"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey and is copyrighted and may not be republished without consent

Sex Scandals and the Phases of a Panic

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 42 seconds

As the public parade of perverts has grown longer and longer in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse/harassment scandal, I thought I would take this opportunity to share my thoughts on this constantly evolving story. 

Our current sexual harassment scandal is more akin to a panic or hysteria than it is to a scandal. I don't say that to diminish its importance, validity or veracity of the men and women who claim to have been harassed or abused, I only say it in order to convey the collective psychology behind the surge to prominence of sexual harassment claims and what archetypal forces are currently in action in the culture.

Panics are born out fear and cause irrationality, but it is important to note that does not necessarily mean the original inciting incident for the panic is untrue or is irrational. The current Sex Harassment Panic was born out of actual predatory behavior by men in power and the intensity of the Panic was fueled by years of suppression of all the anger and rage that simmered just bellow the surface from the victims (particularly women) until it came to a boil first with the election of Donald Trump, and second with the breaking of the Weinstein story.  

PHASE ONE

When panics hit they take on a life of their own and are impossible to control but that doesn't mean they are impossible to predict. All panics and hysterias, like the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690's or the Red Scare of the early 1900's or the 1940's and 50's,  go through certain distinguishing phases that are easily identifiable. Phase One of the "Hollywood Sex Scandal", for instance, has now come to an end and we are heading into Phase Two. Phase One's distinguishing characteristic is the most obvious…that all of the men named as harassers or abusers were well-known as being complete assholes regardless of their sexual antics and were already universally loathed. 

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Harvey Weinstein, Bret Ratner, James Toback and Kevin Spacey are a murderers row of douchebags. Prior to the revelations of their sexual misconduct, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who would admit to actually liking them as human beings. 

Harvey Weinstein was well-known for being a disgusting, loudmouthed bully who butchered movies and careers and was quick to cry anti-Semitism whenever anyone stood up to him.

Bret Ratner was recognized as being an entitled and abrasive prick who was a hellacious hack of a director who thought he was a tough guy.

James Toback was such a repugnant and repulsive pig of a person that he was totally despised by everyone who ever had the unpleasant misfortune of meeting him and this is before any of the weird sex stuff came out. 

And finally, all of the unfortunate souls who have ever met or worked with Kevin Spacey knew him to be a narcissistic, vicious and self-absorbed jerk and manipulator.

When the stories broke of these men's predatory sexual behavior they very quickly found themselves on an island because no one genuinely liked them. Sure, people would say nice things about them in an effort to get in their good graces when they were powerful, but when these scumbags were exposed everyone wisely jumped ship. 

PHASE TWO

We are currently in Phase Two of the Hollywood Sex Scandal, which will not be quite as morally satisfying as Phase One but will definitely be more intriguing. The distinguishing characteristic of Phase Two is when people that are not universally loathed and recognized as assholes are targeted for being sexual harassers or abusers. In other words, Phase One targets Bad Guys and Phase Two targets those thought to be Good Guys. 

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Phase Two of the Hollywood Sex Scandal kicked off with the accusations against Louis CK. Prior to the NY Times story exposing CK for his harassment, I had never heard anybody say a bad word about Louis CK publicly or privately. Everyone talked about his being such a great guy and being so supportive of comedians in general and female comedians in particular. There were certainly rumors out there about Louie but, at least in my experience, they never seemed to tarnish people's opinion of him. 

Sarah Silverman just did a monologue on her show where she asked the question, "can you love someone who did bad things?" Silverman's dilemma is that she is friends with CK but is also supportive of "victims". In Phase Two, many will be placed in the same conundrum as Silverman, having to choose between a personal friend and a "victim" who is a stranger. Ultimately, Silverman decided to side with the "victims" instead of her friend of 25 years, Louie CK. This choice is entirely predictable in Phase Two of a Panic…in Phase Four…these types of decisions will go another direction, but that won't come along for a while.  

Another "good guy" who got targeted in Phase Two was George Takei. Takei tried to deflect from the accusation against him by using a tactic that we will see increasingly as the Sex Panic goes through its life cycle, namely he tried to embrace his own victim status by deflecting attention and blame. Takei tried to somehow blame Russia for stirring up the allegations against him. It is a convoluted attempt to deflect, but I am sure it helped him with those pre-disposed to see him as a member of a victim class due to his homosexuality.

In Phase One Kevin Spacey tried a similar maneuver by trying to attach himself to a victim group by finally coming out of the closet and declaring he was gay in response to charges of predatory behavior. The gay community rightly excoriated Spacey for the self serving and blatant attempt to cover himself in the cloak of gay victimhood and they quickly pushed back against him leaving him high and dry.

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The Sexual Harassment Panic, as panics are want to do, quickly spread from Hollywood to Washington when Roy Moore, the republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, was accused by a group of women who claim he harassed/assaulted them forty years ago when they were teens and he was in his thirties. Moore is a glaring example of Phase One of a Panic. Besides his core, lunatic fringe supporters, Moore is deeply loathed by most people. People hated Moore for his faux-Christian grandstanding, his homophobia and his xenophobia well before anyone came forward claiming he chased fourteen year old girls through the mall as a grown man. 

The Phases in a panic can move really fast, and this one is no exception. I started writing this piece early this week and before I ever finished it the Washington Sex Panic hit Phase Two when "good guy" Al Franken, the democratic senator from Minnesota, got called out by a former model and radio host LeAnn Tweeden, for harassing and accosting her while the two were on a USO tour in 2006. Franken is well-liked by liberals and the charges against him put them into quite a bind considering all of the moral posturing we've seen from them regarding Roy Moore's situation. 

Phase Two is also where zero tolerance and maximum punishment becomes the norm and nuance gets thrown out the window. The ability to distinguish between the severity of accusations will be lost in Phase Two under a tidal wave of emotionalism that will lump all sexual infractions in together.

PHASE THREE

There are already inklings of what we can expect to see in Phase Three of the Sex Scandal Panic taking shape across our entire culture. Phase Three's distinguishing characteristics are that the definition of harassment will become so overly broad as to be absurd and false claims will be weaponized by people to get at their enemies. 

