Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Peter Jackson and The Hobbit

After a contentious battle between Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema over revenues from the Rings trilogy, the two have finally made nice, put a couple of flowers in each others hair, and smoked the peace pipe (or whatever Pippin and Merry were smoking in those movies). Peter Jackson was upset because he felt New Line was hiding some of the profits of the Ring movies and requested an audit, which New Line refused. Jackson then went the route of suing New Line.

What's changed? Well, The Golden Compass bombed for one thing, meaning New Line was left without a flagship fantasy series. Also, they both probably realized that they could make boatloads of money on The Hobbit so all this fussin' and a fightin' was worthless.

To make things more complicated, MGM had a distribution deal, and supposedly, through some weird system, owned part of The Hobbit as well. A while back, MGM then claimed that a Hobbit film would not go through unless Jackson was on board. Much of this is speculation and rumor.

It looks like Jackson won't be directing, but rather producing where he will sign off on all creative aspects of the film. This is fine by me since The Hobbit has a much more innocent tone than the Ring trilogy. My vote is for Peter Weir and maybe he can find a role for Harrison Ford since most of Ford's best work was with Weir. Although, I hear that if the plot doesn't revolve around Ford saving his family then he's out. You can find a more detailed story here.

It looks like things are moving along much faster than anticipated. I found some test screenings here:

Leonard Nimoy as Gandalf? Stranger things have happened...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Telecom Amnesty

I won't get into all of the how a bill becomes a law stuff. Who really needs a definition of cloture?

On the road to being signed by George W. is a law revamping the FISA courts, but what's really important is what's tucked away in this law, a Christmas present to Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, and the other telephone companies that complied with the White House's illegal wiretapping program: retroactive amnesty.

Despite the obvious fourth amendment violations there are also federal laws targeting private companies who spy on American citizens. In the bill presented to the Senate there was a provision granting these telecom companies amnesty from any past wrongs related to spying on Americans. It's a good old fashion get out of jail free card courtesy of our government.

There are several arguments that have been trotted out in defense of telecom amnesty:

The telecom companies were just doing their patriotic duty by helping out the government.

If by "patriotic duty" you mean the White House threatened to withdraw profitable government contracts if the telecom companies didn't comply, then you're onto something. Apparently Qwest, the only company to refuse the White House's request (or should I say, re"qwest"?...oh, I shouldn't, sorry) claim that profitable contracts were withdrawn when they did not cooperate. It's not surprising that these corporations were more concerned with the bottom line than "patriotic duty." Besides, what's so patriotic about helping the government break the fourth amendment? Isn't that the exact opposite of patriotism?

Those poor telecom companies didn't know what they were doing. They were confused when the big bad White House pressured them into breaking the law.

Multi-million dollar companies have multi-million dollar lawyers. I know there are a lot of dumb people graduating from law school but they don't work for Fortune 500 companies. Besides, Qwest's lawyers obviously knew it was wrong, and if I remember correctly ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

Because the White House coerced these companies into breaking the law, we should go after the White House instead of the telephone companies.

There was a reason why the federal laws specifically mention private companies. It doesn't matter who's spying, or whether it is the fourth amendment or federal statute as presiding law, the simple fact is they broke the law. Besides, thanks to executive privilege run amok, suing the phone companies might be the only means of discovering the breadth of government spying. There is a reason why Bush is threatening to veto any FISA bill, regardless of whether or not it gives him everything else he wants, if the bill does not contain telecom amnesty. If the telephone companies are sued then they will be forced to hand over loads of information to the courts, which in turn will likely implicate the White House in a violation of the fourth amendment. I don't think the president can pardon himself if he's the one in jail. However, if the White House itself is prosecuted, then they can merely claim executive privilege - as the argument goes, handing over documents could hurt national security so the White House, unlike the rest of the country, does not have to do so. This leaves any prosecution with zero evidence to support a fourth amendment violation.

But there is an "intelligence gap" between us and the terrorists, and if we don't pass a bill that revises FISA quickly, then Al Qaeda will come over here blow up our babies, use their blood for 'dem 'der Rahamadajan ritual, and convert them to Islam...but not in that order.

Which is why there is an identical bill that can be brought to the floor of the Senate that both revises FISA and removes telecom amnesty. It is called the RESTORE act. Why that is not on the floor of the Senate and telecom amnesty is, I have no idea. Assuming you buy into the argument that FISA must be revised or we could face another attack, then why would Bush risk another attack by vetoing a FISA bill just because it doesn't immunize the telephone companies from the law. Hmmm...something to think about.

