Monday, December 26, 2005

Holiday Blogging - More on Movies (Race)

Not to get too caught up with the movie theme, but it is both school break and the holiday season. To continue a bit from the theme of the last post, sometimes the films that are supposed to be meaningful are a lot less meaningful then they appear to be. Just because a movie deals with a controversial issue such as sexuality or race does not mean it actually has anything all that interesting to say. Sometimes the supposedly stupid joke can be a great deal more meaningful. I figured I'd look at two films, both from the last few years; the critically acclaimed Crash, and the somewhat ignored Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.

Crash, to put it simply, is supposedly about questioning our assumptions about race. The plot weaves together a number of different storylines of characters from different racial backgrounds, eventually culminating in a literal car crash. (There are some spoilers below, so if you've never seen the film, but intend to, you might not want to read on.)

All of the lonely libertarian's friends loved the movie. The problem is, as the events at the end of the movie unfolded, I couldn't help but feel as though the entire plot was contrived in order to reach the exact scenarios that would make you question the assumptions about character and attitude toward race you had made earlier in the film in regards to the films main characters. (Take the two cops for example, as the racist cop becomes a hero and the not so racist cop does something unforgivable.) While attempting to be clever through intricate plotting, the film really just insults our intelligence.

The events that unfold are shocking, but do they really change any perceptions of those of us from the younger generation? I don't really think that they do. We recognize that race is still an issue today, that some people use race, for good and for bad. We recognize that racism still exists, and it isn't always so overt. The point of the film may be to break some of our own supposedly modern day stereotypes, but for many of us, those stereotypes don't really play a role in our conceptions of people, unless those stereotypes are laid out before us as they are in Crash. The film is supposed to be emotionally powerful, but it feels emotionally manipulative. The conflicts are those created by the film, and therefore upon further reflection, their resolutions are far less satisfying. In a simple movie, such simple emotional resolutions are fine. After all, it’s what you expect. But in a film that is supposedly more complex, and supposedly deals with controversial issues, the answers shouldn't be so readily construed for us.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, take the 2004 comedy Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. On its face, it's a stereotypical stoner comedy, where the stoner heroes go on a crazy adventure and get tangled up in all sorts of wacky situations. As a stoner comedy, the film is enjoyable, but it doesn't really stand up to the greats of the genre. (Up in Smoke, Half Baked, and whatever else you want to throw in with "the best.") What makes the movie great is the metaphors about race laced throughout the movie. First there is the movie itself, which gives an Asian-American and an Indian-American a chance to play roles that seem typically reserved for ethnicities a bit closer to home. And then there is the plot of the film itself, in which the journey to White Castle is a metaphor for both acceptance, becoming "American," (and for the sociology majors out there, perhaps even becoming white.)

On their metaphorical journey to White Castle, Harold and Kumar must conquer racist bullies and racist cops, along with all the typical stoner movie plots you can think of. Rather than raising any big sociological issues of assimilation, the movie focuses on the very personal struggle of Harold and Kumar to actually fit in to the country they were born in. Instead of being about society, this movie focuses much more on personal identity.

And why chose White Castle as their goal? Well, what is more American then White Castle, sort of a symbol of America as literally a whites only club, a castle which non-whites can't easily enter. It's very important that Harold and Kumar's best friends in the movie are two Jewish guys. Jews are considered to be white, even though it hasn't always been that way- they basically made it to White Castle years ago. The point being that we all had to go through this process at some point.

The movie is a stoner comedy precisely because it doesn't take this issue so seriously. We see the racism in the movie for what it is; just as stupid as every obstacle encountered in a stoner journey. It doesn't take a critical look at assimilation because it doesn't see it as an issue. Ask any second or third generation immigrant what they want, and they don't want to be different, they want to fit in, and they wish they could be considered as American as the next guy.

While Crash purports to have deep meaning, Harold and Kumar doesn't- most people would probably tell you Crash is more meaningful. But keep in mind that the best movies, and the ones that have the most to say, are usually the ones that are not what they appear to be. And the movies that are supposed to be powerful and meaningful can at times be the most pretentious and condescending movies out there.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Gay Cowboys Eating Pudding

The lonely libertarian will not be the first, nor the last to weigh in on Brokeback Mountain, the questionably monikered "gay cowboy film" that has become the darling of critics and the scourge of the radical Christian right.

