Archive for March, 2007

Get That Off My Silver Screen!

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

My favorite movie critic, James Berardinelli has a fascinating post on the recent apperance of explicit sex scenes in mainstream movies. He doesn’t think this is the beginning of a trend. To wit:

Then there’s the question of how a graphic sex scene impacts a movie. People generally watch porn for stimulation. People watch legitimate films for less primal reasons. Confusing the two can lead to frustration. The conflict is evident. There’s also an issue of pacing. No movie can afford to take a several-minute “timeout” to show a sex scene, unless the movie is all about sex in the first place (in which case it’s almost certainly straight porn rather than art-porn). There’s another issue that Roger Ebert once raised. Graphic sex is documentary in nature. As he wrote in Roger Ebert’s Book of Film, speaking about Norman Mailer: “Mailer, like so many before and since, awaits the cinematic marriage of Sex and Art. I am not convinced such a thing is possible. In traditional fiction films, art involves the filmmakers in creating a fiction about characters whose lives we care about. Sex, to the degree that it involves nudity and explicit detail, brings the whole story crashing down to the level of documentary. The actors lose not only their clothes but their characters, and stand (or recline) revealed only as themselves.”

Here’s the response I e-mailed to him:

I’m afraid I have to disagree with you and with Ebert. It seems to me that you are still stuck in thinking of any explicit sex as porn and not as what we’re seeing — a more explicit extension of the sex scenes that have been in mainstream films since the fall of the Hays Code. A number of the films in your top 100 include scenes that are fairly explicit — albeit mostly in a disturbing context (War Zone or Requiem for a Dream, for example). These would have been considered pornographic — hell, they would have been banned — just a few decades ago even though they don’t “show everything”.

I think our perception of art-porn has been heavily tainted by the disastrous Showgirls foray into this. But just as there is a difference between the soft-porn that shows up on Cinemax and the erotica that shows up in, say, Secretary, I think there can be a similar difference between pure pornography and art-porn. An example that you didn’t mention and doesn’t show up in your archive is Sex and Lucia, a movie which is fairly graphic, although not pornographic, but compelling, interesting and romantic. I don’t see that the movie would have come to a screeching halt had it been slightly more explicit.

I think the word we’re both scrounging around for is “tasteful”. There is a way to make porn tasteful, but the political situation in our country has branded all explicit erotica — and most non-explicit — as evil. But films like Secretary and Lucia show that it can be done.

Of course, there’s always Sturgeon’s Law. Most movies that blur the line between art and porn will be crap, because most movies are crap anyway. And the best talent will shy away from “art-porn” because of the stigma — which is why we’re seeing the new wave emerging in countries like France and Spain, which aren’t as hysterically puritanical as we are.

Back to blog-Mike:

Sex and Lucia is a movie I have a lot of arguments about. Some people think it’s just a skin flick. I enjoyed it. Not that those two things are mutually exclusive, of course. But I do think any trend that breaks us out of “sex bad, sex evil, violence OK” mentality that has gripped his nation for the last three centuries is a good thing.

FF Easiness

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Blogged by me in January: this year feels conservative for the Final Four.

Reality in March: The lowest seed in the sweet 16 was #7 UNLV — who really shouldn’t have been rated so low. Elite eight is four #1′s, three #2′s and a #3.

Having said that, all four #1′s will now lose.

Iran Attacks

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Expect a lot of saber-rattling from the Right about Iran taking 15 British sailors into custody. Neal Boortz will be calling for a bombing attack. But I suspect this will work itself out. Iran is trying to provoke an attack to shore up their government and give them an excuse to get into Iraq. Let’s not give them what they want.

Man

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Via the Agitator, i find facism is alive and well in Florida.

Seriously, seizing someone’s house over a parking ticket?! Thanks, Justice Scalia! These are the fruits of destroying Americans’ property rights!

FF

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

I’ve had politics on the brain lately. The last few books I read — Somebody’s Gotta Say It and Player Piano, in particular, are political. College football is done, baseball hasn’t really started and there are very few interesting movies out.

Worse, I’m observing during the Final Four. By the time I get back home, we’ll be down to the finals and I’ll have missed a lot of great basketball. Argh! I am, however, proud that I correctly picked UVa to choke. Much as I loved being there, they never seem to go very far.

