Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sentence construction 101

I'm reading this career guidance book instead of working on my papers. Check out this sentence:

"After graduating with a degree in elementary education, Monica taught kindergarten and then emotionally disturbed seven-to-nine-year-olds for a total of six years."

Which of the rewrites below better captures the meaning of the above sentence?

1. After graduating with a degree in elementary education, Monica taught kindergarten and then taught emotionally-disturbed seven-to-nine-year-olds for a total of six years.

2. After graduating with a degree in elementary education, Monica taught kindergarten and then she emotionally disturbed seven-to-nine-year-olds for a total of six years.

You decide.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Imus no longer in the morning

I wanted to keep my mouth shut about this Don Imus thing. I really did. But it's just spun too far out of control. This morning Meet the Press dumped the Gonzales testimony and the 2008 run so they could all pat themselves on the back for 20 minutes for being so much better than Don Imus, and it was just all so uber-liberal that it made me want to vote Republican.

First of all, Eugene Robinson and John Harwood: of course this is a free speech issue. It always amazes me how poorly the majority of Americans grasp the purpose of free speech. The whole POINT of free speech is to encourage as wide a spectrum of views as possible, and the way this is accomplished is by fostering a consequence-free environment for speech. Of course a true consequence free-environment is impossible, since the solution to outrageous speech cannot be mere silence but must require some criticism and light condemnation. But if people think they'll lose their jobs for speaking freely, they're not very likely to speak, are they? Hence the purpose becomes defeated. Just because this isn't a constitutional issue doesn't mean it's not a free speech issue. Surely Americans can go beyond following the letter of the law by honoring the principle behind it.

The hypocrisy of this whole issue astounds me. Eugene Robinson and Gwen Ifill (and others) have the audacity to compare the response to Imus with the response to hip-hop language. "Yes, this same language is perpetuated in black society," they say, "but we're working to combat that there, too. Imus can't be excused for committing a crime just because other people do it." He can when the people who arrest him don't arrest others for the same crime, especially when the reason for said disparity seems to result from differences in skin pigmentation AND when the crime itself is "being a racist." Al Sharpton doesn't rush for a microphone when a black person says naughty words nearly as quickly or as loudly as when a white person says them, and that raises some fundamental questions. A lot of people didn't even know that Sharpton had made efforts to combat offensive language in rap lyrics. Imus says "ho" once and the black community has him fired within a week; hip-hop artists have perpetuated the same language for years, and Robinson's only defense is, "Gangsta rap sales went down 20% last year." I'm sorry, I missed the part where you fervently demanded Snoop Dogg be dropped from his label.

The hypocrisy here ties into the greater hypocrisy that has plagued America: white people have to live in fear of offending black people, while black people could really give a shit. The Michael Richards incident is a perfect example. In all the shock and horror that resulted from his cries of "nigger," no one blinked twice at the fact that the "victims" of his "tirade" called him a "cracker." Perhaps it's because Richards fired first, and once the door's open any racist comment goes. Or perhaps it's because Richards is a professional who should be held to a higher standard. But I would guess it has more to do with the fact that nobody cares about "cracker" (perhaps because white people don't piss and moan about it?). In a society in which no one can even bring themselves to say the word "nigger," and only black people are permitted to use the diluted "nigga"...two things I refuse to abide by, by the way. I hate to compare racism to children's books, but the taboo around "nigger" reminds me of the taboo around "Voldemort": refusing to say the word has only given it power. And of course, to disallow white people from saying "nigga" is racist, since it's predicated entirely on skin color.

Let me just say: I think what Imus said was pretty stupid. But it didn't nearly deserve the press coverage it got. People should have gone on the air, said, "I don't think it was appropriate," and then gotten on with their lives. By refusing to do so, by making this a prolonged thing, black America may have won this battle, but they've set back the war. They threw an organized temper tantrum because Imus was a meanie, and that has a lot of white people wondering. The NYT had an Op-Ed which claimed Imus's comment wouldn't have flown "on a low-bandwith radio station in the Jim Crow South"...which , given that colorful chapter in American history, displays a poignant ignorance of the Jim Crow South. Imus didn't suggest we round up all the Negros and hang them from the Gallows Tree, after all. At most his comment reflected an underlying insensitivity to black people. But the fervor with which Sharpton et al responded has left me feeling like African-Americans are whiners more than anything else. It makes me think their movement's run out of issues that are really worth fighting for. They keep crying "wolf!" over spilled milk, and after a while people are going to stop caring.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Movie Revue: Borat and 300

I know I haven't written on here for a while. I was really just gonna let it die, but I see that some people still check this thing pretty faithfully and that makes me feel guilty. So here are some movie reviews I was just gonna put on Amazon:

Borat: I saw Borat last night. Huge disappointment. I know it's been out for a while now, but I waited for it to come out on Netflix, and I'm glad I did. I really don't see why the critics loved this movie so much. It was funny in the same way Todd Packer is funny on The Office: in that mean-spirited fashion. He makes fun of people I don't even like (like feminists, frat boys, religious fanatics, people who own Bed & Breakfasts, Southern secessionists and gentry), and I still just ended up feeling sorry for all of them. These people are trying to be nice to him and instead he passive-aggressively ridicules them. The only part I really laughed at was when he threw down his bag on the road and we heard the ubiquitous chicken go "GAWK!"

300: Another terrible movie. I saw this last weekend. I really wanted to see TMNT, but my fellow movie-goers were afraid it would be a kids' movie. I guess they have no fond memories of Turtle Power.

But 300 was a terrible movie. It was visually interesting, yes, but it didn't really add anything to the "genre" that Sin City hadn't already brought. It was like trying to be amazed by the special effects in Charlie's Angels after watching The Matrix.

But my bigger complaint is the storyline. As a classics major, I knew I was going to have problems with this movie, but its box office success urged me to approach it with an open mind. All I learned from this experience was that I was right to judge this book by its cover after all. Here's what I have to say about the movie's "accuracy"...

No, it was not accurate. Not even close. This bother me on several levels. First, you could have made a similar movie and still gotten your facts straight. It's not like the Battle of Thermopylae cries out for a whole lot of embellishment. It's a pretty amazing story on its own.

Second, apparently people are treating this movie as a 2-hour ad for the Marines and the War on Terror. Except the only way this movie could be scene as pro-America is through a blatant bastardization of the facts. The Spartans weren't fighting for freedom. They didn't give a shit about freedom. They were oppressive rulers who kept down a constantly-revolting slave class (a fact the movie seemed incapable of mentioning). They were fighting for the defense of their homeland. When I have to listen to characters say, "Freedom isn't free," all I can think to myself is, "What the fuck would you know about it?"

Iran apparently views this movie as an act of war. That's pretty stupid. The only way it criticizes Iranians is that the antagonists live on the same land mass as the Iranians. And it'd be pretty hard to tell the story of the Battle of Thermopylae WITHOUT that feature, since that was about the only aspect of this movie that was grounded in FACT. If anything, this movie seems to be to be anti-America. It's the tale of the underdog, a small band of men who give their lives to defend their homeland from a sexually-deviant, decadant, and seemingly powerful empire obsessed with expanding its borders into foreign territory. That sounds more like therIraq insurgency's operations against the U.S. than America's War on Terror campaign.

The movie isn't even accurate within itself. IE, during the final stand-off the narrator states that 299 men stood behind Leonidas, when we've already seen some of the 300 fall to the Persians earlier in the movie. And the scene in which the Spartans watch the Persian ships sail through the storm (based on the actual crossing of the Hellespont); why don't they just SAIL around the Thermopylae pass, rather than landing north of it and then spending the entire movie through to go south? Mostly, though, I don't know how the movie can talk so much about Spartan freedom when the first thing you learn is that every Spartan child is forced to become a soldier from the moment he is born.

My biggest qualm, though, is with all the people who try to defend the inaccuracies. "It's just a movie, it's not a history lesson, it's not supposed to be accurate." I wonder if these individuals would be quite so blaise if I made a movie chronicling the brave 19 men who struck a blow against the decadent American empire by hijacking airplanes and crashing them into skyscrapers. I'd call it 19. Hey, what's the big deal? It's just a movie, it's not supposed to be an accurate retelling of 9/11!