Today's wallpaper is devoted to the disturbing Takashi Miike thriller Audition. This twisted little film -- what else would you expect from wildman director Miike (Dead or Alive, Full Metal Yakuza)? -- weaves a tale of sadism and madness around a lonely widower's quest for a new wife. Like many a good horror film, though, there's some scathing social commentary lurking beneath the bloody surface. Here's my review at Destroy All Monsters.
I just finished watching the second debate (AP story by Nedra Pickler here; transcript here), and while Bush improved -- obviously he was heavily coached during the week to act as if the split-screne camera would be on him all the time, which it was, at least on C-SPAN, Kerry still came away the winner. He was reasoned, forceful when necessary -- especially in addressing Bush's distortions -- and once again looked more Presidential than Bush, who clearly does not like questions that imply he did anything wrong. (Challenged to name three mistakes he had made, he couldn't name one -- although he defended the Iraq war and his tax cuts, and he alluded to certain appointments. Given the number of honest individuals who have resigned in disgust from his administration, that was actually a clever line.) Bush also seemed to be under the impression that the guy who talked the loudest would be declared the winner.
But unfortunately for Bush, shouting wasn't enough. He seemed angry and peevish (the AP's Ron Fournier observed that Bush had to struggle to keep his emotions in check, while Kerry appeared measured and sober) about being questioned, and kept repeating the same stale talking points over and over. Bush's plaintive appeals that Kerry isn't credible sounded more like projection than conviction. And when Kerry asked the audience -- not even looking at Bush -- for a "gut check" if they believed Bush truly waged war in Iraq as a last resort, it smacked of a seasoned prosecutor wrapping up his case.
More thoughts later, but now it's off to watch I Bury the Living!
Update 3: Two comments on some of the more bizarre Bushisms from last night: Martini Republic notes Bush's steadfast, if ill-reasoned, opposition to the Dred Scott ruling, and Keith Olbermann notes (via Kos) that yes, Bush does own timber interests.
One final thought: Kerry called Bush's rhetoric "Orwellian." Excellent!
Okay, one more update: The local paper punts in its editorial ("Both candidates acquitted themselves well, but it was the American people who really won this one."), but runs a Chicago Tribune news analysis calling the debate narrowly for Kerry:
There was something positive for both men to take away from the debate, but in that sense, the political advantage probably goes to Kerry.
As the challenger, any time he spends on the same stage with the president and proves himself credible -- if not more -- to voters, then he becomes a viable alternative to the incumbent. And the more the topic of discussion is on an issue other than the war on terror, the more it plays to his strength in attacking the Bush domestic record.
More Resident Evil goodies: Dr. Freex at The Bad Movie Report calls Resident Evil "the bad movie you play." It creates a wonderfully creepy atmosphere by providing a sure-fire forumla for dread: lots of zombies, and little ammo. Dr. Freex sums it up:
Resident Evil is a fairly standard adventure game: find keys, open doors, solve puzzles, try not to die. It's the desperate gunning down of beasties that make you feel like you're immersed in a George Romero movie, angrily cursing every missed shot, because each bullet is precious. Only a soundtrack by Goblin would have improved the overall feel.
NPR ran a story this morning on the Bush campaign's efforts to suppress dissent at his public appearances. While I've noted this phenomenon before, I also noticed several interesting things about this story (Bush apologists, feel free to chalk them up to "liberal media bias" to avoid cognitive dissonance):
For once, the story didn't bend over backward to find some isolated incident in which some yo-yo with the Kerry campaign rejected someone with a Bush T-shirt. The story pretty much acknowledged that Bush's campaign screens attendees, and Kerry's doesn't.
The story placed Bush campaign official Ken Mehlman's denials up front.
The story went on to present anecdote after anecdote that both supported the story's thrust and demonstrated that Mehlman was lying.
Perhaps most disturbingly, the story noted how law enforcement officials, from local cops to the Secret Service, are co-opted into enforcing political othodoxy.
Of course any campaign wants to achieve positive images on TV. But a campaign supported by loyalty oaths and carting dissenters off to jail not only smacks more of Soviet-style totalitarianism than democracy, but also offers a tacit admission that the candidate fears dissent, even as his campaign acknowledges that his positions aren't as popular as they'd like to present them. Shame on the Bush campaign and its supporters for dragging democracy down with these reprehensible tactics.
The House ethics committee last night admonished Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for asking federal aviation officials to track an airplane involved in a Texas political spat, and for conduct that suggested political donations might influence legislative action.
The two-pronged rebuke marked the second time in six days -- and the third time overall -- that the ethics panel has admonished the House's second-ranking Republican. The back-to-back chastisements are highly unusual for any lawmaker, let alone one who aspires to be speaker, and some watchdog groups called on him to resign his leadership post.
At last, here's some technology-oriented legislation I can support. The House of Representatives has passed, 399-1, a law calling for hefty fines on companies that install spyware and adware without permission. Spiffy!
The House proposal, known as the "Spy Act," adds civil penalties over what has emerged as an extraordinary frustration for Internet users, whose infected computers often turn sluggish and perform unexpectedly.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., provides guidelines for technology companies that distribute software capable of most types of electronic monitoring. It requires that consumers explicitly choose to install such software and agree to the information being collected.
The House voted 399-1 to approve the bill. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who often votes against spending measures, cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday.
The House separately was expected to approve another anti-spyware bill as early as Wednesday. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., provides for additional criminal penalties.
The chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said Goodlatte's anti-spyware bill was preferable because of its criminal sanctions, and Barton said he will work to combine both proposals for a final vote by year's end.
Barton acknowledged that experts had recently found more than 60 varieties of spyware installed on the panel's own computers. He said all the spyware programs had been installed without the permission of computer users.
The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, called the proposal approved Tuesday "a bill whose time has come."
Speaking as someone who spent an hour yesterday cleaning the latest batch of spyware and adware from my home computer -- a process that included at least one crash -- I say, locking up the purveyors of these digital detractions would be poetic justice indeed.
Because of the universal taboos and biblical commands against blood drinking, many newly saved Christians, whose past included vampirism, now struggle with serious issues. "Can I be a Born Again vampire?" "Can God forgive me?" "Will the church ever accept such a monster as I?"
I wonder -- well, no, I don't, really -- what Chick's position is on having read a couple of Anne Rice's novels?
After Cecilia's parent-teacher conference (which went very well indeed), I took advantage of being downtown during regular business hours to pop into a tiny, hole-in-the-wall used bookstore on Washington Street. Browsing used books is one of my favorite pastimes, and this cluttered shop is a perfect place. I picked up a number of books for The Girls and not a few goodies for myself and my lovely wife.
A picture book of Disney's Pinocchio
A copy of the children's story Stone Soup in hardcover
A triple hardback of Dick Francis novels for my wife
A paperback copy of Ender's Game
A brightly illustrated children's picture book of a Monkey story from Chinese mythology
A first edition Hardy Boys hardback (sw33t!)
Walter Cronkite's autobiography in hardcover
An entire box of '60s-era "How and Why" books, many of which I remember well from my childhood, for a mere five bucks
Today's wallpaper is a still of a skeletal warrior from Army of Darkness, the third entry in Sam Raimi's insane Evil Dead trilogy, starring the great Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately, I no longer recall the site from which I obtained this image.
Contradicting the main argument for a war that has cost more than 1,000 American lives, the top U.S. arms inspector said Wednesday he found no evidence that Iraq produced any weapons of mass destruction after 1991. He also concluded that Saddam Hussein's capabilities to develop such weapon had dimmed — not grown — during a dozen years of sanctions before last year's U.S. invasion.
Contrary to prewar statements by President Bush (news - web sites) and top administration officials, Saddam did not have chemical and biological stockpiles when the war began and his nuclear capabilities were deteriorating, not advancing, said Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group.
The findings come less than four weeks before an election in which Bush's handling of Iraq has become the central issue. Democratic candidate John Kerry (news - web sites) has seized on comments by the former U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, that the United States did not have enough troops in Iraq to prevent lawlessness after Saddam was toppled.
The inspector's report could boost Kerry's contention that Bush rushed to war based on faulty intelligence and that United Nations (news - web sites) sanctions and U.N. weapons inspectors should have been given more time.
But Duelfer also supports Bush's argument that Saddam remained a threat. Interviews with the toppled leader and other former Iraqi officials made clear that Saddam had not lost his ambition to pursue weapons of mass destruction and hoped to revive his weapons program if U.N. sanctions were lifted, his report said.
"What is clear is that Saddam retained his notions of use of force, and had experiences that demonstrated the utility of WMD," Duelfer told Congress.
Big deal. This argument that the Bush defenders are reduced to is truly pathetic, the more so as it's a tacit admission that containment and deterrence were indeed highly effective policies. It'd be funny if not for those thousands of dead people who, I'm sure, don't appreciate Bush/Cheney's little joke.
