One Person's Opinion

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Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Did anyone catch the Super Bowl last Sunday? (Yes, I know. I was being facetious.) The NFL has done everything it possibly can to drown the game in a sea of non-football entertainment-- not only do we have a pop music act singing The Star Spangled Banner, but we have another (Canadian) pop music act singing God Bless America. Before that, several other pop music acts played on a stage on the field. More bands played at halftime, with "fans" (in reality, extras) shown on the field in front of the stage cheering on the performers. And Bon Jovi was inexplicably invited to play after the game and before the trophy presentation-- when thousands of people were leaving the stadium, and when those who were staying wanted to see the trophy presentations and not Bon Jovi! Always a good atmosphere for musicians to work in. (It was reminiscent of an old story Jay Leno tells of working as a struggling stand up comic at a strip bar called "The Mine Shaft", where it was dark inside and the patrons were given miner's helmets with flashlights on top when they entered. All the helmets, of course, were pointed towards the strippers, while Leno worked in the dark.)

As far as I can tell, the big halftime show was a concept originated by the Orange Bowl, which decided years ago that it would differentiate itself from the other bowl games by staging a prime-time made-for-television halftime show instead of just featuring marching bands while the networks cut away to show scores and highlights from other games. Those early Orange Bowl halftime shows got a lot of attention, both because they were well-done and also because the Orange Bowl was not always the best bowl game on January 1, so the halftime show provided a reason to watch even if you weren't interested in the teams that were playing.

I really believe that all this stuff started with the Super Bowl because they got a major case of Orange Bowl envy. Obviously, whatever the NFL does has to be bigger than some podunk college bowl game, so the Super Bowl set out to out-Orange Bowl the Orange Bowl halftime show. Of course, they succeeded; nobody pays attention to the Orange Bowl halftime anymore. But they also missed the point. People watch the Super Bowl because it is the biggest game in the biggest sport in America. The ratings were big even before they booked the Dixie Chicks and No Doubt. (Indeed, the ratings peaked in the 49 range in the early 1980's, before all these musical acts were added to the bill.) Perhaps some people also watch for the commercials, though I don't find the reports that large numbers of the football-indifferent tune in to see the ads credible.

I'd like to see them try putting on the Super Bowl without repainting the stadium and covering it with banners, without any musical acts (save, perhaps, a national anthem singer distinguished by talent rather than his or her place in the current Top 40), with no halftime show (other than some highlights and analysis), and with a modest trophy presentation in the locker room, as was done until recently. The show wouldn't drag on as long (people on the East Coast, including Tampa, had to stay up past 11 p.m. on Sunday to see the trophy presentation and interviews), and it would still get a blockbuster rating and make tons of money. Heck, it might even make more money (if that's possible), because the NFL's expenses would be lower.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003
I've bashed on Jonah Goldberg before, and I am about to again, so before I do, let me say that he is one of the most intelligent young conservatives out there, a guy who cares about facts and ideas and does his best to avoid the sort of shrill sloganeering that people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh specialize in.

Now let's get on with the bashing. Goldberg, a supporter of the death penalty, takes on those who argue that the death penalty is inappropriate because innocent people might be executed, in the following passage (the link is at

"If you think the cost of a single innocent life is too high to justify capital punishment, in other words if you think it must be perfect in every respect, then you might as well come out against the death penalty because otherwise you'll have to argue for a perfect government program and that is an untenable position.

"But keep in mind government finds acceptable rates of accidental deaths in all sorts of areas. From friendly fire in the military to deaths on our highways to extremely rare and fatal drug side effects. Surely even one child's death is a tragedy, but we know for a fact that roughly 50 young children die every year from drowning in 5 gallon buckets, mostly in their back yards. But we don't ban buckets. And that's roughly the same number as the number of cases of accidental gun deaths among small children, and we do not require child-safe bucket locks (Note to parents: You can childproof your bucket by putting a hole in the bottom).

