Monday, May 31, 2010

Top 25: War Films You Should Know

In honor of Memorial Day, let’s talk about the Top 25 war movies you should see to be well versed in war movies. This is an interesting list because it mixes some patriotic films with some anti-war movies, and it includes movies that are fairly accurate and some that are complete fantasy.

Interestingly, there are few war films that deal with the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, the Mexican American War or Korea. And those films that do touch on these topics can hardly be considered memorable or influential. You may also note that there is nothing about Iraq (for which I recommend the miniseries Generation Kill). Let us begin. . .

1. Apocalypse Now (Redux) (1979): This movie sits atop many greatest war movies lists and it deserves its place -- but make sure you see the redux. Based on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” Apocalypse Now is a criticism of the Vietnam war. But it is not anti-war or anti-American, despite what many people believe (I should do an article on this point). What it is, is critical of distant commanders living in luxury as they send troops to fight wars on a part-time basis. It is a criticism of starting wars but not fighting to win. Now’s characters, all played by top-notch actors, are iconic, and you literally can’t escape its most famous quotes, from “the horror, the horror,” to “Saigon, I’m still in Saigon,” to “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

2. Platoon (1986): I don’t like starting this list with two Vietnam movies in a row, but they both deserve their places. Platoon is the movie that changed the relationship between the public and Vietnam veterans. Even though Oliver Stone intended this as an anti-military diatribe, Americans took this film as an opportunity to embrace Vietnam Veterans and to make peace with the war. It’s also an extremely well done movie that became the template for all future movies based about Vietnam. Incidentally, this is not the only film to backfire on Stone, see e.g. Wall Street which had a generation of Americans idolizing Gordon Gekko. “Somebody once wrote: ‘Hell is the impossibility of reason.’ That's what this place feels like.”

3. The Longest Day (1962): This movie is one of those shining moments. This movie features a who’s who of Hollywood leading men from the 1950s/1960s, who work their way through American’s crowning moment in World War II -- the D-Day invasion. It’s well written, well acted, well shot, and it doesn’t cheapen the Allies’ achievement by making the Germans into subhuman creatures or idiots. And all of this adds up to a movie that feels as real as a documentary, but is as entertaining as carefully crafted fiction. “The thing that's always worried me about being one of the few is the way we keep on getting fewer.”

4. Gettysburg (1993): Gettysburg the battle is the most pivotal moment in our nation’s history: a Southern victory would have meant British recognition and a permanent split. Gettysburg the film is easily the greatest Civil War movie. Filmed before CGI, the producers gathered thousands of historical recreationists to create the most realistic Civil War battle scenes you will ever see. This movie shows all of the insanity of combat tactics in that era and the hardships the troops faced. It shows you how the armies differed, and how these really were citizen armies. And unlike movies like Glory, Gettysburg has no agenda; it presents a highly nuanced discussion of the nation’s politics and it gives all sides a fair presentation. “To be a good soldier you must love the army. To be a good commander you must be able to order the death of the thing you love.”

5. The Great Escape (1963): Despite its seemingly fantastic plot, The Great Escape is an amalgam of true stories combined into one giant escape. This movie presents some of the coolest leading men of its era but, unlike other ensemble films, this one is plot driven and it makes the actors work for it, rather than the other way around. This movie also, to its credit, presents a nuanced view of the Germans, showing the historical distinction between the treatment POWs received from the Luftwaffe versus the treatment received from the SS and the Gestapo. “It is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape.”

6. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): Based on the most important novel about the life of average soldiers, All Quiet follows a group of German boys who happily go off to fight for German in The Great War, WWI. They quickly learn that war is not what they thought it was. This is the first major anti-war film of the “talky” era, and this book/film set up the genre conventions and themes that continue to this very day. “War isn’t the way it looks back here.”

7. The Dirty Dozen (1967): A story of twelve convicts who are given the chance to earn their freedom by taking on an impossible mission, this is more of a tough guy film than a war film, but it’s become a classic war movie. This movie also shows how America was changing from the post-WWII era to the counter-culture era, as many counter-culture elements made their way into this film. In many ways, Dirty Dozen signals the end of the patriotic war film. “Killin' generals could get to be a habit with me.”

8. Das Boot (1981): Originally a German miniseries, this movie is the only realistic movie about submarine service. This film covers all the bases of the German U-boat campaign in the North Atlantic during WWII, and it does so accurately, from showing the privileges extended to submariners (beards and the fact that they did not adopt the Hitler salute), to showing the hardships of life on board, e.g. the cramped conditions, the stench, the boredom interspersed with shear terror, and it showed the terrible dangers, e.g. submariners had a 75% casualty rate. “ALARM!!”

9. Patton (1970): Ok, I have to admit, I don’t like this film. I find it dull, simplistic and uninteresting -- kind of like The Big Red One. But millions of people love this film and it is considered George C. Scott’s finest film, so it belongs here. “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

10. Bridge On The River Kwai (1957): Alec Guinness plays a British commander who, through power of personality, all but takes over the prison camp where he and his men are being made to work on a bridge for the Japanese. . . until Guinness starts to go insane. Beautifully shot by David Lean, tremendous acting and highly dramatic, this is a brilliant film, though this film really angers the veterans who were there, who point out that none of it is factual (even the river is misnamed) and that it completely ignores the horrific brutality of the Japanese. “We can teach these barbarians a lesson in Western methods and efficiency that will put them to shame. We'll show them what the British soldier is capable of doing.”

11. Saving Private Ryan (1998): I have serious problems with the characters in this film, who are far too cynical and far too modern to accurately represent Americans of the WWII generation. I also despise the emotional manipulation that permeates this film. But I can’t deny its place on the list. This film opened the door for more gory, realistic war movies, and would reset the template for future war movies. Still, I much prefer the far superior miniseries Band of Brothers. “James Francis Ryan of Iowa? Your brothers were killed in combat. . . all of them.”

12. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949): Sands is the story of a group of American Marines as they island hop in the Pacific. It climaxes with the invasion of Iwo Jima. This movie captures the resolved spirit of America at the time, a spirit symbolized by quiet determination and unselfish sacrifice without glory-seeking. I also see this as John Wayne’s finest performance. Interestingly, this film has recently come under fire for its portrayal of Japanese soldiers in ways that are now considered racially insulting and its use of the term “Jap.” "That’s war. . . trading real estate for men."

13. Stalag 17 (1953): Staring William Holden, this is the drama that inspired Hogan’s Heroes. This is a tremendous story about justice in a POW camp and how easily people are turned against each other when they suspect a fellow prisoner of being a German spy. “What is this anyway, a kangaroo court? Why don't you get a rope and do it right?”

14. Full Metal Jacket (1987): Jacket follows a group of recruits as they go through Marine Corp training and ultimately end up in Vietnam. To me, this film suffers from Kubrick Syndrome, i.e. I respect it much more than I like it, but its images and quotes have embedded themselves deeply in our culture. A good, but much less well known substitute that follows similar lines is The Boys In Company C. “What is your major malfunction?”

15. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970): An ensemble piece that established the template for movies like Midway and miniseries like The Winds of War, Tora tells the story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor from both the Japanese and American sides. As a typical ensemble film, Tora suffers from having too many characters and trying to give them all equal time. It also works for its actors rather than the other way around, e.g. each actor gets to play smarter, wiser and more noble than the people they are portraying really were. “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

16. Sergeant York (1941): This film is a biography about America’s biggest World War I hero, Sergeant Alvin York, whose life parallels American thinking at the time of WWI. York, a pacifist, wanted nothing to do with the wider world, but when he found himself drafted, he did his duty and he did it with modesty and American practicality. York became a true American hero, and Gary Cooper plays him perfectly. “Folks back home used to say I could shoot a rifle before I was weaned, but they was exaggeratin' some.”

17. Zulu (1964): Filmed as a protest against imperialism, Zulu is the best film about colonial armies. The story involves the Zulus who have massacred a British column and are now headed toward populated areas in South Africa. Standing in their way was a small British detachment at Rorke’s Drift. Combining incredible cinematography, with a true story, a fair presentation of both sides, and filmed with the participation of actual Zulu warriors (and their king), this is a compelling film. It was also Michael Caine’s first major role. “If 1,200 men couldn't hold a defensive position this morning, what chance have we with 100?”

18. Black Hawk Down (2001): A true story of when a small group of American special forces soldiers found themselves surrounded by thousands of Somali gunmen, this film is the modern American version of Zulu. We also know now that many of these gunmen were trained and equipped by Al Qaeda, making this the first battle of the modern war on terror. “Nobody gets left behind.”

