Quentin Tarantino, Historical Ignoramus

In a recent interview, famed director Quentin Tarantino stated that the Confederate flag was “the American swastika” and that efforts to ban it, and symbols such as memorials to Southern generals, were long past due. In the first place, banning Nazi symbols, as most European countries and American universities have done, not only antithetical to freedom but counter-productive. It gives the extreme right wing “evidence” of a Jewish conspiracy to suppress their nationalist movements. But debating politically correct censorship isn’t the purpose of this article. Rather, it’s Tarantino’s likening of the Confederacy to Nazi Germany that is both offensive and historically wrong.

Since Tarantino has done films relating to slavery and the south, he probably fancies himself as some sort of expert on American history. I’ve seen Django Unchained and although it’s an entertaining movie, it’s hardly historically accurate. To me it seemed that Tarantino was the little boy who finds an excuse to say a forbidden word (you know the one I’m talking about) and keeps saying it again and again. I haven’t research it, but I wonder if the dreaded N-word was actually the preferred terminology in the early 1800’s. The movie Twelve Years A Slave, which is based on a historical account, showed that besides the inexcusable deprivation of the Africans’ liberty, masters were not necessarily cruel, since a slave represented a significant investment. It was Solomon’s exceptional misfortune (besides being kidnapped in the first place) to be enslaved by to the alcoholic psychopath Edwin Epps, whose addiction made him violent and irrational.

Tarantino probably believes the propaganda he learned in school, namely that the Union was good and the Confederacy was bad, when reality was far more complicated. Abraham Lincoln, despite being celebrated nowadays as an American saint, was quite unpopular in his day, and he closed newspapers and imprisoned writers who opposed him. As for his motivation in waging war on the South, consider the man’s own words, from a letter to Horace Greeley: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Lincoln was a white supremacist whose primary aim was to deport all blacks to Africa. Nowhere in his private correspondence is there any evidence that he ever gave up on this goal. It’s interesting to note that another historically oppressed people, the “civilized tribes” of Oklahoma, sided with the Confederacy.

One can easily draw parallels between the racialist philosophies of Nazi Germany and the antebellum US. (I say US because in the early 1800’s, few whites anywhere viewed blacks as equals, and many northern states had “black codes” that prevented freedmen from settling there.) However, there’s a vast difference between exploitation and extermination. If there’s a parallel to the Holocaust in America, it’s the horrific treatment of our native peoples, and toward this odious cause the generals of the victorious Union, in particular Sherman and Sheridan, were quite zealous. (I should note that Sherman was also a vicious anti-Semite who persuaded Grant to expel all Jews from his army.) American Indian reservations, where so many died from starvation and disease, can be likened to concentration camps. The biggest difference is that here in America, European microbes, such as smallpox and measles, did much of the dirty work for us, decreasing Native American populations by 90% or more. In any case, if there’s an American swastika, it would be one of the cavalry flags of the Indian Wars.

 

Fury Road WTF?

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Max

Since George Miller’s Max Max: Fury Road was released back in May of this year, this is not so much of a review as a rumination on a wider social phenomena. Namely: why the hell did this film get such good reviews?

Let’s back up a bit: my girlfriend Arlys is a dyed in the wool film buff who has introduced me to many classics, courtesy of our Netflix subscription. Her favorites are the work of the masters Hitchcock and Kurosawa. In turn she indulges my love of anime and science fiction. Understand that Arlys does not have a “girly” taste in movies; for example, she detests most romantic comedies. In addition, she loved the original “Mad Max” movies, especially the 1981 Road Warrior and 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome. Yet she hated this new one so much that she gave it a score of zero. Her reasoning: a completely implausible plot and the marginalization of the Mad Max character, who had lost all of his redeeming characteristics from the earlier movies.

