Saturday, June 11, 2005

Star Wars III -- The Empire Strikes Out

(Warning: Spoilers ahead, if you haven't figured out what the Big Surprise is supposed to be in Star Wars Episode III.)

I've been reading The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin. It's the third in her Earthsea cycle. I wish George Lucas had gotten her to write the screenplays for Star Wars Episodes I, II and III, which I saw tonight.

It's when the action slows down that questions start to pop into one's mind. Questions like, "If the Jedi are so in tune to the Force, how come they are so completely caught flatfooted when we find out who Chancellor Palpatine really is, or that one of its rising young stars is married to a prominent politician and living with her in lavish apartments visible to the entire city?" A capital city with no paparazzi? Please. With the obvious technological sophistication of the world of Star Wars, how can a woman be pregnant with twins and not know it until she goes into labor? In fact, how could she be such a notable politician and be so obviously pregnant and unmarried, without anybody wondering who the father was? Only Obi-wan seems to notice, and doesn't seem phased by the fact that his Jedi padawan has ignored the basic Jedi rule of celibacy. The Jedi Council seems as dense as the FBi and the CIA were about 9/11. Where's that sensitivity to the disturbances in the Force that we saw in the first trilogy?

And lastly, is there anyone who didn't think that Senator Palpatine and the Emperor from Return of the Jedi were one and the same? Yet Lucas goes on with the charade to the bitter end. This is what Roger Ebert calls the "idiot plot," a story that could only happen if everybody in the film is an idiot. No wonder the Jedi got wiped out! They didn't feel anything while the Sith, who apparently had once ruled the Galaxy and been defeated were plotting a comeback. So where's the explanation for that, especially when Darth Maul shows up not exactly incognito? They know about Darth Sidious (best name since Oilcan Harry), but don't notice a thing about the machinations of Palpatine.

One mystery that remains after this film is whether Hayden Christensen can act. If and when he's given a good script we might find out. He looks good and he's good in the action scenes. But it's not fair to judge him as an actor on the basis of two films where he was supposed to convey complexity and conflict in a series of scenes where the costumes and the digital backgrounds overwhelm the characters and their words sound like they were written by a Middle Schooler. This is supposed to be the Jedi Messiah? Wooden dialogue makes even good actors seem like stiffs, but action can make up for that--sometimes. But not this time. The audience wants the drama and mythic story they got in the first three releases, but Lucas lost that somewhere between the first three and the last three.

How can you be a patriot and a journalist?

The question is from Bob Franken of CNN, recounted in a book by Alan Feuer and quoted by Jay Rosen. A reply might be, "How can you be a human being and a journalist?"

The problem is english, as in the game of pool. In pursuit of objectivity, they try to suppress their own feelings, but by doing that they over correct, losing contact with their American audience. Is Bob Franken reporting to the Chinese? If he thinks that, he's fooling himself, because the Chinese will note his nationality and adjust what he says accordingly, ending up with a false impression of how Americans see events. If he's reporting to the Brits or Aussies, even with the same language the effect is the same, maybe even exacerbated. The Canadians wouldn't necessarily notice that his accent is different, but they're certainly not going to think he's a Canadian. Same effect.

People aren't used to dealing with people who merely report the facts impartially. As we get to know others, we learn how to interpret what they say to us by identifying their biases and attitudes. We all build mosaics of the world from all the sources available to us. Journalists seem to think that we don't expect and can't deal with bias. To really correct for that is impossible. That's why Democrat callers to C-Span, and Eric Alterman, think that the media are too conservative, why Republican callers think it's slanted to the left.

Rosen gets that much, but he still asks what the press should do to get it right. The answer I would give him is that they need to emphasize to their reporters to tell it straight as they see it, and then actively seek diversity. The problem is that its hard to get diversity when you hire from journalism schools which have no diversity themselves. If the news directors and editors would get rid of the memes about their constitutional role, holding power accountable, being a "Citizen of the World" and all the rest of the stuff that they think is noble but which just looks arrogant and snotty to their audiences, and just focus on getting the facts straight and giving their audience some credit for being able to think without being lead by the nose to the conclusions you as a reporter think they should reach--if they would focus on that, they'd have much more respect and trust from their audiences and readers. What's sad is that they have a view of the public they claim to serve that's insulting and bigoted. Once you decide that it is up to you, not your customers, to decide what they need, you're ripe for losing your market, and that is what's happening now. The liberal media will keep their liberal audience, but they shouldn't wonder that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh flourish by serving markets they have ignored for years as too dumb to know what to think about things.

How's this for chutzpah?

