actress. Both can be found locally and are well worth your time, especially the powerful, lyrical and startling Millenium Actress. Although animated, neither are kid’s movies, but movies that could only have been told effectively through animation.

Kon’s latest film, Tokyo Godfathers could have been made through normal film-making techniques, but I suspect it would have been a lesser movie as a result. And once again, just because it’s animated doesn’t make it a kid’s film, though I think older children might love its magical tale.

Tokyo Godfathers is the story of three homeless people. Gin (pronounced with a hard “g” as GEEN) is a middle-aged bum, who claims a crooked bike-race fixer cost him his vocation, and his wife and daughter their lives. Hana is a gay transvestite, neither man nor woman, shunned by all. Miyuki is a teen-aged runaway, gruff and prickly. On Christmas Day in Tokyo, they find a newborn hidden in some trash. They adopt the child, whom they name Kiyoko (literally “pure child”) and set off to find her mother.

I said above that the movie is magical, and that it is. But it’s an explicitly Christian magic, as the story begins in a Christian service at a food line. Hana claims that God must be watching over Kiyoko and events seem to bear him out. One close shave after another, repeated lucky breaks, strange meetings, all seem to help our heroes out.

That’s another part of this movie’s power. On the one hand, the three are unwashed, smelly, ill-mannered and impatient. The movie doesn’t shy from the realities of homeless life in Tokyo, nor from the harsh reactions of the “regular” people around them. All three have secrets and shattered lives, bruised places they don’t want touched. None have been cast out; they have all chosen to cut themselves loose from society.

But they are heroes, because they have set themselves a quest and they stay with it. They somehow work together and stick up for each other. No matter how humiliated, scared, beaten, or lost they don’t give up. Given a choice, they will make sacrifices for each other time and again.

When we first meet them, Gin, Hana and Miyuki all act as a family, if a really shabby and distorted one. It is Hana who starts them out, by taking the child’s discovery as a gift from God to honor her desire to mother a child of her own. Gin finds himself in the protector role and Miyuki grumbles at being put out by the whole thing. As the movie progresses and the tension grows, the characters begin to stress out and we find revealed their true pasts and feelings for each other and those they left.

I’m not going to discuss the plot here — hence no spoiler warning above — because the course of their quest is definitely not worth spoiling. It’s best to go in cold and let things slowly wrap you up, which this movie does quite well. As bleak and screwed up as our godfathers are, as we slowly see underneath their exteriors they are all revealed to be damaged but still-loving human beings, broken but not completely without hope. We learn their pasts and, through the quest, they come to redemptions of a sort.

I will say that the narrative keeps dropping clues and story lines for most of the first hour, only to skillfully retie them to the main story in the wrap-up. Only a couple of them are dropped, but none that matter to our heroes. The godfathers intersect with a lot of people, to meet them again later in surprising ways. Especially pay attention to the people you’ll see in photos.

The animation in this film is probably the hard part, after the subtitles (no dubbing available, sorry) for non-Japanimation fans. While the backgrounds are beautiful and gorgeously detailed, and the characters’ movements are subtle and realistic, their faces are animated in a Japanese style of exaggeration that may be off-putting to Americans not used to it. It’s a technique used there at moments of great emotion, and a long-standing traditional one, but it can look silly to those not used to it. But that, and a certain staticness in backgrounds, are small annoyances indeed compared to the otherwise engrossing art.

Watching the “Making of” featurette (Be sure to watch it, but only after the film as it spoils some surprises.) I was amazed to learn the extent of CGI and computer assistance in the film. Some surfaces and “camera movements” are clearly computerised, but even background detail and still sections were done by computer. I suspect the snow, which is so lifelike and beautiful that it made me cold just watching it, was done by computer. The movie also makes effective use of the multi-plane filming technique, giving depth to long shots that make the city large, the environments real.

This is not the Tokyo of most American films — gaudy Ginza and bustling crowds — nor the Tokyo of Lost in Translation, which showed a sleek, wealthy side. This is a city of back alleys, train tracks, lonely streets, and always being on the edge of whatever group of people you meet, always being pushed away. There’s a scene where the godfathers wander in a burnt-out home and you can see, in a resonant symbolic way, their own devastated lives. It’s like the difference between “tourist Memphis” and Orange Mound.

Back to the animation. Some of the scenes have a bit too many static (i.e. non-animated) elements, and there are places where detail is conspicuously missing. But the characters’ movements are a joy to watch. Pay attention to Hana’s walk, the hip-sway, and to his hand and arm gestures, the way he runs. Tiny bits of business are taken care of and illuminate Hana wonderfully. His face is square and mannish, his hands too large, his voice awfully deep, his clothes shabby, but his movement speaks for the spirit within. We see young Miyuki at various points in the past six months since she left home and if you’re careful you’ll notice the change in her shape, telling us of both her bad diet and her maturation. Watching Gin stumble drunk, or after he is beaten up, you can sense the man’s flickering, fighting spirit. All of them are distinct and living people. In the final section, with much running and leaping and climbing, it becomes easy to forget they are animated.

Be sure to watch the edges of scenes, some funny and telling bits of business happen there. Watch, too, for the number 1225 (December 25th; the birth of Christ), as it comes up many times in many guises. Lastly, very late in the movie something falls from a pocket. Look closely at it. There’s a joyous joke there if you catch it: maybe God’s reward and maybe the setup for a second film. It flashes by so quick it’s easy to miss!

This is a movie of small details briefly noted — an ad in a newspaper, a sigh, a building in a photo, an animal’s telling name, pictures on a wall. Throwaway lines come back with deeper meaning. This movie rewards close watching and will easily hold up through repeated viewings.

Oh! Be sure to watch the credits for the loopiest version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony you will ever hear.

One warning: some gay viewers may be displeased by how Hana is shown and treated. He’s called “homo,” “fag,” and “queer” throughout the movie. This may be painful, but it’s consistent with Japanese society, which is much less tolerant of homosexuality, and a reminder of the disgraced state our heroes are in. But, the movie explicitly shows Hana is a person of bruised dignity and the one with the deepest well of love.

At the movie’s open, we tend to want to keep these three homeless people at arm’s distance. They are smelly, unlikable and screwed up. But as they work their way to baby Kiyoko’s mother, their better spirits awaken, begin to fight through the layers of defeat and abuse and pain. We come to side with them and to cheer them on. They become heroes and we root for them to win, to find their redemptions.

It’s hard for a movie to begin with bleakness and unlikely protagonists, then slowly work through comedy and drama to a place of hope that isn’t false or melodramatic. Three Godfathers succeeds in that task. Highly recommended.

More Waltzing?

Darrell Phillips, a reporter for WMC Channel 5 in Memphis, and a blogger, is reporting that more arrests may be coming from the Tennessee Waltz investigation:

But today, I learned a great deal more that may, in fact, yield more federal action. And my sources are now saying to expect more indictments – of LOCAL officials – before the end of the week.

Specifically, one County Commissioner is said to be expecting trouble. And on the school board there are jitters too. Some school board members apparently took an e-cycle-funded trip last year to Miami where they met company “representatives” aboard a yacht.

