Sunday, November 23, 2008

A thought on Prop 8

I'm sure someone much smarter than I am has already made this point regarding California's Prop 8, and hopefully someone can point me in that direction, but just in case, I have to get this out there:

For years, one of the chief arguments against granting gays the right to marry has been the notion that this would somehow threaten the existing marriages of heterosexual couples. I've personally always found this bizarre and disturbing. If Steve and Scott get hitched, I'm somehow less married? I can't even wrap my mind around that. I suppose this view is predicated on the erroneous belief that marriage is some timeless and unchanging tradition, and any change to it invalidates it all. That's patently false: "traditional marriage", even "biblical marriage", involved a man gaining family connections, a vessel for childbearing, and sexual gratification by acquiring multiple thirteen- or fourteen-year-old brides who were his legal property. Seen in that light, it's the defense of traditional marriage which is the obviously taboo position within our modern culture. If any threat to traditional marriage invalidates the entire institution, then there's nothing left, folks, because a marriage between two equal partners of opposite genders who might even be (gasp) of different racial backgrounds and different religious persuasions... that modern cultural construction is so far from "traditional marriage" that the institution has either taken on new meaning over time, or has none at all.

But if we are concerned with protecting the modern version of marriage, a legal and religious commitment between two adult partners joining their lives for personal reasons, then the passage of California's Prop 8 poses the greatest threat to that institution of any action I can imagine. In fact, the other bogey-men hypotheticals of legally sanctioned plural marriage and bestiality don't hold a candle to the danger of Prop 8. Because even the most extreme broadening of the definition of marriage does not create a circumstance where legally recognized marriages might be invalidated in the eyes of the law. Prop 8 has done just that.

Currently, it looks like the 36,000 people joined in marriage before the passage of Prop 8 will still be legally recognized after the court challenges pass through the system, but that's not a settled legal question. And that's just the point. To the best of my knowledge, no legally recognized marriages have ever been retroactively invalidated. Can someone find an exception? Were some Mormon plural marriages recognized at some point in some state and then later invalidated? Did any state temporarily recognize interracial marriages and then change its mind? If not, we've created a unique legal precedent already, regardless of the outcome of the impending court rulings. Scott and Steve already got married. That didn't threaten anybody's marriage. But now a state government has to decide whether or not to take away Steve and Scott's marriage. And if they can do it to Steve and Scott, if they can even consider doing that, they could do it to Paige and I, too, should they see fit to do so.

Gay marriage is no threat to hetero marriage. But invalidating gay marriages undermines the sanctity of the commitment at a fundamental level. When I entered into this contract, I did so fully conscious of the religious commitment I was making with a third party; my promise wasn't just to Paige, but to God as well. I was tangentially aware of the fourth party's involvement, but I took the legal recognition for granted. I knew I acquired new legal rights and privileges, but I had no idea the state could change its mind. If Paige agreed to stay married to me, and God agreed to keep us alive, then our contract would remain binding. But Prop 8 adds a new layer of insecurity to an institution that is already tenuous in our culture. All marriages fail, eventually, because of the frailty of the stakeholders. One party decides to dissolve the contract, or one dies. God may maintain the contract in the afterlife (one can only hope), but the two human stakeholders cannot maintain it in perpetuity. Now, thanks to Prop 8, those of us who are married must realize that the fourth stakeholder is also too frail to guarantee its continued recognition of the institution.

Is it likely that any state will invalidate any heterosexual marriage? Of course not. It's a silly fear for a silly, sci-fi world. But the future is designed by people, and some of those people are nonsensical enough to believe that two adults making a choice to commit to love one another for as long as they can somehow threaten the same commitment of the couple next door, who happen to have different and differing genitals. These paranoid, irrational zealots have their sights set on gay couples right now, so, by all means, heterosexuals need not fear, and we don't need to speak up.

Of course they won't come for us next.

That's never happened before.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Gingrich on Middle-Class Tax Cuts

Bill turned me on to Newt Gingrich's piece on middle-class tax cuts in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Bill also correctly pointed out that Gingrich proposes no mechanism to pay for his proposal of a massive middle class tax cut. This may be an attempt to find common ground with the Obama administration, but Gingrich can't avoid harping on the same pet peeves that pushed him into the political mainstream once upon a time, and which are woefully out-of-step with American political culture now.