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A great example of the widening of the definition of harassment came from Oscar winning actress Brie Larson who last month tweeted about the nightmare she suffered through when a TSA agent had the temerity to ask for her phone number. The horror…the horror. Larson, whose fifteen minutes of fame cannot end soon enough, has a desperate need to be taken seriously, but her trying to embrace victimhood when a guy simply asks for her phone number is a warning sign of very bad things to come in our culture. Diminishing the definition of sexual harassment in the end will only diminish the believability of those who truly suffered under attacks of predatory sexual harassers and abusers. 

Another sign post of things to come was when Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Jody Warner, who got into trouble for being videotaped drunkenly accosting an Uber driver, claimed in her defense that after years of working on sex crimes cases she attacked the driver because she was frightened that the driver was going to sexually assault or rape her. Thankfully the D.A. didn't fall for her cock and bull story and Ms. Warner lost her job. But expect more and more of that sort of thing where people will automatically claim they were harassed, assaulted or afraid of being harassed or assaulted in order to cover their own bad behavior. This is human nature, if people can lie or hedge the truth in order to avoid uncomfortable consequences they will, and this is what is coming next in the Sex Panic we are currently living through. 

Another bit of human nature, the need to be loved, accepted and part of a group, is behind why more people will embellish or make up claims of harassment/abuse. Claiming you were sexually harassed is now a way for people to receive unconditional love and gain an identity. The lure of adopting a "victim" identity is strong to some because to an individual psyche it can feel very clarifying to embrace a what appears to be an empowered archetype even though it may be factually inaccurate.

The biggest problem in regards to this is that the overwhelming majority of voices in our culture are currently saying that "I believe victims each and every time" or "we have to believe every woman". This is terribly problematic because the #MeToo campaign is a powerful and enticing one, and people will want to be a part of it even if they've never truly experienced harassment or assault. 

The possibility for people to have their word be considered sacrosanct, and to be unquestioningly welcomed into a group(#MeToo), given an identity (victim) and be showered with unconditional love, sympathy and acceptance is a surefire way to encourage people to make things up and is a recipe for disaster if you are trying to protect the innocent and discover any semblance of the Truth. 

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Phase Three of the Sex Panic will pile up more and more claims that are less and less credible but which will not be questioned because "victims are always to be believed" and even questioning them is a sign that you too may be a predator. Like the Salem Witch Trials, sexual harassers will be assumed to be guilty and in order to prove their innocence will be metaphorically thrown into the river. If they sink they were innocent, if they float they are guilty. Like John Proctor, innocent people will be publicly attacked and lose their names and livelihoods and there will be no getting them back.

Phase Three is also where the initial seeds are planted in terms of belief turning into disbelief. Conspiratorial thinking in regards to charges against powerful figures will not be accepted just yet in Phase Three but will slowly gain much more ground and will eventually blossom in Phase Four. Phase Three is the zenith of fever induced hysteria but there will be a small but growing pushback just beneath the surface of things.

PHASE FOUR

Phase Four is the final phase of the Panic where cultural weariness sets in and someone is accused who is just beyond reproach and their accuser is less than credible and greatly disliked, a 180 degree flip from Phase One. At this point, due to the cumulative collective fatigue and the specifics of the case, the tide will turn and the fever will break. The best example of this occurred in the Red Scare of McCarthyism in the 1950's when Jopeph N. Welch stood up to Joe McCarthy by saying " At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" From that point on the the Red Scare was exposed for the emotionalist panic that it was. 

In Phase Four of our current Great Sex Panic there will be some credible claims that will be overlooked because of a backlash against "victims" due to too many flimsy cases having gone forward in the Phase Three. There will even be some retribution against people making claims due to the backlash effect. This will certainly not be fair, but neither will some, if not most, of the charges brought in Phase Three against alleged harassers.

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But Phase Four is a ways off, and there are going to be a lot of heads on pikes in the mean time. Even history is not safe during this panic, as poor old Slick Willie himself, Bill Clinton is now being looked at differently by his once staunch liberal defenders. Do not be surprised if Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas are among those who face a comeuppance for their past behavior.

 

Living through a panic can be both exhilarating and exhausting. The hysteria-induced purges that lay ahead will be very unpleasant, and no one knows who will be next, but rest assured, in due time this too shall pass. Many people have suffered at the hands of sexual harassers and abusers and many others will suffer under the hammer of the current Sex Panic. When Panic sets in, reason goes out the window, which is why, in order to survive we should all listen to Rudyard Kipling.

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, and - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"

©2017

While We Were Sleeping...The Dogs of War Awoke

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Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes 49 seconds

"THE WHOLE CELEBRITY CULTURE THING - I'M FASCINATED BY, AND REPELLED BY, AND YET I END UP KNOWING ABOUT IT." - ANDERSON COOPER

America is a celebrity addicted culture. Proof of this is that our current president's only qualification for that job was the fact that he was a second-rate reality-television star. America is also a sex-obsessed culture. Proof of this is…well…everywhere. From the booming porn business, to the porno-fication of popular culture in the form of the Kardashian's and their reality tv empire built on the back (pardon the pun) of Kim Kardashian's sex tape, to the tarted up harlots hosting cable news shows, America is like an adolescent boy who is defenseless against the constant chaotic assaults upon his focus by his own relentless hormones and erotic thoughts. 

And so it has been for the last month or so with the public disclosure of film producer Harvey Weinstein's repulsive history of sexually assaulting and harassing women. The Weinstein story opened a Pandora's Box of similar tales of repugnant behavior by a coterie of male swine. Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, James Toback and Louis CK are just a few of the heavy hitters who have been outed for their sexual crimes and bad behavior.

These stories of sexual harassment, assault and rape have sucked all the oxygen out of the room which holds the attention of our collective consciousness. How could they not? These stories give us the salaciously sexualized celebrity gossip that we as a culture so desperately crave.

We have gorged ourselves upon the tawdry details of the famous women Weinstein, Toback and Ratner attacked, and the juicy and entirely predictable revelation of Kevin Spacey's homosexuality and yearnings for underaged boys. But rest assured, this feast is a six course meal and we haven't even finished the soup yet.

"IF THERE'S GRASS ON THE FIELDPLAY BALL!!" - ALABAMA'S NEXT SENATOR ROY MOORE

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The next celebrity-sex serving is Roy Moore, a local Alabama politician who made himself a nationwide political celebrity with his infamous Ten Commandment's battles and his anti-gay marriage stances who is now running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Moore is one of those faux-pious, holier-than-thou charlatans like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker and Ted Haggard that America churns out with predictable regularity. The 70 year-old Moore is now the center of our celebrity-sex addiction because it is alleged that he, depending on what political party you belong to, either "molested"(D) or "messed around with"(R), a fourteen year old girl when he was a thirty something year-old Assistant District Attorney. It would seem Mr. Moore's libido credo when it comes to the age of consent is that famous motto they say down there in 'Bama…"Roll Tide".

