Thursday, December 28, 2006


Now, I like pretentious, wanky, artsy movies as much as the next guy but the movie Babel pushes even me to the limits.

I like movies that challenge but I can't help feeling Babel is just doing it to be considered "artistic". Being obscure just for obscurity's sake. Critics will say it delves into the nature of family relationships and of misunderstandings of language and culture. Blah, blah, blah. It made me want to put a gun into my mouth.

Babel is a depressing movie with moments that are damn near unwatchable (most notably the kids in the desert). It was painful to watch as a parent and I simply do not understand how it propels the story at all.

It has disparate story lines in 3 countries tied together with a common thread like Magnolia or more recently, Crash. I liked those movies ... this one I'm not so sure about.

I know it's trying to say something about synchronicity or causality but it does so little that would allow you to invest in the characters or to care about what happens to them.

I get that the story is supposed to make you feel unconfortable and maybe confused ... like the characters. It's about what can happen because of misunderstanding borne out of not listening or just because of differences in language. But just because I understand what the director was trying to do doesn't mean it's an enjoyable or even an enlightened experience.

Maybe some clue to the movie comes from the word Babel itself. From Wikipedia:
Babel is mentioned in Genesis 10:10 as the home city of Nimrod.

[10] And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. [11] Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, [12] And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city. (KJV)
According to Genesis 11:1-9, mankind, after the deluge, travelled from the mountain where the ark had rested, and settled in 'a plain in the land of Shinar' (or Senaar). Here, they attempted to build a city and a tower whose top might reach unto Heaven, the Tower of Babel.

The attempt to build the Tower of Babel had angered God and in his anger, made each person involved speak a different language which ultimately halted the project and scattered and disconnected the people across the planet

It's not to say there are not great performances. Pitt's acting is as understated and mature as any he's done. Blanchett is great. Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal, previously of the excellent movie The Motorcycle Diaries, is also good. The movie looks great and is shot in gorgeous locations. But it's all wasted because it's missing something ... I'm not sure what. Maybe heart?

I don't know how to rate it. It's either one of the most brilliantly original things that I've seen in awhile or it's an overwrought piece of crap in love with it's own cleverness. I may change my mind on this one. It would probably reveal itself better in a 2nd watching. But I'm not sure I have the patience or desire to do that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Blood Diamond

I saw a really good movie Christmas night, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly. It reminded me of two of my favorite movies, Killing Fields and Cry Freedom. In those movies, the story was told mostly through the eyes of the white outsider who befriends the oppressed native. It's not so much a criticism, but rather an observation. In many movies, it seems like that white role is added only to make the movie more palatable for a largely white audience. Of course, those two previous mentioned movies are based on real stories. This one is fictional but the problem of "conflict diamonds" is real.

From Wikipedia:

"A blood diamond (also called a conflict diamond or a war diamond) is a diamond mined in a war zone and sold, usually clandestinely, in order to finance an insurgent or invading army's war efforts." They have included Angola, Sierra Leone, The Ivory Coast and Liberia. International awareness has led to a reduction in the amount of conflict diamonds bought in the West, but they still exist and some have speculated that they have even had some part in funding of Al Qaeda.

DiCaprio is one of the best things about this film. His performance in this and Departed were outstanding. You see the arc of his character as he progresses from, what we assume, is a mercenary "make a buck" type to one who cares about the people affected by the sale of conflict diamonds. DiCaprio's maturation as an actor and the choices he has made in roles are admirable.

Hounsou, as always, is very good in his role. He's very passionate and believable as a father whose family has been torn apart by the rebels.

At times the Jennifer Connelly role (as an American journalist) seems superfluous. I suppose that you could justify it within the context of her role in exposing the diamond companies smuggling. But it sometimes seems to wander into the territory of being tacked on just for the sake of having a potential love interest. Her performance is fine and as always she looks stunning. I just wonder if you could have propelled the story without her.

The movie has a few moments of forced exposition of plot and message. Explanatory lines frequently come up inorganically. Movies about some of these important subjects have a tendency to do that because they assume, rightly so, that a large part of the audience does not know a lot about the subject. Of course, not all recent movies do that. For example, Syriana.