First, Gingrich criticizes tax credits as welfare. He's right, in that they are federal give-aways rather than tax breaks directly tied to work, but if he wants to keep welfare as his favorite political punching bag, he'd better stick to fictitious welfare queens, because if he starts telling the American people that recipients of tax credits are the lazy enemies of a successful economy, he'll be in trouble. The child tax credit is wildly popular, and not just with "welfare queens". That full-time single mom who is also a half-time student uses that credit to keep her children clothed and fed until she can enter the workforce in a more profitable and productive position, and the child tax credit, like the deduction for childcare expenses and the deduction for her tuition, produces a net gain for us all if she finishes school and works as a para-legal or a nurse's assistant or a dental tech. A simple cut to the lowest tax rate would mean she'd keep more of her paycheck from her job at McDonald's, but she'd also need to stay there, and that's a net loss for all of us.

Second, Gingrich falls back on this tried-and-true conservative myth: liberals want the rich to pay what he dubs "hate rates" because the rich "are too productive, work too hard, and earn too much." Gingrich, it seems, does not have a 401K, or he might have noticed that the rich haven't been to productive recently. As to the notion that the rich work too hard, I think that's a pretty tough sell, too. Would he seriously claim that Paris Hilton works harder than the employee behind the counter at one of her family's hotels? Does Gingrich expect us to believe in the vaunted work ethic of the extremely wealthy when our exposure to them consist of shows like The Hills? Certainly there are wealthy people who put in ridiculous hours at stressful jobs, and though they might not sweat as much as their poorer counterparts, they probably have the ulcers to show for their work, but if Gingrich thinks he can push public policy by feeding off sympathy for the wealthy, especially during an economic downturn, he'd better enjoy the scenery in the political wilderness. And liberals do not think the wealthy should pay higher taxes because they "earn too much", but because they need too little. Stealing from the rich is morally dubious, but hoarding while others suffer is universally recognized as immoral behavior. The wealthy recognize this moral imperative, too. That's why they voted for Obama this time around.

So Gingrich's brand of conservatism:

-provides no mechanism to pay for itself, so it's not fiscally responsible. Strike 1.

-maintains its attitude that the poor are morally inferior, but ropes in the middle class folks who like their child-tax credits. Strike 2.

-predicates itself on the belief that the wealthy are better, better, and better than the rest of us, a notion which doesn't even appeal to the wealthy. Strike 3.

I'm not a baseball fan. Perhaps someone can explain some political version of the infield fly rule which explains how this view of taxation gets conservatives on base?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Subtle Remonstrance"

In today's NYTimes, a guy named Henry Alford advocates "reverse etiquette." "I supply the apology that they should be giving me." He shares stories of how he apologizes to people who have wronged him in huge ways, like dropping his apple at the grocery store or not having change at the deli. These are really hart-warming stories of douchebaggery.

Tucker, help me out here.

"I've read suicide notes that were less passive-aggressive than this."

Thanks, Mr, Carlson.

Seriously, this guy can't possibly be advocating being a raging prick in the name of etiquette, can he? I like sarcasm as much as the next guy (and almost as much as my wife, who loves it). Smarm is fun. But I don't pretend to believe it's kind or polite. It's rude and hurtful, and if one can reserve it for blog posts that almost no one reads so that one can avoid using it in face-to-face human interaction, that's probably for the best.

Alford not only admits that this reverse apologizing is largely an attempt to "sublimate" his own "irritation," but then goes on to argue that this will teach these people empathy. Really? If I wrong someone and am unaware of it, and then they come at me with one of these backhanded supplied apologies, let me tell you, empathy will be the last thing on my mind. If someone scolded me, after I'd accidentally dropped their apple and then picked it up, by saying, “Sorry about that — I really didn’t mean for you to drop that," I would hope to be quick witted enough to say, "Oh, if my dropping your apple caused you to feel sorry for me, allow me to return it to the floor to ameliorate your pity." Then I would gently put it on the floor and say, "I'm okay now. You don't have to feel bad for me anymore." You think you got smarm, buddy? Bring it!