Not to get all biblical or anything in defense of Mr. Moore, but let he among you who have not sinned cast the first stone. We all must admit that at one time or another, just like Roy Moore, we have all tried to fuck a fourteen year old…of course the big difference between us and Roy Moore is that we were fourteen when were trying…and in my case failing...to do so.

Not surprisingly, the Moore story has eclipsed all other news since it broke last week because it deals with the two things we can't turn away from...sex and celebrity. If Moore had been accused of a bad real estate deal or something, it would be covered but certainly not with the cable news fervor and intensity it now garners. For instance, back in the 90's, the Clinton's "bad real estate deal", the Whitewater scandal, was a minor blip on the radar screen until Ms. Lewinsky's Slick Willie stained dress and the Disappearing Cigar Trick was uncovered. 

SEX SELLS

This revelation is not earth shattering…sex or celebrity sells…and "news" is a business so they always push the sex angle. Of course if the story isn't just about sex or about celebrity, but rather about celebrity-sex…then the mainstream media go into a feeding frenzy mode and the collective consciousness goes right with them into either hysteria, panic, or both. 

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Like heroin, our culture's celebrity-sex addiction has an increasing threshold for intoxication. With Trump as president, we have a 24-hour reality show where we constantly follow his every tweet of buffoonery or act of bellicosity in order to get our satisfactory fix of Two-Minutes Hate outrage. Adding the current celebrity sex scandals of Weinstein, Ratner, Spacey and now Moore to the traveling shit show that is the Trump presidency, has sent us into a collective stupor so disorienting that we may all wake up in a few months and wonder what the hell has happened while we've been blissfully in the arms of Morpheus. Like a bad sequel to The Hangover, we will all suddenly awake from our indulgent slumber and have to piece together our reality from the random clues left scattered behind us. 

As we enter the current stage of our celebrity-sex hysteria where we are completely oblivious to anything else, our myopia may put us in great peril. What else might be happening in our world that are we missing while we are distracted by every breathless revelation of aberrant celebrity sexual behavior?

"CRY HAVOC!, AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR" - MARC ANTONY, SHAKESPEARE'S JULIUS CAESAR

The thing that is currently receiving the barest minimum of news coverage, which in the long term may be the most consequential events of this time is the situation in Saudi Arabia. If you haven't been following this story, and why should you be since the media isn't following it very closely, it is a fascinating and disconcerting one. 

SAUDI ARABIA

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What is basically happening is that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)- the son of King Salman, just purged the royal family of anyone who opposed the Prince's newfound power and eventual ascension to the throne. MBS claims that this purge, which has resulted in the jailing of many Saudi royals and billionaires, including Bandar bin Sultan aka "Bandar Bush" who ran Saudi intelligence and whose connections to 9-11 are undeniable, is a result of cleaning up corruption in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is the equivalent of handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.

LEBANON

Besides the royal family purge, the next big thing to happen was that last week Lebanon's Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was for all intents and purposes held hostage in Saudi Arabia, and forced to make a cryptic and bizarre statement where he resigned his position as Lebanese Prime Minister because of his opposition to Hezbollah, the Iranian backed Shiite Muslim group who are in a power sharing, coalition government in Lebanon with Prime Minister Hariri and the Christian president Michel Aoun. 

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It seems that Saudi Arabia, under the control of MBS, forced Hariri to resign and are now holding him as a sort of hostage in order to create political havoc in Lebanon. This provocative act is feared to be a catalyst for yet another war in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia wants war in Lebanon as a way to confront their eternal and existential enemy Iran. This is not a wise maneuver as Iran and its allies Hezbollah have proven themselves in Syria and Lebanon of being very capable of defeating Saudi Arabia and its allies on both the military and political battlefield. 

One of Saudi Arabia's allies in this grand chess move against Iran is Israel. Israel seems to think that they can push back against Iranian influence in both Syria and Lebanon in order to decrease Iran's alleged regional ambitions. Apparently Israel has forgotten how poorly they fared the last time they squared off against Hezbollah in Lebanon…in case you forgot too…Israel suffered a stunning and brutal defeat

YEMEN

Adding to this cornucopia of crazy is the fact that Saudi Arabia is currently, with vociferous U.S. support, at war in Yemen against the Shia-led Houthi rebels. The Houthi rebels allegedly fired a missile at Riyadh last week and…shock of shocks…both the Saudi's and the U.S. are declaring the missile to be Iranian. As always, take whatever the Saudi's and U.S. intelligence agencies say with a large grain of salt and a double dose of skepticism. Yemen has been under a blockade and is effectively quarantined, it is unlikely if not impossible for Iran to have gotten a missile into Yemen, nevermind the tortured logic that would compel them to do such a thing. Skepticism and cynicism are the wise position to take in regards to the claim that Iran was behind the missile attack on Riyadh. 

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The Yemen story in and of itself is one of the most underreported stories in America. Five million Yemenis are on the verge of famine, 18.8 million need humanitarian aid and over 540,000 people are suffering from Cholera. The reason the civil war in Yemen is under reported here in America is because we are on the ones responsible for all of the damage. Another reason for scant American coverage of the Yemen war could also be because, just like we worked with ISIS in Syria, we are actually fighting alongside of Al Qaeda and that might not sell well in the heartland.  

QATAR

As if all of that wasn't bad enough, Saudi Arabia is also blockading fellow Gulf nation Qatar which had the temerity to try and normalize their relations with Iran. The Sunni Muslims states Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain have all aligned against Qatar, which is ruled by Sunni Muslims but has a sizable Shiite population. The Saudi decision to cut ties with Qatar is just another move on the chessboard by Saudi Arabia against the rising power of Iran. 

IRAN

And finally, the Trump administration is making noises about Iran violating the nuclear agreement they signed with the Obama administration that everyone besides Trump knows they are adhering to. 

