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July 31, 2007

I'm just greedy, I guess...

A minor new addition to the blog template is a wishlist. Scroll down and look to the right and you'll see gifts you can buy me to make me happy. Just one of the important services this blog provides: a way to simplify Christmas shopping for my loved ones and many admirers.

It's a little sparse right now, but it will fill up. I want lots of stuff. I like stuff.

July 30, 2007

The new brownshirts

Paramilitary groups, fanatically loyal to Vladimir Putin, are becoming more powerful in Russia.

Nashi's annual camp, 200 miles outside Moscow, is attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters and involves two weeks of lectures and physical fitness.

Attendance is monitored via compulsory electronic badges and anyone who misses three events is expelled. So are drinkers; alcohol is banned. But sex is encouraged, and condoms are nowhere on sale.

Bizarrely, young women are encouraged to hand in thongs and other skimpy underwear - supposedly a cause of sterility - and given more wholesome and substantial undergarments.

Twenty-five couples marry at the start of the camp's first week and ten more at the start of the second. These mass weddings, the ultimate expression of devotion to the motherland, are legal and conducted by a civil official.

Attempting to raise Russia's dismally low birthrate even by eccentric-seeming means might be understandable. Certainly, the country's demographic outlook is dire. The hard-drinking, hardsmoking and disease-ridden population is set to plunge by a million a year in the next decade.

But the real aim of the youth camp - and the 100,000-strong movement behind it - is not to improve Russia's demographic profile, but to attack democracy.

Under Mr Putin, Russia is sliding into fascism, with state control of the economy, media, politics and society becoming increasingly heavy-handed. And Nashi, along with other similar youth movements, such as 'Young Guard', and 'Young Russia', is in the forefront of the charge.

Read the rest. The resemblance of these groups to the Nazi SA is frightening.

It never fails to amaze me. A violent and fanatical ideology is spreading through the Muslim world, killing thousands each year and breaking any opposition with murder and intimidation; Russia is quickly becoming a fascist state; China is already there and maintains its power through tight censorship and massive human rights abuses; genocide is occurring in Sudan -- yes, right at this very minute; and a tinpot dictator is dismantling a democracy in South America and using his country's wealth to export this tragedy to neighboring countries. Yet it seems to me that 90% of the outrage over the state of the world is directed at one man.

I truly believe that the intellectuals and media's mad obsession with this one man has given cover and comfort to these regimes. And one day we'll all pay the price for it.

July 29, 2007

Simpsons! Meet the Simpsons!

Apparently the movie is pretty good, but I haven't got around to seeing it yet...

Mob rule

Chess champ Garry Kasparov has been putting his life at risk by increasing his criticism of Putin's Russia. In today's Opinion Journal he declares it to be the ultimate gangster state:

Again and again we hear cries of: "Doesn't Putin know how bad this looks?" When another prominent Russian journalist is murdered, when a businessman not friendly to the Kremlin is jailed, when a foreign company is pushed out of its Russian investment, when pro-democracy marchers are beaten by police, when gas and oil supplies are used as weapons, or when Russian weapons and missile technology are sold to terrorist sponsor states like Iran and Syria, what needs to be asked is what sort of government would continue such behavior. This Kremlin regime operates within a value system entirely different from that of the Western nations struggling to understand what is happening behind the medieval red walls.

Mr. Putin's government is unique in history. This Kremlin is part oligarchy, with a small, tightly connected gang of wealthy rulers. It is partly a feudal system, broken down into semi-autonomous fiefdoms in which payments are collected from the serfs, who have no rights. Over this there is a democratic coat of paint, just thick enough to gain entry into the G-8 and keep the oligarchy's money safe in Western banks.

But if you really wish to understand the Putin regime in depth, I can recommend some reading. No Karl Marx or Adam Smith. Nothing by Montesquieu or Machiavelli, although the author you are looking for is of Italian descent. But skip Mussolini's "The Doctrine of Fascism," for now, and the entire political science section. Instead, go directly to the fiction department and take home everything you can find by Mario Puzo.

Read on...

