24 June 2005

Supreme Courting.

So yesterday the Kelo case is ruled 5-4 in favor of a city goverment's right to offer market value to private landowners who stand in the way of a private company's "public benefit-laced" (my new favorite slang term) proposal for land use. Although I feel that a land's private use cannot be predicted as beneficial - I mean, do the guys at the OTB establish odds for a project's possible public benefit? is there a more scientific way? - I do think the ruling highlights a simple cause for reflection and a nice "Let's get on with more important business." Here's why I feel this way.

Its a strange pinch really, because the interpretation of the constitution in this case did not fall along party lines. The four liberal judges voted in the developer's favor, and were joined by Anthony Kennedy, a conservative. The swing voter, Sandra Day-O'Connor, joined sides with the other mildly (Rehnquist) to extremely (Thomas) conservative judges. The conservative judges, for the most part, agree with what seems like practically every living person who has caught wind of the case. This rarely happens. I felt compelled to check up on the noise in the world. After reading some "professional" and "fucking awful" blogs (that were thoroughly commented upon) I decided to add to the vomitorium.

The court upheld a loose interpretation of the constitution, meaning that the document remains vital in the interests of the court and the possibility of interpreting it for future cases. A strict interpretation of this clause is like asking us to bury our heads in the sand. The idea that the loose interpretation puts words into the document that aren't there is a plausible one, but this argument is very quickly getting blown out of proportion. Justice Stevens (who wrote the majority opinion) argued that the New London plan is "carefully formulated" and "unquestionably serves a public purpose," and added that the "public use" clause of the fifth amendment needs further fleshing out.

I think people on both sides are feeding on this ruling because its an easy attack on "liberal / conservative / senile / out of touch judges." But the ruling has more to do with strict vs. loose intepretation of the constitution (I'm solely in favor of neither). The Times was in favor of the ruling (predictably I suppose), and commented on how the government's ability to compensate private land owners for publicly used land has been too often avoided by the conservative justices on the court. It has become an issue that affects private landowners (both poor and rich) but has not been challenged, merely vaguely upheld. The idea that the "public use" phrase was interpreted loosely means that future cases will allow for a broader definition of the term. I don't unanimously agree with this nor do I see this as a doomsday scenario. I don't see anyone rolling up to Elk Grove Dr. or Chippawa Circle or Dove's Kissing Terrace and asking you politely to get the fuck out, we're building something corporate here.

The favored response to this ruling has been invoking the old "they can build a stripmall where you live." Well if you live in a place where a stripmall is a suitable modification of your landscape, you should hand it over proudly. And since most Americans already live across the street from a stripmall anyway, I can't for the life of me wonder why this worries people so much. "A woman who lived in the same house for 87 years will be evicted because of this ruling.." And in those 87 years New London, CT's population has retarded and reversed, its unemployment doubled, its industry vanished. There are so many towns and small cities in the US absolutely starving for economic recovery in the face of exurban expansion that a ruling allowing city governments the power to take control over underutilized property is hardly deplorable. I do see this as a trend toward making private property a less stable commodity, but this is supported more by the construction rates of new housing developments further from city centers, by the ever-spreading suburban landscape, and not by this ruling. I highly doubt a church, public school, community center, or historic landmark are going to be torn down for the benefit of a private investor. The outrage of a local community can stifle the pursuit of developers on the small scale, and this ruling allows local government more power in deciding what purposes are best suited for its land.

I don't find anything remarkably heinous (or exciting) about that.

13 June 2005

As far as lists go...

I can't post my list without offering something up to counter the current round of mud-slinging directed at the composite list's #6 film of all time. When the list came out last year, my roommate at the time (Kevin) denounced it as "Rubbish." Then he proceeded to rent everyone's top 3 films from the local Kim's Video, and watched the #1s first. This alone was proof of the list's validity, even if I too had strong initial reactions. He'd seen most of them, but wanted to refresh his memory. Kevin got me to watch Moulin Rouge (one film he's always raved about), High Noon (which I loved and then completely forgot to put on my 2005 list), La Strada, Gone With the Wind, and others. The first #1 he watched though was Jaron's. He hadn't seen it in so long he may not have remembered seeing it, but we watched it hours after the 2004 list came out and he was absolutely blown away. I felt so ashamed for leaving it off last year I put it at #20 this time around. A paltry apology.

The film is a work of extraordinary genius - clever and witty beyond any of Hollywood's "progressive" animated films of the last decade, and easily the greatest children's film of all time. It's British. That's why. No idiotic jaw dropping chase scenes or useless special effects, no dumb heroics and no politically correct sarcasm (the fat kid goes down first, in a river of chocolate no less). It appeals to both a child's sense of wonder and mischief. Its also not a children's film. At all. Its moral, the lesson it tries to convey at the end, is not all that sound either. It goes something like this:

If you're invited by a stranger to their glorious property and your host recommends only that you don't drink a particular beverage and you do so anyway, have a great time but nearly get killed, then later on lie about it, well its your own damned fault. However, if you've got the honesty to give back something you got on your way in (that was free) then the host you met three hours prior will give you everything he owns.

Its a parable of the American dream mistranslated and set to melodramatic music, most of which is sung by bedridden geriatric cripples, orange midgets, and refreshingly unattractive children. If you haven't seen it in 6 months its been too long. If I had my top 30 spread out on top of the DVD player in my own private desert island scenario, I'd watch every one in order at least twice, and then #20 over and over again until I died of exposure.

Here's the new list.

1. manhattan
2. talk to her
3. touch of evil
4. cries and whispers
5. the general
6. back to the future
7. red
8. duck soup
9. crumb
10. 2046
11. being there
12 city of god
13 dr. strangelove
14 the agronomist
15 band of outsiders
16. network
17. pee wee’s big adventure
18. american movie: the making of northwestern
19. eyes wide shut
20. willy wonka and the chocolate factory
21. pickup on south street
22. shakespeare in love
23. barfly
24. casablanca
25. in the company of men
26. in the mood for love
27. his girl friday
28. roger and me
29. rushmore
30. a night at the opera
31. l’avventura
32. y tu mama tambien
33. the bank dick
34. the graduate
35. bottle rocket
36. a short film about love
37. this is spinal tap
38. glengarry glenross
39. general idi amin dada
40. the empire strikes back
41. the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie
42. jackie brown
43. sex and lucia
44. the producers
45. happiness
46. magnolia
47. breakfast at tiffany’s
48. a woman under the influence
49. stardust memories
50. reservoir dogs
51. being john malkovich
52. the firemen’s ball
53. night of the living dead
54. buena vista social club
55. chinatown
56. the philadelphia story
57. gone with the wind
58. the grand illusion
59. animal house
60. scenes from a marriage
61. straw dogs
62. the great dictator
63. the postman always rings twice
64. beetlejuice
65. ferris bueller’s day off
66. day for night
67. singin in the rain
68. don’t look back
69. waiting for guffman
70. akira
71. strictly ballroom
72. vertigo
73. catch me if you can
74. safety last!
75. the passion of joan of arc
76. dumb and dumber
77. patton
78. the jerk
79. steamboat bill jr
80. greed
81. blood of a poet
82. night and fog
83. life of bryan o'connor
84. ghostbusters
85. tie me up tie me down
86. the motorcycle diaries
87. blow up
88. pink narcissus
89. on the waterfront
90. 8 1/2
91. mean streets
92. comedian
93. I was a male war bride
94. the virgin suicides
95. the princess bride
96. top gun
97. blood simple
98. gimme shelter
99. the insider
100. mitchell

02 June 2005

25 Years.

I’d like to tell you about a tradition started by my friends that is celebrating its 8th year. Each New Year’s Eve, no matter where we are, we dedicate a year to one friend. I was the recipient of the first year, and ever since I’ve tried to have a hand in negotiating who gets the new year dedicated to them. We’re starting to get to a point where every good high school friend will shortly have to accept a second year, and I think that’s great. Bryan got his year in 2003, and he got his in (what one person would consider) an underhanded way. Our good friend Rob Moynihan, at the beginning of New Year’s Day 2003, made out with two girls at once at a bar in New York’s East Village. He immediately proclaimed it his year. His brother Pat and I, sensing this uncharacteristic, drunken, and distasteful display of immodesty, decided to spite him and choose Bryan instead. Bryan had a good 2003, but I’ll tell you this without inhibition: I always envied him for having an even better 2004, and thus far, a solid 2005. Now, no one I know including my grandmother deserves three years. But Bryan has made a pretty good case. If you were to take the man I knew from the beginning of 2003 and compare him to the man I know in ought-5, you can say only that he’s still tall. But the purpose of having one year is not to have just one year. I have always felt that after 1998 I’ve made some serious progress. I admit quite freely that every year after 1998 has probably been better. But that I think is the point.

To take a year of life and embrace it an easy habit to get into, and although I won’t get a second year til Schroeck, Shevy, and Rob the makeout king get theirs (hell, there’s room for a Jill year, as long as Bryan doesn’t usurp it), I can say that I’ve had good ones since the tradition began. Let it continue I say.

Here’s the list of years assigned thus far, as best I can recall:

1998 Me
1999 Hull
2000 The Wass
2001 Linck
2002 Spence
2003 O’Connor
2004 Patrick M.
2005 McDowell

One thing that never really caught on was the peak. I may have had a hand in ruining the tradition before it got started. Matt asked me when I got my year on January 1, 1998, what the peak was – that is – what day would be the biggest, most explosive day of the year.

I chose at random, picking the most obscure day from the calendar I could think of:

“March 4th. March 4th is gonna be fuckin’ nuts.”

And Matt held me to it. But on Wednesday, March 4th, 1998, on the peak of my year, I celebrated by staying home from school. It went with a whimper. Pat’s was April 1, 2004. Again, April Fools 2004 doesn’t stick out in my mind. He doesn’t have a blog to consult, so who knows for sure. Perhaps he called up the two girls Rob made out with and pretended to be his brother. We all know he’s done it before. But even though McDowell is somewhere in the Mountain Time Zone having one bang-up year, I can’t remember what day I’m supposed to call him and be like, “Well, has it peaked?”

It’s my birthday today and I’m working in the evening as usual. Later this morning I’m going to my favorite restaurant in the world for breakfast, where a good friend is now the breakfast waitress. My roommate asked to accompany me before she goes to work but it’s no use eating breakfast in SoHo at 7:30 and then trying to find something to do for the next 3 hours, till something else in the neighborhood opens. Odds are good that I’ll have my breakfast at 10am alone, then go about the day as usual. If I were to look for a peak it would probably be tomorrow. I’m playing co-host to one of the biggest parties I’ve ever attended. The Blackmail Concert / June B-Days / June D. Party should be tough to top.

But if we can muster the strength to keep a damned good tradition alive, I think it warrants review. Shouldn't we, spread at an ever-increasing distance from one another, revive some part of it that allows us to call the person with the year on one day of it? Just a quick, "What do you have to say for yourself?" I never did go visit Darren at the University of Maine during his year, but that was an 8-hour drive. This is one lousy phone call. I think I can handle it. If McDowell’s got a peak I want to hear it, cuz its his year. I’m just livin’ in it.

And Rob, you're on the ballot again December 31. Just don't tell that damned sob story again.

Pat '89