Via a commenter on Tim Blair's blog, the mother of three daughters aged 12, 14 and 16 when they gave birth, and all impregnated within three months of each other. The punchline is that their mother blames the school system.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Save Gitmo

The meme of the week seems to be that the detention facilities at Quantanamo should be closed. But nobody has given any good reason for doing so other than the fact that our media seem obsessed with it. It's like an itch they can't scratch. They seem to be convinced that something inhuman or at least inhumane is going on there because they aren't given access to every inmate there. Their obsession with the "rights" of illegal combatants and their distrust of all things military would be laughable if so many of those who control our access to news weren't afflicted with it.

I've never gotten over the contempt I felt for these people after 9/11 when they could only complain that the government should have prevented this. Even if the FBI and CIA had shared information and had been tracking these terrorists, could they have singled them out and make arrests without a firestorm of criticism from the same media who were now attacking them for not doing so? It's practically an article of faith on the left and increasingly on the libertarian right that mere surveillance is a violation of one's rights. If we really believe that, let's just disband all our law enforcement and defense forces and see how much privacy we have.

Hugh Hewitt's phrase "asymmetrical skepticism," linked above, is so perfect for our age when not only the military and government, but the media just as much, come to rely on shorthand phrases that aren't immediately clear. In this case, all it means is that reporters are willing to give credence to claims from the most biased of sources, captured terrorists, while ignoring every negative investigation result from our own people.

Does some abuse go on in these detention centers? I'd like to see any organization staffed by human beings that doesn't have some personnel who don't follow instructions and even behave badly, including the news media. The difference is that the military investigates these reports and prosecutes those involved when the evidence warrants, while the news media either launch into paroxysms of auto-therapy, like the NYTimes did after Jayson Blair's phony "reporting" was discovered, or, more often, circle the wagons and dig for something to confuse or divert the attention of the public, as they did following Newsweek's retraction of the Koran-flushing story.
They might apologize, as Dan Rather did, but it's not repentant. It's just a technique for shifting responsibility: "Hey, I apologized, so it's your fault if you can't forgive me." Of course, things like this aren't matters of forgiveness, but trust. The MSM doesn't get that and hence doesn't understand why the public so readily turns to sources like talk radio, Fox News Channel and blogs.

Will they ever figure it out? Those who do will thrive, but those who don't will be remembered the way we remember the Ford Pinto. Here's a hint: when you have a massive public relations problem, you want to be Tylenol, not Nixon.

Update: Screedblog looks at the "coercive techniques" authorized by Rumsfeld and finds that they constitute "a general go-ahead for acting like a high-school gym teacher." Thank goodness it didn't get to the level of acting like a drill instructor. The media are in such a frenzy to proved that Newsweek's story was false but accurate, that they don't understand how silly they look to people who remember those little bits of debris falling from the top floors of the WTC which turned out to be people.

Free at last!

James Lileks' wonderful fisking notwithstanding, does anybody really take this story seriously? "At last, I can wear my suspenders backwards and dress like a clown without feeling like a dork!"

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Where are the War Bonds?

I just heard Austin Bay on the Hugh Hewitt show, making a point I've read and thought of myself numerous times: There needs to be a way for ordinary Americans to participate and support our efforts in Iraq. There are a lot of private projects, like Soldiers' Angels and the others linked on its website. What Colonel Bay is wondering is why the government doesn't seem to be asking for more support.

During WWII there were war bond drives, usually manned by celebrities appearing and performing at benefit rallies to encourage citizens to buy bonds. There were drives where people gathered and contributed materials like tin foil and rubber to help arm our troops. Just coming out of a recession, the country wasn't in the kind of financial condition it is today, and more public participation was necessary.

Hugh later argued that similar belt-tightening today would hurt the economy that pays for this war, which is why we were urged to start spending and traveling after 9/11 to help the economy recover from the drop in consumer spending.

I'm not sure where I come down on this, but I know one thing. Most of our current celebrities would scorn any action to support the president or our troops. There are those who have visited the troops through the USO and written patriotic songs, but the the mass media opposed to this war, most of the positive news never gets to the public. (The WaPo reported a poll today showing that 60% of Americans want to see the Patriot Act renewed. How did they let that slip out?) Sadly, Americans today have become more concerned about the luxuries they view as rights than in doing anything to preserve the liberties we take for granted. I've never thought that a society could be healthy that doesn't require anything from its citizens. The ACLU-think that has spread even among Conservatives worries me, because it divides and polarizes us rather than encouraging us to pull together for the good of the whole.


The very fact that someone has to ask this question, strikes me as idiotic. If you have a right to self-defense, it would seem that the right to take arms against genocide is pretty clear, and it seems to me that anyone who is not among the targeted group has a moral duty to stand up against it. If international law doesn't reflect such basic rights and duties, what good is it?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The limited mind of the irreligious

Instapundit has an interesting post about the "technological singularity" predicted by some scientists and a lot of SF writers. If I understand it correctly, it's the prediction that technology and knowledge are advancing at an accelerating pace and will result in technology we can no longer control and a body of knowlege that no one can grasp.

My religion is based on a concept of God as someone who's already been that route and mastered it. I believe that the firehose of knowledge we are trying to drink from is due to the influence of God and that he has given us the rules to change ourselves into the kind of beings who can comprehend the singularity. It's too bad to see people with such limited horizons that they see the Singularity as overwhelming or frightening. Joseph Smith had a vision far broader and forward than anybody in his time and our own. The future will be handled on the basis of individual discipline.

Put a hold on the holds

The WSJ also has an editorial against the practice of allowing individual senators to put holds on presidential nominees for diplomatic and other positions. Mostly, it allows senators to hold nominees hostage to get political concessions or impress pressure groups rather than make a convincing case against a nominee they oppose. It is also an abdication by the Senate itself of its advise and consent duty under the Constitution. If you have a good reason to oppose someone, lay your reasons on the table. If you convince your fellow senators, the nominee will be rejected. If not, tough luck.

The Senate is the Greatest Narcissistic body in the world, however, and so I doubt that it will ever see the reason of this point.

Is this the future of blogging?

I hope not.

Hinderaker is charmed, Sissy Willis is not amused, by efforts to get bloggers behind Bob Geldof's latest glamor-charity push, this one aimed at curing all of Africa's ills.

Considering the kind of dictators and genocides that seem to crop up there all the time, it's a tall order. I don't generally trust famous philanthropists to decide what is good for society's ills. I doubt that Geldof will support assassinating Robert Mugabe, but that would be a good start. I think the best thing for Africa is already underway: the Christianization of its inhabitants. Despite what the Democrats and the MSM say, Christianity today has more in common with Christ's original message than at any time in its history. It has survived in spite of its being co-opted by human rulers and power politics by influencing the lives of individuals who read or hear Christ's teachings from the Bible and are changed by them.

A reporter-source privilege

Ted Olson (subscription only) urges the Supreme Court to review the case of reporters held in contempt for refusing to reveal their sources in the Valerie Plame case. He says, "A free and energetic press has proven to be among our most precious resources." What bothers me more than confidential sources is the monolithic nature of the mainstream mass media today. They all take their cues from the NYTimes and print stories from a few selected press services. The only actual journalism being done is by the correspondents of a few institutions and local reporters of local papers and TV stations.

Personally, I don't think that any privileges, doctor-patient, marital, or priest-penitent make much real sense. I don't think such people should be obligated to run to the police, but once the person has become a suspect, I think they ought to tell the police what they know to the extent that it relates to the crime alleged. If a person is accused of theft, his doctor shouldn't be obligated to disclose his/her history of STDs, for example.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The oldest religion?

Maybe it's just my Mormon background, but I wouldn't give much for a religion that doesn't claim to be the oldest in the world. Truth is supposed to be eternal, as is God. Christ was chosen for his earthly mission, the Bible says, before the world was. So why does Christianity only claim to go back to the year zero?

It's not a term limit; it's an intervention

Turned on C-Span for background noise. It was a Senate hearing on the new ambassador to Iraq, and it could have been over in 15 minutes. Everybody seemed to like the nominee, but they couldn't just say so. Each Senator seemed to feel it was necessary to use all of his/her time pontificating about everything under the sun. Maybe we should measure their terms by the total minutes they get to speak, and limiting them to two terms. That way effective senators would be in office longer, windbags shorter.

Answer: He didn't look Middle Eastern

Hey, the INS can't catch EVERYBODY! I guess he just looked like a typical American youth (whose parents were brother and sister).

Monday, June 06, 2005

Gonzales v. Raich

Instapundit doesn't like it and the libertarian right is all up in arms. However, I think the States' Rights horse is out of the barn. The Civil War settled that issue. I wouldn't mind marijuana replacing alcohol as a legal recreational drug, provided that it doesn't have more drawbacks than what it replaces, but if it is claimed as a medicine, it ought to be under the jurisdiction of the FDA, not subject to a piecemeal regulation by the states. I'd also like more than just anecdotal evidence that it really has medicinal benefit.