Foolishly the U.S. has long made the choice of allying with the paper tiger of a despotic Saudi Arabia, when our more natural allies should be Iran. Iran in particular, and Shiite muslims in general, have not attacked the U.S. or Europe with terrorism. The same cannot be said of Saudi Arabia and Sunni Muslims. While our historical relationship with Iran was soiled by our overthrow of their government and imposing the brutal Shah upon them in the 1950's, and their eventual retaliation by taking American hostages in the 1970's, Iran is a wiser ally for us because they are much more stable, much more rational, are much better equipped to govern and have a much more educated and potentially Americanized population. Iran's recent military and political success in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is a testament to their governing ability and to Saudi Arabia's ineptitude and is proof that we have backed the wrong horse in this Middle Eastern power struggle.

Iran's alliance with Russia and China has also put the U.S. on the defensive and Americans are too blind with propaganda induced hatred toward Iran to see that our best way forward in the Middle East is with Iran. If we fail to see that and quickly, the U.S. will be incredibly vulnerable financially and politically to Russian, Chinese and Iranian maneuvers in the Middle East. 

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The Saudi Royal Family is only able to maintain its power because they are propped up by U.S. military might. The House of Saud is a house of cards and when it falls, which it inevitably will, the chaos released will be catastrophic in the region, and maybe the world, and could precede a total collapse of the U.S.-led, western centric uni-polar world order we have grown so accustomed to. 

ISRAEL

Israel too has unwisely chosen to ally with Saudi Arabia and other brutal dictatorships in the region like Egypt. Israel can certainly take care of itself, but if the Israelis think they can possibly "win" a war in Lebanon or Syria, they are terribly mistaken. Israel is desperate to maintain the current world order because they sit in an advantageous position as a nation that leads the U.S. around by the nose (if you want to talk election meddling by a foreign power, forget Russia, look at Israel's grip upon American politics). If the House of Saud collapses, and the U.S. is reduced into an equal role with Russia and China in a multi-polar world order, then Israel will be left in a precarious position indeed. 

RUSSIA

Russia has masterfully played their hand in the Middle East by stepping in and winning the war for their ally Assad in Syria, thereby blocking Saudi Arabia's and the U.S.'s move to replace Assad and securing Russia's dominance is supplying gas to Europe by snuffing out any attempts at building pipelines from the Middle East through Syria to Europe.

Russia's cordial relations with Iran also mean that they are poised to win big if Saudi Arabia's strategic gamble against Iran fails. As an oil based economy, Russia will benefit from the price spikes brought on by any reduction in oil from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East caused by a wider war in the region or a collapse of the Saudi royal family.

So what does all this mean? It means that a seismic shift is starting to happen in the Middle East and it is on the verge of volcanically erupting. Regardless of how Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia's power play in the region resolves itself in the long run, in the short term, the people of Yemen, Lebanon, Qatar, Syria and even Saudi Arabia suffer and will continue to do so. And even though Americans are largely unaware of this suffering, that doesn't mean we aren't responsible for the brutal horrors taking place in Yemen. We will no doubt pay a price for our ignorance of and complicity in the barbarity perpetrated by Saudi Arabia across the Middle East these last few years in Yemen and Syria. While we may be blissfully unaware of our complicity, the Syrians and Yemenis are not.

I assume you are bored to tears with all of this rambling geo-political war-talk nonsense…I don't blame you…I'm bored too. The topic just isn't…sexy enough to hold my attention. Speaking of sex…when do you think Steven Spielberg will be outed as a pedophile? Soon I hope!! I can't wait for that story to break!!

©2017

Novitiate: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT IN THEATRE - SEE IT ON NETFLIX OR CABLE.

Novitiate, written and directed by Margaret Betts, is the story of a young woman, Cathleen Harris, who enters a convent during the tumultuous Vatican II transitional period of the mid-1960's at the age of 17 in the hopes of becoming a Catholic nun. The film stars Margaret Qualley as Cathleen, with Melissa Leo and Julianne Nicholson in supporting roles. 

Being the good Irish Catholic boy that I am, I am always intrigued by films that deal with religion in general and Catholicism and/or the Catholic Church in particular. I find that religion is an often overlooked, undervalued or completely misunderstood thematic device that is rarely explored seriously or effectively by filmmakers (or other artists for that matter). There are exceptions of course, for instance Martin Scorsese's Silence(2016) was flawed but spiritually serious. Another great example is Xavier Beauvois' 2010 film Of Gods and Men which is a moving and staggeringly insightful look at Trappist Monks caught in the turmoil of the Algerian civil war. Another one of my all-time favorites is the 1986 Roland Jaffe film The Mission. These three films are just a few of the examples that prove that there is nothing quite so satisfying, both dramatically and spiritually, as when an artist is able to delve into religion without falling into the traps of either uber-piety or Manichean simplicity. 

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I knew next to nothing about Novitiate when I went to see it, except for the fact that it was about Catholic nuns. As the film started I wasn't sure what to expect but found myself pleasantly surprised that the film dealt with Catholicism in a theologically serious way right from the start. Near the beginning of the film the lead character, Cathleen Harris, who is a young woman entering a convent, talks about the fact that nowadays (the mid-1960's) people just want "easy love". She then enters the convent in order to avoid the trappings of "easy love" in the outer world for the difficult, disciplined and sacrificial love of a marriage to Christ. This theological perspective of the film intrigued me no end because that sort of rigorous approach to religion (and life) is an endangered species in our culture even among the most "devout" practitioners of the faith. We currently live in a culture of "easy love" in relation to everything we touch, be it politics, relationships, business or religion. 

Cathleen Harris' declaration that she wanted "love AND sacrifice" made me root for the Novitiate from that point forward because I believed the film to be at the very least, grounded with a spiritual and religious integrity. As theologically tantalizing as Novitiate is, and the film's much too abbreviated exploration of the consequences of Vatican II in particular is fascinating, sadly the movie ended up being a frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying experience both cinematically and spiritually.

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Besides what I would describe as the noble failure at the theological heart of the film, there is a very bright spot on display in the movie and that is the film's lead actress Margaret Qualley. Qualley gives an intricate, delicate and dynamic performance that is grounded in a fervent spiritual realism. Qualley's Cathleen has a focused devotion that is palpable and her desperation to connect with God and overcome her earthly human failings is visceral. I have never seen Margaret Qualley before but she is a striking screen presence. Her charisma, magnetism and beauty are undeniable, but I was most impressed by her skill, commitment and mastery of craft. Qualley is a very impressive actress and the sky undoubtedly is the limit for her acting future. 

Novitiate also boasts two supporting performances from Melissa Leo and Julianne Nicholson, who are two actresses for whom I have great admiration. Nicholson in particular is an under appreciated actress who I feel deserves much greater recognition for the quality work she routinely delivers. Sadly though, in Novitiate both women give very flat, one-dimensional and shallow performances. 

Nicholson plays Cathleen's mother, Nora, and her performance rings hollow and trite, which was deeply disappointing. It seems that Nicholson gets lost in her character's pronounced southern accent and can't get beyond that bell and whistle to find grounding in the genuine humanity of her character. 

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Melissa Leo plays Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair, the head of the convent. I found Leo's performance to be exceedingly derivative and painfully forced and false. Leo is an actress with a powerful screen presence but she makes the error of portraying Mother Marie as a vindictive and vengeful woman rather than a rabidly devout and ferocious protector of the faith. It is a pretty common occurrence for actors, particularly those who have no religious faith, to fail to emotionally or intellectually understand characters who deeply believe in God. When this failure to understand belief occurs, the faith of the character gets reduced to a means to an earthly end where complexity and nuance are not only unable to flourish, but survive. I do not know this for sure, but I think this might be the reason behind Ms. Leo's superficial performance as Mother Marie.

Both Leo and Nicholson felt like they were play acting in their roles as opposed to Qualley who seemed to be entirely immersed in hers. Part of the issue with the supporting roles is that they are terribly underwritten. I also thought that both Nicholson and Leo never connected with the rhythm and pace of the film or with the scope and scale of the other performances, and that failing falls directly upon the filmmaker, Margaret Betts. 

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As theologically and spiritually promising as the first two thirds of Novitiate were, the final third devolves into the artistically and cinematically banal by embracing a made-for-tv-movie, paint by numbers, Hollywood cliched view of the struggle of faith. It felt as if Betts had hit a dead end in her artistic exploration of Catholicism so she just took a cheap and easy way out of the dilemma at the heart of faith. 

 

In the final analysis, Novitiate is unable to rise up to its grand narrative ambitions and in the end its spiritual eyes are bigger than its artistic stomach. The main reason for Novitiate's artistic failure is because writer/director Margaret Betts simply lacks the skill and confidence to fully till the rich soil upon which she trod. While Novitiate's failure is a noble one, it is also a deeply disappointing one as cinema is in desperate need of religious films that effectively and coherently convey the deep and faithful struggle to square both love and sacrifice in a world that truly understands and appreciates neither.

Despite the film's flaws I do recommend people watch this film, just not in the theatre, not only to enjoy Margaret Qualley's sublime performance but also for some of the better scenes of spiritual and religious struggle that can trigger a deeper meditation and contemplation on one's own faith. At the end of the day, I think if you wait and see Novitiate on Netflix or cable, it will be worthwhile, but the film is simply too cinematically flawed to make it worth the time and money it takes to go see it in a theatre. 

 

©2017

 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 17 seconds

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT. See it in the theatre but be forewarnedTHIS IS AN ART HOSUE FILM THROUGH AND THROUGHif your tastes run toward the more conventional, skip this movie because you will hate it. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer, written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is the story of Dr. Steven Murphy and his family as they grapple with a strange young man who has come into their life. The film stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman along with Barry Keoghan, Raffy Cassidy and Sunny Suljic in supporting roles. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Yorgos Lanthimos follow up to his extraordinary film The Lobster, which was a brilliantly absurdist and dark comedy from 2016. Unlike The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, although it has funny moments, cannot in anyway be described as a comedy, it is more a stylized mythological and psychological horror/drama. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is, like The Lobster, unquestionably an art house film and to those more inclined toward standard Hollywood fare it will seem impossibly avant-garde. I absolutely loved The Lobster (it garnered 6 nominations and one win at the most prestigious Mickey©® Awards in 2016 and ended up #4 on my top ten list for the year), but I know other people who hated it with a passion. I find Lanthimos' writing and directing style to be very original and tremendously effective, while others I know found it contrived and idiotic. 

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The narrative of the film is very loosely based on a modern day re-telling of the Greek myth of Iphigenia, in order to not give anything away I won't go into detail about the myth of Iphigenia, and if you plan on seeing the film I recommend you skip reading up on it as well until after seeing the movie. The film also contains biblical references and metaphors ranging from the Garden of Eden to Cain and Abel to Abraham to the plagues of Egypt all the way up to the crucifixion. The film is also riddled with intriguingly meaningful symbols including watches (time and things going clockwise or counter-clockwise), pristine hands, dog walking and watering plants and even the Bill Murray movie Groundhog's Day. The film and its symbolism tell both a personal and collective story of karmic justice that contains a very subtle political and cultural  message if you care to look for it (for instance, look at the film's poster at the very top of this posting…the curtained window of the room looks an awful lot like the World Trade Center…I have a definite opinion on the subject, but I will let the viewer determine what that may mean for themselves).

Yorgos Lanthimos has a distinct style to his direction of actors where he has them speak in an awkward, stilted and lifeless monotone. This acting style can be off-putting to some people, but Lanthimos deftly uses this approach as a commentary on the modern world and also uses it to encourage the audience to suspend their disbelief and embrace Lanthimos' created universe that is at once both very believable and entirely impossible. 

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Colin Farrell has found a career renaissance working with Lanthimos (he won the incredibly prestigious Best Actor Mickey®© Award last year for The Lobster)and part of the reason for this is that he has mastered Lanthimos' unorthodox, uncommon, and almost inhuman, acting style. Farrell is an actor who was born blessed with a raging furnace of frenetic energy that emanates from his every pore on-screen. Most actors would kill to have what comes naturally to Colin Farrell. But what makes Farrell so good in Lanthimos' films is that he is forced to contain that signature frenetic energy to such a degree that it could dance on the head of a pin. This energetic concentration and containment allows Farrell to never have to contemplate whether he is being charming, good-looking, charismatic or funny, instead it allows him to just mechanically say the words he is supposed to say and mechanically move where he is supposed to move. Some actors, Colin Farrell included, find the blessing of their charisma and magnetism to be an artistic curse and so when those chains are removed, as they are in Lanthimos' unique acting style, the actor is then free to simply BE…and when Colin Farrell is simply "being", he is truly remarkable. 