Mr. Alford has written the forthcoming "How to Live." Perhaps it's a book on manners, but I suspect the title needs a colon and some more information. Like: "How to Live: How picking really petty fights will only get you punched in the face, which is non-lethal."

Perhaps he is being sarcastic throughout, and I just missed the joke. It's all some very clever meta-satire of people who give really bad advice.

If that's the case, then Mr. Alford, I'm very sorry your column tricked me into thinking you're a jerk. I apologize.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Watching the Conservative Crackup from the Left Side of the Colosseum

I pick on conservatives a lot here, and with voices out there like Michael Gerson and Bill Kristol, why not? But, in the spirit of President-elect Obama's new politics, I want to give credit to a conservative who wrote a great line as part of an exchange on Slate about the new direction of conservatism, the Conservative Crackup.

A bit of summary: Douglas Kmiec wrote a letter saying, among other things, that the Obama campaign had better ideas about abortion, avoiding the traditional pro-life tactic to talk about judges and talking about how to lower abortion rates. He proposed that anti-abortion activists seek legislation which would seek to establish that life begins at conception while prohibiting the criminalization of women's choice. Anyone, even a pro-choice believer like me, could see this was not only going to frustrate those who are pro-life, but it would also create a bizarre and illogical situation protecting the act of killing a person established as such in law. Weird.

Then Ross Douthat wrote a response attacked Kmeik for not offering enough to pro-life voters with these ideas, and for implying a bizarre attempt at compromise would offer nothing to the pro-lifers. He wrote, "I am sure that Kmiec is weary of being called a fool by opponents of abortion for his tireless pro-Obama advocacy during this election cycle, but if so, then the thing for him to do is to cease acting like the sort of person for whom the term 'useful idiot' was coined, rather than persisting in his folly." For those of us on the left interested in some schadenfreude, reading conservatives, famous for their unity, call each other names the way Democrats have during their time in the wilderness is like driving a Ferrari filled with adoring super-models to a fully functional amusement park made of candy.

But it gets better. Kmiec replies with a revolting letter that was probably written inside a card purchased at a particularly tacky Christian gift store with a picture on the front depicting Jesus juggling Anne Geddes babies dressed in assorted produce. "Genuine love and affection do not reside on the Internet, so I cannot extend it to you, but in my heart, I forgive your great unkindness." Wait, hold that vomit in your throat. "Ross, you are not ordinary in God's eyes; nor are the women facing abortion as a tragic answer to a dismal, impoverished, and near-hopeless existence. Ross, you and she are brother and sister made in God's image and are expected to be of help to one another. That is a lesson for the Republicans." Okay, you can let it tickle your uvula, but don't toss your cookies quite yet. "If I have offended you in some way, I ask your forgiveness. For we remember, in the reminder from Benedict XVI, St. Paul admonished Christians to be reconciled with their brothers before receiving Holy Communion..." Okay, aim carefully and let fly.

No here's where I want to give some props to a conservative. After a couple hours I can only imagine as an uncomfortable silence filled with grimacing and sideways glances, Tucker Carlson, the one who ties his disdain for liberals like me in a bow-tie and maintains his party orthodoxy with his Goldwater '64 souvenir stick-up-the-tookas, responded to Kmiec: "Hey, Doug. Toughen up. Seriously. I've read suicide notes that were less passive-aggressive than this." I love that last line. In a spirit of bipartisanship I plan on quoting it at every opportunity.

But Tucker can't stay on my good side for more than ten lines. He continues, "I understand it must have hurt when Ross accused you of shilling for Obama. On the other hand, he's right. You did shill for Obama. That's not Ross' fault. Don't blame him. But if you are going to blame him, do it directly, like a man, without all the encounter-group talk and Pope quotes. People often attack the religious right, sometimes with justification. But as you just reminded us, there is nothing in the world more annoying than the religious left."

But here's the thing: Kmieck is a conservative legal scholar who took over a position previously held by Antonin Scalia, and served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Bush I. Carlson wishes he had those kind of conservative bona fides. Kmieck did shill for Obama, but he's far from the religious left, and the religious left doesn't sound like that. Carlson is calling him left because "left" is Carlson's idea of a swear word, the same way we use "Coulter" in my household.

