Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:

 

Conservative:

Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.

 

Liberal:

Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.

 

Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.

 

Reactionary:

Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.

 

Radical:

Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.

 

The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.

 

The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.

 

Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income

 

Capitalism:

Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

 

Socialism:

Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

 

Communism:

Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.

 

Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.

 

Democracy:

Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.

 

Republic:

Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.

 

Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President

 

Fascism:

Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

 
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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Of Beer and (Danish) History

We visited Frederiksborg Castle at Hillerod this weekend. The castle is famous for its baroque gardens, but they were under a thick blanket of snow. Instead we focused on the interior and the wonderful painting collection covering Danish history.

The castle was first built in 1560 by King Frederik II but was later almost entirely rebuilt by his son Christian IV who wanted a more sunlit royal dwelling. However the castle fell out of favor with the royal family after 1800 for being still too dark and foreboding.

In 1859 a chimney fire destroyed much of the interior and the roofs. However, in 1878 the founder of Carlsberg Brewery, J. C. Jacobsen, paid to have the castle restored and installed much of the painting collection now housed there. Today the brewery actually runs the building and museum for the country.

The first hall we entered was a hunting hall decorated in bas relief sculptures of game animals complete with real antlers and tusks inset into their heads. On the ceiling are the crests of all the Danish territories in the 17th century which included Sweden, Norway, and parts of Germany.

The royal chapel was used for coronations from 1671 to 1693 and was the setting for the royal wedding of Prince Joachim and Princess Alexandra in November of 1995. Inside are the shields of the two main honorary orders of Dannebrog and the Elephant.

The elephant has been a royal symbol for Denmark since it had colonies in India and Africa in the 18th century. The Order of the Elephant is reserved for Danish royalty and foreign heads of state. The Order of Dannebrog is given to about 500 Danes and foreigners each year for exemplary service to Denmark.

The castle is filled with room after room of marble floors and amazingly detailed ceilings. At least one fireplace heats each room and these actually caused the fire after one was put into service after a decade of disuse. The details have been painstakingly restored and are more than a century old. The place feels just like an old castle should, which is probably why the royal family has more cheerful quarters today.

Much of the painting collection is devoted to portraits of nobles and royals. It was fun to compare the clothing styles over the centuries. My favorite showed Queen Alexandra and hung in the ballroom with many other monarchs.

Alexandra was the daughter of Denmark's King Christian IX and was married to England's King Edward VII in the 19th century. Christian is known as the grandfather of Europe as many of his children became kings and queens of other countries.

After the Napoleonic wars devastated her family fortunes Alexandra lived very frugally. She even waited on tables (in the palace) and sewed her own clothes. Her father was a very personable monarch and would meet with people in need. Christian actually funded Hans Christian Anderson's education.

Several rooms were also devoted to military and naval scenes. Interestingly Denmark has never won a war and its territory has been shrinking ever since the Kalmar Union in 1536. However these rooms celebrate the heroes of individual battles that the Danes actually won.

The traditional Danish sphere of influence has been confined to the Baltic region and Scandinavia, but it intersects with Europe and America during the Viking era, the American revolution, the Napoleonic wars, and WWII. They cherish the image of themselves as "neutral" (which usually meant helping both sides) and avoided much of the damage of European wars (which meant partial collaboration with the Nazis - although the Danish navy scuttled it ships rather than let Germany have them and the Danes risked much to help their Jewish population flee).

Today Denmark is emerging from a period of protestant modesty and diplomatic isolation and they are once again having a hand in world affairs. Their economy is one of the strongest in Europe, they participate in peacekeeping in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they host many UN and EU offices. Copenhagen is filled with immigrants from around the world with exotic clothing and food evident on most city streets.

Denmark is also a blending of the old and new as well as traditional and foreign influences. That morning, as I left a shawarma sandwich shop, I encountered a column of 60-100 soldiers with machine guns and a fife and drum band playing upbeat marching tunes. They stamped down the cobbled pedestrian street on their way to the palace for the changing of the guards. I could still here the band several blocks away as I boarded the bus for Hillerod. That's Denmark!


Castle courtyard and fountain.


The Hunting Hall.


The Royal Chapel.


American President Eisenhower has his own family crest in the Order of the Elephant. The motto says "peace through understanding" (no mention of all the tanks and guns that he used to free Europe).


The passage to the audience chamber.


The royal ballroom and portrait hall.


Queen Alexandra, daughter of Christian IX and wife of England's Edward VII.


The 12th century conversion (by the sword) of (German) pagans by Bishop Absolom and King Valdemar I.


A knight's armor from the 16th century.


A typical castle interior room.


War hero from the Danish civil war of 1842.


A military tattoo in Copenhagen marching to the palace.

Sean: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 [+] |
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Monday, January 30, 2006
Civil War In Palestine?

The election victory of Hamas in the recent Palestinian election is the worst fear of many leftists in American who "worry" about hardline religious parties taking power in Iraq.

The truth is that "bad guys" can win in democratic elections. In the US the bad guys can be fairly benign, simply the other side of the political isle. In Europe they can sometimes be communists or even fascists. And in the Middle East they can be Islamist fundamentalists.

But this is no reason to be timid about supporting Democracy. The risk of bad guys winning is the unavoidable tradeoff for free and fair elections. The real trouble is when someone tries to end these elections or refuses to support them. In this, brutal dictators and leftist critics share a bed.

As it is, civil war in both Iraq and the Palestinian territories is a real possibility. And in each case the hardline religious nuts might win. But after living under these groups for a time the population might truly be inoculated against them.

In Iran a majority of the population was born after the overthrow of the Shaw and bears no love for the Ayatollah and his government and each year their desire for Democracy grows stronger. On his recent visit to Egypt and his talks with Big Pharaoh regarding elections Michael Totten voiced the opinion that a term under religious rule might be a necessity in developing a secure democracy in the Middle East.

Unfortunately for many in the Middle East they live in interesting times. On the other hand, they do live in interesting times and the future may be better. This possibility is what all Liberals in the world should support, not the status quo of corrupt right-wing dictators.

If current trends in Palestinian humor are any indication a great number are already having second thoughts about the victory of Hamas.

Sean: Monday, January 30, 2006 [+] |
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Friday, January 27, 2006
A Night At The Royal Theatre

Last night I was invited by my hosts to attend the premier of the Opera Academy's performance of Haydn’s La Canterina and Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges at the Royal Theatre at Kongens Nytorv in the heart of Copenhagen.

The theatre building is gorgeous. It was built in 1774 and designed by the famous Danish architect C.F. Harsdorff. It is in Italianate style, built of stone, and clad inside in colorful marble and gold gilt.

As we approached across the square of Kongens Nytorv I noticed that the stone braziers on the pediment over the entrance were actually burning. Real fire and smoke rose into the sky announcing that the opera was open for business!

We hung our coats on free check hooks (would that ever happen at home?). Then we stopped by the bar and ordered our intermission cocktails; which were waiting for us, unattended, on tables in the lobby at the break (which definitely wouldn't happen). Then we took our seats on the main floor of the theatre.

The seats are red velvet and the walls are gold gilt. On the ceiling the nine muses watch the stage. In the middle of the ceiling hangs a giant crystal chandelier that can be lowered to any height as needed. The stage is small and intimate, flanked on both sides by the royal boxes.

The theatre has been open to the people of Denmark for more than 200 years. It traces its history back 550 years to the founding of a troupe of court trumpeters. Meanwhile the opera school is only 233 years old, established by the Frenchman Pierre Laurent.

This evening's performance included a traditional tale of a single woman and her (widowed?) mother as they manipulate her suitors and a more modern tale about a naughty boy and the toys that teach him a lesson one night.

After the show we were invited backstage to the opening night celebrations and treated to free drinks and a buffet. It turns out that 90% of the opera house is backstage and nearly as many people are involved in the production as attend in any given night. The director gave handpicked gifts to each of the principles and stage technicians; Miles Davis cd's were a favorite!

I was surprised by the scale of the opera house. Copenhagen is a national capitol and Denmark used to control Norway, Sweden, and part of Germany. And yet the main opera house, as well as most of the grand buildings, is not as large as an American might expect. The Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland is nearly as impressive.

I think we Yankees forget how small the world was 200 years ago, how relatively less wealthy it was, and how class divided it was. Theatres were for the King, the nobles, and the upper-class. They were made of splendid materials and in high style but only for a small group of elites.

Now that Denmark is a wealthy country again the national theatre is moving into a larger and more modern opera house. I was able to tour this building with my school and I will post pictures from that trip soon. One thing I learned here is that the new opera house is the same intimate scale inside for reasons of acoustics.

