January 29, 2008

Unmitigated Disaster

There were some fair questions raised in response to my last post, and it made more sense (in terms of length and content) to respond in another post. I should say first that nothing in particular "brought this on." After all, I didn't make the video, I just saw it and posted it. On a deeper level, the person who thought this was worth posting grew up going to churches where the seating consisted of metal folding chairs set up in a converted gymnasium. I can't help glancing around when I walk into an American church and wonder how much money went towards the thick carpet, stained-glass windows, padded pews and whatnot that could have gone to . . . I dunno . . . orphans in Latin America (just to pick an example completely at random).

So, if I raise these questions about relatively small amounts of money spent on churches, how much more am I going to question billions of dollars spent on funding a war? Answer: A lot. To say nothing of the fact that, with each passing day, larger and larger segments of the population are realizing this particular war was a huge mistake (that adjective is so hopelessly inadequate).

Considering your past statements of disdain for cries of "think of the children", it seems a bit odd for you to post a video essentially dedicated to that. You might say that in this case, it's a legitimate point. But sometimes, other people bringing it up have legitimate points, too.

I have two things to say: 1) My disdain for "think of the children" is limited exclusively to those who advance the cry on the basis of "protecting" the kiddies from whatever book, TV show, movie, video game, song or painting offends or threatens their touchy, loud-mouthed parents. On the one hand, I find it ludicrous that these people think such issues amount to anything worth throwing such a wall-eyed fit over, and on the other hand I find it offensive that they demand the entire world be dumbed-down, watered-down and made over to match their own narrow, hysterical worldview. The difference, to my mind, is this: That's a stupid, reactionary wingnut issue and this is a legitimate quality of life issue.

2) To be perfectly honest, as a childless young adult who is married to a teacher and is up to his ears in debt for school loans and house payments, I wasn't giving "the children" the bulk of my attention in that video. I was more struck by the number of homes and home improvements the war could have paid for by now, as well as the hundreds of thousands of college educations and teacher salaries. Sure, children are involved in some of those considerations to one degree or another, but not exclusively by any means. A far more apt phrase would be "think of the people."

This is largely an appeal to emotion. There's little in the way of facts or numbers, just "how much we spent", and "cute little kids pictures."

This is the one place where I think you're way off-base. "Little in the way of numbers"? Seriously, did we watch the same video? Sure there are pictures, and most of them even have a cute kid, but the impact is all in the numbers. This is how much we are spending on the war every day. This is exactly what we could be doing instead. This is how much more good money went after bad while you sat and watched us tell you about it. The photographs are not particularly maudlin, merely visual representations of the numbers. Does the presence of the pictures really drain all of the common sense out of the presentation of those cold, hard figures? The video didn't appeal to my heart, it appealed to my bottom line. Don't mistake passion for emotion.

How many lives have been changed for the better in Iraq? How many people live free of fear now, live better lives? All we hear about from the news is death. There's so much country there, there has to be life, too. Are you saying that American lives are more important than Iraqi lives? Haven't you taken the opposite of that idea in the past?

This is probably going to be the biggest sticking point, but I think that these are very important questions. My answer, in a nutshell, is this. I don't know how many lives we have changed for the better, or how many live free from fear . . . but the word on the street is "Not as many as have been changed for the worse and not as many as now live in fear and/or with a decreased quality of life." My research suggests that the war we have waged against the country for the past almost-five years has claimed more Iraqi lives than are attributed to the atrocities of Saddam Hussein during the previous 24 . . . to say nothing of the fact that we were directly involved in his rise to power and supplied him with his first list of human, even civilian, targets to eliminate.

As I've discussed many times, our country has failed (at a terrible cost) to learn from any of its foreign policy history of the past 60 years. We have developed an idiotic habit of ignoring long-term consequences of our actions in achieving short-term goals. I have no doubt that even after we are finally out of Iraq (if we ever pull it off), there will be fallout down the line that no one but the people in power have the slightest inkling of yet (and they are too stupid, stubborn and short-sighted to care).

Of course I'm not saying that American lives are more important than Iraqi lives. Far from it. That's why I care that estimates number Iraqi civilian casualties in the several hundreds of thousands since the invasion began. And really, what do you think we're doing with the money that is not being spent on Americans in America? Do you seriously think we're over there building schools and homes with it? We haven't even managed to bring most of the country back up to pre-war levels with regards to basic services like water, electricity and medical.

The best thing for Iraq is, and always was (stretching back to those first days in 1963 when the CIA pulled one of its famous "regime changes" that put Saddam Hussein's political party in power), that we leave it the hell alone as soon as possible and for as long as possible. Our war budget should be diverted into more peaceable channels, immediately. And you can take that to the bank.

In conclusion, have another video:

Warning: Too tired to give this a proper proof-read.

Posted by Jared at 03:34 AM | TrackBack

January 28, 2008

What a Waste

Posted on Day #1,768.

Posted by Jared at 01:48 PM | TrackBack

January 17, 2008

Good to Know

In the brown book in my sabretache there was the tale of an angel (perhaps actually one of the winged women warriors who are said to serve the Autarch) who, coming to Urth on some petty mission or other, was struck by a child's arrow and died. With her gleaming robes all dyed by her heart's blood even as the boulevards were stained by the expiring life of the sun, she encountered Gabriel himself. His sword blazed in one hand, his great two-headed ax swung in the other, and across his back, suspended on the rainbow, hung the very battle horn of Heaven.

"Where wend you, little one," asked Gabriel, "with your breast more scarlet than a robin's?"

"I am killed," the anged said, "and I return to merge my substance once more with the Pancreator."

"Do not be absurd. You are an angel, a pure spirit, and cannot die."

"But I am dead," said the angel, "nevertheless. You have observed the wasting of my blood - do you not observe also that it no longer issues in straining spurtings, but only seeps sluggishly? Note the pallor of my countenance. Is not the touch of an angel warm and bright? Take my hand and you will imagine you hold a horror new dragged from some stagnant pool. Taste my breath - is it not fetid, foul, and nidorous?"

Gabriel answered nothing, and at last the angel said, "Brother and better, even if I have not convinced you with all my proofs, I pray you stand aside. I would rid the universe of my presence."

"I am convinced indeed," Gabriel said, stepping from the other's way. "It is only that I was thinking that had I known we might perish, I would not at all times have been so bold."

-The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe, Part I of The Book of the New Sun

Posted by Jared at 11:17 PM | TrackBack

January 11, 2008

The Sharpton Challenge

Sharpton wants to know favorite fantasy characters and archetypes. Can't resist that. I've been reading fantasy for as long as I've been reading, and I like a lot of different characters for a lot of different reasons . . . So a request like that took some serious thought.

A younger part of me is drawn to the most crowd-pleasing characters: cucumber-cool swashbucklers (like Inigo Montoya), plucky comic relief (like Puddleglum, although he's so much more), or a combination of both (like Reepicheep, probably my earliest favorite fictional character post-Sesame Street).

On the other hand, from a literary perspective I have a deep appreciation of morally-ambiguous characters who are often wily and unscrupulous, or who struggle with some sort of inner-conflict (Severus Snape and Remus Lupin, for example, are two of my three favorite characters from Harry Potter). In fact, the villains can often be the most fascinating or even likable characters in some stories (like Steerpike, the strangely-charismatic villain of the Gormenghast novels). Magneto is by far the most interesting character of the X-Men movie trilogy. Davy Jones is quite possibly the most colorful movie villain since Darth Vader. Illidan Stormrage, is definitely my personal favorite of the epic-sized WarCraft cast.

But I'll stop cheating and dropping extra names and move on to the characters I chose, in chronological order of origin (newest to oldest):

1.) Jonathan Strange: Central character in Susanna Clarke's amazing 2004 work, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Strange is an extremely intelligent (though frequently unwise) young man with an amazing affinity for magic. He becomes the apprentice of Mr. Norrell, the only magician in early 19th-Century England, and uses his skill on the battlefield to help the Duke of Wellington defeat Napoleon Bonaparte (though this accounts only a fraction of the massive and intricate 800-page novel).

2.) Hermione Granger: The "cleverest witch of her generation," Hermione is clearly the greatest character of the "Terrible Trio." She always has the answer if anyone does, and if they don't, she'll be the first to get it (this doesn't always work out for her, though, cf. Chamber of Secrets). Impossible to dislike, I guess she's a bit of an obvious choice, but that's why she's a favorite.

