Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yes, this headline has "Cardinal" and "Probe" in the same sentence

From CBS News:

LA Cardinal Subject Of Federal Probe
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 28, 2009

Federal prosecutors are investigating Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and other officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles over their handling of alleged clergy child molestation cases, according to reports published Wednesday.

The Los Angeles Times, citing two unidentified law enforcement persons familiar with the case, reported on its Web site that Mahony is among those being investigated by a federal grand jury to determine if he failed to keep children safe from predatory priests. The Wall Street Journal, citing an unnamed source, said authorities are looking to see if church officials tried to cover up the sexual abuse of minors by priests.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

To me this has been and continues to be the biggest outrage in the Church's abuse scandal. This is not a matter of a few bad apples slipping through; this is a matter of an organization protecting child molesters from the authorities and concealing their crimes. It is a systemic problem and it has been going on for centuries.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sounds of Cinema Best and Worst of 2008

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema broadcast my picks of the best and worst films of the past year.

First, the ten best:
  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Slumdog Millionaire
  3. Doubt
  4. WALL-E
  5. Milk
  6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  7. The Visitor
  8. The Wrestler
  9. Son of Rambow
  10. John Adams

And the ten worst:

  1. 10,000 B.C.
  2. College
  3. You Don't Mess With the Zohan
  4. The Spirit
  5. Bangkok Dangerous
  6. Semi-Pro
  7. Eagle Eye
  8. Max Payne
  9. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
  10. The Day the Earth Stood Still

You can find rationales for each film and other supplementary material, including honorable mentions and a list of notable performances, here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sounds of Cinema End of 2008 Wrap Up Imminent

On January 25th, 2009 Sounds of Cinema will feature my picks of the best and worst films of 2008 and I will comment on some of the trends I observed.

After the show is broadcast, the lists and the rationales for each film will be posted in the FEATURES section of the Sounds of Cinema website. End of the Year Wrap Up's from previous years are archived there as well.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Losers Always Whine About Their Best . . .

George W. Bush gave his last speech as President of the United States on Thursday, in which he tried to sum up his presidency and his legacy. For anyone still trying to understand how this man's head works, the speech gave insight into how Bush sees himself.

Bush spent a great deal of the speech on his efforts to promote democracy. Because this was a rehearsed speech there were none of the grammatical gaffs Bush has been so ridiculed for like, "Is our children learning?" Instead, Bush made much bigger error, one that reveals his tragic flaw and the man's oblivious state of mind. While praising his own efforts to spread democracy, he also claimed (at 9:28 in the video) that "Murdering the innocent to advance an idealogy is wrong everytime, everywhere." Consider that quote in light of four thousand dead American soldiers and a million dead Iraqis in the name of spreading democracy. The disconnect between Bush's words and actions has never been greater and makes his final speech one to keep in memory of exactly who this man was and what he did.

Some like to say Bush is in denial. He's not. Denial would require that Bush realize he's made huge mistakes and that disasters like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and ongoing problems in the economy are at least partly his fault. But I do not believe Bush has this understanding, which is why he always refers to these problems as though he was not the president and had nothing to do with them. The man has no consciousness. He's been asleep at the wheel for eight years and been suffering from increasingly serious senioritis for the past twelve months.

This lack of consciousness and detachment from the events of the past eight years are apparent in what he considers his biggest accomplishment: preventing another terrorist attack on American soil for the past seven years. But what Bush can't seem to understand is that he already failed that goal in the most tragic way possible. The attacks of 9/11 were his fault, inasmuch as he failed to protect America from the attackers. And further, he hasn't taken steps to address the reasons why people want to attack us in the first place but rather inflamed them by staying on the sidelines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and invading Iraq.

I think Chris Matthews gave a very incisive summary of the speech:

Bush's speech was nearly overshadowed by an airplane crashing into the Hudson River, which reporters and aviation officials kept calling "a success" since no one was killed. It seems to me that a true success would not involve crashing at all. This is a rather apt metaphor for the Bush presidency or at least Bush's view of his record, except that in Bush's disasters many people were killed, lost their jobs, and made homeless.

