Thursday, February 26, 2004

Gibson's Snuff Film
I'm not sure how I feel about Gibson's Passion movie. On one hand I like what appears to be a purer historical treatment - having the actors speak in the languages of the times: Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew. Also, I like the fact that the actors and sets look dirty and not idealized a la Ben Hur or Spartacus. (It would be at this time that the mere mention of Spartacus would send Kreblog into movie quoting spasms: "I am Spartacus!" "No! I am Spartacus!")

But from many reviews, it appears that Gibson has made an extremely violent and sadistic film. Andrew Sullivan calls it pure pornography, and Roger Ebert says matter of factly that it is the most violent film he has ever seen. Which makes me wonder if I really want to see Gibson's snuff film. We've heard the pre-movie buzz before regarding the level of violence involved in high profile movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. Indeed, I appreciated the trial by fire that the opening sequence granted in Spielberg's SPR flick. It was violent, but also sensibly violent to the extent that to understand war we must know war, and scenes like that memorable opening sequence give us a glimpse into experiencing the chaos and horror of war in its most intense moments. Black Hawk Down took this many steps further by taking that intensity of Speilberg's SPR opening sequence and expanded on it for practically the duration of the film, scene after unrelenting scene.

Which brings me back to Gibson's movie. As far as I know, it's almost two hours of a guy getting tortured. Granted, it is Christ getting tortured which attaches to it layers upon layers of context and people's understanding of the man, the history, and the theology. However, beyond that, it is still a guy getting tortured on screen with nary a chance of seeing him fight back and vanquish his enemies in a stream of Uzi fire and CGI glory. Theology aside, is our interest in seeing this somewhat perverse? I think a lot of the controversy of this movie (other than that which relates to charges of anti-Semitism) is in the fact that some may be interested in this movie to see how far a director and cinematographer will go to show a man be killed. Some will go because of their Christianity, and I think a number of Christians want to be shown some ultra-graphic depiction of how far their Savior really went in order to die for their sins. I think that's what's at the root of this controversy regarding the violence. Our image of Jesus has been Hallmark-ed over the past decades. We view Jesus as some sort of uber-social worker. Some idealized Peace Corps volunteer, NGO advocate or UN staffer - ready to lift rice bowls to hungry mouths or tap deep in the ground for sources of pure drinking water. Tolerant, kind, considerate, conscientious, and socially aware. Gibson offers barely a whiff of that, and furthers the destruction of that image through the course of the brutalization he depicts. Gibson is taking our contemporary cultural view of Jesus and beating him to a pulp, and in doing so, Gibson is trying to put a stop to the wussification that contemporary culture has shaped Christianity in recent years - what with the greater emphasis on Easter Bunnies and Santas over the actually Christian themes of the holidays. In reality, he's putting us all up there to be whipped and scourged. That's why he's made such a violent movie. He'd rather be whipping us than his actor to tell you the truth.

While I respect some of the sentiment he believes in, I'm not sure I want to take part in nor experience his crucifixion. A snuff film is a snuff film, whether you're watching sensationalized crap like Faces of Death, real horror like that available on the internet of reporter Daniel Pearl being beheaded by Islamic radicals, or Gibson's film. Can it be excused because it purports to be historical and theologically accurate? I am torn with the answer to that.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Darth Nader
The Dems are bemoaning the announcement by Ralph Nader that he will enter the race for the Presidency. They think he will take away votes from Kerry (if he ends up being the nominee). I think they are wrong.

I think everyone is missing the story here. Most are assuming that Nader is going to take votes away from the Left (Dems), but if they had actually listened to what Nader said this weekend on the political talk shows, they would have heard political positions that mirror Pat Buchanan. For example, every interview I heard of Nader's, he railed against Bush shipping jobs off to "Communist China". What kind of leftist says "Communist China"? That's exactly out of the playbook of Buchanan and even Gary Bauer (who said Communist China every other sentence back in the 2000 primaries).

Nader is running Right this election and is going to pick off a number of paleo-cons and Pat Buchanan type Republicans/conservatives. And with no Pat Buchanan running in this election, Nader may well end up hurting Bush more than anyone else.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Bad Taste in the Mouth
An Iraqi dentist offers this interesting observation:

Last month, I finished a training course about the structure, operation and maintenance of dental chairs and their auxiliaries…etc. This is not the big deal of course, but what attracted my attention was what our teacher (a dental equipment engineer) told us about the last contracts that were made in 1998 and 2000 (under the MOU) to import dental chairs to Iraq.
During my 2 years of practice in different medical centers, I heard a lot of gossip (from other dentists) about undercover bribes and theft related to those contracts.
What the engineer said confirmed my doubts about the theft and bribes in which Sadddam’s regime together with the producing and commissioner companies were involved.

