Friday, January 30, 2004

Round 2 

Thanks to everyone who voted for me for the BlogMadness tournament. I won the first round!

The second round is now going. Go take a look at my new opponent, and vote again! The fun continues!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Why Google Rocks 

So I wrote a longish review of The Last Samurai, and Blogger decided to eat about 75% of it for some reason. I was struck with despair, and then a thought- might Google have cached it?

And sure enough, I was able to retrieve the entire article from Google, all 1172 words of it. Hooray!!

(Of course, the story implies the contrary about Blogger, but I shouldn't complain about a free service. It might be impolite to note that Google's a free service too.)


Two new sermons are up, from last week and this week. The first is on Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom; and the second is Genesis 22 and the sacrifice of Isaac. Click on the sidebar link to download.


Here's a great article by Wired on outsourcing, via Instapundit. A lot of folks in my old industry do not feel at all positive about this, naturally. But I agree with the writer of the article. The reason that the phrase "the only thing constant is change" has become such a cliche is that it's so true.

Coming off the heels of that review of The Last Samurai, the idea of change is still on my mind. It's really easy to romanticize yesterday- the farm seemed more romantic than the factory, which was better than the cubicle. But in free markets, change always improves the general welfare, because people make choices that are in their interest. That may seem simplistic, and it is a little bit, but it's worked for a long time.

Nobody has ever succeeded in stopping the forces of the future. Japan was perhaps the most successful, but they paid a heavy price for it. And that's the thing we need to realize- the adjustments will happen, and we can either let them happen now in an incremental way, or we can hold them off for a while and be forced to make them later in a much more catastrophic way. It's hard to argue with the market logic of an educated English-speaking Indian doing a job that costs $70K in America for $8K in India, and doing it just as well. If his services aren't as good as the American's, then the American's got nothing to worry about. The fact that the jobs are going overseas means that the consumers of the good, that is, the managers hiring labor, think they're getting a better return on their investment, and as free market economics has always taught us, it's the consumer of the good who's in the best position to make that decision.

We can't let the people who are being hurt by the change drive the policy. I'm all for compassion, and we should have it, but destructive self-interest frequently masquerades as compassion. Our farms learned to compete; so did our factories; so can our cubicle farms.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

BlogMadness Again 

Hey all, the BlogMadness tournament is still going, and I'm in a dead heat with my first rival, as of right now. If you haven't voted, please go vote! There's no money in it for me or anything like that, but there are the bragging rights.

I'm glad it's a good contest though- my opponent in this round really had a well-written article. I always enjoy a good contest.

Monday, January 26, 2004

BlogMadness voting 

Hey all, the BlogMadness voting has started. Get out there and express your will! I'm in the "Work" bracket. It doesn't mean anything- just random names they picked for regions and assigned people to.

Movie Review: The Last Samurai 

The Last Samurai is a very loose retelling of a historical event, the Satsuma rebellion of 1877.

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 was Japan's response to the forced opening of Japanese society in 1854 by Commodore Matthew Perry, which exposed the weakness of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the government which had ruled Japan for about 250 years and that had maintained peace for that whole period partly by completely closing Japan to all outside influences. Japanese nobility believed that a return to a direct rule by the emperor would be the best way to move to a strong central government that could modernize Japan and compete with the west. A big part of this modernization was an end to many of the privileges of the samurai class in Japan. The Samurai were retainers, servants of the Shogunate and the daimyo, or lords. The samurai were the only ones permitted to wear weapons in public and many government positions were open only to them. They received taxes on the produce of the peasants in the form of stipends from the Shogunate. They were a major obstacle to a central modern government, and the Meiji emperor's administration rightly recognized that modernizing Japan required breaking their power. And so, in 1877, one of the oldest clans, the Satsuma, rebelled against the Meiji government, and were easily crushed by new conscript forces armed with firearms.

The Last Samurai retells this event loosely. The leader of the rebellion is fictionalized in the character of Katsumoto, and the American who helps them, Capt. Nathan Algren, played by Tom Cruise, is according to the best of my knowledge completely invented. Algren feels a little bit like a ripoff of Blackthorne from James Clavell's Shogun, except with a "Dances With Wolves" kind of feel thrown in. He is a hero of the Indian wars, but he has become a self-loathing drunk as a result of the things he saw in those wars, and the things he had to do. The movie tries to draw some sort of parallel between the struggle with the Indians and the samurai in the Satsuma rebellion- both being traditional, more 'spiritual' ways of life being driven out by modernization. Capt. Algren is hired by the Japanese government to train their new conscript army. His troops are pushed into battle before they are ready and are slaughtered in their first engagement with the samurai. Algren is captured by the samurai because their leader, Katsumoto, is impressed with his skills and wants to learn about the new enemy from him. He spends the winter in their village, and comes to love their way of life.

