Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On SSM in New Jersey

I know I'm not all that important, but if you happen to live in New Jersey and randomly come upon this blog, please please please please call your State Senator and insist they pass the bill that will be coming before them soon, enshrining civil equality in at least one more state. After the reverses in California, Maine, and New York, New Jersey has a chance to not be a giant scumhole for once.

If you know anyone in New Jersey, ask them to talk to their State Senator. Time is of the essence - outgoing Governor Jon Corzine will sign the bill if it hits his desk before he's out of office; the new Republican Governor will veto it. Please, New Jersey...get it done.

(as an aside, we're in trouble when we look to New Jersey to restore faith in the human species.)

On Sarah Palin.

Today, Taegan Goddard's Political Wire reported that Sarah Palin is considering a run for President on a third party ticket. This is huge news, as there hasn't been a serious run for President on a third party ticket since 1992 with Ross Perot, and no third party candidate has won votes from the Electoral College since 1968, when George Wallace ran as the Southern Rights' candidate as a reaction to the newly pro-black Democratic party. Palin, as a result, stands astride the possibility of causing a split similar to that which occurred in 1968 - or 1912.

Let me explain. Former Governor Sarah Palin is generally considered to be the apex of the neo-conservative movement in the United States. She espouses a low level of education combined with a high level of religious pandering, combining the two into an experience that few consider eligible for higher office (unless, of course, you're a Republican sycophant). I wish it known that I'm not attacking Palin because she's a conservative - the simple fact is that she has much less time in politics than, say, President Obama, who's 4 years as Senator are a full 1.5 years longer than her term as Governor, and who's time in the Illinois State Senate involved responsibility for more constituents than Palin's governorship. There are many candidates with much more experience - Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-Minnesota), former Governor Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts), and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-Arkansas). All of whom I dislike for different reasons than experience.

Indeed, my distaste for Palin runs even deeper. But that's neither here nor there. If you remember the special election in NY-23 this year, we saw a three party race between the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Conservative Party of New York. What occurred was an ambush of the Republican candidate from the Conservative candidate, a man named Hoffman who was endorsed by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and, indeed, Sarah Palin. The embattled Republican, Dede Scozzafava, withdrew and endorsed the Democrat, who eventually won a squeaker. Palin is now discussing bringing this split to the national level.

There are many possibilities that could occur if Palin decided to run as a third party candidate, depending on when she makes the decision to run. If she did so before the Republican primary, many candidates would follow her, leading to a serious possible split. If she entered the primary and lost, then quickly announced her split, some could. If she fights a drawn-out primary and loses, then she would just be a Presidential candidate, to start with. A bevy of success could encourage her to continue in the next Congressional cycle with the third party.

If one of the continuing options happens, you'd immediately see several Congressfolk, and even a few Senators, consider switching parties - especially if some successes were rapidly had with similar electorates. A valid third party could emerge. This would be wonderful - the ideologically pure fools would join the Palin Party, whilst many Blue Dog Democrats would move to the now-centre right Republicans. It just might allow real business to get done.

Or, it could simply lead to the Republicans slamming hard-right as a response, countering the Palin move in a self-destructive manner pleasing to Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh but absolutely foolhardy and election-losing in general. This is okay, but I would prefer a real Republican party with real fiscal conservatives.

All of this assumes Palin would have the narcissism needed to run as a third party candidate. When she loses (and she will lose), she'll likely blame everyone but herself, and continue the cult of personality she's slowly building around herself. She's a sad force in politics. I hope she splits the parties; but I also hope she self-destructs as soon as possible.

Gah. What a load of fuck.

On historical movies.

On the way back from Weymouth, I stopped to see an old friend, Krista, shortly. We discussed many things, including movies, and I had to explain how I simply cannot watch any movie that pretends at historical accuracy and fails. We, for instance, talked about the 2004 flick King Arthur. Yes, Clive Owen is a dreamboat, ladies, but the movie infuriated me to the point where I angrily ruined the film for others.

Another movie you might be familiar with that angered me similarly (though not to the same degree) was Gladiator. Yes, I dislike Gladiator. I've seen it once, and that's more than enough, thank you very much.

Here's how it goes - you can set a movie in history as long as you don't mess with history. Some of my favourite films are set in history, films like Paths of Glory. I don't mean a historical biography, like Patton and such, but I mean to say that you can make a good movie about history without pissing on it - if you try.

Take Gladiator, for example. They took a fictional character (Maximus) and threw him into a possible situation against a historical figure (Commodus). The problem is that Commodus was not a bad emperor. He wasn't anything like his portrayal in the film. He did not die quickly after taking the throne, nor did he die in the gladiatorial arena. The movie *could* have worked with another villain. But now everyone thinks that Commodus was some guy who loved to get into the ring and eventually died there, and good, he deserved it, when in reality, Commodus was assassinated because he ignored the Mob.

And don't even get me started on King Arthur.

History is a great tool for making movies, because history does the job for the filmmaker. You don't need to invent a character where one already exists, a realistic human with realistic personality traits, strengths and flaws. I wish more filmmakers would use history accurately. The next time someone tells me The Last Samurai is a great historical film, I'm gonna fucking scream.

As an aside, I am going to go see the Kingdom of Heaven Director's Cut soon, and I'm really looking forward to it. Apparently it's significantly better than the theatrical release, which I firmly panned as utter trash.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On naming a ship.

Here's a thing I've been noticing with our southerly neighbours. Everyone knows I'm a pretty pro-America Canadian with an interest in their politics and history. What I want to talk about here is when one of those two things infringes upon the other - that is to say, when politics infringes on history. I'm a member of a naval family, and I've managed to get a decent idea of what naval history means to the members of the service.

So let's point this towards our friends in the United States Navy, and how politicians are seriously fucking with their mojo. They've been playing politics with naming ships, specifically their capital ships, and that is bad. Sailors tend to take these things seriously, and a lot of them, even now, are superstitious.

Nobody wants to serve on a cursed ship. Nobody wants to serve on a ship that might have a name that is anything less than illustrious, and I think that naming something the Gerald R. Ford is a really, really bad start. Down to brass tacks - the last three administrations chose carrier names based on political affiliation.

The USN has added, since 1960, 15 carriers with a sixteenth named and under construction. Since 1972, all carriers have been named after people; previous to that, they bore names like Kitty Hawk, Constellation, America, and Enterprise. The John F. Kennedy was also commissioned in 1968, named after the recently late president. In 1972, the first of a new class was christened - Nimitz, after Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet in World War II and a man who did just as much to win the war in the Pacific as Eisenhower did in Europe. Since then, the names have been rather more dubious.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower, after the Republican president, was named in 1970 (shortly after the Nimitz's name was announced), by Richard Nixon, who had served as Ike's Vice President. Nixon also ordered the Carl Vinson, named after a Democratic member of Congress. So he was fairly balanced - one Republican, one Democrat, and one Admiral, all of which with impeccable credentials to be considered worthy to have a US carrier named after them.

Reagan & G.H.W. Bush ordered the Theodore Roosevelt, the Abraham Lincoln, the George Washington, and the John C. Stennis. Two Republican presidents, one non-aligned president, and one Democratic Senator. Again, all men were considered great or important and all have grand credentials. You'd be hard pressed to pick more deserving presidents than TR, Abe, Geo. Washington, and Ike to have ships named after them.

President Bill Clinton named one: the Harry S Truman - a Democratic president. And George W. Bush named three - Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Gerald R. Ford. Now here's where we get to the "what the fuck".

Bill picked a president who had been around for awhile, and is currently considered quite good. And that's fine and all, but what about FDR? What about Woodrow Wilson? There are options here, of course. But that's not really as bad as GWB's selections. Ronald Reagan was not a good president (despite conservative love in the US), and the man served in the Army Reserve. I think this was just the standard Reagan sycophantism in the Republican Party.

If anyone else had named the George H. W. Bush, then I'd be perfectly fine with it. As it is, I'm pretty much OK - GHWB was a legitimate war hero. He was the youngest naval aviator in the USN in World War II, and flew combat missions at age 19 off of the USS San Jacinto, winning a plethora of medals. But Jerry Ford? Come ON. The man's considered a failure as a President. But at least he was in the navy, unlike Reagan.

In the end, these names are pretty much based on their fucking party. That's why I think the current president, who will get to name at least one and maybe two hulls, should very seriously consider these names. There's lots of great and historical names out there, names that mean a lot in the history of the United States Navy - names like Yorktown, Ranger, and Constellation. America, United States, President. And in 2012, a new name will become available, one I think should be chosen - Enterprise.

Some bills have been pushed into Congress suggesting names like Arizona and the Barry Goldwater. I think the former is inappropriate and the latter is stupid. Obama may choose a Democratic president - or he may choose a more abstract name. I think that a return to the abstract is called for, and may the history of the United States Navy be allowed to continue without consideration for politics and politicians - men and women that can never live up to the glory already earned by names like Lexington, Yorktown, and Enterprise.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On Mr. Obama

Over a year ago, now, the entire world was electrified when Barack Obama won election for the post of President, the first black candidate to do so; they were just as relieved that George W. Bush was on the way out and that John McCain, who had moved sharply to the right, was not going to be entering into power. Many Americans were just as electrified, even people who did not vote for Mr. Obama. His siren calls of "Hope" and "Change" seemed to signal a new era of US politics.

Now, many people are considering Mr. Obama's term as president to be a failure, saying that he has not lived up to his promises - others believe he has betrayed the Democrat base that voted him into power. I've heard many people, people I admire, consider him "Republican lite", for instance. There have been many people who are very disappointed with Mr. Obama's lack of movement on Afghanistan and LGBT rights.

I cannot find myself disappointed with Mr. Obama's progress as President. We'll start with Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has recently announced that the United States will be sending more troops to Afghanistan. However, many people are trying to tell me that he has broken a promise. I find myself quietly reminding them that the President promised to "win" the war in Afghanistan - of course, winning in Afghanistan isn't a cut-and-dry procedure, like conquering Germany or the South was. Winning in Afghanistan is subjective.

Yet it was a promise. He's already began the process of withdrawing from Iraq (something he promised to do and that people are upset about). He's made pragmatic military decisions that people on the far left seem incapable of understanding. You can't just pick up and leave a country you've occupied. I find it paradoxical - the Republicans should be the ones demanding these sudden withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, given their supposed ideology, whereas Democrats should insist on cautious and measured withdrawals. After all, Republicans put "America first", or "troops first" and should want to safeguard their lives by removing them from hostile situations, whereas the simple fact that withdrawing from the occupied nations suddenly would lead to thousands and possibly millions of deaths in instant civil war should make Democrats, who proclaim to love human rights.

It is a stark reminder that Republicans and Democrats are labels that should be beyond left and right, and liberal and conservative, because both parties are a mixture of the two. Anyway, that is a subject for another post.

Andrew Sullivan has pointed out that Obama is pursuing a pass that lets the United States withdraw from Afghanistan concurrent with the end of international cooperation in ISAF (the NATO force currently working in Afghanistan). It should be remembered that whilst Mr. Bush took the US Army off to Iraq for no good reason, the emphasis of combat in Afghanistan shifted to the US's NATO allies, allies that supported the United States in the wake of 9/11, allies who pledged money, material, and lives to assist the Americans in avenging the lethal strikes on New York City and Arlington, VA. To leave now would be to leave them high and dry, to abandon 44,000 soldiers from NATO countries helping to prosecute the war against the Taliban.

Thank you, Mr. Obama, for giving the ISAF soldiers the backup they need to make some progress. Thank you for setting a firm date of withdrawal for US soldiers, and having it mirror international withdrawal targets. Now, NATO acts as one, as an alliance should. I can only imagine what we could have done in Afghanistan if there had been cooperation from the beginning.

When it comes to LGBT rights, I am saddened that there has been such backlash over the last year - Proposition 8 in California, Proposition 1 in Maine, and the recent NY Senate vote that was rather firmly in favour of retaining civil inequality (great term from Andy Sullivan). But there has also been gains - legislated civil equality in New Hampshire and the adoption of gay marriage rights in Iowa due to a court order. Things are coming to a head, I believe - it will be a long struggle, but it can be handled.

But nobody can accuse Barack Obama of being a friend of the LGBT community at this point, despite campaign promises. At the same time, I think you would be hard-pressed to call him an enemy. Yes, he has failed, so far, within a year, to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell and embrace equal rights in the US forces. But must we remember that it took Harry Truman 3 years to work up the balls to sign Executive Order 9981, and that Obama is in a difficult political climate.

He has not campaign for gay rights, but he has not campaigned against them, and given some of the recent history of LGBT equality in the United States, that is certainly something. He is not particularly known for his pro-gay platform, but that he is tolerant (which Mr. Bush was probably not) of the LGBT community. If he is going to take a political gamble on civil equality, it will not be now - it will be during an election year, much as Mr. Truman did with his order to desegregate the US military.

I think that many people lifted Obama, mentally, up in their minds as something above what he is. But he is still a dynamic figure, who I believe will make more changes as his term continues. Will he be a two-term president? Possibly, because I believe that freed of the concern for re-election he has a chance to be more liberal than he is now. But those who ever assumed he was something other than a politician? Welcome back to earth. Those of you who think that he is failing the American people by continuing the war in Afghanistan? Yes, some more American soldiers will die - but he promised to try, and that's what he's doing. And those of us who have seen our friends and family fight and die in Afghanistan whilst there wasn't the force available to resist the Taliban appreciate that he is going to try.