Sunday, May 31, 2009

This always makes me laugh.

Reading List: Sunday 5/31

A few notable events and articles from this last day in May:

Recent Reading (Books #4-6)

Since I last wrote (on Watchmen), I have finished reading...

Book #4: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin: Excellent overview of important cases and profiles of justices by CNN's senior legal analyst. Predominantly focused on the Rehnquist court (Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, O'Connor, Souter, Ginsberg, Breyer, Stevens) but also hits important justices from the past, as well as briefly looking at the nominations and confirmations of current Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Highly recommend this one for anyone curious about the Supreme Court. Timely, given the current focus what role Sotomayor might play on the court.

Book #5: Extraordinary Canadians: Lester B. Pearson by Andrew Cohen: Short but well done little biography of one of Canada's most famous prime ministers. A bit slanted but not noticeably, and very engagingly written. The author is interesting too- an occasional columnist for Canadian newspapers like the Ottawa Citizen who has a great style. Quick read, and interesting subject.

Book #6: All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone by Myra MacPherson: I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with this biography. It caught my attention in Barnes & Noble one day-- it's a very catchy title and a bright red cover, hard to miss-- and was expecting a well-written and at least nominally balanced book...especially seeing as it won several biography awards. It was an interesting book, mostly for its subject matter-- I.F. Stone is anything but boring-- but I found it overtly biased, slamming the FBI, CIA, Congress, and presidents in ways that Stone himself might have done. I'm not saying that's not fair, I simply was not looking for that level of slant in a biography. At times the writing style also grated on me. I finished it, partly because I had bought the book and partly because Stone himself fascinated me, but I can't say it was always easy to get through. Disappointing, considering that the author is a writer for my favorite newspaper, the Washington Post.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Movie #11: Dr. Strangelove

Oh, the timeliness of this film (still). It actually makes me rather sad. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was made in 1964, during the height of the Cold War. Concerns about nuclear war were commonplace. Things have somewhat defused since then...but there is still cause for concern. More and more volatile countries are pursuing atomic weaponry, and perhaps even more worrying, there is a distinct chance that nonstate actors like terrorist organizations are able to pull nuclear technology from "leaking" facilities in the former Soviet Union. All this to say-- the nuclear age is not over. Nuclear worries are not gone. We must continue to monitor these situations and pursue alternative solutions with all our efforts.

All that said-- Dr. Strangelove was a really good movie. Stanley Kubrick, I must say, has a really weird mind to be making this film, but despite the heavy subject matter it was thoroughly entertaining. Peter Sellers plays three different roles-- Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British R.A.F. officer stationed at the pivotal Air Force base in the film; President Merkin Muffley, the concerned leader of the United States; and Dr. Strangelove, the weird German-American former Nazi scientist who now heads US weapons development. Sellers plays all three roles to near-perfection. His phone conversations in the role of the president with the Soviet Premier are an absolute riot...and Dr. Strangelove...well, you'll have to watch the movie. He speaks for himself. The rest of the cast is excellent also, including George C. Scott as a go-get-'em Air Force general who's openly suspicious of the "Commies," especially the Russian Ambassador (Peter Bull), a very young James Earl Jones as an Air Force bombadier, and Slim Pickens as Air Force Major Kong, a go-get-'em Stetson-wearing B-52 pilot. A roundly entertaining movie, but one with a message of profound historical import to convey, Dr. Strangelove is a must-see movie for anyone with an interest in the insanity of nuclear warfare.

Odds and Ends

Here's some articles and websites that have caught my attention over the past couple of days...
  • The Law Library of Congress has put up a database of legal resources related to Judge Sotomayor, including links to articles, cases, and transcripts of her previous confirmation hearings. Very useful.
  • Amazingly enough, Washington, DC is #1 on the American Fitness Index (AFI) of healthy cities. I'm impressed-- but I guess access to good public transportation, plenty of green places, and lots of doctors helps somewhat.
  • I think I might have found my home on the web...I received a "follow" request on my Twitter today from The Purple Youth, "a group of teenagers writing about things that matter"-- meaning politics, and done in a very bipartisan way. The writing is good-- it seems to basically be a group blog. I'm considering contacting them about joining their group of writers. We'll see what happens.
  • Apparently former President George W. Bush considers Canada the safest place for him to do speaking engagements (the last time I heard about his activities, he was in Alberta)-- he and former President Clinton were in Toronto yesterday doing a joint speaking engagement. To the disappointment of the crowd, the two appeared to get along just fine.
  • Continuing the tensions on the peninsula, North Korea today appeared to be moving a long-range missile to a launchpad. From Singapore, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates announced that the US and the rest of the world would "not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capacity to wreak destruction on any target in Asia-- or on us."
  • Now is a good time for my friends who are studying Arabic-- CIA Director Leon Panetta today announced plans to improve language proficiency by recruiting operatives who are fluent in languages such as Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu.
  • And for a smile: President Obama took his wife on a date yesterday night-- to New York City for dinner and a Broadway show. To me, this is a pleasant reminder that the First Couple are still (a) human and (b) a couple; to the Republican National Committee, which saw fit to issue a statement, this was a waste of time and money. So much for supporting "family values"...I guess that only counts if you're not the president.