Explosive, if it pans out.

This is also the second mention of Miami in connection with the Tennessee Waltz scandal. People paying close attention to the John Ford indictment will recall he also met with some E-Cycle officials in Miami. Initial speculation centered on whether Harold Ford, Sr., was involved, as he now lives in the Miami area.

I can’t wait to see if this is all true.

INSTANT UPDATE Memphis radio talk show host and political barb-master Thaddeus Matthews says his sources are saying the same thing:

…there are more indictments coming, that may include members of the County Commission, City Council, and City of Memphis School Board.

Matthews also has a post and interview with indictee Barry Myers that is sympathetic to him.

Illinois To Close Gun-Show Loophole

According to the AP, that is:

The House voted 89-28 to close a loophole that allows people to buy firearms at gun shows without going through the normal criminal-background check…

Background checks are already required for people buying guns at stores to ensure they don’t have a criminal record that would bar them from possessing firearms. But those checks are not conducted on purchases at gun shows. [Emphasis mine]

That’s funny, because every time I go to a gun show and buy from a FFL holder, he runs a NICS check on me, as per federal law. I guess federal law doesn’t apply to Illinois. After all, the guy that wrote this works for the AP, which has all those checks and balances and procedures and stuff in place so that they don’t print stuff that’s not true, like us bloggers do.

(And yes I’m going to flog that horse every chance I get)

Yet Another Tasering

Deputy uses stun-gun on 16-year-old boy:

Sheriff’s deputies used a Taser gun on Josh Welch after officers handcuffed his father, Leslie Welch, who had slit his wrists. The father suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The teen said his dad was waiting for an ambulance, but deputies arrived first and handcuffed the bleeding man. So the teen called 911 again and asked for, “cops who could do their job.”

A deputy wrote in a sheriff’s report that the boy came at him with a lit cigarette in a threatening manner.

Ok, I know we don’t know what really happened there, but “came at him with a lit cigarette in a threatening manner?” That sounds like a Monty Python skit.

May 30, 2005

Everyone has a clean record

Until they break the law.

When I first read this story I laughed at the idea of a cop car off in a ditch because of a bad U-turn. It’s his actions afterwords that made him the bad guy in my eyes. The police chief is also not doing to great when it comes to his duties.

Police officer David Devore just didn’t appreciate John Bell III’s “whimsical sense of humor.”

When Bell took digital pictures on Feb. 6 of Devore’s police cruiser stuck in the mud and being towed out of a ditch after an errant U-turn, Devore got angry. He took the memory card from Bell’s digital camera and erased the images.
…………..
Devore directed fellow officer Tyson Dinda to pull over Devore’s red minivan after Devore stopped to take the pictures. When Devore arrived farther up the road where the stop occurred, Bell asked Devore why he needed Bell’s camera.

“Because,” he said at first. After he paused, he added, “Defamation of character. Camera. And film. Now. I’m not going to ask you again. I’ll give you the count of three. Or I can make your life a living hell. You make the decision. I’ll give you that choice.”

When Bell picked up the memory card at the police station later that day, the images had been erased

Yep. Robbed by the police. Threatened by the police. Detained by the police. Right now you’re saying the police officer must be in some big trouble.

Nope.

Devore served a one-day suspension without pay on Feb. 15. He also received counseling and was told his future traffic stops would be monitored.

One day suspension. I call that a small vacation. They also offered the camera owner a whole 1000$ for walking all over his rights. He has turned it down and they are all on their way to court. Interesting to see what price the judge puts on our rights.

The police chief is acting rather shamefully here

“That’s what we did in this case,” said Chief Robbins. “We felt it was appropriate for the instance. It’s an anomaly for this officer. We have not had this type of issue with him.”
…………..
The chief says the 29-year old officer has been with the department for three years and has a clean record.

We all have a clean record until we get caught.

DVD Review: The Eye

[WARNING: This discussion contains spoilers. While I do not reveal the movie’s final act, nor much of the second act, I do examine a lot of the rest of the movie. It will take away some of your enjoyment, so reconsider reading this if you already think you might see the movie. It’s best seen completely cold. If you’re not sure, then this review will not ruin the movie’s final surprises for you, but it will give away some really great stuff from the first half.]

It’s impossible to guess how this movie will end from the way it begins. And it’s not because the directors cheat. (Danny and Oxide Pang; wouldn’t you love to be named “Oxide Pang?”) The script unrolls just slightly ahead of you until the fateful conclusion.

The Eye, made in Hong Kong in 2001 and released to DVD in America earlier this year is a superior horror movie. It is atmospheric and tense, constantly playing with the audience’s identification with the main character point of view and her state of confusion. We watch as she sees things we know aren’t real, waiting for her to understand. Watching her innocently interact with death and ghosts keeps us on the edge of our seats. The tension is exquisite. It is a ghost movie with an Asian and Buddhist tint that makes it different without being dislocating.

A young woman, Mun, has been blind since she was two. Now grown, she is given a cornea transplant that restores her sight. At first, she experiences the confusion of someone who has not seen. As her doctor notes, she doesn’t know she’s looking at a stapler until she touches it, until she uses a familiar sense. Everything for her is new.

She slowly begins to realise that what she’s seeing is wrong — frightfully, terribly wrong. People she meets behave in ways even a blind woman knows are bizarre. Then she begins to experience hallucinations of her room morphing into someone else’s room. She slowly grows more and more terrified as her world grows stranger. Mun fears she is going mad and wants it all to stop.

The film’s script, cinematography and editing are the equal of anything you’ll see in Hollywood film-making. The look and feel of this Hong Kong is not like your standard-issue HK gun ballet or chop-socky action film, but a bit grittier and worn looking. The acting, too, is great, especially Angelica Lee as Mun and Lawrence Chou as Dr. Lo. Even the supporting cast is outstanding.

Probably the biggest obstacle to American viewing is that there is no dubbed soundtrack, only a well-done subtitling. Which is a problem. You really can’t afford to take your eyes off the screen at all, but the dialogue is a necessary part of the movie. It’s a bit wearying, I’ll admit, to have to constantly jump from one to the other. I can only strongly hope you’ll give this movie a chance, as the rewards are substantial.

Since this is a movie about ghosts, sprituality is an important ingredient. As I noted above, that spirituality is Buddhist; but that won’t be an obstacle, as the film’s dialogue explains what Westerners will need to know. What we learn is that if death is sudden or the deceased has an unresolved problem in life, their spirit will stay on Earth instead of going to heaven. These are the people that Mun sees, who in their mindless way distract and harrass her.

They are some spectacular ghosts, too. We meet the first one almost right away, in a brief throwaway moment that portends what is to come. As the movie progresses, we encounter more and nastier ghosts. Some we don’t even realise are ghosts! Jealous ghosts, confused ghosts, children who don’t understand they are dead…. It just gets creepier and more disturbing as we go along. I really want to highlight this aspect, talk about the many manifestations and shocks, but I’m restraining myself to give you the thrill.

The ghost effects are subtly handled — often just a hint of makeup and some some good acting. Some are heavily done up so as to frighten when they appear. Some you don’t even know, until their “guides” or angels show up for them.

