Rantophilia

Cincinnati & national politics -- movies -- music -- law

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Cremaster Cycle, Parts 1 and 2


I saw parts one and two of the Cremaster cycle last night as part of the Cincinnati Film Society-sponsored Cincinnati run at the Cincinnati Art Museum. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a series of five movies created by artist Matthew Barney between 1994 and 2002. They have garnered extravagent accolades from numerous critics, such as the Stephen Holden at the NYT.

That's not to say I went in with high expectations. Rather, I knew that the cycle was intended as a conceptual rendering of the different phases of life, whatever that means, and a conceptual rendering (or an "abstraction" as Barney appears fond of calling a conceptual rendering) doesn't exactly get the blood pumping.

My verdict--they were interesting failures. For an extended discussion that I happen to agree with, check out the Village Voice's review. But I'll make this one comment: there are great movies that manage to be heavy in symbolism and to tell great stories at the same time. Cremaster, Parts 1 and 2 manage only to be heavy in symbolism. That is no special accomplishment.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Whose Side Is God On Anyway?


Well, duh, He's pulling for Bush, which is why it's so darn offensive that Kerry would deign to quote the Bible in his criticism of the current administration.

Apparently, the Bible belongs only in our schools and our government-funded charities, not in our political discourse. How bizarre is that?

Friday, March 26, 2004

In-N-Out Burger


One of Yahoo!'s random front-page articles got me all wistful for my time in Cali, where the buffalos roam and you can go to the best damn fast-food burger joint in the world: In-N-Out Burger. It also appears in Office Space, though not by name, only by the burgers that come in a cardboard box.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

So close to right


In today's NYT, William Safire comes so close to being right that it's almost painful. After presenting a cogent argument for why schoolchildren should not be required by the Government to say a pledge of allegiance every day that includes the phrase, ". . . under God," he cops out, calling striking those words from the pledge, "a slippery-slope mistake." Apparently, he's afraid that striking the benediction that Bush calls "humbly seeking the wisdom and guidance of divine providence" would lead to eradication of "God" from our coins, our oaths of office, and the opening of our courts.

To that I say, um, okay.

But that's not my point--Safire's "solution" is. He wants the Court to keep ". . . under God" in the pledge, but "require teachers to inform students they have the added right to remain silent for a couple of seconds while others choose to say 'under God.'" That's just dumb. First, it doesn't get rid of the problem, namely, that the Government is endorsing religion. Second, has Safire ever been a child in school? Has he ever felt peer pressure? And, if he wants to get all "slippery slope" on us, how about we allow schools to conduct Bible study, but make sure to tell the six year-olds first that they have a right to get up and stand in the corner or leave the room while other "choose" to worship?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Jaywalking


Sometimes I find Cincinnati to be charmingly unmetropolitan. That thought occurred to be today when coming back from lunch I noticed three things upon approaching on intersection: (1) the pedestrian crossing light told me not to walk; (2) no cars were approaching the intersection; and (3) people were waiting obediently, eyes fixed on the pedestrian crossing light. I proceeded to jaywalk. Others followed me shortly thereafter, when the white guy walking appeared.

That sort of thing makes me smile every time because it gives the city a stridently un-chaotic, law and order vibe.

Preliminary Finding from the "9-11 Commission"


Yahoo!'s summary of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (a much better name than anything that refers to September 11, 2001 as "nine-eleven" or "nine-one-one," though you would think that the minds who brought us the ultimate acronym, the PATRIOT Act, could have come up with something better than NCTAUS) is an interesting read. They have found, preliminarily, that both the Clinton and Bush administrations were at fault for failing to take action against bin Laden and ignoring increasing warnings of attacks leading up the Sept. 11, 2001. A couple of thoughts:

1. These conclusions seem quite damaging to Bush, because he appears to be running on a platform of being tough on terrorism. While he still can argue that he is now, it seems clear that he was not back then. However, Kerry would be well-served not to push too hard on this issue. There is no value in appearing to claim that he could have stopped the attacks. Rather, make sure the facts are out there, but don't harp on them. It's a bit too much like dancing on graves.

2. I think, should the commission's final conclusions hold true to form, that the Bush administration should not bear any blame for the September 11, 2001 attacks. They should be held accountable for what they did afterwards and any attempt on their part to push blame onto others (like Dick Clarke or the Clinton adminstration), but the blame for the actual attacks lay squarely, and solely, on the shoulders of those who committed, funded, or otherwise supported the atrocities. It may be a meaningless distinction at the end of the day, but I think anyone who tries to spin the commission's findings to blame Bush for that horrible day is wrong.