I'm taking a day off to watch The Girls, as Cecilia's school is holding parent-teacher conferences. I have a number of tasks on my to-do list, but I hope to take advantage of the time to cach up on some blogging and writing as well.
Last night, in lieu of the rest of the debates, my lovely wife and I watched Roger Corman's cheapo 1961 horror comedy Creature from the Haunted Sea. Although a mere 73 minutes long, we both nearly nodded off. Still, it was an amusing flick -- Crystal laughed out loud at the first sight of the creature -- that showcased Corman's ability to produce a competent and entertaining flick on an ultra-low budget. Here's a review at B-Movie Central.
I didn't watch the vice-presidential debate last night, as I was with The Girls at a farewell party for their preschool teacher. But I'm pleased to see that Atrios caught Cheney in a demonstrable lie. (And since this particular lie can be demonstrated by a picture, not words, I think it'll come back to haunt Dick even more than his usual falsehoods.) I'm also pleased -- if a little surprised -- to see the mainstream media pciking up on the fact checking. (Memo to the media: Perhaps if you'd been a bit more vigilant about reconciling the Administration's statement with reality three years ago, we wouldn't be in this mess...) Atrios also points to the Democratic Party's rapid response ad. Brilliant!
The template tweaking necessary for Planet Swank's Halloween edition gave me a long-overdue opportunity to prune a few non-active blogs (and a couple I never visit any more), and to include a couple of fine new enrollees. Please welcome:
Here's some news that should come as a surprise to no one. Over the weekend, the New York Times presented a thorough debunking of the Administration's lies claims about aluminum tubes supposedly being suitable for nothing else but an Iraqi nuclear program.
In 2002, at a crucial juncture on the path to war, senior members of the Bush administration gave a series of speeches and interviews in which they asserted that Saddam Hussein was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. Speaking to a group of Wyoming Republicans in September, Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States now had "irrefutable evidence" - thousands of tubes made of high-strength aluminum, tubes that the Bush administration said were destined for clandestine Iraqi uranium centrifuges, before some were seized at the behest of the United States.
Those tubes became a critical exhibit in the administration's brief against Iraq. As the only physical evidence the United States could brandish of Mr. Hussein's revived nuclear ambitions, they gave credibility to the apocalyptic imagery invoked by President Bush and his advisers. The tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.
The White House, though, embraced the disputed theory that the tubes were for nuclear centrifuges, an idea first championed in April 2001 by a junior analyst at the C.I.A. Senior nuclear scientists considered that notion implausible, yet in the months after 9/11, as the administration built a case for confronting Iraq, the centrifuge theory gained currency as it rose to the top of the government.
Senior administration officials repeatedly failed to fully disclose the contrary views of America's leading nuclear scientists, an examination by The New York Times has found. They sometimes overstated even the most dire intelligence assessments of the tubes, yet minimized or rejected the strong doubts of nuclear experts. They worried privately that the nuclear case was weak, but expressed sober certitude in public.
One result was a largely one-sided presentation to the public that did not convey the depth of evidence and argument against the administration's most tangible proof of a revived nuclear weapons program in Iraq.
Today, 18 months after the invasion of Iraq, investigators there have found no evidence of hidden centrifuges or a revived nuclear weapons program.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday it is still unclear whether Iraq attempted to procure tens of thousands of aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program or a conventional rocket program, despite conclusions by the Senate intelligence committee and U.N. investigators that the tubes could not be used in any nuclear program.
"As I understand it, people are still debating this," Rice said on ABC's "This Week" program. "And I'm sure they will continue to debate it."
As the Bush administration readied to attack Iraq, the tubes had formed a central part of its intelligence case that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat to the United States. In 2002, Rice had said that the tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," adding that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
But, as reported by The Washington Post more than a year ago, the internal debate among intelligence analysts was intense, with the experts at the Department of Energy who specialize in uranium enrichment adamant that the tubes were not suitable for a nuclear program. They argued that the tubes were intended for Iraqi rockets.
Administration officials at the time did not acknowledge that debate, though Rice acknowledged yesterday she was aware of it. "I knew that there was a dispute," she said. "I actually didn't really know the nature of the dispute."
Of course there's still a "debate;" it consists of Administration minions like Rice steadfastly sticking to their story no matter what facts come to light. Their very insistence creates the "debate" and "dispute" that lets the story fit into the he-said, she-said narrative of "objective" journalism.