So the Bush presidency is over, but the mess he has made is not. And it will take years, if not decades, to repair the damage he has done domestically and internationally. So, goodbye, George. And don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

There's Only Room for One Religious Fraud in this Town

The guys who claim they can turn a cracker into the body of Christ are calling bullshit on your grilled-cheese-sandwich-vision of Mary the Virgin.

That's right, the Catholic Church--possibly feeling left out of the recent boom in miracles and visions--is declaring jihad, er, holy war on what it considers bogus visions of the Virgin or other religious figures. According to Mail Online:

[Pope] Benedict XVI plans to publish criteria to help them distinguish between true and false claims of visions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, messages, stigmata - the appearances of the five wounds of Christ - and weeping or bleeding statues.

In some cases exorcists will be used to determine if a credible apparition is 'divine' origin or 'demonic'.

That last bit is interesting, as it plays into a traditional Catholic strategy: if anyone claims to possess revelation, knowledge, or religious authority outside of the Catholic power structure, brand them a liar, a heretic, or demonically inspired. They used it on Martin Luther and Nicolaus Copernicus so I guess they might as well direct it toward grilled cheese sandwiches. Or at least use it as an excuse to put Pat Robertson on the rack.

The other interesting item in the story is in the Pope's procedures for evaluating claims:

The visionaries will next be visited by psychiatrists, either atheists or Catholics, to certify their mental health and to verify whether they are suffering from conditions of a hysterical or hallucinatory character or from delusions of leadership.

Two things: First, the church is letting atheists evaluate religious claims? What conclusion does the Church expect them to reach? And second, it is allowing atheists or Catholics to evaluate visions, but not Protestants, Mormons, Jews, Muslims or other religions or denominations. I guess they rank lower in respect than the atheists. And the atheists are less risk. After all, if the atheist says the person is crazy or lying, the matter is closed and the Church can say it turned to a credible or neutral source. But if a competing superstition was allowed in (and thereby inherently given a degree of credibility by the Church) and came up with an affirmative answer but a Catholic came to a negative answer, that would expose the Church's attempt to isolate itself as the only one possessing "the answer" and make the Catholics the buzz kill, since those likely to believe in magical happenings do so in part because they have a desire to see it and will gravitate toward whoever gives them the answer that they want.

I'm not sure if any of this amounts to much. Centuries ago, the Church would be able to put real sanctions on someone they deemed a heretic. But today there is no real consequence aside from humiliation but even then it will take more than a Rorschach test to be humiliated by an organization that aids and abets child molesters.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lou Dobbs Will Be Happy

Posted on

Joint Forces Warns of Mexico Collapse
January 14, 2009
El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas -- Mexico is one of two countries that "bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse," according to a report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command on worldwide security threats.

The command's "Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008)" report, which contains projections of global threats and potential next wars, puts Pakistan on the same level as Mexico. "In terms of worse-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

"The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Church Money Allegedly Used for Vasectomy

The Associated Press
updated 6:45 p.m. CT, Wed., Jan. 7, 2009

MARION, Ind. - An Indiana prosecutor says a former church official is charged with stealing more than $276,000 from church accounts and using some of the money to pay for a vasectomy.

Grant County Prosecutor Jim Luttrull says William Jeremiah Six faces eight counts of theft and one count of fraud.

Six was director of finances for Lakeview Wesleyan Church and Lakeview Christian School from June 2004 to July 2008.

Court documents say Six is accused of using electronic transfers from church and school accounts to pay his credit cards and medical bills and to buy cars and motorcycles. Prosecutors say the medical bills included $736 for a vasectomy.

Court records say the 28-year-old man has repaid the church $25,000.

No court date had been set.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

People's Choice Awards Commentary

I posted this on the Sounds of Cinema blog but I felt it was important enough to re-post here:

Whitney Pastorek has posted this blog about the "winners" of the People's Choice Awards. This last paragraph sums up her--and many of my--opinions about the awards circuit:

The only thing I can hope for is this: When people like Kid Rock and Adam Sandler take to the microphone and crow ever so humbly about how their work is not "for the critics," but "for the people," all of us will take a second to remember that there is nothing wrong with a people who are also critical. Whether we use our mouses, our remotes, our blogs, or our hard-earned cash, it is up to us to decide what kind of culture we want to live in. And while it may be easy and indeed quite fun to stand in a metaphorical mosh pit and high-five every shiny famous person who comes down the pike, I happen to believe we as a people are capable of ever so much more. (Need proof? The Dark Knight.) To echo last night's oft-repeated phrase, Yes we can demand excellence. Yes we can think analytically, write articulately, and speak passionately about art and artists in our society. I go so far as to say it is our responsibility. We cannot let crap like this win.

Pastorek's comments are well taken. If the filmmakers really make things "for the viewers" then they should stop insulting them by making crap. Viewers owe it to themselves to make their voices heard whenever possible and demand better work from the studios. The fact that The Dark Knight did so well is an encouraging sign as it shows just how hungry the audience is for good work that is entertaining and relevant.

On the other hand, there are two catches to all this. First, as mentioned in my previous post on this blog, in many cineplexes, especially those in smaller communities, the You Don't Mess With the Zohans of the world crowd out the Doubts and the Wrestlers. The public can only really choose, either with their web browsers or with their wallets, if they are able to to get to the good stuff. Hollywood has made it too difficult to see their best work, which makes absolutely no sense.

Second, even the critics make mistakes or change their minds. When Psycho came out it was dismissed by critics although it succeeded with the public. Citizen Kane was both a critical and box office failure. Now both are cornerstones of film studies programs. My point is that the critics are important but not omnipotent and what we should strive for is not a situation where the year end box office receipts match the Oscar nominations, but rather a culture of more educated consumers who refuse to give themselves over to the latest gimmick and who demand better a better product.

This is a long term goal, but one that the entertainment industry might be breeding for itself. By creating more television and radio stations, more outlets for film, and the ever expanding world wide web, producers will be forced to think more creatively and hopefully produce better work to capture an audience.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Richard Seymour on Gaza Offensive

Richard Seymour has been blogging very regularly on the latest developments in Israel's present attacks on Gaza, and in this post he has begun to make some comparisons that are worth considering:

True, 'only' 550 have been directly killed in Gaza in this particular 11 day old operation, but that in itself wouldn't be the basis for denying that a genocidal process is under way. The number is proportionally equivalent to killing 22,000 in the UK - or, if you prefer, about 3,000 in Darfur. In Darfur, the total number killed over the worst ten months of violence when it really was a 'killing fields' situation was 30,000. If the argument was really just about the numbers of people directly slain, the fate of Gaza is now proportionally worse than it was in Darfur during its worst period. I doubt many people will assent to that judgment.

Percentages and statistics are tricky things and the word "genocide" should not be thrown around haphazardly, but Seymour makes it clear that this is not about a single attack or operation:

It isn't that any single attack or massacre by Israel constitutes genocide. It is that the ongoing war against the entire Palestinian population, its infrastructure, its political expressions, its culture, and its life-support, contains a genocidal dynamic.

Israel's conduct in this operation, and more broadly its conduct with the Palestinian population, has been one of conquest. A peaceful solution has never been on the agenda, only temporary supplication, with surges of violence and aggression followed by long periods of tension. Of course, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others don't help the matter and as far as I am aware neither have put forth plans or ideas that might reach some kind of reachable endgame. But Israel, with its military strength and strong western ties, has the opportunity and the position to initiate a move toward a peaceful solution. But the country doesn't bother to do that, leading an observer like myself to believe that its true goal is domination over the immediate region and the extermination of the cultures that surround it.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Same Shit, Different Year

According to this article from the BBC:

The UN has warned that Palestinians in Gaza are facing a serious health and food crisis, as Israeli air strikes continued for a seventh day.

The "critical emergency" comes despite an increase in humanitarian shipments, said Maxwell Gaylard, the UN's chief aid co-ordinator for the territory.

The UN believes that at least 100 of some 400 Palestinians killed by Israeli action so far were civilians.

If the reverse were going on and countries like Syria or Egypt had invaded Israel with the same kind of aggression and collateral damage, there would be a tremendous outcry for American support. (On the other hand, if this were happening in Africa it's unlikely that the news media would bother covering it.).

If Obama really wants to initiate change in his administration, one of the first pieces of his foreign policy agenda ought to be a new stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that makes the U.S. a third party, cut off from automatic allegiance to Israel, and condemns brutal, counterproductive tactics from any side. Otherwise, actions like this one by Israel go unchecked and continue to increase disgust for America in places where we are already unpopular.