Let me tell you the story:
In 1998 Iraq imported about 1500 dental units from china and about the same number of dental units from Germany in 2000. Both entered Iraq through an intermediate commissioner, which was some Russian firm.
The Chinese unit arrived Iraq at a price of 11,000 US $, while the German one arrived at the price of 25,000 US $. The shock was in knowing that the original prices of those two units were 3,000 US $ and 17,000 US $ respectively.
This means that for every unit, 8,000 US $ were added to the cost…why? And where did that money go?
Another fact is that those prices (the original) are for the full-option versions and not for the versions that reached Iraq, which lacked many parts and systems.
Also the engineer (who was in the team that was responsible for examining and receiving the units) said that the team was instructed to accept all units even if there was a manufacturer defect in any of them.
More worse, the Chinese unit was a total failure (I mean what do the Chinese know about dental equipment if compared with Austria or the US !?), and almost all of those units now are functioning with less than 50% efficiency, and many have even become a piece of room furniture! As the spare parts that were included in the contract were only enough to cover less than 50 units.
The German unit was really good looking and efficient, but very delicate and we suffered from the same problem of spare parts, but this time no spare parts at all.

I don’t want to go deep into boring technical details. What I want to put clear here is that through a very small contract concerning one item, for one branch, in one ministry, over 20 million dollars were stolen from the Iraqi people’s money. What about huge contracts? with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars? The money that was supposed to feed the starving Iraqis and provide them with medications was deflected to bribe firms and to buy political support of powerful countries.
Weeks ago, there was the scandal of oil bribes, but that was not the only way that Saddam used to give bribes. Every single contract done under the MOU was providing a chance for Saddam to give bribes, or even worse, he had agreements with many firms to split the income of over-charged contracts between him and the concerned firm. And It’s obvious where he spent that money; palaces, weaponry, intelligence work or whatever his sick mind desired to have.
There was always enough money to cover the needs of the Iraqi people. YES, EVEN UNDER THE SANCTIONS.
Saddam always managed to get money. But for whom?
My question is: where was the UN? Where were the human rights defenders? And where were the peace activists? And where were our (Arab brothers) with their (honest media) at that time?
We were getting killed and robbed every day and all they did was blaming the sanctions and the US. They never figured out the real cause of our misery. I think it’s time for them to admit that they were wrong.
We’re trying here to build a new Iraq with the help of our friends and allies, so either they help us and say something good, or let them shut the f*** up.

The Pirates of Treasure Island
My wife and I are going to Las Vegas for a vacation and I just tried beating up our hotel, Treasure Island, for some promotional freebies. I got an email promotion from them that said they offer a room upgrade, 2 for 1 buffet breakfast, and a complimentary drink in the bar. But you have to book on the internet. So I called them up and said I had an existing weekend reservation and wanted to add these upgrades to that. They gave me all sort of BS that I could only get these upgrades if I book over the internet. And I said I didn't want the hassle of canceling and rebooking, that it should be easy to press a button and add these upgrades to my existing reservation. So they transferred me to the supervisor, and in the tradeoff I got hung up on!

So I called the hotel front desk and went through the same deal, and they transferred me to the supervisor and she immediately started bickering with me that the only way to get these upgrades was to book over the internet. And I said that was ridiculous, that it should be easy to add these things to anybody's reservation since the hotel is in control of its own offers. And she said that she knew I was just trying to get these upgrades at a lower price (what I paid for my existing reservation versus what is required to get the internet deal). And I said that these same goodies are available midweek for $25 less than what I paid for my existing reservation, so it really shows that price isn't the factor in determining who gets these upgrades. And I said that I know why the internet deal was put up because it is trying to drive reservations and you really don't want this difficult customer service experience to drive away reservations and make people cancel because of the lack of cooperation. And the woman still wouldn't budge! So I said I would call back after I thought about whether or not I wanted to remain a guest in their hotel.

Geez. To stand firm on something so stupid as a coupon to their stupid tasteless buffet and a watery drink from their bogus bar. What a joke! That's it, I'm going to get enormously hammered at their gaming tables and reenact some of the antics that Nick Cage portrayed in the move Leaving Las Vegas. I am sure barf on green felt is a bitch to clean up!

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Personally, if the Dems are going to win the Presidential election, my preference would be Edwards over Kerry. I think Edwards is a loon with the Two Americas nonsense and also with his stance on Free Trade, but I don't get a sense of the floundering, pandering, and flip-flopping as I do with Kerry.

