Monday, July 27, 2009

Fun with art

These are a couple of my favorites from the pictures I've downloaded recently.

I've put this one up before, but it's worth revisiting.

I saw this on Facebook (which apparently exists in the nexus of narcissism and stalking). Another "demotivator".

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why health care is not a right

Jonah Goldberg does a good job of crafting a very pithy explanation:
Let us for a moment adopt the proposition that health care is in fact a “right,” as pretty much every liberal politician has told us for at least a generation.

Now let us consider how President Obama's proposed health-care bill would work. Under his plan, an official body — staffed with government doctors, actuaries, economists, and other experts — will determine which health-care treatments, procedures, and remedies are cost-effective and which are not. Then it will decide which ones will get paid for and which won’t. Would a 70-year-old woman be able to get a hip replacement, or would that not be considered a wise allocation of resources? Would a 50-year-old man not be permitted an expensive test his doctor wants if the rules say the cheaper, less-thorough one is sufficient? The Democrats call this “cost-controls.” But for the patient and the doctor, it’s plain old rationing.

Now, imagine if the government had a body of experts charged with figuring out what your free-speech rights are, or your right to assemble, or worship. Mr. Jones, you can say X and Y, but not Z. Ms. Smith, you can freely assemble with Aleutians, Freemasons, and carpenters, but you may not meet in public with anyone from Cleveland or of Albanian descent. Mrs. Wilson, you may pray to Vishnu and Crom, but never to Allah or Buddha, and when you do pray, you cannot do so for longer than 20 minutes at a time, unless it is one of several designated holidays. Please see Extended Prayer Form 10–22B.

Of course, all of this would be ludicrous beyond words.

Which is the whole point. Health care cannot be a right, because rights cannot come from government. At best, they can be protected by government. The founders understood this, which is why our Bill of Rights is really a list of restrictions on the government in Washington. “Congress shall make no law . . . ” is how the First Amendment begins.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie Miscegenation: The Half-Blood Prince

I saw The Half-Blood Prince tonight. I have two words.

Oh my.

Oh, and three more words: What a letdown.

The Half-Blood Prince lives up to its name in a most ironic fashion. It's a mixed-blooded movie, 3 parts excellence (or at least "really, really goodness") to 1 part utter mediocrity. As films go these days, that's not a bad ratio. Unfortunately, the mediocre part is at the end, where the payoff was supposed to be. Instead of leaving the theater thinking that the film was really good, I left feeling frustrated and annoyed.

Full disclosure: I'm a Harry Potter fan. I'm not a fanatical Harry Potter fan, but I've read the books several times. I'm one of those folks who has a hard time when films seriously diverge from the books on which they're based. For that reason I wasn't too high on The Order of the Phoenix, and I was especially down on The Goblet of Fire. I was prepared to be similarly disappointed with The Half-Blood Prince.

The funny thing was, I wasn't. Through the first 3/4 of the film, I thought it was great. I thought the parts the writers pared away weren't essential to the story, and the parts they inserted added just the right balance of drama, tension, and humor. I was really enjoying myself.

Unfortunately, for me, the film wasn't finished. The final quarter of the movie, from the point Slughorn gives Harry the memory to the ending credits, was bad. Just bad. Not good at all. Especially the battle at Hogwarts. It was bad primarily because it wasn't in the film.

That's right, folks: the most exciting and action-packed scene of the first 6 books was virtually omitted from the film. That scene was a present to any competent screen writer, all wrapped up and tied with a bow. It just screams "Visual climax!" to anyone who reads it. Hell, I'm no screen writer and even I knew that the moment I read it. You have wizards fighting wizards, life-and-death struggles, Hogwarts students and members of the Order of the Phoenix fighting Death Eaters -- and losing. You have parts of the building being blown up and collapsing; some people being horribly wounded; others fighting to get through a mysterious force-field-like barrier. You have all of that ... in the book. In the movie you have a few Death Eaters who waltz into Hogwarts while everyone's sleeping, break a bunch of glasses on the dining room tables, and that's it. Snape still kills Dumbledore like in the book, but that's about the only similarity. In every other way, the climax of the movie is totally inferior to the climax in the book.