I liked the movie even if it did seem Hollywoody at times. But it didn't shy away from the gruesomeness of the violence or how shocking the behavior of child soldiers was. Also, it didn't try to paint just one group as the bad guys. Really everyone (including us) are complicit: governments, the factions in Africa, consumers, the media. I recommend this film. Grade: B+

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy, Merry Hanu-Kwan-Mas and a Cool Yule

We're going to be out of town through Christmas and I won't be blogging for a few days but I thought I'd give as non-cynical an appraisal of it as this sarcastic, liberal humanist/atheist can.

Christmas is still a bit fun for me because I see the idealization of it through the eyes of my 5 year old. He brims with a joy that I can only imagine. Though he loves the idea of presents, when Santa at the mall asked him what he wanted, he wouldn't tell him anything specific because he said, "I'm always happy with whatever you bring me, Santa."

I like this part of the year because even people that you are not a big fan of ,or that you have had disagreements in the past with, will soften and wish you "Happy Holidays" and they will mean it. For a few weeks, most people are thinking about parties, family, helping out the local food shelter, etc. Yeah, it'd be nice if people thought about these things all year. But I'll take this time of year over no time of year.

Don't let the commercialization of the holidays suck the life out of the festiveness of it. I could care less about getting anything but I love giving others things. I love seeing friends. I love the food.

Don't let people tell you what the holiday is supposed to be about (including me) and don't let people tell you there is a "war" on it. If some people think it's about God, that's OK. If others think it's about the celebration of winter or anything else, that's OK too. People that shove down your throat what they feel it should be about have a lump of coal for a heart anyway.

I was reading my son a Christmas book when I put him to bed last night. A passage in it, though unapologetically corny, seems to sum it up for me (through the words of a young girl):

... Perhaps what we need is not one more toy.
Maybe it's something more simple - like joy.
The presents are great, and we both love to play,
But I think that the meaning of Christmas Day
Is ore about loving and less about things,
And the feeling that sharing and giving brings.
I know it's a lot, but here's what I wish,

... I hope that tonight as you fly in your sled
That all the worlds's children are safely in bed,
And are warm, and are dreaming dreams that are sweet,
And have plenty of love, and plenty to eat.

Oh Santa, dear Santa, I think what we need,
Is a world that is peaceful and not full of greed,
Where everyone cares about one another
As if each child were a sister or brother ...

So celebrate it in any matter you choose ... or if you choose not to, that's OK. But try to take a little of the happiness of it and extend it on past the start of the year.

I'm truly thankful for all of you (my blog friends). I enjoy your words. I hope I learn a little each day through the dialogues we have.

Happy Holidays to you all! I'll be back in a few days to start inundating you with boring year-end "best of's".

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bueller ...

Sorry for the long delay in posts. I've been getting slammed at work (in a good way) and just have not had the time.

CK's recent post on the "War on Christmas" is a good read. Never has such a pampered majority been so intent on casting themselves as the picked-on victims. Much as they would like to say that Christmas is only a religious holiday, you cannot deny it's secular significance. Christianity itself and Christmas owe more to non-religious and pagan rituals than they would care to admit. I, as a secularist and humanist, have every right to celebrate the holiday as I see fit.

CK's post reminded me of a Christmas rant, purporting to be by Ben Stein, "Confessions for the Holidays", that ended up in my Inbox this week and I got myself into a bit of a shitstorm because I took the time to point out to the sender (and the rest of my business referral group) that this message was not completely by who it claimed to be. It got under my skin for several reasons:

- It's yet another e-mail pushing the myth of the "War on Christmas"
- It's factually inaccurate
- It was sent using our group's group e-mail feature, which is supposed to be used for group business. Even if the e-mail was completely accurate as to its attribution, it is still not appropriate to send it in a business context.

The sender and several other people in the group believe that is OK because they agree with the sentiment that it pushed (regardless of the accuracy). I wonder if they would feel the same about the use of this feature if they disagreed with the viewpoint.

E-mails like this are sloppy. They are rarely by who they say they are by. It takes roughly 10 seconds to refute 99% of these. They ultimately say more about the person that forwards them than anything. Unfortunately, people that are sheep will not be as diligent with checking of facts when they hear something that reinforces their own prejudices. Going into anything with a preconceived notion is a dangerous thing ... just ask W.