However, I would like to transplant John Kerry's face onto the head of John Edwards simply because I doubt the visage of Edwards is going to strike any fear into the hearts of the mullahs of Iran, terror organizers of al-Queda, and whackos of North Korea. The way Kerry looks, I am sure they are as freaked out about him as we are.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Kerry Haikus
My wife is on a roll. Here are her musings on candidate Kerry.

You are ridin’ high
On your primary winnings
Edwards gaining fast.
I trust your kind face
It reminds me so much of
Lincoln and Botox.
Divorced first rich wife
Fifty seven varieties
Pays all the bills now.
You, a war hero,
Tromping through swamps with a gun
Does not a prez make.
Senator Kerry’s
Two hundred dollar haircut
Understands “common people”
If I hear once more
“Don’t let the door hit you, Bush”
I will vote Sharpton.

Dean Haikus
My wife offers up these fantastic Haiku creations in reflection of Dean dropping out of the race.

You psyched up people
To vote against evil Bush
only to implode.
We will miss you much,
Your funny cries and sweat rings
Under your arm pits.
It isn’t so bad
To go home to Vermont and
Watch Kerry blow it.
Would have voted Dean
If you had given us free
Chili and cornbread.
Who to vote for now?
I hear that Nader will run
To give Bush four more.
What I want to know
Now what happens to Gore?
Been strangely silent.
My Dean pins and signs
Are sadly in the dumpster
Clinton in oh-eight.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Touchy-Feely Philosophical Moment
A friend sent me this article about a movie review of the mountain climbing documentary Touching the Void. The reviewer expressed that he felt mountain climbing to be a silly undertaking and wrapped up in vacuous philosophy. Interviews with mountain climbers tend to be punctuated with references to experiencing God, or the spiritual realm, or touching the boundary of heaven or other such sentiments. The reviewer seems incredulous to the possibility that such an undertaking as mountain climbing would even encourage a spiritual sense, and that when examples of such are spoken of, they are, in his mind, just an airing of psychobabble justification for putting oneself in harms way to begin with.

Which got me to thinking about what it is about hiking that engrosses me so. It operates on a number of levels for me. The exercise is good, for one thing, but it's no different than what one experiences on the Stairmaster. I think on one level I approach it spatially. I love looking at maps of wilderness and wondering what is in there, those blank spaces of unconquered, undeveloped territory - that what makes up these areas is not ordained by man. Contrast this with towns, cities and the like that are man's creations. The wilderness happens in spite of man, and thus makes it an unknown frontier - something to be pondered over, puzzled over, feared over, explored, figured out, unlocked.

Trails in the woods are sort of on the boundary of policed pathways that we create. The hallways of offices, libraries, stores, restaurants, public buildings, homes, apartment buildings, etc are policed by their own will and order. They have a certain logic that you understand and take for granted because you know what their purpose is for. No one is enthralled by a hallway. No one is quizzical about what might be around the corner of a hallway. When you go to a hotel, are you curious about the hallway, where it leads? Not really insofar as you are interested in getting to your room door. The hallway is just a means, but offers little wonder. It offers little wonder in restaurants if you are heading to a bathroom. It offers little wonder if you are heading to your cubicle at work.

However, there's something about trails though that offer the unknown and become for me the curious sideshow leading up the final destination (summit, ledge, waterfall, etc). The trail goes through many changes, takes different directions unexpectedly, has changing environments to keep you on guard (falling leaves and sticks, sightings of animals, the surprise of other hikers coming upon you unexpectedly). Plus your imagination runs at a fever pitch - will there be a moose around the bend? A Bear? You think of all your vulnerabilities, all your fears, all those things that run across your mind when you walk the razor sharp boundary of known and unknown, man's world and nature's world.

And the pace is refreshing. You are in a spirit of easy contemplation. You recognize the play of light, the rhythms of nature, the ebb and flow of wind, the laws of elevation gain. You operate within the elements: rock, dirt, tree, sun, wind, clouds. You come face to face with your insignificance. You realize your own fragility than at any other time. A wrong step, a wrong turn, a sudden storm can put you in more peril than you would think possible. And yet you recognize it more viscerally than one does in the normal day to day (like driving a car for instance. The peril that we could face, but don't even think about).