Criminal prosecutors

This story is making the rounds, but if you haven't heard about it yet you can find out about the whole sordid affair from Mark Steyn:

Do you know Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison?

If you do, don't approach them. Call 911 and order up a SWAT team. They're believed to be in the vicinity of McMinnville, Ore., where they're a clear and present danger to the community. Mashburn and Cornelison were recently charged with five counts of felony sexual abuse, and District Attorney Bradley Berry has pledged to have them registered for life as sex offenders.

Oh, by the way, the defendants are in the seventh grade.

Messrs Mashburn and Cornelison are pupils at Patton Middle School. They were arrested in February after being observed in the vestibule, swatting girls on the butt. Butt-swatting had apparently become a form of greeting at the school – like "a handshake we do," as one female student put it. On "Slap Butt Fridays," boys and girls would hail each other with a cheery application of manual friction to the posterior, akin to a Masonic greeting.

And then an authority figure found out, and decided to ruin a few lives. Read the whole thing.

The hissing is getting louder

Steven Pearlstein's column in the Washington Post (bypass registration through Google) has the most succinct description of what's beginning to happen in the world financial markets:

The turmoil we're witnessing in global financial markets is nothing less than the popping of an enormous credit bubble that built up over the past five years, artificially inflating the market prices of stocks, bonds and real estate. It created a bonanza for Wall Street investment houses and private-equity funds and fueled the longest and strongest period of global economic growth in modern history.

The only question now is whether the bubble will deflate slowly enough to allow an orderly repricing of those assets, or whether a broad loss of confidence by investors will create a vicious cycle in which selling begets more selling, markets freeze up for lack of buyers, and a credit crunch ensues.

[...]

A credit bubble develops when there's too much money to lend and too few places to lend it. A world capital glut has been created by the impending retirement of the baby-boom generation and the globalization of finance, which has made the savings of billions of people in developing countries available for investment overseas.

It would be comforting to believe that the availability of all this money precipitated a deterioration of lending standards in only a few credit markets, such as subprime mortgages. But in an efficient global financial market in which money flows toward the best return, it is more likely that loosey-goosey lending anywhere is a symptom of loosey-goosey lending everywhere. If so, it's likely that this credit correction has only just begun.

The source of the credit bubble is the long-running habit of Asian governments -- particularly China and Japan -- to buy up American dollars on the foreign exchange market in order to keep their currencies low and their exports strong. Those trillions of dollars had to go somewhere, and they went back to America to be loaned to anyone with a pulse and a desire to live in a half-million dollar house.

Because the goal of those governments wasn't to get decent returns but simply to stash their growing pile of cash, lending standards fell, and many companies and individuals that shouldn't have been loaned money got it anyways. And -- surprise, surprise! -- some of them are finding it hard to meet their payments. A certain amount of defaults are to be expected, but they are starting to reach the point where some of the larger financial edifices can no longer hold together because of these weaknesses. What happens next is anyone's guess.

July 26, 2007

'Genocide? So what?'

The Wall Street Journal:

Barack Obama's latest pronouncement on Iraq should have shocked the conscience. In an interview with the Associated Press last week, the freshman Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate opined that even preventing genocide is not a sufficient reason to keep American troops in Iraq.

"Well, look, if that's the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now--where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife--which we haven't done," Mr. Obama told the AP. "We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done. Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea."

Mr. Obama is engaging in sophistry. By his logic, if America lacks the capacity to intervene everywhere there is ethnic killing, it has no obligation to intervene anywhere--and perhaps an obligation to intervene nowhere. His reasoning elevates consistency into the cardinal virtue, making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Further, he elides the distinction between an act of omission (refraining from intervention in Congo and Darfur) and an act of commission (withdrawing from Iraq). The implication is that although the U.S. has had a military presence in Iraq since 1991, the fate of Iraqis is not America's problem.

Pause that refreshes

Every now and then, when the children are driving you absolutely batty, you have to remind yourself that they're not always stubborn, quarrelsome screaming machines. This is one of those times.

Oh yeah, I remember...

