Saturday, June 9, 2007

Bill O'Reilly: Ecce Homo, an SOB Who Thinks He's a BFD

Over here in South Africa, Oprah ranks up there with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Her show, which I had never (not kidding) seen before, comes on during prime time hours each night, and when you have four channels it's pretty much all you have to watch. They're reruns, of course, from about nine months ago, but I'm sure most people don't notice, because let's face it -- Oprah is timeless.

The other night (or 9 months ago) she had Bill O'Reilly on. The man is breathtaking -- a vortex of animosity wherever he goes. The usually female dominated audience was uncharacteristically comprised of some men, and all of them -- male and female, old and middle-aged -- had a strong opinion one way or the other. Literally, one way or the other. That there appeared no middle ground on any issue, no grey area on any point of view, is a symptom of the O'Reilly phenomenon, and this strict dichotomy was enforced by the man himself.

He was, admittedly, peddling his book "Culture Warrior" in which he postulates that America is in the midst of a culture war between the Traditional Warriors and the Secular Progressives. When someone from the audience would ask a question or make a point he would immediately label them one or the other, buttering up the each "T Warrior" and dismissing condescendingly all those "SPs" (If the VP ordered B.O. to speak in only acronyms ASAP, he would have NP). I was reminded of a quote I first heard from Gloria Steinem, but may also appear in Freud's Wit and It's Relation to the Unconscious: "There are two types of people in this world -- those who divide the world into two types of people and those who don't."

I enjoy watching O'Reilly outside of his setting, especially when he is sitting with the most powerful woman in the world. I couldn't read Oprah very well, but if I could describe the expression on her face when listening to her guest, I would say it was polite disgust. There were some interesting points, like when Bill came right out and said that he was purposefully being argumentative "cause I'm up here selling books, lady". But most of the time, for me at least, he inspired not animosity but pity -- the kind you reserve for a drunk widower Uncle at a family reunion.

I did wish to contend him on his main thesis though -- that T Warriors, who he believes are a silent majority, will win the culture war because they outnumber those SPs. Every generation needs its Philistines, though we sometimes call them by other names: American Firsters, Segregationists, Pro-lifers, and in this case, T Warriors. What these groups share is their vocal presence during times of progress and change; they organize themselves when the world they live in starts to move a little too fast for their comfort. Their's is always a losing battle, or as Kennedy would say, a "long twilight struggle".
As a nation we always progress, we always move in some forward direction no matter how heavy the Philistines hang on the debate. Abolitionist's cause eventually helped free the slaves; Brown v. The Board of Education got rid of sanctioned segregation; the Suffragettes, the black civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's, the feminist struggle in the 1970's -- all progressive movements that made our culture the way it is and all were held up by older and more conservative segments of the population.

The funny thing about all this progress is that those who couldn't imagine a world with freed slaves or a woman's right to vote eventually learned to live with them and the generation that followed couldn't imagine a world without such basic principles. Just as I can't imagine living in an era during which black citizens could not drink from the same fountains or sit towards the front of the bus, my children will not understand how it ever happened that homosexual couples could not enjoy the protections and rights provided by state sanctioned marriages. That's right, all you conservatives, it may not happen in this election cycle or the following one, or even the one after that, but soon enough marriage rights will be enjoyed by all citizens, gay and straight (the majority of the population over 60 oppose "gay marriage", yet it is favored by those under 30. So it's just a matter of time.)

While I reject O'Reilly's basic dichotomy of SP and TWarrior, even within his deranged, paranoid framework he is wrong. The progressives have history and the human instinct to progress on their side. We appreciate you Philistines coming out, to strut and fret your hour upon Oprah's stage, but soon enough we will see your sound and fury for the nothing that it signifies.

Friday, June 8, 2007

You Best Start Believin in Spoilers, You're Readin One

Saw the third Pirates of the Caribbean tonight and here is my review:

