Friday, May 27, 2005

Somebody Had A Good Week

Sen. Hillary Clinton has had a very good week indeed. The climb peaked yesterday when a new Gallup poll showed for the first time that a majority of Americans were likely to vote for her if she runs for president in 2008. She has as much strong support to run as the current Bush had in 1998 (more than Al Gore had at that point), but she has stronger opposition than Bush did back then. Surprisingly, 33% of conservatives would likely vote for Hillary according to the poll.

The curious thing about this survey is that more than 70% of Americans said they would likely vote for an unspecified woman for president in 2008 if she were running. Part of that figure may be inaccurate; this is the kind of answer that would be considered "socially acceptable" to a participant, and if the question was asked before any involving Hillary specifically (which would seem logical), anyone answering "no" might see the lead-in and want to make a point. That said, is Hillary garnering support because of her credentials or because she's a woman? We no longer live in the American Dark Ages (pre-suffrage), and I think a lot of people want to see a woman in the Oval Office (possibly with a First Gentleman by her side). The upcoming television series "Commander-in-Chief", which features a female president, does not seem to have been made to force Hillary on people; instead, I expect the show was created knowing that the very idea is captivating for viewers. There is something symbolic about a woman as the leader of the free world in that it shows how far we've come. But what personal beliefs will we sacrifice to install that symbol? Are the 33% of conservatives supporting her doing so because they like her politics or because they like what she represents? To get a quote, I excerpt from the story:

Karen White, political director of the liberal group Emily's List, says the findings underscore growing acceptance of women as candidates, even for president. "People realize that women reach across party lines and are problem-solvers, and they want to see more of that in public life," she says.

It amazes me how some in politics gloss over the most obvious reasons for things. I really don't think this is about problem-solving and being a moderate, and to say that every woman out there fits this bill is ridiculous. The one woman that I believe best fits that profile would be Laura Bush, and I put the chances of her wanting to be president right alongside the chances of a Mack truck falling from the sky and landing in my backyard.

To top off Hillary's week, her former 2000 Senate campaign finance director, David Rosen, was acquitted of making false statements to the FEC. Although she was not charged, the fallout could have been disastrous for Hillary's political future. Many more turbulent storms are surely brewing for her as the opportunity to run for another Senate term draws near. Who shall weather them: a politician, or a symbol?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Bubble Effect

Write it down: in a confirmation of what many already knew, a national survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (best known for creating shows that journalists and the public hold radically different views on the media. Some of the most notable results show that the average non-journalist puts less trust in the accuracy of journalism than the journalists themselves. Surprise, surprise. 48% of the public said news organizations were "often inaccurate," but just 11% of journalists agreed with them. To make matters worse for the journalism establishment, the survey was concluded on May 2; in other words, this was how the public felt before Newsweek published the now infamous Qu'ran-defacing story. I would be morbidly fascinated to see what they think now.

One bizarre difference between the media and the people is that the people do not seem to have a strong belief in freedom of the press. When asked if the government "has the right to limit the right of the press to report a story," 44% of journalists said "never," 48% of them said "rarely," and 9% said "sometimes." In the public, however, 29% said "never," 17% said "rarely," 37% said "sometimes," and 14% said "always." Oddly, conservative citizens surveyed were even more strict, with 21% saying "never" and 15% saying "rarely." Conservative journalists were slightly less lenient than the journalist community at large; 32% said "never" and 52% said "rarely." More on those conservative journalists later...let's just say they're a rare breed.

For the record, "rarely" is the correct answer in the United States due to prior restraint, which allows the government to stop a report from being published. The Supreme Court has ruled that prior restraint is unconstitutional except in extreme cases, specifically if a report would endanger national security. To date, prior restraint has not been successfully utilized against the press, in part because the Supreme Court disagrees with it so much that the justices would rather not enact it. (For more information on prior restraint, take a look at this website.)

If your head hasn't pitched forward and smashed your keyboard by now, my applause is due. If you slogged through the numbers and legalese to get to the really fun stuff, fear not, because I've got some incredible stats coming up. It's time for the political question: how do the American people stack up to the American journalists politically? Here's a breakdown.

Among the general public:

said they were liberal.
33% said they were moderate.
38% said they were conservative.

Among the journalists:

31% said they were liberal.
49% said they were moderate.
9% said they were conservative.

If you don't believe me, go check the numbers yourself. Do not adjust your monitor; you do not need glasses, your vision is fine. The survey really shows that only about 1 in 10 journalists claim to be conservative. Keep in mind that some of the "moderates" may be liberals experiencing a "bubble effect," which makes things look even more lopsided. (A rough translation of the bubble effect: it's heck on your politics when you work with like-minded people who reinforce your beliefs every single day.) This survey is child's play; when you get to Washington correspondents, most of the moderates get absorbed into the liberals. I've seen results of other surveys that claimed over 70% of the correspondents in D.C. were liberal.

I understand that journalists try to be impartial, but when the figures get this stilted, there needs to be a serious examination. Even this conservative knows that there is no singular bias in the media; just pick up a Washington Times or a Wall Street Journal if you want proof that conservative bias can and does exist. But the most dominant bias by far is of a liberal bent, and it is shared by far more publications than the WaTimes or WSJ could ever compensate for. This bias is completely unintentional (to be intentional violates journalistic ethics); the problem is, too many sharp journalists and their editors are hesitant to turn a critical eye on themselves. The growing creep of opinion into news has had a disturbing effect on the public too; 43% of the normal people surveyed thought it would be good "if some news organizations [had] a decidedly political point of view in their coverage of the news." Believe it or not, 16% of journalists agreed with them. That is truly alarming. The journalism I prefer is impartial, and while it may be impossible to attain a truly moderate outlook in the media, every move closer is an improvement. A great journalist must turn his attentions outwards on the job and inwards off of it. Only through self-criticism can we finally step out of the bubble.

(To see the full statistics and margins of error, consult the linked article.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Star Wars: Was It Worth the Wait?

Editor's Note: I have attempted to keep this review short on spoilers. There are some minor ones, but you'll be warned when they appear.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you know that the sixth and final installment of the Star Wars movies is now in theaters. You also know that Episode III: Revenge of the Sith shattered multiple box-office records this weekend. But if you haven't seen it, it's probably because you're afraid it's going to be subpar like The Phantom Menace. Maybe you even fear it will be merely passable as Attack of the Clones was. That's understandable, which is why I've written this review. Before I opine, let me give you some background as to why I should even care to do so.

Since I was about 9, I've been a huge Star Wars fan. Did I read the books? Yes. Did I play the video games? Oh yeah. Did I have the toys? Absolutely. Heck, I even dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween...two years in a row. My fandom became much less obvious as I grew older, partially out of necessity; as I recall, my interest in girls and my interest in the Force had an inverse relationship. But I never stopped loving the movies. I've seen the original trilogy upwards of 7 times and was so desperate to make The Phantom Menace a good movie that I've seen it at least 4 times. Short of going to see a Star Wars film dressed as a Stormtrooper, I'm as hardcore a fan as you'll find.

So now the part you've been wondering the movie good? Quite simply, yes. A review in the New York Times called it the best of the four movies that George Lucas directed (which includes A New Hope). There are a few minor gripes - for example, I still don't know when C-3PO got the golden paint job that appears in this and in the original trilogy - but most of the actual storyline ties up loose ends and brings everything full-circle in an epic manner. The CGI effects are far more convincing here than in the last two movies, and Jar Jar Binks is mercifully relegated to a wordless close-up near the end. Sadly, the Gungan does not take a lightsaber to the head at any point. Anyway, I concur with the Times (that may never happen again - Ed.), but I emphasize a small caveat: Sith is still not superior to The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi.

One of the things that made the original movies so great was the chemistry between the cast members, which felt more forced during A New Hope. Chemistry is spotty at times in Sith, but when it's good, it's very good. Hayden Christensen is a better actor here than he was in the last movie, but he still isn't as believable as he should be with Natalie Portman. (Possible spoilers ahead!) Despite her many other acting flaws, Portman's freak-out over Anakin towards the end of the film is heartbreaking and adds emotional realism to the movie. Christensen, on the other hand, seems more at home with Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) than he is with any other character. It is during their scenes together that they do their best acting, particularly when Palpatine is attempting to bring a conflicted Anakin to the dark side. (Spoilers over) Frank Oz, Ewan McGregor, and Samuel L. Jackson turn in other noteworthy performances.

As for the editing, the pacing in this movie may be the best of the six. Just when things start to slow down a bit at various points, we get thrown into another battle sequence without it feeling forced. This is the one area where Sith overpowers Empire and Jedi. Every scene serves a purpose, so pay close attention or you'll miss key portions. The other two movies would slow down for a time in an effort to build toward the good stuff; Sith just keeps charging ahead even when it's drawing you farther into the storyline. I can honestly say this to be one of the only epics I've watched that never lets up. And if you think things are happening fast in the beginning, just wait until the last hour.

So what about the politics? Much ado has been made about how Revenge of the Sith draws some unusual parallels to the current world situation. In fact, some reviewers have been saying that the movie makes a sneaky comparison between the Sith and the Bush administration. Lucas fanned the political flames by waxing philosophically to reporters about perceived similarities at the Cannes Film Festival, which is where the premiere was held. (Viewers at Cannes supposedly drew a quick comparison between one of Anakin's lines - "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy" - and a Bush quote used in last year's Fahrenheit 9/11.)

Now that I've seen the film, I can tell you with confidence: this is BS. You will only draw parallels between the movie and current politics if you come in wishing to do so. You know, if you really do think President Bush is the Dark Lord of the Sith, then it doesn't take Revenge of the Sith to convince you of that. This does not bode well for the media's movie critics, who seem all too willing to join Bush and evil together as one. There are three key points in the film that have been heavily politicized; if you don't wish to hear some minor spoilers from the movie, skip down to the next full (non-numbered) paragraph.

1.) During one of the more engaging action sequences, Obi-Wan loses his lightsaber and has to use a blaster rifle on his opponent. After blasting that character into oblivion, Obi-Wan looks at the rifle and says to himself, "So uncivilized." AP movie writer Christy Lemire (famous for panning James Bond flicks due to their perceived chauvinism) observed that as proof that this was Lucas' "anti-war movie". In reality, this shows her ignorance of the source material; Jedi consider the use of any weapon besides a lightsaber to be crude and unnecessary.

2.) When Palpatine creates the Galactic Empire, Padme remarks, "This is how liberty thunderous applause." Reviewers have been interpreting this as a dig on everything from the PATRIOT Act to the last election, but it seems more like a timeless political lesson. Remember: Hitler was absolutely loved and fanatically supported by the Germans for a long time, due in part to his speaking ability and incredible charisma. Also remember that Bush is no Hitler, although some on the far left want to convince you otherwise.

3.) Before Anakin and Obi-Wan have their climactic duel, Anakin makes the previously mentioned remark that flipped out Cannes attendees. Obi-Wan retorts, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." The strongest argument for a political undercurrent can be made here, but if you don't know about the perceived connection, you simply see Anakin's point of view at its clearest. By this point in the movie, he no longer trusts anyone except Darth Sidious. (And I do mean anyone; I don't wish to elaborate, but Anakin becomes murderously confused during this scene.)

You might be wondering why George Lucas would be willing to make the political parallels for reporters if the movie was not really political. There's an easy answer to that question: controversy is the best PR. Even if he does see a comparison, other comments to reporters indicate that he didn't originally design the movie to criticize Bush.

Verdict: The acting is mostly better than before, the politics are not anything like major media outlets have made them out to be, the kid stuff is at a minimum, and even this hardcore fan was pleased. I don't even need to tell you that John Williams' orchestral score is excellent, although it feels unusually inspired for this final Star Wars episode. Say what you will about George Lucas, but he sure does know how to make entertaining movies. My best advice is that you go in with low expectations. Do not expect a future Oscar winner. Do not expect the next Citizen Kane. Do not expect the dawn of a new era in film-making. Just expect to be entertained. You will be entertained. If you watch the same movie I watched, you'll have a blast.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of 4)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Summertime News

Summer is almost here, and I'm celebrating at home in Martinsburg. This does NOT mean that I won't be posting; I took a short break to deal with some personal matters and to do some serious maintenance on my house, but I am resuming my blogging.

You may notice a change in my blogging style over the next month. Because I won't always have time to do longer posts (and also because there's a lot of news that comes to my attention during summertime), expect to see posts that are not nearly as long in terms of length. There will still be some full-length writing, but I figure that you'd rather see a short post than no post at all!

I am also on a dial-up connection now, but that should only be a minor setback. If I need to, I'll start blogging in Word and transfer the text to Blogger. Dial-up has a way of disconnecting when you least expect it....

Monday, May 09, 2005

Breaking Through the Silence

(This column was originally published in the May 2005 issue of the conservative student newspaper The Musket. This piece was designed knowing that many of its readers would not know about this blog, which is why it keeps a more general focus than a typical post.)

Our voices are rarely heard these days.

This is not because we are not speaking; the problem is that our speech is falling in line with the status quo. Those who follow the leaders remain unheard because you can’t pick out their voices; at the same time, those who really do have something to say are often silenced. The ideologues can speak for years and never once give us anything of value. When the opportunity for debate presents itself, these people just speak louder and force the rest into silence.

The next time you pick up a newspaper, ask yourself whether it is promoting free thought or promoting the thoughts of its staff. I like to say that some news “pops” (ends on a good note) and some news “thuds” (ends on a sour or snide note). Dan Rather made a career out of thud-filled reporting, and many current op-ed writers such as Frank Rich of the New York Times employ a similar style. I’m not saying that conservatives don’t do their fair share of this, but liberals seem to have the market cornered on pessimism lately. The flood of it may never stop coming; recent surveys of the press and its political affiliations suggest that as many as 80 percent of journalists consider themselves to be liberal. Journalists like to believe that they can check their bias at the door, but actually doing so is nearly impossible.

The only solution to this problem is encouraging the views of the common individual to be heard. Enter the new face of the media: the bloggers. Often independent citizen journalists, bloggers provide a whole new forum for political discussion and news reporting that is free from outside controls. The mainstream media is largely scared to death of bloggers, who take it upon themselves to do all the fact-checking and scrutinizing that the press rarely remembers to do. Remember last year’s upheaval over Memogate, in which CBS used fake National Guard documents to question President Bush’s service record? If not for the bloggers who examined the memos, nobody would have known the truth. I value two things more than almost anything, and they are free thinking and the truth. Both can be dangerous when possessed by a sharp mind.

At this point, you may be wondering who I am. That answer is all too simple for me to give: I am a voice with a purpose. I have my own political opinions, but I believe that having them challenged is the only way to think freely and learn. You cannot know more about me than what I write, and I think that this benefits us both. The blog I run deals with everything from politics to current events, with the occasional diversion towards something comical. Even though I am a moderate Republican, I always attempt to give my readers both sides of a story, which often leads to a change in my opinions after the fact. Whenever someone leaves a negative comment on my blog, I take a bizarre pleasure in it; after all, adding your own two cents to anything means that you’re thinking. I never tell anyone what to think, but I always tell you to keep thinking. Whether you come down on the left, the right, or somewhere else entirely, I encourage you to do so as an exercise of your free will. If you have convictions and the nerve to discuss them with others, there will come a day when the ideologues cannot overtake you. Only then will you truly be a leading voice, and at that moment, the world will stand waiting to listen.