Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean 3

Rather nervously I confess that I liked it, certainly more than Spiderman 3. II don't apologize for going - I'm one of those people whose money burns a hole in their pocket until they've followed the other lemmings through the blockbuster boxoffice - but it's not often that I actually enjoy them.
I was struck, however, by the opening, where (in an anti-bush moment) pirates, and suppliers of pirates, and associates of pirates were hanged in rows. They included a child. It is very, very rare to show the hanging of a child - an eight-year-old? - almost unheard-of, really. and it does seem to indicate a deadening in our cultural signals; previously it would have been seen as sufficiently evil to have hanged a woman. The expectation was that the kid would be rescued, and the movie faltered a bit around then when he wasn't.
I remember the transgressive power of the killing of the child around the start of Boetticher's The Tall T, and the slightly lesser (because less clear) hit of the killing of the boy by Angel Eyes around the opening of The Good the Bad and the Ugly; but they were serious, it was intended to mean something. PotC is one of those movies where only the leads have lives that are seen as having any value; such actions as betraying a person, or trying to kill them, or allying with them to kill others, have moral significance only when they concern featured players, not the ordinary crew members or soldiers or citizens.

False fronts

Hilzoy at obsidian wings says

"you can tell who is serious and who is not by noticing who actually stops to think about whether torture is effective. People who don't bother to ask that question are not serious about winning; they're in love with a fantasy of themselves as the person who is tough enough to do all those dirty things that have to be done while other people just wring their hands and whimper."

Yes, but I don't think you give sufficient weight to the fact that human beings, in this era at least (not just Americans, not just Bushites) do that all the time. We live that way. We do what we do not because we have calculated that these actions will produce that outcome but because these actions are consistent with our image of ourselves.

We know, looking at another example, that harm minimisation would work better to reduce drug use than tough enforcement, but we don't want to think of ourselves as people who are soft on drugs (or soft at all, really). That's just about what it means to hold a political opinion.

Any time you hear the words "sending the wrong message" (which is all the time) you're hearing an admission that characterisation is more important than outcomes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I've just noticed that the Australian constitution features under the heads of Commonwealth power s. 51 the ability to legislate for "The influx of criminals." Odd phrase. That's separate from "Immigration and emigration", which you would think covered criminals coming in (or going out - the efflux of criminals? The reflux of criminals?)
A quick google doesn't clarify much, except that there was a Victorian (in both senses) Influx of Criminals Act in the previous century, so people obviously knew what was being referred to.

Another objectionable thing about the Australian constitution is that so much of it is junk DNA, things like "There shall be payable to the Queen out of the Consolidated Revenue fund of the Commonwealth, for the salary of the Governor-General, an annual sum which, until the Parliament otherwise provides, shall be ten thousand pounds." I'd vote for a constitutional amendment to remove all that; it'd halve the length, making it much more user-friendly.
Actually, I have the same trouble with much of the old testament, which is largely about the details of Temple protocol which even in fundamentalist terms was applicable only for that space of time when Israel had a temple, or for about nine hundred years (generous maximum) out of six thousand. Seems a poor use of space.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Saw 300. Facist aesthetics, of course, SS officer views, but the irritating bits were the sentimental ones - Leonidas is made into a good spartan by beatings, but Leonidas as hero cannot strike his own child; Spartans know no mercy, but when they see what the enemy has done they cry "Do they have no mercy?"
And why was Leonidas, and only Leonidas, speaking in a Scots accent? In Alexander that was a consistent attempt to show the macedonians as northern semibarbarians; here it was more Groundkeeper Willie. Talking of willies.

It looked extremely rocky for the Theban Band that day
The odds were one to fifty with more Persians on the way.
So when Themist’cles fumbled, and Euanetus too,
An air of sadness fell upon that bare-assed hoplite crew.
A scattered few got up to go attend the Olympic Games
Another few decided that they’d try their luck with dames.
When to that Attic army came the news that cured dismay:
King Leonidas’ Spartans had come to join the fray.
They had no place for cowards and they had no use for c***:
Three hundred Spartan willies were advancing to the front.
(James D. Macdonald)

And they kicked out the hunchback because he couldn't hold his place in line, and then spent nearly all their fighting time out of line because that was more photogenic. Irritating, too, that for a film called 300 they couldn't handle 300 men - they had to fight in a canyon about ten men wide, making it 30 men deep, or 120 with the allies, the director (or Miller) couldn't handle massed shots.

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