I don't get it. And I don't mean "I don't get it" like I'm too stupid to get it -- like the time in 9th grade before Geometry class, when we were talking about The Usual Suspects and a kid said, "I didn't get it" (to which I starred at him and replied, "I don't get it."). I think David Lynch and Michael Bay had gotten together at some point to throw some ideas out there and whatever they didn't use ended up in this movie. Let me try to sum up the plot a little. (Honestly, I won't give anything away, not that that would be possible to do.) putting beginning with a lot of unkempt people being hanged, then signing, then more hanging (I have never seen Les Miserable, but I was reminded of it)...Then some familiar faces return, but now in Singapore?...Everyone seems to be double crossing one another (couldn't keep track or understand anyone's motive at any one point), then swords, fireworks and guns...then I guess they reached "World's End"...Then a David Lynch sequence of Davy Jones's locker(side note: Turns out that this doesn't refer to Davy Jones from the Monkees. It would have made about as much sense as the rest of the movie and I was kinda hoping for a cameo, but got none. Call me a "day dream believer" I guess.)...Then I think they spliced in some scenes from The Adventures of Baron Muchausen...then something about the ancient Greek goddess, Calypso (which they made a lot of fuss over, but didn't pan out to anything...I think?)...Then I guess the good guys win after a bizarre and interminable battle...

Okay, first point is that unlike some other sequels, this movie couldn't give a shit about you if you've never seen the first two movies 1000 times. Luckily I had recently rented the 2nd Pirates movie, but I still didn't understand that, so I was shit outta luck as well. They just jump right in, introducing old character in one fell swoop and then about 2-300 more.
Point two: While I do like animals and sorta like to think of myself as a feminist, I had my fill of cute monkeys at precious moments and girl power. When did Kiera Knightley get so fierce? Her character would give the Spice Girls boners.
You know when you were little and you had to go play with the kid in your class with no friends, cause your Mom thought it would be a nice thing to do. So, you suck it up and when you get there you realize why this kid has no friends -- cause he's a son of a bitch to play games with. He keeps changing all the rules as the game goes on. You remember that? Well replace that kid with this movie and those rules to an endless litany of maritime lore and "Pirate Codes". It's the third movie in this series based on a ride at Disney World and it has more back story and exposition than The Iliad.
Basically, the whole thing lost me at "hello." I wanted there to be question and answer when the lights turned on, but nothing. If I were forced to give a one word review of the movie, any word I chose would have to be in question form -- exciting? funny? And why should I be able to tell you one definitive thing about the movie, I'm just a guy who saw it?
Also, is it Care-RI-be-in or Care-a-BE-an?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The New Guy Takes On Introductions

Aside from terrorism and poorly built sandwiches there really is nothing I hate more than introducing myself to other people. I once thought this only held true in person or on the phone, but no, it's not very fun to do in the blogosphere either. To be honest, I was hoping one of the other dissentators would introduce me, ideally in a flattering light (not so flattering that I couldn't meet expectations, but just enough to feel like I belonged). But, I've been a dissentator for about an hour or so now and it's becoming quite clear that I'm on my own on this one. We better just plow on then. I'm ladissentator, "la" as in los angeles, which is where I've been living for about two years now. Besides living in los angeles, I'm pretty much like the rest of these guys. I went to Columbia University, I'm an American-born caucasian man, and I fucking (we can swear on this shit right?) hate the Eagles man.

The plus side of introducing yourself on the blogosphere is that you could make up just about anything about yourself and people would have no reason not to believe you. For example, I could've told you I was Charles Barkley back there and you might've believed me. But, since I already told you I was an "American-born caucasian man" now I'm branded for life. Unless, of course, I was lying earlier, then I could still be Sir Charles. Well, now you don't know what to believe. For all you know I'm not the white, Eagles-hating Columbia grad or Charles Barkley. Maybe I'm David Robinson. Or forget former NBA stars altogether, maybe I'm Wolf Blitzer or someone you've never even heard of like, I don't know, Doug Patterson from Duluth. The point is I could be anybody, so why not let me be Charles Barkley? It probably wouldn't hurt traffic to the site, and you can't honestly tell me you wouldn't read daily musings by the former Dream Team power forward. What the hey, Charles Barkley it is!

Wouldn't it be crazy if I was really Doug Patterson!?