I have to agree, partially. As brainless action fun, I’d give it two stars out of five. The mixed reports I’d heard about the movie gave me low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I enjoyed it more than Star Wars: The Force Awakens because the high hopes I had for that one were rudely dashed. Yes, the plot on the earlier Mad Max incarnations was thin but this last one was idiotic. As a sci-fi fan I like to have at least some degree of plausibility. My biggest issue was how did this post-apocalyptic society function? Nowhere did I see any crops or animals, except for the mutant lizard that Mad Max (Tom Hardy) munches at the beginning. The evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has enslaved some well-endowed women as milk cows, but what do they eat? The bad guys also imprison Mad Max and extract his blood but what do they feed him? One of the fattest villains is called “People Eater”(John Howard) but again, you’ve got to have something for the herd. Speaking of the herd, all around the bluffs that serve as Joe’s headquarters is a huge crowd of rabble, whom he occasionally drenches with the life-giving water that he has monopolized. These people don’t have any jugs or buckets; they just wallow in the mud. They don’t appear to have any mud huts or caves to live in. And why is Joe doing this? We know he’s a bastard, so what’s in it for him?

We’ll grant that an action movie can be light on world building, but I’m just getting started. How does Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) get access to Joe’s wives to rescue them? Why does the “war boy” Nux (Nicholas Hoult) strap Max to the front of his car as he pursues the fugitives? If Max is killed, the precious blood Nux is siphoning from him would be gone. Why does Max, who is tortured by flash-backs of all the people he couldn’t save in the past, attempt to abandon Furiosa and Joe’s wives to die in the desert? How can Max possibly be so young? He’s a survivor from before the nuclear war, which was clearly decades ago, especially if Furiosa has lived her whole life since that time. I could go on for pages, but I won’t.

The thing that mystifies me most is, why did the critics rate this awful movie so highly – on Rotten Tomatoes it’s 97%, higher than the audience score of 86! Don’t critics usually hate brainless action movies? Is it because this was reputed to be a “feminist” Mad Max? I say that because on the Web, I saw articles by conservatives grousing about how Max had been upstaged by a woman. If so, I don’t get it. True, Furiosa is a great female action hero, but they’re a dime a dozen these days. Most of the other female characters, the wives Furiosa is rescuing, are helpless bimbos in scanty dress. Or is this movie feminist in the politically correct “white men are evil” sense? Joe and his followers are indeed bad guys, but this is a post-nuclear wasteland. Savagery is the rule of the day. If the critics fell in line to praise “Fury Road” because they didn’t want to seem sexist, George Miller’s got one hell of a scam going on.

To be fair, I looked up the Rotten Tomatoes entries for the previous “Mad Max” movies and discovered to my surprise that the rankings for “Road Warrior” were almost exactly the same – a 98% critic score versus 85% audience. Perhaps this invalidates my theory, since that one starred racist white guy Mel Gibson. Admittedly “Road Warrior” was a far better movie than “Fury Road” but even the earlier one wasn’t that good. I’m beginning to question Rotten Tomatoes as an objective guide.

If I had made “Fury Road,” I’d have kept Charlize Theron, but I’d change practically everything else. Casting a geriatric babbling Mel Gibson as Max would have been quite amusing. Better yet, I’d call it “Furry Road” and have all the actors wear animal costumes. Furiosa would be adorable as a she-wolverine, though we’d definitely keep the robot arm.

 

Warrior Girls in Sci Fi — Too Bad-Ass to Believe?


I’m not the only one dissing the new Star Wars. Gavin McInnes has some pointed criticism, and he said it so well, I’m jealous. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s the Canadian expat writer who co-founded Vice Magazine and appears on the Fox News show “Red Eye.” In a recent article  at Taki’s Magazine, he argues that The Force Awakens is part of the anti-white-male propaganda currently infesting pop culture. It’s the phenomenon that portrays TV dads as bumbling idiots while their wives hold everything together. I’m not going to argue that point, rather, I’ll discuss a related issue: the ascendancy of the kick-ass female in science fiction.

McInnes writes that he can only stand the feminist nonsense in movies by looking for the chinks in the armor, the rare times where traditional values are affirmed, or a man is portrayed in a positive way.For example, Luke Skywalker, a white male, seems like a Christ figure when he appears at the end of The Force. My strategy is different. I short-circuit the propaganda by being a sexist fan-boy (though, given my age, I should probably say “dirty old man.”) That’s because nerds like myself find the take-charge female warriors of sci-fi to be totally hot. If you don’t get it, watch a few episodes of “The Big Bang Theory,” where some of the actresses I list below make guest appearances.