One Nation Under The Good Lord Jesus We Trust


Rarely do I just link to other blogs and say, "Damn straight! Check it out!" After all, you can find your own stuff to read. Still, both lawroark and Greg L. Mann cover the whole ". . . under God" brouhaha as well or better than I could. My only two cents is that while I can't stand Jack Cafferty on the CNN morning show because he has a tendency to be ridiculously biased in his coverage of news (calling the Ninth Circuit "the most liberal appellate court in the world" and the plaintiff in the ". . . under God" case a "nutcase"), I also respect him because he wears his beliefs on his sleeve. That makes it easy to parse the politics from the news, ignore the former and, well, usually ignore the latter too. Regardless, the two gentlemen above have it right--". . . under God" in pledge = unconstitutional; Bush administration defense of ". . . under God" = two-faced.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Freedom's Fight


In today's New York Times, Donald Rumseld exhorts us to think of the American soldiers stationed in Iraq and tell them, "You join a long line of generations of Americans who have fought freedom's fight. Thank you."

I agree. There is no question that American soldiers deserve our thanks and our support. They do a job that I do not do, and one that I know is worth doing. Our presence in Iraq is crucial; without it, the country may descend into a chaos from which a leader even worse than Saddam Hussein would arise.

But the fact that we are there doing right does not mean that we got there in the right way. Support at this juncture does not mean unwavering support for those who brought us to this point. And I believe, contrary to lawroark's post today, that an ever-increasing chorus of questions about the road that led us to Iraq is necessary and good.

lawroark says that the recent comments by the leader of Poland indicating that he feels that he was "misled" about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war in Iraq "shows the damage that can be done by internal U.S. politics to our international relations."

(I believe that this statement is true, but not in the way that lawroark intended. For certain, Bush's internal U.S. politics have done incredible damage to our international relations.)

I think what lawroark is trying to say is that press coverage of the questions being asked, by Kerry and others, about the Bush Adminstration's statements before the Iraq war in some way convinced the leader of Poland that he was misled. That's a bizarre conclusion that relies on two faulty assumptions: 1) the leader of Poland did not have communications with the Bush administration to which we were not privy and greater access to intelligence provided by the Bush administration than the general public did; and 2) the leader of Poland is of a sufficiently weak mind as to be swayed by American media.

Because I believe that these assumption are faulty, I think the conclusion we should draw is the opposite-- that this is further confirmation that the Bush administration relied on a false premise--Saddam Hussein's capability to deploy weapons of mass destruction--to convince American citizens and the leaders of other countries that war with Iraq was proper.

It is unquestionable that before Polish President Kwasniewski decided to send the young men and women of his country to Iraq, he talked the war over with high-level officials in the Bush administration and heard things that we didn't. And he must have believed them. And he apparently has questions about those things now.

So, really, the issue is one of causation. Did the American media cause Poland's leader to question Bush, or should questions raised by President Kwasniewski cause the American media to ask more questions? I believe the answer is the latter.

Moreover, lawroark clearly operates under another assumption that I find faulty. He assumes that Bush did not mislead the country because the threat of weapons of mass destruction was not a significant part of the reasoning that he gave the public for why action in Iraq was necessary. In response to that assumption, I direct him to Bush's speech to the American people on the first day of the war, and this portion of it:


We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.

. . .

Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly -- yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

. . .

My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

. . . And The People Rejoiced


Jon Stewart has renewed his contract to host The Daily Show for four more years.

My girlfriend will be very happy.

Protesting Too Much


On first blush, I thought that Justice Scalia should recuse himself from hearing the case involving discovery of the members of VP Cheney's secret Energy Task Force. On further thought, though, I agree with Justice Scalia's decision not to. But I think that Scalia does himself a disservice by issuing a twenty-one page memorandum opinion on the issue. After all, the question is rather simple--whether, based on the facts as they occurred, his impartiality can "reasonably be questioned." That depends, of course, on the facts, which Scalia lays out. His opinion, if he even felt compelled to issue one, requires little more than that. Here are the facts; my impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned.

Instead, he goes on for eighteen or so pages about the importance, or lack thereof, of the case to Cheney. And the press coverage surrounding the issue. And how Justices don't and can't care about politics. Yada yada yada.