Movies Today: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

For those of you who know me personally, this will undoubtedly come off as a biased diatribe against the current state of cinema. For those of you who don't know me personally, here is the reason that they will think this: I am biased. I lived in Los Angeles for about 15 months recently, working a number of unrelated jobs with some vague and ambivalent goal to write screenplays. Throughout this period, those around me didn't have to be too keen to notice that I was miserable to be in L.A.(note the difference. I wasn't miserable, just miserable to be there). Having grown up in Boston, a boy who worshiped Larry Bird and the Celtics beyond reason and statistics and vilified their west coast rivals, I arrived in L.A. with what you could call a skewed, somewhat myopic expectation of a city built (not with bullets or rock and roll) for the sole purpose of frivolity all in the name of entertainment, money and the pursuit of vanity. To the city's credit, it did not disappoint in any degree.
Now, you're asking yourself, what does this have to do with movies? Nothing really, but we need to understand that, while there is a burgeoning independent film market that churns out some good films each years, the majority of movies today are produced in the location I mentioned above, the city of Angles.
Just for the simplification of this post, I'll use the Academy Awards as a measurement for accomplishment in film. I don't actually believe that the Oscar goes to.......the best in each category every year -- or even the best in cinema -- but generally the nominees paint a decent cross-section of that year's better films. At the very least one could argue that the type of film that wins and the subsequent advertising and attention given to Oscar winners feed future projects (trends like Biopics, Epics, etc. arguably arise from previous Oscar attention paid to earlier films in these categories). So in 1994, the year Forrest Gump took home the golden boy, it was a pretty stellar year for American film. It went up against Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, and Pulp Fiction. If even one of those movies came out today, I would think we had a pretty good year, but from my subjective view, the actors today are great, some of the writing is very good, but you don't get that feeling when you walk out of a theater like you used to. That voice inside your head after you saw Pulp Fiction or Goodfellas that recognized that you had just watched something of timeless quality.

Last year The Departed won. As we've noted earlier on here, The Departed kinda sucked ass. I don't think I'll ever rent it and in 20 years it won't be on any of your shelves. Honestly, check your shelves that you'll have 20 years from now....On there?....Didn't think so.
The average films are still pretty much on par with those of 10 and 20 years ago, and I would argue -- even though the worst movie I've ever scene, Tomcats, came out in the last 5 years -- that the worst movies each year have gotten better. So, pretty much, what I'm saying is that we got a whole lot more decent films, but rarely does anyone in the city that should have been left a desert produce something great or transcendent, and here is why.
It's not the worry that a film will lose money (though this factors in), and it's certainly not that the actors or writers or directors are worse. It's that a broad majority of movies go through so many hands between the arbitrary decision to "greelight" a script and when it appears on screen -- screenwriter, agents, managers, consultants, rewriters, directors, executives, producers, more executives, last minute rewrites, actors who want to try something, and then some more executives, director and editors, producers (aka executives), PR peeps, testing audiences (40% executives), and then hopefully you'll have a final cut, which will then become the director's cut once it becomes a dvd. If Shakespeare passed Hamlet through this many hands, the best someone would say after walking out of The Globe theater would be, "I don't know. It was pretty good. I liked the acting. Cool scene at the end." (side note: nothing I wrote got past the "showing it to buddies" stage)
It's the too many chefs spoil the soup problem in Hollywood. Everyone there and the movie industry (don't call it the industry) itself exists entirely for the purpose of proving its existence. By this I mean that if they shut down all the major studios tonight, we would all wake up and nothing would change -- there wouldn't be panic in the streets and we'd learn to live with the movies we already have. Deep down, Hollywood understands this and has to shell out a lot of money on its support mechanisms -- advertising, PR, magazines, etc.
The result of this is that everyone there, whether working at a talent agency or studio or on the "creative" side, is instilled with the need to put in their two cents. They need to claim credit and latch onto things, so they can justify to themselves -- and to the world -- the fact that they have made a lot of money without serving a necessary role in society. So they set up meetings to discuss the script, and then the writer or whomever has to change this or that, the actors get changed cause an agent fights hard. All moves in this game appear and most likely are arbitrary, but the end results are the same: mediocrity.
To be fair to my friends who are still in L.A., my time there and the time I spent trying to write scripts was more fun than miserable. Even though what I wrote will not be made into a film, I had a blast writing each page. I met a ton of gifted and talented people. I met young, ambitious, brilliant people, but at times this reality only intensified my distaste for a city overflowing with the talent it summons, but ultimately inept at utilizing it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What's the Matter with Massachusetts?

Why is it when I watch political news, the conservative guy usually finds a way to make some passing and sarcastic reference to my home state of Massachusetts? Why is it that my former governor, now presidential candidate, Mitt Romney doesn't like to actually say the name of the state that elected him to office? We're always "where I served as Governor" or "back where I was in office", as if it was such a shitty post to be the governor of Massachusetts. Poor Mitt, had to slum it with those horrible liberals. Eat me. Conservative politicians and the parasitic, political pundits like their straw men and scapegoats. They like to have an neat, little, packaged focal point to scorn for them to malign -- Lou Dobbs has immigrants; Falwell had gays; and conservatives of any stripe have their beloved Massachusetts. In fact they may appreciate my home state even more than I do, but just in case some of you are undecided, here's a few choice facts for any of you out there who somehow are under the impression that Massachusetts is something distinct from the America you love:

Hmmmm, where to start? Maybe with the fact that the damn Pilgrims landed the Mayflower on Plymouth rock (note: it did not land on them). And since the establishment of Massachusetts Bay Colony, I think there have been a few other mentionables. Let's you like seafood? How 'bout lobster? Or Clam Chowder? You like those too? You're welcome.