My favorite kick-ass sex symbol is River Tam (played by Summer Glau) from the “Firefly” series. In the movie Serenity, she dispatches a room full of reavers (bloodthirsty space cannibals) all by herself. We accept this, because she’s a mutant genius, an emotionally-damaged victim of secret government experiments. Another is Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhof), the whiskey-drinking blonde fighter pilot in “Battlestar Galactica.” Then there’s Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who climbs into a robotic loader exosuit to battle the alien queen in Aliens, with the ferocity of a mama bear protecting her cub. Probably the best is recent years is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, who looks fantastic in both her “flaming” evening gown and her Hunger Games battle gear. If I were Peeta, I wouldn’t have wasted the last minutes of the movie snuggling. The trilogy’s biggest sin was to have such a wimp be married to the warrior goddess.

Bad-ass as these warrior girls are, they all have weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which makes them seem real enough to be sympathetic. That’s something that Rey (played by Daisey Ridley) lacks, which was my biggest problem with her character. Everything just comes too easily for her. As a consequence she’s more annoying than appealing, despite her fresh-faced athletic looks. The worst serial offender is Angelina Jolie, whose action-move-heroine roles frequently cross over into the ridiculous. It doesn’t help that Jolie’s body is too damned perfect, with her economy-sized lips and breasts. Remember the wet suit in Lara Croft : Tomb Raider that somehow manages not to flatten out, but to accentuate those awe-inspiring mammaries? I guess Croft is so tough that she doesn’t mind the added drag while swimming.

Sexual fantasies aside, it’s all about creating a good story with interesting characters, not about following some formula, whether feminist or traditionalist. Warrior girls need more than their good looks and killer moves to make them interesting. They need to be people we actually care about.

Complicating the Obvious: An Engineer Responds

mad_scientist

The mad scientist persona on my Facebook author page (shown above) is somewhat appropriate because, besides being a full-time radical malcontent, my “day job” is an an engineer. A recent article by Thomas Sowell  prompted me to respond from an engineer’s perspective.

I’m a great admirer of Mr. Sowell; he’s a brilliant thinker and a great writer. To be a black conservative in this country takes a special kind of courage, and he was on the right before it was fashionable. His recent article, which appeared on January 5th on numerous websites, about the deficiencies in modern product engineering.

In general, I agree with his comments. Many if not most electronic products are over-complicated. In my defense, it’s not just a software problem. Even the labels on an over-the-counter medicine bottles are too complex. The critical information on dosage and frequency is lost in a thousand words of fine-print warnings and disclosures. Why should I have to dig out my reading glasses to find out how long I can go between doses? A similar issue applies to appliance manuals. They’re printed in three to ten languages with at least a dozen pages of warnings that no one but an imbecile should need. I’m not sure it’s due to government or to multi-cultural correctness, but this so-called “internationalization” is the impetus behind the babel of languages and the widespread use of non-textual hieroglyphic’s that Sowell detests so much.

Safety regulations make for some especially idiotic designs. You can’t buy a simple gasoline container any more, there are locks on the caps and baffles in the spout. Environmental rules can be even worse. A few months ago, when Arlys and I bought a new washing machine, we discovered that government “water conservation” regulations had rendered it almost unusable. You’re no longer allowed to choose your own water level. The machine figures that out, adding time to the cycle, and if it screws up, your clothes don’t get clean. We returned the new machine and had our old one repaired.

Though government is, as usual, our biggest nemesis, it’s not our only one. One of my mantras as a software engineer has been that a properly designed interface should be so intuitive that it shouldn’t require one. Sadly, that seldom happens. Creating a good interface costs money, something the folks in accounting don’t always appreciate. Being tangible, the hardware usually gets more attention. Yet it’s a mistake to neglect the software to save a few bucks. Ease of use can make or break a product.

Another temptation for manufacturers is to save design effort by relying on the Internet. Even if the product’s interface is too difficult for the average person to figure out, some 15-year old genius will do it, and publish how-to instructions on You-tube for free. Though streaming video is a powerful tool, I really don’t want to watch a 20-minute video by some pimply faced kid so I can work my toaster. We should save that option for more complicated products, like the cell phones Sowell complains about.

Though corporate stinginess is a problem, it’s also possible to make a bad interface by going overboard on the design. One company that puts a lot of resources into the interface design is Apple, which explains the popularity of its products. At the very least, they’re pretty, but that doesn’t guarantee ease of use. The philosophy of simplicity for its own sake can sacrifice usability. (Why a one-button mouse?) For the product to look slim and elegant in the ad is everything. In particular, the ability to repair, maintain or upgrade Apple devices (consider the I-Phone’s non-removable battery) goes out the window.