19. Kelly’s Heroes (1970): One of the few “capers” films to use World War II as a setting, this is a truly entertaining film about Clint Eastwood and his merry band of malcontents who decide to skip on ahead of the American army so they can steal a vault full of gold bars. “Then make a DEAL! . . . maybe the guy’s a Republican. Business is business, right?”

20. The Dawn Patrol (1938): This is the first film to my knowledge which dealt with the loneliness of command. Staring Errol Flynn and David Niven, Flynn finds himself going from carefree WWI fighter pilot to commander of a squadron and soon needs to send his friends to their deaths. “You know what this place is? It's a slaughterhouse, and I'm the butcher!”

21. The Guns of Navarone (1961): This was written as an anti-war movie by a writer with communist sympathies during the cold war. But, as so often happens, it actually makes a very different statement. Indeed, the main theme to the movie ultimately comes across as “it’s time to take a stand and stop sitting on the sidelines,” which is actually a rather pro-war statement. “You think you've been getting away with it all this time, standing by. Well, son, your bystanding days are over! You're in it now, up to your neck.”

22. Where Eagles Dare (1968): More a spy film set in WWII than a war film, Eagles is nevertheless an excellent movie about the less conventional aspects of WWII. Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood are sent on a mission to expose traitors in British Intelligence. “Broadsword calling Danny Boy.”

23. The Green Berets (1968): The only pro-Vietnam War film made, this John Wayne film follows a small detachment of Green Beret soldiers as they train South Vietnamese soldiers. The movie does a good job of laying out why we were fighting, but the film is overly simplistic and lacks realism. Still, it’s worth seeing. “That's newspapers for you, ma'am. You could fill volumes with what you don't read in them.”

24. A Bridge Too Far (1977): Bridge is the true story of an overly-ambitious paratroop attack that went wrong. This film suffers from being an ensemble film with too many characters, each being too over-the-top heroic, and it is difficult to accept anti-war types like Robert Redford playing heroic American soldiers. But the film is entertaining and it is well known. “We haven't the proper facilities to take you all prisoner! Sorry!”

25. They Were Expendable (1945): This John Wayne/John Ford film is about the PT boats that defended the Philippines after Pearl Harbor, and how the Navy came to respect their value, particularly as they became essential in evacuating senior personnel from the advancing Japanese.

There are, of course, others that did not make the list for various reasons. I did not include Schindler’s List because it’s not really a war movie. I didn’t include Paths of Glory and Cross of Iron, two excellent films, because they simply aren’t that well known. If I could add one film that everyone should see, it would be a Finish movie: Talvisota (The Winter War) (1989). This is the story of the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939 told from the Finish perspective. It is an excellent film.

Anything you would add? Anything you would remove?

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

World War II Fading Into History. . .

As I get older, my perception of time changes. Interestingly, things that once seemed “contemporaneous” and “permanent” slowly begin to fade into the past and lose their reality. I’ve noticed this particularly with regard to World War II lately, which no longer seems very real. On the one hand, this is probably a good thing, as it lets us abandon ancient grudges and move on fresh into the future. But on the other hand, this represents a dangerous loss of wisdom.

Although I was born well after WWII (1970 actually), WWII was very real for me. Not only did I visit Germany growing up -- where the war was still being played out in many ways, e.g. I vividly recall riding a bike on an abandoned highway that was cut in half by a border fence -- but the remnants of WWII seemed to be everywhere in America as well. Many of the people I ran into were veterans of the war, and people still talked about it a good deal in casual conversation. References to it came up all the time in politics and in the news. It even permeated our culture. For example, the networks regularly showed WWII films on Saturday afternoons, and prime time often touched upon it, see for example The Winds of War. Plus, whenever they wanted to give a character an interesting past, they just hinted at what the character “had done during the war,” which always meant WWII.

But this seems to be vanishing. I can’t think of the last time WWII was mentioned on the news, and WWII war movies are shown less often. Magnum P.I. was the first television character I recall who served in Vietnam rather than WWII, and he stood out for this. Today, I can’t think of any television or film character who served in WWII. Instead, these characters call themselves “Iraq War Veterans,” or they make up a string of wars -- “Bosnia, Desert Storm, Iraq.” Even the old, old, old guys only trace their histories back to Vietnam now. WWII as a movie setting also has largely fallen out of favor.

I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it is great that our species is capable of putting its past behind itself and moving forward. This should, except in rare circumstances, allow us to forget and to forgive and to move on without carrying around ancient grudges -- though some groups, e.g. the Balkans, simply refuse to give up these grudges and they pay a heavy price in continuous violence for it. This ability to move on is what helps us look forward to a better future rather than dwelling on the past.

But at the same time, as history becomes less real, i.e. personal, to us, we are losing a great deal of hard-won wisdom. In the 1990s, I visited Germany and, for the first time, found the Germans willing to talk about the war. My grandfather died when I was young, so he never spoke to me about it -- he had been drafted out of medical school and sent to Russia. My grandmother never wanted to talk about it until near the end of her life. But when she did finally talk, the stories were unforgettable. These were the kinds of stories you just don’t hear in America, because nothing like this has ever happened here. She spoke of friends who disappeared during bombing raids, never to be seen again -- not even a corpse was found. She spoke of the random event (an unexpected patient) that kept her working later than expected one night, causing her to miss a meeting which would have resulted in her dying the night the Allies destroyed Dresden. She spoke of the Russian soldier who, for reasons unknown, did not shoot her even though he found my grandfather’s uniform when he searched her apartment -- this normally led to summary execution. I met an old German farmer who drove a tank across Russia and told stories that were truly horrific. And there were others. But all of these people are gone now, and with their passing goes their perspective.

We can remember history through documentaries, but those are sterile and impersonal. They don’t convey the horror and the randomness of war like these stories do. Indeed, unlike a documentary, which is abstract to us, these stories personalize what happened, and they help give us pause whenever we start thinking too casually about blowing each other up. And when these stories are gone, all that we have left are facts, figures and a few photos that will never make these events as real to us as hearing about them first hand.

Moreover, these same people provide a perspective on when war is absolutely necessary that is utterly lacking in the modern debate. People who lived through WWII knew what was at stake, the life and the death of it, and they saw the consequences of letting someone like a Hitler or a Stalin come to power. To them, these were not abstract issues. Today’s generation, however, has lost touch with the wisdom that was earned at such a high price during WWII. They now think nothing of flirting with dictators and with the economic/social models that brought about hundreds of millions of deaths during the past century because they have no concept of what these types of evil men and evil ideas wrought. And if they have no grasp of the real differences between a Bush and a Hitler, then they are blind to the Hitlers in their midsts.

So while we should celebrate the human ability to move on and start fresh, it should also give us pause that we are losing so much hard-earned wisdom, and we should take great care not only to remember the big facts and the abstract concepts, but also the personal experiences.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

In Memoriam*

As Memorial Day weekend gets into full swing, I would like to take a moment to remember and thank all of those who have served and died for this nation. They made the supreme sacrifice so that others may continue to live free.

And I would like thank one soldier in particular - my uncle, Earl G. Thurman. He passed away a few years ago after living a long and fruitful life, but he almost did not get the chance to live that life. At the age of only 19 years old, he answered his country’s call to service during WWII and went as an Army soldier to the Pacific theatre. Shortly thereafter he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and spent four hellish years enduring daily torture, slavery, and starvation. There was no “Geneva Convention” in a Japanese prison camp, so at the age where most kids are worrying about freshman English finals, he was witnessing and enduring unspeakable horrors including having to watch a fellow prisoner die of rabies. He was well into his 70’s before he would talk in any detail about his experiences.

He was quite simply my hero. He survived. He survived by his guts and because of his deep faith in God. I did not know until he died, and I read the news articles posted at his funeral, that none of the prisoners knew what was going on outside their prison camp. During his inprisonment, there were no Red Cross visits or humanitarian relief, only enslaved labor and torture. My uncle had no idea that we were winning the war, but he had faith that God would not forsake him. Then one day his prayers were answered, and his guards and torturers left. They just walked away. Shortly after that, the American airplanes began to fly over. God had not forsaken him and soon he and his fellow prisoners were on a ship for home. He returned to his small town in Texas at the age of 23 years now 6’3” and 110 lbs. My grandmother spent a long time fattening him up on her good Southern cooking and he got medals and his picture in the local paper. He went on to marry and to have a daughter, to graduate from college, and to spend the next 60 years honoring his family, his country, and his God.

