March 21st, 2008

#973: Thoughts on American History X

I just finished watching that film on FX, and--after a shower and a couple of cheeseburgers--feel ready to comment on the movie.

The basic story is of a white supremecist/skinhead who got out of prison. He'd been jailed for three years for manslaughter; some black men had tried to steal his truck, and he shot both of them. One died from that; he broke the other's neck.

The story revolves around three fateful days in his family's life: the day he gets out of prison, the day he killed the two robbers, and the day his father was shot while trying to do his job as a fireman.

Mostly the action concentrates on the day he, Derek, gets out of prison, and the day after; but in flashback (thoughtfully shot in black-and-white) we get glimpses of the other two days.

Overall it was a pretty well-executed film. I only really take one exception to the writing of the film.

And that is Derek's politics.

About 90% of Derek's politics are mainstream conservative politics; it's only when he starts talking about blacks and jews that his views diverge from mainstream conservatism.

He discusses illegal immigration and the costs it levies on US citizens, and his discussion is (with the exception of the racial lingo) pretty much congruent with mainstream conservatism. His father discusses the failings of affirmative action and--again, with the exception of the racial lingo--matches the mainstream conservative position. Derek's position on the whole Rodney King fiasco is the same way. It's like the writers did their research on skinhead politics by listening to Rush Limbaugh, then adding a leveaning of words like "nigger", "spic", and "kike".

In short, Derek is not really a skinhead or a white supremecist, not really; he's a Hollywood caricature of a conservative.

White supremecists are nuts, and Derek is clearly not nuts. Misguided? Definitely--but by the end of the movie we're shown that he's learned from his time in prison that his "white power" leanings aren't doing him any good whatsoever, and he's decided to walk away from that and start over. They don't devote any time to his politics after he's let out of prison--all his polemics are told in flashbacks--but it would have been beyond cheesy for him to go into prison a skinhead and come out a campus liberal. Cheesy, unrealistic, and stupid.

Look at the materials that white supremecists distribute. Bear in mind that the Republican party and mainstream conservatives regard skinheads as crazy, paranoid, and/or ignorant.

The political mindset of skinheads also falls outside the Republican political spectrum. The Republican party was founded on anti-racist principles including the abolition of slavery, and none of the civil rights advances could have happened without Republican support. Never forget that it was Southern Democrats who gave us "Jim Crow" laws and segregation and all the other bullshit. (Also never forget that early Republicans were among the first targets of the KKK.)

But the writers had a problem: if they showed Derek behaving like a real skinhead, it would have been impossible for the audience to have any sympathy for him. (Not to mention that many Hollywood liberals regard all conservatives as skinheads, anyway, without the shaven heads or tattoos.) So they softened the skinhead ideology.

That's about it for the things I didn't like about the movie. I was annoyed that the writers had him in prison for what was clearly a case of self-defense...until they showed Derek breaking the other robber's neck. That was murder, obviously de-rated to "manslaughter" via some kind of plea agreement or something, though the exact details aren't really important. What is important is that it showed Derek's anger at blacks--the ones who shot his father, specifically, and the race of blacks in general--and provided his route to prison.

My only other real quarrel with the movie, then, is one line at the end. Gangbangers kill Derek's younger brother, Dennis, because Dennis "dissed" one of them in school the day before. Derek cradles his dead brother's head and laments, "What have I done?" Only Derek doesn't seem to realize that he doesn't bear the responsibility for his brother's death; the kid who shot him is 100% at fault for that.

Other than those complaints, I have to say it was a pretty good movie.

#974: Thank you, Judge McReynolds!

There is no excuse for going 120 MPH on a public highway.

A 17-year-old girl, driving Mommy's (or Daddy's) Mercedes, was driving 55 MPH over the limit. 10 MPH more and she would have been going 2x the legal limit which--according to my calculations--is 65.

If I were her father, she'd be grounded until summer vacation began, and she would never again drive any vehicle belonging to me. "You want to drive? Get a job and buy a car. And pay your own insurance." ...which will be staggeringly expensive with a traffic conviction like that on it.

Look, if she'd been caught going 10--even 20--over, she would have gotten a typical "slap on the wrist" fine and it wouldn't have made the papers. In fact, if her parents hired a lawyer for her, she probably could have gotten off with a lot less than that. But the fact is, you can't slough off going 185% of the legal limit.

The first time I ever went 100 MPH, I was on an empty portion of interstate highway and I was 18 years old. I was driving a 10-year-old car and was really lucky nothing went wrong--although the car had been checked by a mechanic before I took the trip, and he had pronounced it fit for long-distance travel, and I only kept up that speed for a short time.

...in fact I don't think I ever really mentioned it to anyone, either. It was more along the lines of, "Hey, the highway is empty, it's day, the road is dry, I can see a long distance, and I have confidence in my vehicle...let's go 100! Just so I can say I did!"

And I haven't driven that fast since then. I think I hit 90 once, in a much newer car, in about 1996.

A friend of mine drove 100+ in a 1970s Mercury Marquis, down a regular country road, at night, and it really made me nervous.

* * *

What it all comes down to is the fact that there is simply no reason for anyone (virtually anyone) to be driving that fast. There are a few limited circumstances where it would be okay for someone with the right training to drive that fast on a public highway--but they are all life-and-death emergencies and I'm talking about police and rescue personnel who have taken high-speed driving courses, driving vehicles with flashing lights and warning sirens--not some stupid high schooler out for a drive in Mommy's car.

A surprising number of the comments for that article are from people who share my view of the situation; the rest are full of the usual stupid crap from the usual morons: "you're just jealous", "she didn't do anything wrong", "I drive like that all the time", "she didn't endanger anyone's life but her own", etc.

At that speed on a public highway, you are not just endangering yourself. If you lose control of the car, it can go anywhere, and at 120 MPH you could easily end up in the opposing lanes. Hit another car and you've probably killed not only yourself but whoever was in the other car. Hit a semi and you've ruined some trucker's day.

Only if you run into a bridge abutment or something do you only pose a danger to yourself; that's the point: you have no control over who you put at risk if something goes wrong. You're not endangering only yourself; you are endangering others.

People who "drive like that all the time" are fooling themselves. The dice have no memory: just because you've gotten away with driving really fast for years does not mean you'll always get away with it. Sooner or later you will have an accident, and because you drive so damn fast you'll probably die. This kind of person is why radar detectors ought to be illegal.

Too many people regard speed limits as applying only when there are police around. (Another reason radar detectors ought to be illegal.) These people think that speed limits are there to keep them from doing what they want to do. That's not the case. Roads are designed to allow safe travel at a certain speed, and above that speed things get dangerous. A particular car might be able to handle a 55 MPH road at 100 MPH, but since most cars cannot, a vehicle traveling much faster than the limit is a hazard in itself. The point is, speed limits are there to promote safety, and usually they are very carefully considered by the people who designed the roads in the first place. In fact, the laws which govern speed limits themselves are carefully considered for the same reason.

My friends, back in the days surrounding my senior year of high school, used to get on my case because I didn't drive fast enough down one street in my neighborhood. It was clearly a residential road, meaning that the limit is 25; I drove it at about 30. They insisted that it was the next step up and I could go 35 (in what was, they said, a 30 zone). I never backed down and never went faster than 30 on that road. Worst case, I was going five over; if the road actually was a 30 MPH road (it wasn't, trust me) I was driving at the speed limit.

But I think it's instructive that a bunch of teenage boys were urging me to go five miles a hour faster in a situation where it wouldn't make a damn lick of difference. Teenagers are like that.

Ultimately I think Judge McReynolds has done one of two things. If the girl has any brains in her head, she will learn that the law applies to everyone--including her--and that she can't do whatever she wants whenever she wants. If she is stupid, she will blame the cop and the court and the system for ruining her life.

I wish I had confidence that the latter case would not win out. Unfortunaely, I do not.