This is one of the movie’s strongest choices. The angels are never seen clearly. Often they seem little more than black smoke or heat haze. Long, attenuated forms with slicked-back hair in black, long-sleeve unitards that also cover the neck, with heavy white makeup that removes all their features except for their cavernous eyes. They never speak or gesture or seem to react to the living. They are truly unworldly.

The first half of the movie, its first act, is one long exercise in building tension and apprehension. Mun slowly grows more frantic until she snaps and retreats into pretend blindness, isolating herself from the rest of the world as she never did when she was truly blind. After Dr. Lo’s intervention leads to catharsis, she seems to accept that she now sees a very different world than others and grows more calm.

The movie’s second act is almost a different film. Moving from her metropolitan urban world, Mun and Dr. Lo take off for Thailand’s tropical jungle to find out the identity of the woman who donated her corneas. A more confident Mun asserts herself, takes charge and drives the story. Here the movie changes tone with the changed setting, resembling the first two Evil Dead movies or the earliest “slasher in the camp in the woods” films. The collapse into madness and despair of the first part is traded in for a more standard problem-solving, ghost hunting narrative.

There is a brief flashback sequence that utilises black-and-white, choppy editing, echoey sound, and hand-held camera quite well to shoehorn in some information and atmosphere without feeling like an infodump. Clues left in the beginning, more information learned in Thailand, and through Mun’s actions, all lead to a seemingly satisfying resolution — or so we think!

The film’s final act slips up on you and simply cannot be foreseen, but once we get there it’s a stunning and inevitable epiphany! The moment we learn what’s about to happen is like a cold, lead lump in the gut. As we learn the scope of the horror to come, the dread of the first act comes rushing back full bore. The return of the angels is chilling. The climax is perfect and complete. Suddenly, everything makes sense.

The movie’s real end is a type I particularly love: a circular ending that leaves our heroine right where she started, but wiser and sadder.

The Eye’s central theme can be seen in several ways. On the purely Buddhist spiritual level, the unfinished business of a spirit must be resolved. Mun is just the vehicle and once done, is left behind. On a different level, her new eyes have given her new sight: she now sees the world completely, without blinders, but that knowledge is more than she can handle. Mun cannot handle enlightenment. She cannot bear up under the pressure. There is also the superhero angle: with great power comes great responsibility. Having discharged her responsibility poorly, though not entirely through her own fault, she has that power taken away. And there’s the more mundane level: chance gave her both a gift and a curse, but chance also took it away from her.

I’ve stayed away from describing too much of the movie’s ghost encounters because many are truly memorable, but I have to mention a couple of things. First is the now legendary elevator sequence. It will have you squirming in your seat! That’s all I can say. Well, and it will also make you think the next time you get on one. Also, watch the edges of the frame, the background, and the crowds for the appearance of ghosts, especially in train windows! That’s all I’ll say.

One final note. The soundtrack to this movie is wonderful. The opening/closing theme is a throbbing, pulsing track rooted in industrial, but expressed orchestrally. Synth strings recall the Bernard Hermann score to Psycho’s famous scenes. It perfectly serves the movie. The sound design also reinforces the many shocks and dislocations of the narrative. Spare and effective.

The DVD only comes with one worthwhile extra: a making-of featurette that discloses the surprising level of special effects in the film’s latter act. Don’t watch it until after the movie, as it spoils pretty much everything.

I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. For non-fans of foreign films, the subtitles will be off-putting and distracting more than many foreign movies. You simply have to keep your eyes on the screen. But if stylish horror unlike anything you’ve seen in American films intrigues you, then you have to see one of the best films to come out of Asia in years. Some of the movie’s images will stay with you for quite some time to come.

Unfortunately, Tom Cruise bought the rights to remake this movie for American audiences. He will ruin it, especially if he casts himself as Dr. Lo. Look at the dumbed down Americanised The Ring versus the more subtle Japanese original, Ringu. There are other great Asian horror movies being redone right now. Ju-On’s original director is filming a nearly shot-for-shot American cast version, but with his usual Japanese crew working in Japan. The director of Dark Water, now starring Jennifer Connoly, is literally refilming his movie in America with American actors. It’s good to see such interest, but sad to know that American studios don’t trust American audiences to work with good subtitles or high-quality dubbing.

If you are interested in learning more about Japanese and Korean horror, go to Snowblood Apple, an English fan site. They have detailed synopses and reviews of a couple of dozen movies, including everything mentioned above. They also have a lot of screencaps, so you can get a clear sense of the movies. And there are tons and tons of links to explore.

It’s All Connected

As more reports look at who is involved in the Tennessee Waltz scandal, what strikes me is just how interconnected all these folks are. Roscoe Dixon, Kathryn Bowers and Barry Myers all have ties and mutual deals stretching back years. In a city as large as Memphis (including Shelby County) and a state as broad as Tennessee, the same names keep coming up over and over. It just reinforces the perception that a small group of people actually run the state.

Try these two stories from the Commercial Appeal, one looking at former State Senator Roscoe Dixon and the other at now-identified FBI informant and front man Tim Willis. See how many names all these folks have in common. Notice that there is a connection between Willis and the Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk scandal of several years ago, involving Shep Wilbun, Darrell Catron (whose father is involved with Beale Street’s management) and Calvin Williams. (Williams has written a tell-all book he’s been peddling around the local media for a few weeks. Will that book see the light of day now, after the indictments, or will it quietly disappear? A lot of reporters got a look at it and it was relentlessly hyped by television media for its explosive charges, but somehow those charges were never identified nor the alleged people involved named. Hmmmm….)

There’s also the story on the Memphis Flyer website from the weekend about Tim Willis. Jackson Baker places Willis in context and inadvertantly shows how his past conviction may have been used by the FBI to pressure him to go along. They also print a long, unedited transcription of one talk between State Senator John Ford and Willis.

What caught my attention in the transcript was that Ford was clearly tipped off that something involving the FBI and E-Cycle was afoot. He suspected several months in advance. He says three different people warned him and that one was Roscoe Dixon himself. Given that East Tennessee Representative Chris Newton had, on Wednesday, quietly withdrawn the bill in question, Newton also knew. I had a report on a blog (I’m sorry I’ve since lost the link.) where someone described being in a grocery store line earlier this year and having a total stranger mention that John Ford was about to go down. The stranger said the FBI was about to move on him. This widening puddle of leakage may be why the indictments were unsealed when they were, on the last day of the legislative session.

Ford also talks about a mysterious “L.C.” who was apparently involved, if I read this correctly, as someone with E-Cycle Management.

Ford also alludes to his Senate ethics investigation in a couple of ways. He states rather clearly that he’s not at all worried about that investigation. (Remember, this was in February.) He seems to say that he’s been told it will be quietly concluded.

Then Ford speaks about the difference between doing business in government and in the private sector. He flat says that he can make any agreement he wants and it’s all above board. One is reminded of his contracts with OmniCare and Doral Dental, with their highly lucrative “consulting” work. Then he notes that with government, he has to be more circumspect and more quid pro quo. It’s a fascinating view of how government works for some people.

I can see why the Feds released these tapes and transcripts. It completely pre-empts any efforts by Ford to spin or bluster his way out. Ford obviously sees himself so trapped that he’s been forced to resign his Senate seat.

Strange days indeed.

No more free meals

Politicians in Nashville are running for cover and now attempting to take on the look of Father Dowling. Pure of heart with no corruption in their lives. I don’t buy it for a second,.

At least a few Metro Council members are losing their appetite for free meals provided before council meetings by unions, developers and others.
Councilman Michael Craddock of Madison sent an e-mail about two weeks ago to his colleagues, telling them he would no longer dine on council nights at the expense of those who sometimes want to curry favor.
Some, including Councilman Jim Gotto of Hermitage, have agreed to do the same

Sorry Mr. Politician, but dusting the cookie crumbs from your hands does not remove the fact that you enjoyed the cookies while you had them.

BB Guns: Threat or Menace?

The UK might ban BB guns:

Ball-bearing guns used by children could be banned after a string of cases involving serious injuries.

The pistols, which fire plastic pellets, are not classed as firearms because they are considered too low-powered to be fatal.

I would have thought they weren’t classed as firearms because they’re not firearms, being powered by a puff of air rather than an exothermic chemical reaction.

Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, who came near the top of last week’s annual ballot of MPs selected to introduce their own legislation, now hopes to pilot a private member’s bill banning the guns. ‘If these things are shot at a child’s eyes or face they could have serious consequences – they might blind a child or kill them,’ she said.

You had to know somebody would play the “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” card.

The UK already has an almost total ban on private firearm ownership. Now they want to ban kitchen knives and BB guns. I’m expecting the Brits to pass a pointy-stick ban sometime this fall.

May 29, 2005

DVD Review: A Snake of June

I watch a lot of foreign and independent movies. I’ll post occasional reviews of some of the best, hoping to persuade folks to give them a try. These films may be odd or in another language, but they will reward those who give them a try.

Later in the week, I’ll post my over-the-top rave review of Japan’s highly controversial, and underground American sensation, Battle Royale. With your indulgence, I’ll also post reviews of Thailand’s atmospheric horror chiller The Eye; Gus Van Sant’s dishonest recreation of the Columbine school shooting, Elephant; and the funny, heartwarming and thoughtful animated classic Tokyo Godfathers.

=== === === === ===

[This review contains many substantial spoilers.]

June in Japan is the rainy month. The snake in Japan, as in many other cultures, is a symbol for the penis. 2002’s A Snake of June, by Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto (already famed for the Tetsuo films and Bullet Ballet) is an enthralling film about the awakening of desire and the explosive consequences of damming that desire.

The first thing to be said about A Snake of June is its look. Filmed in black and white, it was transferred to color stock for theatrical showing. Tsukamoto chose to use the possibilities of that stock to give his film a rich Arctic blue gloss that lends the film an otherworldly aura while still keeping the high contrast and heavy detail of black and white. (Beads of water and pores in the skin leap out in sharp relief.) The blue acts to cool the viewer even as events explode onscreen. It detaches us from events in a different way than straight-forward black and white would have. The choice of blue also ties in to the movie’s extensive use of water as a metaphor.

The movie opens with photographer Iguchi, played by director Tsukamoto, trying to sell some pictures to a magazine. He’s told that his pictures of inanimate objects aren’t as desirable as erotic pictures. We next meet telephone social counselor Rinko Tatsumi, a quiet woman with a certain French gamin look about her: narrow horn-rim glasses, a stringy boyish bob cut and a mild androgeny. She seems very reserved and self-contained, nervous to please in that way unique to Japanese women in their twenties. Next, we meet her husband, Shigehiko. He’s at least 20 years her senior, balding and pudgy and soft. A classic Japanese sarariman and apparently a bit of a momma’s boy. (Even his name suggests it. “Ko” is derived for the word for “infant,” and is frequently used as a diminuitive at the end of women’s names: Michiko, Akiko, etc.) Shigehiko is a cleanliness and neatness freak. When we first meet him, he’s scrubbing the kitchen sink. When Rinko protests, wondering if she did a good job, he replies with an odd smile that he enjoys cleaning.

As we soon learn, their marriage is dry and sexless. Repression and sterility is everywhere. Enter Iguchi. He mails a packet to Rinko titled “Secret From Your Husband.” It’s filled with surprising pictures of a reclining Rinko, sitting beside her living room window, exploring her body to erotic effect! We’re amazed at the revelation about the prim Rinko and she’s shocked by the invasion of her privacy. Iguchi has pierced the bubble built up around her.

Then she receives another packet with more pictures of her wearing a very short skirt and makeup, then having an orgasmic moment in the rain. Again, we’re surprised to learn about this part of Rinko, as nothing we’ve been shown yet hints at it. Then, she finds a cell phone. Iguchi calls her and gives her instructions. And the movie kicks into gear.

Iguchi is one of her callers at the counseling center, we learn, someone she helped. He wants to return the favor. His plan is to blackmail her with his pictures into doing exactly what she wants to do anyway, but doesn’t have the will to conquer her repression and do openly. Her fear of disrupting her marriage, shocking her husband — her repression — forces her to follow Iguchi’s plan.

What follows is the erotic liberation of Rinko and her husband Shigehiko, after a torturous path of humiliation, voyeurism, curiousity, conflict and, ultimately, release. The film’s very structure parallels the sexual act itself. We are seduced, violated, seduced again, then taken to climax.

All of this is presented through the lens, Iguchi’s and Tsukamoto’s. Literally, it’s a movie drenched in voyeurism, just as the city itself is drenched from beginning to end in rain.

A Snake of June is all about fighting through the alienation and separation of modern city life. The film makes extensive use of static framing shots to set scenes or introduce characters. There are also a lot of circular openings — eyes, windows, cones — through which we see. Characters often hide around corners to watch other events unfold; there are frequent shots of background characters watching the main three in action, staring directly into the camera as though we are Rinko or Shigehiko.

Outside of their marriage, we see Rinko or Shigehiko interact with others, especially Iguchi the blackmailer, through the telephone. Other important moments come through the phone. As much as we see these three out in the world, they don’t have much interaction with it. In fact, they own an observatory and a large telescope, the better to disconnect and turn their attentions elsewhere.

One stunning sequence involves Rinko being forced to wear her too-short skirt sans underwear through a department store. Her fear is so intense she dons a pair of dark glasses and clutches her umbrella in front of her, like a shield. Add to that her halting, fearful steps, knock-kneed to protect her sex, and she appears almost like a blind woman. Given that she’s being led by Iguchi to her release from inhibition, that’s a powerful metaphor. The sequence is shot with rapid cuts and shaky, too-close hand-held cameras, to help convey her fear and disorientation. When Iguchi next forces her to buy and insert a vibrator as she parades around the city, Rinko’s all-consuming response is truly climactic, orgasmic. Her odyssey is sexual in both form and conclusion!