I enjoyed my trip to the Royal Theatre and I am in debt to my gracious hosts for a night of European culture in its natural surroundings.


Theatre at night.


Theatre lobby.


Theatre salon.


Theatre stage.


Theatre during the day.

Sean: Friday, January 27, 2006 [+] |
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006
A Fine Address In Copenhagen

Copenhagen is lovely, right up there with Paris, Geneva, and Dublin. Every building in the inner city is an architectural wonder and would be a monument in any American town. Most important buildings are crowned with copper and gold.

Urban planning seems hardly necessary as there really isn't much room to build in the city proper... most construction appears to be limited to remodeling. There are many projects involving the gutting and refitting of an entire floor.

I am lucky enough to live on Embassy row. My host lives across the street from Italy and down the block from Switzerland. The Croatian ambassador lives in our building and the crown prince is a neighbor. I can see the royal cathedral from our living room window.

Yesterday morning on my walk to school I was passed by a carriage and two drivers in full red livery, then I passed by two fuzzy-hated royal guards at the palace, and two more mounted guards at the capitol building. Today I had a private view of the changing of the guards (it is so cold that I caught one of the other guards wistfully watching his buddies get to go home while tapping his foot trying to keep warm).

School is a mile or less away and is accessible mostly by pedestrian streets once I pass the main canal (which is lined by old sailing ships). There are also the usual European squares with statues and fountains (Copenhagen is infested with sword-wielding copper statues twice a man's height, it can be quite scary at night).

Although Danes learn English in school and casually move from tongue to tongue, the language barrier does still exist. I can get around this by admitting that I can't speak Danish and just asking for things in English. But this makes me a mark, and since Danish money does not yet have meaning for me, I paid $11 for coffee and a bagel on my first day.

The lack of coffee shops is remarkable for a person from Portland, we are really spoiled, it also suggests that northern Europe really doesn't have the same cafe culture as the south (Ireland was similar to Denmark in not having cafes as in France and Italy).

Walking the streets here and finding a 7-11, or a Danish store that advertises "Cool Stuff" in the window, and being able to speak English almost everywhere must be similar to being English in the 19th century. Our differences are beautiful and make traveling worthwhile, but I appreciate having a common ground on which to interact.

Now if only the temperature would rise above freezing? With the windchill it has been about 15F. Snow coats every surface, icicles a foot long hang from all the cars, and everyone's eyes water from the cold and the wind. Everyone keeps commenting on how unusual this is, but it has been this way for a week and the forecast calls for even more snow! Well, at least the scenery is wonderful and beer costs less than a dollar for a six pack!

Click to enlarge pictures.


The Kitchen and the door to my room.


My room.


The dining room.


The living room.


The view out the living room.


Looking down the street from the living room balcony.


Across the street is the Italian embassy.


Beyond the embassy is the dome of the Frederikskirke (also called the Marble Church).


My path to school cuts right through the palace square, which is fronted on four sides by identical classical temples. One for the Queen, one for the Queen Mum (who passed away recently), and one for each prince. Special flags that fly from the pediment of each palace tell you which royal is home that day (yesterday they all took off for a holiday to celebrate the christening of the crown prince's baby boy).

Sean: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 [+] |
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Monday, January 23, 2006
American Hedgerows

Flying into Washington's Dulles airport the Virginia countryside looks like what I saw flying into Dublin, Ireland. While the flora and fauna may be different, both country's clearly reveal the work of human hands.

The countryside is carved up by small farm plots that are separated by hedgerows, houses are small and frequent, and there are large expanses of forest that appear to be retaking the land between the farms and hills.

On the West Coast trees dominate the hills and mountains. We only carve relatively small clear cuts into the trees. The valleys and plains are all farms and grazing land, but they are only divided by barbed wire. Shrubbery and soil have yet to settle into these borders, so from the air they are invisible.

The hedgerows of the East Coast makes it obvious that we are an English colonial experiment, largely settled by English farmers. Many English "second sons" were forced to find their futures in America and many of their sons had to find theirs in the West.

The fantasy of the "rugged individualist" of the American West may have been an inevitable social response, a rejection of traditional social values and faith in government. The irony is that the land was then shaped by a more radical, ancient, and communal ideal, that of the open range.