What makes Farrell's performance in The Killing of a Sacred Deer so effective, is that his Dr. Murphy is dead-eyed and monotone going through the motions of his life…until he isn't. There are rare moments when the fire in Farrell's eyes returns and he is so filled with a palpable life energy that he literally shakes. The unleashing of Colin Farrell's natural power in those few moments are what make his performance, and Lanthimos' direction, so sublime. 

Much to my pleasant surprise, Nicole Kidman takes to Lanthimos' style with ease as well. The reason I was surprised by Ms. Kidman's adaptability to Lanthimos' style is that, similar to Colin Farrell and his natural frenetic energy, Nicole Kidman naturally emanates with a fragile, yet palpable humanity. In The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Kidman is able to contain her powerful but delicate humanity and embrace the stylized lifelessness of Lanthimos' approach. Kidman's performance is striking for its precision and meticulousness. Again, just like Farrell, there are specific moments when her humanity explodes through her lifeless veneer, and those moments are extremely dramatically satisfying and speak volumes to Kidman's skill and mastery of craft as an actress.

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The supporting cast is stellar as well with Barry Keoghan in particular giving a stand out performance. Keoghan is creepy and compelling as a mysterious young man who starts at the periphery of the story but soon becomes its center. Keoghan's performance is seductive, menacing, magnetic and unnerving. The first time I saw Keoghan was this past summer in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, and after seeing his attention to detail and specificity in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I look forward to seeing what lies ahead for him in his career. 

Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Siljic also do outstanding work in supporting roles as the Murphy children. Cassidy, in particular, does a solid job of creating a specific and multi-dimensional character where other actresses would have embraced the generic.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer, just like The Lobster, is not a film for everyone. I am someone who reeks of the art house, so it was right up my alley. Others with less adventuresome and more conventional cinematic tastes will probably dislike it a great deal. I believe that Lanthimos is a a true auteur  creating original and important films that are cinematically, if not revolutionary, then at least evolutionary. 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an admittedly weird, but fascinating and ultimately satisfying film that I wholly recommend to those daring enough and willing to make the leap into the deep, dark waters of the art house. If you love cinema, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is for you, and it is well worth spending the time and money to go see it in the theatre. 

©2017

 

New York Times Strikes Out Again on Afghanistan

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****This article is written by two regular readers of this blog, Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, who are both respected journalists and authors. It was originally published on November 6, 2017 at Truthdig.com. It is re-published here with their permission and at their request.****

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 08 seconds

In the final days of the Soviet Union, an old witticism about truth (pravda) went something like this: In the United States, they tell you everything, but you know nothing. In the USSR, they tell you nothing, but you know everything.

Who would ever be nostalgic for the old Soviet Union, where truth was what the official government mouthpiece told you it was and everything else was a lie meant to undermine the state? Whoever that might be, he or she would feel at home in the now totally neocon-ized U.S., where the old mainstream media marches in lockstep with a dysfunctional federal bureaucracy to aggressively limit freedom of speech and label anything that contradicts its ideological view of reality as enemy propaganda.

From 1918 until its demise in 1991, Pravda was the official newspaper of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party. But most Americans would be surprised to learn that The New York Times has been operating for decades as the U.S. government’s Pravda without anyone being the wiser.

Now the truth-war rages between such old mainstream media outlets as The New York Times and any news operation or website that challenges its version of the truth.

We were drawn into this battle by a recent New York Times obituary for our dearest Afghan friend, Sima Wali, who fled the violent Marxist coup in 1978 that kicked off the U.S.-backed rise of Islamic extremism and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Considering that the Times maintains that the alternative media is filled with false news and Russian propaganda, we were shocked to find many claims in Sima’s obituary that contained American Cold War propaganda about Afghanistan that has long since been debunked. One particularly outrageous example was the claim that in 1978, “gender apartheid” was “imposed by the Communists and then by the Taliban.”

Apparently, The New York Times believes it can turn day to night by blaming communists for introducing gender apartheid, a term adapted (from the South African apartheid regime) in 1996 to draw the public’s attention to the cruelty and human rights abuses imposed by the Taliban on the women of Afghanistan. The communists did not impose it after their takeover in 1978. In fact, the opposite was true. As Sima stated in the introduction to our book, “Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story,” “The draconian Taliban rule stripped women of their basic human rights. Their edicts against women in Afghanistan led to an introduction of a new form of violence termed ‘gender apartheid.’ ” In reality, a major cause for the growth of the resistance to the communists in the more tradition-bound countryside was the forced education of women and girls and the forced removal of the veil. Nor is it understood in the West that many Afghan rulers in the past attempted these reforms with some level of success.

As David B. Edwards writes in his book, “Before Taliban,” there is a direct line between these and other reforms to the reforms mandated by King Amanullah after 1919. He writes, “The transformations that he [Amanullah] sought to bring about before his overthrow in 1929 were in many respects forerunners of those of the Marxists and were particularly revealing of the problems they later encountered.”

An accurate picture of what was done by the communists during their rule in the early 1980s can be read in Jonathan Steele’s 2003 Guardian article, titled “Red Kabul revisited,” in which he compares the U.S. occupation of Kabul in 2003 with Soviet-occupied Kabul of the 1980s:

In 1981, Kabul’s two campuses thronged with women students, as well as men. Most went around without even a headscarf. Hundreds went off to Soviet universities to study engineering, agronomy and medicine. The banqueting hall of the Kabul hotel pulsated most nights to the excitement of wedding parties. The markets thrived. Caravans of painted lorries rolled up from Pakistan, bringing Japanese TV sets, video recorders, cameras and music centres. The Russians did nothing to stop this vibrant private enterprise.

Prior to 9/11, Laili Helms, a spokeswoman for and defender of the Taliban and niece to former CIA Director Richard Helms, went so far as to suggest that educating women was a communist plot, claiming that any Afghan woman who could read had to be a communist, because only the communists had educated women. After the American invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, Wali was outraged by this Taliban mentality, which she saw creeping into the American-installed Afghan leadership with the blessing of the American government. In an address to the Global Citizens Circle in Boston in 2003, she stated her objections: “[A]s an Afghan and an American, I will testify to you that the argument against women’s rights is neither Afghan nor Islamic!”