Chastened, Kmiec returns to a less WWJD tone, though he addresses himself to someone other than Douthat or Carlson. He concludes, "One needs a philosophy of governance in addition to honoring the constitutional structure. Barack Obama's philosophy of government provides service for needs unmet by the market. And the Republicans' philosophy?"

I would refer Kmiec to a passage from an earlier post by Jim Manzi: "Any real-world government requires taxes. The people who have a lot of money will end up paying a share of these taxes disproportionate to their numbers under any nontyrannical regime. Further, any just real-world government will have at least some poor relief, by whatever name, for those unable to care for themselves. Therefore, at least some mild redistribution will be an incidental byproduct of a just and well-functioning government. Accepting these practical realities is very different from actual advocacy of redistribution as good in and of itself." Now this is a kind of honesty that one hasn't found in conservatism for years. It's much easier to shout "Socialist!" than to explain this nuanced view of taxation. But this is far more persuasive, even to a liberal like me. I'm no Maoist. I just don't think a great country lets any of its people die in its streets. I certainly can't answer Kmiec's larger philosophical question for conservatives, but I can give him some helpful advice: Find somebody with the courage to stand up to the anti-intellectual wing of the Republican Party (a pro-intelligence maverick) who can explain this distinction between redistribution for the sake of social justice rather than redistribution as its own ideological imperative, and your party will do a lot better in 2012.

Of course, if you want to spend the next 4 years calling each other fools and useful idiots, then responding with the kind of passive-aggressive-ism found in suicide notes, those of us on the Christian left would just love it.

As Pope Sanctimonius the XXXVII said, "Bring me some lawyers, think-tank wonks, and a guy in a bow-tie. Throw 'em in a pit and tell 'em only one gets out alive. I like watching their slap-fights."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

More Gerson Douchebaggery

Today Michael Gerson hosts a pity party for his old boss, George Bush, in his column in the Washington Post. Apparently everyone has been unfair to Bush, who has "a deeper decency" then we all give him credit for.

Boo frickin' hoo.

Hey Mr. Gerson, has Bush done anything to stop the torture his administration authorized? Is Guantanimo Bay still open? How dare you say a man who would allow innocent people (most of the people picked up in sweeps and sent to Gitmo) be denied rights affirmed in the Geneva Conventions and by U.S. law, and then describe the man who should be ultimately responsible as decent by any measure.

Tell that to the child who lost his mother to an errant bomb in an unnecessary war. Or tell the child whose father was tortured at Abu Ghraib that Bush took some unfair hits from the press and has a low approval rating. I expect (and hope) that kid would hit you with the sole of his shoe.

Gerson sites Bush's AIDS initiative. I'll give Bush credit for his increased aid, though it should be noted that the elimination of any kind of birth control and the abstinence only bent blunted what could have been a truly great achievement. I'll give Bush credit for his willingness to work with the G-8 on fighting malaria, too.

Gerson says that my image is Bush is so skewed that I cannot accept his portrait of this deeply decent man. He writes, "That is, perhaps, understandable. But it means little to me. Because I have seen the decency of George W. Bush."

Fine. But Gerson's also been on Bush's payroll. Perhaps he can't understand that a short list of compassionate acts does not erase a much longer list of incompetent, callous, and even cruel ones. Perhaps there is some threshold of charity that blots out war crimes, but I'm not sure what that would look like, and Bush's record doesn't come close.

Mr. Gerson, rumor has it that Nero played his lyre and sang songs while Rome burned, but one historian claims that wasn't true. He says Nero may have started the fire, but then he did a great job rebuilding the city. When the people got angry about the tax increases needed for all the rebuilding, Nero found some Christians to use as scapegoats, and had them thrown to the dogs, crucified, or burned. But his urban renewal plans were nice, and after the fire he let some of the homeless live in his palaces, so, I guess by your standard, he had "a deeper decency". If only he'd had a fan like you to rewrite history for him.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

God is still in control.