By the way, I share Sowell’s frustration with needlessly complex cell phone interfaces. Perhaps if the author gig doesn’t work out I’ll create my own Android distribution, and it will actually make sense. Any suggestions?

 

My Arcane and Esoteric Predictions for 2016

Hourglass

Everyone likes to start the new year with a bunch of optimistic forecasts but this is not that year. I have three:

  1. Donald Trump will not be President. At the rate he’s going, he could legitimately be elected, but the powers that be won’t tolerate a loose cannon like him in the White House. Not that presidents have all that much authority, anyway, but the elites need to maintain at least the facade of democracy.
  2. There will be no economic recovery. Nothing has changed since 2007. The bad actors weren’t punished, and the big banks weren’t allowed to fail. The economy needs a reset; we need to repudiate government debt, ax laws and regulations, and close our expensive and unnecessary overseas military bases. Until that happens, things won’t get better.
  3. We can expect civil unrest to expand beyond the inner cities. The American “Deep State” is a big believer in “divide and conquer” which is why they’ve pursued chaos in Ukraine and Syria. Lately I’ve suspected they want to try it here. If they can get the majority to riot, they’ve got an excuse for repression, and maybe even for repudiating some of the aforementioned debt. Consider the offenses to Christians, conservatives and Southerners: gay marriage by judicial fiat, making transsexuals a protected class, denigrating the rebel flag and destroying Confederate monuments. I’m not saying I share their outrage but I’m baffled that we haven’t seen more push-back. The clincher would be (a) forcing us to accept massive numbers of Muslim refugees, and expecting us to accommodate their prejudices, as Germany and Sweden have done, or (b) gun confiscation. This is especially likely if Hillary is elected President. The elite can make her play the bad guy, then follow up with impeachment and prosecution for her criminal past. Of course, whatever outrages she imposes upon us will stand even after she is gone. Read Machiavelli, it’s in “The Prince.”

There you have it. I hope I’m wrong. If I’m right, you all owe me a beer – if our new Muslim overlords will allow it.

Review — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Yesterday Arlys and I finally saw the most anticipated movie of 2015, the seventh and latest installment of Star Wars. I’m sure many of you have already seen it, but as a sci-fi writer and a long time Star Wars fan, I’m obliged to review it. Spoiler warning: It’s not going to be pretty.

I’ve heard a number of people rave about this film so I was prepared to be amazed. Instead I was quite disappointed. Maybe my problem was too much hype and anticipation. No, it’s not as bad as Episodes I and II (that is, the fourth and fifth releases.) But honestly, I think “Revenge of the Sith” was better. The visual effects and the acting were fine. But the writers (JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan) have apparently gone to the Dark Side – is it too much to ask for a single new plot element?

OK, I admit that strictly speaking, there are no new stories, ever. The first Star Wars movie (Episode IV) is a prime example of the “Hero’s Journey,” as defined by the great Joseph Campbell. Even if we accept originality as a relative quantity, “The Force Awakens” would score in the negative numbers. Practically everything in it is recycled: a plucky young hero(ine), a droid with an urgent message, a tiny but wise and ancient alien, a family split between the Light and Dark Sides, the death of a beloved character, and a very familiar looking doomsday weapon. And get this: the new threat to the Galaxy is a gang of Imperial throwbacks led by a guy who raves like Adolf Hitler. It’s all too familiar. The old Imperial officers did look a lot like Nazis, didn’t they?

There’s only one aspect of Episode VII that’s new to the Star Wars franchise: the character of Finn (John Boyega), a deserter from the aforementioned fascistic First Order. Sadly, the writers botched that opportunity. For someone raised from birth to be a storm trooper, Finn has a depressingly normal personality. Perhaps we can accept that such a person might develop a conscience when ordered to massacre of innocent villagers. But where did he learn to speak in wisecracks and and be protective of females? He’s never known anything but soldiering, so we’d expect him to be super-confident, fearless, humorless, and naive about human relationships. Above all, he shouldn’t have tried to run from the conflict; a man like him would need to fight for a cause, even if it meant switching sides. Instead, Finn is a reluctant hero, and yet when the fighting starts, he’s incredibly cavalier about killing his former comrades. Where’s the internal conflict? And why aren’t his new friends more suspicious of him? Double agents posing as defectors are a time-tested strategy of war.