Not patriotic enough yet? Well we also have a stellar line up of patriots: Benjamin Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Norman Rockwell (did you hear that. Norman friggen Rockwell. How much more American does it get?), Eli Whitney (try ginning cotton without Massachusetts.), W.E.B. DuBois, the J. Geils Band, Horatio Alger (this is getting unfair), and the "Block" where the "New Kids" were from is sitting nice and pretty in Massachusetts. Oh, I could keep going, but we "Massholes" were raised better than to brag. Oh wait, I forgot about some other patriots, The New England Patriots.

But what are these conservatives really scoffing at, it's our politics right? One would be led to believe that Massachusetts, overrun with liberals and progressives as we are, must be some lawless wasteland of vice and Un-American activity. I mean, we're the first state to provide marriage rights to homosexual couples, as we did in 2004; we just elected the 2nd black Governor in U.S. history; our U.S. Senators are John "hates the troops" Kerry and Ted Kennedy; and the man who has been my congressman all my life is none other than my favorite Barney Frank -- he's homosexual, Jewish, and went to one of those elite schools called Harvard! How do people living in Massachusetts make it through the day alive?

Well it helps that we're 2nd in the country for per capita income, home to some of the top ranked public schools in the nation, and remain a bastion for people around the world seeking the best in education from the esteemed private schools and the over 40 universities in the Boston area. But, just in case you don't make it through the day in one piece, we are also the first and only state to mandate health care coverage for it's citizens. Doesn't really seem like such a bad place to live, considering the state legislative branch is made up of less than 13% Republicans.

So, the next time you put your John Hancock on something or hang a lantern in a church tower or dump a whole mess of tea in a harbor, show a little respect to my home state. And if someone asks you, "What's the matter with Massachusetts?", you tell them, "Absolutely nothing!". Say it again.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Things That've Been Bugging Me: Some Reader Thoughts Would Be Nice

Not sure how you guys like to work. Maybe you're an early riser, like to get up early and enjoy some quiet time before work -- read the paper, do a little yoga, what-have-you. My inclination is to use the post-midnight hours for my me time, and this tendency is only increased when I'm living in a country 5-7 hours ahead of good old East Coast Time, when my friends and family are awake and online. So, typically once Sunday rolls around, I'm pretty out of it, and tonight is very much a typical Sunday -- a weeks worth of news starts to curdle a bit in my mind as I'm planning out the week ahead, and certain things pop out at me. Here are some of this weeks:

1. Apparently, according to an Editorial from NYTimes, there do I say this?...anti-dancing laws in New York City and in other cities across the country:

"New York’s cabaret laws limit dancing to licensed venues. They date back to the Harlem Renaissance, which had created the unsettling prospect of interracial dancing.
For decades, no one paid much attention to the laws until Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, bent on turning Manhattan into a giant mall/food court, decided to get tough. Today, the city far more famous for its night life than its Sunday services has only about 170 venues where it is legal to get up and dance — hence last month’s danced protest, as well as an earlier one in February."

I don't get it. I don't get the fact that these cabaret laws still exist. I don't get why and how exactly they are enforced. And I'm having a hell of a time trying to picture "last month's danced protest". Then I found this video:

2. There has been an article or two recently that seem to be laying the ground work for our administration to tell us outright that we're pretty much sticking around in Iraq -- or using the "Korea Model" as they have said. It has seemed increasingly clear to me that the administration never really had intentions otherwise, considering we're constructing the world's largest embassy in the heart of Baghdad, and have discussed and/or begun building "three or four major bases in the country". So doesn't this make all the debate about troop withdrawals and timelines sort of moot. It doesn't appear as though we'll ever really pull out entirely, and even if we did allow all of our troops to return safely to their homes, we would still have a presence of tens of thousands of "defense contractors" there, who have been and will continue to act effectively as a mercenary army. And, as far as an Iraqi is concerned, I'm not sure it makes much of a difference if the patch on the arm reads "US ARMY" or "HALLIBURTON".

