Yes, I’m getting bored with these stripped-down designs, and yes, we’ll probably be looking at this for all of March. All 31 days. All 31 grey, grimy, clammy, cruel-snow days. But as you may have noticed, I’m actually holding up that weekly not-insignificant-update thing. This week’s update will be some thrilling first-day covers in the Engraveyard, but that’ll have to wait for Wednesday. Today, of course, a matchbook. And it’s matchbook #99. Which will be matchbook 100? The pressure is almost too great. I may skip directly to #101.

Today: movies, and John Kerry’s odd come-to-Jebus moment.

When we decided to see a movie with the Giant Swedes, we had to choose a flick. I asked my first & most important question: is there anything playing that has rockets? No. I nixed any teen sex romps, or grim action movies based around internal combustion engines (exception: Bullitt. Ronin) or any sort of film in which a character has an awakening in the south of France. That left “Mystic River.”

First, previews. An Angelica Jolie movie where she doesn’t seem completely nuts. Still can’t get past the airbag lips, though. The preview gave away the entire movie: hey, thanks for saving me the time! Alamo preview: as Christopher Marlowe would have put it, “tis t eh suck.” I know it’s an event dear to Texans, but I can never quite forget that Santa Ana ended up in New York as a chicle importer. Then “Troy,” which could be good if it avoids anachronisms. Note: anachronisms are inevitable. Then the little animation that shows the AMC mascot, who is composed of filmstrips. I hate him. I have no idea why. I hate all the movie chain mascots, because they’re supposed to make me feel good about the brand, and I have no desire in feeling anything about the brand. As long as the floors do not feel paved with Post-It notes and the sightlines are good, I don’t care what parent firm blows it logo on the shiny wall.

I was under the impression that I liked the movie until I discussed it with my wife, and then it became remarkably clear that I hadn’t. She pointed out a Big Honking Thing we were expected to believe, and how she hadn’t bought it for a second, and she laid out the reasons why. Hmm. I’d thought the same thing, fleetingly, but had dismissed them, but they lodged like a fishbone in her throat – or optic nerve, perhaps. But in retrospect I think I like it a bit more than I thought I didn’t, if you know what I mean. Tim Robbins is okay, FOR A COMMIE! Kidding. He plays a guy who’s alternately “slow” and “mental,” thereby doubling his Oscar chances. Kevin Bacon I usually can’t stand unless he’s playing a humbled man, and he’s been whapped with the humble stick here. Lawrence Fishburne proves again he’s the only man in the world who can play Lawrence Fishburne; you’d be nuts to cast anyone else. After his role in the last two Matrixes as cyberspace’s most dangerous pufferfish, it’s nice to see him act again instead of simply intone. Sean Penn, however, deserves an Oscar. Sure, it’s an easy call, because he’s emoting all over the place, and Hollywood loves actors who can turn on the tap and pour out Dark Anguish. But he’s really, really good. He’s so tense you expect him to implode like a neutron star and suck all the light out of the picture.

Sometimes you can tell when a book is adapted with inappropriate reverence – the details that work, if barely, in a novel look tiresome and contrived on the screen. (Note to aspiring novelists: ask yourself how your favorite cool brilliant idea would look on the screen, and if it looks lame, ask yourself why.) At the end of the movie a few plot threads were cinched together like someone yanking the rope on a bag of cats, and it just didn’t work. Plus, I was gunshy after LOTR, and the coda had that reverential portentous pace that suggested nineteen codas would follow. But they didn’t.

If ever I direct a movie, which I won’t, it will run 101 minutes, and it will never ever make you fear it’ll be 142. My promise to you.

Love this. From Drudge:

Elizabeth Bumiller of the NEW YORK TIMES asked Kerry: "President Bush has said that freedom and fear have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them. He's made quite clear in his speeches that he feels God is on America's side.

"Is God on America's side?"

Oooooh, that’s a good one. It lets the questioner get in a Bush dig while posing a stumper that’s rather difficult to fudge. Of course people can have long complex theological arguments about the matter (just had one with my wife, for that matter – 40 minutes of intelligent discussion that completely missed the point, because she came at it from the lofty abstract approach, and I was looking at it solely through the cruel lens of politics.

If you want to be president of the United States, of course, your answer is simple: “yes,” and you move along to health care as soon as you can. Because the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God, and they like to think they’re on the right side of the big guy. But! If you say “yes” without footnoting your statement, you run the risk of alienating the voters who get Marty-Feldman eys when politicians claim they have God on their side. Kerry seems to be assuring his base that he shares the religious values of those who have religious values – and if you don’t, fine, no prob – and that he has all the spiritual opinions of George Bush without the off-putting assertions of conviction. But! If you waffle on this one because you don’t want your base to think God wanted us to invade Iraq, then you’re suggesting that God preferred Saddam to remain in power, or that God wanted the US to work through the UN. Yea, the Lord did appear, and commandest the faithful to audit the Oil-for-Food program, and to pass a draft resolution expressing the will of the council for greater accountability.

If God is generally on our side but opposes the doctrine of preemption, then God would have shook His head at the invasion of Iraq. In which case He would have been more troubled by the invasion that resulted in liberation than the horrors of daily life in Iraq. War is bad. But Iraqis might have liberated themselves at some point down the road.

True enough. But how do you ask someone to be the last man to get fed to a plastic shredder for a regime that collapsed a day later?

Kerry’s reply:

Well, God will -- look, I think -- I believe in God, but I don't believe, the way President Bush does, in invoking it all the time in that way. I think it is -- we pray that God is on our side, and we pray hard. And God has been on our side through most of our existence.

My follow-up: Well, Senator Kerry, when wasn’t He? I’m not saying that God has favored all our undertakings, as the dollar bill suggests; surely slavery was a gross offense. But let’s press the matter and bring up the central animating issue of Kerry’s persona: was God on our side in Vietnam? You have several answers:

He was.

He was, but He disapproved of the way the war was handled.

He wasn’t.

The first is unacceptable to Kerry. The second just sounds silly. The third is consistent with what Kerry said after he came back from Vietnam; how could God countenance such horrors? But that puts God on the side of the triumph of atheistic communism.

Let’s go back to the answer: I don’t believe the way President Bush does, in invoking it all the time in that way.

Like this?

In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America.
We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.

FDR’s third inaugural address. Like this?

God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world.

FDR’s fourth inaugural address. Like this?

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

That’s JFK. Here’s Bush:

More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.

And the speech to the troops a year ago:

Iraqis are a good and gifted people. They deserve better than a life spent bowing before a dictator. The people of Iraq deserve to stand on their feet as free men and women, the citizens of a free country.

This goal of a free and peaceful Iraq unites our coalition. And this goal comes from the deepest convictions of America. The freedom you defend is the right of every person and the future of every nature. The liberty we prize is not American's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.

State of the Union, Sept 20, 2001, when the fires at Ground Zero still burned:

I will not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.

That’s why I think it was a brilliant question. It doesn’t tell you who God favors – we all can have that debate. It tells you about the man answering the question. I ask you: who’s speaking his heart, and who’s crafting a response on the fly trying to cover all bases? One more question: take these two statements:

“The liberty we prize is not American's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.”


“We pray that God is on our side, and we pray hard. And God has been on our side through most of our existence.”

Which one best represents the face of America you’d like the President to show to the world?
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