Perhaps in time the West Coast will come to resemble the East Coast and the British Isles more. However, another lesson learned flying into Dulles is that the East Coast is being consumed by the same leapfrog subdivision phenomena that has infested the West Coast since the introduction of the automobile.

I saw repeated golf-course housing spotting the countryside and increasing in density as one approached the metro area. The culprit here, as in the West, is the farmer who chooses to subdivide his land in order to pay for retirement or avoid financial failure in competition with corporate farming. However, this choice is destroying family farms at an alarming rate.

On the other hand the developers seem to have learned that people do not like the 1950's ranch house. Americans are longing for a more traditional community and the developer has taken the easiest route to meeting this need by simply swapping ranch homes for townhouses.

However, planting rowhouses in suburban sprawl does not provide a walkable city environment with small groceries, restaurants, shops, schools, and banks. Instead they have simply removed the elbow room that suburban sprawl was supposed to provide.

Meanwhile housing values in inner-city neighborhoods continue to skyrocket. People are rediscovering the city in America. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Portland are all renaissance towns.

People know real culture and real convenience when they experience it. This is why Americans enjoy visiting Disneyland and Europe when they can manage it, they remind us of what we are missing (not that Disneyland is either real or cultured, but rather its Main St mimics a traditional town center).

I don't know if the West Coast will come to look like the East Coast or the otherway around, or even which I prefer. Regardless, I will spend the next semester in Copenhagen, Denmark learning more about European development (although I might come to appreciate the American model just a little also). Meanwhile development moves on, everywhere.

Sean: Monday, January 23, 2006 [+] |
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Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Iraq Is Not Vietnam: Part XVII

Neo-con West Point professor Frederick Kagan provides Policy Review with another well-written argument against comparing Iraq to Vietnam. The reasons this comparison is not useful go far beyond the fact that Iraq is a dessert and Vietnam was a jungle.

Kagan notes that the civil war in Vietnam had been running for decades before American involvement, the North Vietnamese regular army was actively involved in ground combat and led a well organized guerrilla effort in the South while North Vietnam was off limits to US ground forces, and the South Vietnamese government was almost entirely with out popular support.

By contrast Kagan asserts that the insurgency in Iraq is split and largely with out the support of a neighboring state, they do not have conventional military resources (like MIG's), and the insurgency cannot mount actual guerrilla attacks on US forces but is largely limited to terrorizing the locals. Also, the government in Baghdad replaces an unpopular dictator with a majority led (Shia) government, while the insurgency is only supported by an ethnic minority (Sunnis) in a specific geographic region (north of Baghdad).

I do not share Kagan's belief that the Iraqi insurgency is local, rather than imported. I've read plenty of reports that the insurgents in Iraq have been joined by many Asian and African terrorists. I also think that Iran has been helping as best as they can and if still below North Vietnam levels of support they are just as eager and their support may be increasing. However, I agree that domestic support for the insurgency is well below Vietnam levels. And I think the much lower casualty rate (hundreds a year instead of thousands) is also a key difference between the two conflicts.

Interestingly for a West Point professor, Kagan appears to deny that comparing military conflicts provides any educational benefit. However, he does make the connection between Britain's campaign in Northern Ireland and Iraq. The comparison does seem apt, the Republican movement in Northern Ireland has been successfully enveloped in the political process and is moving away from military or terrorist activities and we saw a similar movement among Iraq's Sunni population in the latest Iraqi elections. I hope the comparison holds in both locations.

Sean: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 [+] |
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Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Munich, The Movie

In Munich, the movie, Spielberg tells a story about the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team in Berlin in 1972 and the methodical killing of the Arab terrorists by an Israeli hit squad.

In the film we see both the Israeli and Arab sides of the conflict in a manner that is effective if not subtle. Inevitably, it seems for American lefties, the story is put in terms of the "cycle of violence" and an attempt is made to show "moral equivalency" between the killers on both sides.

However, the facts, even when fictionalized, don't leave much room for this game. Through out the film, and through out the 1970's, news clips tell us that for every terrorist killed by the Israelis another terrorist attack strikes an airport queue, a Dutch pharmacy, etc. We are meant to see the Israeli hits as somewhat futile.