"If you take it as a matter of principle that the death penalty is a social good, then you must be willing to accept some level of error to achieve that social good. It would be tragic if we executed an innocent man -- hasn't happened yet -- but I would still take a mend it don't end it approach in response (unless I was the one executed). There's nothing wrong with working very hard to keep that level as low as conceivably possible, but the only way to guarantee no errors is to abolish capital punishment entirely."

The problem with Goldberg's position, however, is that his little joke parenthetical actually undermines his entire argument. You see, it is extremely easy to say that the risk of executing an innocent person is acceptable, so long as you aren't at risk of being that innocent person. That's right, go ahead, it's OK to wrongfully take someone else's life. Oh well, it happens. So long as the risk is low, it's outweighed by the benefit. But if I'm in the dock, then, of course, the calculus changes.

Of course, Goldberg, a member of a prominent Washington family, is never going to be in that position. Indeed, it is almost always only those who are poor or with lousy legal representation who get the death penalty (except for the occasional Tim McVeigh in the high profile case). If Goldberg is ever falsely accused of murder, he'll get the best defense possible and will be able to get off or at least escape the death penalty. (O.J. Simpson, if you remember, was acquitted despite pretty clear evidence of his guilt, and the prosecutors did not even seek the death penalty against him, owing to his wealth and celebrity status.) Saying that it's worth it for someone else to sacrifice his or her life for one's ideological position is not particularly impressive reasoning. Indeed, it's exactly the sort of instrumental reasoning with respect to human life that conservatives tend to oppose when the issue is abortion or stem cells.

The great philosopher John Rawls died about a month ago. His great insight was that a rule is only fair if we would choose that rule behind a "veil of ignorance", i.e., not knowing yet what position in society we would occupy. I doubt that Goldberg would be so quick to defend erroneous executions if he did not know whether he might be in the class of persons that might face such executions.

It's offically Oscar season. (If you didn't know, the season starts at Christmas (the deadline for movies to be released in order to be considered for that year's Academy Awards) and runs through the winter to the end of March, when the Academy Awards take place. This year's show is on March 23. In future years, the show is going to be moved back into February to shorten the campaign season.) You will undoubtedly see movie advertisements during this period which tout the number of Golden Globe nominations that a picture receives. The Globes have turned into the motion picture industry's unofficial Oscar preview night. But you should pay no attention to Golden Globe nominations when choosing how to spend your 9 bucks. The Globes are a complete fraud.

The Globes are one of many awards shows that hand out trophies for the best movies, actors, directors, and writers each year. The Globes are given out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which basically consists of the foreign equivalent of the sychophantic reporters who work for publications such as Us Magazine and the E! network and ask completely inoffensive questions of celebrities. Nobody should or would care what they think about movies, except that they have cynically entered into a symbiotic relationship with the entertainment industry to serve each others' purposes. Indeed, the track record of the Globes has not been good, with the horrible "Evita" getting nominations and Pia Zadora once winning an award.

The symbiosis functions as follows: the Foreign Press, of course, wants attention for their awards show, which translates into having big stars and studios granting them access and giving them gifts and junkets, as well as a fat contract with NBC. The industry, on the other hand, wants something that will help them sustain Oscar hype for three months and that will put butts in the seats. The Globes serve that purpose perfectly. The awards are calendared to occur just about at the same time as Oscar nominations, while Globe nominations are announced way back in December. Of course, it is likely that the nominators in the HFPA haven't seen most of the movies up for consideration when they are required to turn in their nominations (especially since many contending films haven't even been released yet at that point), but who cares? It's publicity, baby! (The fact that nominators haven't seen the films probably was a factor in Evita getting those nominations a few years back.) And that publicity comes at exactly the right time-- all the serious movies that nobody has heard about but which might win Oscars come out in December, and what better way to give the movie instant legitimacy than to put "5 Golden Globe Nominations including Best Picture" in the ad? Voila, instant cache!

And as for those nominations-- it will help you to read the fine print. You see, the Golden Globes have twice as many nominations in each category as the Oscars do. They do this by splitting everything up between "dramas" and "comedies", whereas the Oscar just has one category for "Best Picture", "Best Actor", etc. The studios, in their advertisements, go to ridiculous lengths to conceal this. In their print ads, the words "GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINEE: BEST ACTOR" might be written in bold 32 point type, with the word "(Drama)" written sideways in 10 point type. In radio ads, they don't even mention the qualification: I just heard an ad that said "and now it's been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture of the Year". Of course, there is no such category-- there is only "Best Picture (Drama)" and "Best Picture (Comedy)".

This, of course, serves the industry's purposes quite well, because it doubles the number of films that qualify as "Oscar contenders" and implies that there are a lot more good films out there than there usually are. This is very important because there are many moviegoers who make it a point to see the Oscar contenders each winter. Thanks to the Globes, the industry may sell these people twice as many tickets.

The bottom line is that you should pay no attention to the Globes. If you are interested in paying attention to the Oscar race, wait until the Oscar nominations actually come out. Then be my guest and see the films. But ignore the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual shindig. It's just an elaborate scheme to separate you from your pocketbook.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Here in Southern California, there is obviously a huge disconnect between how elites view immigration and how the masses (especially whites) view it. This can be seen every time the Los Angeles Times runs a sympathetic story about an illegal immigrant. The paper have run several stories about the heartbreaking lives of undocumented children, who are abused by alien smugglers and treated harshly by the INS (including imprisonment with the most dangerous criminals in squalid jails, as well as being denied access to counsel, even to the absurdity of a 1 1/2 year old child making an appearance in an immigration court without a lawyer). Each time, the paper gets letters (probably many more than are actually printed) stating that it is wrong for the paper to even run sympathetic stories about immigrants, that these people are criminals and the only solution is the harshest treatment possible along with immediate deportation and the sealing of our southern border.

Leaving aside the practical difficulties of this position, I think these letters are indicative of a public that is so viscerally offended by illegal immigration (I won't speculate on the reasons, but they could include racial stereotyping, fear of no longer being in the majority, fear of losing one's job to cheap labor, and fear of terrorism and crime) that there is no room left for ordinary human compassion. The idea that anyone can write a letter, as Laura Ellen Malkhoo, of Huntington Beach, California, does in the January 7, 2003 LA Times, responding to an article that told the story of the 1 1/2 year old illegal immigrant who made a court appearance without a lawyer, by saying, as Malkhoo does, that "[t]he children are just as much criminals as our own U.S.-citizen juvenile deliquents and should be housed in juvenile detention" reveals an open sore.

I wonder whether these folks have ever thought about the moral dimensions of the illegal immigration issue. (Note that this is a fine example of how religion and morality are two different things-- I would bet most of these letter-writers would claim to be religious, but few have read anything by Kant.) Malkhoo states, as most of the other letter-writers have, that "the key word here is 'illegal.'". No, Ms. Malkhoo, it isn't. As anyone who has thought about ethics knows, legality and morality are two different things. Martin Luther King and Gandhi famously demonstrated that not only is it sometimes ethical to disobey the law, but that sometimes one has a moral duty to do so. Similarly, and on a smaller scale, no parent would think twice about speeding and running red lights to get a gravely injured child to a hospital.

So what is so wrong with crossing borders to feed your family? Not legally-- I know perfectly well it is illegal. But morally. Would these people say that a people who stow away on a ship to escape famine in Kim Jong Il's North Korea are common criminals? Would they say that a starving kid who did so is the equivalent of a juvenile delinquent? So why is it that people who come here to build a better life for their families are seen as the moral equivalent of theives and muggers? There are only two possibilities: either the folks who repeat these mantras, over and over, have never really thought about the moral issue (and what they would do if they were in the immigrants' place-- a key moral consideration according to the late, great ethicist John Rawls), or they have thought about it and know that they have no moral argument and therefore resort to the only argument that they have, that it is illegal.

Either way, I don't see a democratic solution to this. The California voting public passed vast sanctions against illegal immigrants in 1994, and they would do it again if they could. Thankfully, the measure, Proposition 187, was thrown out by the courts. Only the undemocratic courts stand between where we are now and simple barbarism on the issue of the treatment of immigrants.