It's obvious he felt compelled to answer the criticism. However, in doing so, he forgets two things: 1) the best way to deflect criticism is to ignore it; and 2) the Justice is not the main issue in a case. I think he would have been better off remembering that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A Helpful Resource


For the millions out there like me, who get irate about the current administration and talk about their lies and misleading statements about the war in Iraq, House Democrats have prepared a report and searchable database of more than 200 misleading statements by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell. It's an interesting read. For instance, it pinpoints the numerous things that Bush said that implied some sort of connection between Saddam Hussein and the September 11 attacks. But, to be fair, it also raises interesting questions about what exactly our president should tell us about intelligence. For example, I'm not convinced that the administration has a responsibility to hedge every time it makes a statement that is based on less than the absolute certainty of the intelligence community. However, I am convinced, and this database provides me with further confirmation, that the Bush administration stepped over the line and willfully mislead the country by overstating the threat that Iraq posed in an attempt to win support for the war.

And while we're on the subject, I also want to comment on the argument that we hear over and over again (and again today in today's Enquirer) that people should stop criticizing the Iraq war because it resulted in Saddam Hussein leaving power and the freedom of the Iraq people. Of course, I have no quibble with that. Saddam = bad. Free Iraq = good. Duh. But that is no response to how it happened. And it is no response to the factual record about administration overstatements.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Backtrack Central


With some glee, I direct people to check out the Center for American Progress's
coverage of the Bush Adminstration's Sunday media blitz. Notably, check out the video clip of Donald Rumsfeld, who's been known for his selective amnesia regarding his own comments about Iraq's supposed threat to America, first claiming never to have said that Iraq was an "immediate threat" and then being faced with his own words from a year ago. The clip itself is a bit flawed because it does not give include Rumsfeld attempt to respond. Plus, I'd kind of like to leave this issue behind because those parsing through old language can come off as semantic nitpicks, but regardless it's good to see Rumsfeld finally get called out on the mat for his attempts at backtracking and look like a stammering idiot. I bet someone got an earful over that one.

American Candidate


Here is the opportunity that everyone has been waiting for: your chance to apply to be the American Candidate on Showtime. Disappointingly, it appears that since the winner won't be announced until the summer, he/she will not have the opportunity actually to run for President. After all, as Ralph Nader surely can tell you, the deadline to get on the ballot in most states is much sooner than that. Nevertheless, American President has the advantage of being open to me, as a foreign-born American citizen, while the actually presidency is not. It's a world of plusses and minuses.

Let the Madness Begin


I know that this space isn't usually used for talking about sports, but I have to say that I'm overjoyed that one of my favorite times of year has rolled around again--the NCAA tournament. This year it's particularly special, because my favorite team, the North Carolina State Wolfpack, has scored a number 3 seed in the clunkily-named Phoenix Bracket (heretofore the West Region). In a continuing theme, at least in my own head, their seeding has led further disrespect from the numerous commentators, the most annoying of whom is Dick Vitale, who believe that the Wolfpack are a "weak" no. 3 seed and will present no problem for the juggernaut that is UConn. Mind you, that means that everyone also is discounting the other team that I pull for, the Stanford Cardinal, but that also is no surprise. At the end of the day, neither team, both of whom win through solid fundamentals, good shooting, and excellent coaching, will ever receive the respect that teams like UNC, Arizona, or Georgia Tech get. The difference is that the latter teams, despite their superior athletes, lose more. Funny that.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Duh?


So, you win a $314 million Powerball jackpot, what's one of the first things you do? Well, if you're Jack Whittaker of Winfield, West Virginia, apparently one of the things you don't do is get either a) a checking account or b) a credit card. Instead, you make sure everyone knows you won the lottery so they can rob your house and car. And you start leaving $100,000 in your car, so someone can steal it. And you carry around a briefcase with $500,000 in it, so you can be drugged at a strip club and have it stolen.

Why do I get the feeling that the Whittakers are not going to be the next Waltons (of Wal-Mart fame) or Rockefellers?

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Cincinnati Rawks!


Apparently, Cincinnati rocks, or so says Esquire magazine via today's Cincinnati Post. Woo-hoo. Great.

More interesting to me, though, was the closing paragraph, all about YPCincy, the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce's "group for young professionals," and their letter-writing campaign to get Bill Geist, heralded reporter of weird things for 60 Minutes II and CBS Sunday Morning, to come to Cincinnati when the cicadas emerge in May.

