Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Departed

When South Boston native Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) loses his mother to cancer, local ganster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) leaves a memorial card by her grave. It reads "May God give a place in the Kingdom of Heaven to the Faithful Departed." Or something close to that - I wasn't taking notes in the theater.

He's not asking God to give everyone a place in Heaven, everyone who is dead. You get the feeling that Frank doesn't really give a shit if most of the people he has killed got to Heaven or not. No, only the "faithful" departed, the ones who remained true to their God and to themselves, deserve a place at his divine table. It's a question of loyalty. Are you one of the chosen or ain't you?

Martin Scorsese's epic cop thriller The Departed spends a lot of time contemplating loyalty and how, in the end, it really boils down to honesty. We are truthful with those to whom we are loyal, which for most poeple is no one at all, especially not themselves. All the other people, the ones with whom we spend our lives, get whatever side of us that is most expedient and effective for that given moment.

A far superior adaptation of Andy Lau's enjoyable Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs, The Departed provides yet another opportunity for Scorsese to apply his considerable gifts to a gritty story about crime in an American metropolis. Like the giddy autobiographical whirlwind of Goodfellas or the behind-the-scenes Mob History of Casino, the individual struggles of a few central characters stand in for the incomprehensible complexity of an entire community of thieves, murderers, cops and informants.

Unlike those films, a more detached and quiet approach has kind of removed Scorsese's presence from every moment of the film. Though intense and brilliantly executed, the action sequences and shootouts recall the films of Michael Mann more than anything by Scorsese, especially held up against the comparatively clunky action choreography in Gangs of New York. Mann's Heat was probably the last American cop movie made with this level of intelligence and sophistication. Again, as he does every few years, Martin Scorsese has directed one of the best American films of the year, and if that's not enough good news, this time it's a riveting return to the genre of blood on the pavement, broken noses and brain-smeared warehouse walls. I, for one, couldn't be more pleased.

Shortly before losing his Mom and finding that strange note from Costello, Costigan was ejected from the Boston State Police Academy. He's not "Staties" material, apparently, what with his family's criminal background and underworld connections, and his own history of violence. However, Captain Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) and the hotheaded Staff Sgt. Dignam (Mark Wahlberg in his best performance to date) see an opportunity in this damaged young man, who has spent his entire young life straddling the middle-class world of the North Shore with his father's neighborhood of South Boston.

They want to send him undercover into Costello's gang, first by sending him to prison to establish his scumbag credentials. What Queenan and Dignam don't know is that Costello has a mole of his own, the brand-new Staff Sgt. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), who has kept his close childhood connection to the gangster successfully under wraps.

It's an ingenious set-up that allowed Lau to mine territory similar to the old Hong Kong classics of John Woo. The duality of law enforcement, how the cops spend so much time working with and observing criminals that the distinction between the two groups becomes hopelessly blurred, looms large over both the Hong Kong and American films. (In an early monologue, Costello wonders aloud whether one's affiliation matters when one is staring down the barrel of a gun. He seemingly concludes that it does not.)

Scorsese works with a much larger canvas, using the cat-and-mouse game of Costigan and Sullivan to explore the vagaries of organized crime in the city of Boston. (We even get a nice little history of urban conflict in Beantown before the opening credits.) The FBI, the Irish mob, the Italian mob, the families of South Boston and all the individual cops and divisions have their roles to play, and their own loyalties, and even if they are on the same side, the ultimate goals are not neccessarily compatible.

In the service of this complicated and sizable undertaking, Scorsese has enlisted a tremendous ensemble of actors, easily the best cast of any major film this year. Because many of these characters get only a few scenes to make an impression, he frequently falls back on typecasting, which ends up working rather well. Ray Winstone, as Costello's right-hand man, has shown in films like Sexy Beast that he's capable of charm and sensitivity in addition to hulking menace, so it only takes him a few moments as the psychotic Mr. French to establish his place in this universe.

Similarly, Alec Baldwin just absolutely nails Ellerby, Sullivan's superior in the organized crime task force. It's a role that seems like it must have been written specifically for Baldwin, the same speedy, gregarious geniality with flashes of buried rage that has cropped up in his performances countless times, from Malice to State and Main. Even Glengarry Glen Ross, really, although the rage isn't quite as buried.

