the minor premise

the minor premise

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saturn Devouring His Son

Mark Steyn at National Review's The Corner blog makes note of skyrocketing abortion rates in Spain under the heading:
Abortion Now Number One Cause Of Death In Spain.

Under Spain's practically nonexistent restrictions, abortions have more than doubled since the mid 1990s, climbing from 51,006 in 1996 to over 120,000 in 2007. The abortion rate is now approaching one in five pregnancies (18.3%), according to the report...

The IPF report also notes that the proportion of women having their second or later abortion has risen substantially since 2000, from 23% that year to 31% in 2006...

Spain's abortion rate is a major contributor to the country's worsening demographic problems.

The Goya painting with which I titled this post (I'm not posting it here, as it's pretty horrific) suddenly seems weirdly prescient. In devouring their children, the Spanish sow the seeds of their own eventual downfall.

It is very interesting, I think, to witness again the result of broad decriminalization of abortion. We here in the U.S. have seen this before--in 1973 by judicial fiat we went from fairly restricted abortion (illegal in all but a few states except for certain specified cases) to effectively unrestricted abortion; the result was a huge spike in the number of abortions during the rest of the '70's. What slowed it down? I think it was public awareness leading to the imposition of commonsense restrictions in many states. I may write more about this later.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

As God Is My Witness . . .

While you are counting your blessings and being thankful, you can sample a little 30-year-old Thanksgiving humor. The money line (reflected in the title) is at the end of the episode. A snippet is embedded below:

The whole episode can be viewed here

Interesting stuff to note:
    The vinyl records and analog dials in the radio control room

    Tim Reid (Venus Flytrap) with a full head of hair

    The Maytag Repairman -- Gordon Jump -- as station manager Arthur Carlson


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Put a Stake in This One

Hon. Daughter #2's Girl Scout troop has been working on the Reading badge. One requirement involves selecting, reading and discussing a book; as two or three of the girls were already diehard Twi-hards and they're all about that age the choice of Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, was elementary. This, of course, means that the leaders had to read it too.

But more about that later, as my book notes are all on a laptop to which the power cord adaptor was lately lost by one of the boys. The topic for today is the movie based on the book, for which despite some grousing I shelled out nine bucks to accompany the girls last Friday night.

The uninitiated may require a brief overview of the Twilight phenomenon. Twilight is the first in a series of four books currently wildly popular among teenage girls. The plot is stock romance novel with a twist: Shy, awkward new girl at the high school meets the most gorgeous guy on campus. First they don't hit it off, then they fall madly in love. The twist is that the hot guy's a vampire who's locked in a mortal struggle with his own lust--bloodlust, that is. He's also been perpetually seventeen since a near-death encounter with the Spanish Lady in 1917. Obviously, these star-crossed lovers aren't going to be living happily ever after without some major lifestyle changes.

On to the movie.

Twilight (the movie) is, to its credit, a fairly faithful rendering of Twilight (the book) insofar as that can be accomplished without running to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings lengths (thankfully, it does not.) Departures from the plot are few, which should keep the book fans happy. Much of the dialogue is lifted intact from the book; fans can pretty much recite along for individual scenes. (One notable exception is Edward's lack of response to Bella's declaration that she isn't afraid of him: for several pregnant seconds, the audience hangs waiting for the ominous "You should be," that never comes. I wondered afterward about the possibility of a Rocky Horror Picture Show moment right there, where the audience could just fill it in. Then throw toast during the diner scenes, raise umbrellas almost everywhere else--the story's set on Washington's Olympic Peninsula-- and do the Time Warp during the prom...oh, never mind.)

Other good points of the movie are some very picturesque scenes of the local landscape and the fact that there's no foul language, no nudity, no gross-out body fluid situations, and no sex in it. The leads do sleep together in one scene--at least, the one capable of sleeping does--but that's as close to shenanigans as anyone gets. Thus while I wasn't exactly crazy about Twilight, I was at least able to sit through it without once being seized by the urge to grab my thirteen-year-old daughter by the collar and yank her over two rows of other viewers and their popcorn tubs while beating a hasty retreat from the premeses.

