Thursday, January 14, 2010

Defining Moments

In today's world we often hear references to teachable moments.
  • Moments from which we can extract deeper meaning.
  • Moments that can inspire us.
  • Moments that can point to a truth that we have avoided at any and all costs.
This week's catastrophic earthquake in Haiti brought another one of those teachable moments as that old Evangelical idiot, Pat Robertson, proved beyond any measure of doubt to the world that, in addition to being a troglodytic windbag, he is quite the sanctimonious pervert. Robertson's accusation that Haiti's pact with the devil was the true cause of the earthquake should be enough to send him to the deepest dungeons of irrelevance. Thankfully, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, rose up in the midst of his nation's tragedy to educate Robertson and his belligerent ilk:

In another highly teachable moment, people have castigated former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for his claim that no terrorist attacks happened while President George W. Bush was in power. That's right -- the man who was accused of making every sentence contain a noun, a verb, and "9/11" tried to claim that 9/11 did not happen while the Bush/Cheney administration was in power.

The problem for Giuliani and his fellow conservative revisionist scumbags is that facts don't just exist. They can be extremely inconvenient truths.

Giuliani quickly tried to weasel his way out of trying to pretend that 9/11 did not happen under Bush's watch by adding some dubious qualifiers to his original statement. There was, however, enough easily accessible, time-stamped video of the event (not to mention the millions of people around the world who witnessed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on their own television sets) -- that Giuliani quickly lost whatever credibility he may have thought he had.

This kind of blatant lying and abject stupidity goes way past the concept of fair and balanced. It forces the public to make a very painful decision when asked "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?"

I'm one of those people who doesn't think it's enough to accuse political slime like Giuliani of merely being a lying sack of shit. I think the time has come to go one step further by connecting the dots between Giuliani and pathological revisionist liars like Mary Matalin (who likes to claim that George W. Bush "inherited" 9/11 from President Clinton).

If these people are so desperate to rewrite history in their attempts to whitewash the failures of the Bush/Cheney administration, then I think they should be asked if -- as long as they are willing to deny that 9/11 happened under Bush's watch -- they also believe that the Holocaust never happened.

Why? Because that's the kind of suspension of disbelief they are demanding from the public whenever they trot out their horrific lies about 9/11.

If these so-called "patriots" are going to be 9/11 deniers the same way that Iran's President (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) is famously a Holocaust denier, then I think birds of that particularly loathsome feather should be flocked -- and fucked -- together in the public's eye.

Just my two cents.

The reason for this rant is connected to the local premiere of a Romanian film that is opening up in theatres. Let me explain.

I grew up in a family where, because my father was a teacher, the answer to most questions was "Go look it up." Years later, when I was playing Scrabble on a fairly regular basis, the running joke was that, when challenging another player's use of a word, one would point to the largest book in the room and say "Why don't you go haul out your big black dic[tionary] and look it up?"

That's how (over the vehement objections of a close friend) I once landed a high-scoring turn by using the word brouhaha. Taking the time to look up a word's definitions is the plot twist that lies at the core of Corneliu Porumboiu's new film, Police, Adjective.

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Joining 13 other states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) in acknowledging that marijuana can be helpful to people with clinical problems requiring pain management, the state of New Jersey just passed a new law in favor of medical marijuana. Introduced by California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, AB390 would allow possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana for people over 21 and impose a $50-an-ounce sales tax on marijuana (much like taxes on tobacco and alcohol). Under AB390, regulation of the law would fall under the responsibility of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

In Police, Adjective, Romanian society has a long way to go to catch up with governments that have decriminalized the use of marijuana. At the heart of this film is the issue of stupid laws -- and whether or not those charged with enforcing stupid laws can refuse to take action on personal moral grounds.

The protagonist, Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a Romanian undercover police detective assigned to narcotics sting operations. His work involves long, boring hours of surveillance which are only occasionally fruitful.

Cristi is not a particularly sophisticated man. He lives in a section of Vaslui, Romania that is in a noticeable state of post-Communist decay. Although newly married, there does not seem to be much passion in his life. His wife, Anca (Irina Saulescu), is obviously better read and more intellectual, quickly able to parse the inane lyrics of a popular song by Mirabela Dauer ("I Don't Leave You Love") that makes absolutely no sense to Cristi.

During his recent honeymoon in Italy and other parts of Europe, Cristi noticed people freely smoking marijuana in the streets of cities where smoking dope is no longer a crime. As a result of his travels, he is convinced that Romania's current law against marijuana usage will soon be struck down.

However, on his current case he being asked to tail a young student named Alex (Alexandru Sabadac), whose brother is suspected of running drugs. Cristi's problem is that the only evidence he can find against Alex is that the teen occasionally smokes a joint with his friends at school.

Nothing more, nothing less.

While the detective's supervisor (Ion Stoica) is impatient for Cristi to set up a sting and arrest the young man, the detective is starting to suffer pangs of conscience. His instincts as a professional detective tell him that Alex will not rat out his brother. He also has suspicions about his informant, who is a known squealer.

Cristi is painfully aware that, if convicted, Alex would get 3-7 years in jail (which could effectively ruin his life). He can't stop wondering if a jail term is really the best outcome for a teenager who has a very stable home life (or whether he wants the young man's arrest on his conscience, especially considering that Alex is simply doing what everyone else does).

In a meeting with Captain Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov), Cristi refuses to arrest the teen. When Anghelache asks his secretary, Doina (Anca Daiconu) to define "conscience" for him, she immediately includes God in the definition. He then asks her to bring him a Romanian dictionary and encourages Cristi to read aloud the definitions of words like "conscience," "law," "moral," and "police."

Through the use of a dictionary, Cristi is forced to understand his responsibility under the law and accept that, despite his personal misgivings, he must follow the letter of the law. There's just one big problem: Police, Adjective takes nearly 90 minutes to work up to that scene and the filmmaker's use of a fixed camera technique does not help matters one bit.

About 25 years ago I had a close friend who was an openly gay detective in the Oakland Police Department. One of his biggest complaints involved dealing with the boredom and bureaucracy of police work when time was of the essence.

One of the most famous quotes from Shakespeare's Macbeth reads as follows:
"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Porumboiu tries to show the tedium and pointlessness of certain kinds of police work. To my amazement, Police, Adjective has the distinct honor of being the official Romanian entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards (one might question how many films emanate from Romania every year).

The most important thing you need to know about Police, Adjective is that, with a running time of 113 minutes, you should waste neither your time nor your money on going to see it (especially if you are prone to bouts of narcolepsy). Here's the trailer:

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One last note about defining moments. The trial that opened in a federal court in San Francisco this week in the case of Perry versus Schwarzenegger is offering a phenomenal opportunity to learn about how marriage has been defined -- and how its definition has evolved in our culture.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has banned the use of televised broadcasts from the courtroom, some very good writing is appearing in the blogosphere thanks to people attending the trial. One of the best places to follow the testimony and gain insight into the lawsuit is

I'm learning a helluva lot from the postings on this blog. I hope you will, too.

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