Thursday, July 24, 2008


This is apparently from "The Daily Telegraph," but I think that it would be more appropriate in "The Onion":

Alien contact covered up, says Apollo veteran Edgar Mitchell | The Daily Telegraph

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Republicans: There Goes Another One

Conservatives were beginning to turn Bobby Jindal into their Obama. While I thought that he could be a possible running-mate, I was waiting for the other shoe to fall. This article demonstrates that this is a high possibility.

Louisiana politics | A rise and a fall |

It is a pity, though. Rush will have to find a new Republican on whom to bet his money. Most people might revert to Sarah Palin, even though she's been governor of Alaska; hardly within the mainstream of the United States (apologies to my Alaskan friends). Either way, the Republicans are in trouble because they don't seem anyone on whom to stake all bets.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"The Dark Knight": When the Comic Meets the West

When the first in the new "Batman" franchise came out in June 2005, it was a few months before I started my first semester of college. Now, about a month before beginning my last semester of college, I, like so many other fans I know, felt the urge to get into the theater to watch the much-awaited (for obvious reasons) sequel, "The Dark Knight." I did so on Saturday afternoon, and to say that it does not disappoint would be a gross understatement.

Critics so far have been talking about the movie taking the summer blockbuster to a new, art-house level. They have variously (and with some qualification) praised the willingness of the director, Christopher Nolan, to take risks, hurt key characters, bring Batman down to earth (both physically and allegorically); and, of course, another theme has been Heath Ledger's remarkable performance (more on that in a moment). All of this is worthy of the praise which has been lavished upon it, but the brilliance of the movie lies in its ability to break outside of its genre and capture elements of both the western and the gangster film.

The latter of these genres is introduced in the beginning, in a scene which--as Manohla Darghis has pointed out--owes quite a bit to Michael Mann's famous bank robbery in "Heat". I think that Mr. Nolan as well as Ms. Darghis is aware of the debt. He even has William Fitchner show up as an irate bank manager with a gun to assure the robbers, with action as well as words, that they "don't know who [they're] robbing from." Unfortunately for him, the knife cuts both ways: he doesn't know who's robbing him either.

Of course, this is only the beginning. There are plenty of moments which allow for Mr. Nolan to investigate the corrupt underbelly in Gotham's upper ward. While the first movie dwelt on the down-and-out; the underground men who reveled in the mud puddles but never quite blossomed, this version is concerned more with the men and women who inhabit the upperworld: The attorneys, the bankers, the politicians, the criminal lords, the embezzlers, the perpetrators of social chaos. And, with the help of Batman, of course, the city looks newly washed and waxed, but also fragile. As the Joker says at one point, people panic if anything happens that is not "part of the plan".

This is not to say that the city does not have enough to worry about without the Joker. Vigilantes wearing halloween suits and exercising their 2nd Amendment Rights show up making fools of their discrete bourgeoisie selves on every block and in every parking garage (a nice touch) and Cillian Murphy shows up as his Dr. Crane once again, if only briefly (this was probably a loose end that didn't need to be tied), but with Batman and the new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart in his best role since "Thank You for Smoking"), more things are going according to plan than one could hope for. Neither of them have met their match and, as the Joker readily points out, Batman, unlike Barack Obama, does not appear to be concerned by the forces of globalization ("Batman doesn't know any borders.")

Naturally, all of this is to provide Ledger's Joker with a job opportunity, but Nolan also uses the opportunity to bring in and play up influences from outside of his genre. The allusions to the Western--which bleeds into the showdowns in the streets and the face-offs on the roofs--are profuse; and why shouldn't they be? After all, the themes--the establishment and maintenance of civilization, the moral paradox of vigilantism, the clash of order and chaos--that make this film unique are more endemic to The Searchers than to Superman. And Mr. Bale's Bruce Wayne is a fairly archetypal Western hero: he is the sustainer of a society which he realizes will, ultimately, be unable to sustain him. Because of this epiphany, it takes away some of the possibilities for character development. The Bruce Wayne of The Dark Knight is not the conflicted, semi-threatening character of Batman Begins; he has learned to be self-sacrificial (and also sacrificing of those closest to him to do service to the greater good.)

