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Moral High Ground

Finally a high-ranking official speaks out against torture: a letter [PDF] from General David Petraeus, commanding general in Iraq, to American troops in Iraq. I sincerely hope a copy was hand-delivered to the president, vice president, and attorney general.   Quote:

Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we not our enemies occupy the moral high ground.

Morally Opposed

I heard this story on NPR on the drive home today: the Bush Administration is manipulating science. While I was listening to the story, I thought to myself that I’ve heard this before about the administration. So when I got home, I decided to do some digging. Well, a quick search on The Internets came up with these stories:

Quote from the last article:

In my more than three decades in the government I’ve never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public.

James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2006

Why is the Bush Administration seemingly at war with science? Simply because they don’t believe in science? This not only is shockingly irresponsible but it’s alarmingly dangerous. We’re talking about the future of our planet and life on it.

This reminds me of other service professionals refusing to do their job because they have a moral objection to something: pharmacists who deny customers birth control. I understand that not everyone can agree with everything and everyone else’s opinions, but if you refuse to do your job, that’s stepping way over the line, as that Slate article rightfully illustrates. Quote:

But if a pharmacist doesn’t have to dispense birth control, or an EMT can refuse to drive someone to an abortion clinic, or a nurse can refuse a rape victim emergency contraception, none of us can really trust in the professionals around us at those moments when we need them the most.

So let me put this in perspective with myself. I abhor Internet Explorer because of its developers’ refusal to follow web standards. You might say I’m morally opposed to it. So as a web designer/developer, does that mean I can refuse to cater to viewers of my sites who are using IE? Does that mean I can embed some script that detects if my users are browsing with IE and instead of showing them my site show them some heinous personal message lecturing them on why they shouldn’t be using IE? Absolutely not.

Do I hate that people use IE? Yes. Do I still serve them with a begrudging smile? Of course. Do I wish they were using something other than IE? You bet. My job, like pharmacists and government officials, is to serve my customers. I may not like what they like or even believe in what they believe in, but that’s not what I’m here for, and it’s certainly not what service professionals and government officials are there for.

“Not Right Now, Condi. We’ll Play Later.”

I’m not really a Will Ferrell fan, but this is absolutely brilliant.

Liberals and God-less tax-raisers are trying to make me look bad by using such things as “facts”…. Think back to Biblical times…it was hot back then. Why do you think Adam and Eve were naked?

You Know That Feeling When You Walk into a Spider Web?

When does a comic book movie become too comic-book-y? When does the incessant cheese in a film start attracting rats? Both good questions, but not better than this one: what happened to Spider-Man 3?

The first film set the stage and introduced us to the world of Peter Parker, although this film had plenty of cheese as well. The second film gave us a serious character drama wrapped up into an exciting comic book movie. The third film gives us a series of blockbuster special effects sequences and one dance number strung together by a lackluster, trying-too-hard story in the effort of passing all this off as a “film.” Sorry, Mr. Raimi, it just didn’t work.

I was turned off from the film right from the opening title sequences. They were cool, but uninspiring and all-too-familiar like we’ve seen them before in the previous two films. In fact, the beginning portion of the credits listing the main stars was, more or less, a fusion of the titles for the first two films. Nifty effects, but dripping of been-there-done-that. About half-way into the sequence, we shift pace, and we see a bunch of black ooze, the stuff that we know will turn Spidey into evil Spidey. It just kind of crawls around not inspiring at all.

These visuals are backed up by the only sound on the screen the music. Danny Elfman, the composer for the first two Spider-Man films, wrote fantastic music for the title sequence and the rest of the films. He and director Sam Raimi had a fued over music in Spider-Man 2, so Elfman left the series after that film. Enter Christopher Young, someone who is NO Danny Elfman. Young trying to work with Elfman’s music is like a a hot dog trying to taste like a lobster. It just doesn’t work. Elfman’s title sequence music channeled through Young sounds as uninspired as the black ooze sequence looks. The instrumentation is lacking, and the excitement and driving percussion apparently left with Elfman. The first and third portions of the music in the title sequence are interpolated Elfman themes; the second portion is Young’s work. Fine on its own, but it holds no water compared to Elfman’s original music. Young’s themes are too simplistic in comparison to Elfman’s more complex musical endeavors. Furthermore, the music in linear form is at best a holed, beat-up patchwork of mush painfully obvious where Elfman ends and where Young begins.