I was 30 years old before it occurred to me how young he was when he was taken prisoner. I know that not a day went by that he did not think about his experience, but it never stopped him and never slowed him down. And he never lost his faith in God. It was a revelation to me and, ever since when I think life is sending me lemons, I think of him. It puts everything back into perspective. Bless you, Uncle Earl. I miss you, but I know that you are at the right hand of God and I hope you are getting to play lots of golf.

*With a few changes, this was first posted on May 24, 2009.
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“I Did Not Offer A Job To That (Joe)Man.”

Ah Bill Clinton, is there no scandal you won’t join? Let’s dissect this Joe Sestak matter because it’s import. Indeed, it appears that a very serious crime has been committed. BUT, this is something the Republicans need to shut up about. Here’s why. . .
1. The Facts: What Happened
Here is what happened in JobGate.
1. Joe Sestak begins a primary challenge against turncoat Sen. Snarlin Arlen Specter.

2. Soon Sestak starts bragging that the White House offered him a job to drop his senate bid. On Larry King, he was asked: “Were you ever offered a federal job to get out of this race?” Answer: “Yes.” The following day, on FOX News, he was asked if he was offered “a federal job, a White House or administrative job.” Sestak said “yes.” On Joe Scarborough he was asked if it was “an offer to run the Navy.” Sestak said “yes.” At no point in this interview or any others did he ever suggest that he wasn’t actually offered a job or that it was only an advisor position. That’s called an admission.

3. People start pointing out that this is a felony (see below). And the Republicans ask Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor. Holder refuses. That’s called a cover-up.

4. Obama is questioned by the media and avoids responding: “You will get it from my administration, and it will be coming out shortly. . . I can assure the public that nothing improper took place, but as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue.” That’s called a non-denial denial and indicates a cover-up in progress.

5. Sestak is asked to clarify exactly what the job was. He now refuses to answer: “I have nothing else to say on the matter.” That’s guilty talk.

6. Obama and Clinton meet for lunch. That’s called conspiracy.

7. The White House issues a very carefully-worded, very evasive white wash memo that claims that Bill Clinton met with Sestak, not anyone from the White House, and that Bill only offered to put Sestak on an “uncompensated advisory board.” It also claims that Republicans have done this in the past too. . . although it doesn’t cite any examples. Demonization is always an acknowledgement of guilt

8. Finally, Sestak issued a statement saying he had turned down an unpaid advisor job. That's called conspiracy after the fact.
2. Why This Is A Crime
If a job was offered to Sestak, then a felony was committed. Here’s why:
1. 18 U.S.C. section 211 makes it a crime to solicit or receive anything of value in exchange for appointing (or influencing the appointment of) someone to an office or job with the United States. This is subject to one year in prison and a fine.

2. 18 U.S.C. section 595 makes it a crime for anyone to use a federal job, federal funds, or a federal position to interfere with a Senate election. This is subject to one year in prison and a fine.

3. 18 U.S.C. section 600, makes it a crime to offer public employment in exchange for political activity. This is the Hatch Act, which was passed in 1939 to stop the practice of hiring political hacks for government jobs and to stop the use of government resources to promote political parties, i.e. to depoliticize the federal work force. However, the only penalty appears to be termination of employment.
Each of these applies “directly or indirectly,” meaning that going through a third party is the same thing as doing it yourself. . . hi Bill. Thus, everyone involved in this could be sentenced up to two years in prison, fined, and lose any federal job they hold. Removing a President would require impeachment.
3. Why This Should Be Investigated
Speaking as an attorney, this has all the hallmarks of a crime that is now being covered up. Can it be proven? Possibly. That’s why you need a special prosecutor. They can call in all the witnesses and quiz them, including secretaries and assistants. It is the secretaries and assistants who usually break a case open either because they decide not to lie for their bosses (though, in truth, they usually do lie) or they don’t know what lie to tell (this is more common). The prosecutor can also subpoena phone records and computer records -- including e-mails, which is also where these things usually fall apart. After that, one or more main players will usually roll over and start telling the truth.

The other reason a special prosecutor should be called is that this is not an isolated incident. In Colorado, Andrew Romanoff is running against Sen. Michael Bennet in the Democratic primary. According to The Denver Post, Jim Messina, Obama’s deputy chief of staff, “suggested a place for Romanoff might be found in the administration and offered specific suggestions, according to several sources. . . Romanoff turned down the overture, which included mention of a job at USAID.” The day after, Romanoff announced his Senate bid. The White House has denied this, but “several top Colorado Democrats” have confirmed it anonymously to The Post.
4. Why Republicans Need To Shut The Heck Up Fast
Despite the fact that this is a crime, the Republicans need to shut the heck up about this. They should push to get a special prosecutor, but should not talk about impeachment and should not try to score points on this once a special prosecutor is appointed. Here’s why.

People do not like attacks that seem purely political. And they don’t like politicians using the criminal justice system to attack their opponents. They particularly don’t like politicians trying to “get” their opponents with esoteric laws. And the public will see this as esoteric. Why? Because Obama could have done this legally.

Presidents have the power to appoint anyone they want. Thus, Obama could have appointed Sestak to whatever position he has in mind and it would have been entirely legal, even if Sestak needed to drop his Senate bid to take the job. It only became illegal because of the quid-pro-quo aspect, the “you only get this if. . .” aspect. But since Obama could have done this legally by just omitting those words, people will see this as a “technically illegal” illegality. In my experience, people do not like those, and they hate it when politicians use those against their opponents.

Moreover, look at the history of using these kinds of attacks on opponents. Iran Contra made Oliver North into a hero and made the Democrats looks like incompetent, anti-American jerks. The impeachment of Bill Clinton made Bill Clinton much more popular than he had been and made Republicans look like nasty, intolerant, sex-obsessed tyrants. It also ended many a career on the Republican side, but only enhanced those on the left. Even consider Watergate. The Democrats didn’t bring down Nixon, Nixon brought down Nixon. And what did the Democrats gain? Nothing. They only beat Ford after he pardoned Nixon, and four years later came Ronald Reagan and a dramatic shift to the right.

This same history gets repeated in other countries as well. When politicians try to use criminal laws against their opponents, the crime better be ultra-serious. Anything that sounds technical or snippy will always blow up on the party that is perceived as exploiting the law.

The better approach is to let the investigation do its thing. Let a prosecutor go after these people and let the steady drip of allegations and the infighting do the damage. In the meantime, just keep saying, “serious allegations have been raised and there should be a prosecutor appointed to uncover the truth. The American people deserve the truth. Beyond that, I’ll wait to comment until after the investigation.”

That may not be the sexy strategy, but it's the smart strategy.

** Update: It now turns out that Sestak would not have been eligible for the job Clinton supposedly offered him. That makes their claims look even more like a coverup. That's what happens when you try to make up an "alibi" after the fact.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Question: Promotional Opportunity

Star Trek TNG characters never seem to get promoted. And frankly, that might be a good thing. I'm not sure any of them are ready to sit in the big chair. . . talk about people with issues! But if you had to choose one of them to promote, which one would it be? And why? Engage. [+] Read More...

Liberalism Kills. . . Hollywood Careers?

We all know that Hollywood is hostile to conservatives. From the liberal-only political contributions, to the scarcity of conservative messages in films, to the abundance of liberal garbage inserted into almost every movie, to the anecdotal stories told by conservatives of being blacklisted, there’s simply too much evidence to support this theory to think that people are just being paranoid. But is being an overt liberal also bad for your career? I think it is.

Let me start by admitting that I have no statistical evidence to back up this article, so this is merely supposition. But over the past 10-15 years, I’ve begun to notice a trend: Hollywood stars seem to kill their careers when they start spouting nasty liberalism.

Hollywood has always bent left. They’ve always made movies like Wall Street to blast “Republican” bankers, China Syndrome to blasted nuclear power, and a slew of movies to hate Nixon. . . boy do they hate Nixon! And there have always been actors who are primarily political, like Robert Redford, who hates Nixon. But these were relatively tame political ventures until the last two decades.

In the 1980s, it became fashionable to support causes: stop pollution, don’t eat dolphin-flavored tuna, boycott South Africa. . . shave the whales. These were the causes that Hollywood types espoused. In fact, it became such a big thing that many stars (who typically are too stupid to tie their own shoes) hired trained public relations firms to find causes for them to “have always felt deeply about.” A few carefully scripted public service announcements later, and bingo -- social relevance.

But everything began to change somewhere around the time the Clintons brought Hollywood into the Lincoln Bedroom. Maybe Hollywood got excited by the idea that they could influence politics? Maybe the politicization of our culture made it easier to be an extremist? Who knows? In any event, Hollywood stars ditched their do-gooder projects and their PSAs and they jumped headlong into politics. Suddenly, political endorsements and campaign commercials were the order of the day.