Rey’s character (Daisy Ridley) is another unfortunate waste of potential. We’re long past the time when attractive female warriors were novel and edgey. Now they need depth, nuance and back-story, none of which Rey has. Not that she’d have had time tor character growth at the frenetic pace of this movie. Her personal “force awakening” reminded me of a childhood dream where I suddenly, without warning or context, realized I had super-powers. Yes, science fiction requires the willing suspension of disbelief, but that’s a two way street. The writers have to give us something worth believing in.

I could rant on further about the movie’s Death-Star-sized plot holes, but I’ve gone on long enough. Despite all these problems, I did enjoy it. It’s visually stunning, with a background that’s full of delightful little details of both the biological and mechanical variety. The Star Wars characters we know and love are back, even if their interaction is a bit stilted at times. Finally, it leaves us with this mystery: how did Han and Leia’s son end up looking like Severus Snape?

Out of a possible five stars, I’d give it a 2.5. George, please come back!

 

Barack Obama: Cat’s Paw of the CIA?

paw-1394447

A few days ago I encountered a fascinating article by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, a man whose writings I give a lot of credence. Entitled “Military to Military”,  the piece alleges that the Pentagon and the CIA have been at odds about the crisis in Syria. Hersh reports that the US Military, acting contrary to the policies of the Obama administration, shared information with the government of Bashar Assad in Syria, to help it fight the so-called Islamic State (ISIS.) The brass, alarmed about the growing influence of ISIS, decided that Assad’s regime was preferable to a Syria run by lunatic Islamic fundamentalists. General Michael Flynn openly objected to Obama’s strategy of arming terrorists and was fired; after that, General Martin Dempsey acted secretly to help Assad. According to Hersh, this secret rebellion ended with Dempsey’s retirement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff this September.

This story is a bombshell in itself, but it caused me to make a connection to numerous articles in the alternative media I’ve read about Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, having worked for the CIA. This is cited as one of the reasons for Barack’s sudden rise from obscurity to President. The Wikipedia article about Dunham says nothing about this (if Wikipedia were objective, they would have at least noted the allegations,) but it notes a long sequence of non-profit and quasi-government jobs in Kenya, Indonesia, and Pakistan. This perfectly fits the pattern of CIA cover employment. So if the mother was a CIA asset, why not the son?

I see the Hersh article as another piece of evidence of the battle between different factions in the American Deep State. On one side is the Pentagon, on the other the intelligence services. My view is that as bureaucratic, inefficient and corrupt as our military is, it is still, at its heart, a pro-American institution. We can’t say the same for the CIA, whose predecessor the OSS was instrumental in bringing Nazi scientists to America, and was almost certainly involved in anti-democratic debacles such as the JFK assassination, the 9/11 attacks and the false-flag terrorism of “Operation Gladio” in post-war Europe.

I do occasionally agree with Obama’s foreign policy initiatives; his support of the nuclear deal with Iran and normalization of relations with Cuba are two of them. It seems to me, however, that both of these have the same motivation as the coup in Ukraine and Islamic terrorism in Syria – an attempt to marginalize and otherwise punish the un-cooperative leaders of the Russian Federation. To risk nuclear war by way of Machiavellian maneuverings is exactly the kind of treason the CIA is known for. As we near the end of the immensely unpopular Obama administration, it’s well worth thinking about.

Illustration from www.freeimages.com

Islamophobophobia

MoGraffitti

From ‘Tim’ on http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive: Graffiti from Hamburg, Germany in 2006. The caption reads: “Hallo Mittelalter ’06” — “Hello Middle Ages ’06”.

Call me callous, but I’ve been enjoying the media shit-storm (sorry, but no other word describes it better) over Donald Trump’s proposal to put a moratorium on Muslim immigration to the US. In their self-righteous fit of hysteria, the mainstream pundits have displayed their complete ignorance and hypocrisy. Is Trump as bad as Hitler? Or is the reality more nuanced? Though I’m not a Trump supporter, I am dismayed by this lack of respect for the man’s honest opinion, whether one agrees or not. Furthermore, I have three questions for those who want Trump disqualified, deported, or worse for his so-called “hate speech.”