Much of what I didn't like in the movie was what I didn't like in the book, but that's another essay. Here I'll stick to what I think are failures of the movie.

Primary among these is the choppy feel the film has: it's basically a pastiche of scenes from the book and often doesn't flow seamlessly from scene to scene. This is a shame as Stephenie Meyer actually did a decent job of transitioning from chapter to chapter. If you've read the book and can mentally fill in what's between, you can follow the story; if you haven't you'll just annoy your Twi-hard companions by repeatedly nudging them and asking "what's going on?"

A film needs believability, even (or especially) if all manner of improbable things are going on in it. Good acting will go far to convey the viewer into the most fantastic worlds. Which brings us to problem number two: I wasn't conveyed. With few exceptions (the young man who plays Jacob Black is kinda cute and actually manages to convey some realistic emotion and Edward's "sister" Alice delivers her telepathy-laced remarks smoothly and naturally) characters fail to convince. Part of this must be laid at Meyer's feet as she didn't do a great job of creating complex characters to begin with, but the actors don't do much with their material, either. The delivery of lines is often stilted, and the principals are serious offenders in this regard. Oddly, given that Bella and Edward are overwrought teenagers in love, it's hard to feel much passion or anything else in their dialogue. Not that Bella is ever very demonstrative: were Dorothy Parker alive today, I suspect she might have dusted off her famous pan of the young Katharine Hepburn, "She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B," just for her. Bella's relationship with her airheaded mother is supposed to be close and affectionate, and one wonders why; there's little chemistry or communication there. Her relationship with her long-absent father is awkward, but even after she's been living with him for a while Bella never really warms up to him. Again, one wonders why. He seems a decent fellow.

If the protagonists are a little wooden, James, chief among the villains, goes too far in the other direction. He tries to infuse his character with personality, bless his heart. Maybe he tries a little too hard. His character, an obsessive vampire uberpredator, should be sinister and frightening. All he manages to evoke is a sort of sadistic psychotic idiocy. It's a relief when Edward's "brothers" and Alice finish him off, if only because you know you won't have to watch him ham it up any longer.

Good special effects, or at least special effects that don't overreach, are as critical to fantasy as good acting. If Santa's beard is tied on or Peter Pan's guy line embarassingly obvious, you've lost the audience. The Twilight special effects crew could have done a better job, even taking into account their low budget.

Early in the movie we are introduced to Dr. Carlisle Cullen, patriarch of the vampire clan. He sweeps, Chad Everett-like with white coat and wavy blond leading-man mane, through the emergency room doors where Bella has been brought following her first near-fatality. (Yes, I meant "first." The girl's an actuary's worst nightmare.) Good night, what a make-up job. His face is white. Really white. Darn near clown white. Makes-Severus-Snape-look-like-George-Hamilton white. A-different-shade- than-his-neck-and-hands white. I visualize the make-up girl with the Really Big powderpuff. The rest of the vampires, and Bella, for that matter, are pale enough to make one suspect artifice. But for Carlisle in this scene, all pretense is dropped.

In the book, Meyer makes much of the "fact" that vampire skin sparkles in the sunlight; this naturally has to be shown in the movie. The trouble is it isn't very impressive. (This would be one of those times when viewers not in the know would be annoying the Twi-hards; if you don't know what's coming, you might not get it.) Edward wears body glitter? Big deal; you can see guys with eyeshadow and nail polish down at the rock club any night there's a show. In another scene, Edward climbs a huge fir tree with Bella on his back. You can't see the bluescreen behind him as it's filled in with scenery, but it doesn't take a huge leap of imagination. He sure doesn't look like he's climbing a tree.

There are a few other picayune things about the movie that might throw off the chi of book fans although they don't of themselves detract from the movie. There's the string of mysterious fatal "animal attacks," actually the work of James's coven, for starters. And while four of the five young (relatively speaking) vampires of the Cullen clan have paired off as couples in the book, this isn't generally made known to outsiders; they live as the foster children of Carlisle and his wife. In the movie the characters' relationships are the talk of the high school; it's enough to give a Family Services social worker a case of the vapors. Not a smart move for people seeking to avoid unnecessary attention.

Also, though most of the characters are cast fairly faithfully to the book descriptions, there are a few oddities. The book says little about Jasper, one of the young Cullens, except that he is tall, lean but muscular, and blond. The casting director's idea of Jasper --small, perpetually worried-looking, and with curly gold locks-- looks like the love-child of Edward Scissorhands and Li'l Orphan Annie. Laurent, one of the sidekicks of the villainous James, is a three-hundred-year-old French vampire in the book; in the movie he's been turned into a dreadlocked French Creole vampire who could fit in playing steel drum for the Wailers.

Twilight would likely appeal to the young and not very discriminating moviegoer, especially if said moviegoer has already acquired a taste for the book. It's unlikely to appeal to adults with reading lists not dominated by Harlequin romances. (As we left the theater, I could hear a dad ahead of me moaning, "Where were the explosions and car chases?")

Other reviewers of the Twilight books have raised moral and philosophical objections to them. While I think many of their objections are correct, I won't bother to go there today. Moral objections aside, Twilight is a fluffy, not very deep, not very well done movie based on a book that is also fluffy, not very deep, and not very well done. Add more bad acting than I think I've seen since the time I ran across an episode of Divorce Court, (second run, I believe,) and you've got a complete waste of time and funds. Go read or watch something good, and if you must watch this wait for it to hit the second-run theater (if you're really big on scenic panoramas) or go to video. And if your teenage daughter's friends haven't already gotten her whipped up about this silly movie, be thankful.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Rejected Titles for the New Bond Film

Fractal of Ennui
Kilowatt of Angst
Parsec of Nostalgia
Angstrom of Euphoria (courtesy D)

Tonight I'm off to see Twilight with the Girl Scout troop. If I have a brain cell or two left after the experience, I may write something on it.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Standing Firm

Last night was the anniversary of Kristallnacht. There was an image to which I'd been wanting to bring attention for some time, and this day seemed an appropriate time. We used a scanned postcard but will keep trying to find a usable link.

This is one panel of a stained-glass window in the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Weil-der-Stadt, a Catholic town in Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany. The oldest parts of the church date to 1492, though a church has been at the site since the 6th C. This particular window, a series of panels on the Life of Christ, is in the "new" section. It was commissioned in the late 1930's and is the work of JoKarl Huber.

The panel depicts the Temptation of Christ by Satan. Two things immediately jump out at the viewer:
1. "Satan? That's Hitler!"
2. "That's got to be the most Aryan-looking Jesus I've seen since those Bible story books they used to have in the dentist's waiting room!"

Huber, according to Wikipedia, was at the time of the commission already one of those artists that had been branded "degenerate" by the Nazi regime. It took guts for the pastor of the church to hire him, and it took even more guts for him to make the political statement he did in this window. It took guts for the citizens of Weil-der-Stadt who sat in church every week: glancing occasionally at the new window, remarking silently the uncanny resemblance, keeping silent under intense pressure to hand over enemies of the regime...

Ye silent they must have kept, for the window remained unmolested through WWII (the city was spared Allied bombing out of respect for another famous resident, the astronomer Johannes Kepler.) Huber went on to serve in the German army, was a POW under the British, and returned to continue his art career until his death at the ripe old age of 94.

I used to visit the church once or twice a year while living in southern Germany in the 90's, and I'd wonder about the people who lived and worshipped there. Weil is a small city, but it is a city. Many people must have noticed the figures in the window, and surely most of Weil was aware. Yet no one went to the regime. Or was the regime too preoccupied to worry about a church window panel in an insignificant Black Forest town? Of one thing I am certain: there was a sizeable community of solid German citizens who didn't like what was going on in their country.

Hitler as Satan isn't hard to imagine for us today, but Huber was living under Hitler at the peak of his power--and Heaven knows that the Nazis had few qualms about destroying the loyal opposition when it got too uppity. Christ as a German? I like to think that Huber had a message for his fellow Germans in that image: "Be like Christ. Resist the temptations laid before you by this Satan of our day."

Today, again, the temptations call. Unlimited power can be ours, but at what cost? The lives of our children? Our humanity?

Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the struggle to defend life has been uphill. There have been minor victories--parental consent laws, informed consent laws, Born Alive laws, "clone and kill" bans. All of these are threatened now. We must educate, speak out, fight for justice, and support defenders of life. We must resist the temptation to give up, to accept pretense in place of genuine action, to be intimidated into silence.


Sunday, November 09, 2008


The dust has begun to settle on the 2008 Presidential election; so it is a good time to take a step back, check the emotions, and look at some turnout data.

I am a firm believer in the U.S. system of representative democracy. One who votes acts as a citizen, helping to govern his country, even if his candidate is not elected. Those that do not vote make themselves subjects to the governing electorate.

I believe in the U.S. system of elections. This belief runs counter to the many who, oftentimes irresponsibly, point out flaws in the mechanism of voting. Voter suppression and voter fraud are serious issues, but are mostly blown out of proportion in their effect on statewide results, and, by extension the national political scene. Some will point to 1960 or 2000 as exceptions, but the razor thin margins in these contests actually belie effective manipulation. If one looks at questionable elections in other countries, the cheaters win by unambiguous margins. A tyrant cannot chance a close election. Just ask Robert Mugabe.

Which brings us to 2008 in the United States. All the prognostication (to include my own projection which took into account traditional underpolling of conservative/Republican voters) favored Barack Obama. Barack Obama did win, 365 to 173. Popular vote favored Obama by about six percentage points, with a little more than one percent going to third-party candidates. The turnout appears to have fallen well short of a record percentage, despite the "get-out-the-vote" efforts of the winning campaign and the hype of the in-the-tank media.

Between 60.7 percent and 61.7 percent of the 208.3 million eligible voted in the 2008 presidential election, compared with 60.6 percent of those eligible in 2004, according to American University political scientist Curtis Gans, as quoted by Politico's David Paul Kuhn. (h/t ) Republican voting appeared to decline 1.3 points, to 28.7 percent, while Democratic turnout rose from 28.7 percent to 31.3 percent. So what happened to elect Barack Obama?

I believe enough of "the conservatives," the right wing of the Republican party, stayed home. The Democratic party, despite its close and sometimes bitter primary fight, managed to get its voters out in sufficient numbers. The Republicans, divided on real ideological grounds, could not make both wings work together. We have our result.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

From the sublime to the ridiculous

A couple of posts down I invoked the wisdom of the very smart and thoughtful Flannery O'Connor. Tonight, by way of balance, I add this quip from Iowahawk to the file:

Yes, I know there are probably other African-Americans much better qualified and prepared for the presidency. Much, much better qualified. Hundreds, easily, if not thousands, and without any troubling ties to radical lunatics and Chicago mobsters. Gary Coleman comes to mind.

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The Flit, Henry! Not the blowtorch!

That title should peg me as older than dirt; actually Flit and the Ted Geisel ad campaign were well before my time.

This one is for my Dixiana file, which has, due to a dearth of moonshine busts and giant hog shootings, been somewhat neglected of late. I should perhaps add a "public safety" label as I seem to be amassing a collection of stories on that theme. It's to be expected as I have a kid whose idea of a thrill involves a big red truck, several dozen pounds of stifling gear, and a structure fire:

Ga. man cleaning with blowtorch sets house on fire

Would-be cleaners take note: A blowtorch is not a good substitute for a broom. Coweta County authorities said Galen Winchell set fire to his west Georgia home Wednesday as he cleaned cobwebs from exterior eaves with a blowtorch. Winchell noticed the blaze when he saw smoke pouring from the attic.

Coweta Fire Investigator James Gantt says the fire was contained to one part of the house, but the entire home had smoke and water damage.

No one was hurt. No phone number was listed for Winchell.

Information from: The Times-Herald,

We found the story here.

I thought every good ol' boy knew that you don't go squirrel huntin' with a thirty-aught-six.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sticking it to 'Em

I live in a conservative county in a conservative state. Thus, Obama/Biden signage and bumper stickers were scant before the election and many of those that did appear turned up late in the campaign. I suppose some Obama supporters found the local political climate intimidating; a friend who screwed up the nerve to slap a small Obama sticker on her car avoided a yard sign for fear it would be stolen or vandalized (though her neighbor up the street had a sign out for weeks without trouble.)The result, at any rate, was that I noticed relatively few Obama stickers on cars leading up to the election.

Today, I think I saw more Obama bumper stickers than I had in the past month: on one busy stretch of road alone I spotted four or five in a matter of two or three minutes.

What gives?

Is it a sense of safety in numbers, or is the need to gloat overwhelming enough to override all concerns about possible vandalism?

It's not the first time I've noticed this phenom. A day or two after the '06 elections, I found myself in traffic behind an elderly woman with a very smug homemade sign taped in her back window. I guess winning the day isn't enough for some folks.

Prior to the 2004 election I had a Bush/Cheney sticker on my car. The day after the election I removed it. This was not out of fear of vandalism. (I was, at the time, driving a nine-year-old Volvo wagon and wasn't overly concerned about a few more dings. Besides, those things are built like tanks.) It was merely out of awareness that there was a lot of anger about the outcome. While I wasn't about to give up the win, gloating about it just seemed like a classless thing to do. I hadn't voted for bragging rights or to annoy people; I just wanted the better candidate in office. Had McCain been elected this time around, I probably would have done the same with the sticker currently on my bumper.

That sticker remains, until I get hold of a "Don't blame me, I voted for McCain/Palin " to replace it. Good will only goes so far, and I'm now the loyal opposition.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008


These seem extremely relevant in view of the election results.
For the voter:
*The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.
And for the president-elect:
*Conviction without experience makes for harshness.

--Flannery O'Connor


Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Prediction: I Hate Being Wrong. . .

Obama 272, McCain 266

but in this case, I really hope I am, especially about Virginia and Pennsylvania.

If you have not done so already, please vote your conscience tomorrow!


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Cars with Frost

Election Day approaches, so here are two parodies for the price of one:

The first one is by political cartoonist Rick McKee of the Augusta Chronicle. I won't reprint it all here -- you'll have to go directly to the source, but here is a taste:

The Vote Not Taken

Two pols diverged in a booth of wood
and sorry I could not vote for both
and be one voter, long I stood
and studied one, I mean but good.
"I'll help you out," he made an oath...

Good stuff with a neat punchline at the end. Check it out.

My contribution comes from the 80's band The Cars. I didn't think it was an obscure song, but C didn't recognize it when I mentioned it, and still didn't recognize it when I played it for her. But it seems tailor-made for the occasion.

(To the tune of Candy-O,
apologies to Ric Ocasek)

Barry-o, when you're prez
Politics: very red
Barry-o, where will you go
Spread the wealth so thin?

Union types, checking cards
Radicals you'll bring
And all to prove you're on the move
And promising

Barry-o, where will you go?
Barry-o, where will you go?

There you can't distract yourself
Opinion polls won't work
And when you're prez
And in a mess
You can't just shirk

Different ways to see it through
Which is right in the end?
Media star, a-thats who you are
Because of that, you win

Barry-o, where will you go?
Barry-o, where will you go?

Barry-o, where will you go?
Barry-o, where will you go?

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