3.) Sparrowhawk: Central character of Ursula K. LeGuin's magnificent Earthsea series which, on top of being beautifully written, is the next best thing to reading a backstory for Gandalf. Sparrowhawk (whose true name is Ged) is an extremely gifted wizard, though his skillful arrogance led to big trouble in his youth. However, he eventually matures into one of the greatest archwizards the Earthsea archipelago has ever seen, becoming almost as wise as he is intelligent along the way.

4.) Gandalf the Grey: Gandalf is the fantasy wizard, and the fantasy character I've probably come closest to straight-up worshipping. In fact, he may just be the greatest fantasy character ever. Note that I say "the Grey" rather than "the White" or simply "Gandalf." I always kind of preferred him before his rebirth, not only because grey is my favorite color (probably because of Gandalf, so chicken and egg) and white is boring, but because Gandalf the Grey was a lot more fun. Death took a lot of the perpetual twinkle out of his eye. Also, Gandalf the Grey was a great deal more fallible, which made both him and his adventures more interesting, if not quite as uber.

5.) Merlin: If Gandalf is the wizard of modern fantasy then Merlin is simply The Wizard. Not only is he the ultimate source of pretty much all fictional wizardkind, but in many ways he is a large percentage of the wizard population. Featured in fiction for centuries by everyone from Mark Twain to C.S. Lewis, Merlin stars under his own name in countless series and incarnations, popping in musicals, movies, video games . . . you name it. My personal favorite depiction is the lovable humanist Merlyn from T.H. White's Once and Future King. An often comedic, but deeply compassionate, version of the wizard, Merlyn lives his life backwards in time, with simultaneously amusing and confusing results.

Favorite archetype (pretty obvious by now):
Wizard - Even when they don't know everything, they know a lot more than everyone else. Their characters often arc from Smart Young Man to Wise Old Man, with all sorts of fantastic happenings along the way. Their abilities, beyond being extremely cool and powerful, possess an almost infinite variety. No offense, but there are only so many ways to swing a sharp object (and George Lucas ran through them all quite exhaustively in his Star Wars prequel trilogy). I love a good sword fight as much as the next guy, but a writer has to work pretty hard and be pretty thick to get magic to appear stale and boring.

And there you have it. As long as we're talking about fantasy, have a look at this fantastic trailer for Harry Potter and the Chronicles of the Lord of the Golden Compass of the Jedi.

Posted by Jared at 08:17 PM | TrackBack

January 10, 2008

Back At It

Ugh. I had a post mostly done about why I haven't posted lately and what I've been up to in the meantime, but . . . somehow I didn't save it while I was typing it. And then I stood up to turn on the light, and a bulb blew out and tripped the breaker and half of my house lost power. Do I want to start over and rewrite it all? Not so much.

Quick summary:

Went to California for 2 weeks over the holidays. Did many things. Watched all 10 Star Trek movies in 7 days with Rachel and her parents (I got them for Christmas). I also got seasons 2 and 3 of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and I got Rachel the complete I Love Lucy. Gallagher also got me a demotivator mug (awesome) and I had the "Politically-Correct War" card game in my stocking (hilarious). And there were some other things. I won't bore you further with the details.

Moviegoings has sucked up a lot of my blogging energy, inspiring me with more writing projects than I had expected. All of my blogging energy in California went that direction, 7 entries while I was gone as I availed myself of the independent theaters in nearby Santa Cruz to get a jump on movies that aren't (or weren't at the time) in wider release.

Meanwhile, Moviegoings and I were also accepted into the Faith and Film Critics Circle, which I'm very excited about . . . and just in time to participate in the voting for their "Best of 2007" nominations. Stay tuned for that . . . And speaking of being excited, I've got those back-to-back conferences coming up in February and I'll hopefully have heard from Baylor by March. I settled on the relationship between The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and the work of Flannery O'Connor as my topic, although it remains largely unwritten.

That covers mostly everything that I'm of a mind to talk about in this quick rehash of a longer rehash of my recent activities. I have at least a few more posts lined up for the near future, though. Scout's honor.

Posted by Jared at 07:13 PM | TrackBack