And that is a lesson that any of us can take ... seek the truth even when it's unpleasant or difficult.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Jimmy Carter

Tuesday night was pretty cool because I got to meet my first ex-President ... Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter. That is if you use a very loose interpretation of the word "meet". By "meet", I, of course, mean hanging outside for an hour with 1600 of your closest friends and then getting quickly shuffled through an assembly line that runs you past a table where he signs your book at record speed. He signs pretty damn fast for a 82-year-old man! At that age, he's writing books, touring the country, and apparently angering some Jews. At that age, I'll probably be drooling on myself and angering my relatives.

After signing the book, he did look up and gave a peaceful smile and I thanked him. The wait outside before the signing was actually quite fun as most of those in the line, as one would expect, are like-minded Dems. I had some very nice conversations with a 60-year-old union organizer and a nice mother with her teenage son. Overall, a nice night.


An attorney friend (female) of mine sent this video. I couldn't help but think of my wife and Laura when I saw it ... two vocal and opinionated women (and we are better for it).

Too funny.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cards 27 - Seahawks 21

Some pics of my first game in the new stadium.

Friday, December 08, 2006


This happened yesterday here in Phoenix:
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 8, 2006 09:20 AM

PHOENIX - A 2-year-old boy who was accidentally shot by his 9-year-old brother has died, authorities said Friday.

The older brother apparently was playing with a .357 handgun that belonged to his mother's boyfriend when he shot his younger brother, Eric Sanchez-Velasquez, said Phoenix Police Lt. Tracey Miller.

The boys' mother drove the wounded boy to a hospital. Eric was taken by helicopter to another Valley hospital, where he died about 11:25 p.m., authorities said.

The accident happened about 9 p.m. on the 18000 Block of 40th Avenue between Union Hills Drive and Bell Road. The older child took the firearm from a closet and was handling it when he fired and struck Eric, who was in the same room, investigators concluded.

The boys’ mother was at home at the time, but not in the same room when the shot went off, said Detective Stacie Derg, a Phoenix police spokeswoman. A third child, a 12-year-old girl, and a family friend who lives in the house were also home but not injured.

I could go on a long-winded and sourced rant about our country's love for firearms but frankly right now I don't have the patience. All that I want to do is scream and to slap the shit out of any moron that tries to tell me that about their inalienable "right to bear arms". You are scared, weak-minded people that try to compensate by owning guns. And who pays the price? Not you. No, it's two year old kids who pay with their lives and nine year old kids who will bear the guilt of what they should never have had to worry about doing for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Movie Review - Casino Royale

Though not as skeptical of Daniel Craig as a lot of Bond fans were, I was nonetheless curious how well he would fill the shoes previously inhabited by Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, etc. I'd previously seen Craig in Munich and Layer Cake, two outstanding movies. So I knew of his talent but it is not just talent that makes a perfect Bond. You must have an appreciation of the original source material (Ian Fleming's novels). You must have a ruggedness and cockiness that suggests an underprivileged upbringing and you must have raw sexuality. Sadly, only one of the previous Bonds had this ... Sean Connery. I liked the succeeding movies well enough but that was despite the Bond actors instead of because of them. Pierce Brosnan was probably the 2nd best in my eyes but even he was a little too refined and dandy to be a true Bond.

Daniel Craig is now my new 2nd best Bond and he passes all my tests of what a Bond actor should be. A lot of people had a problem when Craig was cast merely because he had blond hair intead of the classic dark hair. If that's the worst that can be said about him, he is doing well.

Casino Royale (loosely based on Ian Fleming's first Bond novel) does a great job of not only stripping down the Bond character to it's original elements but also the setting in which he works. The movies of the 80's and 90's relied too much on the cuteness and novelty of the gadgets that Bond would use. This movie has few, if any. The violence is gritty.

The plot from MovieWeb:
... CASINO ROYALE traces the early career of James Bond. His first "007" mission leads him to Le Chiffre, banker to the world's terrorists. In order to stop him and bring down the terrorist network, Bond must beat Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale. Bond is initially annoyed when a beautiful Treasury official, Vesper Lynd, is assigned to deliver his stake for the game and watch over the government's money. But as Bond and Vesper survive a series of lethal attacks by Le Chiffre and his henchmen, a mutual attraction develops, leading them both into further danger and events that will shape Bond's life forever ...

The movie runs long (2 1/2 hours) but is fairly well-paced. It has some unique fight scenes with Jackie Chan-style gymnastics. The supporting cast fill their roles well, particularly the beautiful Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. She is a French-born actress previously seen in Kingdom of Heaven. Overall, I liked this movie quite a bit. It's a worthy reinventing of the Bond franchise. Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quick Hits

  • Is it just me, or is this really ironic? -- Bush's $500 Million Library
    From Huffington Post:
    "...The idea of Uncurious George building a $500 million shrine to his disastrous presidency is the political equivalent of a whoopee cushion; a veritable laff riot. The punchlines write themselves:

    A George W. Bush Library? What's it going to house, 100,000 copies of The Pet Goat -- with some Shakespeares and a Camus thrown in for good measure?"
  • ==================================================

  • Let me get this straight ... a silver-spoon in his mouth legacy who partied through his military service has the gall to define the terms in which a proud father can speak of his son serving in Iraq? Bush, Webb in testy exchange over Senator-elect's soldier son
    W, you pompous ass. That would have been sweet if Mr. Webb had popped W in the chops. Someone needs to.
  • ==================================================

  • Speaking of pompous asses: High Court Divided on Warming.
    "When is the predicted cataclysm?" Scalia asked with some sarcasm.

    Justice Scalia, you ignorant slut. The very definition of an activist judge. His limitless ego now seems to give him power to decide scientific principles.

Monday, December 04, 2006

He Still Believes ...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Why Are Atheists So Angry?

Sam Harris on the Huffington Post:
While the religious divisions in our world are self-evident, many people still imagine that religious conflict is always caused by a lack of education, by poverty, or by politics. Yet the September 11th hijackers were college-educated, middle-class, and had no discernible experience of political oppression. They did, however, spend a remarkable amount of time at their local mosques talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise.

How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is that in the year 2006 a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: They don't know what it is like to really believe in God.

The United States now stands alone in the developed world as a country that conducts its national discourse under the shadow of religious literalism. Eighty-three percent of the U.S. population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead; 53% believe that the universe is 6,000 years old. This is embarrassing. Add to this comedy of false certainties the fact that 44% of Americans are confident that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years and you will glimpse the terrible liability of this sort of thinking.

Nearly half of the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. This dewy-eyed nihilism provides absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization. Many of these people are lunatics, but they are not the lunatic fringe. Some of them can actually get Karl Rove on the phone whenever they want.

While Muslim extremists now fly planes into our buildings, saw the heads off journalists and aid-workers, and riot by the tens of thousands over cartoons, several recent polls reveal that atheists are now the most reviled minority in the United States. A majority of Americans say they would refuse to vote for an atheist even if he were a "well-qualified candidate" from their own political party. Atheism, therefore, is a perfect impediment to holding elected office in this country (while being a woman, black, Muslim, Jewish, or gay is not). Most Americans also say that of all the unsavory alternatives on offer, they would be least likely to allow their child to marry an atheist. These declarations of prejudice might be enough to make some atheists angry. But they are not what makes me angry.

As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population. The plain truth is this: There is no good reason to believe in a personal God; there is no good reason to believe that the Bible, the Koran, or any other book was dictated by an omniscient being; we do not, in any important sense, get our morality from religion; the Bible and the Koran are not, even remotely, the best sources of guidance we have for living in the 21st century; and the belief in God and in the divine provenance of scripture is getting a lot of people killed unnecessarily.

I'm not sure where Harris got all his numbers, but they are basically in the ballpark. The "Jesus rose from the dead" number that I could find was closer to 75%. In any event ... scary stuff. If you said that 75% of Americans believe there are aliens, most people would think that the country was obviously delusional and that this country should not have control of a nuclear weapon. So, why is Jesus rising from the dead any different? The amount of proof for either is nonexistent. Some might even argue that there is more compelling evidence for aliens than for the Resurrection.

As Harris puts it, we are now "... a country that conducts its national discourse under the shadow of religious literalism". And this is "unique among wealthy democracies". This is while Japan and the U.K. are among the least religious societies on Earth. Allowing faith to govern you personally is fine. Everyone needs to come to their own truth through whatever path they choose. It's when that "dewy-eyed nihilism" by our leaders allows them to ignore global warming and to provide quaint solutions to the transmission of AIDS (abstinence-only) that we have a problem. Your personal beliefs are now jeopardizing my children and grandchildren. If you don't cash in the bet that you are making, you probably won't be around anyway. But your children and mine will be. And what kind of world will we be leaving them?

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." -- Stephen Roberts