3. I have a great respect for Al Gore, and I think jokes about his weight are tasteless and facile humor (though Bill Maher managed to make me laugh when he commented on the nonsense about the large electricity bill at Gore's Tennessee estate, saying "It's not his carbon footprint that I'm worried about; it's his carbon ASS print." Well played, Bill), but whenever I see Al Gore appear on tv, I can't shake this overwhelming urge to stare at his very very shiny face. It's just very very shiny and sort of mesmeric. Doesn't make me like the guy any less or think that he isn't doing a lot of good work. In fact, it's kinda cool. Go ahead, Mr. Gore, shine on you crazy diamond.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Empathy Part I: Summer of George

After our leaders had decided to continue funding the our occupation in Iraq with no time line for withdrawal, President Bush held a press conference in the rose garden to discuss our future in Iraq. Much attention was given to a reporter asking if the president had any credibility left on the subject. Whether this was an appropriate question or not, I can't imagine what the reporter expected to get for an answer, since this president and his administration have demonstrated time and again their lack of objectivity or self-criticism with regards to our occupation of Iraq. What stood out for me was the president's comments concerning the increase in violence predicted for this Summer:

"Mr Bush said he expected 'heavy fighting in the weeks and months' ahead. 'What they're going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home,' he said. 'They recognise that the death of innocent people could shake our will . . . So, yes, it could be a bloody - it could be a very difficult August'."

To take a cynical approach, it would appear that President Bush is attempting
to frame the debate that will inevitably resume in September, when General
Patraeus will make his progress report and our legislators will decide how
to proceed with the occupation. By offering this perspective, Bush may
somehow attempt to argue that the surge is not failing because of us but
because of the insurgent violence. But, even if he were to form the argument
in this way, it would be like a coach at halftime telling the losing team
that "we're not scoring as many points as we should because the other team
wants to rattle us and make us rethink our strategy."

Whether this is indeed an attempt by Bush to frame the debate or not, it exposes a lack of objectivity from an increasingly unpopular and defensive president that must realize at some level his administration's many failures in Iraq. This myopic, obdurate mindset is what former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, refers to with the title of his documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. As McNamara argues, the insulating mechanisms of power make the uncanny realities of war incomprehensible even for those in command -- and this is coming from one of the "best and the brightest" -- but after 40 years he offers some sagacious lessons; the first of which is to "Empathize with your enemy": "We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions."

This point is expounded in both the film and in McNamara's 1995 book, In Retrospect: The Tragedies and Lessons of Vietnam, in which McNamara lists the failures of our leadership in during the Vietnam War:
  1. We misjudged then — and we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries … and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.
  2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience … We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.
  3. We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.
  4. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.
Anything sound familiar? I have only listed a few of McNamara's forthright points, but it is plain to see how today's leaders approach to our present military conflict are strikingly similar to what was happening in Washington in the 1960's and early 70's. Our current administration has time and again displayed this lack of empathy and understanding for both Islamic terrorists and the insurgencies in Iraq. There remains a fundamental misunderstanding of how to engage in "The War on Terror" against an amorphous and stateless enemy whose numbers and resolve are only bolstered by our military actions, as political scientists, James Bill and Rebecca Bill Chavez wrote in 2002: "By dropping bombs and firing missiles, the United States only spreads these festering problems. Violence can be likened to a virus; the more you bombard it, the more it spreads." And specifically in regards to Iraq insurgencies, our empathy is equally lacking, as conservative columnist David Brooks recently wrote after discussing Iraq with John Robb, author of Brave New War:
"It's pointless to decapitate the head of the insurgency or disrupt its command structure, because the insurgency doesn't have these things. Instead, it is a swarm of disparate companies that share information, learn from each other's experiments and respond quickly to environmental signals."
For we Americans to view the struggle in Iraq as insurgents vs. the U.S., or even as Sunni vs. Shiite, is a blatant misreading of the reality on the ground where "there are between 70 and 100 groups that make up the Iraq insurgency". Furthermore, for our president to claim that insurgents are ratcheting up the violence in Iraq this Summer to influence the debate at home -- as if they're all gathered around watching C-SPAN together -- is not only solipsistic, but deleterious to our national debate surrounding our complex and difficult decision on how to proceed. Empathy is not sympathy -- it's not feeling their anger but understanding the motivations behind it -- and when faced with a violent and open-ended conflict, with no definition of victory, it may be a good idea to deploy some.