Tuesday, November 15, 2005

On Rob Zombie Movies...

Watched The Devil's Rejects this weekend.

I really liked House of 1000 Corpses, though I wouldn't rank it as my favorite movies in that genre. It would, however have a place somewhere in the top 20. It simply had elements of other movies that I liked, coupled with a surreal feel that really made it shine. The best scene, without a doubt, was the "I Remember You" sequence with the impossibly long crane shot.

I also loved Blair Witch, though, so maybe that tells you something about my taste in horror flicks.

So I attempted to pursuade the cashier at Suncoast to sell me The Devil's Rejects on Monday before it was released on Tuesday, but to no avail. The "collector's edition" DVD finally made it home on Saturday, so with the children all snug in their beds, I cranked the surround sound and descended back into the world of the Fireflys.

The real magic in the movie is how Rob manages to completely blur the line between antagonist and protagonist. At no time is there any clear character you want to come out victorious. Everyone is doing things that are, well, just sadistic, but their actions are so ingrained into the characters that you quickly realize that there aren't any "good guys" here. Some will praise Rob's "round" character development, others will criticize his decision to make all the characters equally vile, but as with the first film, people will generally either love this one or hate it. If, however, you hated the first one, you still may want to give this one a try. It's truly a completely different feel.

I suppose there will be those who loved House that won't like this one, but somehow I doubt there will be many.

One thing that distinguishes this film from many other horror movies is that much of the action takes place in broad daylight. There's something about a scene that can chill you to the bone that's shot in stark natural lighting that really makes you realize (if only in retrospect) how much you've allowed yourself to be drawn into the story.

This isn't a film, by the way, that depends upon cheap "startle" value, nor does it really try to shock the audience with it's (substantial) gore factor. Many of the more brutal events are left mostly to the imagination. Not content to merely scare you, it truly, deeply, disturbs you.

Another thing that is of note. Contrary to reports that surrounded every media mention of the movie when it hit box offices, there is NOT a rape scene in this movie. I'm trying to avoid any real spoilers, but the scene in question has to do with some "do this, say that" at gunpoint, with distinct sexual overtones. Though "violation" may be accurate, it is not a "rape scene" by any but the broadest definition. The scene is, however, very disturbing, and you will be (and should be) very uncomfortable watching the scene. In that way, it achieves its goal, not being gratuitous at any level, but rather instrumental in really getting into the viewer's psyche.

The defining moment of the film, however, is the ending. I have never, in any movie, been so drawn into the ending of a film as I was this one. Seriously, it's the single best ending to a movie I've ever experienced.

We're talking an Oscar quality ending for a film that won't even be seen by most of the people interested in the Academy Awards.

It also leaves you with a mix of feelings that you'll be weeks sorting out.

The Devil's Rejects is a movie that deserves more recognition as a horror masterpiece than it will probably ever receive. As more and more films in this genre are produced (presumably to fill the void of new ideas in Hollywood), it will likely get lost in the shuffle, only remembered by a handful of fans. Before this one gets away from the stores, though, it's definitely worth a look.

And a final thought to those who have seen the film: Free Bird

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Assault Continues...

I learned today of a lawsuit in New Mexico in which the plantiffs are seeking the removal of the crosses from the official insignia of the City of Las Cruces.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but since the direct translation of "Las Cruces" is "The Crosses," doesn't it follow that it's not nearly so much of a religious symbol as a representation of the history of that name? Wikipedia has an entry that gives an overview of the predominant story of how the name came to be (link here). In brief, an Indian attack led to the burial of some early settlers (who happened to include some clergy) in the fledgling community. The graves were marked with crosses, the customary gravemarkings of the day, and the community came to be known as "El Pueblo del Jardin de Las Cruces" (translated literally, The City of the Garden of the Crosses), and later shortened to "Las Cruces."

Now, in the name of eradicating every reference to anything that may be of significance to the Christian religion, these two people claim that the crosses in the city's seal are somehow violating their civil rights, and that their presence in the seal constitutes a breach of the Constitutional barrier between church and state..

The plantiffs are, predictably, athiests.

A quote from this article:

"The crosses serve no governmental purpose other than to disenfranchise and discredit non-Christian citizens," said the lawsuit filed by Paul F. Weinbaum, who lives in the Las Cruces area, and Martin J. Boyd of Las Cruces.
I will point out, first, that "disenfranchise" is not a word (it's like saying "uninhale"--the correct word is "disfranchise"). I would also call attention to the fact that one of the plaintiffs doesn't even live in Las Cruces.

