Posted by mike in Entertainment,Politics,Religion at 12:16 am on December 16, 2008

I know I’m a little behind on this one, but here’s a video I think that everybody should watch. It’s 7 minutes from The Daily Show that near-completely summarizes the two prevailing points of view on the gay marriage issue, with Mike Huckabee playing the role of the social conservative with the slight Southern drawl, and Jon Stewart serving—as usual—as the person with the capacity for rational thought.

Huckabee keeps harping on what I think is the worst possible defense of anti-gay-marriage laws: that they are only exemplary of the will of the people. “If the American people are not convinced that we should overturn the definition of marriage,” he says, “then I would say that those who support the idea of same-sex marriage have a lot of work to do to convince us.” Stewart uses what I consider to be the most obvious retort to this type of thinking: “What if we make it if Hispanics can’t vote?” Is there any doubt that if such a measure were put to ballot in, say, Texas or Arizona or New Mexico, that it would pass? Or how about a vote to remove rights from black people in a state like Arkansas—wouldn’t you imagine that, if given the chance, the majority of the people in that state would happily assert their will in such a measure’s favor? (Am I guilty of broadly applying stereotypes here? Of course… but that doesn’t diminish the credibility of the point.) “Segregation used to be the law,” Jon reminds us.

Stewart also takes another stance that’s near and dear to me: “Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality.” This, of course, is a particularly relevant comparison to make, considering the near-universal religious basis of anti-gay-rights movements as of late.

Huckabee runs through all of the go-to arguments against gay marriage rights. I think one of the most curious to me is when he suggests that were homosexuals given the right to marry, then “we would have to say to the guy in West Texas who had twenty-seven wives, ‘That’s okay.'” And without knowing the details of the story he seems to be referring to (and ignoring the obvious “straw man” nature of the point he’s trying to make in the first place), my initial reaction to that is: why shouldn’t it be? If 28 consenting adults have found an arrangement that brings them happiness, whose business is it to tell them they’re wrong? What about having 27 wives is intrinsically damaging to society, other than the fact that it’s not what white Christian Westerners have been told constitutes a “healthy family”? Perhaps that’ll be a fight that’s waged at some point in the (distant) future. (Or perhaps someone can tell me what I’m missing with this topic… “You watch too much Big Love” not being particularly enlightening.)

Obviously for now it’s all our culture can handle to try to address this current issue intelligently. When there are still people—leaders, in fact; governors, even—trying to assert “the difference between a person being black and a person practicing a lifestyle” it shows just how entrenched most of the thinking surrounding this issue is. Not to mention how fucked up.

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Posted by mike in Politics at 11:57 pm on November 4, 2008

There’s no questioning that history was made tonight (and, as I said yesterday, I’m extremely pleased with our country’s ability to make the right decision after its recent track record of not doing so). But make no mistake about it: we also saw plenty of evidence of just how far our country still has to go before realizing a truly equality-based society.

Gay is the new black.

Despite the fact that we’ve taken a major stride tonight in overcoming our country’s long-standing tradition of racism, we’ve simultaneously taken steps to ensure that we continue to immediately replace that racism with another form of bigotry. It’s as though we just can’t stand to not have some group to discriminate against. Those who were the last to concede that their racism was no longer going to be accepted in our society have been among the first to redirect that hatred towards homosexuals.

Arizona and Florida have voted tonight to ban gay marriage in their states. California, somewhat shockingly, appears to be doing the same, reversing its Supreme Court’s decision from earlier this year. This only increases the number of states that explicitly deny rights of their citizens in a manner eerily reminiscent of the kind of treatment interracial couples received only a handful of decades ago.

And let’s not forget about that bastion of forward thinking, the great state of Arkansas, which has voted to disallow gay couples from adopting (the fact that they cannot marry in that state already being a foregone conclusion).

That’s a full sweep for the anti-gay-rights movement in 2008. It makes it hard to read and listen to all of the self-congratulatory rhetoric about the outcome of this Presidential election without feeling pangs of falsehood behind the declarations of an age of equality. The Chicago Tribune, for example, said that “Obama’s victory is one of those events that reveal [sic] how far the nation has traveled.” This, of course, is indisputable. But the other results we’ve seen this evening also reveal just how far we still have yet to go.

Gay and straight drinking fountains

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Posted by mike in Friends,Politics at 10:22 pm on November 3, 2008

Tomorrow we’re going to learn a lot about our country and what its citizens are made of. To say that it’ll be an “historic” occurrence seems trite (isn’t every Presidential election “historic”?), but I do feel (along with pretty much everybody else) that we’re at the biggest turning point as a nation of my lifetime, and probably much longer than that. This is a major fork in the road, and tomorrow we’ll see which route we’re going to be taking for many years to come.

Like CK, I’m happy to say that I’ve voted for Barack Obama twice—once as a resident of Illinois to represent my state in the U.S. Senate, and now once as a resident of California to lead our country, finally, into the 21st century. I’m not as big of a supporter of his as are a lot of people (he occasionally disappoints me with his willingness to politic his way out of every situation that arises), but I feel that he’s clearly the no-brainer choice, as Chas so concisely pointed out.

The truth of the matter is, when making a choice for President, you can judge these books by their covers. I was completely flabbergasted that anybody would take some hayseed simpleton seriously as a candidate—much less actually elect the dumbass—and remained even more shocked when he was re-elected after living up to precisely the comically low assumptions I’d held of him all along… How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB? and since then, he’s only gotten worse, as we’re all painfully aware of by now. It’s an infinitely small consolation to be able to say “I told you so” after eight years of watching this fool bumble around in our name on the world’s stage. The point, though, is that we now find ourselves in an even more exaggerated version of the same predicament we faced in 2000: John McCain is such a sad shell of a once-strong man that he’s impossible to take seriously as a potential leader unless you’re a) completely mindlessly partisan, b) a huge racist (overtly or not), or c) not only obscenely greedy and self-centered to the point that you vote based solely on the consideration of a potential tax increase but also so obscenely out of touch that you still believe that tax cuts help our economy in the first place. And on the other side, as Ben so eloquently spelled out, is the complete opposite: somebody who actually fits the role of Leader, somebody who at least looks, acts, and speaks like he belongs in the highest office we have. And this isn’t even getting into the VP candidates, where the disparity gets even greater.

And yet, despite how obvious the choice we’ve been presented with seems to be, I remain doubtful of our country’s ability to make the right decision, given our recent track record. We have more to overcome than just latent racism, not the least of which is the kind of shenanigans that the Republican party has become experts at over the past few elections. It’s hard to watch Recount—which I’ve done more than a couple of times in recent months—without wincing throughout, not just due to a sense of “what could have been,” but also due to a fear of reliving one of our country’s saddest periods over again. Luckily, all indicators point to this one not even being close, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Tonight in my house we’re going to watch V for Vendetta, a film that three and a half years ago gave us hope that maybe the masses can band together after all, no matter what they might be up against, and take their country’s destiny in their own hands. Hopefully the U.S. can do it at the polls tomorrow in a decidedly less dramatized fashion, but the result just might end up being as world-changing as that depicted in the Wachowski brothers‘ adaptation of Alan Moore‘s story.

Thanks to the phenomenon of early voting, my personal decisions have already been officially made (including, importantly, my opposition to state-sanctioned bigotry), which leaves me free to watch with bated breath tomorrow until the results become official. To say it makes me nervous is an understatement; to say that it’s exciting even more so.

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Posted by mike in Film,Politics,Reviews at 9:43 am on October 21, 2008

Status: In theaters (opened 10/17/08)
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Stanley Weiser
Cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael
Starring: Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfuss, Toby Jones, Ellen Burstyn

George W. Bush, even as an adult—even as the leader of the free world—still calls his father “Poppy.” In a way, this tells you all you need to know about Oliver Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser’s take on our current President. This film could’ve been called Daddy Issues, although that’s not as cool of a title as what they went with. It’s ostensibly a biography of W., focusing on how his relationship with his father—specifically his lifelong search for his father’s approval—shaped his political career. We see his story from his days as a drunken fratboy until he and his package declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The narrative begins roughly around the time the decision to invade Iraq was made, and follows the discussions leading up to that decision and what followed, while flashing back in time to show how W. got to that point.

There are some interesting choices made—as there are in any story like this—regarding which parts of Bush’s life and his Presidency to show and which to omit. I found it odd that so little time, for instance, was devoted to depicting his transformation as a born-again Christian. I can recall only two scenes between Bush and his pastor, neither as pivotal as I would’ve expected it to be. There were several depictions of prayer in the White House, though, and maybe it’s just me but I found them to be sufficiently telling. (Personally I found them to also be somewhat disturbing—I think a President leading a prayer in the Oval Office is about as appropriate as holding a fantasy football draft at a funeral home, and Stone’s repeated close-ups of hands clasped together give the hint that perhaps the practice is something he feels more people should be skeptical of, as well.) There is also very little made of his ownership of the Texas Rangers, although Stone makes an effective metaphor of Bush’s love of baseball (specifically, his ability to run down fly balls).

The timing of this film’s release isn’t as shrewdly-planned as it might have seemed only a few months ago, for several reasons: as the least-approved President in history we’re all ready to just let him go away (and hopefully quietly at that, before he screws anything else up), not to mention the fact that with the current standings in the polls, inciting outrage at the past 8 years is looking less and less necessary (although having lived through 2004, when a majority of the voters in this country looked at the biggest joke of a leader in this country’s history and said, “Gimme some more of that,” I remain doubtful of our ability to make the right decision until I see it actually come true… but I digress). This works to the film’s benefit, as it really isn’t trying to be the 2008 equivalent of Fahrenheit 9/11—which is to say, it seems to be genuinely attempting to chronicle the man’s life more than it is trying to skew the audience’s opinion of him as a President. If anything, the depiction in this film of President Bush is a sympathetic one: I found myself spending more time feeling sorry for him for his ignorance than I did hating him for his stupidity. This is due equally to the objectively hands-off approach taken by the script and direction, as well as Josh Brolin’s brilliant characterization of Bush, which is at once funny and sad, oafish yet at times slight, naive while simultaneously headstrong. Brolin gets to flex his ability as an actor, reveling in Bush’s mannerisms and speech patterns, which he has mastered in impressive fashion.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the rest of the cast, which is very hit or miss. Elizabeth Banks and Ellen Burstyn both play dignified First Ladies, and James Cromwell is as good as usual as the elder Bush (although he physically—and aurally—resembles the real man the least of anybody in this cast). Some of the depictions, however, slant more towards the caricature end of the spectrum, specifically Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, both of whom exaggerate their voice modulation to an almost comedic extent. Richard Dreyfuss as Vice President Cheney and Toby Jones as Karl Rove round out the headliners of the cast and are decent in their respective roles, although they seem to have been cast as much for their physical resemblance to the real-life characters they are playing as for their acting ability. It’s nice to see Rob Corddry handle a serious role—albeit a small one—as Bush’s first press secretary Ari Fleischer. All of these are mere supporting characters, however, and the focus of the film is squarely on Brolin’s embodiment of W., which stands out above the rest not only due to screen time but due to the quality of the performance and the great amount of judgment Brolin exhibits as an actor, knowing when to play a line for laughs and when to play it for sympathy.

Speaking of lines, most of Bush’s best quotes are shoehorned into the script, and yet they don’t feel too forced. I was disappointed that they didn’t include a version of what, by my recollection, was the first of many “vacationing in Crawford” segments the news outlets grew so fond of early in his presidency, when he related a story of spotting an “armadillah” on his ranch. Maybe that would’ve been too much, though. After all, we already have to hear him beg his Poppy’s approval on several occasions.

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Posted by mike in Politics at 3:49 pm on January 4, 2008

Editor’s Note: I have succumbed to yet another cliche and added a “Politics” category. Sorry.

When you apply for a job at the university where I work, you are quickly acknowledged with a note that contains the following:

As we are an Equal Opportunity Employer, we request that you fill out the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Form which can be accessed at the link below. The form will be returned electronically to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access. This form will be kept separate from the hiring process and will not play a role in the employment decision.

Note the last sentence of the quote above. It’s reiterated in the form itself: “This form will not be kept with your application nor considered in the employment decision.” It doesn’t even matter if you fill it out or not.

So what’s the point? They’re asking for information that you don’t have to give them, that they won’t connect to you or the decision to hire you in any way, and which has no bearing on anything other than keeping statistics that have no meaning (since they are not based on complete information).

I have always made it a point to ignore requests to provide this information, as a matter of principle. It’s a case of completely useless and wasteful resources going towards something that sounds good in theory, but is impossible to achieve in practice.

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