Thursday, January 29, 2015

American Sniper and our democracy, by Sid Olufs.

   I propose a simple connection:  If you are not intelligent enough to understand this movie, maybe you should no longer vote.  At all. 
   I went to see the other American Sniper.  The one almost all reviewers missed.
   Some people have been passing around reviews of the movie that claim it severely distorts history. I read one review about "the seven lies" told by the movie.  Some folks have taken the message about shepherds narrowly, seeing the movie as a celebration of our warrior-shepherds. 
   Man, oh, man, these reviewers saw the movie in their own room full of mirrors. The movie rotates around an axle, and they missed it:  This is an anti-war film. Here is a hint, people:  All of Clint Eastwood's war films are anti-war films.
  The movies are all about people who buy into stupid ideology, parrot it in the face of obviously contradicting facts, and then act out their version of honor, which always hurts them and other people. In the best of these movies, Eastwood makes a character realize this can't continue, the character finds a shred of humanity in the situation, and tries to live with this new understanding.
   Don't take the word of the reviewers who condemn it or claim it is about what is best about America. When I saw it I thought it was a powerful picture.  Clint Eastwood is an artist. He led the audience to the point of wondering whether he is trying to do too much with music, whether he was being too quick with character development, and so on. But see it and judge it by how you react by the end.
   The folks who dismiss the movie as glorifying a killer are just wrong. The movie did not conform to the way they want the story told about these wars.  But the movie was not about their experience.  It was about something else.
   In the movie, the protagonist was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he was steadfast in whatever role he played.  He was a cowboy for a while, and other things.  But the movie depicted him as having a conversion experience at 9/11. 
  His understanding of this, according to the movie and the book, was not complicated.  My guess is he did not subscribe to the New York Review of Books, did not Read Todd Purdam's book, did not read Seymour Hersch, and so on and so on.  OK, so he was not critical, at all, of the story presented by elected and appointed officials in the Bush administration.
   But after going in, and ignoring the doubters around him, he reached a point where he had to save himself. He found the humanity in it all. And a lot of people saw that part in the real life version of the story. I dismiss critics who apparently want their warriors to be philosophers, too, and have no prejudices, and be nuanced about many things. And to just be smart. In societies that employ warriors (and we are one of them) I might conclude we have done OK if they do the job, find the humanity in it all, and are able to use that when they make the transition back to peaceful life at home. This is not a rah-rah mindless patriotism movie, there are many sides to it. Nice going, Mr. Eastwood.  If you want a take-away message, how about this one:  Are we doing enough for our warriors when they return?  The answer is clearly no.  There is a focus for all of your energies. 
   I would not recommend the movie to anyone.  Folks should see it when they feel ready for a loud encounter with the topic. My guess is that if one has strong feelings about anything connected to this, one will have a large emotional reaction. The audience when I saw it was my age & older (sixty-something plus), and they looked wrung-out & a bit dazed at the end. Several sobbed. I can think of only a few movies that get this far under the skin. What is a "best picture"? Maybe this is one definition.

   Well, like I said.  Most reviews read like the authors wanted acknowledgement of a certain read on these wars.  It is sort of like the folks who rail against Selma (the movie) because it depicts Johnson as a little less enthusiastic about civil rights than they like to remember.  OK, granted, but do the critics realize that a whole lot of people saw it differently?  Movies that attempt to portray the views of people we don't consort with are going to bump into elements of our identity.  Go ahead, let your identity win.  No problems here.  Everything is Fine.  It's Fine. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Is this the face of change?  I've worked at my current institution for almost 33 years, and the place has been hostile to tone deaf on the color line.  People in close working relationships have said abysmal things and exhibited ugly responses to encounters with persons of color.  Attempts to push back and hold us accountable have been met with indifference and derision.  Well, this President has started something.... We are talking.  Only a few show up, but it is a few, talking.  The stories are coming out, stories that will break your heart.  These are stories worth hearing, and stories that might help people develop the vocabulary to respond to those ugly situations in the future.  Sometimes talk is action.  I've served her under other presidents here, and it is clear that this guy gets it.  About time.   Maybe an open heart is what it takes.  Maybe I don't like the pace of change, but I like the change.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Just wrote a final exam.  My favorite question is #3:

One premise of the humor unit is that some serious parts of life contain ridiculous dynamics of power.  John Locke is not funny.  His argument in the Second Treatise of Civil Government is full of foundational ideas about understanding power.  Select three of his most important claims or conclusions, and show what is ridiculous about them.  Your standards for what is ridiculous must be based on other course material.  You may but are not required to include a joke based on each idea you found to be ridiculous.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In response to an surge of questions about whether I am running for President (the trend went from zero to one), I hereby announce that I am not running for President in 2016.  Still, a subsequent questioner might ask,  What would be my Policy Agenda?

Domestic Priorities
We need to take care that everyone shares in the bounty.  For the less well off, we need to double the minimum wage, expand the Earned Income Credit, create lots of low cost education opportunities, and subsidize jobs in useful industries like a vast expansion of solar power.   For those in the middle layers of our great country we need lots of higher education opportunities, at very low cost.  We need to dramatically increase manufacturing jobs through apprenticeships and other education for highly technical jobs.  We need to invest in infrastructure, including green energy.  Most subsidies should go to small to medium firms.  It turns out manufacturing policies can also be environmental policies. 
For the top income groups, we need tax simplification, at progressive rates, and a financial transaction tax to discourage rent-taking through high speed and other volatile trading practices.
And, of course, a single-payer health care system.  We should open Medicare to all. 

International Priorities

We have a profession of trained diplomats who have vast experience in international affairs.  We should put them more at the center of our policymaking circles.  At the same time we should not put there people whose main qualifications are helping a President get elected.  We should not rely on people who have demonstrably misled our policies.  This would include all neo-conservatives, for example.  Since war and corruption are the two biggest obstacles to the poor countries catching up with the wealthy, we should not encourage war (for instance, by sending more weapons into a civil war) and should discourage corruption through all of our policies.  The domestic clean-energy policies mentioned above should dramatically shift our position in international climate change policies.  We should avoid unnecessary entanglements. 

Known no-no's....   Rumsfeld's picture on front page of NYT in a story about US shift to torture prisons.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

So, the torture report summary is out.  Yes, many new gory and salacious details, but who is surprised by any of it?  I posted this web page almost a decade ago, and it goes through the reasons why "President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Attorney General Gonzalez, and probably several other top civilian and military officials, would, in a world governed by these laws and treaties, face trial for these crimes."   The other responsible parties identified through sources on the page include Rice, Addington, Yoo, Bybee, and more.  
   All these years later and there is no chance this government is going to enforce these laws.  At Least the International Criminal Court should issue warrants so their international travel is curtailed.  
   The executive director of the ACLU had an interesting suggestion, a reversal of his earlier stance:  Obama should pardon them all, by name.  Hah!  They are getting off anywa.  But this would mark down that, under US law, bad things happened, there is a policy they bad, and culpable individuals are on the hook.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

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