I just received a friendly and innocuous email from a college buddy titled "TOP 10 PREDICTIONS NO MATTER WHO WINS THE ELECTION". It contained a list of Christian truisms about how Jesus still loves us and God is still in control. I don't disagree, but since I'm not sure of my friend's politics, I didn't know how to respond. Is this how McCain supporters are comforting themselves? If so, that's fine. They can also take comfort in the fact that their candidate gave a gracious, dignified concession speech and earned back some of the respect many of us on the other side had lost for him over the course of the campaign. John McCain is a good guy. Sarah Palin asked to speak last night and the McCain staff (wisely) told her she couldn't, but in the spirit of national reconciliation I'll assume she would have apologized for some of the things she said, like implying that a lot of us aren't real Americans, and some of the things she did not say, like calling out and reproaching some of the people who shouted out abominable remarks during some of her speeches. I'll just assume she's a good gal, too, in spite of everything I've ever seen or heard from her.

But maybe my friend is an Obama fan, in which case there are some things I'd like to add to his list.

11. There will still be idiots on both sides of the political spectrum, and in every religious group.

12. There will still be Christians who believe greed is a virtue.

13. There will still be Christians who believe problems between nations are best solved with guns and bombs.

14. There will still be Christians who believe poor people are poor because they are lesser people.

15. There will still be Christians who espouse "American Exceptionalism", the entirely un-Christian idea that American lives are worth more than the lives of people in other countries.

Those statements could have been added regardless of who won the election. But now we can add a "prediction" that is entirely dependent on the results of yesterday's vote.

16. These kinds of Christians will still exists, but on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue they are packing their bags, and a very different kind of Christian will soon be moving in.

Can I get an Amen?

Wolf Blitzer and Princess Leia

Last night my brother, Joe, called me and interrupted Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's election coverage (sacrilege?) and convinced me to flip over to CNN to check out their hologram machine. On the one hand, it's another tacky ploy to make 24 news coverage more interesting through gimmicky gadgetry. On the other hand, it obviously worked. As though the night weren't historic enough, we entered the age of the interview by hologram. Or maybe we just returned to it, since it began in 1977 in a galaxy far, far away.

Tapping Out

Well, there are still some races left to call, so we can't declare a winner in the online pool Joel put together, but as of 2:53pm Noah is currently winning in our house with 11 correctly guessed swing states and contested governors' races. Paige and I each have 10. I really want to stay up to see how the last senatorial races play out and see if Noah correctly guessed the final electoral college vote, but since the presidential election was decided so early I didn't maintain my caffeine intake levels, and now I'm crashing. The politics junkie couldn't make it until all was decided. Embarrassed, I'm off to bed.

Obama still better be the winner when I wake up tomorrow.

So this is what we're in for?

Bill Kristol is almost always wrong, but I respect him more than I respect Micheal Gerson, former Bush employee and steadfast Bush boot-licker over at the Washington Post. Maybe I should start a list of people who deserve less respect than Bill Kristol. Think of it as the Razzie of political punditry.

Today Michael Gerson tries to write an op-ed saying we should all support the new President-elect because it's important to have a president we all see as legitimate. He wants us to put partisanship aside. I know he wants to be a part of the historic moment, and probably also wants to jump from the sinking ship (too late!) but the piece is a mess of hypocrisy and faulty reasoning.

At one point he writes: "Liberals have perfected this machinery of disdain over the past few years."

But in the same post Gerson criticizes partisanship and describes theories about criminality and deception from the Bush administration "lunatic". This is Gerson's attempt at magnanimity and bi-partisanship in the name of country.

As the kids would say: Epic Fail.

Sometimes calling a liar a liar is not partisan. Calling a criminal a criminal is not necessarily bitter or ideological. And treating deception and criminality with disdain is entirely appropriate.

Would Gerson disagree? Depends on the party participating in the deception or criminality.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Post-racial? What does that mean?

I am so proud of my country, my party, and my new President-elect.

The election coverage? Not so much.

I understand what these talking heads are trying to say when they describe Barack Obama as "Post-Racial". I don't think it's a partisan term, in that it could also be applied to Governor Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana. But would they apply that term to any white candidate? If the term "Post-Racial" only applies to minority candidates or office holders, does it really mean what they think it means? Or does it mean a candidate who doesn't run on his/her race but gets tons of attention for it from talking heads with too much time to fill bloviating?