Thursday Linkorama

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007
  • The State Department decides to improve foreign relations by lecturing foreign governments on money laundering. Our stupid War on Drugs will be the death of us all.
  • The NCAA shows its usual aplomb by putting favorite teams in better hotels than Cinderellas — although it’s hilarious to hear a modern hotel with 19-inch TV’s described as a “log cabin”. The NCAA also set up the bracket to ensure that teams from minor conferences faced each other early. Because we don’t want a Boise State or somebody ruining what’s supposed to be a big conference showcase.
  • An analysis of the uninsured. Tell me again why we should be ponying up for these cheapskates?
  • It’s a good thing government is saving us from unprofessional decorating. Seriously, who thinks of this crap? And what nincompoop votes it into law?
  • 300

    Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

    I have not seen it yet, but am intrigued by Hanson’s review. I have, however, read Herodotus, who is immensely entertaining if you can get past the formal style. I was at La Silla when a massive snowstorm hit. There I was, trapped in a small room with nothing but The Histories to entertain me. I was alternating planning out a survey of a dwarf galaxy with reading about Greek city states. And then my altitude-affected dreams were about doing surveys of Greek city states.

    Herodotus isn’t, of course, for everyone. But I have also read Gates of Fire, which is more approachable, historically accurate, a quick read and very very good. I heartily recommend it.

    On Cable

    Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

    Chris has been bitching about his new cable carrier. I have read similar complaints on a number of blogs.

    The thing is, there is very little choice when it comes to cable. It is not a “free market” in any sense that the followers of Adam Smith would recognize. The nation is divided into fiefdoms that are assigned to various companies. And the cost of cable has risen even as the cost of cell phone, home phones and long distance have plunged.

    Why do I bring this up? Because public schools are the same way. Children have no choice, no competition but are assigned to the school they are nearest to. And our schools are spending twice per pupil what private schools are. But many of the people railing against cable company monopolies would lose it over the idea of introducing competition into the public school system.

    So every time you turn on your cable and find the signal out, or the picture fuzzy; every time you look at a bill that read $150; think to yourself, “Inner city kids are getting in education what I’m getting in cable service.”

    Reviewing Boortz, Part Duh

    Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

    Having praised Boortz, I want to talk about my biggest point of disagreement – one that is coming more and more to the fore with the so-called conservatives.

    You see, Neal blames the problems in Iraq on the Democrats. Yes, the Democrats.

    Apparently, the negativism and lack of support has encouraged the Islamists to ramp up their guerilla war. While we thought they were building incendiary devices, they were really glued to CNN seeing if the war was popular here so that they knew whether or not to fight us. Never mind that they are primarily fighting each other right now.

    My attitude toward this idea can probably discerned by my tone.

  • The Democrats did not authorize torture at Abu Ghraib. And they certainly never gloated about information obtained under coercion.
  • The Liberal Media did not decide that terror suspects, whether citizens and non-citizens, could be detained indefinitely, interrogated forcefully and never presented with evidence against them. Nor did they decide suspects could be sent to fricking Syria to be tortured.
  • Al Franken did not go into Iraq with 100,000 fewer troops than we needed. Michael Moore didn’t lower the recruitment standards to admit criminal, morons and drugs addicts. Rosie O’Donnel didn’t underfunded our soldiers. Yeah, yeah, Clinton cut military spending blah blah blah. Gee, you’d think having the GOP in power for six years might have changed that. Ronald Reagan, with a Democratic Congress, turned our military around in less time.
  • Tim Robbins didn’t devise this idea of stopping insurgents by driving them out of an area and then leaving them to take it back.
  • Ted Kennedy wasn’t the one who decided to deliberately piss off the rest of the world to score political points at home.
  • It wasn’t Nancy Pelosi who thought Donald Rumsfeld was the greatest Secretary of Defense in American history.
  • It wasn’t Daily Kos who decided to not establish law and order, to de-Bathify, to break up the Iraqi military and to let half a million tons of explosives go loose after the war.
  • And no one at Huffington Post tried to paper over intelligence failures by changing the rationale behind the war.
  • No, it was Bush who did all of these things.