The counterbalancing theme is water. It pours, cascades, drips, splashes, pools and roars through A Snake of June. It’s a metaphor for sexuality, the unstoppable pervasiveness of desire. In nearly every outdoor shot, it’s raining. Windows are always being spattered with it. Clothes are soaked in it; faces and bodies spotted. There is a repeated shot of water racing like a torrent across stones to a storm drain, collecting in a strange, Lynchian place in the bowels of the city.

Another repeated motif is a constant use of the shadows of water running in rivulets down windows, those shadows falling on the walls behind and above the characters, to imply the repressed desire flowing through them, unceasingly running but only a hint of what could be.

There are a lot of beautiful shots of water hitting various things. Hydrangeas opening to rainfall; a snail slowly crossing a rain-spattered leaf; a rain-shrouded skyline; windows and walkways splashed with rain; public streets viewed through a haze of rain; and one genuinely wondrous shot of a rain puddle boiling with raindrops, it’s whole surface alive with motion. Tsukamoto manages to combine it all with a shot I want to capture for a computer wallpaper: we see Rinko looking apprehensively out her apartment window, through the horizontal slats of open blinds, partly hidden by the angular leaves and limbs of a tree, obscured by heavy rainfall. Alienation, repression, fear and desire all in one aching image.

But this is a Shinya Tsukamoto film. His work has been compared to that of David Lynch and David Cronenberg with good reason. Viewers expect a certain weirdness from the man who brought the body-horror nightmares of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo: Body Hammer to life. With Lynch, he shares a similar view of the strangeness lurking just below the surfaces of seemingly normal life, though this movie gets comparisons to the directly weird Eraserhead. With Cronenberg he shares the same fascination with flesh and the body, the limits it can be put through, the fusion of flesh and machine. Though it’s primarily a drama with overtones of psychological horror, there are a few moments of trademark Tsukamoto.

At two points in the movie, Shigehiko finds himself in a Lynchian underworld where businessmen such as himself are bound and their faces covered in intricate pig-snout cones that limit their view to tiny circles in front of them. These sarariman are forced at one moment to watch a young couple being pushed and shoved in a simulation of sex, as a fat woman in a vaguely circuslike costume bangs a drum. The couple are then put into a front-loader washing machine-like device that is equal parts carnival sideshow and cathedral altar, that fills up with water from the drains above, drowning them. Later, at his dramatic turning point, Shigehiko discovers himself inside the machine, also drowning in water from the streets, being watched by the cone-faced businessmen. Whatever is going on here is entirely metaphorical; it’s not even clear he’s actually in a real place. In a movie as firmly realistic as this, they are flights of absurdity that somehow still feel proper.

There’s another moment, when Shigehiko is attacked by an obsessed Iguchi over Rinko, where a black corrugated tube-thing makes an appearance. The cast and crew call it the “metal penis.” It’s the purest “Tsukamoto” moment. I’ll leave it to you to stumble on this scene.

A Snake of June reaches a shattering, life-altering climax (literally) when all three characters collide at a construction site unbeknown to each other, mostly. Rinko has at last liberated herself. After a brief call to Iguchi, she puts on the short skirt and makeup, then parades through the department store with obvious satisfaction, revelling in her freedom and power. A horrified but fascinated Shigehiko follows her, hiding like a voyeur, thinking she’s having an affair with the photographer whose pictures he’s found. When she struts into the site, during a torrential rainstorm, her husband hides around the corner wondering what’s to come.

Iguchi flies up in his car. As he opens his window and begins to take flash pictures, Rinko gives herself to the downpour. In a solo performance of orgiastic awakening, she swivels and strips for Iguchi until she is naked, consumed in the sensations both external and internal. She finally reaches her orgasm, even as her husband does in the shadows, while Iguchi’s flash pops non-stop. The scene is uncomfortable only in its intimacy.

Spent, folded into herself, she has one last thing to achieve. Rising straight, facing Iguchi’s camera unflinching with a slightly crooked smile, completely naked — not at all nude, but naked — she invites his appraisal. Shigehiko, not comprehending that the moment is for ultimately for him, runs away ashamed.

All these events have been built up to slowly. The characters react to each other and move forward believably. But from here to the final act, it’s like a rush to orgasm. I’ll leave this to the viewer’s delight.

As you’ve likely guessed by now, I’m in love with this film. It’s a near-perfect blend of art, horror and drama. The intricate weaving of voyeurism into every aspect of the filming, theme, metaphor and composition of the movie, along with the concurrent use of water as another, conflicting yet complementary metaphor, makes for a dense viewing experience, even at a brisk run time of 77 minutes!

Don’t think this is short. Tsukamoto makes use of a lot of the fancy film tricks — abrupt cuts within scenes, shaky hand-held cameras, oddball angles, changing points of view, long empty establishing shots — so beloved of modern film-makers. (Think Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Trainspotting.) Unlike many directors who need to pad their movies to 90 minutes, and will therefore cut back on the cutting edge stuff for more conventional narrative techniques to avoid wearing out the viewer (Again, think Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), Tsukamoto does no such thing. He sticks with his choices all the way through. Consequently, the movie doesn’t wear you out, nor does it feel truncated. It’s a unified experience, from seduction to release, in every sense.

There are other elements I’d like to discuss (I took four pages of notes on the second viewing!) but I feel I need to stop before I belabor my point. I really liked this movie. It’s probably now in my Top Ten. It’s a visual feast, a compelling story of three repressed people finding what they want, a cinematic experience, and a stunning accomplishment of eroticism. Asuka Kurosawa, the actress who plays Rinko, is brave beyond words. What she does on screen would compare to the fearlessness of a Jennifer Jason Leigh or Jennifer Connelly. Amazing but organic to her character at every moment, so her craft is invisible. Even Yuji Kohtari, as Shigehiko, rises above his stereotypic middle-aged, middle class Japanese appearance to equal moments of bashfulness and confusion that are shaded with engaging subtlety.

There’s no dub available on the disk, only subtitles. They fly thick and fast in this film. It means you should watch the film twice: once with subtitles that you follow closely to catch the dialogue and narrative, then again with no subtitles so you can lose yourself in the visual experience.

The odd monochromatic color scheme reproduces perfectly, with great detail and nuance, on my television and so is a treat of its own. No artefacts are in the black areas, nor is there bleeding of colors.

There are interviews with the director and his co-stars, and another, short “making of” featurette. Along with some previews of other Tartan Asia Extreme releases, that’s it.

A Snake of June gets my highest recommendation. It’s clear that it was long in the conception and meticulous in its execution. Everyone in the cast and crew are fully bought into Tsukamoto’s vision. If you’re not sure you’ll want to watch any Japanese films, and would like to try just one, make it this. It’s culturally specific enough to entertain, resonant enough in its story and emotion to knock even American audiences over. It’s beautiful, exotic and erotic. Powerful and cathartic like great sex. And I mean that.

Life in Memphis

I wrote the following a couple of weeks ago. It’s been fermenting in my mind for years and the event I linked to finally precipitated it. It encapsulates a lot of my experiences and thoughts about life in Midtown Memphis.