So enough about the music, yes? Well for a film music fan, this is what we listen for. Music, for me, makes or breaks a film. The music in the rest of the film didn’t necessarily break the film, but it sure didn’t save it from the numerous faults (although there was a really cool rendition of the Spider-Man theme done with a dark male choir during the church scene). As mentioned earlier, the story was not much of a story. I fear that Raimi is going the way of George Lucas and concentrating too much effort on special effects rather than fleshing out the meat of the film in storytelling and character development. The new characters we’re introduced to in this film were far too underdeveloped, and Peter and M.J. seemed out of character and, frankly, unlikable in several scenes.

The special effects were ok in some places, and obviously fake in others. The fake-ness was most obvious at the end when we see the Sandman dissolve one last time (don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away). The effects were off in this film, too easy to tell real from computer-generated.

Two final thoughts: apparently no one on the writing staff could think of anything better to do in fight sequences than drop people off buildings. One or two people don’t fall; try four or five. Think of something else to do! And finally, a dance number should never EVER be in a Spider-Man film. Period.

Yes, this film was a comic book movie. But looking at films such as Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins, there are comic book movies that are serious enough to make a great film. This film just took itself too seriously and ended up being seriously bad.

Iowa Caucus Movin’ On Up

It seems that the madness of the ever-creeping-forward primary and caucus schedule for 2008 keeps growing and growing. Iowa is likely to move their caucus forward from 14 January to 7 January, with this move coming after California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Hampshire, and many other states have all moved their primaries or caucuses forward.

The pushing forward of these elections is a serious and dangerous trend facing American politics. Gone are the days of the so-called “retail” politics, where candidates literally meet as many voters as possible in the early primary states. This system was allowed to flourish because the primaries were spread-out over several months.

Today, though, candidates must engage in “wholesale” politics, where instead of having face-to-face meetings in voters’ living rooms, candidates must spend their resources on tv, radio, and internet ads, both positive and negative, in order to reach as many voters as possible in the shortened primary season. More ads means the candidates have to raise more money; more money needed means candidates have to start campaigning earlier and earlier, hence the absurdly early presidential race we currently are trudging through.

Not only does the shortened, front-loaded system of today increase the money necessary to mount a presidential campaign, it discourages and almost inhibits anyone who is not either financially well-connected or personally well-off. Are these the people we necessarily want running the government?

In addition, the front-loaded system perpetuates a never-ending, vicious, distracting, and otherwise excruciatingly-too-long general campaign that is far more likely to turn-off voters than it is to engage them. Next year, by the end of February, over 30 states will have held their primary or caucus. That means that in both parties, the presidential nominee will have been unofficially chosen. That means that the 2008 general election campaign will last from March to November. That means that if one or both of the major parties’ candidates falter during the general election campaign or the party has second thoughts on their choice, it will be too late to choose someone else.

If American voters are already apathetic towards politics, next year will only serve to drive them further away from caring who is elected. Can America afford this? Can the future of our democracy afford this? Can the rest of the world afford this?

Something needs to be done, and it needed to be done yesterday. An astronomical 84% of eligible voters in France voted last month in the French presidential primary. In the United States, 60% voted for president in 2004, 54% in 2000. If we worry about voter turnout, a front-loaded, national primary-esque system is not the answer. The political system has gone for a long walk off a short pier, and it has taken the rest of us with it.

Campaign Kickoff

I present to you my favorite presidential campaign advertisement: