Sunday, August 31, 2008

Police state

It seems that police in the Twin Cities are searching, detaining and arresting dozens of people who are in the St. Paul, Minnesota, area to peacefully protest the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to start tomorrow (depending on the RNC's response to Hurricane Gustav).

The description of the SWAT-geared local, state and federal agents bursting into people's homes, refusing to show warrants, handcuffing everyone, and removing all journals, computers and political-themed publications are chilling and outrageous. Patriotism isn't wearing a flag pin or saying the pledge, but rather it is respecting the ideas and protections of the US Constitution, and these are the actions of a totalitarian government, not a government "of the people, by the people and for the people."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Are you serious?

It was an excellent political move for John McCain to announce his selection for vice president yesterday, bumping the other top political story -- Barack Obama's acceptance speech culminating a Democratic National Convention that seemed to unify and re-energize his candidacy -- from web sites and television. The choice of Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, was also a rather big surprise and a historic one, too. The conservative mother of five may give some evangelical Christians a reason to go to the polls on Nov. 4 to vote for McCain, a prospect that a number of them had not seemed thrilled about up to now.

However, when analyzing Palin's selection with regard to what it says about McCain's judgment, one cannot help but conclude that this was a terrible -- almost laughable -- decision. Is the GOP nominee really telling us that this is the best potential VP in the entire party? Does he actually believe that this former beauty queen and self-described "hockey mom" will be ready on Jan. 20 to assume the powers of the presidency should the need arise?

To those who say this is a sexist position, I say not true. Hillary Clinton would have been ready. Condoleezza Rice would have been ready. Even if McCain had picked, for example, Kay Baily Hutchison, a US Senator from Texas who I cannot stomach, my argument against her would not be that she is not prepared to be president. And to those who say that Obama is similarly unprepared, I also say not true. Whether one agrees with the positions of the Democratic nominee or not, there should be little debate -- despite McCain's foolish attacks of Obama being all flash and no substance -- that this is a man of gravitas. The Illinois senator is extremely bright, hard working and serious, and has spent much time involved in the substance of national and international issues, both as a US Senator and during his presidential campaign.

Newsweek today described Palin as "a cross between a Fox anchor and a character on Northern Exposure," the early '90s TV show about the residents of a quirky town in Alaska. While she has had some notable highlights in her career -- standing up to the Republican Party in her own state to blow the whistle on corruption -- the 44-year-old evangelical Protestant believes that global climate change is a hoax and that creationism should be taught in public schools. We've had enough of this backwards thinking in Washington for eight years with the Bush cult. Palin, whose husband works for oil giant BP, is in favor of drilling on public land and opposed to listing the polar bear as an endangered species. She's also under investigation in Alaska for abuse of power.

Palin's only chance in her October debate with Democratic VP nominee Joe Biden is that the expectations for her will be so low that should she exit the hall still able to speak it would be considered a victory. McCain, one can only surmise, is desperate to shake up the presidential race. Despite the big banner that said "Country First" at yesterday's rally in Ohio where Palin was introduced, it seems clear that he has put the interests of his own political campaign ahead of what would be best for the nation. Is this the judgment that America needs? If he wins in November, it'll be despite, not because of, this huge blunder.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Remembering where we've been and celebrating where we are

In the early hours of August 28, 1955, four people drove up to a small home in the rural Mississippi delta, and two of them pounded on the door and told the man who lived there to send out his nephew. Being that the visitor was a white man, Moses Wright -- a black 64-year-old sharecropper and preacher -- had no choice but to do what he was told and wake Emmett Till. The 14-year-old was taken away in a car with four white people, and his body -- which had been savagely beaten, shot and weighted down -- was found the next day in the nearby Tallahatchie River.

Those involved were acquitted by a jury of a dozen white men, which took all of an hour to deliberate. Later, the defendants admitted to friends that they had killed the boy. Till was from Chicago and, earlier in the day, had spoken to or whistled at a white woman at a local store. When the badly disfigured body arrived home, Till's mother made the fateful decision to open the casket for the funeral, and the photos and stories elicited widespread outrage across the country and in Europe. Thus, the American Civil Rights movement began.

Today, 53 years later, another Chicagoan is poised to accept his party's nomination for president of the United States. Maybe in the last half century America would have risen up and come to the point where we have the chance to vote for someone that is partly of African descent, but as Barack Obama hits the stage in Denver this evening he, and all of us, should remember Emmett Till.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LUC meeting Thursday

I've received an email announcing a meeting of the East Boston Land Use Council tomorrow, Thursday evening, at the East Boston Social Center starting at 7 p.m. Items on the agenda include the transfer of a beer and wine license from Caffe Italia on Huntington Ave. in Boston to Rosticeria Cancun, located at 145 Meridian Street.

Return of Mount Carmel?

The East Boston Times reports this week that the Archdiocese of Boston is moving toward reopening Mount Carmel Church, the East Boston parish that has been shut down since the fall of 2004. Apparently parishioners, who have been occupying the church since the closing, have been negotiating quietly with the cardinal's people for some time.

Mount Carmel, at the corner of Gove and Frankfort streets, was one of the centers of the neighborhood's Italian American community for much of the 20th Century. Most of the people who I knew growing up were baptized there, as I was, even as families spread out to live in other parts of the neighborhood.

Whether an agreement is fully reached and to what degree the parish will return to its former self remain to be seen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"A tradition unlike..." Huh?

I did a double take when I saw the headline on Page 2 of the Aug. 20 edition of The East Boston Times. Above a good story on Santarpio's, Eastie's venerable pizza shrine, it said, "A tradition unlike no other." I've heard the phrase "a tradition like no other" as well as "a tradition unlike any other," but the wording used by the Times makes no sense.

Unless...wait a second...if we cancel out the double negative, we're left with "A tradition like many others." Hey, that's an insult! Was that the real motive of the local weekly? It must be. Otherwise we're left with an embarrassingly sloppy rendering of a simple phrase.

Also, I must disagree with the newspaper's decision to put the photo of the 11-year-old East Boston girl who returned home after being missing for a few days last week on Page 1. Sure, I had her image up on this blog, but that was after receiving it in an email from Station 7 while the child's whereabouts were still unknown. Her picture was all over the local dailies and TV stations at that point in hopes that this would help in the search for her. Now she's back and while law enforcement follows up on the case I think we should get her face out of the spotlight as soon as we can.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Development in Maverick

I've heard that Melissa Tyler, owner of a small jewelry outfit called Tummy Toys, is purchasing the old public welfare building in Maverick Square, which has been vacant for many years.

Word is that Tyler hopes to transform the building into retail and office space, especially for the development of small, locally-owned ventures. Tyler lives and works on Marginal Street.

History through art

The large mural charting the history of immigrants in East Boston is 10 years old in October, and the Globe has a story today about artist Chris Tauson and how the painting came to be.

The mural, which covers more than 3,000 square feet, is on an East Boston Neighborhood Health Center building that faces a small parking lot on Gove Street. It tells the story of nine different immigrant groups that have lived in the community, starting with Native Americans.

Tauson, who has lived in Eastie for 22 years, has also painted some other murals in the community.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A window into Eastie's past

For all of my life I've seen the Bennington Street Cemetery and thought it'd be an interesting place to check out some day, and earlier this week I did. The gates of the grounds are usually locked, but one can arrange a visit by calling the city's cemetery division.

The Bennington Street Cemetery was founded in 1838, and most of the gravestones are from the mid-19th century, though a couple are from the 20th. The names are mostly German, Scandinavian, British and Irish -- the ethnicity of the shipyard workers who came to East Boston in the 1800s -- and some veterans of the Civil War and the First World War are buried there as well. Unfortunately, there are quite a few stones that are impossible to read, as time and weather have taken their toll.

The biggest tragedy in the cemetery, however, is the number of gravestones that are broken. Dozens are chipped, cracked or split, and though some have clearly been fixed, quite a few have not. In fact, toward the back fence there is a pile of stone pieces up against a tree (see photo). Maybe the city is in the process of making repairs, but it's more likely that the broken pieces have been sitting there for quite a while.

The Bennington Street Cemetery may be the last piece of land in this neighborhood that looks roughly as it did a century ago, and it's also possible -- depending on where the original islands that make up East Boston were -- that Native Americans tread on that ground. My visit was a morning well spent.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Check out Condoleezza Rice's comments to reporters today: "Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool that it has always used whenever it wishes to deliver a message and that's its military power. That's not the way to deal in the 21st century."

It seems that the Bush Administration doesn't even bother to recognize reality these days. Didn't we use military power in Afghanistan and Iraq this century?

Then there's is this line from John McCain: "In the 21st century nations don't invade other nations." It'd be laughable if we weren't talking about WAR! These people are absurd.

Summer treats

There's a blurb on today about paletas -- frozen fruit in a cup that is a popular summer treat among our Latin American friends. I will try one before the summer is over, but it'd have to be mighty good to replace my traditional summer favorite -- slush from the place we've always called "East Boston slush." I've been by there a number of times this summer and it is still fantastic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First Amendment rights restored

The federal judge who gagged the MIT students for 10 days after a school project revealed flaws in the MBTA's fare system finally reached the correct decision and threw out the restraining order today.

US District Court Judge George O'Toole was wrong to have originally granted the T's request for such an order. The scope of reasons that a judge can censor citizens in America is, and should be, extremely narrow -- for example, troop movements during war time. A court order that prohibits publication or the release of information is known as "prior restraint," and it is decreed quite rarely. The usual route is that somebody can sue for damages after publication and, if their case is judged legitimate by a jury, can be awarded damages.

The fact that the T system has weaknesses is the agency's problem, not the students. They should move to fix it and not blame the messengers. On a positive note for the T, their lawyer in today's hearing is named Ieaun Mahoney, and I cannot think of another name or word that has four different vowels in a row. That is pretty cool.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dog days

It's mid-August, which should mean we're in the dog days of summer -- slow, languid afternoons and muggy nights -- but we've had a rather mild July and August. Today is actually the warmest it's been in a while, with the National Weather Service recording a high of 87 and the EBSB bank clock at Orient Heights reading 89 when I drove past about an hour ago. It's supposed to be in the 80s and sunny the rest of the week, but this may be the high point for heat.

My favorite summer insect, because I'm sure you're dying to know, is the dog-day cicada. First off, I like the name, and it's appropriate because the dog-day is only heard calling during the period of time it's named after and only then when the temperature reaches the 80s.

The other point of intrigue for me is that I've associated its call with the summer for years, but I never knew what exactly was making that sound. I tried describing the call to people (it builds up for a couple seconds, then holds and fades quickly, and it sounds like some type of electrical wire), but they looked at me strangely and had no idea what I was talking about. One day a couple years ago I decided to see what I could find out about it on the Internet and I found images (like the one above) and sound files of the call.

Now, on days like this, I listen for dog-days -- there is one that's been outside my window all day today -- and I know what I am hearing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Daily dose of truth

Back when David Letterman was on NBC and his show was called Late Night, I remember that during one of his anniversary broadcasts the host rode out onto the stage -- it might have been Radio City Music Hall, taken over for this particular celebration -- atop a white horse. It was around 1990, and I felt that Letterman was, as the image indicated, somewhat of a hero for those of my generation: the purveyor of humor that was smart, funny, irreverent and that spoke to us.

Letterman is at CBS now, and I don't watch his show that often. When I do see it, there is less anticipation that each night is going to be a spectacle -- some new twist on the talk show format that will have everyone talking the next day. He can still be funny, but he is now 61 and his show can no longer be relied on to prod and poke fun at the establishment. It has been for a while now part of it.

A few years ago I began watching The Daily Show, which Jon Stewart took over hosting in 1999, and I've come to see that program as a nightly "must-see." For people like me -- progressives who attempt to be politically aware -- it is "the smartest, funniest show on television and a provocative and substantive source of news," as described in a recent story in The New York Times.

To those who don't watch The Daily Show, it may seem impossible for a self-proclaimed "fake news show" to be a source of what is happening in the world, but it's true. The program often takes apart political news and lays the pieces bare for all to see, while network news shows offer fluff and dance around the truth. There is, often, a little crass humor here and there, but there is some brutal honesty regarding our politicians and our political system. There's also a serious discussion with each evening's guest -- and Stewart always shows himself to be on top of every issue and able to spar with the most highly-regarded minds.

More and more the owners of those minds are showing up, liberal and conservative. They know that Stewart's audience is smart and reads books, so the show is a key stop for writers of political non-fiction. Also, politicians consider it a show worth visiting. John McCain has been on several times, as have the presidents of several countries and more than two dozen current or former US Senators.

Even when I need to wake up early the next day, I try to catch The Daily Show (11 p.m. on Comedy Central, channel 76 on Comcast Cable), and if Jon Stewart rides out one night on a white horse I will applaud.

Friday, August 15, 2008

There is a bear in the woods

In a preemptive strike against some who read this I respond: You care correct. There is virtually nothing happening in the world that I don't blame, at least in part, on George W. Bush and his administration of arrogant, foolish scoundrels.

To the matter at hand: Russia's aggression against Georgia. I think it was Jon Stewart who said the other day that international conflicts are the way Americans learn geography. Suddenly we've been forced to run to look up South Ossetia, as our former Cold War adversary looks to be intimidating neighbors and prodding the West with a flex of muscle that says, "The Big Bear still matters."

As far as I can tell the Russians are the aggressors here, but the Georgian president was playing a dangerous game of provocation with his giant neighbor. This leaves the US and its NATO allies walking a fine line of condemnation but restraint. We don't want to send American soldiers into an unstable place to square off against Russian soldiers on the other side of a murky border. If Georgia had been accepted into NATO as the US has been advocating, would we have been obligated to? Even short of that, the Georgians are one of the few countries that sent actual troops to help us in Iraq. Do we owe them?

And here, on the subject of Iraq, is where the bigger points are to be made. Our illegitimate, ill-advised invasion of that country has left American leaders looking a little disingenuous when they say, as Bush did, "It now appears that an effort may be under way to depose [Georgia's] duly elected government. Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century."

OK, so Iraq wasn't a democracy and isn't our neighbor, but that is parsing the statement a little too closely, no? The Bush doctrine of preemptive war has left the US with little moral authority on the world stage to say, "Hey, you can't do that," to aggressor nations. And further, the condition of our military after five years in Iraq has weakened our ability to do anything even if we wanted to. Of course, I'm not suggesting that we should, only that the Russians might have considered American moral and military, as well as economic, abilities when deciding to send soldiers and tanks into Georgian territory.

Did Bush see that when he famously looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes in 2001 and got "a sense of his soul"?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Missing child found

The 11-year-old East Boston girl who went missing Tuesday night has been found and the police suspect no foul play.

Eastie rising

New local food spots just keep popping up in East Boston. I received an email telling me about a place called Scup's in the Harbor, located at 256 Marginal Street, Building 16 -- which is apparently in the middle of the shipyard. Currently, Scup's is open for breakfast and lunch. Word is also that the dog store on Sumner Street is going to be a small grocery store with some food to go.

Finally, some vacant storefronts have caught my eye. A small building at the corner of Saratoga and Curtis streets looks like it was just fixed up nicely. In a spot with more foot traffic that looks like it'd be a cool cafe of some kind. There are also two brick buildings with new condos in the 170s of Chelsea Street that have empty storefronts on the bottom floors, though I'm not sure what would be best in that location.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Knowing "the other"

During Sunday afternoon's torrential thunderstorms I sought shelter at several points in my journey from the Government Center T stop to a cafe in the North End. Crazy as it seems, it took me 90 minutes or so to cover that distance, as it was pouring most of that time and I had my laptop with me, which I couldn't allow to get wet.

At one point I was next to a young man with funky eyeglasses who is visiting Boston for a few days and attends college in Oregon. He is a Saudi, and we had a nice conversation for 15 minutes about the perceptions that each of our peoples has about the other. Having been in the US now for nearly two years, the young man -- whose name I never got -- said that he has had a couple of negative comments directed toward him, but the overwhelming majority of Americans have been friendly and he has a positive view of the US.

It was good to hear his thoughts, but what, I think, is important to note as well is that he didn't have those opinions before he got here. The picture in his head growing up in Saudi Arabia was based on what he'd heard from people and seen in the media, and it wasn't all positive. Knowledge, truth and real-world experience have made all the difference. Whether one grows up in the Muslim world or China or El Salvador or Peoria -- ignorance, lies and xenophobia breed hatred.

I read a story years ago about the Troubles in Northern Ireland where a reporter walked into a grammar school -- I can't remember if it was Catholic or Protestant -- and inside the building it said: "If you were born where they were born and you were taught what they were taught you would believe what they believe." Think about it. If, in the long years and decades of history, one of your forefathers or foremothers had taken a turn in one of their travels, you could be a Muslim living in, perhaps, the Middle East. What would you think of America then?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Standing up to power

Anthony Russo, who helped Daniel Ellsberg copy and leak the Pentagon Papers in 1971, passed away this week. Both men were employed by the defense think tank The RAND Corporation when they became disillusioned with American policy in Vietnam and decided to release parts of a 14,000 page report to the press. Ellsberg said that the documents, "demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates."

Both men were charged with treason, but a judge eventually tossed the case out of court. The Nixon Administration attempted to prevent the documents from being published, but The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe went ahead, risking possible fines and jail time by defying the government. All of those who helped bring the truth to the public are heroes. Authority should always be questioned; dissent is not just a right, but it is the obligation of every American.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Track team?

Suffolk Downs is in negotiations to partner with, or buy outright, Wonderland Greyhound Park, according to stories in the Globe and Herald today. Wonderland apparently owes nearly $800,000 in back taxes, and "Revere officials recently began foreclosure proceedings against the track."

Speculation in the stories is that combining forces gives the tracks more leverage in their bid to bring casino gambling to the region. Wonderland, the thinking goes, may be able to keep dog racing if it has slot machines. However, there is also the November ballot question that would outlaw greyhound racing in the state to consider.

I'd like to see an end to dog racing. I also believe that it's a bad idea to bring casinos to this state and, more specifically, to East Boston. As we can see, Suffolk's principal owner Richard Fields is spending a good deal of money and expending a good deal of effort to put himself in a better position to get what he wants.

Update: It seems that Suffolk Downs and Wonderland have reached an agreement. In the statement released today (8/13), Wonderland principal owner Charles Sarkis says, "“All along during discussions with Suffolk Downs, we had one big goal in mind: protect the jobs of nearby residents..." Ha! That crock is the same line business owners always use. In reality it translates as, "I am going to get as much cash out of this deal as possible."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fiddling while nation burns

I just heard author Ron Suskind interviewed for an hour on NPR's Fresh Air and I am left again feeling infuriated and depressed. His new book, The Way of the World, discusses how the White House made its case for war in Iraq despite all of the evidence at their disposal that there were no WMD in that country.

Suskind's book has been in the news this week because of his allegation -- which he claims comes from numerous sources, including two former high-ranking CIA officials who are on the record -- that the White House ordered the intelligence agency to create a fake letter that tied 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta to Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein.

Of course, it violates federal statute for the CIA to engage in propaganda against the citizens of the United States, but the agency apparently did so on Bush's orders. The worst and most criminal of our presidents is going to escape Washington in six months without being impeached. How is it possible that we let all this happen?

Forgetting justice in the process

Yesterday, while the media was still putting into perspective the life of Russian writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn three days after his death, Salim Hamdan was found guilty of "supporting terrorism" by a US military court at Guantanamo Bay.

Solzhenitsyn, who spent time in a Soviet prison camp and was later exiled for his writings, was hailed in the West for bravely and honestly showing the world the violence, hypocrisy and lies of Soviet communism. For most of the two decades outside his native land the Nobel laureate lived in Cavendish, Vermont, writing and shunning the spotlight.

Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who's been held for six years as an "enemy combatant," is the first person successfully tried by the sloppily-configured US war-crimes court -- the first such proceedings since World War II. The trial has raised many objections from human-rights advocates for the lack of typical legal protections during the trial: testimony gathered using coercion was allowed, hearsay was admitted as evidence, the defense was unable to see all of the evidence, and just a two-thirds vote was needed for conviction.

The judge, jury and almost all of the attorneys were members of the US military -- hardly a prescription for fairness -- but those tasked with defending Hamdan were cited as doing a noble job, and they frequently railed against the unjustness of the process. In the end, regardless of whether he was found guilty or acquitted, Hamdan is likely never to be set free, as the Bush Administration has given itself unlimited power to hold combatants until the end of the "war on terror" -- in essence, permanently.

Solzhenitsyn's words played a role in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Someone, now or in the future, will write the Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib versions of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago. Let us hope that our nation rises up and recommits itself to justice and equal protection under the law before we become too much like the enemy laid bare in the famed Russian's books.

Update: Salim Hamdan was sentenced today to 5 1/2 years after being convicted yesterday of supporting terrorism. The decision, handed down by a jury at the US military court in Guantanamo Bay, was much less than the 30 years to life that prosecutors asked for. Counting time served, Hamdan could be released in just five months, though it remains to be seen if that will be the case.

Winthrop stalls on Dunkin'

The Globe takes a look at conflict between the town of Winthrop and the Dunkin' Donuts on Main Street of that community. Some in the DD camp blame the Orient Heights traffic lights 3/4 of a mile away at the intersection of Bennington and Saratoga streets in East Boston. Traffic guru John Vitagliano, however, has used videotape -- some available to see with the story -- that points the finger at cars entering and exiting DD.

I'm not sure that I quite understand Winthrop's reluctance to enforce an order passed by its zoning board that says the drive-through window cannot open between 7 and 10 a.m. The article implies that it is not specifically that the decision is under appeal in state court that prohibits officials from following up on it. "We're a legislative branch; we're not executive, we can't enforce anything," the town council president said. Can't they tell the police to do so?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Food bits

The Starbucks on McClellan Highway, opposite Boardman Street, has been open for a couple weeks now, and the hours are 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays.

A place called Oran Cafe also opened recently at the corner of Bennington and Marion streets. I'm not sure what kind of place it is. Can anyone fill us in?

Meanwhile, La Hacienda -- at the site of the old Caffe Italia -- has been open for about a month. I've had espresso there and it's good. Anyone have thoughts on the food?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The sounds of summer

ZUMIX, the local youth arts organization, runs a free summer concert series with performances at Bremen Street Park on Tuesdays and at Piers Park on Sundays, generally from 5 to 7 p.m. This evening Jack Lee & Divercity come to Eastie to play "current and classic reggae, soca, calypso as well as American standards and dance hits."

Bremen Street Park is located right next to the Airport MBTA stop on the Blue Line. For more information on ZUMIX summer concerts go to the group's web site.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dark days and knights

Batman has come a long way since I used to watch reruns after school of the campy, short-lived 1960s TV series and even farther from its creation as a comics series in 1939. I saw the most recent incarnation this week, Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight, on an IMAX screen in Reading, and the movie is breaking box office records.

While there were a number of things I liked in the film, there were also some drawbacks to it. I recently read an entry in the Globe's MovieNation blog in which critic Ty Burr tells of being at a family event and having a number of teens and twentysomethings come up to him and ask if The Dark Knight is the best film ever. It seems the more cleverly violent and destructive a movie is, the more young people like it, but -- call me "a bleeding-heart liberal wuss" (and some have) -- that doesn't motivate or excite me as a moviegoer. I can appreciate special effects, stunts and celluloid trickery to just a small degree, but then it quickly turns me off.

I like stories about people and their struggles with life, their ethical dilemmas, their subtle epiphanies. I like long shots, few cuts and wide landscapes. I like witty dialogue, intelligent characters and smart plots. For me, The Dark Knight was a spectacle, and a cool one, but it's not likely to be the best film I've seen this year. In fact, it's already not.

There were, in the somewhat convoluted and hard-to-follow plot, a number of ethical questions addressed by the movie, and most of them relate to the path America has taken in this post 9/11 world: Does an increase in resources and tactics applied to an enemy increase the atmosphere of disorder? Is it acceptable to spy on everyone to keep tabs on the bad guys? Should torture be used to elicit information? Is it necessary and acceptable to violate one's moral code in order to subdue an enemy who seems not to possess such a code of their own?

The Dark Knight cannot really be discussed without mentioning Heath Ledger's role as the Joker. It is one of the most captivating cinematic performances I've ever seen, but some of that is certainly due to our knowledge of his death not long after filming was completed. Still, he is very good and worthy of an Oscar nomination. Whether he wins or not, however, should be based on the strength of his performance as compared to the other nominees (if you agree that such awards have any sensical rubric) and not out of pity because he is gone.

The movie is good -- dark in tone and filled with non-stop action. It is also physically dark, and -- as a review in The New Yorker pointed out -- after Christian Bale, who plays Batman, trained for months in martial arts, it's impossible to follow what he is doing in any of the fight scenes because they are so fast, close and dark. The same effect happens in other scenes and plot elements, causing some confusion as to what is going on.

What is really unfortunate is that Hollywood has wasted and will continue to waste untold millions on movies with violence and explosions that take on none of the ethical quandaries that The Dark Knight does, and our young people -- who have had their ability to appreciate art that has depth and meaning destroyed by our watered down, mass market culture -- will continue to give the studios a reason to do so by accepting all the artless crap they are sold every day.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Check the numbers

I am not an economist, but New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is, and this week he posted this chart on his blog, which reflects "the annual rate of employment growth" for presidential administrations going back to 1953.

Do you see a glaring trend?

Please, let us stop discussing "elitists" and "fist bumps" in the current presidential campaign, and let's boot out the party that is destroying the nation.