Midtown is an amorphous area in the center city, our “bohemian” district, if you will. It runs from the edge of downtown, by the river, to well East and near the University of Memphis. It runs from Jackson Avenue in the north to the old L&N railroad tracks south of the Cooper-Young neighborhood. That’s a lot of real estate, and oddly enough big sections of that rectangle either don’t have, or actively reject, the “Midtown” aesthetic.

As the singers have said, “Midtown is a state of mind.”

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You read about it in the paper, sometimes, and you see it on television almost all the time, but life in center-city Memphis can sometimes be awful. I don’t know what to say when I read about stuff like this.

On my own street (Monroe, just down from Sekisui), I presently live next door to a drug dealer. He has spotters and assistants at four of the six apartment buildings on the block. Traffic is low, but I always have someone I don’t know hanging out just outside my apartment. Back in January the TAC squad conducted a blitz raid on an apartment across the street that netted four people, a lot of money and a very sophisticated video surveillance setup aimed at the street! We can’t get folks to move into our building because they come by at night to check out the street, see what’s happening and never come back. The landlord claims to be doing something, but it’s been more than a year now, so you have to wonder….

A neighbor and good friend was dead in his home for three days before anyone knew. His landlord was out that evening cleaning out the apartment without trying to locate his next of kin. The guy doing the work stole everything worth anything (down to cans of food and rolls of toilet paper!); a couple of thousand dollars, at least. We found his personal papers in the street and ended up getting help from the Veteran’s Hospital.By the time we located some family, everything had been trashed, stolen or picked up off the street. The landlord claimed to the family that everything was locked in storage and unavailable.

My first neighbor was a Vietnam vet with mental problems. He would regularly bring over tins of potted meat or tuna to trade for a couple of bucks to buy a beer. One Sunday morning, at a too-early four AM, I heard him screaming “Oh God! Oh Jesus!” over and over in genuine religious fervor. He spent most afternoons and evenings sitting on the breezeway outside in a chair by his door, with his tinny radio blaring, yelling incoherently whenever the neighborhood children got too near the street, like a real-life catcher in the rye. He was actually pretty nice, but like most folks with strong mental illnesses, he could be unpredictable and prickly.

A current neighbor likes to crank up his stereo on the weekends when the weather’s nice or friends come over. It’s a DJ quality monster that I can hear from my back bedroom two apartments over, with all the doors and windows closed. It’s even louder than my television, sometimes. But, he doesn’t do it all the time, and his taste in music runs to Seventies R&B and soul, and funk, which is fine by me. I figure he’s a kind of karmic payback for all the years I tormented my Birmingham neighbors with my monster stereo and my punk rock. That’s been one good thing about the street, is that we have very few folks who blare their stereos.

I saw a guy get shot in the ass in the middle of the block. Another neighbor was found trussed up and murdered in his apartment several years ago; he appears to have picked up someone in Overton Park for casual sex gone horribly wrong. The murder was never solved. We had an arsonist for a while, who was setting dumpster fires. He must have moved, because the fires finally stopped. Just a couple of weeks ago, a sherrif showed up at my door (gave me a fright, I tell ya) asking about an elderly neighbor in the back who had been missing for five days. He appears to have died, as his apartment was unceremoniously emptied out into the trash. Once, a drunk wandering down the street walked halfway up my apartment stairs, mumbling to himself and ignoring everyone outside, opened his pants and began to relieve himself over the side into the yard! Then he wandered off.

Remember about three – four years ago when there were pipe bombs being set off around Shelby Farms? About the same time some neighbors saw a couple of rednecks toss one into the dumpster behind what’s now Turner’s (Was the great but trashy River City Donuts at the time.). It blew, about 11PM on a Sunday night, loud enough to send me out of bed and the dumpster lid across the street. Flames at least forty feet high. The police and fire department came out, but oddly it didn’t even make the news.

Just last fall, I heard a car screech and career into a building on the corner. They sheared off a street sign at ground level and slammed into the wood and glass front, sending the sign midway into the inside! The car zoomed off down the street, leaving some parts of its bumper at the scene, but the police only cursorily investigated. I’m guessing the driver figured paying for the damage to his car alone was cheaper than paying for the damage to the building too, and then going to jail.

It’s an odd street. The west end is all cheap apartments badly managed. Lots of transients, usually, but right now we have too many empties. And one boarded up unit from a recent fire. Had I not been there, the fire department wouldn’t have been called in time and the whole building, including my apartment, wouldv’e burned down. Things used to be working people and family friendly when I first moved here about a decade ago but in the past few years a succession of ex-public housing residents and several drug dealers have tanked it. I briefly had one neighbor who was such project trash she would stand outside in her purple velour nightie, cut deep up top and just below her crotch, hollering at people at the other end of the block. And she weighed close to two hundred pounds. She thought she was being sexy.

The east end is all nicely maintained, single-family homes, with SUVs parked outside, though you rarely see any of the families outside in their yards. Very rarely. Loeb Properties owned a couple of empty lots in the middle of the block that for many years were vacant and functioned just like a pocket park for the street. Wonderful in the summer, under the shade of a 100′ high oak. They recently built a pair of spec houses. The people who bought the first one only stayed for a few months before they put the house back on the market. Still, that house is directly under that oak, right on top of the root system, and right in the path of lost limbs if we have another Hurricane Elvis.

The dichotomy is striking between east and west. You’d think the rising prosperity of the east would bring up our end, but the two halves keep moving farther apart.

Traffic is a real problem for us, being one block off Union. Lots of folks taking shortcuts of one kind or another (Belvedere, Madison, Poplar) and speeding through. It was a real worry when we had more kids on the block, especially in the afternoons. Typical modern urbans with radios going, phone in one ear, not watching the road, roaring down the street in a real hurry honk honk! Sekisui parking overflow is another problem. They get packed on Friday and Saturday and the suburbanites just park anywhere they can, blocking sidewalks, drives, etc, and ostentatiously worrying at the folks walking past them, the folks who live here!

I don’t have a problem walking around day or night, but then I’m six foot, three hundred pounds, with a buzzcut and a permanent scowl. That buys me a lot of caution on the part of criminal opportunists, I’ve learned. That and my bossy, middle-class whiteman demeanor. Lots of folks just assume I’m in charge of something and so aren’t eager to mess with me. They also assume I’m ex-military, which is fine by me. Like I said, I don’t often get messed with.

But I do worry about breakins when I’m not home. I got a rude shock a while back when someone I’d seen down the block, who’d been living there a while but I hadn’t met yet, was able to tell me my daily and weekly schedule in pretty good detail. It surprised me how many folks have eagle eyes and a jealous watchfulness. Now with all the drug and hooker traffic of the past few years, I worry about opportunity crime. Like the crackhead neighbor when I first moved in who stole a rocker right off my front porch just a couple of days after I bought it. I’ve had any number of plants taken as well. Anything that can be turned into a rock.