Then they started getting nasty, and that’s where the problems began. Soon Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon were doing hatchet jobs on Republicans. Then, one by one, the likes of Sean Penn and Danny Glover set out to fellate dictators, Matt Damon and George Clooney went overseas to attack our country as evil, racist and corrupt, and Janeane Garfalo and a dozen others started using “hate speech” against anyone on the right every time they opened their mouths.

And during this whole time, a correlation began to appear: the more these actors spoke, the more their careers collapsed. Look at Penn. Post-Madonna Penn was respected and slowly but surely was establishing himself as an A list actor. . . until he opened his mouth. Now he works in political flicks, but it would be inconceivable to put him into a mainstream movie.

Damon and Clooney were both huge. In fact, I would honestly say that Clooney (and later Damon) was on his way to becoming Hollywood’s biggest present-day star until he started shooting off his mouth. Suddenly, all of his films began to flop. There were no boycotts, no protests; he just lost the ability to get people to come see his films. Could it be that he suddenly couldn’t choose a good film? Or was the audience responding to a growing dislike for his politics? Ditto with Damon, who is now also running on a curious losing streak (apart from his Bourne franchise).

Robbins and Sarandon all but vanished from film, except for bit parts in ensemble pieces. Garafalo, never exactly a star, is now non-existent. And what was the last movie Danny Glover starred in? Alex Baldwin was chased from film around the time of his “move to Canada promise,” and was only rescued by sit-coms.

And there are more. Brad Pitt’s star seems to have faded with his increased political activity. Megan Fox may have killed her career with a combination of hate-filled statements about flyover country people and criticism of her directors. Steven Weber never had a career, but what he had seems finished now that he’s joined the Hollywood Haters Club. Kevin Costner collapsed after Dances With Wolves, and Meryl Streep’s career all but fell apart after she became a verb (“the Streeping of science”), until she was saved by Satan, i.e. The Devil Wears Prada. Tom Hanks hasn’t faded yet, but he’s only recently started to say really stupid things. . . and average people are commenting on it. But these are only some examples.

What I can’t say for certain is whether these stars faded because they began saying stupid political things that offended large parts of the population, or if they started saying stupid things because their careers were fading? Or said differently, did the public begin to shun these actors when they crossed that line into anti-Americanisms? Or did they cross that line hoping to draw attention to themselves to revive moribund careers? Pitt, Damon and Clooney certainly still seemed to have their best years ahead of them when they opened their mouths and began their slides. Moreover, since making these political statements seems to hasten the career decline, it doesn't make a lot of sense that stars would be doing this to save a sagging career.

Could it be that once these actors became “established,” they started taking “riskier films”, i.e. less commercial films, which makes all of this just coincidental? That doesn't seem likely. That could arguably be the case for Clooney, but not for Damon or Costner. Damon and Costner kept right on churning out purely commercial films. It’s just that no one wants to see them anymore.

It’s hard to say anything definite on this because it’s hard to tell exactly what came first -- -- decline or diarrhea-mouth? It’s also hard to tell at what point they first crossed that line into anti-Americanism, and when their views first became well-known to the public. Not to mention that many of these actors still work, just at a much lower level than before.

But putting on my educated guess cap, I would say that this trend that I’m noticing indicates that when actors start spouting off things that offend middle America, middle America simply stops seeing their films. Take for example the total failure of all of Hollywood’s Iraq films. Damon’s Green Zone had a budget of $100 million and pulled in about $26 million domestically in theaters ($86 million total gross), despite being made by the same people who made the highly successful Bourne series. Look at some of these other numbers: The Hurt Locker $21.3 million despite all of its awards, Body of Lies $39 million, Stop-Loss $10.6 million, In the Valley of Elah $6.7 million, Grace is Gone less than $1 million, and The Messenger less than $1 million.

Maybe this just means that people don’t want to be reminded of Iraq? A more likely reason for this level of failure is that people are voting with their wallets and they are tuning out films that they see as being insulting to their values. That would certainly back up the idea that overt, nasty liberalism is a career killer.


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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Announcement--In Lieu of San Francisco Diary

I will be among the missing for a few days, and I wanted to share two major developments with my loyal readers. The first is solemn news that turned out well. The second is great news that turned out even better. And both will come as a surprise to most of you. I held off letting all of you know until I had everything firmly in hand.

First, the solemn news that turned out well. Back in early October of last year, I had begun to feel some discomfort which turned suddenly into rather excruciating pain overnight. My son Chris came rushing to my place and took me straight to my doctor's office. Within 24 hours, I had been diagnosed with an exotic form of lymphoma. Now stop thinking what you're thinking. I told you it turned out well. I was quickly operated on by two specialists to determine that it was not connected in any way with my prior aorto-bifemoral arterial bypass, and to do a full biopsy. The result was that there was no involvement with the bypasses, and though the cancer had started to spread to other lymph nodes, it was nowhere near full metastisization.

I have been fortunate to have great doctors by every standard known to the medical profession, and none have ever lost the personal touch. At all stages, my personal physician, my cardio-vascular surgeon, and my new oncologist constantly conferred and kept me fully informed. Once I got past the "how long do I have?" question, my fatherly oncologist chuckled, and said "how long do you want?" This is a form of cancer which is highly-susceptible to chemotherapy. I had six long chemotherapy sessions spread over a little less than six months, at approximately three week intervals. Peeing bright orange after the sessions was my favorite side-effect. Three weeks ago, I was declared 100% cancer-free.

Though my family is spread out all over California, it was all I could do to convince them that I was going to be fine, and they didn't need to drop everything to tend to dad. My son, who lives in Berkeley, was a great help at the panicky early stages. He and his wife ferried me to the early appointments, and checked in on me briefly (as I requested--briefly) several times a week. The girls called regularly, and e-mailed me daily. Even my ex added her two cents by telling the girls to calm down, "he's indestructible." I'm not sure that was a compliment, but it worked.

But having a brush with a deadly disease causes the mind to focus. As you know, I've wanted to move out of San Francisco for a very long time. Events, lethargy, business reasons, and just plain inertia after I retired kept me here. This was just the jolt I needed. I got family, and friends in Arizona and Nevada, started on looking for potential places for me to move to. It wasn't going well, and I was beginning to think that I was never going to find a place in California that wouldn't require living in, shall we say "reduced circumstances," and I really didn't want to move even farther from my girls and my eight grandkids. I saw them little enough as it was.

My younger daughter has a large piece of property in the low Tehachapi mountains. She and her family have been building their own home there for some time now. She suggested that I could move onto a portion of her property. My thought was, "I want to be close, but not that close." But prices in the area came up, and I couldn't believe things were so affordable there. So I gave her marching orders. Find me a place in the general area. She's a smart cookie, and knew better than I what I was looking for.

Long story longer, after a few mis-steps and bad leads, we found the perfect place. As of June 1, I will become landed gentry (or as I told Andrew, a redneck, or a farmer, or a country rustic--something like that). 3 1/2 glorious acres of rolling hills, oak trees, and most importantly, peace and quiet at last. For those of you familiar with California's non-urban/suburban areas, it's located in Caliente, California, in the Walker Basin area near the Sequoia National Forest. It's high desert, low mountains, and it's only about 3.75 miles from my daughter's place. She's in the real forest nearly a thousand feet higher than my property.

I knew she had found the right home for me when she said it has a two-bedroom, two bath, full amenities house with a two-car detached garage, and a root cellar. I haven't seen a root cellar since my summer stays at my aunt's farm in Iowa when I was a youngster. Not sure what I'll do with it, but folks, I have a root cellar. And seasons, four of them. It snows during the winter there, but not the depth of snow that she gets 1,000 feet higher where they occasionally get snowed-in. For those of you who know high desert, it also gets very hot during the summer, which I'm used to from my years in the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley. Spring and fall are more like San Francisco weather, without the icy blasts off the Bay.

So the good news is I have a great new home, and my full health (though thanks to the chemotherapy, not my full head of hair for awhile). I'll be fifteen minutes from one daughter and her family and a little over two hours from the other and her family. Chris and his wife visit Southern California multiple times each year, so I'll probably see as much of them there as I normally do here. My two older grandsons are accomplished archers, and they'll be ecstatic to be able to practice without having to worry about accidentally shooting the neighbor's dog, or the neighbor, for that matter.