The Resurrection and the Life

Since Easter, I have been dogged by the same chapter of Scripture almost every time I open my Bible. Both of the services I attended that Sunday featured 1 Corinthians 15 in some capacity; at the second service, I got to read from it. Ever since then, I've probably read the chapter at least half a dozen times, and skimmed over it dozens more. I even took one evening toward the end of the semester to go through the chapter verse by verse, doing my best to dissect it and figure out why I was so captivated by it. But nothing has really worked and I am still returning to 1 Corinthians 15-- so here I am writing about it.

The chapter to which I refer is an excerpt from St. Paul's first letter to the people of Corinth. It addresses doubts that have been raised among the people regarding the feasibility of the resurrection of the dead. After two highly significant sections-- the oft-quoted "Love Chapter" and a section on the gifts of prophecy and tongues-- Paul jumps in with both feet to attempt to quell the Corinthians' doubts about the resurrection.

I'd like to first back up and note that at the end of Chapter 13 and the beginning of Chapter 14, Paul says this (I'm using Eugene Peterson's "The Message" translation here):
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it-- because it does. Give yourselves to the gifts God gives you. Most of all, try to proclaim his truth.
This passage grabbed me tonight. I like the phrasing Peterson uses (although the original English translations are also of course beautiful) and I find the direction profoundly simple yet somehow very difficult. "Love extravagantly." "Give yourself to the gifts God gives you." "Proclaim his truth." These are never as easy as they sound. Something is always getting in the way or getting lost in the shuffle. And yet these are core principles. I think the instructions can perhaps be best summarized by a St. Francis of Assisi quote: "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." Using words, that is precisely what Paul did, one chapter down the road.

Resurrection-- the idea of the dead rising-- is pleasant in a way, but difficult for many people to accept. It's simply not something one experiences on a regular basis. When I take walks in the cemetery near my home, not once in over ten years of walking has a dead person come up to say hello to me. Perhaps it is thoughts like these that made the Corinthians start saying that there is no such thing as a resurrection. Perhaps they were getting frustrated with the absence of loved ones who had passed on, and had been made to believe that by their becoming Christians these loved ones would again live. I don't know. Something sparked this section of the letter from Paul, and it is really something profoundly challenging to the Christian intellectual mind.

Paul started out with a bang, reminding the Corinthians that they had accepted, "taken their stand on," his teachings as something which had saved them. These teachings-- that Christ lived, died, and rose again-- are the very bedrock of the Christian faith, and if they are false then the whole thing is pointless and all the believers are just wasting their time.

I think that might be the first idea that really grabbed my attention. Paul effectively says that if what we believe is wrong, we've wasted our lives. No side benefits, no minor perks, no reassurances. Everything hangs on this.

Thanks, Paul. Now that you've caught my attention, what's next?

Well, lest you think him arrogant or less than authoritative, Paul establishes his credibility and simultaneously takes himself down a few pegs:
Last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
I actually really have been grabbed by this section too-- the humility and yet acknowledgment of having put in hard work. I can relate to the feeling "By the grace of God I am what I am," knowing that your past wasn't perfect but it did get you to today and you will press forward, secure in God's love. It is really a sustaining and secure feeling when it surfaces...which I have to admit is less frequently than I would like. The rest of the time it's more of a sense that the universe is moving along whehter or not you know it, so it's better simply to accept things.

Back to the resurrection-- Paul continues to hammer his point home. That point is effectively, "If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Jesus isn't alive and your faith is worthless." Disconcerting point. Every Easter-- and many other days of the Christian calendar for that matter-- we celebrate Jesus being alive, so I guess to some degree we've accepted the whole resurrection thing, despite all its challenges.