And that's not counting the finding of the horcrux in the cave. It wasn't nearly as bad as the Battle For Hogwarts That Wasn't, but it still left much to be desired. And the part that was desired was subtlety. And that comes back to casting: Michael Gambone just doesn't cut it as Dumbledore, plain and simple. He's been a liability to the films since The Goblet of Fire. He's a good actor, don't get me wrong. He just can't play Dumbledore when it counts. That's where we continue to really miss Richard Harris. Harris had it all over Gambone when it came to projecting the subtle power and brilliance of Albus Dumbledore -- even more so when you consider that the stories he was working with (The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets) were the simplest of the series, and therefore he had to work that much harder to invest his performance with the understated power and dynamism it exhibited. Gambone's Dumbledore is ham-fisted and melodramatic by comparison.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the character of Dumbledore in the books is his equanimity, his sang-froid. It isn't carelessness or insouciance. Quite the contrary: it's the sign of a true master -- a man who's smarter than you, cleverer than you, and more powerful than you, and who knows it. That knowledge gives him a confidence in his powers so complete that he has absolutely no need to flaunt them before anyone in any way, so complete that he refuses to let either his charges or his enemies see him sweat. That confidence, that subtle majesty (if I may indulge in a little melodrama myself), is the quality of Dumbledore that leaps out of the pages of the Harry Potter books. It's the quality that Harris imbued his Dumbledore with. It's the quality that Gambone's Dumbledore conspicuously lacks, and in this movie it was more obvious than ever.

Part of that problem, of course, was with the script. At the parts in The Half-Blood Prince where the script was bad (most noticeably at the end), it was bad. But good casting and quality acting can overcome a bad script. If you doubt that, watch Star Trek the prequel. It has plot holes a mile wide and some truly awful dialogue, but you just don't care because the casting is so amazingly spot-on and the acting (at least with the major characters) so very well done that the film is just too much damn fun. There was no such fun in the past four Harry Potter films. One of the key roles in the series has been filled by a man who's shown himself incapable of rising to the occasion. Sort of like A-Rod in the playoffs.

So that was the bad. But there was good, too. Lots of it. Take the script for the first 2 hours, for instance. Great stuff. It was witty, funny, poignant, and dramatic all at the right moments. The acting was good all around this time. Even Gambone was good, at first. He fell apart at the end of the film like Nick Anderson in the '95 Finals, but he was quite good at first. Emma Watson, such a liability in The Order of the Phoenix, was much improved here. Rupert Grint flashed charisma and a knack for comic timing. Daniel Radcliffe continues to display good acting chops, doing what Gambone couldn't -- overcoming some truly groan-inducing lines and making them passable.

The two best parts of the film, though, were Alan Rickman and Jim Broadbent. Rickman's Snape is magnificent: disdainful, understated, sneering, caustically sarcastic. Snape's dressing down of Harry after the latter accuses Draco Malfoy of hexing a student is a 20-second acting clinic. And Broadbent as Slughorn is excellent. He plays him as a total fop, something that didn't really come across as much in the book but which plays very well on the screen. His lines aren't always the greatest, but his performance is so good you almost don't notice. (Kind of the same way that Tom Brady helped make so many mediocre receivers look good. You didn't notice how average they were until they went to other teams. Likewise, you don't notice how bad some of the lines are until the final part of the film, when the wheels start to come off.)

Final verdict 2.5 stars out of 4. The first half of the film was great, but the payoff was supposed to be at the end and the end sucked. It wasn't that the end was bad in itself, only bad by comparison. Kind of like The Godfather III, which wasn't an awful movie on its own. It was an average film. But parts I and II of The Godfather were so amazingly good that part III was absolutely terrible by comparison. That's how I felt about The Half-Blood Prince, a mongrel film whose bad side just gets the better of it.

Adventures in "debating"

Rachel Maddow had Pat Buchanan on her show recently to excoriate him for opposing Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court -- oops! -- I mean, to discuss his opposition to Sotomayor's nomination, that is.

You see, in the world of the Left, excoriation is called "debating". For example, look at the heading of the linked article, which is a transcript of Maddow's and Buchanan's "debate". The heading reads, On her show recently, Rachel Maddow showed just how dated and racist conservative whining about affirmative action and "reverse discrimination" is.

Except that Maddow never shows that such is the case. "Show" -- when spoken by most competent users of the English language -- generally means "demonstrate", and nowhere does Maddow demonstrate how conservatives are whining, let alone how such alleged whining is either "racist" or "dated". Maddow asserts and implies that such is the case several times, and mocks Buchanan for claiming otherwise.

For example, Maddow tries to make hay out of the fact that over 99% of Supreme Court justices being white. When Buchanan responds that America as a country was made up almost entirely of whites during that time (to the point that, even in the '60s, whites were about 90% of the population), Maddow ridicules his response. She talks about how great it is to have nonwhites in such important positions. She never answers his factual assertion.

And then the dittoheads over at AlterNet declare her the undisputed victor.

To Liberals, apparently, this is called debating.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Psst! Health care "reform" would make private health insurance illegal. Pass it on.

So apparently, the language of the House health care "reform" bill makes it a crime to buy private health insurance other than the care you have the day the bill becomes law (if it becomes law).
Right there on Page 16 is a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal. ... The provision would indeed outlaw individual private coverage. Under the Orwellian header of "Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage," the "Limitation On New Enrollment" section of the bill clearly states:

"Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day" of the year the legislation becomes law.

So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised — with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won't be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers.

So if you switch jobs, for example, you would be legally forbidden to buy non-governmental health insurance. Same if you decided to start your own business and buy private insurance.

BIG problem. Exactly what we opponents of this kind of health care "reform" have been claiming would be the result of government-run health care. Exactly what the supporters of this kind of health care "reform" denied (dishonestly or naively, so it seems) would be the case with government-run health care.

I can't say it better than the authors of the article do:
A free people should be outraged at this advance of soft tyranny.

Washington does not have the constitutional or moral authority to outlaw private markets in which parties voluntarily participate. It shouldn't be killing business opportunities, or limiting choices, or legislating major changes in Americans' lives.

It took just 16 pages of reading to find this naked attempt by the political powers to increase their reach. It's scary to think how many more breaches of liberty we'll come across in the final 1,002.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ricci and racial grievances

Heather MacDonald makes some great points in her latest column in City Journal (copied at Front Page magazine) about the implications of the Supreme Court's recent Ricci decision and the racial grievance industry that created the case in the first place.

Ricci, of course, is the now-famous decision in which a group of 18 firefighters (17 white, 1 hispanic) sued the city of New Haven for invalidating their test results for promotion because no black firefighters passed it. The city's defense was that it feared a law suit by the black firefighters if it validated the test results -- in other words, the racial grievances of the past had put the city in an impossible position: damned if it did and damned if it didn't. The Court decided, in a narrow 5-4 decision, that New Haven was incorrect in invalidating the test results.

As MacDonald points out, however, that 4 of the justices gave creedance to the vapid and ridiculous positions of the racial grievance industry tells you all you need to know about the state of the law regarding race nowadays. It's no longer necessary to prove that bias exists. Unequal results are themselves taken as prima facie evidence that bias exists.

Why was the exam being discussed in terms of race and discrimination at all? The New York Times’s Supreme Court reporter, Linda Greenhouse, wrote in an op-ed that the exam “appeared to favor white test-takers.” It did nothing of the sort. It merely favored those who had studied hard and prepared themselves to become captains and lieutenants. But we have been conditioned by the decades-long reign of disparate-impact theory, which the black firefighters would have used in a potential suit against New Haven, to discuss neutral employment practices in racial terms and to entertain the idea that the expectation of moderate cognitive performance is an unfair imposition on blacks.

Arguments offered by New Haven against its own promotional test — embraced, disturbingly, by nearly half of the Supreme Court — demonstrate how desperate the search for bias has become.


Inreasingly unable to find evidence of real bias or racism in society, the racial grievance industry is forced to argue that any situation where blacks don't do as well as whites is caused by racism, QED.


As MacDonald points out, the test was constructed at a tenth-grade level (for people who have graduated high school, remember). It was dumbed down to the point that anyone who was remotely intelligent and studied for it should have passed. No blacks passed. That isn't evidence of racism. It's evidence that the black firefighters who took that test are lazy (because they didn't study), uneducated (because they don't know enough to pass a tenth-grade-level test), or unintelligent (because they can't pass a tenth-grade-level test). That's it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

From the Dept. of "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" ...

... comes Nigaz, the joint Nigerian-Russian international corporate gas venture.

I'm serious. Gazprom, the Russian petroleum conglomerate, has merged efforts with the Nigerian government to form a new natural gas venture. And they called it Nigaz.

Apparently, the folks in charge of branding at Gazprom are, as they say in Korean, 바보들. That is, they're freaking idiots.

I understand that the racial slur "nigger" is somewhat peculiar to the Anglo West, but given the predominance of Western media (especially film) every moron moron with a TV should know about its existence by now. It seems, however, that the people in charge of Gazprom are not your average morons. They're extraordinary morons. They're "make Larry and Steve in Dumb and Dumber look like Rhodes Scholars"-type morons. Otherwise, they wouldn't have named their joint venture with an African country Nigaz (pronounced "nye-gaz", but still).

I think it's hilarious, though. And very, VERY stupid. It's like something straight out of a Dave Chappelle skit. If I read it in a story, I wouldn't believe it. It's too dumb. But I suppose this proves that truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes.