Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I hate CSI: Miami

First of all, CSI: Miami, which has always been the least well-done of the franchise, has lately become a show that I watch mostly to make fun of. It hasn't quite sunk to the MST3K-levels of 24, but it's getting there. My private fantasy is that they will find a way to bring in William Shatner to play David Caruso's father in a cameo.

This week's episode dealt with eminent domain abuse, which is a worthwhile topic. Basically, the city government had condemned a whole street of houses, so that a developer could build a high-rise hotel there, all in accordance with the Supreme Court's recent lousy ruling in Kelo v. New London. At one point two of the CSI characters had this exchange of dialogue:
"It's hard to believe that this kind of thing can happen in this country."
"Well, capitalism opens a lot of doors."

NO! No, no, no! Armed (government) thugs forcing you off of your land at gunpoint is not "capitalism", goddamn it! If anything, it's closer to socialism than to capitalism.

Look, under true free-market capitalism, the developer would negotiate with each homeowner on that street to buy their land at a mutually-agreed-upon price. If "the city needs my hotel", as the developer asserts in the episode, then he will have no problem finding investors and backing to purchase the necessary land. The current owners will get what they feel is a fair price, they'll be able to buy a new home elsewhere (assuming that's what they want to do with the money), and the developer and investors in the hotel will make a profit (assuming they've judged the demand for hotel space correctly) - everyone wins. On the other hand, if the developer cannot find backing to purchase the land at its true value (i.e., what the owners are willing to sell for), then that is the market's way of telling you that it doesn't really need a high-rise hotel that badly.

Eminent domain takings involve the use of government force to obtain property for less than what it would cost in a free market. What makes eminent domain abuse a Bad Thing is not that it is an example of capitalism, but rather that it is violent government interference with capitalism.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Is this another "Farewell" tour?

Streisand to heckler: 'Shut the @#&% up'
There was Streisand, enduring a smattering of very loud jeers as she and "George Bush" -- a celebrity impersonator -- muddled through a skit that portrayed the president as a bumbling idiot.

Though most of the crowd offered polite applause during the slightly humorous routine, it got a bit too long, especially for a few in the audience who just wanted to hear Streisand sing like she had been doing for the past hour.

"Come on, be polite!" the well-known liberal implored during the sketch as she and "Bush" exchanged zingers. But one heckler wouldn't let up. And finally, Streisand let him have it.

"Shut the (expletive) up!" Streisand bellowed, drawing wild applause. "Shut up if you can't take a joke!"
Once the outburst (which Streisand later apologized for) was over, Streisand noted that "the artist's role is to disturb,"

Oh, bullshit, Babs. You just thought your fanbase would all enjoy a little Bush-bashing, and when some of them expressed disapproval, you freaked out. You weren't trying to "disturb" anyone, you were trying to preach to the choir. It just turned out that some of the choir weren't on the same page.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Movie Review: We watched Memoirs of a Geisha last night. Nice costumes and production design, but not much else. It's one of those "love stories" where the great lovers meet once, exchange maybe four sentences between them, and then spend years apart pining for each other. Which in this case is made a bit creepy by the fact that that first meeting is between a middle-aged businessman and a 9-year-old... I was also hoping for a bit more about the actual day-to-day life of a geisha, but since both the novel and the film were written and directed by westerners, perhaps that was expecting too much. Oh, and it was a little bit distracting to watch all those Chinese people playing Japanese characters - though I suppose that if the blatantly Scottish Sean Connery can play a Russian sub commander, that sort of thing can be overlooked.

Book Review: Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett. This is the latest in the Tiffany Aching sub-series of Discworld books, aimed at younger (i.e., adolescent) readers. You know, the Harry Potter books are decent enough, and I’m glad they’ve got kids reading, and reading big thick books at that. But none of them have yet contained one of those little passages that Pratchett tends to have all over the place, that just drop your jaw with how well-written it is. The ones that hit you like a sledgehammer in the chest, like this one, which appears at the end of a chapter in which a funeral occurs, after the grave has been filled in and all but one of the mourners have left:
Tiffany sat on a stump and cried for a bit, because it needed to be done. Then she went and milked the goats, because someone needed to do that, too.

If there has ever been a more perfect expression of grief, and of the letting go of grief, in the English language, well, I've never read it. And the fact that a passage of such exquisite beauty can inhabit the same book that features six-inch tall blue highlanders shouting "Ach! Crivins!", a witch who specializes in holding her breath and swimming away underwater after being thrown in the river by paranoid villagers, and a kitten named You (as in "You! Stop that!" and "You, get down from there!"), just makes the whole thing that much more amazing.

To anyone reading this: If you like Harry Potter, you need to meet Tiffany Aching. The book to start with is called The Wee Free Men, and is followed by A Hat Full of Sky and then Wintersmith. According to Pratchett (at a convention in 2004), the fourth one will be called When I Am Old I Shall Wear Midnight, but we don't know yet when that one will be written and published.

After those, you'll probably want to consult the L-space Web Reading Order Guides and perhaps read the "Witch" sub-series, since several of the same characters are involved in those. Or just start back at the beginning with The Colour of Magic and read 'em all through in chronological order.