1. Why the fuss over immigration when the US has killed literally millions of Muslims since it became the “unipolar power” at the end of the Cold War? For example, America’s embargo on Iraq in the 1990’s caused the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqi children. Madeleine Albright, former US ambassador to the UN, stated on national TV that this was “worth it” if there was even a chance of toppling Saddam Hussein. Where was the media outcry over such callous indifference to human life? Where also, is the media when our Nobel Peace Prize-winning President conducts drone strikes against “targets” (that is, human beings) with neither a properly declared state of war nor due process of law?

When the US military bombs hospitals; it’s called an ‘accident,” or ‘collateral damage,’ When it bombs Afghan wedding parties, all deceased males between 15 and 55 are classified as ‘terrorists.’ So I ask the mass media: how dare you make such a fuss over religious discrimination, as bad as that may be, when you ignore mass murder?

2. Why don’t Western nations have the right to determine what sorts of immigrants will be most likely to assimilate into their cultures? All Middle Eastern governments do that. Not only does Saudi Arabia not admit Christians and Jews, it hasn’t even tried to help resettle the Syrian refugees – people made homeless by its clandestine support of ISIS. Where’s the media outrage over that? Even Israel, America’s most beloved ally, favors Jews as immigrants, refuses re-entry to Palestinians it has ejected, and won’t acknowledge the authenticity of black Jews from Ethiopia. Where is the furor over this bald-faced racism?

Yet America and its European allies are expected to accept anyone and everyone, and in massive numbers, regardless of the effects on their own citizens. The Internet is abuzz with stories of refugees from Islamic countries committing a hugely disproportionate number of sexual assaults against Swedish women – though of course the government and media suppress this fact. I am not saying that all male Muslims are rapists (unlike Trump, I don’t believe in  sweeping generalizations,) but through the lens of Islamic culture, independent Western woman are viewed as whores whom it is acceptable to abuse. Where is the outrage from feminists over this horrific injustice? Why do they instead focus on the video gaming community (“Gamergate”), making these hapless nerds out to be evil misogynists because of their verbal harassment of a single untalented female hack?

3. Why is Islam the darling of the progressive left? I don’t believe more than 1% of these people have ever read the Koran. One needs to consider the Islamic scriptures in their entirety, not from the cherry-picked quotations of propagandists. Yes, the Koran has calls for tolerance, but its also exhorts Muslims to “smite the infidels,” to force them into conversion, slavery, or at best second-class (“dhimmi”) citizenship. Under Islamic law, a woman is worth half as much as a man, and gays are to be executed immediately. Any white European religion that advocated any of these would be rightfully shunned and condemned as evil. Perhaps most outrageous is the fact that a Muslim man can marry girls as young as 9 years old. Remember the public reaction to people like David Koresh and Warren Jeffs, who practiced and condoned the forced marriage of underage girls? Americans were, in my view, righteously outraged. Where is the outrage over Islam?

I’m not saying that all Muslims are evil, or that there aren’t progressives among them. In fact, I strongly favor granting refugee status to those Muslims who have been condemned for ‘heresy’ by fundamentalist governments such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. These so-called heretics are the people who will, if we assist them, allow Islam to adapt to the 21st Century. However, I am an unapologetic bigot against conservative Muslims who believe in Sharia law, as practiced in those countries. If I were ever to hire employees, I would no sooner consider hiring (or doing business with) a Wahabbist Sunni or a Khomeini-following Shiite than a Nazi or KKK member. Yet under current US labor laws, I’d be subject to prosecution.

This is my prescription: If we’re going to admit Muslims freely to the US, it’s time to repeal laws against religious discrimination. Religion, unlike race (or sexual orientation) is a choice. If we do admit refugees, there should be absolutely no government support for them – let Muslim organizations raise money to help their own. As for Europe (and Canada)  – they seriously need a revolution. Barring that, these nations need to repeal all hate speech laws, reform or abolish their anti-gun laws (so their citizens may defend themselves, since the police cannot or will not), and vastly reduce the welfare state. No longer should unemployable Muslim fanatics be supported by the taxpayers of the nations they hate.