    Has the dissent of the media and the Dems hurt our efforts in Iraq? It probably has (although I don’t recall the conservatives being terribly supportive when Clinton took us into Kosovo). But if you remember the early months of the war, both were highly supportive. Remember the imbeds and the positive reports they made? It was only after Iraq began to spin out of control that the criticism ramped up.

    You know, it’s funny how Bush is the Commander in Chief when it comes to war powers and bending the Constitution. But when it comes to responsibility, nothing is ever laid at his door. It’s the Democrats’ fault for objecting; it’s the media’s fault for portraying failure in Iraq; it’s the Iraqis’ fault for being sectarian; its the American people’s fault for being a bunch of wusses; it’s Hollywood’s fault; it’s Air America’s fault; it’s Andrew Sullivan’s fault. It’s someone’s, anyone‘s fault other than the one person whose job it is to take responsibility for our foreign policy.

    As I said before. Is Bush ever responsible for anything?

    Reviewing Boortz – On Optimism

    Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

    I recently read Neal Boortz’s “Somebody’s Gotta Say It!” I was actually surprised by the book, which is lucid, thoughtful and entertaining. I expected a lot more diatribes and ranting and raving. I actually expected him to just cut and paste from his Daily Nealz Nuze. But instead Boortz lays out his quasi-Libertarian political philosophy and argues passionately and persuasivley in favor of it.

    One thing that jumped out at me was that Neal’s a lot more pessimistic than I am about this country. There is a tendency among conservatives and libertarians to romanticize the past, to imagine that all the dumb stupid things going on in our society are new. But that is not the case. We are making progress — slow, halting, stupid progress — but progress none the less.

    The ideals this nation and our Constitution have not been betrayed so much as many of them have never been fully realized. Our attempts to get those ideals realized is a perpetual struggle. But this country was in far worse shape in, for example, 1939, when FDR’s packed court was completely re-inventing the Constitution.

    I mean, just think of what has happened in my lifetime. The marginal tax rate has been cute from 70% to its current 36% (although the Dems are trying to raise it to 53). Communism has been defeated. Socialism discredited. Welfare reform has given new life to tens of millions. Tort reform is starting to take effect. Voucher programs are beginning to appear despite the best efforts of Big Education.

    And compare where America is now to where it was when my grandfathers were born in 1902. They grew up in a barely literate America; I’ve grown up when illiteracy is rare. They had famines; I’ve never heard of Americans starving to death. The typical lifespan is now into the late 70′s or 80′s and we can hope to be healthy for most of that. Disease is unheard of — fully 3/4 of us are taken out by accident or old age. I, a middle class person, can wake up the morning in Texas, read anything written around the world on my laptop, get on an airplane and go to bed in Australia. My wife and embryonic daughter have a very good chance of surviving the birth (knock on wood). Americans presently have more disposal income, more free time and more wealth than anyone could have imagined in 1902.

    Politically, lynchings are gone; segregation is gone; I can write whatever comes into my fool head on the internet. Up until recently, Presidents had lost their ability to read our mail, listen to our phones and throw us in prison for no reason. These rights had always existed in principle but only came into practice with mass media watchdogging. The world is more peaceful than it has ever been.

    Bill James once said that progress often comes in the appearance of its opposite. The near race-war we had in the 60′s was not the result of a resurgence of discrimination but by American refusing to put with it any more. The battles we are having over education, gun control, government spending and civil liberties are primarily the result of Americans taking back their freedom, not politicians taking it away.

    That’s my philosophical disagreement with Boortz. Like a lot of conservatives, including me on bad days, he sees only the bad. Government not living up the Constitition; massive spending orgies; a bankrupt future; creeping socialism. But I believe these are setbacks that can be fought. And part of it is books like Boortz’s that lay out the case for freedom.