Its an alive experience for me. The intellectual exercise of making known to me those dark places on the map that are unknown. Its a spatial exercise for me, fulfilling a need to be a personal witness to the works of nature. Its a spiritual exercise for me, offering contemplation and resonance with my surroundings and the march of time. Its an emotional thing for me, experiencing the thrill of accomplishment and savoring the grandeur of special places, and its a physical thing for me, pushing my body forward to bring me places only possible by my two legs.

I don't suggest that mountain climbing is the only way to gain such experience. Heck, I gain some of the same experiences simply sitting in a lawn chair at the beach. However, it is an activity that reliably offers me a consistent means of escape - physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And in a world of constant encroaching cultural artifice - whether by the incessant diet of pop culture, overpoliticized events, celebrity worship, and the human brotherly need to share one's negativity with others, the escape that mountain climbing provides is as good as gold.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Starsky & Hatchback
In movies, all that is required to recreate a different time period of the 20th Century is to have scenes that display cars from the particular time period. Seeing a Gremlin or a Dodge Dart in a movie instantly transports you back.

Monday, February 09, 2004

The Echo Chamber of the Two Americas
As you know, I am fascinated with the Red State/Blue State discussion - that this nation is divided across political lines, rural-suburban vs. urban, liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. non-religious, etc. John Edwards' campaign stump speech is centered around the idea of "Two Americas" - where one America is wealthy and privileged and the other America is for everyone else.

Another element in this division debate is the accusation, notably from critics on the Left like Michael Moore and Al Franken, that people are trapped in their own political echo chamber - getting their information and ideas from only sources they believe reflect their views (ie Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, et. al). While there may be some truth to that, the argument is only half complete. Members of both sides are trapped in this echo chamber. This graphic expresses revealing data regarding political book purchases, mapping the connections between titles if more than one book was purchased at a time. People who purchase Bill OReilly books or Ann Coulter books are rarely, if ever going to read a polemic from the Left. And those purchasing Al Franken or Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky books are rarely if ever going to read a polemic from the Right. In fact, those who purchase such books are more than likely to purchase additional books with similar political persuasion. The graphic shows that of several significant political book titles, only a few points of contact joined the universe of Leftist books to the universe of Rightist books. People are reading only what they want to hear and using those screeds to define who their enemies are and what they believe - all while refusing to maintain an open mind and read or listen to what the other side is saying. (Except You Who?. He reads everything.)

To be sure, I'm not against passionate belief in and defense of one's ideas and stances. In fact, while consensus may be important, it is nothing to make a fetish over (as European politicians and media routinely do). Agreeable consensus should be when opposing sides make concessions towards solutions. However, some people think consensus is all about forcing the opposing side to completely capitulate (realizing the wisdom of the other's views). This great article by Jonah Goldberg suggests that those who complain about a divided America are doing so because their ideas are on the losing end of the debate. In fact, a divided America may not be all that bad, and in fact might be what we want. Afterall, a divided America addressed issues regarding voting representation, tariffs, slavery, immigration, women's voting rights, temperance movements, anti-temperance movements, the gold standard, civil rights, role of government, welfare reform among others. A divided America means an active America, a thinking America, a debating America. As this article in the Atlantic points out, the existence of the "Angry American" should be praised because in anger there is no complacence. The divides in America show the broad spectrum of views, values and opinions of a diverse people thinking about the issues and debating them passionately. So on one hand, while the existence of a divided America may sound like a cause for concern, the otherhand shows that division can produce moments of great problem solving.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

A McDonalds By Any Other Name
My wife discovered the hidden secret behind the new upstart fast food joints (Panera, Fresh City, et. al) that appear on the surface to be healthy alternatives. Sure, you get real lettuce and onions, fresh bread, and spicy exotic condiments. But nutrition wise, these offerings are about on par with the Big Mac. Here's the information page for Panera sandwiches (have to deal with the annoying javascript popups in order to unlock the nutritional information). Here's the nutritional page for Fresh City. Now, on one hand this doesn't really upset me because I prefer the food of these upstarts over the burger & fries menu of the traditional fast food outlets. But other than being perhaps more wholesome, the upstarts are providing a marginal nutritional benefit. My guess is you may get a few more vitamins out of the menu choices of the upstarts, but contend with the same sodium, cholesterol, fat, and calorie content as is found in the offerings of the burger & fries crowd.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Human Cat Toy Update
A friend sent me this link which details the Human Cat Toy hovercraft.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Human Cat Toy
One of the highlights at the SuperBowl party I attended occurred during halftime. No, it was not the revelation of Janet Jackson's breast. It was the entertainment provided by watching the host of the party operate a remote control toy hovercraft. The thing was amazing. I swear, it had the same effect on me that a cat has when confronted with a ball of yarn.