Wednesday, April 26, 2006

EbertFest 8 2006

This week is EbertFest in Champaign-Urbana, which means for us movie buffs, all work comes to a screeching halt while we overdose on underappreciated films. See for the official site.

Some friends of mine are doing an EbertFest blog this year, and they have graciously allowed me to soil their site with any random thoughts I may have about the movies or the festival. It is at

Mentioning this here is like building a pipeline between two dry lakes, but since virtual pipes in cyberspace are cheap and plentiful, there is no reason not to.

Update: Boy, this is exhausting, watching 3 films a day and trying to keep up with saying something even remotely interesting about them. But it is exhilirating as well. I'm happy to be included. I'm not going to cross-post any reviews here, so you'll need to go to to see them.

Last Update: Here are links to my EbertFest postings:

My Fair Lady Bucks Tradition
My Fair Lady And Joe Dimaggio
Man Push Sisyphus
Duane Hopwood
Spartan Comments About Spartan
Let The Eagle Soar (without me)
I Am Tired
Does CU Twinkle?
Malkovich Plays Ripleys Game
I am a Sap for Millions
EbertFest 2006 Wrapup

Monday, April 24, 2006


An Illinois legislator found an obsure loophole that allows for state legislatures to start impeachment procedings against the president, which would then require the US congress to act on it:

There is no question Bush *should* be impeached. He has already admitted to a felony by ordering phone calls to be wiretapped without oversight by FISA courts. As far as I know, the constitution did not make special provisions allowing a law to be broken if the President thinks it is too limiting for him to follow it.

But, the question is whether something like this will create a political backlash. Any opinions out there?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Reason is a Tool

A New Yorker subscription is a relentless fire hose of interesting information. I would be a much more interesting person if I read every weekly issue in its entirety, but could only do so if I quit work, ignored my family and friends and eschewed all other social interaction, thus rendering my newfound appeal worthless. I’m calling this the New Yorker Magazine Subscription Paradox.

In any case, a February issue has been hanging around my bathroom long enough that I finally read some small portion of it, and I found an interesting little snippet in John Lanchester’s review of Jonathon Haidt’s book “The Happiness Hypothesis”:

"People who suffer damage to the frontal cortex can lose most of their ability to experience emotion while retaining their ability to think rationally. But they don’t therefore see the world with crystalline logic, so that life suddenly becomes simple. On the contrary, Haidt reports “They find themselves unable to make simple decisions or set goals and their lives fall apart. When they look out at the world and think, ‘What should I do now?’ they see dozens of choices but lack immediate internal feelings of like or dislike. They must examine the pros and cons of every choice with their reasoning, but in the absence of feeling they see little reason to pick one or the other.”

Although this may be the opposite of what one might initially think, it confirms what I’ve long believed – logic and reason are mostly at the service of desire and emotion in humans, and are not commonly used to weigh evidence in decision making.

This is not to say that people don’t develop opinions or change their minds based on logical arguments. I would guess that this has happened at some point in the course of human history. But let’s face it - people mostly start with what they want or feel, and then develop arguments to justify them. Mere facts are no match against an idea that one is emotionally attached to. It explains how people justified Manifest Destiny, why slavery persisted for so long and why George W. Bush is still president.

It is also interesting that the most selfless acts often seem to make the least sense. For example, turning the other cheek is a hard sell, even though in the end it creates a more real and lasting peace than returning violence with violence. Why is that such a hard sell? I think it is because our first emotional reaction to being attacked is to return in kind, so we rationalize it to also make the most sense.

It isn’t that logic and reasoning are terrible things that we should completely ignore. It is just that we need to see them as the tools that they are, rather than as the first and last words on an issue. We need to understand that our motivations and emotions and desires are what drive us to seek reasons for what we do, and that identifying those desires helps us to understand each other as much or more than our stated reasoned arguments.

So, according to this theory, it is only *after* understanding the desires behind someone’s reasoning is it justified to oppress them for being that way.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Locking up the Good Samaritan

I ran across the following in Sojourners: Two members of the group No More Deaths were arrested last July because they took three migrants to a hospital (they were vomiting and bleeding and needed medical help). The charge? “transporting illegal aliens and conspiracy”.

So, this is how insane our immigration policy has become. Take 3 injured migrants to the hospital and get arrested.

I had briefly heard about the criminalization of Good Samaritans, but just thought it was immigration debate hyperbole. Sadly, it appears to be all too true.

In looking up the story to verify its details (my librarian brother Tim would be so proud!), I also found a terribly ugly website (one of many I’m sure) that describes various stories of “aiding and abetting invaders”, of which this is one. They also bemoan how peaceful and organized the recent marches have been, likening it to an army that does exactly what it is commanded to do (under the heading of “discipline of invaders reason for alarm”).

I guess these folks are just trying to improve on Jesus’ message of who your neighbor is. However, they would tweak the lesson to be: If you encounter someone on the side of the road who is bleeding and sick, first make sure they are part of your tribe. If they are not, put them in jail. If someone from your tribe helps them, put them in jail too. Remember that only those who think, look, and act like you are your neighbors. You must treat everyone else as alien invaders.

Maybe it wasn't so bad that I failed the Good Samaritan test after all.