Vera Farmiga, who first impressed me in a surprisingly well-developed role as Paul Walker's wife in Running Scared, expertly inhabits the film's lone female character. Usually, both roels would be completely thankless, particularly the concerned wife part in Running Scared, in which she would sit around the house frantically calling Paul Walker and weeping, desperate in the hopes that he would soon return safely to her side. But Farmiga turned that character into a steely adventuress rising to the formidable challenges faced during a crazed late-night search for her neighbor's missing child. It was great work in an above-average 2006 film that's been thus far overlooked.

If that was a nice introduction, her work here is award-worthy. As the sexy but not-terribly-professional police psychiatrist Madolyn (I forget the character's last name and it's not on IMDB), romantically involved first with Sullivan and then Costigan, she manages to subtly project fear and doubt throughout the film without ever bringing these emotions to the surface. At least, not until the very end.

Unfortunately, she's denied one final scene that's implied but not shown, and it would really have wrapped up her character's arc nicely and provided the actresses with a great close-up moment. A film that already clocks in at 160 minutes should be able to make room for a powerful 2-minute-or-less moment near the end.

There are some difficult scenes to navigate with her and Damon, where we're not sure exactly how much she suspects about his odd cell phone calls and suspicious excuses. Even when we know she's being lied to and decieved, Farmiga never comes off as a victim or a simpleton. Maybe she has swallowed some of the bullshit Sullivan's been spreading around, but she's not exactly an easy mark.

Sullivan has been telling Madolyn some fairly considerable lies, after all, but it's eventually the smaller, personal ones that reveal his true nature. After their first night together, Madolyn wants to set his mind at east about his erectile dysfunction - she insists it's not a problem, but he clams up and refuses to discuss the issue. Later on, Ellerby makes a joke about the usefulness of having a spouse - it lets other women know "that your dick works and that you know how to use it."

Rather than just laugh at this off-color bit of humor, Sullivan feels the need to over-compensate. "Oh, I use it. All the time," he responds. It's a bit of an awkward moment, all in all, just one of many scenes in The Departed examing the effectiveness and practicality of deceit.

Obviously, the plot concerns a variety of lies piled on top of one another. Neither Sullivan, a crook pretending to be a cop, nor Costigan, a cop pretending to be a crook, are being up-front about their real identities. Costigan comes to define his mission in the end not as one of seeking justice or getting revenge, but of getting his identity back. If he can stop lying, he can become himself again. And in the course of finding himself, and Sullivan, he will peel back the curtain on all manner of other lies - unexpected informants, inter-agency secrets, secret alliances and just plain corruption.

But Scorsese also implies that these are two men who are lying to themselves about their true nature. Sullivan spends so much time pretending to be a nice guy, particularly with Madolyn, he's come to believe that this is the dominant side of his personality. He describes to her all activities relating to the cops and to Costello as "my work," and this is probably how he compartmentalizes his dual nature within his own mind. There are the things he does for his boss, which are conniving and brutal and villainous, but they no more define him as a person than the brave, honorable cop character he pretends to be during the day.

Costigan thinks he has a score to settle, the impulse that drives him to the police academy in the first place. But he'll discover over the course of the film that he has no stomach for life in the streets. DiCaprio falls back on some of his favorite acting tricks in some of these scenes - furrowing the middle of his forehead and he slugs Oxycontin to forget the gruesome horrors he has witnessed under Costello's tutelage - but his performance works almost in spite of itself.

(In general, I find him overly mannered as an actor, kind of a male version of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Both are capable of doing great work but they also tend to turn in ornamental performances, in which exaggerated body language and far-out accents stand in for actual emotional resonance.)

Thankfully, in The Departed, his occasionally less-than-convincing Boston accent makes sense in the context of the film - splitting his time between two different neighborhoods has given him a muddled, unclear sense of geographical and social identity.

Which, of course, brings us to Nicholson's Costello, the only person in the movie who does not feel conflicted about his place in the world. He opens the film by describing to a group of assembled children exactly who he is and where he fits in. He's the alpha dog, the guy who sees what he wants and takes it unapologetically, and that's how he was able to take this neighborhood away from the black and Italian gangs. (Though he doesn't use nomenclature as polite as "black" or "Italian".)

When Costigan points out that he should leave the life, that he no longer needs any of the money he's earning from crime, Costello retorts that he has never really needed the money. He doesn't even need the thrill. He does it because he can. At 70 years old, he's still the man in charge and no one can touch him, and every time he organizes the coke deal or sells a bunch of smuggled microchips to the Chinese, he's reasserting his dominance over the entire city of Boston over and over again. Our first glimpse of Costello, before we've even seen his face, is of him shaking down a small business owner for $25 and then sexually harrassing the man's adolescent daughter. He doesn't need that money nor is he actually going to fuck that girl (at least, for a few years). He just likes to remind everyone who's in charge.

Nicholson takes the role about as far as any actor on Planet Earth could have. I could see critics calling him out for overacting, even scenery-chewing, and again Scorsese chooses to have him play directly into his persona rather than creating an original character from whole cloth. But he's just so dynamic in this kind of a role. Depraved and murderous, sure, but so damned affable and nonchalant about it, the result is irresistable. This is definitely his best performance since The Pledge, another criminally underappeciated film, and it certainly looks like the most fun he's had making a movie in a very long time.

It has been rumored that Jack made up much of his own dialogue, but much of the credit for the entire film's success must go to the incredibly dense, layered, nuanced and fall-down funny script by William Monahan.

His only other produced screenplay was for Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, and though that wasn't really a bad film, it didn't show off this guy's flair for dazzling crudity. There's a Mamet-esque quality to some of the writing here, particularly the hilariously aggressive Bad Cop manner of Wahlberg's Dingam. Seriously, this guy is among the most unrelenting assholes in modern cinema. Conceiving of a character like this is every cop movie writer's dream.

In the hands of a rank amateur, Monahan's script would have still made for a solid film. In the hands of Martin Scorsese, with expansive if unusually subdued cinematography by Michael Bauhaus, it's a good deal better than that. There are a few missteps. The final shot, in which an actual rat crawls along the railing of Sullivan's patio, gets a laugh at exactly the wrong moment. Some of the classic rock musical cues, long a Scorsese trademark, are equally ill-conceived. I mean, what's with using The Stones' "Gimme Shelter" in two inappropriate places in the film? He already used that song in Goodfellas anyway. In fact, there's entirely too many overplayed, famous classic rock tracks in the film, to the point where a lot of the music serves as a distraction.

I'm also not certain what the deal is with this version of "Comfortably Numb" that plays over a sex scene (already an odd choice), whether it's Roger Waters live or some other band, but it kind of sucks and just doesn't work with the context of the scene at all.

There were a few key soundtrack selections I liked. John Lennon's "Well Well Well" perfectly compliments a funny/disgusting back-and-forth between Costigan, Mr. French and Costello and the Celtic punk of The Pogues fits ideally into the film for obvious reasons.

Minor nitpicks aside, this is a remarkable, invigorating late-career success for arguably America's greatest living actor and arguably its greatest living director. Easily, EASILY, my favorite film of 2006 thus far.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why Don't Congressmen Use Bookmarks?

Because they just like to bend over the pages.


[If that's not enough Foley-related comedy gold for you, here's a photo of the Indistinguished Gentleman from Florida receiving the "Rough Rider" award. You're welcome.]

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

She Blinded Me With Bias

Every once in a while, I check in with Andrew Sullivan, even though he annoys the hell out of me. He has one of the most popular blogs on the Intar-Web, and even though he's a conservative scumbag, he nonetheless agrees with me on most of the major issues of the day - Bush is an idiot, torture is wrong. You know, traitorous cut-and-running, that sort of thing. This is the result of having a crazed radical like Bush in the White House. People who never agree on anything can unite in the spirit that the President is a complete asshole.

Anyway, Sullivan is in kind of a tough spot these days. He's basically admitted that a small minority of Democrats and a vast majority of left-wing bloggers, typically his sworn enemies, were right all along about the Iraq War being a huge miserable fucking mistake. See, Sullivan was for the war at first, and went so far as to imply that those who opposed the war were un-American appeasers. Now he's on our side, that is the side of Americans with any lingering morsel of common sense, but still can't really admit that he's on our side, so he regularly invents new and increasingly ludicrous reasons why liberals are wrong even when they are clearly right.

Thus, he gets to have it both ways...Conservative who mocks fluffy, hippie-inspired lib'rul thinking, but also rational thinking man of the political center. It's lame.

I've seen him make all manner of twisty, convoluted arguments for why liberals don't get to be right about Iraq even though they were totally right. (Check out this post, where I discuss one of his more retarded assertions - that Dick Cheney was more right about WMD's in Iraq than Al Gore is right about global warming, even though we already know Dick Cheney was completely wrong and the verdict is still out on Gore's conclusions.)

Today's patently ridiculous paragraph may just take the prize for Stupidest Andrew Sullivan Post. Of the month thus far. (No, there's no actual prize. There wasn't any such thing as a Braffy either. Deal with it.) His punditry has come loose from even a semblance of rationality. It's utter nonsense. He might as well have typed a blog post suggesting that President Bush take a bite of the Caterpillar's mushroom before challenging the Queen to a game of croquet.

The weirdest part is, Andrew didn't even write the bulk of the post. It's a quote from a Washington Post story about a researcher looking into "hindsight bias." Yeah, "hindsight bias." Can you tell where this is going?

"Liberals' assertion that they 'knew all along' that the war in Iraq would go badly are guilty of the hindsight bias. This is not to say that they didn't always think that the war was a bad idea. It is to say that after it was apparent that the war was going badly, they assert that they would have assigned a higher probability to that outcome than they really would have assigned beforehand," - Hal Arkes, a psychologist at Ohio State University, who has studied "hindsight bias" and how to overcome it.

So, liberals such as myself, who said that the Iraq War was a huge mistake from the very beginning didn't really think it was likely to be a huge mistake. We only think that we did now because of "hindsight bias." Ah, I see. Perhaps this is why the albums that I think are my favorites at the end of the actual year never wind up being the ones I continue to like the best well into the future.

"You may have thought that Fiona Apple album was the recording of the year," I think to myself, "but be honest...You haven't put 'Extraordinary Machine' on in months and you still listen to Wolf Parade and The National all the time."

Now, finally, I can udnerstand this phenomenon! Thanks, Dr. Arkes.

What I'm saying is, this idiocy is not 100% Andrew Sullivan's fault. But please do note the fact that he finds it blog-worthy. He will grasp at any argument, no matter how lame, to try and equate the sins of liberals with the sins of conservatives (and more specifically, neo-conservatives.)

Of course, this mission is, at its very core, irrational. Not only because no influential members of the Left are as insane as the cabal currently in power (although that's true.) But because no one in the Left has been able to do anything that significant in our government for 6 years now. They are shut out of every decision and every policy. Sure, they can occasionally raise a stink and get some mention in a newspaper, but obviously the crimes of Republicans as of late will be worse than the crimes of Democrats. Republicans are the only ones in charge!

Okay, I'm done with Andrew. He's kind of an idiot, but he's an amusing idiot. Let's take a closer look at this Washington Post article to which he favorably linked.

Antiwar liberals last week got to savor the four most satisfying words in the English language: "I told you so."

I hate this article already. No one I know who was against the war in 2003 is "savoring" anything now. We don't feel "satisfied." We're all fucking miserable. This past six years has resembled a car accident (and I've been in a car accident). You can see the center divider coming, you're spinning out of control, you know impact is imminant, and time kind of slow sdown for a second. It's a horrible, horrible feeling to know you're about to crash into something, hard, and that's how I've felt for a long time.

I'm not savoring being right. Of course, I wish I had been wrong. I wish the war took three days and Bush got to feel better about himself and he coasted through the rest of his term and then everyone got sick of him, because he's an idiot, and voted for the next criminal Republican goober asshole with enough money to run a national campaign. Seriously. I'm right about stuff all the time, it's not that big of a deal to me. I'd much rather thousands of Americans and even more Iraqis were still untortured and fucking alive, asshole.

Only a goddamn warmongering right-wing fucktard would even be thinking about the Iraq War in these kinds of terms. Focusing on who has fucking bragging rights? Writer Shankar Vidantam, are you serious? This is the Washington Post! How about a little decorum? How about you just tell the news without making it into some kind of fucking role playing game!

This was after a declassified National Intelligence Estimate asserted that the war in Iraq was creating more terrorists than it was eliminating. For millions of people who opposed President Bush's mission in Iraq from the start, this was proof positive that they had been right all along. Yes, they told themselves, we saw this disaster coming.

Only . . . that isn't quite true.