Sure, President-elect Obama's race makes this election even more historic, but can't we also admit that the race issue was probably a push, with racists and those wanting to vote based on reverse racism/ racial guilt probably canceling each other out? Let's face it; when you take race out of it you have a brilliant, exciting, young, incredibly talented candidate running a nearly perfect campaign at a time when people are desperate for change and rejecting the party in power. Of course we elected Barack Obama. The very fact that it's been close has been disheartening, not because it was a sign of racism, but because it showed that so many vote based on party branding rather than issues. Sure, some folks vote based on principles, but many of those are essentially identity politics, too. Take abortion as an example. If that's your single issue, are you voting for the Republican Party because they have delivered you anything except slightly higher rates of abortion whenever they hold the White House? Or, on the flip side, are you voting based on Universal Health Care? How much have the Democrats produced while running with that as a stated goal? No, even these single issue voters are voting for the party that stands with them, not the party that has done something substantive for them. This relates directly to the race issue. Most overt racists were in one party or the other and wouldn't switch because of race, and my guess is that the number of racists, either overt or subconscious, who made their choice based on the color of Obama's skin probably crossed that line and passed an equal number of folks coming the other way for the opposite reason.

Race does not explain this election. Not by a long shot.

On February 17th of 2007, I wrote this at my blog on the Barack Obama website: "I made a screen shot of Senator Obama's page which showed me as one of his friends. When he's finishing his second term my son will be 12, and I'll be able to show him the picture and say, 'Yes, President Obama and I go waaaay back.' I desperately hope that my son won't be able to remember or even imagine the state of moral decay of the presidency before President Obama took office. I fear that it will take all of the president's energy to undo the damage that has been done by this administration, but I think Senator Obama (I mean, my pal Barack) has the character and intelligence to pull it off."

Well, more than a year and a half later, despite the talking heads spending much of tonight talking about (my pal) Barack's ethnicity, I still think this election was won due to his intelligence and character. I still think it's going to take eight years to clean up Bush's mess, and I still believe President Obama can do it.

This election isn't about a post-racial candidate. It's the story of a majority of post-racial voters who, without feigning some idiotic affected racial blindness, cast our ballots for the best person for the job.

I'm sure there are a lot of post-racial voters on the Republican side of this election, too. But if they looked beyond race and party branding and chose McCain, they unfortunately chose someone who couldn't look beyond his party base this time around, and greatly diminished himself over the course of this campaign. He sided with a party whose most honest strategists openly admit it benefits from lower voter turn-out and heightened fear within the electorate. McCain has been a great man in the past, but he gambled on the Republican base vs. the middle.

Americans chose to vote.

Americans chose to be brave.

That's why Barack Obama is President-elect.

And that's why, to paraphrase our new First Lady, I'm prouder of my country tonight than I've ever been before.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Five things white people shouldn't do if (when) Obama wins

Some very good advice here.

Media Biased Towards Facts

Joel told me about this piece on media bias at Apparently, when McCain talks about media bias, he sites a statistic by a non-partisan media watchdog site. This study considers reporting about polling showing an Obama lead as "positive" coverage favoring Obama and "negative" coverage towards McCain. Similarly, one imagines that accounts of the sizes of Obama's crowds are considered positive coverage, while reports of McCain's crowds are negative. Oh, and it gets worse; when fact checkers report on lies McCain has told, those are negative pieces about him. So, if McCain tells the most lies, has anemic crowds, and loses in polls, he is receiving coverage that is biased against him.

In that case, I am praying the coverage of McCain is going to be really negative when reporters reveal the simple fact that he's lost the only poll that matters.

So please, people, go out and vote, and encourage media bias.

Election fatigue mixed with high anxiety and a dash of...

Last night I found myself overwhelmed by two seemingly contradictory emotions. On the one hand, I felt a tsunami of election fatigue. I've been reading every bit of election news I can get my hands on, despite obviously diminishing returns as pieces not only repeated the same facts, but even started repeating lines stolen from one another.

But while the coverage made me feel tired, my anxiety about the outcome had me hopped up like I'd been mainlining Jolt Cola. All the data points to an Obama win, but I've seen that kind of thing before. I'd get excited about celebrating, then agitated about the nature of my mourning should things go all screwy. Would I rend my clothes and put ashes on my head, old testament style? Would I try to pull out my hair? How does a bald guy do such a thing? Tweezers? Would I just end up with a bunch of unsightly scratch marks?