It probably sounds more dangerous to you than it really is. It certainly horrifies my middle-class family that I love living here. But I do. The endless blocks of cookie-cutter, anonymous condo buildings downtown and on Mud Island, and in the county out East, irritate me. How do you tell some one how to find your particular cube? “Take the first right. Go to the back. Count three buildings and I’m on the corner upstairs in the one just over from them.” Sheesh…. Every, every, trip anywhere requires driving; often a lot of driving, just for simple errands. I can walk to everywhere I need: bank, post office, laundry, lots of restaurants, grocery stores, other shopping (Home Depot!), book stores, movie theaters, you name it. Midtown is the only place that offers that convenience. Murphy’s nearby has outside festivals several times a year which make it hard to sleep, but the music’s frequently good and it’s free. Sometimes the bands playing inside are loud enough to hear over here!

I like the blurred rushing noise of traffic, the occasional ambulances and police sirens rising up together in the night like the howling of wolves, the snatches of conversations passing by, bands playing in nearby clubs, the even rarer horns from Mississippi River traffic like ghosts of history, the parade of homeless. (Though I’ve noticed in the past nine months or so that the neighborhood’s homeless are vanishing. I wonder what’s happening?) The trade-offs are real and sometimes costly, but the benefits are worth it. And we do it without hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidy and tax breaks from City Hall, and propping up by numerous quasi-public agencies!

Take that, Downtown! You guys are the doughnut hole to the chewy rich goodness of Memphis. We don’t have the benefit of every tourism and PR effort to prop us up. Nor the ceaseless rah-rah of the daily paper. We have the intentional neglect of our City’s leaders, thank you very much. Downtown has the spit and polish, the self-inflated importance, the plastic Disneyland version of Memphis; we have the funk, the genuineness, the damp sweat of an endless Memphis summer.

Midtown really is Memphis, and it definitely takes a certain amount of character to live in it. Not the enclaves of fearful white prosperity dotted around like forts on a map of 18th century western America, but the real, hurly-burly Midtown. Where you and the homeless guy down the block have a nodding acquaintance. Where you know how to get across Union Avenue traffic during rush hour. Where you have neighborhood institutions and they know you, too.

Welcome to Memphis.

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A lot of folks dropped by to read that, but one Memphis blogger, EJ of Cherry Blossom Special and Scenestars, was moved to write his own thoughts. If you want a, ah… , skewed view of life in the River City, check out the rest of his blog.

Memphis: Funky or Fonky?

I like Memphis, warts and all, but I know that our perception in the rest of the state and the South is pretty unfavorable. We’re perceived as a crime capital, a dirty city and a bunch of whiners and complainers with an inferiority complex.

So I’d like to open a forum to hear what folks really think about my City of Good Abode. Whether you’ve been here or not, passed through or spent a while, what is the view of Memphis from the great Eastern Division? Since I’m asking, feel free to say what you really think.

What do you think about Memphis?

From the Bookshelf

One of my many excuses for not posting very much lately is that I’ve been catching up on some reading. I recently plowed through the last two volumes of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle plus some of his earlier work. Right now I’m finishing up Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. It’s funny, of course, as Twain always is, but it contains some tidbits that are suprising to us in this modern age. For example, during his stay in France, Twain discovered that the French at that time did not use soap! Shocking, I know.

Since Memorial Day is tomorrow, and June 6th right around the corner, I thought I’d finally read The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice by Alex Kershaw. This is the story of a group of young men from Bedford, VA, who were members of the 116th Infantry, part of the 29th Infantry Division, which assaulted Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Since the 29th was formed of National Guard units from Virginia and Maryland, it’s not surprising that men from the same town wound up in the same unit. As you can imagine, the 116th suffered terrible losses during the assault. Not for nothing is the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford; the town suffered the highest per-capita losses in the nation.

May we never forget the sacrifices our fighting men and women have made for us.

The Unkillable Beast

Jack Hickey is my kind of libertarian:

After losing more than a dozen elections in 20 years, you’d think Jack Hickey would want to hang on to the first office he finally won. But the outspoken San Mateo County Libertarian — who lost elections for governor, senator (U.S. and state), assemblyman, community college board and open space district before winning a seat on the Sequoia Healthcare District board in 2002 — is trying to abolish the district.

At a board meeting Wednesday Hickey plans to propose that voters be asked if the district should quit taking the $5.5 million in annual property taxes it gets — and essentially close up shop.

The district, formed in 1946, built and ran the public Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City until selling it in 1996 to Catholic HealthCare West for $30 million. With no public hospital to control, the district continues to rake in property taxes for a variety of community health care programs, such as children’s health insurance, school nurses and free clinics. But it still doles out more than $1 million a year to the hospital, even though taxpayers don’t own it anymore.

May 28, 2005

Quote for the day

If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government.

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist (#28)

We Need Politicians Like This Guy

Former Nigerian Governor calls for universal carry:

FORMER Governor of defunct Bendel State, Brig-Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia (rtd) has called for a legal provision to make every Nigerian carry a gun.

Speaking during debate at the ongoing National Political Reform Conference, (NPRC), Gen. Ogbemudia said that those who want to carry guns should be allowed to do so if they have the required licence.

He said the need for guns is to check incessant attacks by armed robbers in the country

He also said that he is looking for a partner in the USA to help move millions of dollars in government funds out of the country. He’ll give you half, and all he needs is your bank account number. Leave it in the comments section here.

Taser, Glock, What’s The Diff?

The mis-use of tasers is recurring theme here at SayUncle. Here’s another instance:

When a Rochester police officer arrested a man more than two and a half years ago, he thought he fired his taser gun.

But he didn’t, he actually shot the man with a .40 caliber pistol.

Now, that man, a 34-year-old refugee from Sudan, is suing the city of Rochester and three of it’s police officers for $2 million.

Obligatory Blog-jeering at the press’s Editorial Superiority:

Bennett says the taser is much lighter than the glock, has a different style trigger, a different safety, and a laser site.

It’s “Glock” with a big “G” and “sight” as in “lookie lookie.” Kthxdrvthru.

The constitutional question is key, because Atak’s lawsuit claims officers violated his civil rights, namely his 4th amendment protection against unreasonable seizure, by using deadly force without authorization.

A question for the lawyers in the audience: is that the usual legal argument when one sues the police in these circumstances? If there is a “usual,” that is.

UPDATE: In the comments, SayUncle suggests that “GLOCK” is all-caps. Mea culpa.

Yet Another Proposed Assault Weapon Ban

Automatic assault rifle weapons spotted in Chatham County, GA.

Friday Chatham County commissioners congratulated the metropolitan police department on making arrests quickly after someone fired an automatic weapon in an apartment complex off LaRoche Avenue last week.

At the same time one commissioner promised to look into banning the sale of automatic weapons in the county.

I’m shocked that somebody who jumped through all those ATF hoops to be allowed to own a Class III firearm would do something so crass as to shoot up an apartment building.

Police say Gralow was using an AR-15 assault rifle- the civilian equivalent of an M-16.

Oh…I see. It wasn’t really an automatic weapon. Not even really an assault rifle. I sure didn’t see THAT one coming.

Commissioner Harris O’Dell says assault weapons aren’t for hunting, only for killing.

He specifically referenced gun shows held at the Savannah Civic Center as a place where people can buy assault weapons.