Thirty-four years ago in May, I stood before the irate Afghan press officer for the communist government in Kabul as he threw a copy of The New York Times onto his desk. “Have you read this?” he demanded, pointing to an article by Leslie Gelb, titled “U.S. Said to Increase Arms Aid For Afghan Rebels.” What Gelb, the former Jimmy Carter administration’s assistant secretary of state, had disclosed had angered the Foreign Ministry’s press secretary, Roshan Rowan, and he was holding me, an American, responsible. “Why are you doing this to us?” he shouted. “What is it we have done to you, to deserve this invasion?”

I didn’t need to rely on The New York Times to tell me what was going on in Afghanistan. As the first American journalist to risk the wrath of the Ronald Reagan administration, with its newly installed neoconservative foreign policy, by bringing a news crew to Kabul in 1981, I was one of only a handful of Americans who knew the score. The United States was backing Muslim guerrillas who were burning down schools specifically for girls and killing local officials, whether they were communist or not. The Gelb article made clear that in collaboration with the Saudis, Egyptians, Chinese, Iranians and Pakistanis, the “bleeders” inside the Reagan administration were upping the ante in order to “draw more and more Soviet troops into Afghanistan,” while at the same time claiming to pursue “a negotiated settlement to the war.” It was not obvious from the Gelb article how the United States could be escalating a conflict while negotiating a settlement at the same time in Afghanistan in 1983. Also missing from the article was any indication that the administration’s policy was a fundamental contradiction.

In the spring of 1983, we had invited Roger Fisher, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, to return with us to Kabul to unwrap the riddle of why the United Nations negotiations were getting nowhere. Contracted to ABC’s “Nightline,” Fisher met with the Kremlin’s chief Afghan specialist, who had flown down from Moscow and told him point blank, “We want to get out. Give us six months to save face, and we’ll leave the Afghans to solve their own problems.” Upon his return, Fisher expected his discovery would be greeted with relief. Instead he found that “negotiated settlement” was only a fig leaf for escalating the war. The mainstream media were just beginning to ramp up a propaganda campaign, which would become known as Charlie Wilson’s War, to drive support for keeping the Soviets pinned down in their own Vietnam while bleeding Wali’s Afghanistan to death.

The American people expect the full story from their “free press,” and the Constitution demands that the press serve the people and not the bureaucracy. The New York Times needs to get its mission straight, lest it sacrifice its credibility to the very thing it claims to stand against. Left-wing Afghan communists cannot be magically transformed into right-wing Pakistani Taliban. The United States is not the Soviet Union, and The New York Times should stop behaving as if it is Pravda.

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of “Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story,” “Crossing Zero: The AfPak War at the Turning Point of the American Empire” and “The Voice.” Visit their websites at invisiblehistory and grailwerk.

©2017

 

JFK and the Media: The House Always Wins

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Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes 11 seconds

It is always both enlightening and disheartening to get a glimpse into the corrupt and vacuous abyss that is our national news media. Last week the JFK file release was a wonderful opportunity to study just how truly mendacious and manipulative our media has become. 

I usually do not watch much cable news because I feel that every second I do watch, a small part of my soul, and a large part of my brain, dies a painful death. But since I wrote about the topic last week, and also out of a sense of duty to you, my dear readers, I made a foolhardy attempt to try and follow the coverage of the release of the JFK files by switching back and forth between CNN and MSNBC. 

On CNN on Thursday, I caught an interview of an "expert" on all things JFK assassination related. The expert was Gerald Posner, a "journalist" who in 1993 wrote what the establishment media praised as the "definitive" and "authoritative" book on the JFK assassination titled Case Closed. Posner's book was little more than a sycophantic defense of the Warren Report which caused the media to immediately embrace it as the final word on the assassination for that lone reason.

 

The media's love for Posner and Case Closed started back in 1993, and was less a result of his journalistic and literary talent, which is infinitesimal, but rather was born out of their colossal hatred of Oliver Stone and his 1991 film JFK, which was to JFK conspiracy theories what the Warren Report was to coincidence theory. The media love for Posner was exactly inversely proportional in size and scope to their hate for Oliver Stone, who was loathed with the fury of a thousand suns by the corporate media.

True to form for Posner, who clearly suffers from Stage 4 Norman Rockwell Syndrome, the canned answers he gave on CNN declared that the only reason the CIA had withheld any information from the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations and the public over the last 54 years was because there might be information in the files that would embarrass the Agency. Apparently, according to Posner, the CIA is REALLY, REALLY afraid of embarrassment. 

In Noam Chomsky's masterwork Manufacturing Consent, he uses a very simple formal when it comes to judging the actions and believability of the American media and government, that formula is this…would we believe it if the Soviets (or any other enemy) and their media did or said the same thing? I find that Chomsky's formula is a surefire way to break through the intellectual rigor mortis and cognitive dissonance that accompanies so much of our political discourse, and so it is with the JFK assassination.

So in applying Chomsky's formula to Posner's contention that the CIA has lied and manipulated every investigation into the killing of Kennedy due to a fear of embarrassment…what would a rational person's conclusion be? Obviously, if the KGB withheld information for 54 years and lied to the public regarding an assassination of someone like Khrushchev in 1963, we would rightly think that it wasn't out of fear of embarrassment but rather because they were covering up their guilt or complicity in the murder. 

Besides Posner's answers in his interview, there was something else that made his appearance on CNN very curious, namely, the fact that it happened in the first place. Why was Gerald Posner on CNN talking about the JFK files when CNN and the other media outlets kept talking about how it was "conspiracy theorists" who were the ones so excited about the document dump? Why have a true-blue establishmentarian supporter of the Warren commission on and not a "conspiracy theorist"? It wasn't only CNN that kept talking ABOUT conspiracy theorists but not TO them…MSNBC did the same thing. Neither channel, at least when I watched them, not only never had a single person on who was even remotely skeptical of the lone gunman theory but never had anyone on who didn't have complete and utter contempt for conspiracy theorists. Not one. What is remarkable about that is that both CNN and MSNBC kept citing the fact that opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans (61%) believe a conspiracy took place. 

To add to the oddity of Posner's CNN appearance was that just an hour later I got to see his painfully taut, surgically contorted, age-defying to the point of mummification, face on MSNBC too. Posner appeared on MSNBC's Meet The Press Daily and gave the same exact talking points to host Chuck Todd that he gave to the CNN host, even reiterating the whole CIA "embarrassment" reason for not releasing documents. Was there no one else that Chuck Todd could get? Did CNN or MSNBC even ask a writer of a JFK conspiracy book to come on? There are plenty of them, were NONE of them available? 