July 24, 2007

Bad Influences

While I'm on a grumpy neo-so-con trip, I should link to this article from City Journal. It's a thorough examination of the destruction Gangsta Rap has done to a generation of inner-city blacks. It's not pretty.

The great accomplishment of civilization has been to replace the reign of force with the rule of law, and to humanize the animal realities in which our lives are embedded by means of manners and rituals that give those realities a human meaning. And if the rule of law fares poorly in rap, civilization’s great effort to transform the animal facts of reproduction into love and marriage doesn’t do so well in gangsta-land, either. This is what so much of our culture is about—our manners and morals, poetry and song and film, from the Song of Solomon and the medieval French romances to “The Way You Look Tonight”: yes, I have these feelings, but not just for anyone; it’s you personally I love, so much that I want you always. And many of the popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s, making the promise of permanence explicit, end with talk of marriage. Human beings undergo an education of the feelings, and popular culture’s love songs were once great instructors in this school.

It’s a long drop to the dogghouse and Doggystyle. And since it’s culture that molds feelings and behavior, when the “Why don’t we do it in the road” spirit of sexual liberation of the 1960s declined in the ghetto into “Do you want it over here? Do you want it over there?,” feelings and behavior were bound to follow. Rap is a school that hardens and coarsens rather than cultivates the feelings and, presenting women as disposable and interchangeable objects for use, dehumanizes rather than humanizes the relations between the sexes.

Art Attack

An essay in the New Criterion -- Why the art world is a disaster -- sums up what I hate about the modern art world far better and more eruditely than I ever could. Choice quote:

No, the thing to appreciate about “Wrestle,” about the Hessel Museum and the collection of Marieluise Hessel, and about the visual arts at Bard generally is not how innovative, challenging, or unusual they are, but how pedestrian and, sad to say, conventional they are. True, there is a lot of ickiness on view at the Hessel Museum. But it is entirely predictable ickiness. It’s outrage by-the-yard, avant-garde in bulk, smugness for the masses. And this brings me to what I believe is the real significance of institutions like the art museum at Bard, the Hessel collection that fills it, and the surrounding atmosphere of pseudo-avant-garde self-satisfaction. The “arts” at Bard are notable not because they are unusual but because they are so grindingly ordinary.

RTWT.

(via The Fog)

July 23, 2007

Some backstory to the Chilean brawl

When I read the complaints of the Chilean U-20 soccer team on what happened Thursday night, I had a tiny, but hard-to-shake sense that something was not quite right about it. What could it be?

Chilean players said they were going to greet a throng of supporters and sign autographs near their bus when they were "attacked" by police officers for no apparent reason.

Midfielder Mauricio Isla said several of his teammates suffered head, back and knee injuries after being Tasered and hit with batons; at least one player sought hospital attention. Defender Arturo Vidal said his teammates had to smash the windows of their bus because pepper spray had wafted inside and they could not breathe.

Something seemed to be wrong with this account as well, but I just couldn't put my finger on it:
"They hit me with an electrical current and I fainted," player Isaias Perralta told Chilean media. "When I regained consciousness, I saw 10 police officers were hitting me and throwing acid in my face."
Through official channels, the Police are claiming they acted 'appropriately' but are not giving any more details. Luckily we still have informal channels. The Mayor of Mitchieville managed to get the other side of the story from one of the cops that was there:
Meanwhile, the Chilean *Fans* were egging on the Chilean players to find the ref(s) and beat the hell out of them. Most of the Chilean players were now on the bus, but about 4-5 of them decided to show off in front of their fans (that were barricaded about 100 metres from the cops and the players). The Chileans, being typical macho Spanish rejects, decide to taunt the FEMALE security guards by spitting on them and calling them nice words such as cuntas and various other pleasantries.

One thing led to another and the tough Chilean players took it up a level and pushed one of the female security guards--not a cop, a security guard. The Toronto cops that were there, serving and protecting, did just that. They grabbed the player that pushed the guard and subdued him. The rest of the players jumped in, and the players on the bus that were watching the whole thing--and egging on the other players, like the heroes that they are--jumped off the bus and went for the FEW cops and security guards which were assembled.