It intrigues me, really. The foundation of one of the world's greatest religions, believed by millions of men and women the world over for the past thousand years, is a concept that would easily make the top ten of improbable events. We don't see the dead rise, we have little cause to believe it possible or why are we so okay with Jesus doing it every Easter? Actually, if you ask me, we're a little too comfortable with it. Come the end of Lent every spring, we sing our songs, eat our chocolate, and go securely on our way without really thinking about it. We are celebrating a person who was fully dead coming fully back to life! Cause to celebrate, to be sure, but shouldn't we be thinking more about what that MEANS?

It means that the universe as governed by physics and biology is no longer playing by the rules. It means death is no longer the end of life, but merely a stumbling block (if that) between lives. The old playbook is gone. Jesus is still, today, out of the tomb, and the rules are different. He not only broke the rules, he changed them. We are free to do what Paul said earlier-- to love extravagantly. To proclaim truth. To pursue our gifts. To hope unswervingly. To trust steadily in God. Because those of us who accept this have a reason to trust God, to home in him, to love him and others: He loved us and as a result did whatever it took to change the rules in our favor. Death is not an obstacle, nor should life be. Love extravagantly-- that's what being alive in God is all about.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reading List: Thursday 5/28

Here's the top hits from the news so far today:

Nominee Analysis: Judge Sonia Sotomayor

The political blogosphere on both sides of the aisle has been buzzing about Pres. Obama's SCOTUS nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. By and large, the conservatives are upset and the liberals are thrilled with the choice...predictable, of course. Federal judges are political appointees, so political considerations go into selecting a nominee. Both sides of the aisle, however, seem to have accepted that Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed by the Senate, barring some highly consequential (likely ethical, Anita Hill- style) revelation. The Democrats simply have the necessary votes.

If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor would be replacing Associate Justice David Souter, the quirky, reclusive, liberal justice from New Hampshire. Souter was supposed to be a "home run" for conservatives, with his limited paper trail and apparent conservative leanings when the first President Bush nominated him. Instead, although he did win an easy confirmation in the Senate, Souter quickly established himself on the moderate to liberal end of the judicial spectrum. In his book The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin described Souter's judicial philosophy as aligning most closely with that of Justice John Marshall Harlan II:
[Harlan] believed that law existed to preserve the stability of society and that adherence to precedent best guaranteed a limited and predictable role for the judiciary. Above all, he believed in the rule of stare decisis. Like Harlan, Souter put his faith in the common law, the accumulated wisdom of judges and courts going back to the Middle Ages. (Toobin 45)
The two also believed that the people's rights "were not limited by the precise language of the Constitution" and in libertarian-esque ideals-- the importance of freedom from restrictions of government.

To all appearances, based on a survey of her more significant appellate decisions conducted by SCOTUSblog, Sotomayor's judicial leanings tend along the same lines as Justice Souter's. While her philosophy seems largely to emanate from a different starting place, it will likely keep Sotomayor solidly on the Court's left in all but a few cases. Indeed, those cases that reached the Supreme Court after going through her and the rest of the Second Circuit, though in many cases overruled, have already found that her opinions align with the left wing of the current court.

Whereas (in my estimation) Justice Souter's judicial philosophy originates from his long legal service in "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire, Judge Sotomayor's come from her lifelong experience as a Latina woman in New York. It seems evident that the two most compelling reasons for Obama to nominate her were her stellar and diverse resume and her personal story, which evokes considerable empathy and admiration from most listeners. Prosecutor, commercial lawyer, trial judge, and appellate judge...daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants who worked hard to make a better life for herself...graduated from the top of her class at Princeton and served on the Yale Law Review...Sotomayor's life story is compelling and admirable.

In addition to her own personal story and resume, Sotomayor has a lot going for her politically. The Democrats really only require one Republican vote (assuming they hang on to all of their own) to avoid a filibuster, and that will likely come from one of the two senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both moderates; or even possibly from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a conservative from Utah who has nonetheless been fairly supportive of Sotomayor in her past confirmation processes. Republicans also have other political factors to take into account should they decide to really fight the Sotomayor confirmation. Chief among these is the significance of the first ["real"-- Benjamin Cardozo was Portuguese] Hispanic Supreme Court justice among the Hispanic community. To quote Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog, "It really is impossible to overstate its significance." Why does this matter so much that Republicans would want to take note? Because the Hispanic community is a large and growing voting bloc, and it would be highly inadvisable for the out-of-power Republicans to alienate them right now by opposing "their" candidate for the Supreme Court.

Inevitably, of course, there will be an opposition element that WILL find targets on which to hammer Sotomayor. According to Tom Goldstein, the top four charges will likely be (i) being an intellectual lightweight, (ii) being a liberal ideologue and "judicial activist," (iii) being "dismissive of positions with which she disagrees and (iv) being "gruff and impersonable." In my estimation, the third charge is most likely to stick-- but probably in the more extreme forms of being a "reverse racist," and letting her gender and ethnicity inappropriately color her decisions. The Ricci case lends to that impression, as does a lecture she gave at UC Berkeley Law School in 2001, in which she addressed the role gender and ethnicity play in judges' decisions, including hers. The confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee will provide a forum for discussion of these matters, and hopefully she will easily smooth them out for a majority of reasonable people in (and out of) the Senate.

Sotomayor has been through the confirmation process twice before (when she was appointed as a district trial judge, and when she was appointed to the Second Circuit), so she will likely know how to deal with the Senate's judicial inquisitors. Both sides will likely need to be satisfied as to her views on abortion and gun rights-- her position on abortion is largely a mystery, with a very thin paper trail, and gun owners will definitely not like Sotomayor's past rulings on the Second Amendment. She once ruled, with two other judges, that "the right to possess a gun is clearly not a fundamental right," which may serve as an impetus for gun owners to mobilize against her and pressure red-state Democrats to oppose her as well.

Bottom line: To all appearances, barring some sort of major ethical problem coming to light, Judge Sotomayor should have a smooth confirmation process...if perhaps debate-filled, depending on how she chooses to answer the Judiciary Committee's inevitable questions on affirmative action, abortion, and gun rights. If confirmed, Sotomayor will likely continue in Justice Souter's mold, and will help maintain the status quo on the Supreme Court, adding diversity without shaking the current pro-conservative tilt of the nation's highest court.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quick News Highlights

No time today to do a full-scale reading list, but here are a few things that have caught my attention:
  • The confirmation process of Judge Sonia Sotomayor begins in earnest today, the day after her official nomination. Reportedly, the judge began making phone calls to key Senate Democrats and Republicans, and will begin face-to-face meetings next week. The simultaneous media "vetting" continues also, with the New York Times coming out with a fairly in-depth profile of the judge today, which they also linked to her UC Berkeley lecture, "A Latina Judge's Voice," which will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows during this process.
  • Former Pres. George W. Bush's Solicitor General, Ted Olson, is reportedly joining forces with his opponent in Bush v. Gore, David Boies, to file suit against Prop 8 in US district court on behalf of two same-sex couples in California. The lawsuit, on the grounds that the referendum results perpetuated a "separate-but-unequal" scenario that violates the Fourteenth Amendment, will likely be a drawn-out legal battle that is already being projected as a case that could make it to the Supreme Court.
  • North Korea continues to assert itself internationally, today threatening to invade South Korea if the US and other countries continue to search its ships for missiles and other nuclear-related material, and saying that the truce that ended the Korean War in the 1950s is no longer valid. Keep an eye on this one...
  • BREAKING: The US is considering creating a new agency for the purpose of regulating banks, according to the Washington Post:
"Senior administration officials are considering the creation of a single agency to regulate the banking industry, replacing a regulatory patchwork that failed to prevent banks from falling into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The agency would be a key element in a sweeping administration plan to overhaul financial regulation, which officials hope to unveil in the next few weeks, including the creation of a new authority to police risks to the financial system, and a new agency to protect consumers, the sources said."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Next song to learn on ukulele, perhaps...

Heard a piano version of this song on Jon Schmidt's website tonight...I like the guitar version by The Beatles too. It's a charmingly beautiful little tune.

Appellate Opinions and Piano Music

Supreme Court nominations exhilarate me. They really do. I'm excited that the Court is in something of a transition right now and so I, in my young, politically-engaged frame of mind, get to witness (if from a distance) the changeover in judicial power. I've been reading a lot about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's SCOTUS nominee, so you can expect a blog post about all that pretty soon. At the moment I'm preparing to go talk to this year's Civics class at my old high school-- poor kids, they don't know what kind of political psycho they're getting tomorrow. I'm planning on talking a lot about the Supreme Court nomination-- current events don't get much more current than this.

As I read about the pros and cons and opinions of Judge Sotomayor, I've been humming along to a soundtrack provided by pianist Jon Schmidt. He's an incredibly skilled, New Age-y kind of pianist who provides alternately exhilarating and peaceful music, such as "Pachelbel Meets U2" and my new favorite YouTube video, which I posted on here a few days ago-- "Love Story Meets Viva La Vida". He's a self-described "happily unsigned" musician, which I have to admit I kind of like. In accordance with this, he's nice enough to provide playlists of almost all his songs on his website...and that's what I've been listening to at top volume all night.

Reading List: Tuesday 5/26

Big news day today!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fun in Elevators

50 Fun Things To Do In An Elevator

1. Make race car noises when anyone gets on or off.
2. Blow your nose and offer to show the contents of your kleenex to other passengers.
3. Grimace painfully while smacking your forehead and muttering: "Shut up, all of you just shut UP!"
4. Whistle the first seven notes of "It's a Small World" incessantly.
5. Sell Girl Scout cookies.
6. On a long ride, sway side to side at the natural frequency of the elevator.
7. Shave.
8. Crack open your briefcase or purse, and while peering inside ask: "Got enough air in there?"
9. Offer name tags to everyone getting on the elevator. Wear yours upside-down.
10. Stand silent and motionless in the corner, facing the wall, without getting off.
11. When arriving at your floor, grunt and strain to yank the doors open, then act embarrassed when they open by themselves.
12. Lean over to another passenger and whisper: "Noogie patrol coming!"
13. Greet everyone getting on the elevator with a warm handshake and ask them to call you Admiral.
14. One word: Flatulence!
15. On the highest floor, hold the door open and demand that it stay open until you hear the penny you dropped down the shaft go "plink" at the bottom.
16. Do Tai Chi exercises.
17. Stare, grinning, at another passenger for a while, and then announce: "I've got new socks on!"
18. When at least 8 people have boarded, moan from the back: "Oh, not now, motion sickness!"
19. Give religious tracts to each passenger.
20. Meow occasionally.
21. Bet the other passengers you can fit a quarter in your nose.
22. Frown and mutter "gotta go, gotta go" then sigh and say "oops!"
23. Show other passengers a wound and ask if it looks infected.
24. Sing "Mary had a little lamb" while continually pushing buttons.
25. Holler "Chutes away!" whenever the elevator descends.
26. Walk on with a cooler that says "human head" on the side.
27. Stare at another passenger for a while, then announce "You're one of THEM!" and move to the far corner of the elevator.
28. Burp, and then say "mmmm...tasty!"
29. Leave a box between the doors.
30. Ask each passenger getting on if you can push the button for them.
31. Wear a puppet on your hand and talk to other passengers "through" it.
32. Start a sing-along.
33. When the elevator is silent, look around and ask "is that your beeper?"
34. Play the harmonica.
35. Shadow box.
36. Say "Ding!" at each floor.
37. Lean against the button panel.
38. Say "I wonder what all these do" and push the red buttons.
39. Listen to the elevator walls with a stethoscope.
40. Draw a little square on the floor with chalk and announce to the other passengers that this is your "personal space."
41. Bring a chair along.
42. Take a bite of a sandwich and ask another passenger: "Wanna see wha in muh mouf?"
43. Blow spit bubbles.
44. Pull your gum out of your mouth in long strings.
45. Announce in a demonic voice: "I must find a more suitable host body."
46. Carry a blanket and clutch it protectively.
47. Make explosion noises when anyone presses a button.
48. Wear "X-Ray Specs" and leer suggestively at other passengers.
49. Stare at your thumb and say "I think it's getting larger."
50. If anyone brushes against you, recoil and holler "Bad touch!"

Movie #10: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

I saw Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian today in theaters with a couple of friends, and I have to say, it was a lot of fun. Although not an especially serious or philosophical movie, or even arguably especially high-quality, it was an enjoyable film, and a much-needed laugh after the intensity of Air Force One. It's the sequel to Night at the Museum, the somewhat popular Ben Stiller film from a couple of years ago. Stiller is back as Larry Daley, a former night guard at NYC's Museum of Natural History whose company has now taken off, meaning that he no longer has to work nights guarding the historical and natural figures who come to life at night in the museum. Although he is successful, Larry seems to miss his old job, and comes one night to visit the museum where he used to work and the characters with whom he worked...only to discover that they're being shipped to the Federal Archives in Washington for storage. When monkey Dexter steals the tablet that brings the figures to life, Larry has one night to get it back before all hell breaks loose. Featuring all the old favorites from the previous movie, Battle of the Smithsonian also adds characters like Amelia Earhart, Gen. Custer, Rodin's The Thinker, Al Capone, a pharoah who wants to rule the world, and even Abraham Lincoln.
The dialogue was entertaining, the plotline was amusing if similar to the original, but for me the two most fun parts of this movie were the actors/characters and the location. I love DC, so it's always exciting for me to see vistas and locations in the city in a movie or TV show. I have to admit though, on that note, that what happened to some of said gorgeous and historic locations made the historian in me cringe. Ben Stiller continued to be mildly entertaining as Larry Daley, but it was the supporting cast that really made the movie. Hank Azaria was hysterical as Pharoah Kahmunrah, trying to conquer the modern world and trying out Archie Bunker's armchair as he waited, and Robin Williams' reprised role as former President Theodore Roosevelt is still great to watch. All in all, don't go see this if you want serious quality filmmaking-- but if you want a flick that doesn't require too much brainpower, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is a really fun movie.

Movie #9: Air Force One

"Get off my plane."
With those four words in the film Air Force One, Harrison Ford defined the ultimate in tough U.S. presidents. And the U.S. has never looked at negotiating in the same way since.
Sociopolitical implications aside, Air Force One is an incredible, gripping film. As a politico, I was told that this was one film that I absolutely was required to see, and I'm glad I took that advice. Well-acted, great plot, action (and the ensuing high body count), suspense... this movie had everything it takes to make an awesome action film. The actors did not disappoint any more than the plot did. Harrison Ford is great as President James Mitchell-- tough, smart, battle-hardened, but with a love for his family and his country that makes some scenes painful to watch. Gary Oldman is phenomenal (and more convincing than James Bond's poker face) as a terrorist zealot with little to lose in his attack on the president of the United States, and Glenn Close plays a great vice president back at the White House and under serious duress.
Air Force One literally had me on the edge of my seat from the first 10 minutes on, and I'm pretty sure I was barely breathing for the last 45 minutes. It was one of the best action (with an edge of politics) films that I've seen in a long time.

Reading List: Sunday 5/24

Let's see, what has happened this weekend...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Movie #8: Stranger Than Fiction

Will Ferrell playing a (quasi-) serious role? It must be a sign of the Apocalypse. But no, Stranger Than Fiction was a surprisingly excellent movie. I say surprisingly because, while Will Ferrell is often entertaining to watch in his goofy roles, such as Buddy in Elf and Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, his films are typically not terribly high-quality, don't play any mind games (except the constant internal debate on why you're wasting your life watching the film), and explore very little about humanity except its incessant stupidity. But this movie is different.

Part of that has to do with the supporting cast of Stranger Than Fiction. The ALWAYS-amazing Emma Thompson plays a slightly crazy, slightly creepy, first-hand-experience-obsessed author who is struggling to figure out how to kill off her main character; Queen Latifah plays her assistant who is always trying to bring her back into a more theoretical, professional type of literary realm. Dustin Hoffman plays a quirky but somewhat wise literature professor, and Maggie Gyllenhall plays an anarchist baker who won't pay her back taxes. All of them play very well off Ferrell's portrayal of IRS agent Harold Crick-- a man of numbers and routine who starts to hear the voice of a narrator in his head. When this narrator announces his imminent death, Crick starts on a journey to discover who it is, what the end result is going to be, and if he can affect it...and on the way begins to expand and improve his small life extremely.

Stranger Than Fiction is well-acted, with a plot that has twists and turns that are at time difficult to keep track of. Most profoundly, however, it examines the quirks and significances of life and death, and the value attached to each in its time. As such, it is from a scene in this movie that I draw today's thought for the day:
Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true.

Reading List for Politicos

The Arena, a forum on Politico, has put out a summer reading list for politicos, with many of the top politicos around the country contributing ideas from their own reading lists.

To what they suggest, I would add a few of my own recommendations:
  1. Statecraft and How to Restore America's Standing in the World by Amb. Dennis Ross
  2. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin
  3. All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President by James Carville and Mary Matalin
  4. Presidential Courage by Michael Beschloss
  5. Air Force One by Kenneth T. Walsh
  6. Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile
  7. Madam Secretary by Madeleine Albright
  8. Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham
  9. Second Treatise Concerning Government by John Locke
  10. Hardball by Chris Matthews