There were pros and cons to this movie. Tom Cruise has turned himself into a top-rank actor, I believe, and is excellent in this film. He doesn't have a lot of range, though, and always seems to me a little bit like his brash, wise-cracking Top Gun character, just more earnest in the more serious roles like this one. Ken Wanatabe plays the samurai leader strikingly. I'm looking forward to seeing him in more things in the future. The costumes were great, feeling very authentic to me. The samurai's elaborate armor in particular gave the combat sequences a great feel. The combat choreography was good, especially the small-scale fights involving the samurai, where they really got to show off their martial skills.

The writing was not as convincing, though. The characters all came out a little stereotypical- the evil Japanese bureaucrat; the spiritual warrior; the troubled vet; the stupid bloodthirsty military man. The movie as a whole ended up falling neatly into the formulaic "Dances With Wolves" ethos- Algren's character wasn't the only thing that reminded me of that movie. Old, traditional ways are idealized with all the cruelty, stupidity, pride and greed that characterized those ways excised; modernity is demonized with all the vast improvements in the actual quality of people's lives, especially the commonest and lowest of the people, never discussed. It's not quite as bad as "Americans bad, Japanese good", but it is a simple formula of "modern bad, traditional good". Capt. Algren's superior at one point asks him, "What is it about own people that you hate so much?" I feel like Hollywood should be asked the same question.

The movie conveniently omits the fact that the samurai had been mercilessly crushing the commoners for centuries, that the government that the Meiji administration replaced had been keeping the peasants on the brink of starvation to pay for their elaborate lifestyles. Unarmed combat or combat with farm implements such as sickles, nunchaku and staves had been developed in Japan because the samurai were so oppressive and were the only ones allowed to carry swords. The peasants would periodically revolt against the samurai, despite the fact that they were virtually unarmed and untrained, because life under the samurai was so miserable. The peasants would invariably be crushed, and thousands would be crucified. This was the 'idyllic' traditional life that Capt. Algren comes to love.

Firearms had been banned in Japan because it guaranteed the supremacy of the Samurai, who could continuously train in the ways of war. Firearms can be used with relatively little training, and destroyed the samurai's privilege. The crushing of the Satsuma rebellion was widely viewed as a victory for the people of Japan, who once and for all would be out from under the heel of the samurai. As it turned out, the modern military government that replaced it ended up leading Japan into an even greater disaster in the 1930s. But a movie that presents itself as historical really shouldn't distort the history to fit the script. The historical and moral complexities of the situation could have been presented without a great deal of difficulty in a movie of this length, and I believe it would have made a stronger story. Instead, the movie opts for the cardboard cutout of reality. The presentation of Japanese culture and ways is OK, but the history is a caricature. If you want to watch a movie to learn about Japan, I'd recommend the highly superior Shogun. Better yet, read the book.

Still, I have to admit I enjoyed the movie, probably mostly for the battle scenes. As long as I viewed it as just a story, it was fun.

As far as objectionable material- it's quite bloody, but there's no vulgarity and no sex, which was a refreshing change. There's a romance between Algren and a woman of the village, but the movie manages to present it in a highly charged way with nothing that would even merit a PG-13 rating. It reminds me of the old movies, when the sexual tension between the leading man and leading lady could be presented without so much as a flash of skin or a single vulgar word. So the violence would probably be a bit much for small children, but otherwise, it's fine. Maybe Hollywood's finally learning, that movies without all the objectionable material sell a lot better.

Rating- 3/5 stars.

Rent the DVD free from Netflix!

Saturday, January 24, 2004

You Have GOT To Be Kidding Me 

So, a security guard at a Houston chemical plant approached a man "of Middle Eastern descent" in a white pickup who was taking pictures of the plant, to question him. The man "of Middle Eastern descent" pulled a gun and shot the guard in the shoulder and drove off.

BASF spokeswoman Sharon Rogers said there was no indication the shooting was linked to terrorism.
Spokeswoman Rogers was apparently freshly hired from the moon, where she'd been living for the last three years.

Sometimes People can Really Warm Your Heart 

So to get around the smoking ban in Toledo, bars formed a non-profit corporation called Taverns for Tots, charged people $1 to smoke in their bars and then gave the money to the non-profit corporation. This is all possible because the law has an exemption for charitable events.

So the law accomplished nothing except the dead-weight loss of moving the money around like this, and of course the cost of the lawyers who will inevitably sue.

Link via the Volokh Conspiracy via Clay Whittaker. Thanks!

Friday, January 23, 2004


Dad's got a good comment on Dean-
Let's see, now. I do not think that anyone has accused Howard Dean of NOT being a human being. That seems to be self-evident. That, unfortunately for the Dr. Governor, is not the only requirement for being President. Rush Limbaugh is a human being; Jerry Falwell is a human being; Saddam Hussein is a human being; Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, Martha Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey are human beings; Bud Powell is a human being. Neither I nor my wife would vote for any of them to be President of the United States.

By the way, if you go to my dad's site, note that just because he calls me Matthew doesn't mean YOU can. Only my parents and my wife (if she's mad) ever call me Matthew.

BlogMadness 2003 

BlogMadness is a tournament that's being held for blog posts. Me being the relentless publicity hound that I am, I entered a piece- this one. I figured, I annoyed a lot of people with that article before- why not give it another go round?

Anyway, my opponent, interestingly, is also named Matt, and I have to say, he's a heckuva nice guy. I know this mostly on the strength of the fact that he said nice things about me, despite his disagreement (strong disagreement, I gather) with my post, blog, and general philosophy of life. Check out his article and then vote (naturally for me :) ). Voting opens Monday morning- 12 Midnight, actually if you're up that late.

On another note, we saw Last Samurai tonight. Cool movie. Check back here for a complete review- if you're lucky, tomorrow.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

"African American" 

Check out this story- some kids at a school promoted one of their friends for the "African-American of the Year" award, and were disciplined for it. The reason? The friend was white.

But he was from South Africa, immigrating 6 years ago.

So we can't say black, we have to say African American, but they don't mean African American, they mean black.


Kudos to the Volokh Conspiracy for the link.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Dean's defeat 

Instapundit has a roundup of reactions in the blogopshere to the Iowa caucuses.

Monday, January 19, 2004

The Evangelical Outpost vs. The National Review 

Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost is quarrelling with The National Review about their conservative credentials. This is kind of a family fight for me, because I've got a lot of respect for Joe and for the National Review.

Joe's argument is that the National Review isn't socially conservative enough, that it essentially has become libertarian. I've heard a number of times, not only from Joe but also from other sources that NR (especially National Review Online) is insufficiently hardline against gay marriage.

I've been reading National Review for quite some time, and I have to say my sympathies lie with them. In the article linked above, Joe responds to responses by NR in The Corner, NRO's blog. I think Ramesh Ponnuru nails it, though. The National Review has been, and continues to be, the best ally that the conservative community has. The Weekly Standard has its great points too, but there's really no substitute for NR.

It seems to me that one thing that weakens the social conservatives' viewpoint to a considerable degree (and I am one, BTW), is that religion is just too involved in their presentation of issues. Now before anyone blows a gasket, note that I said it's too involved in the presentation of issues, not the formulation of issues. Religion has a great deal to do with the source of everyone's viewpoints, but if the religious language is the only way one knows how to communicate that viewpoint, then one will be relegated to preaching to the choir, and nobody else will care what one has to say.

NR has studiously avoided this pitfall, even though many (most? all?) of its writers are strongly religious in one way or another. NR seeks to communicate with the world at large, and that means communicating positions in terms of practical consequences, natural law values and the like, not in terms of religion. This means that they're going to be a little bit bigger Big Tent on some issues like gay marriage than some folks like Joe (and I) would like, but before we criticize, I think we have to (a) recognize that despite this tendency, the vast majority of NR messaging on these issues has been just what we'd look for, and (b), just as Ramesh Ponnuru said, we need to learn who our friends are and who our enemies are.

Joe's response really strikes me as perfectionism. In order for someone to wear the badge 'conservative', there's an ever-widening list of criteria that one has to follow, and only those who perfectly match up will earn the title, which will necessarily be a smaller and smaller list of people.

Joe says:

Joe:This reminds me of the Democratic party’s attitude toward minority voters, “You don’t like what we stand for? Fine. Where else are you gonna go?” I can't speak for all social cons but you'll find me over at The Weekly Standard.

Ramesh:But leaving those things aside, there is no denying that the critics have a real difference of opinion with the magazine. That difference concerns the magazine’s editorial line less than its editorial policy. Should we refuse to publish articles that dissent from aspects of social conservatism? I don’t think that is a question that conservative principles can by themselves answer.
Joe:If “dissenting from aspects of social conservatism” means promoting p*rnography, then yes, I think that question can be answered by conservative principles. And the answer is that p*rn is incompatible with conservatism.

Ramesh:Nor can I say I have any great answer to the question. In general, I would say that we should not devote scarce space to articles that make arguments against our own positions positions when those arguments are made well and often elsewhere.
Joe:Oh? Has there been a dearth of articles supporting p*rn lately?

I think Joe's kind of missing the point here. In the first case, Ramesh is not saying that you either have to agree with NR or go away. He's saying that even when we disagree in some areas, that doesn't mean we become enemies, which is basically what Joe is saying when he says that because NR doesn't toe Joe's line, they no longer qualify as conservatives. And in the second case, Ramesh is actually _agreeing_ with Joe that maybe running the objectionable piece (the one apparently supporting pornography) wasn't a great idea, and Joe still goes after him.

Then there's this:
Round III -- Kathryn Jean Lopez

KJL:But it also, I think, challenges us a to take into account diverse opinion on the right more than scarce space might allow in Dead Tree, and, even, at times, to print something like that Siepp piece, which I don’t agree with—Playboy has contributed to a whole host of evils—because it does attract some new readers.
Joe:Finally, someone has the audacity to admit the truth. NRO didn’t run the piece because it was a worthy article deserving of attention; they didn’t run it because it added to the cultural conversation; they didn’t run it because it was thought-provoking. They published it because it would “attract some new readers.”

I don’t mean to toot my own horn but…did I call it or what?*

KJL:I don’t think that’s necessarily selling out.
Joe:Yes, Ms. Lopez, it is. But, heh, whatever helps you sleep at night.

KJL:Presumably—and, again, I’ve read e-mails to support this—those folks come back and get to hear our arguments on cloning and abortion and the family, the Iraq war, the idiocy of Howard Dean, the holes in the Clark record, etc. And sometimes they’ll hate our arguments, but often they’ll let us know. And, in the end, we’re all often better for it.
Joe:I get it. Defending p*rn is just the gateway drug to get them in the door. Then NRO can hook them on some hardcore conservatism! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

KJL:I wanna make sure we educate the choir, but I also want to evangelize. We might have to show a little leg sometimes to do that.
Joe:If “showing some leg” will help the evangelization efforts why not just go all the way. Why not have a full-spread layout of Ann Coulter? Or maybe show some topless shots of the girls at Hillsdale College?

Now you're just being cute, Joe. "Show a little leg" is a metaphor. It's the diverse opinions Lopez is referring to- surely you know that? How many things have you done, Joe, just to build readership? More than one, I'm pretty sure. One might even suspect that this discussion itself is 'showing some leg' since they're agreeing with you about more than they're disagreeing with you.

There's a difference between a blog that is written by one guy and a site that hosts lots of different articles. By definition, the one will have uniformity of opinion (unless you're a schizophrenic) and the other willl have diversity. Who decides how much diversity? Who decides when a site has sold out?

There is also a difference between a free blog like the Evangelical Outpost and a for-profit business like The National Review. Joe, you're free to be as perfectionistic and idealistic as you like, but in the profit-making world, attracting readers is business, not selling out.

I disagree with NR, and NRO, frequently. But I disagree with virtually everyone at some time or another, as I suspect Joe does as well. But we have to be really careful about defining our "acceptable viewpoint" box so small that it only holds ourselves.

16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Ecclesiastes 7:16

Sunday, January 18, 2004

One Might Just Get Suspicious... 

You know, at a certain point, one starts to suspect that those of certain political alignment deliberately engage in perfidy connected with some minority of record, in order that any criticism of said perfidy can be labeled politically incorrect or just plain racist.

See this story for evidence of my wild-eyed conspiratorial hunch- we're interested here in the third item down titled Disallowed Criticism. Many have charged that there was rampant fraud in the 2002 elections in South Dakota, especially connected with an Indian Reservation. Of course, those who even raise the possibility obviously just hate Indians, or they'd never charge an Indian (sorry, Native American) with any wrongdoing whatsoever, being the noble earth-loving gentle savages that they are and all, and utterly immune to the corruptions that plague the rest of mankind </sarcasm>.

Movie Review: 12 Angry Men 

I tend to watch newer movies. I tend to especially like movies from the 1990s, for some reason. I don't know why, really, except to say that I am, like all others, a child of my times, I suppose.

Now I like to think of myself as someone with transcendent values, who can see the universal truths in the art of mankind, but the fact that I prefer art forms developed when I was between the ages of 16-~now, sort of puts the lie to my fantasy about myself, and that's a little disturbing. But honesty with oneself is a good thing, I know. Still, all that being said, I try to step outside of the world I know best and see how others have reacted to the fundamental problems.

I think there is a consistent percentage of examples of whatever art form, in whatever medium, from any given period of time, that truly examine the transcendental issues of humanity in a way that people can really get behind. Shakespeare, Homer, Jeremiah, Dostoevsky, and so forth- the geniuses come every now and then and blow the curve, but in general, society looks at the same issues, over and over, and also produces in any period of time a great deal of throwaway material. Perhaps given increases in wealth and technology, the percentage of quality goes down some, but this is a highly debatable point. Does the ease of producing and selling cultural forms that people will forget in a week increase the percentage of dreck, or does the widened accessibility of the media give more people the opportunity to participate, and thus increase the kinds and varieties of voices that will be heard, thus increasing the percentage of memorable messages?

I don't know.

Anyway, I saw 12 Angry Men the other night. It's a good movie. It takes a stab at aforementioned transcendental issues, particularly the issue of the difficulty that surrounds any effort at human justice that involves humans in the process of arriving at that justice, which is to say, all such attempts on a temporal level. Personal prejudices, backgrounds, simple inconvenience, vanity and avarice get in the way very frequently.

"12 Angry Men" is the story of a jury in what appears to be an open-and-shut murder case, when from the very start 11 of the jurors are convinced that the defendant is guilty, and are ready to hang him immediately so as to not disrupt their day too much. But one juror feels the need to think and talk about the case more, if for no other reason than to give the defendant a fair shake. Many of the jurors are angry at him for this disturbance, but they have to hear him out, and doubts begin to arise.

One comes away from the film with a sort of despair about the process. In this particular case, one juror is willing to bear the wrath of his fellow men in order to try to get to the bottom, but frequently as the day goes on in the film, people say that they should just tell the judge that the jury is hung, and therefore they should retry the defendant, because everybody knows that any other jury will hang him. There happens to be this one troublemaker, one do-gooder on this jury who will ask questions, but how many of them are there around?

The process of arriving at justice in the affairs of men is plagued with this dilemma. If you involve people who are concerned with the matter to be judged, then you have the problem of self-interest corrupting the process. But if you involve people who are not concerned or interested in the matter, then disinterest and inconvenience become your problem. How do you motivate people to take a look at the issue in front of them in an impartial and yet interested way, and do justice? How many "do-gooders" are there around, who will pursue a matter just because it's right to do so?

The movie asks these questions, but does not answer them. And frequently, when dealing with these eternal universal issues, that's the best that can be done, because there aren't easy simple answers. But one takes the best stab at them that one can, and hopes for the best, I suppose.

It's when faced with issues like that, that I am thankful for a God who is sovereign, who rules all. I know that justice will always be done, despite the selfishness and ignorance of men. And so, faced with such difficulties, the man of God can simply attempt the best that he can do given the circumstances, and know that God is in control of the outcome.

The movie itself is excellent, gripping, edge of your seat kind of thing, in a way that only a few movies produce. The whole thing takes place in one room and is all dialogue, between a limited number of characters, all of whom you get to know well by the end of the thing. There's a moment or two that are slightly awkward, when a character starts to kind of preach a little- there's one time in particular when one character goes off on a diatribe that is very racist and classist- "you know what _those_ people are like, they're born liars"- that sort of thing, and as he goes on, everyone else becomes increasingly uncomfortable and the man engaged in the rant realizes it and becomes humiliated. So the point is made, but still another character feels the need to engage in a short speech about prejudice, when the narrative already made the point very effectively. But really, this is a minor gripe, that only even stands out in my mind for how subtle and effective the rest of the movie is. It's kind of amazing to me that a movie could develop 12 characters effectively and memorably in just one movie, when so many movies have trouble even developing one character in a way that makes us care about them.

Highly recommended- 4/5 stars.

Rent the DVD free from Netflix!

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Our Man in Washington 

It's a start- Bush has appointed Pickering to the federal bench in a recess appointment, short-circuiting the filibuster-deadlocked Senate nomination process. It's a little late in my mind, and I hope it doesn't stop with Pickering, but with the other filibustered nominees as well.

Larry Solum has thoughts here (Link from the Volokh Conspiracy.)

Thursday, January 15, 2004


IMAO's random quote of the day was:

The Palestinians seem to be in a never ending war with any feelings of sympathy I may have for them.

Then I read this:

The bombing was carried out by Reem Raiyshi, 22, a mother with two young children. Raiyshi was escorted into a room for a security search and then blew herself up in an attack jointly claimed by Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group linked to Yasser Arafat (news - web sites)'s Fatah (news - web sites) movement.

Thousands marched through Gaza City during her funeral. Masked gunmen from Hamas and Al Aqsa carried her coffin, draped in the Hamas green flag.

"It is not enough to call her a hero. Calling her hero does not give the whole truth. This woman abandoned her husband and children to win paradise," Zahar said in the eulogy.

Eery. Frank J read my mind.

Christian Post-Modernism 

Rusty at New Covenant has some thoughts (quite a few thoughts, actually) on an ongoing discussion about postmodernism in the Christian world, and the Emergent Church movement. I have to confess that I am ignorant of this movement, although postmodernism is something I am only too familiar with. Anyway, check it out.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


There is NO JUSTICE in the world. We are being run by a bunch of OLD LADIES who want us all to act like OLD LADIES too.

I was looking forward to a nice evening of Scotch and Vicadin (sort of the 'Betty Ford special'), and I WAS ROBBED! DENIED! SHUT DOWN! The one nice thing about a major toothache, and it has to be spoiled. Apparently you're not supposed to mix hard liquor and prescription painkillers. It's frowned upon, I understand.

Well, maybe this one isn't too extreme. I'm willing to consider the possibility, just to consider it mind you, that my plans for chemical Nirvana were perhaps not founded on wisdom. I tried to explain- I'll be at home, not going anywhere, and livers grow back, I hear. But no dice.

Oh well. Vicadin rocks, even just by itself.

New Sermon 

Click on the sidebar link for the new sermon. It's Genesis 18, on God's discussion with Abraham about His plans for Sodom.

Islamists vs. Muslims 

On the same general topic as the last post, here's an article by Thomas Friedman in the NYT (link requires registration) about reconciliation between Muslims and a synagogue bombed by Islamists in Turkey. (Thanks to Donald Sensing for the link.)
Let's start with Turkey — the only Muslim, free-market democracy in Europe. I happened to be in Istanbul when the street outside one of the two synagogues that were suicide-bombed on Nov. 15 was reopened. Three things struck me: First, the chief rabbi of Turkey appeared at the ceremony, hand in hand with the top Muslim cleric of Istanbul and the local mayor, while crowds in the street threw red carnations on them. Second, the Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who comes from an Islamist party, paid a visit to the chief rabbi — the first time a Turkish prime minister had ever called on the chief rabbi. Third, and most revealing, was the statement made by the father of one of the Turkish suicide bombers who hit the synagogues.

"We are a respectful family who love our nation, flag and the Koran," the grieving father, Sefik Elaltuntas, told the Zaman newspaper. "But we cannot understand why this child had done the thing he had done . . . First, let us meet with the chief rabbi of our Jewish brothers. Let me hug him. Let me kiss his hands and flowing robe. Let me apologize in the name of my son and offer my condolences for the deaths. . . . We will be damned if we do not reconcile with them."

Good stuff. But it does raise the question of how much of the terrorist expression of Islam is inherent in the religion itself, and how much is accretion. The moderates and the radicals both say they're the true Islam, and it seems like observers outside Islam just pick whichever Islam they want to be the real Islam and call it that, like Bush saying that Islam was a religion of peace. That obviously serves his political purposes, but what are his actual credentials for making such a statement?

Certainly I think that the west, in prosecuting this war, ought to do everything it can to court moderate Muslims as allies. That's good policy because they will make very effective allies since they will put to lie the idea that the war is about Muslims vs. the World, and also because they truly are the enemies of our enemies, and thus there is common cause. But whether that equates to allying ourselves to the "true Muslims" is an entirely separate question.

And frankly, I believe, an irrelevant question. That's a question for Muslims to decide, just as we Christians ought to have no concern over what branch of Christianity the Buddhists or the agnostics like the best. When one deals with a religious group, one must deal with the religion as it is lived and expressed by the adherents. One does not have to deal with a theory about how that religion ought to be expressed, unless one is a college professor. One deals with the religion as one finds it. And so if Islam drives some to be peaceful freedom-loving citizens, then we can work with that. But if Islam drives others to walk into children-packed pizza parlors with nail bombs strapped to their chests, then that version at least of that religion is repugnant, and deserves to be castigated and its adherents destroyed.

PA going broke 

Power Line has an article on the Palestinian Authority running out of money. Seems that supporting baby-killers just doesn't buy one the advantages that it used to.

It very much appears that more and more countries are getting on the right side of Bush's "with freedom or with terrorism" formulation.

Movie Review: Big Fish 

Big Fish is Tim Burton's latest film, after a couple of disappointing movies, Planet of the Apes and Sleepy Hollow. Burton seemed like he was on autopilot for these two films, especially PotA, a formulaic star vehicle with no life at all. Sleepy Hollow had some interesting moments, but no third act and no structure.

Big Fish, however, reminds us why so many think so much of Tim Burton. Recalling Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish is a journey through the life of a dying man, as the stories are recalled by the son who feels he never knew him. The father's stories are unbelievable, populated with ten-foot tall giants, lycanthropic circus owners and siamese twins. The son has never heard anything about his father except for these stories, and so tries to get his father to tell him the truth about his life. The movie is that search, as the son tries to find the real man behind the stories, or in the stories.

Everything about this movie is a pleasure. Ewan MacGregor is bursting with life and energy as the young father, the hero of all the stories who can never be stopped or deterred by any setback, who is loved by all. Billy Crudup is the adult son, exuding much of his father's charm but detached by the relationship with his father, which is based on nothing but lies, as far as the son can tell. Helena Bonham Carter plays a few different roles, including a decrepit old witch who can show you your death in her glass eye and a young southern belle, and is stellar in both.

The way the movie moves you through the relationships and the stories is a work of art, wonderful to behold. You start out disliking the father, only thinking of him as a liar and a braggart, and as you start to see him in his stories, you see every spinner of every tall tale, with himself at the center of all of them, winning at everything, one-upping everyone, loved by all, accomplishing impossible feats and seeing impossible sights. As the stories progress, though, you really start to like the character, and you want the stories to be true. The way the son gradually comes to understand who his father really is, through the stories, is beautiful and complex in a way rarely attempted in movies these days, it seems.

There's a little bit of totally unnecessary partial nudity, unfortunately. So watch out for that, although if you're in the habit of going to movies much, it's really quite mild. Still, I don't know why it was even there- it was the only part of the movie that jarred me- that snapped me out of the cinematic reverie to think about the fact that I was watching a movie, and to think about the movie I was watching. Anytime I think about the movie I'm watching as a moive, while I'm watching it, that strikes me as a weakness in the movie. A really perfect movie will prompt you to think about and focus on the story, the characters, and the scenery, but not the movie, as a movie. And this was very nearly that.

4/5 stars.

Rent the DVD free from Netflix!

New site look 

Thanks to Jenny Jo Johnson for helping me spice up the site look. I am now one step beyond total blog dork still using a default blogger template.

Baby steps, baby steps.

GWB with the Christmas Spirit 

Here's a story from Breakpoint about George W Bush engaging in a little Christmas spirit. You could say it's just for the press coverage, I suppose, except that there was no press coverage.

Link from the Sophorist- thanks.

Monday, January 12, 2004


More on the situation in Iran here, and on the UN Human Rights Commission role in the situation. The claim of the article is that not only does the UNHCR do nothing at all to help, it makes problems worse.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Steve Irwin 

You know, it's not that I really care about this stupid story at all, but it seems like if anyone knew what was safe to do around a crocodile, it would be Steve Irwin.

This sort of thing has the feel of religious fervor, like what Steve Irwin really did wrong was to use an object of worship in a frivolous manner. It's been said before that our society worships children, and I believe it, and so the fact that a child was used in this manner is a matter of religious offense. But there's not this much outcry from the media over the babies slaughtered by abortion every day.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Kofi Shills for Terrorists 

Kofi Annan has declared that the peace process, the new constitution and the new election in Afghanistan are jeopardized by terrorist attacks.

But of course, he knows, doesn't he, that THIS IS EXACTLY THE INTENTION OF THE ATTACKS???

I wouldn't trust that guy to lead a parade, let alone the UN.

Monday, January 05, 2004

New Sermon 

Sunday's Sermon is up. It's called "Abiding in Christ". and it's a sermon on the topic of what it means to be a branch of Jesus' vine. Link's on the sidebar.

It's going to be another pretty slow blogging week. I have a week-long seminar-style class starting today, so I'm going to be in Colorado Springs most of the week.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Movie Review- Fitzcarraldo, and some thoughts on Existentialism 

Fitzcarraldo is the story of a man who wants to build an opera in the jungle. He is an Irish entrepreneur (his real name is Fitzgerald, but that was hard for the locals to pronounce) in the jungles of Peru who has had a few different schemes, none of which have really been profitable, but he has a dream, a passion, and a burning ambition to make it happen.

He had tried to build a railroad over the Andes, and then got into ice production, and finally tries his hand at the rubber trade. All of the best tracts of land have been taken up, and so his plan is to buy a tract of land that is thought unreachable due to impassable rapids on the river that leads to the tract. So Fitzcarraldo's plan is to get a steamboat, sail it up a parallel river and then portage the boat over the hills to the other side, sail back up the river and exploit the rich rubber region. He needs the help of the local natives to do it, which they offer for reasons which only become clear by the end.

It's a beautifully shot and directed movie. The shot of the steamboat being dragged up the side of the mountain, almost sailing up it, is the shot that will stick with me. The jungle is gorgeous.

Klaus Kinski is the lead, and he plays the role like a maniac. He has an extremely expressive face, one that communicates the obsession in his heart, for the opera. Fighting against all odds, you really want him to win out and be successful in his venture so that he can have his opera.

Fitzcarraldo is an excellent movie, if for no other reason that it will show you in graphic detail the meaning of the existentialist philosophy, that pervades the world we live in.

4/5 stars.

Rent the DVD free from Netflix!

*SPOILERS AHEAD- Don't read, unless you never plan on seeing the movie, have already seen the movie, or, like my mother-in-law, won't be hurt by reading the spoilers since you will forget it by the time you see the movie.

But in the end, it's all pointless. It's an existentialist movie at heart, which teaches its viewers that nature is random and capricious, that forces outside of our control can and do destroy all our plans, and that the only thing in the end that matters is the expression of self- the defining act that shouts to the world, HERE I AM! Even if Fitzcarraldo wastes all his money, and that of his investors, just so he can engage in that one act, that one moment of transcendental joy, it's all worth it.

But even if Fitzcarraldo achieves his moment, what then? How can he continue after that? His business is ruined, cannibalized for his opera, his moment. After the moment is over, what then? But of course, to ask the question is to compromise, to become the slave of nature. Just as to live, to make all the compromises and to do all the service for others that is necessary just to live in this world, all is to be the slave of nature, and the only way out is suicide. Indeed, suicide is the only act that can truly define the individual, the only true act of rebellion and defiance possible. All else ends in defeat.

And so, Fitzcarraldo is a movie about suicide. It never says that it is, of course, but it is. Just like so many of our teen movies, our romances, our dramas, are all movies about suicide. Every American Beauty, every Fight Club, every movie where the villian is the establishment, and the hero is the guy who always does whatever he wants and never lets anyone tell him what to do- all end in self-destruction. It's inevitable. Nature is our enemy, you see, whatever the environmentalists say. Nobody goes back to nature, nobody. They war against nature, against society, against all the requirements just for living. For those who view this world as all that there is, this world is the enemy, but this world cannot be defeated. It will enslave you, it will require, as the price for your survival, your soul, your individuality. You can spend your life in drudging slavery in a factory or a cubicle or a welfare line, or you can defy the world, rebel against your slavery and kill yourself.

People kill themselves through drink, through drugs, through the mindless pursuit of sex or money or some other pleasure. Some actually do the deed.

Of course, there's another option. The Christian knows that this world is not all that there is, and that there is life after this world. Further, what's going on now is for the purpose of training us for the future, and so our existence is no longer pointless, and events are no longer our enemy. We have a benevolent God who, by the grace of Jesus Christ and for the sake of His blood, nurtures and cares for us, and use all things for our good, to conform us to the image of His son.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Government by Hissy Fit 

Brazil is going to fingerprint US visitors to get back at us for fingerprinting their citizens, by order of one judge who compared the act to the worst Nazi horrors.

I just don't even know what to say... of course, on the one hand, I don't care in the slightest whether or not Brazil fingerprints me if I ever go there (no plans right now), but are people really that ridiculous? Does this judge actually think that us fingerprinting Brazilians is the moral equivalent of us torturing millions of Brazilians to death?

Hard to imagine.

Good news (or bad news, if you're the AP) 

This is interesting.

A shift in tactics indeed- but it proves the weakness of the terrorists. If they are unable to go after hard targets and start bombing civilians, well, I'm very sorry for the civilians, but it proves that we're winning. They're losing firepower and manpower and money, so they have to go after easier targets. It seems like that's the only way to read this.

This will turn the Iraqi people more and more against Islamofascism, and more and more in favor of the Americans who are protecting them. That will make it harder for the insurgents to operate, who have to depend on locals to hide and support them.

You can look at how Israel has turned over the last three years from being willing to give up almost anything for peace with the Palestinians, to being highly supportive of more and more aggressive tactics to contain and destroy the terrorists who were bombing them, as a model for what's going to happen now with the Iraqis, to the extent it hasn't happened already.

But naturally, the media that is committed to our failure will highlight the human sufferring that this causes. And it is, in fact, very sad, but they were sufferring far more before we got there.

The fragility of life 

Pop over at Basket of Figs has a post on the fragility of life, and how it's not quite as fragile as many would have us believe.
Yep, it's a wonder any of us is alive. Some of us aren't. I remember a boy I went to school with who burned himself up about 50 years ago while stealing gasoline from a farm vehicle. Another boy drank himself to death. They didn't listen to their mothers or fathers, but that generation seemed to surrender without a struggle to the Nanny State, buying into the propaganda that bureaucrats know what is best. They hated their mothers and fathers and surrendered liberty without a peep to governments. After all, they were an enlightened bunch who were assured that they were the first to walk the earth who knew what was wrong with the world and that they would fix it up to be safe for everyone, especially for those who didn't seem to care much about the Ten Commandments.

Read the whole thing.


Well, we've gotten through yet another major event with no terrorist attacks. My wife flew recently, and she said she was so impressed with the security people. They were thorough, efficient and polite, and made her feel very safe. Instapundit quotes Brian Doherty saying that teenagers armed with Soldier of Fortune magazine could do more damage to us than we've seen since the big one, making one think that Al Qaeda really has been mostly rounded up in this country and the ones that haven't are in deep deep cover. Everyone thought there would be another attack by now.

It's kind of a new experience for me, to observe my government doing something really tricky and complex, and apparently succeeding brilliantly, beyond all expectations.

Apple woes 

Haha, take That, arrogant Apple evangelists! Take that, Lileks! Pay twice as much just to make sure your case is cool-looking, and see what you get!

Happy New Year's! 

So, last night, Andrea and I watched a movie (Confidence). I had a little Scotch (Cutty Sark) and Andrea drank her tea. Then Andrea put Katie to bed. I played a few games of Age of Mythology and then I went to bed too. In other words, it was almost exactly like every other night. No Champagne at midnight, no dropping ball or Dick Clark or Times Square.

I didn't miss it even a little bit. Life's just too good right now to wish anything was different.

Confidence wasn't very good. Too much totally gratuitous nudity, too little interesting character development, totally predictable plot twists. Dustin Hoffman was very creepy, Andy Garcia was interesting, Ed Burns was fine, but they're just fiddling while Rome burns. It's impossible to care about anyone in this movie, or about what happens. Even the surprise plot twists come exactly where they're supposed to come, surprising no one. So I'd recommend it only if you're big fans of the grifter genre, have no children and no delicate Christian sensibilities, have seen all the other much better movies of this genre like The Grifters and House of Games, and are really bored. On second thought, skip it anyway.

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