Right, right, right. Let’s see:

  • Conflating “automatic weapon,” “assault rifle,” “assault weapon,” and “scary gun that looks like a machine gun.” Check.
  • Canard about not for hunting, only for killing (people, that is; I mean, you kill stuff when you hunt. If you’re good at it). Check.
  • Gun shows BAD! Check.

Wait a minute. What about The Children? What about Terrorists? Come on guys, stick to the script.

By the way, this article is a great illustration of why I don’t use the term “assault weapon” at all, except sarcastically. An M-16 truly is an assault rifle, because it’s a select-fire rifle chambered in an intermediate cartridge. An AR-15 is not an assault rifle, nor is it an “automatic weapon.” Neither one is an “assault weapon,” because thar ain’t no sich animal.

“This land is your land” until it’s not

Eminent domain is not limited to just the US and super store sites.

Those evicted who feel that they have not been compensated adequately may have little redress. M Becquelin said that last year the courts received instructions not to take up any case seeking compensation. And residents who lose homes or businesses face the combined might of city authorities and wealthy developers eager to profit.

“In a system so opaque there are huge avenues for corruption for anyone with a lead about an area to be developed,” M Becquelin said.

The bigger the government program or plan, the more people that will shoved aside. China has only reached the 300,000 mark. All in the name of progress and the Olympic spirit.

Hello.

For the next few days I will be dropping by to help carry the load for our absentee host. My name is Gunner, real name, and I blog over at No Quarters.

I got into blogging because, as I say, I understand why Elvis shot so many TV sets. The utter stupidity on TV and in the main stream media finally got to me. So I started ranting on my own site Feb 2004. It is cheaper then replacing a lot of TV’s.

Born and raised in Kentucky I first moved to Tennessee when I married my wife from Antioch. Been living back in Tennessee for 3 years after a 8 year stay in Kansas. The one thing I truly missed about Tennessee was the green. Kentucky and Tennessee to me is defined by the wonderfully lush green of our trees. Until you live in Kansas you do not appreciate the trees here.

May 27, 2005

Doing the Tennessee Waltz

While I’m posting I’ll also go ahead and put up a link to my ginormous link-filled post from Thursday, as I live-blogged the unfolding Tennessee Waltz legislative scandal.

I was at my computer that morning, just lazing away and catching up on my blog reading early. When the news broke on Memphis television at 9:30, some part of me realised the importance of this and the need to have one-stop shopping for links and information. I volunteered for that role.

I spent the next 12 hours hunting down posts and links, reading blogs, reloading numerous websites, scanning up and down the television and radio dials (OK, they don’t have dials any more but you know what I mean….), and putting up everything I found on Half-Bakered.

It was a lot of work, even for sitting on my butt. My head hurt by the end of it all. But the result was well worth it!

I think this scandal may end up being a watershed event in Tennessee politics. The Democrats don’t seem to realise how bad this is for them, in the PR and perception sense. It’s going to cost. I really don’t think Shelby County (home of Memphis) Democrats get it either. After all 4 of the Tennessee 7 were Memphians and one of them (State Senator Kathryn Bowers, D. – Corruption) is the Chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party.

It’s also going to hurt US Represenatative Harold Ford, Jr. All claims from him otherwise. He can spin it all he wants but I’m pretty sure folks from Say Uncle’s neck of the woods still have painful memories of his father’s misadventures with Butcher Bank. With John and, last week, cousin Melvin (I’ll post that sad tale Sunday.), it just makes family-conscious Tennesseans leery.

Anyway, if you haven’t got caught up with the Tennessee Waltz scandal, try my post and all the many, many links and substories in it. It was one heckuva day.

My Name is Half-Bakered and I’m a — Oh Wait

Greetings East Tennessee! I’m Mike Hollihan, guest blogging for Say Uncle from all the way across the state in Memphis. Everything you’ve heard about the city — the crime, the funk, the grease, the crime — is all true. They don’t call it the Dirty South for nothing. But we don’t care! I’ll be posting on Sunday with a recent post from my own blog Half-Bakered all about life in Midtown Memphis.

In the meantime, let me briefly introduce myself. I’m a transplant to Tennessee from Alabama, where I grew up. I’ve been in Memphis for sixteen years now. Like all good southern boys, my heart is where my home was, but I love life in the Volunteer State enough to stay put.

The all important political box to put me in? That’s a bit tougher but I think of myself as a conservative libertarian. I’m also a registered Libertarian who frequently can find common cause with Republicans. Constitutionally, you might call my views originalist. Solid on all the amendments, including the Second. Without personal security there are no other rights. I’m a great believer in inherent rights, as the Founding Fathers saw them. In fact, I believe the Fathers were learned men who studied government with great care and thought. The American Experiment, as they laid it out in the Constitution, is the preferred model. Exceptions, of course, are to see those rights spread to as much of the population (ie. blacks, women) as possible.

I’m also an atheist. That’s why I said “inherent rights” just above and not “God-given rights.” I’m not at all anti-religion. I think people should be allowed to express their religion in the public spaces of our communities. We should recognise the explicitly Christian roots of our law, filtered through British common law. Just don’t give me dirty looks if I don’t join in, OK?

My interests include wasting too much time on the Internet. I like to read, mostly American political history and science fiction, with a smattering of non-fiction in the sciences. I like foreign and independent films. I may post a couple of the DVD reviews I’ve done for my own blog. And I’ve recently gotten into tabletop wargaming with the Epic: Armageddon game.

I’ll be away from the keyboard all day tomorrow, but watch for my posts to start on Sunday.

And many thanks to Say Uncle, who is simply far to kind. Enjoy your first family vacation.

What if he’s got a pointed stick?

Oh, good. A British physicians group is calling for a ban on certain kitchen knives.

The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all.

They consulted 10 top chefs from around the UK, and found such knives have little practical value in the kitchen.

None of the chefs felt such knives were essential, since the point of a short blade was just as useful when a sharp end was needed.

Ye. Gods.

I’ve said that the reason I oppose lots of things that the Nanny Staters want — nationalized health care, red light cameras, RFID tags on kids, .04 DUI limits, bans on hate speech, restrictions on .50 caliber rifles — is often not so much an opposition to the thing itself (although I oppose each of these things).

What I really oppose is the things they’ll want after that. So, until I know what’s next — and here we get a rare glimpse of the tyrant behind the curtain — I oppose what’s before me.

A Hugh Janus

If I ever make a trillion dollars, I’m going to get into horse racing, just because I want come up with vaguely naughty names for million-dollar animals. In the meantime, here’s aprofile of Filly Sunset Thomas named after Adult Film Actress Sunset Thomas, with a few notes about the art and science of naming a thoroughbred.

That Thomas is a star in the adult film industry might explain why Aleo isn’t familiar with her work. It also is a good example of the way owners and trainers name their thoroughbreds, often using a bit of sly humor.

“You’ve got to name them something,” said Gilchrist, who explained that he’s good friends with Thomas’ publicist, Kent Wallace of Reno. “Kent wouldn’t let up on me. He thought it would be good marketing for Sunset, but I don’t think he really understands this business. This probably is not going to be a real good horse.

“I’m sure the real Sunset Thomas has a lot more talent … at least that would be my guess.”