The bad news is, I'll have to come up with something to replace my San Francisco Diary. Andrew and I have kicked around a few ideas, like "The Farm Report," or "The Rustic Chronicles." I'm still working on it. So now you know why I'll be out of touch for a few days while I get settled in. No DSL, and no cable, so I have to get set up on satellite. Meanwhile, I'm still adapting to the idea that I'll have my own well, and therefore, no water company to bill me each month. And the concept that I might see an occasional stray horse or cow, but nary a single homeless person with his hand out thrills me more than you could ever know. Instead, I can sit out on the redwood deck that overlooks the basin, and contemplate God's green earth. And then there's that one requirement I most emphasized--I can walk out any door, and look out any window, and not see another human being that I don't want to see.

I'll be back online as soon as possible, and I'll be chatting with all of you then.

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Money, It’s A Gas

The United States is in deep deficit doo doo. Like Greece, we are flirting with insolvency. So what do you do if you are one of the Democrats who has driven us to the verge of bankruptcy? How about spend more money? Pink Floyd once said about money: “if you ask for a raise, it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away.” Apparently, Congress is intent on proving that wrong. Here are some of the spending bills Reid, Pelosi and the crew are planning before November.

Another Jobs Bill: First, they need another jobs bill because the last three or four jobs bills didn’t produce any jobs. . . unless you count the people who got paid to print the bills. This time they want to spend $190 billion. But there’s a problem. Moderate Democrats are freaking out about the price tag. Said Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) “With the entire world focused on sovereign debt, [this] is not moving in the right direction. I am highly skeptical.” Government “worker” unions aren’t skeptical though, so look for this giveaway to pass.

Interestingly, to get the price tag down they cut a few things from the bill. First, while the bill does extend jobless benefits, that provision will now expire on November 30. Call me crazy, but something about that timing seems suspicious. . . though I can’t quite put my finger on what is happening in November? Secondly, they have cut back on the “doctor fix,” because those greedy Medicare doctors don’t deserve to be paid 50% of the cost of the treatment they provide!

As an aside, the New York Post is now reporting a “jobs creation” scam that the Census Bureau is running. Apparently, they have been hiring people, firing them for the slightest cause, and then rehiring them. . . repeatedly. The reason is that any employee who works one day or more gets counted as a new job created, even if they were just fired from the same job. Thus, several whistleblowers are now claiming that they’ve been counted as new hires as many as four times in recent months.

Afghanistan: This week, the White House will send a second emergency appropriations bill to the Congress, seeking $58.8 billion, give or take a few pennies, to keep the troops in Afghanistan long enough to make it look like the administration isn’t soft on terror.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats are hoping to add numerous spending provisions to show that they aren’t soft on pork. After all, this is the same Congress that passed an omnibus spending bill in December that included 5,000 earmarks costing $447 billion.

Skool Is Cool: Finally, the Democrats are planning to give $23 billion to local school districts to prevent them from laying off fat-cat administrators, er, teachers. Sadly, the teachers unions apparently haven’t donated enough yet, because the White House has been noncommittal on this (though Secretary of Education Spending Arne Duncan says this is “an absolute myth”. . . as compared to the “partial myth” about Democrats being tax and spenders, or the just plain old "myth" that is the Easter Bunny). Still, the Democrats plan to sneak this into the military emergency appropriations bill, because nothing says national defense quite like wasteful spending.

No word on any new mascots they may be planning to create, but I hear a crack team of government operatives are working on a budget mascot called "Willy Wasteful."

So there you have it: $271.8 billion in good money to be thrown after $2.184 trillion in bad money. Thank you team Donkey.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Deepwater Horizon: Government Failure

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon presents us with a true teachable moment. But the lesson isn’t that offshore drilling is bad or dangerous or wrong, or that oil companies are evil. No. The oil companies do bare the brunt of the blame and should be made to pay for all of the damage they have caused. But the real lesson here is that it’s time to reform our government because it keeps failing to do the few tasks it should be doing.

Under federal law, the Minerals Management Service is charged with inspecting offshore drilling rigs to make sure that they comply with all federal safety regulations. The MMS is supposed to inspect each rig at least once per month. We are now learning that they haven’t been doing that.

The exact number of times MMS inspected the Deepwater Horizon is not clear because MMS has been giving different numbers. They originally claimed to do 26 inspection in the last 64 months. But then they mysteriously raised this number to 48 out of 64, no explanation given. In either event, MMS failed to conduct between 25% and 59% of the required inspections.

This follows a citation in July 2002, when the Deepwater Horizon was shut down because the company had failed to conduct a pressure test of the blowout preventer -- a device that is supposed to stop the kind of gusher they can’t seem to stop right now. And in September 2002, the rig was cited again for problems with the blowout preventer.

Moreover, several years ago, MMS weakened its testing requirements on the very cutoff valves that should have prevented the current disaster. Indeed, they weakened these testing requirements so much that there is virtually no oversight of these key safety features. As a result, there have been repeated failures of these cutoff valves on other rigs in recent years -- at a time when inspections have been falling. This time, it went seriously wrong, costing eleven lives and billions of dollars in damage.

So why was this rig allowed to operate? Did BP trick MMS? No. Believe it or not, it turns out that the Deepwater Horizon was allowed to operate without providing safety documentation showing that these valves were functioning. Apparently, many of these rigs are. And Team Obama has ruled out stopping the process of granting such waivers, despite all the sound and fury coming out of the White House about this incident.

The problems here are obvious. First, the government is wasting so much money doing things it shouldn’t be doing that it has lost focus on the things it should be doing. Moreover, the government is too rife with conflicts of interest. For example, last year, MMS awarded the Deepwater Horizon an award for its safety history. Aside from the obvious of “you gave an award to people who kept being cited for violations?”, is the bigger question of why is MMS giving awards in the first place? Their job is to inspect. They are to shut down those who fail and pass those who do. Their job is not to pass out awards or to play footsie with these companies.

And lest you think this is a minor point, a report by the Interior Department's Inspector General now reveals that the relationship between the agency employees and the oil companies was so close that it bordered on bribery. Apparently, agency personnel accepted sporting-event tickets, meals, and other gifts from the oil companies they were supposedly monitoring. The report also finds that agency personnel, rather than doing inspections, were using government computers to view pornography.

Further, why is the agency doing inspections with the one hand, but collecting billions of dollars in royalties with the other? How can it make sense to give the inspection role to an agency whose primary incentive is to maximize output? Where is their incentive to do honest inspections?

The time has come to remake the government. It is time to strip out the conflicts of interest, it is time to hold everyone in the agency chain of command accountable for their failures, it is time to divorce government from its incestuous relationship with industry, it is time to focus these agencies on doing the job they should be doing and doing away with all of the distractions.

It is a scandal that the government allowed defective gear to be put into place without a substantive inspection. And it is a bigger scandal that Team Obama is not planning to fix this situation.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School Killings In China

Anyone who follows the MSM will have heard that America is an evil place because our “gun culture” has led to the murder of vast numbers of school kids. By comparison, the rest of the world is a peaceful Garden of Eden where nothing bad ever happens. Of course, this is a lie, but it fits the narrative the MSM wants you to believe. Nothing shows this more than the non-coverage of what has been going on in China in the past couple of months.

For starters, let me remind you that despite the high profile that the media loves to give school shootings, they are incredibly rare. In the last five years in the United States, there have been five shooting sprees in schools that resulted in three or more deaths. A total of 50 people were killed in these five shootings (32 at Virginia Tech and 18 during the other four). This compares to 2.5 million deaths in the US annually. Thus, while each of these is indeed tragic, this is hardly a common occurrence as the media would have you believe.

Moreover, pinning this on our “gun culture” is pure politics. Indeed, all we hear from the MSM for weeks when such a shooting happens is how it could have been prevented if we banned guns. Of course, this is a lie, and they know it. But they are looking to exploit this tragedy and no lack of logic on their part will stop them.

If you want proof that this is not the result of our “gun culture,” look at Europe. In the same five year period just discussed, anti-gun Europe had four mass killings at schools. These resulted in 49 deaths. Almost the identical number as in the United States. Thus, while the media plays up the idea of US “gun culture” being the cause of school killings, the reality is quite different.

(I am not including things like Beslan, where terrorists killed more than 340 people in a school or Afghanistan where there were more than 80 school attacks this month alone to keep girls from being educated.)

Further, consider what has gone on in China, something that is not being reported in the MSM. On May 12th, seven children were hacked to death in a kindergarten in Shaanxi. Eleven others were injured. In April, more than 50 children were injured or killed in a half dozen similar attacks. On March 23, in Fujian province, eight children were killed. These incidents are becoming so common that the Chinese have started putting armed guards in their schools with orders to shoot suspects on sight.