It seems the only positives Bush supporters can salvage from his performance at last week's debate is seizing on Kerry's choice of the phrase "global test" to falsely claim that Kerry would give other nations a veto over the United States defending itself. Writing in Slate, Fred Saletan thoroughly debunks this scurrilous phony charge.
This description, which Bush continues to repeat at campaign stops and in television ads, is plainly false. In his first answer of the debate, Kerry said, "I'll never give a veto to any country over our security." But if that isn't what Kerry meant by a "global test," what did he mean? Let's go back and look at Kerry's words.
No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do in a way that passes the test—that passes the global test—where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.
Here we have our own secretary of state who's had to apologize to the world for the presentation he made to the United Nations. I mean, we can remember when President Kennedy, in the Cuban missile crisis, sent his secretary of state to Paris to meet with [French President Charles] de Gaulle, and in the middle of the discussion to tell them about the missiles in Cuba, [the secretary of state] said, "Here, let me show you the photos." And de Gaulle waved them off, and said, "No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me." How many leaders in the world today would respond to us, as a result of what we've done, in that way?
It's clear from Kerry's first sentence that the "global test" doesn't prevent unilateral action to protect ourselves. But notice what else Kerry says. The test includes convincing "your countrymen" that your reasons are clear and sound. Kerry isn't just talking about satisfying France. He's talking about satisfying Ohio. He's talking about you.
...This is the test Bush has failed. He has failed to produce evidence for his prewar claims of Iraqi WMD and operational ties to al-Qaida, or for his postwar claims of success against the insurgency. Now he's going further. He's not simply failing the test. He's refusing to take it.
...Bush claims he has done all this to protect you. But that claim is precisely what's challenged by the evidence he conceals or disregards. What he's protecting you from is the ability to measure his assertions against the world that you and I can see. That's the global test he's mocking. And he expects you to applaud him for it, because he thinks you resent the French so much you'd rather have a president accountable to no one.
The US faced no threat from Iraq, and Bush himself has admitted that he wouldn't have done anything differently anyway. Bush did not invade to defend the United States, but rather to attack Iraq. Unfortunately, such action is indeed subject to a "global test" that also happens to be United States law. Of course, Bush's rhetoric is tuned to imply that his invasion was indeed defensive in nature, as Americans prefer to think of themselves as going to war only as a defensive last resort. Chalk it up to another deception on the American people, and another failure of the test Kerry spoke of.
George W. Bush is a man with two faces--- a public image of manly strength and a private reality of childish weakness. His verbal miscues and malapropisms are the natural consequence of a man struggling with internal contradictions and a lack of self-knowledge. He can’t keep track of what he is supposed to think and say in public.
...On Thursday night, the president forgot himself. After years of being protected from anyone who doesn't flatter and cajole, he let his mask slip when confronted with someone who didn't fear his childish retribution or need anything from him. Many members of the public got a good sharp look at him for the first time in two years and they were stunned. Like that black and white image, the dichotomy of the real Bush vs. the phony Bush is profoundly discomfiting.
Luckily for America and the world, a fully synthesized, mature man stood on the other side of that stage ready to assume the mantle of leadership, not as a theatrical costume but as an adult responsibility for which he is prepared by a lifetime of service, study and dedication. I would imagine that many voters felt a strong sense of relief that he was there.
As I mentioned last year, this wallpaper is part of a collection of horror-related stuff I burned on CD-ROM back in 2002; unfortunately, I can no longer locate the source of this and the related classic horror wallpapers I have. If anyone knows the source, I'll be glad to credit it. And here's another Psycho wallpaper courtesy The Movie Forum's horror section.
I'm saddened to note this morning the passing of actress Janet Leigh, who died yesterday at 77. Leigh was, of course, best known for her brief but memorable appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and her roles in Touch of Evil and The Manchurian Candidate.
Hitchcock compiled the shower sequence in 70-odd takes of two and three seconds each, for which Leigh spent seven days in the shower. Rumors circulated that she was nude, but she wore a flesh-colored moleskin.
Although tame by today's standards, the scene was shocking for the time for its brutality.
Leigh wrote in her 1995 book "Psycho: Behind the Scenes in the Classic Thriller" that the filming was easy until the last 20 seconds when she had to express total horror as her character was being slashed to death.
She often said she hadn't been able to take a shower since the movie. "It's not a hype, not something I thought would be good for publicity," she insisted. "Honest to gosh, it's true."