The article goes on to say that the city, by its use of the seal, is in violation of the Civil Rights act of 1964, by forcing applicants for employment by the city to sign papers bearing the infernal symbol.

Spare me.

I suppose this should come as no surprise, considering the zeal of the current crop of anti-Christian crusaders, but in this situation, the crosses in question are not particularly indicative of any religious endorsement. If the shape alone is grounds for a lawsuit, I'm anxious to see how the athiests would have us redo highway intersections, which symbol should replace the current mathematical figure for addition, and how we should address the nagging problem of perpendicular lines in archetecture.

There's also that pesky letter "X" that's been used as a symbol by the Christian church.

For a moment, ignore the historical basis for the crosses. It's ironic to some degree that the accusation focuses upon the alleged imposition of the Christian religion upon nonbelievers, when the effect of their efforts is an effectual ban upon religious symbols in public. The fact that their sensibilities are somehow offended by the presence of those symbols is a direct product of their own religious beliefs (defining "religious" broadly, but an active nonbelief does indeed constitute a religion of sorts). The government's complicity in furthering their cause, then, is essentially an endorsement of their own "nonreligion."

But particular to this case is the fact that the crosses in question are historically tied to the city. There is one theory that indicates a potentially different origin of the name (that it's simply a Spanish equivalent of "crossroads") but it's a weak theory, because there are scores of towns that could have inherited the name according to that notion. The city leaders, however, have the burdensome task of arguing the historical aspect of the name's origin in the absence of any hard-and-fast documentation of that early history. This is not unique, as the origins of many cities' names aren't a matter of historic documentation. That may be the ultimate finding, however, by the courts--that absent any verifiable record establishing the origin of the name, the city must back down from their claim of historical significance.

Or in other words, presumed guilty unless proven innocent. Not exactly the axiom in which this nation's legal system is rooted.

I realize the right to challenge such displays exists at the most basic level of constitutional law. I also realize, however, that the judicial system has lost touch with the intent of the founders on this issue. I don't think that anyone can reasonably contend that the founders believed that the government should create a society void of any public religious reference. The government should not be involved in the business of religion, but it shouldn't go beyond basic common sensical analysis whether action "a" constitutes government endorsement of religion. Display alone simply does not equal endorsement.

Here in the United States of the Offended, however, any nutjob can get an audience, and if he's a nutjob with the "right" agenda, he can get a whole lot of support from the current judiciary.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

On the Import of SCOTUS

The current political climate notwithstanding, when a President makes a Supreme Court nomination, we stand at a particularly significant moment in history.

The constitution established a Supreme Court to perform certain tasks and functions that made complete the system of checks and balances that our founders found crucial to the continued prosperity of the democratic union in its infancy. In their wisdom, they realized that without this system of checks and balances, government here, like in every other situation, would eventually grow into an oppressive behemoth--the very situation they had suffered great hardship to escape in Europe. They wished their posterity to enjoy the benefits of true liberty, and therefore thought it of paramount importance to address this inherent tendency even as they were establishing the foundational tenets of the new government.

American government has weathered numerous changes in the global political climate. By the standard of time alone, we can consider our government in its adolescence, still far behind the hundreds of years government has operated in many European and Asian nations. The changes that have come to many areas, however, leave the United States's government in the unenviable position of being among those "older" by comparison. We are, undoubtedly, seeing some "growing pains" as our government struggles to meet the needs of its subjects, while attempting to establish and maintain order in any part of the world in which we have an interest.

Through the latter half of our nation's existence, the Supreme Court has taken on a role that our forefathers may or may not have foreseen, but almost certainly never intended. That role has propelled the High Court into seemingly unending controversy, as its justices collectively have redefined the entity into some sort of super-legislature, acting as if their role is to right the wrongs not readily fixed through "traditional" democratic processes. It is, to be sure, a noble endeavour on the surface, with only one critical flaw. There is no such function in the constitution.

The result of this attitude has been a plethora of "new rights" that have been "discovered" within the Constitution. It is not only clear that not every right of the people is specifically enumerated within the verbiage of the Constitution, but also quite obvious that no rights were specifically enumerated.

Hogwash, you say? I call your attention to the text of the first amendment, the first in the series of articles dubbed the "bill of rights." It is prudent to note that the ratification of this set of amendments was of tantamount importance to the founders, to the point of potentially preventing ratification of the constitution were they omitted.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Now, any grade school student will express in no uncertain terms that the above specifically defines and secures the freedoms of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petition, having had only a cursory exposure to the document. They would be wrong.

The intent of the constitution was never to enumerate the rights of the people, but to specifically enumerate the limitations of the federal government. Such purpose is particularly evident within the text of the tenth amendment. That short statement stands as a summation of the entirety of its preceding articles, explicitly stating that any powers not granted to the federal government, nor prohibited from the states by the Constitution itself would be reserved to the states or to the people.

This concept is obliterated as the Supreme Court Justices comb over the Constitution with the intent of "discovering" the protected rights contained therein. Were they to view the Constitution as a limiting document rather than one that empowers, many of their decisions would have been drastically different.

One concept that particularly reeks of this brand of backward reasoning is the idea that the Constitution somehow guarantees a "right to privacy." There are certain Constitutional guarantees against the inappropriate use of private property by the government, but there is nowhere to be found a concept that an absolute, inalienable right to something called "privacy" exists.

After establishing a constitutional right to privacy, the Supreme Court is left with the responsibility of defining the bounds of that right. Is there any indication that any of the rights of the people were to exist only at the mercy of any government entity? Is there any indication that any right of the people would be defined or limited by any branch of government (or by all three branches acting in concert, for that matter)?

The founding fathers understood that under the government's control, certain rights enjoyed under total freedom would be sacrificed in order to avoid anarchy. This, balanced with the power granted to the government to grant certain privileges, established the harmony of order and freedom that was rightly called "liberty."

Along with the first steps taken in redefining the intent of the Constitution came the inevitable descent into a variety of judicial questions that would never have arisen without that initial assumption. Going back to the "right to privacy," in establishing such a notion, the Supreme Court immediately paved the way for a multitude of legal questions about the boundaries of that right. Having no constitutional framework from which to judge, the Justices were left to their own opinions and beliefs. This led to such abysmally empty decisions as Roe and more recently, Kelo. One calls upon a right to privacy within the context of abortion, the other undermines the rights of ownership of private property, in the interest of the common good. The fact that two opinions that have such radically different approaches to "privacy" illustrates how far the Supreme Court is prone to drift away from the central statements of the Constitution when left without any constitutional framework as the foundational element of its collective reasoning.

What, then, is the role of precedence? We've been told that certain cases constitute some sort of "super-precedence" that should not in any wise be overturned or revisited. The principle of stare decisis is cited as supportive of this view, and a nominee for the High Court is rightly expected to share his views on that principle. What, then, is the right attitude to take towards that concept? I propose that at the level of the Supreme Court of the United States, there is no room for such a concept, as it's recognized as the highest court in the land. An appellate judge must certainly rule with an eye "upward" to those courts above his jurisdiction, but the only higher law than the Supreme Court is the Constitution itself. Under that premise, there is no ruling that should not be evaluated anew any time a current case calls for such reevaluation.

Were the notion of stare decisis on the Supreme Court level not utilized so often, I sincerely doubt Plessy v. Ferguson would have lasted some six decades. How many people who uphold the legitimacy of Roe as a "superprecedent" would argue that Brown v. Board of Education was a maligned ruling because it overturned a sixty year-old decision? Bad law is bad law, and it shouldn't take six-tenths of a century to correct it.

So much has been made of the potential for a ruling that overturns Roe, that SCOTUS nominations are essentially shoehorned into one category or another, based only upon their position on abortion, when the ruling from the High Court should hinge upon the constitutionality of the law, not its moral implications. The question is not nearly so much whether abortion is right nor whether the fetus is alive, but rather whether government is specifically given the power to regulate in that area. Strictly speaking, if the Constitution prohibits the Federal government from banning abortion nationwide, it would likely also forbid the Federal government from legalizing it nationwide. There are simply precious few restrictions placed upon state governments at the Federal level, according to the Constitution.

What of things like the freedom of religion and the separation of Church and state? In lieu of an itemized list of dos and don'ts, the principles outlined in the Constitution were sufficient to the framers to guarantee that the free exercise of religion would not be infringed upon by the government. Would they have left the language so open had they forseen the draconian restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court over the past twenty years on that freedom? I don't believe that they in any way anticipated that the protections that they had placed as a hedge about religious freedom would be used as the means to eradicate religion from public life. Again, an indication that when the High Court steps away from the eloquent simplicity of the Constitution, it ventures into an area devoid of guidance, save that from political agenda of the day, an area in which the Supreme Court was not designed to operate.

The beauty of the Constitution is truly within its simplicity, utilizing principles instead of rules. Back to the First Amendment's protections towards religion, is the intent of the framers really in question? There were two things that they wanted to avoid: an official religion, sanctioned, established, and controlled by the state; and a government that restricted the free exercise of religious practices and beliefs. That's the reason for the twofold guarantee, and that's about the extent of the principle. In the founders' wisdom, they felt that to further detail the relationship would be pointless, as their two goals would be readily visible to anyone with a smattering of common sense and historical context. Alas, they could not foresee the effects of revisionist history, coupled with a dearth of common sense, in bringing about the belief that the Constitution contains a guarantee of freedom from religion.

Indeed, even the nature of appointments to the High Court being as they are, for a lifetime, indicate that the founders never intended for that governmental body to cater to the whim of a fickle constituency, but rather to serve alongside our elected representatives as a buffer to the ebb and flow inherent in democratic government. Plato called democracy a bad form of government, citing that it gave way to "mob rule" then to anarchy. Our representative democracy and an appointed Supreme Court were designed, among other things, to insure that the Constitution was not trampled beneath the feet of that mob.

The nomination of Judge Alito seems to be a strong move towards a court which will concern itself with the content of the Constitution, not with either a conservative or liberal political agendum. An originalist interpretation of the Constitution will return some autonomy to the states, and will be the first step in returning the Federal government to its rightful level of involvement in the lives of its citizens. That, in turn, will pave the way for a content and prosperous populace, a body of citizens who will once again see the Federal government as a noble institution that serves the people, not a tyrannical taskmaster obsessed with extending its reach.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Casey: Uterine Control or Just Common Sense?

I posted the following as a comment on another blog. I liked it enough to put it here. Whether that makes me vain or lazy, I don't know.

In one sense, it’s admirable to attempt to argue either way upon spousal notification as if it’s its own issue, but it’s nigh unto impossible to continue that argument for any duration. It inevitably hinges upon two major questions:

“What is Abortion?” and “What is Marriage?”

Abortion is, of course the removal of fetal tissue from a woman’s uterus. That’s the “sterilized” definition. That tissue must be viewed as one of two things, either a life or a piece of property. One demands preservation, the other is an object to be either kept or disposed of at its owner’s discretion.

Marriage is an agreement in which two people join together under a bond of partnership that includes (among several other facets) shared benefits, responsibilities, and control over assets. It is an agreement entered into voluntarily (at least in this nation), and it’s a legally binding agreement (as evidenced by the complexity of divorce proceedings).

When the question of spousal notification arises, it strikes at the framework of those two points, in that it presupposes the fetus to be “property” (as established in Roe, otherwise abortion could be deemed illegal by any of the several states), and it limits its scope of influence to couples who have entered into an agreement that involves joint possession of property (especially that which is acquired through joint effort).

One may argue that because the woman is in possession (quite intimate possession, at that) of the fetus, it is considered “more” her property than her husband’s. That would be akin to arguing that interest in the couple’s domicile or vehicles shouldn’t be divided in the event of divorce because only her husband’s name is on the titles or deeds to the property. Legally, it’s shaky ground.

I would also caution that to argue that the fetus is more than property leaves a void which must be filled with an alternative definition of the fetus. The logical progression must be that it’s to be seen as a part of the woman’s body. As such, she would be free to remove that part without notification or consent from any other party. You wouldn’t, for example, be bound to any form of “notification” for an appendectomy. There’s one glaring problem with that analogy, however, Though nonremoval of body parts may have dire consequences, nonremoval of the fetus leads to the birth of a human being, for which the father, by law, must assume some responsibility, if only financial (a situation which extends beyond the presence or absence of a marriage agreement).

Of course, if the fetus is viewed as a life, the argument regarding spousal notification is moot.

I offer, therefore, that the case for spousal notification (and perhaps even consent) is far from “indefensible” to anyone who isn’t content to relegate the complexities of this debate to a thinly veiled attack on abortion rights.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Playin' the Plame Name Game

I've held silence on this issue for quite a while now, only commenting briefly on other blogs regarding the debacle.

Here's how I see it right now, and I'll forewarn you, my thoughts will probably be rather fragmented.

From the beginning, it's never been clear whether Valerie Plame Wilson's employment with the CIA carried the type of protections afforded to "covert agents." Whereas her use of her maiden name seemed to indicate that her identity was at least masked to some degree, that's not the level of protection generally provided to an agent whose career (and potentially life) hinges upon their employment by the Agency being top secret.

That said, if the extent of her "undercover" nature was using her maiden name, I sincerely doubt that it would be possible for her to be "outed" in a way that was a compromise to our national security.

So much for the "treason" meme.

Then there's the charges of obstruction of justice and perjury that have come out on Libby. I did comment elsewhere that I've never been a fan of these "sidebar" charges when the initial allegation didn't happen, but perjury remains a serious crime, as it chips at the foundational integrity of our legal system. As such, if Libby, Rove, or anyone else committed such a crime before the grand jury, they should be convicted and sentenced.

But because of the current political mood, inspired by the liberals and the MSM, there arises a significant problem. According to what has become "conventional wisdom" because of the liberal onslaught, if Libby is convicted, Rove should have been, as well. If Libby is acquitted, it will be spun as evidence of the "Rethuglican conspiracy." If Libby and Rove are somehow both convicted of wrongdoing, it will be evidence of the "culture of corruption."

In other words, the Republicans are already sunk, in the MSM's eyes, and those of the most vocal liberals.

So how to rise from this? Republicans must learn for once, to stick to the program (see my earlier post on a "Damn the Torpedoes RNC"), regardless of what the MSM says about how they're perceived. The Republicans have run scared anytime the MSM reported that a poll reflected that their latest position was unpopular. They've never tried turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to those reports and foraging ahead with the things that got them elected. It just might work. If nothing else, it will give the American people a clear choice at the next election.

The unasked question in all of this is whether the CIA itself did anything following the "leak." By definition, if the identity of an undercover agent is discovered, that slip constitutes a very serious offense within the ranks of the Agency, and is typically followed by an internal investigation. Did that happen? If so, what did they find? If not, doesn't that fact by itself establish that Mrs. Wilson was actually not an agent who could have been "outed" because she simply was not covert.

Perhaps at some time in the future, the MSM will quit trying to find out when Cheney and Bush knew (assuming they actually did know prior to the Novak column), and turn their attention to matters that, well, actually matter. I'm not, however, holding my breath.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Thinking Deeper

I realize the title of this post is grammatically incorrect, as it should actually read, "thinking more deeply."

Sue me. I just liked the sound of the actual title a lot more.

I suppose I've become a bit fatigued at some of the venom of the political blogs over the past few days, and maybe a bit discouraged at the fact that so much hateful talk has entered into what passes for political debate.

I'm especially weary of the vitriol directed towards conservatives with any degree of religious convictions. Some people, it seems, are incredibly threatened by those who believe that certain actions are simply wrong.

It was whilst I was pondering this phenomenon that a quote from a friend of mine (who happens to be a preacher) came to mind. He said, "Can you imagine the result if Hitler had been an evangelist?"

Ponder that awhile.

What could this man, who is regarded as the embodiment of evil (though that personification has been trivialized by leftists flinging insults towards Bush and co.), have accomplished for the good, if he had used his powers of persuasion to inspire people to love one another, to live morally, and to help their fellow man? How many millions would have joined in the effort to make right the wrongs of oppressive governments worldwide? How many people would have been spared the horrors of the numerous wars and conflicts since Hitler's rise to power?

After some time, I came up with the answer. He would have been, at best, another Billy Graham. Someone who has had significant influence, but he wouldn't have inspired so many to such great action had his intention been towards benevolence and love rather than towards hate.

Why do I think his success would have been limited by his message? Do I think the forces of evil are vastly more powerful than the forces of good?

Well, no, but yes.

Here's the problem. Despite Whitney Houston's ode to the contrary, "learning to love yourself" isn't anything that's particularly remarkable. Chrisitanity's most widespread influence is in the form of the "Golden Rule." It's stated a couple of ways, the most common is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The other variation is simply, "love your neighbor as yourself." Seems that Christiandom ascribes to the notion that "loving yourself" is something that comes quite naturally, and the foundational element of a proper relationship with others comes from our learning to extend the same magnitude of love towards our fellow man.

That's harder for us humans to do than it sounds. It demands that our comfort is at the very least, of no greater importance than the comfort of our fellow man. It prescribes a change in mindset from, "what's in it for me?" to the radically different, "how will it benefit my neighbor?"

And that doesn't sell very well in a world fixated upon personal comfort and affluence (as addressed in a previous post).

So I'm afraid the incredibly influential personalities who have done notorious and despicable deeds against humanity would have been severely limited in their scope of influence, had they chosen to promote good things and positive ideals. It's simply not what people want. But as they enjoyed success in promoting self-pride, racism, distrust of others, and genuine hatred, others who follow in their footsteps will find an audience among the masses.

I do hope, however, that we've seen the last of their great "successes."

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