The current thinking in China is that this is a response by people who feel powerless to oppose their system and that these killers choose to strike at the most vulnerable in response. This strikes me as false just as the gun culture argument is false. The reality is that some people are just sick. And the idea that we should remake society, e.g. eliminate guns in the US or more closely monitor dissidents in China, to stop these people is ludicrous.

What we should take away from these events are that (1) we should not politicize tragedies, (2) we should not attribute the acts of the deranged to political groups, political causes, or groups of people, and (3) we should be more watchful of people with mental conditions and we should look to intervene earlier and with greater care.

Finally, we should take away one last fact. Some things cannot be stopped. If a lunatic is intent on hurting people, they will find a way. Thus, we must expect these things to happen. Therefore, we should consider ways to improve our protections in the event something like this does happen. Indeed, it must be pointed out that each of these killings could have been stopped sooner if we had not tried to keep peaceful, innocent people from protecting themselves through the possession of firearms.

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Green Spain Is Getting Rusty

In its ongoing efforts to be more like the Europeans and less like traditional Americans, the Obamacrats have frequently pointed to Spain as a nation that jumped into the green movement with both feet. Bold, daring, far-thinking. All of which might have had some validity, if it weren't for the miserable state of the world economy, and the American unemployment rate.

Conservatives have questioned the wisdom of "going green" on numerous occasions, but particularly during this very serious economic recession. In fact, we have done so on this blog. Sensible conservation measures and new technology are wonderful things. Switching to new ways of doing things are always somewhat painful. But there is a difference between making adjustments and committing labor suicide. We have warned of zealotry in the greening of America, and now Spanish officials have joined us.

The issue for the Spaniards is very similiar to the problem we face. Unemployment. Spain created all sorts of new "green jobs" in industry, and President Obama has frequently cited Spain as a model for what America should be doing. Now, the Spaniards are telling the delusional Obama that maybe it wasn't such a hot idea after all. In a booming economy, many workers put out of work by new technologies can rebound and move into some other area of work. Right now, the economy worldwide is a bust.

So what has Spain concluded? Spanish economist Gabriel Calzada has estimated that for every green job created by Spain's investment in renewable energy, 2.2 jobs are permanently lost without anything to replace the lost jobs, given the pitiable growth rate of European and American economies at the present time and for the foreseeable future. Many critics have estimated the ratio of gains to losses as high as two to four times as many jobs lost as gained. But what is important to note here is that Calzada was one of the earliest advocates of moving to a green economy, and is now very troubled by the result.

At the governmental level, the president of Spain's National Commission of Energy, socialist Maite Costa calls the current policy "unsustainable." Obama listened to the "go green" message. Will he now listen to the "red light" message? Highly doubtful. The leftist agenda in America is less idealistic than it is a pure power grab. With the EPA poised to determine which businesses will survive based on their carbon emissions, and the Obamists directing government contracts to Obama-friendly "green businesses," it is unlikely that the statists will give up on their power-grab any time soon.
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Captioning: Welcome Tasty Human!!

Seen below, Hillary Clinton attends a rally on illegal aliens, only to discover that she embarrassingly wore the same thing as her sponsors. . . Scoobehda and Doobehda.

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Ugly Jewelry As Fashion Statement

Most of us peasants had to work at an outside job to make ends meet during our college and grad school years. I paid my way through law school working in the jewelry business, from small boutiques to large department stores. I saw plenty of ugly fashion statements being made during those years via personal jewelry. Remember the mood ring (pictured)?

Now that was one ugly hunk of junk, but they sold like hot cakes. I never quite understood why anyone would want to broadcast his or her current mood by wearing a large piece of badly-wrought metal with an unidentifiable stone in the center. On the more ascetic side there was the cute little 14 karat spoon. To show you how naive I was, I couldn't figure it out. Had we become a nation of cooks, or tea-drinkers? My more sophisticated friends finally enlightened me. They were representation of the spoons used by coke devotees to heat the popular drug of the day. I guess the heroin users wore stainless steel spoons.

Recently, the idea of telegraphing your views via bad jewelry has been carried into the political arena, reaching even the halls of Congress. I call it "insult jewelry." You want to let everyone know your contempt for the Constitution, national sovereignty and states' rights? You want to let everyone know what a great liberal you are? You want to announce your solidarity with illegal immigrants and the crude president of Mexico? Get a "Baca Bracelet."

Democrat Rep. Joe Baca of Rialto, California makes weekly trips from his home to Washington, and aside from refusing to fly there if there's a stopover in Phoenix, has ordered 2500 cheesy bracelets to demonstrate his disdain for another state. The bracelets were already on display on the wrists of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many other Democrats during the appearance of the loathsome president Calderon of Mexico in the well of Congress where he insulted his hosts and held forth on American immigration policy by attacking the sovereign state of Arizona.

The garish bracelets, which are in the state colors of Arizona, will also be used by Baca to help fund his political campaign for re-election. The red, yellow and blue colors look great on a state flag, but they are a bit less than elegant when used in a cheapie bracelet. Noted experts on the Constitution and federal law such as golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez are already sporting these reincarnations of the mood ring. Baca says "they're gong like hot potatoes." Hot potatoes? Now that's an interesting metaphor (or was it a Freudian slip?).

Several conservative pundits have already expressed their pleasure at the introduction of the no-class ugly bracelets. It will make the open-borders, illegal immigrant, amnesty enthusiasts much easier to identify on sight--like Che teeshirts.
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Primer On Capitalism

Marxism, socialism, and other forms of leftism have long been discredited to anyone not driven by ideology. Indeed, after having bankrupted country after country, it has become obvious that even a little bit of socialism is destructive. But capitalism has failed now too, right? Actually, no. What has gone “wrong” is that liberals have misinterpreted capitalism and falsely attribute their own failures to it. Let’s dispel a few of these misinterpretations.

1. The Left Misuses “Market Failure”:

Since Clinton’s term, the left has started using the lingo of capitalism. They just don’t use that lingo correctly. For example, capitalism is not entirely opposed to regulation as the left likes to claim. Capitalism has long recognized that regulation is important where you have “a market failure.” A market failure is a situation where the normal disciplines of the market, which allow buyers and sellers to exercise their preferences, are impaired for some reason. This prevents the “market mechanisms” that solve problems from working. Thus, regulation can be appropriate.

Leftists have learned the phrase “market failure,” but they misuse it. Rather than using it only where market mechanisms cannot work, they apply it whenever they don’t like what the market has done: prices are “too high” for everyone who wants the product, demand is too low to keep companies like GM working, consumers won’t voluntarily select features the left wants them to want. . . those are not market failures. Those are, in fact, market mechanisms at work.

Examples of market failures are situations where you have a chicken and egg problem that keeps would-be-willing suppliers from making a product that would-be-willing consumers desire because neither group is willing to act first, or where consumers and producers are able to push “externalities” onto third parties (typically safety or pollution concerns), or where a monopolist can control the market price.

So when the left tells you that there has been a “market failure” that requires government action, ask yourself if there has been true interference with market mechanisms or if consumers have simply rejected the things the left wants.

2. The Involvement of Private Business Does Not Make It Capitalism:

In both the healthcare and cap and trade debates, the left argues that they are employing “market solutions” because they are involving private firms in their schemes. That’s not capitalism. Capitalism involves producers and consumers exercising their preferences and thereby creating market prices. When the government requires producers or sellers to make something or buy something, that’s not capitalism, that’s socialism even if private firms benefit. Said differently, just because a crony private firm will profit from government action does not make that action capitalism, it is still state control over the economy, i.e. socialism.

3. Capitalism Requires Failures:

The left loves to whine that capitalism “has failed” whenever a business goes under -- like GE’s Jeffrey Immelt said during the big crash in 2008. This is stunningly ignorant. Capitalism does not assure there won’t be failures. To the contrary, it expects them. Failure is a market discipline. If you don’t produce something that consumers want, then you will fail. And when you fail, the resources that were allocated to you, will seek out higher valued users. That’s how the market ensures that resources are allocated efficiently. The idea that businesses can't be allowed to fail, i.e. that the government should substitute its judgement for that of consumers, is anti-capitalism.

4. "Crony Capitalism" Is Not Capitalism:

2008 proved (once again) that crony capitalism does not work. But it proved nothing about actual capitalism because crony capitalism is not capitalism. Crony capitalism is corporate socialism, where the taxpayers prop up large businesses but well-connected private investors reap the benefits. That’s the situation at the top of our banking system. When everyone at CNBC kept talking about the failure of our banking system in 2008, what they were really talking about was the failure of the top tier of corrupt banks. What they tried hard never to mention was that right below the corrupt names you know -- Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers -- were a whole group of next tier banks ready to take their places.