Um...yes, it is.

Trust me. I mean, Shankar didn't interview me for this article. I can't imagine why. I could have told him that, as a regular but casual newspaper reader with no actual international relations or foreign policy experience, I knew in early 2003 that this entire war would be a huge disaster. A lot of people knew that. A LOT. Mainly, I was just hearing it from them, and the arguments made sense so I listened attentively.

The thing was, everyone ignored these people. Newspapers, cable television, talk radio, Congress. For those sources, it was The Bush Line ALL THE TIME, so I could see how an intellectually lazy and fundamentally disinterested person might think that everyone agreed that the conflict would go swimmingly. But we all didn't. Take my word for it.

Shankar does put himself in kind of a tight spot, rhetorically speaking. How can you prove that no liberals had a clear and accurate sense of how the war would go before it started? (A better question might be...what is the point of such a discussion, but since Shankar has brought it up in one of the nation's leading newspapers, I'll ignore this point for now.)

Accordingly, he doesn't even try to back up this assertion, but moves right into discussing a tangentially-related psychological phenomenon. Yeah, that's more in the spirit of true journalism...Just drop an inflammatory suggestion in there with no evidence, then move on. William Randolph Hearst would be very proud. Remember the Maine!

One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias -- the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. Across a wide spectrum of issues, from politics to the vagaries of the stock market, experiments show that once people know something, they readily believe they knew it all along.

It's not unlike deja vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get...that we've lived through something before.

Accordingly, he doesn't even try to back up this assertion, but moves right into discussing a tangentially-related psychological phenomenon. Yeah, that's more in the spirit of true journalism...Just drop an inflammatory suggestion in there with no evidence, then move on. William Randolph Hearst would be very proud. Remember the Maine!

One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias -- the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. Across a wide spectrum of issues, from politics to the vagaries of the stock market, experiments show that once people know something, they readily believe they knew it all along.

It's not unlike deja vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get...that we've lived through something before.

Accordingly, he doesn't even try to back up this assertion, but moves right into discussing a tangentially-related psychological phenomenon. Yeah, that's more in the spirit of true journalism...Just drop an inflammatory suggestion in there with no evidence, then move on. William Randolph Hearst would be very proud. Remember the Maine!

One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias -- the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. Across a wide spectrum of issues, from politics to the vagaries of the stock market, experiments show that once people know something, they readily believe they knew it all along.

It's not unlike deja vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get...that we've lived through something before.

Now, what was I going to say? Oh, I'm sorry...I've just had the strangest feeling of hindsight bias. But it seems to have passed for now.

This is not to say that no one predicted the war in Iraq would go badly, or that the insurgency would last so long. Many did.

Exactly. Wait, but ...Shankar...didn't you just say that liberals didn't really see the Iraq disaster coming? Or am I just experiencing some more of that hindsight bias stuff?

But where people might once have called such scenarios possible, or even likely, many will now be certain that they had known for sure that this was the only possible outcome.

Hindsight bias clearly exists. When really good or really bad things happen, we all get a sensation of inevitability. As if this were the only way things could have turned out, even though it was more likely just a random confluence of events.

For example, about a year ago, I had been having some sporadic car trouble, but I decided to make a late night trip to the video store anyway, just because I was bored and wanted to grab some new rentals. As I'm leaving the store, driving down Pico Boulevard, the car just stalled out. Just stopped dead in its tracks. And as I'm pushing it to the side of the road and getting out my phone to call AAA, I'm just furious with myself. "Why would I take the car out at night? I knew this was going to happen!"

Of course, I had no idea the car would choose that moment to break down. But still, my immediate regret caused me to have the fantasy that this had been a forseeable, and therefore preventable, occurance rather than just unfortunate timing.

Clearly, this would apply to some people's feelings about the Iraq War. People who had no real opinion about it at the time, or who felt that it was probably a mistake but weren't sure what would actually happen, might very well feel now that our failure was predictable. This is not the sort of thing that could be analyzed statistically, but I'm sure it occurs.

However, it's not only unfair but nonsensical to apply this standard to everyone in the anti-war camp. Yes, hindsight bias exists. What's your point?

Here's Shankar's essential argument:

Even though many liberals were right about the Iraq War, they didn't have 100% absolute certainty all along that they were right, thus decreasingly their overall level of correctness. Go Bush.

Sound reasonable to you?

Next up in the article comes the Arkes quote that Sullivan excerpts. Is an OSU psychology professor really qualified to make blanket declarations about a group as massive and diverse as "liberals"? I mean, "liberals are guilty of a hindsight bias"? How does he know? To make an accurate scientific survey of liberals and their attitudes on the Iraq War, you'd need one hell of a large, random sampling of left-wing Americans. Somehow, I doubt Prof. Arkes has gone to this much trouble.

The hindsight bias plays an important role in public debate, because it gives people a false sense of certainty. When people convince themselves that they knew something would happen, what they effectively ignore is how much that outcome may have been unpredictable.

In place of accuracy, what the hindsight bias seems to offer is a form of comfort. It is easy to be confident about the past, because one cannot be proved wrong.

Welcome to Fantasyland, where even when you are 100% right, YOU'RE STILL WRONG! Shankar's stating that liberals, who were right about the Iraq War, are taking solace in a hindsight bias, because it means that they cannot be proved wrong! Awesome!

Maybe it's me, but shouldn't psychologists be focusing their attention on the large number of delusional Americans who can't bring themselves to admit that this entire Iraq debacle has been and will continue to be a monumental disaster for both of our nations? If you had a choice between psychoanalyzing a group of people who may be acting a bit smug after their attitudes had been proved repeatedly correct or a group of people who sadistically continue to send waves of their own troops into battle ill-equipped and with no clear-cut mission because of abstract concepts like "Spreading Freedom"...oh, never mind...It's not even worth it.

I'd also like to pause to note that this is supposed to be a news article, not an editorial. The top of the page announces that it's a DISPATCH FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR, like I'm going to read about ACTUAL BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE and not some weasels attempt to blame me for actually having some sense of what the fuck I'm talking about some of the time.

Look, I'm not saying I'm some Middle-East expert who predicted everything that has happened since 2003. That's my whole point! If I knew better all this time, why didn't anyone actually running the country? How was it that our President thought the mission was accomplished 3 years ago? And how is it that, in a country with leadership that fucked up, the Washignton Post is reporting about how all the anti-war people weren't correct enough in their pre-war disaster assessments?

The article goes on for a while describing hindsight bias and giving non-Iraq examples, as if proving that the phenomenon exists will magically make it applicable to this situation. It's not even remotely convincing.

But check out this part (on the second page, of course, after you click through and wait for a pop-up ad to load):

In yet another experiment, Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University and a pioneer in the field of hindsight bias, found that Americans who made estimates about their danger after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recalled having made much lower estimates of risk a year later, after their fears failed to materialize.

Fischhoff testified about psychological factors in judgment at a meeting of the House intelligence committee last week.

While hindsight bias in the context of the Iraq war was real, the psychologist cautioned in an interview against misuse of the idea -- the argument by many supporters of the Bush administration that it was impossible to know ahead of time how the war would turn out.

I is bullshit on an almost admirable level.

First off, this study does not discuss hindsight bias in the context of the Iraq War. That's proof that hindisight bias existed in the context of the 9/11 attacks! Which, as the past several years of grinding and pointless conflict have continually affirmed, had nothing at all to do with the fucking war in Iraq, idiot!

Secondly, he's the admit that his thesis is fundamentally flawed. "THE PSYCHOLOGIST CAUTIONED IN AN INTERVIEW AGAINST MISUSE OF THE IDEA!" That means, "bringing this topic up in the context of the Iraq War will most likely be misleading and should be avoided." Oh, Shankar...He's telling you it's not news, and then you write a news article including his quote that it's not news.

Folks, this is straight-up propaganda. No doubt about it. This is a plant. A story designed to make people distrustful of anyone speaking out against the war. "Sure, if may seem like they were right all along, but they just got lucky. No one knows anything about the future, it's all a murky unknowable mystery. Even people who know some things about what might happen are retroactively ignorant because of this here hindsight bias. So why not continue to support the President and his cruel war machine?"

And, of course, it wouldn't be authoritarian right-wing propaganda without a dig at bloggers:

Indeed, research by both Fischhoff and Arkes show that people can fight the hindsight bias only when they honestly and systematically try to explain how different outcomes are possible. Such self-doubt is the exact opposite of how modern politics works: In the age of the blogosphere, certitude is king.

PROJECTION ALERT! Blogs are an interactive medium. If you get something wrong, and you have comments open (and most anti-war bloggers do), people will come and tell you when you're wrong. Blogs can also be edited easily, at any time, and are often written in a casual, conversational, stream-of-consciousness manner. They are absolutely not about certainty. Maybe half of the blog posts I read begin with, "I might be crazy but..." or "This looks to me like..." You know who always sounds 100% certain about every ridiculous assertion they make...Writers for the Washington Post!

There's more to the article, but I'm actually so angry I can't continue to blog about this right now. Just go read it for yourself and maybe drop Shankar an e-mail and let him know that you think he's a soulless shill. That's what I did.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Manchurian Masturbate

I am dismayed but not surprised at recent revelations that Congressional Republican leaders looked the other way while a colleague sexually harrassed (one or more) underage boy(s). If this isn't completely symptomatic of the direction in which this country is headed...Our young people can't even apprentice in Washington and learn the business of government without being subjected to crude and inappropriate perversity from our elected officials. I say this without hyperbole - we are being led right now by the absolute worst men of their generation. The good, resopnsible individuals of my parents' age went into the private sector and left the job of governing to the irreponsible, the vacant, the prejudiced, the incurious and the corrupt.

Pier Pasolini's controversial film Salo reinterprets a Marquis de Sade story, a satire of the aristocracy, as a critique of Italian fascism. It tells the story of a group of privileged, elite men - a President, a Magistrate, a Duke and a Bishop - who kidnap a large group of poor chidlren, take them to a remote country manor and spend several weeks torturing and sodomizing them, subjecting the kids to every disgusting cruelty they can devise. It's literally sadistic. Literally.

The film's almost impossible to watch - let's not even discuss the banquet scene - but it does have a lot to say about the nature of power. Because so much of their wealth and privilege has been inherited rather than earned over the course of their lifetime, Pasolini implies that these men have not neccessarily been corrupted by power. Instead, they are endlessly seeking power in order to realize their depraved impulses.

In other words, it's not that a normal man finds himself suddenly empowered over others and then wants to start raping and murdering children. Obviously, giving one man power over another creates a psychological response, as in the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. But does it lead neccessarily to gross perversions (like, say, sexually harrassing teenage boys who are in your employ)? Or is it that the people who get off on power, who seek it out by, say, running for Congress in league with a corrupt, theocratic majority party, are also frequently perverts.

I'm inclined to believe the latter. I think men like Rep. Mark Foley (R-NEVERLAND) crave power, both in their personal and professional lives. Just as he wanted to boss people around via legislation (particularly anti-gay legislation) in the public sphere, he wanted to have sex with submissive children whom he could dominate completely. I mean, we're talking about a Congressman hitting crudely on his 16 year old interns! This is not merely a disgusting, illegal and inappropriate fetish. (Although it is all those things.) This is a serious psychological disorder.

As for the fact that all the other Republicans who knew about it covered it up, for fear of losing the seat and their majority, I'd say they should be ashamed of themselves...But who am I kidding? These men are incapable of shame. They are also perfectly willing to steal an election, which I'm becoming convinced will be mandatory if they want to retain their power for much longer. Americans don't seem to care very much about torture or civil rights or wars or floods, but they do love a nice, disgusting sex scandal.

So this will probably be in the news for a while, which is significant not just because it makes Republicans look like the perverts that they are, but because it eats up valuable time they'd be using the slam Democrats. This was the week they were hoping to hit hard on national security, the victory lap after John McCain's Grand Torture Compromise, which allows Bush to define torture and then decide who will be tortured and how they will be tortured. It was quite a compromise.

Instead, they'll have to spend the whole week lying about when they first found out their colleague Mark sometimes asked young boys about their favored masturbatory techniques. Hey, he liked to rap with the kids! Isn't connecting with the young people on the issues that matter to them what being an elected Representative is all about? It's less than ideal one month before an election.

It's just strange to me that authoritarian assholism and twisted sex offenderism always go together like this. If only we could isolate the exact factors that cause a person to become power-mad, sanctimonious, narcissitic, attracted to kids and gleefully immoral all at once, there might be a way to devise a cure! Now that they've mapped the Human Genome, can such solutions really be that far off?