This is the sort of film that has the potential to make us all look bad, bashers and supporters of the movie alike. I'll probably end up seeing it ... on DVD. An outdoors-sey romantic film doesn't have much appeal to me whether the characters are gay, straight, or any other type of sexuality. Meanwhile, I'll just keep laughing at the ridiculously melodramatic previews, and ponder why so many critics want to give this movie five stars.

Here's the thing. Take out the gay relationship, make it about a man and a woman, and no one would care about the film. The fact that it is about a gay relationship is what potentially makes the story interesting. And personally, I think modern stories that sell themselves on the basis of sexuality (or race, or whatever other divisive category you can think of) are either blatant political pandering or pure exploitation for a buck. Either way, I find that distasteful in my movies.

Maybe this is an important experience for adults, but for those of us younger folks from the "We don't give a fuck what color you are or who you have sex with but don't bother me with it"- generation, such films tend to reinforce differences and recreate the world of the past- or at least, our past.

As to the idea of a gay cowboy movie, Trey Parker and Matt Stones put it best on Southpark years ago, when Eric Cartman described just what an independent film was; Just a bunch of gay cowboys eating pudding. Making "the gay mainstream film" was going to happen, and I'm surprised this took as long as it did. But why, oh why use the idea that was mocked on Southpark years ago.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Building Walls

OK, I give in ... Here is the link to We Need A Fence Dot Com. The problem, according to the website:

The problem is not merely the number of illegal immigrants. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from Central and South America, there are several hundreds, perhaps thousands, of illegal aliens from countries that sponsor terrorism or harbor terrorists entering the United States each year across our border with Mexico. Thus, it is a national security issue as well as an immigration issue.

The lonely libertarian never really understands all the immigration hysteria. After all, all of the 9-11 hijackers were in the country legally. And the lonely libertarian can't recall the last domestic terror incident (or domestic terror arrest for that matter) involving an illegal immigrant.

I'm a bit apprehensive about labeling anti-immigration hardliners racist, but xenophobic might work. Because absent xenophobia and heightened self-interest at the expense of others, I don't quite understand what could really be driving anti-immigrant fervor. The terror aspect, quite simply, is bullshit. If that was the real concern, and the only concern, the best option would be to let more people in, to let as many people in who want to come here, and use the immigration and defense budgets to ensure that no one entering the country is a threat.

But building a wall to keep people out? That is sooooo Ming dynasty. Or as Trey Parker and Matt Stone might say ... Lousy Mongolians!

Late Night Blogging

About to go to bed when I heard the following piece on Fox News, centering on the immigration debate and the desire to build a wall on the Mexican border. Not word for word, but this was the essence of a statement from the president of an organization called (no link here - I have little interest in what their website actually says).

"We at are concerned with serious rhetoric and raising the level of discourse."

That's right .. We Need A Fence Dot Com, raising the level of discourse in the debate over immigration.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Yes there actually ought to be a law!

The lonely libertarian is well known for his “There Ought to be Law!!??” rants. Most of the time the laws that people want involve infringing on someone’s individual freedom. My personal favorite was the recent newsworthy mention in Connecticut of an attempt to ban the use of cell phones in grocery stores and movie theatres. Not that it’s not a reasonable policy, but let the grocery stores and the movie theatres set their own policies, based upon the desires of their customers. Let’s not have it forced upon us by some politician and a very vocal minority (or a very vocal majority for that matter- this means you Mr. Cigarette Smoking Ban.)

But once in a blue moon, there comes along a proposal for a law that actually is quite reasonable and needed.

Last week, as I was driving home from my LPR and my tax exam (yes, the same day) I was stuck behind this truck. This truck had these shifting sorts of picture advertisements on the back. Not just one or two, but multiple ads. There were big colorful pictures, and it was enchanting the way they switched from one to another. I was utterly captivated. Up until the point I went right through a light that had just turned red.

So yes, there actually is a case where the lonely libertarian thinks there ought to be a law. There should be laws to keep roads safe, and to prevent vehicles from going on public roads and completely distracting people. Of course there is a very big difference between a law that banned these sorts of visual advertisements (or any other form of distracting changing pictures on the road) and the ultra-stupid cell phone bans that have taken the nation by storm. Cell phone bans are not needed because we already have laws against reckless driving. We can, of course, control our own cell phone use, while we have no control over the pictures displayed on the other vehicles on the road.

Monday, December 19, 2005

This Just in From Arrested Development

Attorney Bob Loblaw just told Tobias he was planning on staying in and writing in his law blog, the Bob Loblaw Law Blog. Why is Arrested Development being cancelled again?

Legal Analysis of the Bush Administration's Domestic Surveillance Program

I've avoided weighing in on the specifics of this issue for precisely because it is incredibly complicated. Here is Orin Kerr's analysis over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

His short answer is probably Constitutional, probably not legal under existing federal law. For those of you who enjoy this sort of thing, make sure you check it out. For those of you who don't, make sure you don't say anything stupid.

Some brief thoughts on George W. Bush

The lonely libertarian’s support of George W. Bush tends to be misunderstood. In political arguments, friends refer to Bush as “your president,” as if George Bush somehow were my president and not the president of the rest of the United States. To set the record straight, I didn’t actually vote for George Bush in 2004, or in 2000. I’ve reluctantly voted Libertarian in each of the last two presidential elections. I tend to defend Bush because between friends, the media, and academia, I feel as though I exist in an extremely liberal-centric culture. Once in a while it’s necessary to through some sanity into the picture. Jokes about George Bush’s lineage or his intelligence are one thing. (And I enjoy Bush jokes as much as the next guy.) But calling him a Nazi, a fascist and a war criminal is something different entirely. You don’t have to like him or agree with him, but be rational.

Personally, I disagree with Bush on, well, probably everything on the domestic side of the fence. And while I agree with the general thrust of his foreign policy, I do have my concerns about how it’s being conducted. But for the lonely libertarian, arguing policy is a lot different than arguing people.

I do tend to like George W. Bush as a president and leader, as much as one can admire a politician. He conducts himself as president determined to do what he thinks is best. Like I said, I may disagree with his choices, but I tend to disagree with most politicians’ choices. At least with Bush, he plays the role of the leader more so than he does the role of the politician, and I can respect that. He has watched his approval ratings plummet, yet he has stuck by his guns. He continues to stand by his position on Iraq. He maintains a position on immigration that is conspicuously outside the Republican mainstream. And even with issues like social security reform, he pushed and pushed, until it became clear that all his efforts were going to be for naught. He doesn’t play political games, and he doesn’t play the role of a wishy-washy poller.

Once again, I’m not saying you have to like the guy, or even agree with him. But if you want to debate, debate something substantive. I guess that’s why I feel the need to stick up for GW- he takes more uninformed and ridiculous cheap shots then any politician I can ever remember.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

More Important Civil Liberty Concerns

In the realm of civil liberty concerns, this is the sort of situation that should really be bigger news. Over on the Agitator, Randy Balco has been spreading the word about Cory Maye, the latest victim of the War on Drugs.

I won't go in to all the details here, and some of the facts are in dispute, but here's the gist of the story: Maye's apartment in Prentiss, Mississippi was raided as part of a drug bust. Living in a duplex, the focus was apparently the other apartment. But Maye's apartment was included in the warrant on the basis of a tip from an unknown informant. That informant will likely remain unknown- The night of the raid, police officer Ron Jones, the officer who supplied the information on which the warrant was based, was shot and killed by Maye- in what Maye claims was self defense, both of himself, and his one-year old daughter, who was in the apartment with him at the time of the raid. The jury didn't believe Maye's claims and he was convicted of capital murder and placed on death row.

Why should we care? The facts alone arouse some suspicion. First, Maye was not named in the warrant. His apartment was named, and the warrant was issued for "persons unknown." No drugs were found in his apartment, although it was later claimed traces of marijuana were found. Regardless, no drug charges were filed against Maye. The real concern of the warrant, Maye's neighbor Jamie Smith, was arrested during the raid. Marijuana was found in his apartment, but no charges were ever filed against Smith. It is unclear whether or not Officer Jones knocked before entering the apartment, or whether or not this was in fact a "no knock raid." It is known that Officer Jones was not a member of the narcotics task force, with no special training to participate in these sorts of raids. Finally, Maye had no criminal record. None at all. And for those of you who might care to think about such things, Maye is black, and Officer Jones was the son of the white chief of police.

Forget about the disputed facts and the racial component for a minute. What we had here was a drug raid for marijuana, and out of the raid, no drug chargers were even filed. Even assuming the facts most favorably to the police, that Maye was involved in selling marijuana, this case is still disturbing. I can't think of any other explanation for Maye shooting Officer Jones other then what he honestly believed to be self defense. Pot dealers don't tend to go around shooting cops.

And why did this have to occur in the first place? Why did a police officer have to die and why is Maye now sitting on death row? For what? Why do we train our police to engage in paramilitary action against our own citizens? Why do we raid people's homes at night for marijuana? This cases raises far too many questions which I wish supporters of the War on Drugs would have good answers for. The problem is, the lonely libertarian doesn't think there are any good answers.

Politics vs. the Constitution

To expand a bit on the last posting, take this organization for example, forwarded by the Lonely libertarian’s mother:

Bill Of Rights Defense Committee

It sounds good. After all, who doesn’t want to defend the bill of rights? But just read through the website, and the focus here seems to be entirely anti-Patriot act and War on Terror concerns. There’s certainly a lot more to the Bill of Rights. Free speech and eminent domain issues come right to mind. And it makes the lonely libertarian wonder if groups such as these are really concerned about the Bill of Rights or if they’re really just using the Bill of Rights as a means to a political end.

Considering the War on Terror and Civil Liberties

Imagine the following hypo: (We law students really like hypotheticals.) In the early morning before 9-11, our intelligence agencies receive some chatter about the possibility of a terrorist attack, to occur sometime after daybreak using airplanes. Maybe there’s no time to get a warrant. Or maybe there are too many potential suspects, not all of whom it would be even possible to obtain warrants for. The intelligence community decides to undertake some drastically illegal surveillance, in the name of national security. Through this surveillance, they uncover the identities of several of the 9-11 hijackers. Maybe torture is used to uncover more of the plot. With this work, 9-11 is averted, and thousands of American lives are saved.

The question is, after 9-11 has been averted, what do we do next? What do we do with the captured terrorists? What do we do with the government that tortured people and blatantly violated the Constitution?

The lonely libertarian doesn’t have an easy answer, and is surprised with people who do.

The protection against illegal searches and seizures tends to take its form judicially in the form of the exclusionary rule. Basically, evidence discovered in an illegal search or seizure is inadmissible in court. This tends to work very well in a criminal context. If you want to search or eavesdrop, you better get yourself a warrant. But how would this apply to our hypothetical situation? In our hypo should we let the captured 9-11 hijackers go? That just seems, for lack of a better word, insane.

Again, I have no easy answers. Part of the problem is that fighting the war on terror is neither like fighting a typical foreign war, nor is it like fighting domestic crime. It’s somewhere in between, and as such, we should ideally try to figure out some rules that fit between these two other extremes.

Issuing blanket statements denouncing torture and denouncing the potentially unconstitutional measures of the Patriot Act do little to deal with the real problems. For whatever reason, people over the past four years have been worked up because the government is able to look at your library records. For whatever reason, that doesn’t concern me very much. For one thing, I never knew my records from the local public library were considered to be private. And additionally, I don’t care if the government knows what I’m reading or not, although I think looking in to my library records would be a waste of time, and money.

The Patriot Act, and really all of the Civil Liberties concerns of the War on Terror do not affect us as ordinary Americans. We’re not going to be put under surveillance or tortured. This is about the protection of criminal rights to the extreme- the protection of the rights of terrorists or those who deal with terrorists.

Personally, the lonely libertarian has far greater civil liberty concerns. The War on Drugs for instance, violates the rights of ordinary Americans every day. Drug laws themselves violate the very personal right to control over our own bodies. And beyond that, in fighting the War on Drugs the government invades our privacy, and uses paramilitary tactics against its own citizens.

It’s not as though all the Patriot Act concerns, and concerns over Bush’s reason admission of illegal NSA surveillance don’t concern me. But crossing a fine line, one that we’ve really had difficulty defining, in protecting the country from terrorist attacks pales in comparison to the other issues of civil liberty and individual freedom that the government seems to have a real problem with.

Update: Let me just be clear. I'm opposed to torture in all but the most dire circumstances, and I'm opposed to any form of "big brother" surveillance. My point is, it's foolish to think that those issues are the most pressing dangers to our rights and liberties.

Return of the Lonely Libertarian

Guess who’s back … Back again.

I am attempting to make a comeback to blogging, but we’ll see how long it lasts. The lonely libertarian had a long semester, dealing with the complexities of tax law, business law, and the federal rules of evidence. Additionally, the lonely libertarian was hard at work, proving the unconstitutionality of the Safe Drinking Water Act. I hope to return to somewhat regular blogging for the spring semester and beyond. We’ll see how it goes. I can’t imagine how the internet survived without me.