That's how capitalism works. In a capitalist system, we would have let these institutions fail and be replaced by the Jefferies and Raymond James of the world. By the same token, we would have let GM and Chrysler fail and let Ford take the next step up. So don’t buy this idea that somehow capitalism was what failed in 2008.

5. The Left Loves The Broken Window Fallacy:

There has been a fallacy in economic thinking on the left that holds that regulation is not harmful. This is based on the broken window fallacy. This is the idea that if we break a window, we create economic activity as people need to replace that window. What this theory completely fails to consider is that by forcing people to replace that window, we are keeping them from using that money on something more worthwhile. Thus, while we may create a job in the window industry, we are destroying jobs in other industries (and these are more valuable jobs).

This is the problem with regulation. Regulations force people to allocate their resources to things they would not have otherwise chosen. Thus, it is disingenuous to claim that regulations will ever create jobs because every job created when someone is forced to comply with regulations is more than offset by jobs destroyed elsewhere in the economy. So don’t believe for a minute that cap and trade regulations will “create jobs.”

6. The Left Loves The Fallacy of Certainty:

Finally, the same thing is true with the fallacy of “certainty.” The left has claimed for years that all business wants is certainty. In other words, business doesn’t care what the rules are so long as it knows what those rules are. This is garbage. When rules are put into place that harm business, business will respond by hiring fewer people, investing fewer resources, and by looking for more profitable pursuits. They don’t just shrug this off and say “hey, at least we know what the rules are.”

I had to laugh recently when I read how mystified The Economist was at the current lack of job growth. They pointed out that everyone now knows what Obama will do, so we have certainty. So why aren't businesses responding by hiring? To The Economist, this was a “mystery”. To the rest of us. . . it wasn't.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

From Rep. McClintock to Presidente Calderon with Love...

On May 20th, Mexican President Felipe Calderon spent his day as a distinquished guest of the American people. A typical state dinner was given in his honor complete with attempted party crashers at the Whitehouse and he was granted the rare honor to speak before a joint session of Congress. And speak he did. I won't bore you with the video of Calderon mainly because it may cause irreparable harm to LawHawk, but reported:
"Calderon received his longest round of applause when he spoke in Spanish, addressing Mexican migrants in the U.S. and telling them that Mexico admires them, misses them, and is fighting hard for their rights and their families.
Calderon also won sustained applause when he said, "I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona. It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree, but also introduced a terrible idea using racial profiling for law enforcement."
What did not report was that he received a sustained standing ovation (Warning for LawHawk!) from our left-leaning Congresscritters when he denounced the new Arizona laws.  No one seemed to think anything was wrong with that.  But I do.  And finally Rep. Tom McClintock (R/CA) went on the record to give Calderon a slapdown:

Thank you, Congressman. It is good to know that at least one elected official in Congress supports the American people.
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Ignore That Man Behind The Curtain

Peek-a-Boo! We saw you. That's Arlen Specter emerging from the voting booth in Pennsylvania's Democratic Primary. Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat, Snarlin' Arlen was handed his walking papers despite his vote for himself. Specter finally lost the ability to scare Dorothy and her non-Kansan companions in Pennsylvania and unless he pulls a Dracula, will be gone from America's nightmares forever. Anybody out there who will bring the torch, gravedigger's shovel and wooden stake?

OK, I'm done with the mixed metaphors for the day (until I can come up with some more). It was not a good day for establishment politicians. Specter holds a particular place of dishonor in Republican minds, but he was turned out by his own most recent party of choice, the Democrats. In his place, retired admiral Rep. Joe Sestak was their choice to run for the Senate seat in November. Specter was heartily endorsed by current Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell. Asked for his best expert political opinion on why Specter lost, Rendell replied "the rain hurt." Which reminds me of a greeting card I got way back in the Sixties which said "The Democrats will surely win in November--if they let them all out of jail and it doesn't rain."

In Kentucky, the son of Rep. Ron Paul, got the nod from the Republican primary voters. Rand Paul, a libertarian (or something like that), beat out the establishment candidate and RNC choice, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. It wasn't a narrow win. Paul beat Grayson 59% to 35%. Paul has a habit of making outrageous statements, but at least he waited until after he had won before making an inopportune comment about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I will tell you that I agree with him, but I'm not running for office, and voters are not law students. The Wall Street Journal refers to Paul's statement as "a rookie mistake." Democrats are already using the statement against him to paint him as a racist who wants to undo the entire Civil Rights Movement. And it's still five months until the D-Day elections.

Arkansas also had an interesting Democratic primary. Democrat Blanche Lincoln wasn't undone by the more moderate and conservative wings of her party in her run to retain her Senate seat. With the assistance of the ever more powerful SEIU (Service Employees Union, aka Thugs R Us or The Purple Avengers), the Democrats pulled to the left, and forced Lincoln into a runoff against state lieutenant governor Bill Halter. No matter which of the two wins, the Republican candidate will be running against liberalism and business as usual. Currently, state representative John Boozman, the clear Republican primary winner, leads both of the Democrats in the polls.

In a warning to Republicans who think the November elections will be an automatic repeat of the 1994 political reversal-of-fortune, Republicans lost a special election to replace the corrupt representative Democrat John Murtha, who shuffled off this mortal coil awhile back. It's not entirely a general statement on Republican candidates, but it is a warning that issues and the ability to articulate them, not momentum, will be the determining factor. Murtha's district was the only one in the entire United States which went for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008.

Despite a strong streak of anti-Democrat sentiment in moderate/conservative districts, a Democrat with a conservative, anti-establishment agenda can win over a squishy, inarticulate Republican with bad political advisers. Democrat Mark Critz beat Republican candidate Tim Burns by running as the pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Arizona immigration law, anti-cap 'n tax, and anti-Obamapelosicare law candidate. Still, the district is registered Democrat by a ratio of two to one, so Republicans shouldn't feel too bad about the loss.
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Friday, May 21, 2010


Earlier in the week, our brilliant president got one-upped by third world countries and the canny Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And in the process, we seem to have lost any influence we had with one of our former allies. Turkey is now spitting in America's face as part of a growing Islamic coalition, with the help of socialist Brazil. Well done, Mr. Obama.

The growing crisis of Iran and its influence with its neighbors requires the talents of true experts in diplomacy, particularly the iron fist in the velvet glove. Instead we have the most lily-livered president since Jimmy Carter and a diplomatic corps made of morons, cowards, liars, and an occasional America-hater. It has been reported by multiple sources that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had put her faith in the perfidious Lula da Silva of Brazil to mediate an effort to turn Iran away from further sanctions, and was caught "completely off-guard" when he failed utterly.

One of the weakest and most exploitable traits of this administration is its ridiculously high expectations in its own ability to influence, and its complete lack of backup plans when their expectations are not fulfilled. Not only should Clinton not ever have relied on da Silva to broker any kind of decent deal, but she should have been prepared to tell Iran that if this UN-backed effort failed, we would be forced to act independently in consultation with our NATO allies to force Iran to rid itself of fissionable material, nuclear bomb plans, and missile delivery systems purchases.

But given Obama's track record so far, that threat would have meant absolutely nothing. Obama's knees are weak, and he's well-known for avoiding personal failures by abandoning and humiliating former allies (personal and international). Ahmadinejad has exploited Obama's weaknesses at every turn. He knows that Obama's policy is to speak softly, and carry a nerf bat. The Three Stooges were more dangerous and more believable than anything that is coming out of this White House.

Of course that other canny tyrant, Vladimir Putin, pushed his puppet president Dmitri Medvedev into setting the stage for guaranteed failure by by having Medvedev announce that "Brazil's efforts were the last chance to avoid sanctions." That worked very nicely. And when may we expect those sanctions to go into effect, Mr. Medvedev? At the same time, China didn't even have to pretend it might support sanctions.

Meanwhile, back at the tent, former ally Turkey hopped into the game and announced that in the interests of world peace (God help us), Turkey would accept low-enriched uranium from Iran in exchange for selling Iran fuel-rods of uranium for use in (get this) a Tehran medical research research reactor. Ahmandinejad keeps upping the ante, and with each threat finds an even cleverer way to outmaneuver the wimpy and incompetent Obama State Department.