Reinforcements were called in and the Toronto cops wiped the pavement with the Chilean cowards.

Hmm. Now that seems a little more plausible...

Cruel and unusual

Forget Guantanamo Bay, in the Philippines they really know how to torture their inmates: they make them participate in reenactments of Michael Jackson videos. Do not watch this if you're faint of heart...

UPDATE: Additional warning: you may not be able to get that wretched song out of your head. Always proceed with caution when dealing with Michael Jackson songs.

July 20, 2007

Shocker! Transformers is a good movie!

I had the opportunity to see Transformers the other day. After a particularly difficult day with Captain Destructo and the Mistress of Chaos, I decided to flee the house after my backup arrived. Not knowing where to go, I found myself at a theatre watching a movie I wasn't that interested in. I'm glad I did.

Considering the source material was a line of children's toys featuring robots that can be changed into cars and planes, the writers did an excellent job of putting together a solid story. It didn't insult my intelligence; and in a movie of this type, that's a remarkable achievement. The most implausible thing in the movie (so long as you accept the central premise) was the existence of a huge abandoned neo-classical building in downtown Los Angeles. Rather than focus the movie on the robots -- which would have been stupid -- they chose to follow a number of different characters who have been sucked into the Transformers' interstellar war. You've got a bunch of soldiers heading home from Iraq, a horny teenage boy and his lust object, an Australian signal analysis babe and her befuddled hacker friend, and Donald Rumsfeld.

The action is unrelenting as you might guess. Things blow up. Frequently. People are chased by crazed giant robots. But they get away! Robots throw other robots through buildings. Many, many times. It sounds tedious, but I found it to be pure visual poetry.

I was especially impressed with the comedy though. This movie is funny. And it's not the 'that's so stupid, it's funny' kind either, but real laughs. Here's a selection of clips from the movie. The scene with the soldier in a firefight trying to get past an Indian call center guy so he can call in an air strike is typical of the light tone that made this flick so enjoyable.

Here's a great trailer, if you need more encouragement.

The marketing campaign for Transformers is the first that has penetrated my son's mind. I don't know where he heard about it, but he knows about this movie and wants to see it. I promise you Max, when you're old enough to read this, I'll go rent it and watch it with you.

UPDATE: One of the things I enjoyed about the movie was that it was devoid of the sneering political point of view I find in so many movies of late. The military, right up to the Secretary of Defence, were the good guys. It was refreshing. But is there a deeper message in the film? The blogosphere is a-buzz. First, conservative film site Libertas weighs in:

The films politics are decidedly pro-American, pro-military, and even *gasp* pro-freedom. Bay’s affection for the American military is obvious in every scene they’re in. They are uniformly portrayed as heroic, extremely competent, selfless, and even kind to Arab children. The theme of the film is spoken out loud more than once: No sacrifice, no victory. And the Autobots have come to liberate us from the terrorist Decepticons because the Autobots believe freedom is the right of everyone. Yes, there is a gentle, somewhat affectionate jab at Bush, but Jon Voight’s Secretary of Defense makes it clear at every turn that the President is running the show.

[...]And after all the relativist junk we’ve been suffering through, it does mean something to watch the fight for freedom portrayed with valor, good and evil distinguished, and the dreaded-until-needed military industrial complex save the day.

John Rogers, one of the writers of the movie and someone who evidently considers himself 'progressive', fires back -- maybe a bit too aggressively:
Second, hopefully this may slooooowly spin you around to the idea that being "pro-American, pro-military and even *gasp* pro-freedom" are not just conservative values. Progressives are also pro-American, pro-military -- in my first draft, the Army guys actually have bigger role, although they're a little grungier and working-class than all shiny and model-y -- and *gasp* pro-freedom. We just believe you serve these values in different ways. Demonizing each other is a way the Bastards in Suits try to keep the game going, and keep their little scams in place, so we don't suddenly notice that we're all on the same side, we all support the troops. We all rather like each other, and despite our many disagreements maybe we'd like all the professional hate-mongers to bugger off now, please.
Hmm. What I took from the Libertas review was that he was grateful that the movie didn't need to remind you that everything was controlled by 'Bastards in Suits' running 'scams'.

The last word should go to Ezra Klein:

We can go back-and-forth doing a sort of tendentious reading of key scenes (The president is a ding-dong eating dunce, the military folk are hair-trigger types who nearly invade the wrong nation, Optimus Prime is colored sort of like an American flag, Megatron is kept frozen and the All-Spark hidden via a giant public works project, etc), but we're missing the point. The point is GIANT GODDAMN ROBOTS. They're REALLY BIG.
But it doesn't. The Atlantic's Matthew Yglesias has this to say:
Indeed, it's the very shallow nature of Transformer's plotting that makes it so pregnant. The standard format for a not-very-original action movie pits a Hero against, of course, a Villain. But beyond the Villain, the Hero must also do battle with the Faceless Institution whose inability to grasp the true nature of the situation imperils the entire situation. This Institution comes in, roughly speaking, two guises. In some films, like Bad Boys, the Institution is portrayed as comprised of feckless bureaucrats who don't understand the Hero's need to Get Things Done. In other films, like Transformers, the Institution is portrayed as comprised of power-mad authoritarians who can't tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Now, of course, better, more sophisticated stories can have more nuanced ideological content (the Terminator films, for example, provide both a critique of the military industrial complex and a statement of the security dilemma), or else possibly none at all, or, perhaps, an ambiguous message (First Blood) that'll be read according to pre-existing prejudices. The key in all cases, though, is not to look for specific commentary on the passing tide of events (i.e., the SecDef in Transformers kinda looks like Don Rumsfeld) but for what broad values the film appeals to and endorses.

If anyone knows what he means, let me know.

July 17, 2007

Irony

The medium is not the message.

New and better Idiots...

10 years ago, Alvaro Vargas Llosa and a couple of other Latin American writers wrote a book titled Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot which attributed the region's failure to the politics of resentment, strong-man populism, corruption, anti-Americanism, and Marxism. Though things seemed to be improving for awhile, Llosa writes that nothing has changed: Return of the Idiot.

July 13, 2007

Black snagged on a few charges

He didn't quite wriggle free:

Conrad Black has been found guilty on 4 charges, including obstruction and three counts of mail fraud, and not guilty on the other 9 charges.
The complete list of charges and the verdicts can be found here. It seems he was nailed for the non-compete contracts and the famous removal of the boxes from his office.

I have to say I'm a little disappointed -- in Black that is, not the verdicts. I like Black and I like the way he infuriates the clever people. I hoped the charges were false -- but I'm not very surprised they aren't. Too often powerful CEOs are unable to see where their interests and the company's diverge. They use the company's power to make decisions that benefit themselves first.

Now, how many years do you think he will get? I'm guessing ten and out in three, with a big fine. But what do I know?

The last time the Americans abandoned their allies

From Wikipedia:

In Vietnam, the new communist government sent many people who supported the old government in the South to "re-education camps", and others to "new economic zones." An estimated 1 million people were imprisoned without formal charges or trials. 165,000 people died in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's re-education camps, according to published academic studies in the United States and Europe. Thousands were abused or tortured: their hands and legs shackled in painful positions for months, their skin slashed by bamboo canes studded with thorns, their veins injected with poisonous chemicals, their spirits broken with stories about relatives being killed. These factors, coupled with poverty, caused millions of Vietnamese to flee the country.
Given the nature of the various terrorist groups in Iraq, it's safe to bet that the carnage after an American retreat there would be even worse. Whatever brutal regime finally emerges after the inevitable devastating civil war would take revenge on their enemies in a most bloody fashion. Refugees would flood the Middle East, most winding up in permanent camps similar to those of the Palestinians. Possibly millions would die.

Whatever your thoughts on the wisdom of the original invasion of Iraq, it should be clear that retreat now by the Americans would be a disaster. And not just for Iraq, but for America and the world. I think everyone knows this -- including the opportunistic politicians now leading the charge for withdrawal -- but they are unable politically support a cause that the hated George Bush has staked everything on. This is madness, childish madness, and unless the politicians, the media, and the public grow up a lot of people are going to die.