Lastly, and most importantly, the US and its NATO allies must immediately cease their military interventions in the Islamic world. Perhaps some Muslims really do hate us for our freedom, but surveys have shown that they hate us far more for killing their friends, families and neighbors in our unnecessary and inexcusable wars.

 

I’m Rational, You’re a Paranoid Idiot

150px-TinfoilHat

Recently while perusing the techno-geek site slashdot.org, I came across an article expressing a familiar meme that I’d like to address in this post. When I say meme, I’m not talking about a funny cat picture; I mean it in the original sense of the term as coined by Richard Dawkins, that of an idea that seems to reproduce itself like a gene. The Slashdot item referred to a December 1st article in the Washington Post, entitled “Why people think total nonsense is really deep.”

The article describes a study by Gordon Pennycook of the University of Waterloo, which measured the receptiveness of people to ascribe profundity to nonsense. In one phase of the study, a quarter of the 300 participants rated randomly generated nonsense statements as being more profound than genuine well-recognized proverbs. To me, this has interesting ramifications about the human brain’s tendency to look for patterns where there are none. This was, however, not the focus of the study. The researchers attempted to correlate this willingness to see nonsense as profound, and came to the following conclusion:

“Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions [beliefs in things for which there is no empirical evidence (i.e. that prayers have the ability to heal)] and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.”

To put it bluntly, (and this is solely my interpretation) people whose beliefs fall outside the mainstream are that way because they’re stupid. You see this attitude most prevalently in websites such as Rational Wiki, whose mission statement includes the following:

  • Analyzing and refuting pseudoscience and the anti-science movement.
  • Documenting the full range of crank ideas.

“Crank” ideas, in their view, don’t just include widely-held superstitions and religiously inspired viewpoints such as Bible-based creationism. They also include climate-change skepticism, the 9/11 Truth movement, and believers in a JFK assassination conspiracy – three categories that implicate yours truly. Now I’m not saying that the writers of Rational Wiki don’t sometimes make a good argument. But I have noticed a significant amount of editorializing and hand-waving in some of their articles – as well as the inclusion of the craziest “theories” – for example, the belief that President Kennedy was abducted by aliens – along with the more widely supported ones. What a shock! These uber-rational folks, who are dedicated to exposing flaws in other peoples’ reasoning, resort to the well-worn “strawman” fallacy, as well as the notion of guilt by association.

In this mainstream view, credulity is contextual. If you readily believe the authorities and the standard explanation for an event or phenomenon, you are rational. (Unless you live in Russia, in which case you would be one of Putin’s Brainwashed Minions.) If you are more partial to alternative theories, you’re credulous and perhaps even mentally unbalanced. Obviously, I disagree: all conspiracy theories and alternative philosophies are NOT created equal. Many if not most of them are, in my view, total bunk. But we must also consider the number of theories that went from “crazy” to accepted, such as the Copernican view of the universe, continental drift (a.k.a. plate tectonics) and evolution.

As for the notion of guilt-by-association: Some may point to the popular documentary “Loose Change” and its collection of unsupported, unrelated and sometimes contradictory theories as “proof” that all truthers are cranks, and therefore conclude that the government’s story of 9/11 must be true, Yet alternative journalist James Corbett does a really impressive job of poking holes in the official story in his brief video, “9/11, A Conspiracy Theory.” Am I contradicting myself? Not at all.

It occurred to me years ago that a secretive government agency such as the CIA could easily influence the news, planting false and misleading stories, and thus manipulate public opinion. In fact, the Agency is widely acknowledged to have done so, not just in the Communist bloc and the “third world,” but in nations considered to be our allies. Does the fact that it’s illegal for the CIA to act inside the USA mean that it won’t? Of course not: “national security” will ensure that the Agency is rarely, if ever, exposed when it does so. And if some whistle-blower does expose them, they’ll be dismissed as — you guessed it — a paranoid conspiracy theorist!

The sarcastic title aside, the point of this post is not that I’m right and “they” are wrong, but that we should all be skeptical, no matter what the source of the information. Everyone has an agenda – even the people we see as “good guys.” As for the “bad guys.” assuming they do indeed have evil motives, they would have no problem inserting disinformation into our “trusted” sources, or infiltrating their agents into “good guy” organizations. In other words, question everything – including this article!

Above “tinfoil hat” image is from http://www.clubpenguinwiki.info/wiki/Tinfoil_Hat

 

Review – Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 2 (finale)

kcMngy9gi

 

Though I haven’t read any of the books, I couldn’t help liking the Hunger Games movies. I enjoy the theme of heroic rebels opposing a brutal dystopia. Katniss, the determined but angst-ridden warrior girl, is a very appealing character. I’d like to first give my impressions of the movie, and then say a bit about its political ramifications.

I’ll start with the cons, as I see them. For the sake of brevity I’ll do them in list form:

  • Predictability. Maybe I’m jaded, but I guessed all the plot twists that should have been surprises. I won’t spoil it by detailing the most significant ones, except to say they involve the rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore.)
  • Plot holes. The worst is in the scene where the protagonists infiltrate the Capital on foot. They pass between deserted multi-story buildings The Loyalists have planted mines and installed elaborate traps, when they could have much more easily placed snipers in those windows.
  • The government is almost too consistently evil, especially President Snow (Donald Sutherland.)
  • The Capital’s human-sized lizard “mutts” (mutants) which are sent to attack Katniss and her party. Though this society has advanced genetic engineering, these were a bit over the top.
  • Once again, the studio broke the final book of a series into two movies, which means neither can stand on their own. Maybe authors need to start writing quadrologies.
  • A sentimental, drawn-out ending. In my opinion, the final scene should have been cut entirely.

OK, here are the pros:

  • Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, who is not just young and pretty but can actually act.
  • Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. Unfortunately his character has a very small role in this movie.
  • The plot includes political complexity and intrigue. This isn’t a black-and-white Jedi vs Empire story; the rebels have flaws, too.
  • A “false flag” plot device. That’s all I’ll say for now.
  • It’s visually stunning and well paced (at least until the resolution part that occurs after the climax.)
  • It shows a fascinating two-tiered culture, with the decadent Capital versus the simple, hard-working folk of the districts.
  • They have some cool bio-engineering tech, such as the jabber jay and the tracker jacker wasp. As I said above, the “lizard mutts” were overkill.
  • An eloquent and powerful anti-government message. On the web I found a brief video of Donald Sutherland saying that the oppressive government of Panem is indeed an allegory for the imperialistic United States.

My question is, how is it that over the years we’ve seen numerous anti-authoritarian novels and movies, many which like the Hunger Games were insanely popular, yet our real world government continues to get worse? At most, the influence of these movies has been superficial; Wikipedia cites Katniss’ three-finger hand signal having been used by protestors in Thailand, and the movies were banned by Vietnam’s Marxist government.

There seems to be a disconnect between the libertarian roots of American culture, and the “support the troops,” “keep us safe”, and “punish the evildoers” mentality that now dominates public discourse. Are works like Hunger Games a convenient outlet for our desire for freedom, a kind of political pornography? Were there more powerful stories that were filtered out? I’m not saying we have overt censorship — well, it does happen but at least it’s not common — yet. But I do believe that overly seditious novels (for example John Ross’ Unintended Consequences) don’t get a big-name publishers, and if they do, the movies don’t get financed. Did Hunger Games somehow sneak by because it’s based on a YA series written by a woman (Suzanne Collins) with a strong female protagonist?

Perhaps we writers are kidding ourselves to think our stories can influence real-world events. I’m not saying that Hunger Games should inspire someone to shoot an arrow at Obama. Unlike the fictional Snow, he’s a powerless figurehead, and it all it would accomplish would be to cause Barack’s real bosses to declare martial law. I would at least hope that these popular anti-authority stories could inspire people to civil disobedience. Our government can be brutal, but it hasn’t quite become Panem. The powers that be still pretend they represent us, which means that if we adopted Ghandian tactics, they’d be unlikely to mow us down in the streets like the Chinese authorities did to their citizens in Tiananmen Square.

That said, Hunger Games is better than most movie series in its genre. Too many anti-authoritarian stories maintain an element of reassurance; implying that some political leaders or systems are good, and we should just find the right authority to obey. Star Wars, much as I loved the first three movies, is a perfect example of this type. In other cases, the metaphor may be too difficult for literal-minded Americans to follow. Surely that’s not OUR government they’re talking about!

For those who take message of Hunger Games seriously, though, I’ll see join you in Washington for the biggest pro-liberty protest march ever.

Silly illustration from http://cliparts.co.