Tonight I felt a third, even stranger emotion: I began to prematurely miss all the interest the county has discovered for their own governance. Will we return to worrying about the failed relationships of celebrities, the next blond girl to get kidnapped, the personal beef between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump? Luckily, Jack Shafer and Anne Applebaum assure me this will not be the case, as the press will immediately turn on President-Elect Obama and the international community will only warm up temporarily before realizing much of our foreign policy will remain unchanged. By November 6th or 7th we'll be reading angry op-eds about how Obama hasn't magically delivered on every campaign promise, enacted the entirety of the liberal agenda, ended hunger, brought about world peace, and filled my refrigerator with Mountain Dew and loaded my cupboards with Cool Ranch Doritos. (Okay, I'll be writing that last one in a couple days.) So, thanks to Anne and Jack for letting me return to simply being worn out and freaked out, comforted by the knowledge that we'll all still be nearly as politically obsessed as I am.

See, now you're worried and exhausted, too!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Clensing the Palette with Sarah Marshall

Tonight Paige and I watched M. Nigh Shyamalan's "The Happening". I'd read the reviews, and had pretty low expectations. I had my smarmy remark all planned. Credits would roll, and I'd say, "Well, that happened." I'd say it with such a complete lack of passion that it would convey that I knew the line was unoriginal, but I didn't even care about that.

Well, the movie managed to disappoint, to the extent that I couldn't manage to say, "That happened," unless by "that" I meant a painful waste of time, strung along by some hope for the fabled M. Night Shyamalan surprise ending, which, it turns out, was an endangered species in the beginning of his career and is now officially extinct. Not only was the ending bad, but the whole movie made me wonder if he'd agreed to the basic premise on a dare. Someone said, [Spoiler Alert] "Hey, M., I'll bet you can't make a movie where the villain is a plant! And I'm not talking about some kind of mobile plant monster, but just a regular old rooted plant."

And M. said, "Well, can it be more than one rooted plant?"

"Um, I guess."

"Can it be all the plants in the world? 'Cause I think I'm onto something here!"

"Oh, crap. What have I done."

Yep, I'll bet that's how it went down. And down, and down, until it fell into a steaming pile that was this movie. And I'm not even trying to be gross, but the movie was a lot like poop. Imagine someone taking a dump in public. You'd be horrified, and you wouldn't enjoy it, but you'd have trouble looking away at first just because the whole scene would be so surreal. That's what the first few minutes of this movie were like. But when the crazy person pulls up his drawers and walks away, you wouldn't saunter over and stare at the poop for another hour and a half, would you? Well, maybe you would if you thought that, at the end of that time, the poop would do something really amazing which you couldn't possibly have expected. Only, it doesn't. So now you're the guy who stared at human feces on a sidewalk for two hours. How do you feel? That's how I felt after "The Happening."

Paige went to bed, but I couldn't just take that feeling into the dark. It's one thing to go to bed scared by images in a horror film. That's a part of the experience. But it's altogether different to go to bed angry, imagining the bodily harm you'd like to inflict on some arrogant, over-rated filmmaker. My psyche doesn't need that.

So I watched our next Netflix offering, "Forgetting Sarah Marshal". Judd Apatow, the producer, gets a lot of credit because he produced this, which seems a bit unfair to me. I'm sure the director, Nicholas Stoller, contributed more than Apatow, but I think the most credit should go to Jason Segel, who not only played the lead roll but wrote the script, played the songs, and even operated a puppet. The guy was amazing. The movie is very funny at times, but the thing that struck me the most was the fact that the characters all seemed amazingly believable. I don't actually know any Hollywood actresses or rock stars (or, for that matter, pot-head surf instructors) but the characters all broke free of cliches and, more than that, of their archetypal parts in the standard machine of a romantic comedy. I can't recommend it to my Creative Writing class (not appropriate) but that's a shame, because it's a good lesson in how to avoid two-dimensional characters, even when two-dimensional characters seem like the kinds of tools that will allow you to claw your way through a plot. Kudos, Jason Segel! And thank you for washing my mouth out with your (pretty filthy) movie, to clear away the toxic "Happening".