The Counterpoint

November 06, 2004

How to take something too seriously

I know that many Democrats are upset by the outcome of Tuesday's election, but this is probably going too far:

A 25-year-old university worker from Georgia shot and killed himself at ground zero Saturday morning, authorities said. ...

Veal apparently was distraught over President Bush's re-election, Newsday reported Saturday on its Web site edition, citing an unnamed police source. The newspaper also said the man was a registered Democrat who opposed the war in Iraq.
Wow. What do you even say to a guy like that?

UPDATE: Here is the original Newsday article on which the story was based.

A night at the movies

I used to see a lot of movies. At one point I was at the theater once a week, which seems like a lot when I think about how often I go these days. Never the less, I am still quite a fan of movies. I had hoped to do more reviews by this point, but I suppose it's too late for that now.

Last night Krystle and I saw Saw, a grisly horror movie from first-time director James Wan. The premise, as described here byYahoo! Movies, is an intriguing one:

A young man named Adam (LEIGH WHANNELL) wakes to find himself chained to a rusty pipe inside a decrepit subterranean chamber. Chained to the opposite side of the room is another bewildered captive, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (CARY ELWES). Between them is a dead man lying in a pool of blood, holding a .38 in his hand. Neither man knows why he has been abducted; but instructions left on a micro-cassette order Dr. Gordon to kill Adam within eight hours. If he fails to do so, then both men will die, and Dr. Gordon's wife, Alison (MONICA POTTER), and his daughter will be killed. Recalling a recent murder investigation by a police detective named Tapp (DANNY GLOVER), Dr. Gordon realizes he and Adam are the next victims of a psychopathic genius known only as "Jigsaw."
It is important to note, however, that the Jigsaw never actually kills anybody. He instead he creates unique ways to trap the victims into killing themselves, with his focus being on people who he deems immoral. The scenarios are then used as a method of making the victims atone for their sins. As I said, the plot is an interesting one, and in the right hands this movie could've been quite a thriller. But Wan's inexperience leads over-creativity and over-direction, and ultimately, a disappointing film.

My first complaint would be the actual villain, the Jigsaw. There is very little character here, and his existence is questionable; that is, there is no real connection with the story. Sure he is gruesome, but there is never any revelation as to WHY he is gruesome, and there is no background to the character at all (UPDATE: I was just told that they did explain the Jigsaw's motives. I missed this part when I saw the movie, but the reasoning does make sense. It does add a little bit to the character, but not enough to make me change my opinion). He is simply a plot device that allows for the blood and terror that is interjected throughout the movie.

The acting was poor all around. I can forgive Whannell for over-acting; he is simply in over his head here. (Though he was not wasted in the movie, which I will come back to later.) Cary Elwes was especially disappointing. He was thoroughly unconvincing in his role as a man struggling with the idea that his family will be killed if he does not murder Adam, and Danny Glover was wasted as the cop on the trail of the killer.

The two problems that really keep this movie from fulfilling its goal are the direction and the plot/character development. It is painfully obvious even to the unstudied eye (ex: me) that this was Wan's first major picture. He relies too much on fancy camera tricks (especially high-speed stuff) and amplified effects and sounds; it's like somebody told him how to do every trick that would look cool when he is intoxicated and he turned around and threw them all in a movie the next day. It creates this amateur feeling that the viewers just can't escape.

Of course, the over-direction could possibly be overlooked if the development of the plot and characters worked. Think back to your favorite scary movies for a second. I would submit that every one of them does a good (if not great) job of developing the characters, including that of the villains. In the great movies of the genre we understand motives, responsibilities, culpabilities, regrets, etc. We feel for the victims (and sometimes we feel for the killers). That is not the case in Saw. In fact, with each scene I grew more detached from the characters than drawn in to their situation.

As far as the actual fright-factor, I would not rate this very high. There were a couple of "jump" scenes, but they are hampered by their predictability. I still maintain that the viewer will be more scared of what he doesn't see than of what he does see, and Wan shows us just about everything.

Saw is not all bad, however. The highlight of the movie (and it's only redeeming quality) was the humor. These portions of the movie are absolutely carried by Whannell. In the humor scenes the innocence and relative immaturity of the character help him rather than hinder him. He executes here much better than in any dramatic acting he does in the movie.

I would also commend the visuals, which are especially great at relating the mood and feeling of the small cell that the two men are trapped in, as well as the decadence and filth of the city in which it is set.

My final verdict: 1 star, for the comedy. If you are thinking of seeing this, heed my advice: save your money or see something else.

November 05, 2004

The Weekly Standard

The Weekly Standard has some great articles out this week. You should go read them all, but here are my three favorites.

The first is from Hugh Hewitt, who writes on the end of an era in politics, and what direction the left is heading in:

THE BEST PART of the Democratic smash-up is the credentialing of a couple of new Democratic leaders who are completely untethered to the old guard. Ken Salazar beat Pete Coors in Colorado because it was hard not to like this genial rancher. Salazar's Mexican-American ethnicity was just part of the appeal he made, and not an angry part at all. Coors, ever the gentleman, couldn't disguise the fact that he, and most Coloradoans, thought Salazar a pretty decent guy. Salazar will be a new force in the Democratic party, a genuinely Western voice in a club too long dominated by Yalies and their Hollywood buddies.

The same can be said for Barak Obama. Goodbye tired old leadership elites that stridently grind and condemn. Obama comes to the table armed with smarts, charisma, and youth. John Kerry lost on Tuesday, but so did Sharpton, Jesse, Julian, and the rest of the old school. Obama will never say so, but the '60s era civil rights tactics are long past their prime. Salazar and Obama send a message to the GOP that cannot be missed either: Persuade the ethnic middle class that the policies of economic growth do genuinely work for them and not just their bankers, or understand that the next few years as a majoritarian party will be your last.
I especially like the notes on Obama and Salazar, because these men are indeed the future. Youth and charisma is what attracts voters, not tired, dull, elitists. If you want to energize a base, you look for a leader. How many leaders fit the description of old Democrats like Kerry vs. the description of new guys like Obama? That's all you need to think about when you consider the future of the Democratic party.

NEXT, Fred Barnes has a column outlining what will make for a successful second term for President Bush:

WHY DO PRESIDENTS stumble in their second terms? Four reasons. They try to govern without a real agenda, having exhausted their policy initiatives in the first term. Their wisest and most competent aides and advisers leave and are replaced by less talented people. They suffer from bad relations with Congress as a result of past scuffles and disagreements. Or they are brought down by a scandal.

President Bush need not suffer from any of these in his second term. He has an agenda, a combination of leftover issues--such as making his tax cuts permanent--and the reformed entitlements of his new "ownership society." If he acts quickly, Bush can cajole his best advisers into staying another year or two. He can smooth relations with Congress by strategizing with Republican leaders, while also warming to a few Democrats. And he can pray for no scandal.
Will things go according to the plan as laid out by Barnes? Probably not (and in Bush's shoes, I would hope for the scandals to be minor because they are going to happen), but it'd be smart of Bush to take note.

Finally, Stephen F. Hayes writes on some of the other losers in the election, specifically members of the mainstream media:

"WE'D RATHER be last than wrong." So said Dan Rather anchoring election night coverage for CBS. He was apparently serious. That he could say this with a straight face only weeks after presenting the world with forged documents to bring down the president should cement his reputation as the least trusted man in America.

Dan Rather is just a small part of a much bigger story. His careless reporting and, later, dogmatic defense of his errors were but one episode in the media's long offensive against George W. Bush.

The assault began in July 2003, when Joseph Wilson accused the president of lying. Wilson's charges have since been thoroughly discredited and the author of The Politics of Truth revealed as unreliable. But the damage was done. Wilson's claim that the Bush administration had knowingly cooked intelligence provided the prism through which many reporters viewed the election.
He has a pretty good recap of a few of the major media scandals from the past year or so. While I would agree that the MSM took a credibility blow during this election, I am also not convinced that it was entirely damaging. People that read the blogs and listen to talk radio will argue, but that is still only a small portion of the population. I suspect that most people will still read the papers and watch the major news shows without giving much thought to what they hear.

November 04, 2004

Winners and Losers

The AP has a rundown of some of the winners and losers in the election. Some of them are obvious, some of them are questionable, some of them are funny. All of them are interesting.

November 03, 2004

Recent passings

1. Former Minnesota Wild forward Sergei Zholtok died today of an apparent heart ailment. The thoughts of this hockey fan are with the family.

2. First Avenue, the legendary Minneapolis rock venue, filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday (keep checking Qwerty for info -- it should be up soon). There have been management disputes and money problems associated with the company for the past year or so, but not many people expected this to be the result.


Morality in America

The issue being overlooked in the wake of the election is the overwhelming support of a gay-marriage ban in all eleven states that saw such a referendum. This surprises and distresses me greatly; we are supposed to be a tolerant country, yet we feel the need to restrict a good segment of the population from participating in the same ceremonies of love that the majority enjoys.

I saw a poll during the endless election coverage last night that showed 21% of voters listed "moral values" (i.e. gay-marriage) as the most important issue facing America. The percentage was even higher than the economy (20%) and terrorism/Iraq (18%). I am not sure which bothers me more: the fact a sizeable number of the population fails to grasp the importance of rooting out terrorism or that people equate moral values with discrimination.

I know the party-line for Republicans. "We must protect the sanctity of marriage." I don't buy that claim, though; how can something be sacred when it has a success rate of 50%? In my book marriage won't be sacred until people start to act like it is. By that I mean don't get married on a whim and then get a divorce when it doesn't work out. And especially don't do it several times.

To deny gays these rights when straight people themselves take them for granted is ridiculous enough. Seriously: who cares if gays can marry? As much as Republicans want to believe it, allowing gays to marry will not have any effect on them. Their marriages won't be less sacred because of it; no, that is going to stem from their multiple divorces, right Rush?

I understand that they want to keep it from snow-balling. They make the argument that if gays can marry, at some point in the future then polygamists will say that their marriages are legal, and then maybe later some man from Arkansas is going to want to marry his pick-up. If they want to put restrictions on marriage, why not stop it at two people? Or X number of people who can vocally declare their love for each other? (An umbrella that I doubt a cat or a Chevy will fall under.) But there is no reasonable argument against gays being able to marry; I guarantee that it will not unravel the fabric of the universe.


The mainstream media won't call it, but for all intents and purposes it's official:

Four more years.

Don't worry about what's going on in Ohio. There are some ballots that still need to be counted, but the margin of votes between the two candidates is such that Kerry would need practically every one of them to take the state. The probability of that happening is slim at best; this is mostly just a man trying to hang on to one last glimmer of hope.

In other news, Drudge is reporting that Bush broke the all-time popular vote total, even surpassing Reagan. I know it's not the popular vote that decides the outcome, but it is dang tough to win without it. (Such a scenario has only happened three times, after all.)

Rest easy.

November 01, 2004

The REAL poll of importance

There are hundreds of polls floating around the country this election season, so chances are you will be able to find one that makes you feel comfortable with your candidate's presidential prospects.

But the most important poll to come out this week is this one, which has the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey team ranked fourth in the country. This is good news, but it is also a little surprising because the Gophers are generally slow-starters. They typically play around .500 (sometimes worse, sometimes better) until January, and then really kick their game into high gear. It's tradition.

After losing some key players this off-season I didn't expect the team to be this high in the standings until later than usual, but thanks to some very solid goaltending and offensive explosions from Hobey Baker prospect Ryan Potulny and a multitude of other young players, the Gophers are on fire. I can't wait to see what happens when this team really starts to jell; it's going to be a scary sight for opponents but a thing of beauty for us fans.

Election wind-up: final thoughts

Well we are only a few hours from the official start of election day, and history is not on Bush's side. The indicators we have so far suggest that maybe history is in for a bit of a shock this year: most current polls are promising for Bush. Not necessarily the actual vote-tally polls, but the favorable-unfavorable ratings. These, I think, are what we really need to look at. If elections are really just a referendum on the incumbent (or the incumbent party), then certainly these are more telling of a country's thinking. Am I right? Power Line has a look at some stats on the latest New York Times poll (keep in mind the bias of that paper):

  • John Kerry has a 41% favorable, 47% unfavorable rating. This is his worst rating ever.

  • President Bush has a 48% favorable, 41% unfavorable rating. That is his best rating since last December.
  • Whether or not this pans out is beyond me. Going only by the number of Bush signs v. the number of Kerry signs I see and the people I talk to at work, I think the outcome is promising ... but I only interact with a very small portion of the country.

    Another Power Line source has Bush winning 51% to 47%. Make sure you check it out because the analysis is pretty interesting (and convincing). Maybe it will help you rest easier tonight.

    Regardless of who wins, I can only hope that the outcome is clear. I definitely don't want another long-winded Supreme Court battle that turns everyone violent and bitter. I hope that the rest of America agrees with me.