This isn't the first press that the "Bug Bill Geist" campaign has received. Check out articles in the Enquirer from February 29 and March 4.

I mean, come on.

This is newsworthy? This is the closest that a group putatively representing young professionals can get to community activism -- getting some second-rate newsguy, a poor man's Willard Scott, to come to Cincinnati and report on insects? And this is important enough to get Cincinnati to announce "Bug Bill Geist Day" on March 1?

I could go on and on about "Bug Bill Geist" and YPCincy.com (I mean, really, announcing to the world that we're going to be inundated with creepy-crawly insects in May is supposed to bolster the reputation of Cincinnati? Are we high?), but I won't (Ypcincy.com announces on its front-page that it is "THE PLACE for young professionals to get plugged in to Cincinnati USA" (emphasis in original)... Cincinnati USA? As opposed to...?) because really the inanity of the whole thing speaks for itself (fine, go and walk around Cincinnati once a week and go the ballet, that's all great, but do we really need the Chamber of Commerce to hook young professional up with the Blue Chip Young Republicans and Hamilton County Young Democrats? Can't we, as self-respecting young professionals, do all these things our own damn selves?)

Euphemism


I wonder who exactly the Enquirer editorial board is talking to in their editorial today, in which they take the brash stand that shooting at the police is bad:

No community groups marched on Cincinnati City Hall to demand an end to shooting at police. No ministers went before the cameras to express outrage at the lethal danger officers face daily from gun-toting young outlaws. This community and the courts need to come down hard on increasingly brash gunmen of any age who have grown so unrestrained they do not even flinch at trying to kill a cop.

Which "[t]his community" are they talking about? Are they talking about the larger Cincinnati community? Or the "community" that consists of community groups that march on City Hall and ministers that go before cameras?

But now I'm not speaking plainly, so I ask the Enquirer, are you blaming Cincinnati as a whole or just the black community in Cincinnati for not "coming down" hard enough on "gun-toting young outlaws" and "increasingly brash gunmen of any age?" I feel like you mean something. Come on. Just tell us.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Goddammit, or, An Argument Dressed Up


Well, Blogger ate a long post I just did on this opinion piece from the New York Times.

The short version. Don Browning, a professor at the University of Chicago, and Elizabeth Marquardt, of the Institute for American Values argue that gay marriage is bad because it would not serve the traditional historical purpose of marriage to regulate "sexual activity, procreation, mutual help and affection, and parental care and accountability." Instead, it would "reduc[e] it primarily to an affectionate sexual relationship accompanied by a declaration of commitment."

Even assuming that marriage historically served the purposes they set forth (which I have no reason to doubt), their argument is bunk. How would gay marriage serve to regulate sexual activity less if the married couple were gay rather than straight? Where would the differences lie in the realm of mutual help and affection or parental care and accountability? The only potential bugaboo is "procreation," but to that I have two responses: 1) to what extent is marriage, even today, about procreation? and 2) to the extent that it is, how would gay marriage "regulate" procreation, whatever that means, any less?

So, while the authors dress their argument up in some historical proposition and discussions of "the goods of marriage . . . identified independently of the religious symbols that give them depth," their argument seems to be based on the same assumption that drives the more basic anti-gay-marriage arguments: gays are icky and Browning and Marquardt get the heebie-jeebies when they think about two gays being part of the same sacrament that they enjoy.

And my quest continues for an argument against gay marriage based on something more than heebie-jeebies or biblical quotation.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Religious Double-Speak


I don't know if it's willful ignorance or just plain dumb, but I tend to believe the former. Ohio Rep. Keith Faber is now proposing that the national and Ohio state mottos be displayed in every classroom, auditorium, and cafeteria in every public school in Ohio. That would place 200,000 mentions of "God" into Ohio schools. The proposal would cost $3 million and is supported by the American Family Association, a group that is pushing for the national motto ("In God We Trust") to be placed in every classroom in the country and conveniently sells three posters of the motto for $10.

Problem is, at least in this lawyer's mind, the whole thing's probably unconstitutional. Not so, says Faber, who points out that the state's motto has been found constitutional by the Sixth Circuit. While relevant, that decision certainly is not dispositive, and a court, in determining whether this proposal is constitutional, would look to see whether it's purpose is to advance religion. To that, I say, "Duh."

