Monday, July 30, 2007

Transformers: More than meets the eye

While others were off paying homage to dramatic and comic greats the likes not seen since Homer, I was catching up on my pre-Three Weeks movie watching in the form of Transformers. I didn't have a strong desire to see the movie and had been wondered how, though quite cliched throughout it's advertising campaign, it could prove to be such a powerful box-office draw. Could there be that many dorky kids that grew up in the 80's around? (A. Yes)

In short, I found Transformers to be the most important piece of U.S. foreign policy engagement since Rocky. While the movie was most certainly about really cool big cars turning into even super-cooler big robots, it was also about American self-perception utilizing our finest ambassador, Hollywood (where, in general, there is a sort of transitive property between hot women, cool cars and vigorous policy disputation).

While the current administration has taken many important steps to ensuring stability and security, it has also generated many moral and esteem deficiencies. Though our efforts to reinstate calm have been largely successful, we have done so using policy and rhetoric which is less than righteous. We have tortured, we have abducted, we have threatened, we have raped, we have murdered, we have sown chaos. As these years have not kept to the pristine mythology of American values of conflicts passed, I believe people are really questioning the premise of American moral high ground (as presidential hopefuls like Joe Biden point out). To add to that, we have lost much of our sense of economic security as the manufacturing hub of the globe, particularly manifest by the precipitous loss of confidence in our auto industry. For years it was this dominance that was the hallmark of American economic supremacy.

Along comes this movie. Standard summer cinematic fare with silly humor, gorgeous women, things that go BOOM and big shiny cars. In this movie however, all the cars are manufactured by GM. I can't remember the last time I looked at a GM car and felt car-lust. This movie did it--it instills a confidence that American manufacturing is still vigorous. The movie is also closely coordinated with the US Military and Lockheed Martin, Lockheed and GM using their own resources to keep the movie under budget.

The movie depicts with action-packed scenes of American soldiers fighting along side arabs in Qatar, it shows the incompetence of American intelligence, and the resourcefulness of American ingenuity. It even shows wrongful torture (albeit of a robot). All these issues cut to the core of the contemporary American political discourse. By the end it is clear that Megatron and Opitmus Prime are conducting a micro polemic on American values. Do our errors show us to be malevolent and evil or do our aspirations show us to be good? Obviously, because it is Hollywood America wins and we are proven to be good and we do redeem ourselves. The movie also pokes fun at President Bush asking for a twinkie in the middle of a crisis and ends with a sarcastic endorsement of government vigilance and transparency. It knows what it is trying to do, and it wants to lay blame on the deserving, but at its core the movie serves as a reflexive apology of American values to ourselves and the world.

Proof once again that people know what they need when they buy it :)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Happy Birthday Oren

Six days having passed after my own birthday, I thought it high time to wish Oren a Happy Birthday.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Simpson's Movie - Opening Night

The new Simpson's movie was short enough that when I got to the end, I could not only remember, but even understand the beginning.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Happiness is...

...a new used compact OED of my very own. Complete with magnifying glass.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

יום ז'אב

The third year running, Sunday is Zev Day, the day on the calendar created just for Zev. Please do something you feel to be Zev-like, Zevesque or just generally possesses that je ne se Zev.
In keeping with the spirit of the day I will be going here and here. Oh yeah, and reading...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Al Scott z"l (1918-2007)

I don't know why I like blogging about people that pass away. I think I just like telling stories, and death is quite a big story.

This time there is a very nice obit of my cousin Al in the Buffalo News. He was really a great guy. He had a wonderful sense of self-deprecatory humor and a deep love for kids and actually making their lives better.

When he was 86 he started a maritime charter school for urban students with an eye to entering the service when they finished. Many of them came from difficult backgrounds and one of the results was having to expel whole groups of kids at points. Many of the kids were pretty large and weren't really afraid of any of the school administrators, except Al. So one day he's called in and confronts one of these trouble makers in the hall. He takes the guy by his neck and tells him to shape up or else he's gonna get tossed. The kid's like, "You can't touch me, I'll call the cops." So Al's like, "They can only put me away for what, 3-4 years tops, but I can still mess you up pretty good." That was one of his cleaner stories.

It is so rare for frum kids to have family that use turn of phrases like "whiz bang thing" (see article above). It just changes who you are. I'm gonna miss him.

He didn't have any children, so if people wouldn't mind learning some minshayus for him, it would really be nice. As I don't know if I can get shas done, please try and sign up for Moed then Nashim then Nezikin and we can go from there. "Albert Scott".

Women in Green

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Q. What do they use to vacuum the Whitehouse?

A. A Dyson. And what a good vacuum it is.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Harry Potter on Political Theory

I read this article over at Hogwart's Professor (a UofC grad, as it happens) about the ties between Machiavelli and Harry Potter. Irrespective of the important genre of contemporary literature that is Harry Potter, I finally understood the greatness of Machiavelli. In the chapter 17 of HPPS/SS* Quirrelldemort comments, "There is no good and evil, there is only power..." (p 291). This line dovetailed nicely with a thought the inimitable Jim Block offered me this summer. He said that while contemporary philosophy is finding difficulty hitting firm metaphysical ground, political theory can always take for granted Power, and its operations on systems.

Machiavelli is not merely a pragmatist, always making the proper chess move, but proposing an entirely new political geometry. Not unlike Einstein, Machiavelli claims that the universal political fabric is neither one way nor the other, good nor bad, but a geometry of power!

And no, I am neither proud that it took me this long to figure this out, nor that I had to learn it from Harry Potter. So it goes.

* Geek for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Just v. The Good, or Bad

Statements like these bother me:
“I respect the jury’s verdict,” Mr. Bush said [regarding the verdict of I. Lewis Libby]. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison." -NYT
This is the second time in a week I have been consternated by such a commentary on the Justice system (the first was when Israeli AG Mazuz claimed to strike a plea bargain because it "minimize[d] the harm to the institution of the presidency" in his words). You don't commute a sentence because you feel like you understand the law better than the jury or the judges. You are just the executive, sans Juris Doctorate, I might add. The president does have the prerogative to commute a sentence, but as the executive not as an officer of the law.

Oddly, my feelings are reversed for the case of Mazuz. There he is not responsible for the "institution of the presidency," but bringing cases to trail and getting convictions. If he can't get a conviction, plea bargains are acceptable, but in the face of the evidence, not the defendant. Law examines the individual person, politics examines the state. Can we please keep those two things separate?!

Happy American History Written by the Victors Day!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Steamboat Mickey, only Farfur, and no steamboats

Why I am posting this? It is not merely to show how bad, mean, no-good, rotten, etc the "other side" is. Firstly, I think it is funny in a certain Itchy & Scratchy sense, except it was not produced with parody in mind. Regardless, it has the, "oh my goodness, no one would really show that, would they?!" Fox Prime Time appeal.

Additionally, it is instructive to see a primary source, which comes to illustrate a very fundamental aspect of this regional conflict. If this is what you tell your children, then more likely than not, this is what they will tell their children.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Habeas Corpus, Habeas Corpus

I consider myself a liberal, but I also identify strongly with a textualist tradition of legal interpretation. That puts me in a tight spot when trying to develop opinions on cases like Panetti v. Quarterman. While Mr. Panetti was, and is, obviously insane, the Fifth Circuit already heard the habeas motion and dismissed it (per Justus Thomas's decent). Do you hold a strict reading of the law like Thomas, or do you make things up in the name of a right-end like Kennedy? Orin Kerr over at Volokh has more intelligent things to say than I could.