Obama, a devotee of the United Nations, is going to have a hard time knocking either Brazil or Turkey for stabbing America in the back. The two nations have alternating rotating seats on the UN Security Council, and have innate clout with Obama because of his UN worship. Once again, thanks to the amateur from the South Side of Chicago, America has painted itself into a corner. Even the pro-Obama Los Angeles Times recognizes what a foolish move has been made. Says the Times: America is now in the position of having to "face a choice of rejecting the deal and appearing intransigent, or accepting it, potentially allowing Iran to defuse mounting international pressures through an infinite delay."

Clinton, on the other hand, learned everything she knows from the former Philanderer in Chief, husband Bill Clinton. Thanks to similar diplomatic detours, North Korea today is not only armed with nukes and missile delivery systems, they also have an excellent computer network. A few more Democratic administrations like this, and America will be entirely without a nuclear arsenal to protect itself, and the penguins in Antarctica will be launching 100 megaton hydrogen bombs at us within a couple of decades.

An old and honored diplomatic rule is "never back your opponent into a corner from which he cannot retreat, and from which he cannot advance without all-out attack." Ahmadinejad knows that Obama will retreat all the way into that corner, cower for awhile, and then attack--verbally and verbosely. On the other hand, Clinton-style diplomacy leaves Iran half-way around the world from any corner, and Ahmadinejad would be more than willing to launch an all-out attack to bring on his Islamic version of Armageddon.
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How Not To Build A Spaceship

One of the most important aspects of story telling is establishing something called “suspension of disbelief.” This is the point where the storyteller overcomes the viewer/reader/listener’s natural inclination to disregard or dismiss stories that don’t ring true. This is particularly important in science fiction, where the story already contains many fantastic aspects. Unfortunately, in horror-based science fiction, one of the biggest flaws is often the spaceship itself.

When it comes to spaceship design in films, the sky is literally the limit. You can choose to follow the rules of science and the laws of physics, or you can ignore them. You can come up with any kind of shapes, capabilities, sizes, or even purposes. But one rule you can’t break is that you can’t ignore human nature. Sadly, all too often, this is the one rule that horror science fiction films do break.

We know many things about human nature (unless you’re a liberal economist, then you really don’t know jack about humans). We have a good sense of what makes us happy, what makes us sad, and what scares the heck out of us. We know how people will react to certain circumstances and conditions. And in this regard, it is inconceivable that someone would build a spaceship that ignores human nature and which puts people into a place that we would consider dark and creepy. . . a labyrinth of terror. No one would design such a ship because no one would voluntarily board it.

Yet, filmmakers all too often make the mistake of creating ships that are horrific even before anything has gone wrong. I’m particularly thinking of two ships (though this applies to a great many more): (1) the Elysium from Pandorum and (2) the Event Horizon from Event Horizon.

The Elysium is built like your average video game horror house. It is dark, with near-black walls, trap doors, hiding places strewn liberally about, pointless catwalks and swinging things, an abundance of human-sized vents to crawl through (wiping out the point to the airtight hatches), and large rooms that look like food processors meant to kill characters. Its hallways meet at strange angles, which allow the bad guys to head off the good guys at the pass, and encourage surprise attacks. Its hatches open and shut randomly, and the speed with which they open or shut depends on how badly the fleeing characters need to get through them. This is not a ship anyone would ever design, and it’s not a ship anyone would ever agree to board. So while the imagery created does generate the spooky feel the director needed, you spend the whole time thinking that the ship was specifically designed to satisfy the needs of the film rather than the needs of the crew.

The Event Horizon took a similar, though slightly different approach. Whereas the Elysium is a maze, the Event Horizon is a dungeon. Unlike the Elysium, the layout of the Event Horizon at least makes some sense, but the overall dungeon effect makes the design ridiculous, e.g. its walls are black and they are decorated with large spikes that only have the purpose of impaling characters, there are torture devices strewn about, and lots of coffin-like objects abound. Flying the Event Horizon would be like taking Dracula’s basement for a spin.

An infinitely better ship is the Nostromo from Alien. The Nostromo was brilliant because Ridley Scott grasped the human condition. Above, where the crew lives, you have accommodations that are really quite pleasant, if workman-like. Indeed, the crew quarters and command deck are very typical of what you find on modern ocean-going freighters today. Below decks, where the Nostromo is darker and more sinister, you have bulk containers, equipment storage rooms, and narrow service passageways. These areas are more creepy, but they still make sense. Indeed, these things are again consistent with a freighter, and it is easy to see a normal human crew sign on to work on this ship.

Moreover, just because a ship has to start as not-terrifying, doesn’t mean it can’t change; even if it take a few minutes to explain what happened, this is time well spent. Consider the movie Ghost Ship, where a salvage team finds an Italian ocean liner adrift after 40 years on the ocean. They don’t cheat and design the ship like an incomprehensible maze or dungeon, they really do stay true to the layout and design of a cruise ship. But with the ship adrift for 40 years, everything has rusted and rotted, creating a very creepy yet entirely believable setting.

And let’s not forget that a ship doesn’t have to be dark and twisted to be terrifying. The Odyssey in 2001 was pretty creepy and it was well-lit and entirely ergonomic. The space station in Solaris was creepy (until you figured out what was going on) and it was brightly lit. Even the Picard Enterprise could be made kind of creepy when the mood struck.

The key to creating a worthwhile spaceship for any movie (horror or otherwise) is to remember that the ship must be designed to account for human nature. If no normal human would board the ship in the first place, then the film will have a hard time overcoming the viewer’s disbelief. And frankly, if the film needs to cheat in this way to make itself scary, then maybe there are bigger problems that need to be fixed with the story first.

The Labyrinth of Terror class starship should be decommissioned.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sometimes A Mascot Is Just A Cigar

You should not read this post unless you are at least 18 years old, and you have a greater sense of humor than the British people. Seriously, don’t read this if you don’t like “questionable” words and images. This post is not for children. . . it’s about the London 2012 Olympic Mascots.

Holy sh*t! Take a look at the picture on the right:

What you are seeing are the new mascots unveiled yesterday by the London 2012 Olympic Committee. These things supposedly represent Britain better than anything else they could think of. . . like Big Ben, a bulldog, or a Mohammed.

The one on the left, flipping the Hitler salute, is called “Wenlock,” a common British name that means “Binge Drinking.” The one on the right is called “Mandeville,” another common British name that means “Dental Problems.”

According to Lord “Cocky” Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic games, Binge Drinking and Dental Problems will “inspire young people to engage with sport.” By which he means, they will make kids think of athletic supporters.

It will come as no surprise that these two mascots have not gone over too well with the public. Here are some samples of the comments people left when these were unveiled. Some pondered what they could be:
“Is it Mohammed?”
Some questioned the design:
“Why is the handicapped one wearing crotchless chaps?”

“Has the one in blue gone and soiled itself?”
Some questioned the practical value to the taxpayers:
“Another fine joke played on the long-suffering British taxpayer.”

“How can they spend all that money on this and the Olympics while there are politicians out there who need more money to waste?”
But then some began to see through the carnage to the evil intent:
“This is obviously a cynical attempt by the Olympic Committee to steal viewers from the Gay Games.”
And finally came acceptance:
“I, for one, welcome our new one-eyed overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted university researcher I could be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.”
But some still debate whether these truly represent Britain:
“Because nothing says ‘Britain’ like a creepy bipedal showerhead/penis thing with lobster claws.”
But is that fair? They certainly don’t represent all of Britain, but they do an excellent job of hitting some of the recent highlights. Consider that:
• The eyes are indeed camera lenses, which represent the surveillance cameras that spy on everything and everyone in the UK.

• The bulge -- no, not that bulge, look higher -- is a nod to England's growing obesity.

• The design on Wenlock’s t-shirt, which some claim looks like one box creature giving oral sex to another box creature (see right), actually represents vomit, and thereby is inclusive of all the youthful binge drinkers that make up most of Britain.

• The no-hands thing is a nod to the loss of manufacturing jobs, and their replacement with knife-like claws vaguely recalls Britain’s proud tradition of knife crime.

• Finally, the penis shape is stolen from Greece, which was the first to use walking penises as mascots for the Olympics (see left). This represents solidarity with Greece, whose debt the British have lately begun to emulate.
So all in all, it’s hard to complain about these mascots, even though there are many things that would have been more representative of Britain. They could have chosen a Big Ben-like mascot called “Huge Benjamin,” or a British Bulldog called “Bully,” or a binge-drunk teen called “Bingey,” a stuffed Prince of Charles, or a knife-wielding soccer fan called “Hooli,” or a turban wearing radical Imam called “Mohammed.” So many better choices. . .

God shave the Queen.

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