Archive for November, 2011

Friedersdorf on Lessig on Obama

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

I just finished, and enjoyed, Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost. Conor Friedersdorf writes about one of Lessig’s most-compelling arguments: That Obama betrayed his, and other supporters’, trust, not by being too conservative, or being too liberal, but by being too conventional: The Liberal Critique of Obama: Judging the President by His Own Standards.

UC Davis Campus Police, Pepper Spray, Etc.

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Doubtless you’ve already been pointed to the video of the UC Davis campus police pepper-spraying the student protesters who were sitting on the ground, arms linked, in an effort to prevent the police from forcibly evicting some other students camping on the quad. In case you missed it, though, here’s the video:

I’m reminded of the incident from a few years ago, in which a UCLA student who refused to show his ID and then refused to leave the campus library was repeatedly zapped with a Taser by campus police (see 36 Views of Mostafa Tabatabainejad Being Tasered).

As in that incident, I can see things from both sides. As a former coworker of the UC campus police, I think I have a pretty clear idea of the mindset that led to this pepper spraying, and I have a certain amount of sympathy for the cops in question. With that said, I also feel a certain sympathy for the views expressed by UC Davis Prof. Nathan Brown, in his Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi:

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.

Just as a strategic matter, I think it’s pretty clear that the student protesters “won” this exchange. By sitting down, linking arms, and refusing to relinquish their places, they placed themselves in the path of the authorities who would control their behavior. Those authorities, by resorting to force, and doing so in full view of lots of cameras, committed the same strategic error that was memorably depicted in the movie Gandhi, in the scene where non-violent protestors march on the salt works, knowing they will be clubbed, but marching anyway.

The next step for the UC Davis protestors is clear, and it’s the same next step I wrote about in connection with the Tabatabainejad tasering at UCLA: Go back to the same place with lots of buddies, sit down and link arms, and dare the authorities to spray pepper spray in your eyes again.

If enough of you are willing to do that, you win. If you really believe in your cause, believe in it strongly enough to stand up non-violently to those who would inflict brutal pain and, potentially, permanent injury or death, without being deterred (and, crucially, if there are cameras present, and if your actions are presented with sufficiently compelling production values to inspire others to follow your example), then you win.

Unfortunately, you also run a fair risk of being tasered, pepper-sprayed, bludgeoned, or killed.

If you watch the UC Davis video to the end, there’s a pretty compelling part where the cops are basically looking around at this angry crowd surrounding them, and you can see the thought going through their heads: This could really get out of hand.

You can see them get scared.

I’m not saying they were scared for their personal safety (though it would be silly to think that as human beings, they didn’t experience such fears). But I think they were certainly scared of being put into a situation that compelled them to escalate their use of force.

It’s at that point that the guy does his “Mic check!”, and the crowd, collectively, tells the cops: Hey, cops. You can leave. Why don’t you?

And the cops do.

Again, I’m not sure I’m totally on either side here. But it’s a compelling piece of video.

Update: Some good followup items:

Roemer & Colbert on Super PAC Advertising

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Good stuff:

Animated Graph of CO2 Levels Over Time

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

shcb has made disparaging remarks about the hockey-stick graph, so I realize that he has some sort of theory for why it’s not compelling, even though 98% (literally) of the top currently publishing climate scientists disagree with him.

Even so, hope springs eternal that leading the horse to water one more time will finally get it to drink. And this graph is animated. Look, shiny!

‘We Bought a Zoo’ Trailer vs. Trailer

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Below are the first two trailers (domestic and international) for director Cameron Crowe’s upcoming movie, “We Bought a Zoo.” Based (loosely) on the memoir by Benjamin Mee, the film casts Matt Damon as a recent widower who quits his job and takes his two children to live in a run-down country house with an attached run-down zoo. Heart-warming life lessons ensue.

So far so good. Cameron Crowe has made some very good movies that I really like, so I was tentatively on-board for this one. When I found out that Crowe played music from Jónsi’s recent album Go on the set to help set the mood, and then successfully recruited Jónsi to score the movie (with help from Go collaborator Nico Mulhy), I was all the way on board. It’s in theaters December 23, and I’m looking forward to it.

Which brings me to the trailers. The domestic (U.S.) trailer came out a couple of months ago. It features Sigur Rós’ “Hoppípolla” in the second half, which is pretty much automatic tear-induction for me. Here it is:

All well and good. Note that the movie also stars Scarlett Johansson as Kelly, zookeeper and would-be love interest for Damon. Or maybe not; the trailer is somewhat coy on that point. We get some dewy-eyed looks at Damon by Johansson, and a somewhat ambiguous final sequence in which Damon seems to be inviting Johansson to join him (“You coming?”) with her responding with the kind of smile that is her unquestioned on-screen superpower, any doubts about her acting range notwithstanding. But in the one sequence in the trailer that deals with Damon’s and Johansson’s relationship directly, we get a fairly straightforward dousing of hopes for a romance:

Damon: I think you’re… incredibly pretty. Please don’t take offense if I don’t hit on you.

Johansson: I’d be offended if you did.

Damon: Thank you… I think.

To the extent there’s romance, it looks from the trailer as if we’re more likely to get it from Damon’s son, played by Colin Ford, and their new neighbor, played by Elle Fanning. All of which is fine.

Which brings me to the newly released international trailer. Check it out:

It starts off virtually identical. But in the second half things are different. First, “Hoppípolla” is gone, replaced by what I’m hopefully assuming is some of the new Jónsi music from the soundtrack (yay!). More significantly, there’s more Johansson, including a significant new emphasis on her as an object of romantic interest. Thomas Hayden Church (as Damon’s character’s brother) tells Damon to “Dump the animals. Keep Kelly. That’s true joy.” A building inspector leers at Johansson as he suggestively extends his tape measure (to Damon: “You’re eight inches short”).

Especially, there’s a brief sequence of Damon and Johansson gazing soulfully at each other (Johansson: “It’s a lot to take on, all of us.” Damon: “You read me pretty well”), followed by one of those slow-zoom-as-the-actors-lean-closer preludes to an obviously telegraphed if not actually consummated (yet) screen kiss.

Linda (my own romantic interest) tells me that Johansson is a really big celebrity in Europe, more so than in the U.S., so I guess it makes sense that they would play up her role in selling the movie to a European audience. And maybe it’s the case that the less-puritanically-uptight Europeans are going to be more forgiving of an implied romance between actors who are 41 and 26, respectively, than would be the case for at least some American consumers of a wholesome family drama.

I realize that trailers are mini-movies in their own right, and have a job to do in terms of selling the movie to an audience in a limited time and with limited context. I recognize that the relationship between the trailer and the actual film it is advertising can be quite tenuous (witness the trailer for another movie that caught my interest recently, The Big Year, the trailer for which manages to present two minutes from the movie while almost entirely concealing what it is the movie is actually about). But I find myself feeling that one of the two “We Bought a Zoo” trailers (at least) must be lying.

Either this is a movie that delivers an onscreen romance between Damon’s and Johansson’s characters, or it isn’t. Judging from the first (U.S.) trailer, it isn’t. Judging from the second (international) trailer, with its gun-in-the-first-act boy-we-really-want-to-kiss-each-other shot, it is. And realistically, the movie can’t be both.

There’s a hint as to which it actually is in the article that appeared in today’s L.A. Times, Cameron Crowe wrangles emotions and ostriches:

Most movies would follow Benjamin’s romantic reawakening — let his late wife (Stephanie Szostak) fade from memory and let him try to tame Kelly. But Crowe said he wasn’t interested in following that path, a choice dramatized in the film’s unusual final scene.

“People make this big case, ‘You gotta move on, you gotta move on.’ And I say, ‘Really? Who says you have to move on?'” Crowe said. “Benjamin is a guy who is still in love with his wife, and he is not going to get shaken from that. That’s the greater challenge: to pay tribute to the person who’s not around anymore.”

The international trailer notwithstanding, it sounds like that’s the movie we actually get, with Damon playing a responsible boss to Johansson’s character, and not necessarily anything more. Which is fine with me. As long as I get my Jónsi music.