But maybe it won't be so bad. After all, like in Vietnam, the press will be driven out of Iraq and no longer will there be death tolls reported daily on the news. There may be a few video clips smuggled out, a couple of rumours of atrocities trickling across the internet, but those can (and will) be ignored by the media. It will be up to the scholars a decade or so into the future to figure out the final toll for an article in their obscure journals.

July 12, 2007

A must-read takedown of the defeatists

The NY Times editorial last week urging a US retreat from Iraq was one of the most perplexing pieces I writing I have ever read. They seemed to understand that pulling the troops now would trigger a bloodbath that would make the current conflict look trivial, but they didn't seem to care. Victor Davis Hanson takes the whole preposterous thing apart.

(via LGF)

UPDATE: On a related note, take a look at this ABC reporter's attempt to get US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to answer a simple question on whether withdrawal will be good for Iraq. It's obvious he knows the truth too, but just doesn't care.

The comments to this post are also worth a read. There are lots of valuable insights to be found.

July 11, 2007

Uses for the Multitudians

In Stanislaw Lem's book, The Cyberiad, Trurl was offered a few hundred thousand slaves by the King of the Multitudians in exchange for his services. When Trurl refused, the King told him of the many wonderful things you could do with so many slaves.

You can, for example, dress them in robes of different colours and have them stand in a great square to form a living mosaic, or signs providing sentiments for every occasion
Some South Koreans working at Samsung have made this vision a reality. It's as creepy as it sounds:

Expect to see something like this at the Beijing Olympics.

Why are children so annoying?

They don't look so bad in this picture, do they? But it's all an act.

School is out for the summer, and they're still a little young for any of the day camps, so I've had a unique opportunity to get to know my kids a lot better over the past few weeks. And I've noticed that they frequently act in a way that gets me quivering with frustration. Max is the worst. Except for Talia. It's going to be a long summer.

July 09, 2007

Back from Mitchieville

I had a fine time visiting the Mayor's realm this weekend. I haven't time to write much on the subject right now, but the live-blogging post over at Mitchieville is the definitive record of the events of the night. Thanks go to the Mayor and Nikita for the hospitality, Reg for some delicious snacks, Mike for the entertainment, and Fenris for his inspirational words and coffees from Timmy's. Thanks must also go to no-show Jay Jardine for funding the bottle of scotch that was consumed.

To find out what happened to Fenris' shirt, go to the extended entry...

Fenris managed to escape, however...

July 05, 2007

The Taliban's local allies

I really don't feel like writing a long diatribe against Jack Layton's and Stephane Dion's eagerness to use the deaths of our soldiers for their political ends. So I'll make it a short one instead.

Dividing us and sowing doubt is what the Taliban are trying to do, and it's clear the opposition are willing to do their part to help in this task. They really don't seem to understand that every time they open their mouths and demand Canada leave Afghanistan to those butchers, they encourage them and put our troops in more danger. It is impossible to completely prevent the types of cowardly attacks the Taliban have been successful with, but it is not impossible to convince them that it will not affect our resolve and that they are fighting in a losing cause. Dion and Layton instead offer them hope.

Jonathan Kay has some more.

July 04, 2007

The Hugo Cup

The FIFA Under-20 World Cup is taking place in Canada right now, but in South America right now the Copa America is the big thing, and is taking place in Venezuela. The motto for the tournament is 'La Copa ahora es de todos!', or 'The Cup is now for all!' -- a splendid little jewel of socialist doublespeak. Of course it is not for all, as this report from the Guardian hints at:

The ticketing chaos continued as thousands of fans queued in vain in Merida, where hosts Venezuela play Uruguay on Tuesday.

Some said they had paid in advance for their tickets but had not received them.

A Reuters reporter saw touts freely selling black market tickets at up to twice their face value.

Fans accused the government of President Hugo Chavez of buying-up tickets and filling stadiums with their supporters to avert possible protests and anti-government chanting during games.