    Linkorama

    Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

    Um, I’m observing. Which means 12-15 hours work days. So my interest in blogging has flagged a bit. I’ll post later this week my review of Neal Boortz’ book. But for now:

  • Rosie thinks WTC7 was brought down by Bush. You know, her blog post reads like something written by 12 year old.
  • Via Sullivan,a post on how the insurgecy works. It’s tragic.
  • The UN has finally stood up for women’s rights by condemning . . . Israel? By a 40-2 vote, they ignore the oppression going on everywhere in the world and single out Israel? This is joke, right? Yeah, we really need to give more power to the UN.
  • It’s nice to know the Dems are attaching $10 billion in pork to the Iraq spending bill. Remember, we didn’t elect Dems because we liked them. We elected them to give the Republicans a much-needed 2×4 to the head. Anyone who thinks the Republicans are the sole source of the “Culture of Corruption” wasn’t paying attention in 1994. Just a reminder here, here and here.
  • Some cold water gets thrown on the hybrids.

    Through a study by CNW Marketing called “Dust to Dust,” the total combined energy is taken from all the electrical, fuel, transportation, materials (metal, plastic, etc) and hundreds of other factors over the expected lifetime of a vehicle. The Prius costs an average of $3.25 per mile driven over a lifetime of 100,000 miles – the expected lifespan of the Hybrid.

    The Hummer, on the other hand, costs a more fiscal $1.95 per mile to put on the road over an expected lifetime of 300,000 miles. That means the Hummer will last three times longer than a Prius and use less combined energy doing it.

    So, if you are really an environmentalist – ditch the Prius. Instead, buy one of the most economical cars available – a Toyota Scion xB. The Scion only costs a paltry $0.48 per mile to put on the road. If you are still obsessed over gas mileage – buy a Chevy Aveo and fix that lead foot.

    One of the problems with the drive for energy efficiency is that it is being driven by politics not science. And it’s leading to bad ideas like ethanol. I would point out, however, that the Prius is one of the first hybrids. Naturally, future iterations will be cleaner. And that nightmare nickel factory he describes may not be the norm and certaintly makes batteries for a lot more than cars.

  • Just Remember

    Monday, March 19th, 2007

    As you watch the VA hospital scandal unfold, remember that we can all expect to get such wonderful care once we get socialized medicine.

    And allow me to head off the “it’s Bush” response at the pass. This problem has been known for some time. In recent years, when, say, Hillary Clinton, would lionize the VA system, people in the know would have their jaws hit the floor. The friendly people who work there masked a system that was corrupt.

    Bush had made it far worse by starting a war and not providing for the tens of thousands of veterans now flooding the system. But the rotten core was always there. They just don’t have the money to paper over it any more.

    Askimet

    Sunday, March 18th, 2007

    I just installed Askimet, which should help filter any spam posts (it’s already killed 22 in the last few hours). I don’t know how these guys are getting past the registration requirement but they are. If any of you two or three people who are reading this register and start posting comments, let me know if any are blocked as spam.

    How Bad?

    Sunday, March 18th, 2007

    Is Bush’s record when he makes conservatives pine fo Clinton.

    If Clinton and Bush were graded solely on the basis of fiscal policy, one could argue that their tax and spending records offset each other. But there are other important issues, and Clinton clearly wins the tiebreaker.

    Take trade, for example. At best, Bush has a mixed record. The Central American Free Trade Agreement is a step in the right direction, but his steel tariffs and agricultural subsidies are examples of anti-trade initiatives. Clinton policy was unambiguously pro-trade, however, largely because of the approval and implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that also launched the World Trade Organization.

    Clinton gets a better grade on regulatory policy, as well. Bush signed into law the prohibitively expensive Sarbanes-Oxley law, as well as a market-distorting energy bill. The Clinton years, by contrast, saw the burden of regulation reduced on numerous sectors of the economy, including agriculture, financial services and telecommunications.

    Clinton also beats Bush on federalism. He signed a welfare reform legislation that ended an entitlement program and reduced the central government’s power and authority. On education, Bush went the other direction. His No Child Left Behind Act increased federal control over an area that properly belongs under the purview of state and local governments.

    A net impact of other policy choices — especially if appointments to the courts and regulatory agencies are added to the equation — would reduce Clinton’s score. Yet a more comprehensive analysis would also include the long-term negative impact of Bush’s new prescription drug entitlement, which single-handedly saddled taxpayers with trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities.

    Sigh. I miss gridlock.