Just when it looked like telecom amnesty was going to the floor of the Senate to be voted on, where it would inevitably pass, presidential candidate Chris Dodd swooped in from Iowa to lead a filibuster. Ignoring his own party's leaders he argued passionately against telecom amnesty. Here is an excerpt:

And you thought that Chris Dodd was just some guy who was always on the very far side of the debate stage who looked peculiarly like your grandfather. Here's a link to another segment of his speech. Despite Dodd's impassioned speech a vast majority of Senators, Republican and Democrat alike, voted to bring this version of the FISA bill, telecom amnesty and all, to the floor of the Senate. The handful who voted against it: Boxer (California), Brown (Ohio), Cantwell (Washington), Cardin (Maryland), Dodd (Connecticut), Feingold (Wisconsin), Harkin (Iowa), Kerry (Massachusetts), Menendez (New Jersey), Wyden (Oregon). (On a side note, being from Ohio I feel like my vote for Sherrod Brown was the one vote from which I received action rather than talk).

Despite these votes, thanks to Dodd's filibuster, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D), reluctantly took the bill off the Senate floor. Reid ignored a hold that Dodd placed on the bill to prevent it from reaching the Senate floor, forcing Dodd to filibuster. Instead of respecting Dodd's hold, as he has with the holds of many Republicans, Reid decided to bring forth the FISA bill with telecom amnesty, rather than the RESTORE bill without telecom amnesty.

It looks like the bill will come around again in the New Year, so if you want to show your support by typing your name and e-mail onto a petition expressing disappointment with Harry Reid, you can do so here.

In closing, here is a thank you from Dodd to all of his supporters:

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hugo Chavez's Defeat

In a surprise defeat, today several proposals backed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were voted down. The proposals would have affected Venezuela's Constitution and, among others, would have allowed the president the ability to run for and indefinite number of terms, enact states of emergency indefinitely, and increase the state's role in the economy. The Venezuelan democracy survived by the skin of its teeth with a close 49/51 point spread.

For a while now its been somewhat popular for liberal celebrities to make dignitary visits to Venezuela to show their support for Chavez, and while I think post in the axis of evil, or whatever other catchy name they've come up with now, is highly exaggerated, I find many things to dislike about the man. He is an egomanical leader who has pushed the position of president to the brink of monarchy -- it's the executive branch run amok (sound familiar?). His most egregious act was to shut down a television network off the air earlier this year.

Of course, I will give him his dues. He did provide cheap oil for the needy in Massachusetts and has pushed a series of populist proposals in Venezuela for which the people apparently love him. At least he was actually elected, unlike other presidents. I guess the Venezuelan people decided as much as they like the guy, like most house guests, they don't like him in perpetuity.

Oh well, Chavez is South America's old news. Of all the leftists South American presidents I've always been a bigger fan of Evo Morales. How much do you want to bet his campaign slogan was "Even his names says morals...Morales!" Hey Morales, do ya happen to need a new campaign manager? (call me).

Where does he get those wonderful sweaters?

This of course begs the question of what will happen when Chavez has run out of terms and must leave the presidency? Once thing's for sure, Noam Chomsky is going to have to find a new agent. (call me).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

All Star Batman & Robin #8 (1/5)

All Star Batman & Robin #8 (1/5)

This review should be unnecessary. This kind of piss-poor writing and snail paced plot should be dismissed and choked to death with lack of sales. Except that the name Frank Miller is on the cover, which for some people is the mark of quality no matter what. After all this is the man who's comics are turned into box office money and one of the few names non-comic book readers actually recognize. So when his name is on the cover people give him the benefit of the doubt, far too much benefit and far too little doubt.

I'm not a Frank Miller hater by any means. I think he's got a great sense of pulp and I even enjoyed The Dark Knight Strikes Again which was a hilarious send up of the Bush administration. Most people defend All Star Batman & Robin by saying it's a parody of DC comics and shouldn't be taken seriously. I'm all for poking fun at comic book conventions but there's not much that's actually funny. Thanks to Miller's lazy writing most issues have focused on a superhero from the DC showing up briefly but not doing anything to further the plot. In this issue it's Hal Jordan's Green Lantern and the "gag" is he's dumb. The entire scene consists of a rooftop exchange between Hal and Batman. Hal is eating a hot dog (hilarious!) and he's unable to find Batman hiding in the shadows for the first half of the conversation (what a Laruel and Hardy combo!). Batman then calls him a "moron" about fifty times and tells him they'll meet later. In eight issues there has been an issue and a half worth of plot (and this is being generous). The pointless cameos have ground this series to a halt.

If anything All Star Batman & Robin is a parody of Miller's writing style. The over the top violence and "grit" lose all meaning because it's so absurd, and when you start making fun of yourself without realizing it readers are going to look over past work and wonder if they stand up as well as they once thought. The Joker is portrayed as a date raping serial killer. The psychopath Joker characterization too often leads to striping the character of any of his defining personality. Where are the twisted punch lines and tortured logic that's his m.o.? All Miller did was make a generic sociopath and give him white skin and green hair. This is the kind of thing a Frank Miller wannabe does, not the original.

I remember reading that Miller said this series was supposed to be a prequel to his classic The Dark Knight Returns, but I don't get that feeling anywhere. The first sign of of a connection is that the weird shirtless Nazi woman with swastikas painted on her chest makes a brief cameo. So if there are any fans of that flash in the pan Frank Miller creation feel free to pick up this issue but for anyone else stop inflating this man's ego.