The government has denied the allegations.

And that's the last of it you'll find in the media. But a little digging easily finds the truth. Daniel in Venezuela has a copy of a poster that promises free tickets to those
"who contribute [...] to construction of the fundamental base of XXI Century Socialism promoted by the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias"
Which kind of explains images like this...

The Contrarian View

Ted Nugent. In the Wall Street Journal:

Forty years ago hordes of stoned, dirty, stinky hippies converged on San Francisco to "turn on, tune in, and drop out," which was the calling card of LSD proponent Timothy Leary. Turned off by the work ethic and productive American Dream values of their parents, hippies instead opted for a cowardly, irresponsible lifestyle of random sex, life-destroying drugs and mostly soulless rock music that flourished in San Francisco.
I link to this not necessarily because I agree with it, but for the contrast with the rose-tinted retrospectives soon to be featured in every news medium. RTWT.

July 03, 2007

'A freaking trooper'

Yes. That's me.

I'll be making a rare public appearance in the town of Mitchieville this coming Saturday. The Mayor is hosting a bash that promises to be epic. But there are still coveted invitations to be had. You too may be able to say, "I was there!" to your grandchildren. Contact the Mayor at his site for the correct protocol to gain admission.

Ratatouille

Imagine pitching this idea to studio executives: A rat is guided by the spirit of a dead French chef to become the best chef in Paris. He does this by sitting on the head of a klutzy garbageboy and controlling his movements by tugging on his hair. The garbageboy goes on to win the girl and run his own restaurant.

Ok, maybe it's not that crazy an idea. If you've seen Ratatouille, you'll know it all makes perfect sense.

There are piles of reviews up at IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes raving about the movie, so I'm not going to add much more. I will say that it's one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. It's beautiful to look at, incredibly inventive, hysterically funny at times, but also tells a compelling story with characters you can care about. It's also very respectful of the audience -- there was no dumbing down of the material or reliance on stereotypical misconceptions. Here's a long clip from the film so you can get a feel for just how great this flick is:

I should mention though, that it's not a great movie for kids. It's pretty long, and is packed with jokes that go miles above the heads of youngsters. Max and Talia claimed they enjoyed it, but they were pretty squirmy. I suggest going at night so you don't have to listen to four-year-olds loudly asking their parents, "What's so funny, Papa?"

July 02, 2007

Confronting the nostalgists for totalitarianism

So what sight greeted us as our family arrived in Wakefield, Quebec for the Canada day parade? This:

The Soviet flag was flying from the mast of a barge docked at the main intersection. It was the first thing visible as anyone entered town. I was aghast.

I'm normally a somewhat reserved person. I intensely dislike confrontation. But I knew I would be angry with myself if I didn't go to have words with the historically illiterate morons that raised this banner. I told my wife to wait, pushed the front of my hat down, and strode over to the dock.

There were three men in the boat. I asked when they were planning to take that flag. They said they weren't. I asked them why they were flying the flag of a regime that had killed millions of people. They replied lamely that the Soviets were our allies in World War Two. Though it was less visible, they also were flying a Cuban flag, suggesting that the USSR's aid in defeating Nazi Germany was not what they were celebrating. I started getting angry. I reminded them of the mass starvations in the Ukraine and the gulags, and asked how anyone could proudly display a symbol of an empire that engaged in that kind of inhuman repression. They shrugged and said I was the first person to complain.

And I most certainly was. I looked around and saw the bemused looks on the faces of the passersby. I was playing the role of the crazed right-winger, while they were the cool, beret-wearing hipsters. I replied that even though I was the only person willing to speak up, I was still right, and that they should be ashamed of themselves. And then I left.

What is amazing is that the three men on that barge own a local business, Kaffé 1870. They seem to have no problem with the fact that if they lived under the regimes they are so nostalgic for, they would have been shut down long ago.

But perhaps there is some hope for them. I noticed that within a half hour they had taken down the Soviet flag and replaced it with a vertical red banner. I'd like to think I made them feel a little bit of shame, even if just for a moment.