All of this is to say that the sequel is more democratic; much more screen-time is afforded to Gary Oldman's Lieutenant Gordon and to the new characters introduced; but the world of The Dark Knight is also a meritocracy, and, if Gotham is still up for grabs, the movie, hands down, belongs to Heath Ledger's Joker. His Joker is not interesting by merit of being conflicted, but rather by merit of being driven to all means of destructiveness (including of the self). As he says, he is a man of simple tastes; these tastes include guns, dynamite and gasoline and the only time in the entire picture when I didn't believe him was when he said this was lucky because all of these things are cheap--where does he buy his gasoline anyway? This role will, I think, become the defining role of Mr. Ledger's all-too-short career, which, in truth, is both a solace and a frustration. As it turns out, the hardest irony for the audience to accept will be that Mr. Ledger died early, but his Joker is immortal.

Yet Another Trivia Question

If you were one of the following Shakespeare characters, which one would you be (be careful, because if you are answering this question, there is a correct answer to it):

A) Ariel
B) Claudius
C) Sir Toby Belch
D) The Duke (from Measure for Measure)
E) John Falstaff

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Trivia Question

"After this Angelica blushed, took half a step back: "I'm so, so happy . . . ," then came close again, stood on tiptoe, and murmured into his ear, "Uncle mine!"; a highly successful line, comparable in its perfect timing almost to Eisenstein's baby carriage . . ."

- Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

If there's anybody alive out there, what is the allusion in the quote above?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Brideshead Won't Need Any Visiting, I Suppose

Interesting to me, though it bears very little weight to any reader I am sure: I have found out today that I am not related to any famous English aristocrats as was once believed. Disproved by DNA tests, apparently. Still related to Southern aristocracy, but, then again, the Southern branch of the family disowned the Western branch long ago.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Layman's View in Support of Closing Guantanamo

I got back from Canada. It's really nice up in Quebec at this time of year because they're celebrating their 400th anniversary. On Jean-Baptiste Day, the fireworks that were flying over the city were absolutely beautiful. I will confess to feeling slightly awkward as a Anglo in the midst of so many Franks who probably wished that Montcalm, not Wolfe, had won the battle of Quebec. That being said, I am one quarter French myself, so, arguably, I have a closer connection to the mother country than many Quebeceans. Moving on:

I had a number of intellectually stimulating conversations. One of which was between myself and some other students; we were pursuing the topic of whether we should or should not close Guantanamo. I fell on the side which argued that we should close the prison, but I don't think I articulated my argument sufficiently. Anyway, here's second chances:

It would seem that the United States should not close Guantanamo. The prison contains a high number of alleged criminals who are some of our worst enemies in the War on Terror and, since these criminals' nations of origin do not want to take them back, it follows that many of them would need to be set loose in the United States. It seems more rational that we stay the course and keep, among others, Osama bin Laden's driver behind bars until we can gather adequate evidence to try him either before a military tribunal or in a civilian court of law. Though the assessments of Guantanamo Bay Prison vary, there is little evidence that we do not show respect for Islamic values and allow for prayer times, provide Muslim chaplains, etc.

I have not been to Guantanamo myself, but, granting the above, my position on Guantanamo does not change. The reason is, even if the prison shows deference for Islamic values (a point I would not bother disputing) what is more important is that it does not show appropriate deference for Western values. If nothing else, there is one shortcoming of Guantanamo which is enough to justify the prison's closure: Some of the prisoners have been held there for years without a trial. Among the rights which we should cherish is the right to a fair and (in as far as it is possible) immediate trial and, though I am not familiar enough with the law to determine how long a prisoner can legally be held before this procedure takes place, holding someone for more than a year (not a large sentence with a trial, but not a small one without) certainly poses serious constitutional concerns, especially considering that, for every moment that these prisoners are held without a trial, they are denied the right to liberty and pursuit of happiness.

I understand that most of the prisoners are probably guilty and, therefore, they fundamentally have no claim to these rights to begin with. But that is what a trial is for. A trial is the procedure by which the state determines what rights a subject does or does not have and, absent such a procedure, these rights must be assumed. Nearly one hundred years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Increase Mather proclaimed that it was better that ten guilty go free than one innocent be punished.

Obviously, this view is, to some degree, overly idealistic. I am suggesting the closing of Guantanamo, not the release of the prisoners held therein. That, like the closing itself, is a procedure which must be determined by proper authorities, but were I one of those authorities, I would suggest moving the prisoners to high security facilities in the United States instead. The reason is because, if this were the case, the prisoners would, at the very least, become subject to national laws of jurisprudence. Americans should not be ashamed of any prisoners which we find it necessary to hold and, as immediately as possible, try, but, if we hold prisoners on an island nation known for its dictatorial cruelty because we could not legally hold them under similar circumstances in our own country, there is something seriously wrong that should put a bur in the conscience.

Again, I'm not an expert on the matter. I am a layman. I only follow the matter lazily, from time to time, in the newspapers. Feel free to respond.