But we also cant ignore that the Israeli hit squad carefully avoids killing innocent bystanders and is wreaked by worries that the men they are killing are not exactly "guilty" (one man is a KGB contact, another is a PR man, and another plans similar attacks to the Olympic job if not actually that one). The contrast between such targeted attacks and the brutally indiscriminate terror attacks could only be overlooked by someone with a PHD in Middle East studies.

The film itself is well shot, with solid acting. Although the makeup on Geoffrey Rush was a bit distracting - I think they tried to give him a Jewish nose. Geoffrey is really the only big name, with the rest of the cast largely unknown. The women in the film are gorgeous and get naked, which I appreciated. And the film hops all over Europe making for a great vicarious trip to the continent.

One complaint that resurfaced is common to most movies made today... it should have ended 15 minutes before it did. Perhaps it is unavoidable, due to the plot, but this movie also suffered from Legends Of The Fall disease... too many death scenes tend to kill their impact. We are now used to the idea of a longer, more extensive "Director's Cut" but with Spielberg (and others) we might want to see an "Editor's Cut" with about 40 minutes removed.

This movie is worth seeing as long as you keep the words of its writer Tony Kushner in mind "This is historical fiction, not a documentary". As he puts it the story is "inspired" by the truth, but doesn't pretend to represent it. So you cant learn what the Israeli agents really did, what they really thought, or what motivated the Arab terrorists, just how Kushner and Spielbeg imagine it. Ok, that being the case, this is a good film and a moving story.

Sean: Tuesday, January 10, 2006 [+] |
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Monday, January 09, 2006
The Future of the EU

The future of the EU may be in doubt, again. Those already in the EU don't want to admit new nations from the poorer former communist east.

But the European project has always been something of a mess. In their efforts to avoid looking too much like another US of A the statesmen of Europe have made some questionable choices.

The EU slowly asserts itself by passing new laws to regulate the sale of chicken eggs, the height of swings, and who gets to be called an island. But governing by taxation or regulation leads to resentment, ask America.

A rotating presidency is a hopeless token nod to the "sovereignty" of member nations. It means that no European leader ever has a popular mandate and therefore they never have much authority or prestige and so cant really lead at all.

The European Parliament and the Commission have been widely criticized as being undemocratic. I don't think this is fair, what they really are is unnecessarily confusing and most Europeans don't understand their own government and so cant really support it.

Forcing all or nothing votes on entirely new constitutions instead of amending the one they have is also a recipe for disaster. Every time Europe reminds its citizens of its existence enough people may say "No!" to wreck the whole project.

The Danes rejected the European currency in 2000 and the French and Dutch rejected the new constitution in 2005. Greenland withdrew in 1985 and now England is studying the impact of doing the same. Meanwhile Austria negotiated a 7 year exemption from allowing free movement of new EU laborers and Turkey is still trying to get in.

Europe just isn't done yet.

Sean: Monday, January 09, 2006 [+] |
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Monday, January 02, 2006
The Wickerman

Start out the new year with a little folk magic, rent The Wickerman. In the US you can get a version on VHS through Magnum films that is fairly close to the original. Also a new DVD contains both a short version and something like a directors cut.

This 1973 English film was the pet project of Christopher Lee, Anthony Schaffer, and Peter Snell. It was based on a book about Celtic pagan rituals and was conscientiously researched (although taken from different cultures at different times).

The story follows a Scottish police sergeant (played by Edward Woodward from The Enforcer TV series) as he investigates the disappearance of a young girl on Summerisle. It turns bizarre as we learn that the people on the island have returned to the "old ways".

There are some great performances by Christopher Lee (Scaramanga in the Bond films and Saureman from the Lord of the Rings) and a memorable nude dance by Britt Ekland (a Bond Girl). There is also a showing by Diane Cilento (the former Mrs. Sean Connery - to round out the Bond serendipity).

The film is beautiful and atmospheric and was made on location in Scotland and you can tour the locations by following the Wickerman Trail.

The movie is also notable for its digs at puritan Christianity and its twisting of a pagan eden into a Caesar inspired horror. Everyone was pissed off by this film at one time or another, even animal rights activists. However, even with a mangled release in the US and Europe it has survived as a film buff's favorite.

UPDATE: Evidently Nicholas Cage may star in a remake of The Wickerman to be set in Maine and filmed in Vancouver, BC.

Sean: Monday, January 02, 2006 [+] |
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Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere

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Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere