g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
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Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Thursday, May 19, 2005
00:14 - Okay, I talked me into it
http://www.deadmonkeycomics.com/gallery/album10/email_final

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I wasn't going to link to this, but I really would be remiss if I didn't. So: The Email Cartoon, which is probably Not Safe For Work, but it's worth it just like this was.

Shun.


17:50 - What movie was he watching?
http://vodkapundit.com/archives/007837.php

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I'm not sure what leads Will Collier to say this (spoilers follow):

Oh, wait, one more thing: the alleged Bush-bashing stuff [in Star Wars: Episode III] has been completely overblown. Trust me on this one. If you get offended by this movie on political grounds, you probably also go into a frothing rage when the car in front of you turns on its left-turn signal. If it weren't for the dumb press coverage, you wouldn't even notice the supposed "controversial" bits.

Oh really? Myself, I dreaded each new Padmé scene for the inevitable Mooreian snarking she'd spout:

"Have you ever considered that we might be on the wrong side?"

"Our democracy has vanished, and it's become the very thing we're trying to destroy!"

"So this is how a democracy dies: to thunderous applause."

And Anakin and Obi-Wan's teeth-gnashing during their duel: "My duty is to the Republic—to democracy!" "I have brought peace... stability... freedom!" And the stuff about how "Palpatine has stayed in office far too long—he has control of the courts, the Senate. He must be removed from office!" Even Obi-Wan's telling Padmé about Anakin's dispatching of the young trainees reads like a Galloway speech, like an accusation of slaughtering Iraqi babies in service of a "lie". I'm not saying this stuff is tangential to the story or doesn't fit—it does—but if it weren't Lucas' intention for everyone to construe this movie as All About Bush, he surely wouldn't have chosen this kind of vocabulary to pepper all over the place, especially when Yoda talks about "a special session of Congress", rather than the Senate. It felt like... like... like a MoveOn.org parody, using Star Wars characters to further their views.

And sure enough, look what just showed up in my mailbox:

Dear MoveOn member,

We've written tens of thousands of letters, made hundreds of thousands of phone calls (20,000 Tuesday alone), and raised a whopping $1.2 million to run ads. Now, as the vote on the nuclear option looms, it's time to break out our secret weapon. We've got to, as the movie says, "use the force."

Today, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith opens at theaters nation-wide. And weirdly enough, the plot of what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest films in movie history revolves around a scheming senator who, seduced by visions of absolute power, transforms a democratic republic into an empire.

We've put together a new TV ad, based on the same theme, that we're launching today. It's our first (and only) political ad to feature both a space battle and an army of judge robots. You can check it out at:

http://www.moveonpac.org/savetherepublic/?id=5543-396431-OX0KcMaPfy15F63lJb1p9Q&t=11

The movie's opening buzz and its parallel theme to our current fight for the filibuster present a great opportunity to educate the public — and have some fun. So we've put together a flyer that draws on the Revenge of the Sith story to explain the very real threat to democracy posed by the nuclear option. Any chance you can take half an hour tonight or tomorrow to pass out some of these flyers at your local theater?

They haven't been this giddy about a propaganda blockbuster to endorse since The Day After Tomorrow.

Yet, just like with that movie, their faith in the Blue Side is misplaced—because just as people scoffed at the political stance that such a big stupid blockbuster took (causing more damage to the credibility of global-warming backers than anything else in a decade), if MoveOn.org jumps up and down gesticulating at what cartoon politics Lucas has put in his characters' deadpan dialogue in this movie, people's reaction will be: "What, you're trying to get us to take political lessons from Star Wars?"

Somehow I think the people of high-school age watching this film today will be a tad embarrassed to admit, when they write their college entrance exams or meet up for their first activist group meeting, that they got their indoctrination in a theater filled with people waving toy lightsabers.

But all that aside, outstanding film. A worthy end to the series, and almost enough to wash out the foul taste of Episodes I and II. It had the right sense of scale, the right revelations of things we knew had happened but hadn't seen quite how, and above all it was entertaining—enough so to want to see it again. It even closed out the C-3PO plot loophole—almost as an afterthought, but in a way that worked just fine, though it could have been laughably dumb if handled wrong.

I guess Lucas did know what he was doing... and planned this whole outing this way right from the beginning.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
20:19 - IT'S A TRAP
http://darthside.blogspot.com/

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Darth Vader has posted for the last time, it seems. Is that well-timed or what?

I tell ya, if it weren't for the Darth Side, I'd have no angle whatsoever to find the characters in the prequels interesting enough to care about. This does the job nicely, and it ends marvelously. Dude knows what he's doing.


15:26 - From the ashes a fire shall be woken

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Lileks got me Googling, and I found this site which seems to be a snarky and satiric—though full of excellent real information—blog on architecture in New York.

And it's covering today's Donald Trump unveiling of his new WTC proposal, which Curbed had described (sight unseen) as "tall, leggy, and voluptuous".

If I'm not terribly mistaken, isn't that the Gardner/Belton design? You know, the one that not only proposes a practical use of the site, features a gorgeous set of supporting buildings and some amazingly appropriate memorials, restores the original skyline in a confident and unapologetic manner, and actually looks good?

If so, hot diggity damn. If it's got Trump behind it now, it stands a real chance.

13:04 - Behold the crushing of dissent
http://vodkapundit.com/archives/007835.php

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Stephen Green quoting Scott McClellan being grilled by the press over the Newsweek scandal. (That's right, the press has the sente in this game. Still.)

Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help --

Q You're pressuring them.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them --

Q It's not pressure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report....

Q Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you're saying here?
Noooooooo, I'm just asking them not to LIE about how BAD it is.

Why can't we have a press secretary as snide and sharp-tongued and arrogant and downright rude as the people he has to deal with every day?

For crying out loud, even when the scandal is against the administration's opponents, the administration ends up being the one against the wall.

And people call this a Nazi state.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
13:11 - Maybe we should just turn our brains off for a bit

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My company's Engineering department will be honoring a long-standing tradition and going out en masse to see the new Star Wars movie on Thursday, and I'm looking forward to it as nothing more than a couple of hours where I won't have to think about networking or author review for a change. (Yeah, this time AR started during the weekend, so any respite I thought I'd be getting has been an elusive chimaera. But hey, it's going quickly—I'm a quarter of the way done, and I'll have it all taken care of by Friday.)

I've read reviews and exposed myself to spoilers. That's the degree to which I've become blasé about the whole enterprise; I really don't hang too much hope on the movie redeeming its two immediate predecessors, but I wouldn't mind seeing something that does justice to the insane richness of source material that there is by now—it seems like it'd be really, really hard to screw it up too badly under these conditions. (Though I'm sure that if anybody can find a way, Lucas can.)

I don't expect it to even try to address the gaping plot holes, like C-3PO not remembering he was built by Darth Vader or used to work at Owen's hole in the ground, or R2-D2 getting his rocket-packs removed in a thirty-year downgrade of technology—simply because the textural disagreements with the original movies are vaster still. Remember how in the "first" three movies, the Empire was just the Empire—it was just "there"? There wasn't any politics involved. When I first saw the movies when I was a kid, I got the impression (somehow) that when they talked about the Old Republic being "swept away" and the ancient Jedi Order vanishing and the Clone Wars, they were talking about something that had happened hundreds of years ago, and Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi and such characters had far longer lifespans than normal humans—the events they were talking about just seemed far too distant to have occurred within living memory, because there was no indication that anybody cared. It seemed like the Empire was a fact of life that everyone had just accepted generations ago, and when they spliced in those scenes at the end of the re-released Return of the Jedi with citizens on planets all over the galaxy thronging in the streets and cheering, I was like, the hell? Since when did the people of Coruscant hate Darth Vader or the Emperor? We'd certainly seen no indication that anybody but the Rebels or the occasional incompetent admiral had reason to hate or fear Vader's trachea-crushing grip.

A third prequel won't change what's already on the screen in the original three movies; it's under expectations to be bigger and badder than even its two high-budget CG-fest predecessors, which means the textural jump from Episode III to IV—if you watch them in order—will border on the absurd. I know they're finally trying to make some effort to wrestle the ship designs back in time a quarter century through some plot device that makes vehicles stop looking like CG-rendered SR-71 Blackbirds and turns them into big Lego models, and for that I commend them (I say guardedly, for plot devices can malfunction); maybe they'll even put in some of that great atmospheric dialogue about grimy and junky ship technology that worked so well in The Empire Strikes Back—remember Han trying to fix the Millennium Falcon? "Well, there must be a reason for it; check the other end!" "No, no—that goes over there, that goes over there!" —The kind of stuff you'd expect to hear in an actual garage, instead of the antiseptic, liquid-mercury, Syd Mead-ish unreality of the ships in Episodes I and II where you might as well have just reloaded fresh copies out of the holodeck instead of breaking out the torque wrenches. But nonetheless, they can't suddenly inject political context into the original three movies to match all the internecine trade and cloning machinations that the prequels have indulged, however ineptly. So unless Lucas decides to remake Episodes IV thru VI again—and I suppose I shouldn't put it past him—these are always going to seem like two totally separate trilogies, created by two totally different filmmakers. Which indicates not so much that Lucas wants to do different things with them, but that he himself just isn't trying that explicitly to say anything meaningful with his movies. They're just big dumb space operas. They're fun. They're not allegories to Vietnam or Iraq. They're just excuses to see lots of explosions and root for the good guy. Lucas never thought it out clearly enough to make it into anything really cohesive in any capacity, allegorical or fantastical. And that's okay.

And with that in mind, I have to question what people like Professor Bainbridge are on about, when they talk about the direness of Lucas' undermining of his own movies' spirit. Bainbridge claims that when Obi-Wan in the new movie says, "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes," it's not even so much as tedious commentary on the War on Terror that the line grates, but as a betrayal of the original trilogy's philosophy, in which the old Jedi masters were the absolutists.

As proof that Obi-Wan is painting the world in black-and-white terms for Luke to rebel against, he quotes this exchange from Return of the Jedi:

Luke: Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.

Obi-Wan: Your father... was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and BECAME Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was TRUE... from a certain point of view.

Luke: A certain point of view?

Obi-Wan: Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...

[sits down]

Obi-Wan: depend greatly on our own point of view. Anakin was a good friend.

[Luke sits next to Obi-Wan]

Obi-Wan: When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot. But I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him. I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi. I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong.

Luke: There IS still good in him. I've felt it.

Obi-Wan: He more machine now than man; twisted and evil.

Yeah, hear all that absolutism there? You're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Phew, boy! Someone get this man a latté and an upside-down ankh pendant, he's way too uptight. No wonder Luke didn't dig his scene, maaaan.

Bainbridge's contention is that both the Sith and the Jedi had started seeing the world (and the Force) in absolute terms, which was the reason why Luke had to bring "balance" to it—and that itself sounds a whole lot like relativism to me. Jedi and Sith, two sides of the same coin? Red lightsaber, blue lightsaber? Two sides to every Schwartz? Please. Star Wars became famous for its good-vs-evil mantras, and has been derided for it, even blamed for America's own obsession with seeing the world in the absolutes that Hollywood—by which a lot of people instinctively mean Star Wars—taught us. Lucas wasn't trying to get us to see the world from Darth Vader's point of view, he was trying to explain how a person could be evil and yet be redeemed, saved from the brink. If he was trying to preach relativism, then Vader's capitulation to Luke at the end and betrayal of the Emperor was just so much more evil, "from a certain point of view", right? Bah.

That's why this has got to rank among the best blog posts of all time: it gives us that Darth Vader viewpoint, boiled down to its essential Tao, and yet doesn't indulge in any of those wanky platitudes made popular by high-school kids in the 60s who thought they were being deep and insightful by writing fiction stories where black people were the dominant race in America and the whites had to sit at the back of the bus. No insipid "Just replace Iraq 2003 with Poland 1939" exercises here; just a good theory about what the "dark side" really is, and why reasonable people might reject the Jedi way even though everything it purports to stand for is such sweetness and light.

Leave it to the fans to come up with a coherent and plausible backstory... because I don't think Lucas is up to the challenge. He can deliver the explosions, and we'll imagine the rest.

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© Brian Tiemann