Faber says constitutionality is not a problem, though, "[a]s long as people understand we're not saying, 'My religion's right and your religion's wrong' or that we're going to preach the scripture.'" Well, that's wrong, because promoting "God" is still promoting religion, which the Supreme Court says that states can't do.

And, really, it's clear that Faber wants to indoctrinate children. He wants them all to dig on God, which they're more than welcome to do. But it's not the state's place to promote such digging, and Faber's proposal is a thinly-veiled attempt to do just that.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Is this a newspaper?


I'll be the first to admit that I'm not exactly up on foreign news, and I have any number of excuses for it: job, news fatigue, etc. But this little piece in the Enquirer's editorial section caught my eye, because it gives Rep. Steve Chabot a reason to explain why he went to the Hague to protest a hearing in front of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the separation wall that Israel is building to separate itself from occupied areas. Now, the piece is essentially an opportunity for Chabot to rail against the United Nations, but gives no background information about the underlying story.

In other words, it's mainly an opportunity for Chabot to spout off about something. Fine. No surprise there.

Still, I was curious about the news story that Chabot was spinning and figured that the Enquirer must have covered it at some point. So, I did a little Google News search and found that the Cincinnati Enquirer has published exactly one article on this hearing previously (as opposed to 17 in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer out of Columbus, Georgia).

That one article, in the Enquirer's "Inside Washington" column, is entitled "Tristate lawmakers defend Israel." Therein, Carl Weiser, the Enquirer's illustrious Washington news reporter, tells us how Chabot went "way out of his way" to show support for "Israel's security barrier." He then quotes Chabot's explanation for why he supports the wall. In terms of background, he mentions in passing that this whole uproar is about "the United Nations . . . requesting that the International Court of Justice render a legal opinion on the fence."

Let me get this straight. First, the Enquirer doesn't cover a rather significant international issue (at least one that is significant to the rest of the world, including Columbus, Georgia), except to the extent that Chabot comments on it. Then, it has a special column on the Editorial page intended to allow Chabot to comment on it further.

The Enquirer should be embarrassed. To call it a newspaper does injustice to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and all those newspapers that actually cover the news rather than merely providing a forum for local politicians to spout off.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Ohio as Battle Ground


Not only have I not been blogging, I've also been ignoring other blogs. This is because not blogging makes me feel guilty and when I look at other blogs and see that they're blogging, then I feel more guilty and even somewhat pissed off because they have to the time to blog and I do not. Regardless, that explains why only now am I getting to comment on something that Cincinnati Blog posted on March 1. But, it's not exactly a time-sensitive issue, so I'm not going to apologize too heartily for the delay.

Anyway, Brian Griffin seems to be getting downright hermetic, complaining that the presidential campaign may, god forbid, be focused on Ohio. This follows on the heels of the Nathanial Jones thing, where he basically wanted to national press to bugger off. Personally, I just think that's weird. Sure, the ads will get annoying, but I look forward to actually seeing them. And sure, the ridiculously political climate will get annoying, but is that not what we blog? And the implication that our streets might run red with blood or that the campaign might be marred with violence? Well now, that's just silly.

Still, this'll be fun. Enjoy it. Revel in the opportunity to see the inanity first-hand.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Not That Anyone Really Cares...


...but I am indeed back in the blogosphere after a long delay during which I studied for the Ohio bar exam and spent significant time pondering why, exactly, my sense of righteous outrage had deserted. It is back, though, which is good news for, well, me at least.

Anti-Education


A letter to the editor in today's Enquirer:

I was surprised by the negative comments about The Passion of The Christ in the Feb. 29 Forum section by Art Dewey, theology professor at Xavier University. To quote, "Not only is it a bad film, but it's bad theology and it's historically inaccurate."

This is the most powerful movie I've ever seen. It has been praised by most critics, both Christian and Jewish. It doesn't bother me that Pontius Pilate was even more evil than portrayed. I don't care if Greek should have been used instead of Latin. It's a movie, not a doctoral thesis.

I believe that for many, a single viewing of this amazing movie will have a more positive impact than a semester's worth of historically accurate theology lectures delivered by a professor.

Robert A. Scott, Villa Hills

This irks me. According to Mr. Scott, historically accurate theology lectures take a back seat in terms of "positive impact" to a movie. That's like another letter from today, which tells us that global warming is "politics," not "science." Or Peter Bronson, who insists that "intelligent design" is as much science as "evolution." I've never seen so much anti-intellectual rhetoric spewed than in Cincinnati. Ridiculous.