 

 

Of all of the curious things about having Posner on both CNN and MSNBC to talk about the JFK files, the most curious thing is that he is a less-than credible and respectable journalistic entity to begin with. Posner has been repeatedly proven to have plagiarized in his work, so much so that he lost his job at the Daily Beast because of a plagiarism scandal. It was later revealed that Posner also was guilty of plagiarism in his books Miami Babylon, Secrets of the Kingdom and Why America Slept.

One of the best things about the Posner plagiarism scandal is that in order to sue his accuser the Miami New Times, he hired attorney Mark Lane, the godfather of JFK conspiracy theories and author of seminal works on the subject Rush to Judgement and Plausible Denial, who back in 1964 was actually hired to represent Lee Harvey Oswald in front of the Warren Commission by Oswald's mother Marguerite after his death (not surprisingly, the Commission declined). 

My favorite thing about Posner's plagiarism scandal is not that Mark Lane defended him, but that Posner, the mainstream media's favorite anti-conspiracy theorist, claimed that the plagiarism scandal was actually the result of a media conspiracy against him. What a delicious piece of irony pie that juicy little tidbit is. 

In a blog post last week (and another a few years ago) I assailed Chris Matthews of MSNBC for his "spittle-flecked" defense of the lone gun man theory. Even though it has only been a few days since I wrote that, Mr. Matthews has since presented even more reason to rake him over the coals for his slavish worship of officialdom and his deceptive framing of stories.

By happenstance, last Thursday I had just watched a segment from Chris Matthews show Hardball from back in 2013 on Youtube. The clip was of Matthews hosting a discussion between he and David Talbot, founder of Salon.com and author of the book Brothers, which is about Jack and Bobby Kennedy in which Talbot claims that Bobby Kennedy did not believe the Warren Report, and Vincent Bugliosi, former prosecutor and author of the most recent (2007) "authoritative" book proving Oswald acted alone titled Reclaiming History (why they didn't go with the title Case Closed II: Electric Bugaloo will forever remain a mystery). Bugliosi's predictable embrace of the Warren Report is not to be confused with the old (1993) "authoritative" book saying exactly the same thing, Mr. Posner's Case Closed. One wonders if these books are so definitive and authoritative, why do they have to keep writing a new version saying the same thing every decade? 

In the segment Matthews buddied up to Bugliosi and the two of them went after Talbot. Unlike Matthews, Talbot is a respected journalist, in fact he was once Chris Mathews' editor many moons ago, so it was interesting to see the contempt with which Matthews held him. The most striking part of the segment was when both Bugliosi and Matthews challenged Talbot by asking him if Bobby Kennedy was lying when he publicly stated that he endorsed the Warren Report. This is a predictable and hackneyed argument, not surprising coming from two repugnant fools and liars like Matthews and Bugliosi, that embraces an intentional obtuseness that makes debate impossible. 

Coincidentally enough, when I turned off the 2013 Hardball discussion I turned on the live show and low and behold the topic was the JFK file release again. What was so synchronistically striking was that it almost seemed as if Chris Matthews had just watched the same old clip of his show on Youtube that I did and wanted to prove a point, for he opened the segment by playing old footage of Bobby Kennedy publicly stating that he believed in the Warren Report. Matthews then turned to his guests, NBC News Justice correspondent Pete Williams, NBC News National Security reporter Julia Ainsley and distinguished presidential historian Evan Thomas, author of the book, Robert Kennedy: His Life, all of whom adamantly stated that Oswald acted alone and that there was no conspiracy. 

 

Besides the constant reinforcing of the official narrative that Oswald acted alone and that conspiracy theories are "nutty" and the only reason people believe them is out of psychological weakness, one interesting thing did happen on the show. When Matthews turned to Evan Thomas, esteemed author of the "definitive" biography of Bobby Kennedy, and asked him, almost rhetorically, if Bobby Kennedy believed in the Warren Report, Matthews did not get the answer he expected. Thomas actually replied to Matthews that Bobby Kennedy, in fact, did not believe the Warren Report. Sadly, the camera was not on Chris Matthews at this point because I would have loved to see the look on his dopey face when Evan Thomas basically said that David Talbot was right and Chris Matthews, who just wrote a book about Bobby Kennedy that comes out this week, was dead wrong.

Thomas, of course, made haste in reassuring his host that he, Evan Thomas, is a citizen of the Kingdom of Serious People because he believes in the lone gunman theory and Oswald's guilt, unlike Bobby Kennedy who according to Thomas' own reporting apparently would not be allowed into the same Kingdom due to his doubt in the official story. Regardless of Thomas' faith in Oswald's guilt, the damage to Chris Matthews thesis about Bobby Kennedy's belief in the Warren Report was already done. Matthews, as is his penchant when proven wrong, quickly changed the subject and the segment soon ended. No doubt Mr. Matthews will conveniently forget Evan Thomas' opinion because it doesn't fit into the very limited preconceived establishmentarian cosmology from which he operates. I wonder…will Chris Matthews now have David Talbot back on Hardball to apologize to him for his 2013 attack? I have a funny feeling that Mr. Talbot shouldn't hold his breath waiting for that invitation.

In conclusion, let's apply the Chomsky formula to all of the media coverage surrounding the release of the JFK files. First off, if the Russian media were to exclusively have hosts and guests, some of whom are discredited journalists guilty of plagiarism, on their networks that only supported the official story of a lone gunman and belittled and condemn anyone who dared to question the establishment narrative as "nutty" or psychologically unstable, we would rightly believe that was patently absurd and blatant propaganda.

Secondly, if Russian media were to have every host and guest on their networks repeatedly state that the only reason the KGB has lied and withheld information from the public and investigative committees over the last 54 years was because of the KGB's fear of embarrassment, we would rightly call that even more patently absurd and blatant propaganda.

The only logical conclusion we would draw of the Russian media behavior in these instances was that they are thoroughly corrupt and are mere propaganda wings for a nefarious Military-Intelligence cabal headed by the KGB. This is what any rational human being would deduce from these obvious facts. It wouldn't be a conspiracy theory if the Russians did it, it would be a conspiracy fact. So why are we so incapable of seeing the same Truth about our own country and its media that hides in plain sight right in front of our nose? 

The JFK story will soon fade away but our mendacious media will not. The establishment press, both print and television, are diabolically venal, unethical and unscrupulous. They are not in the business of telling you the Truth, they are in the business of protecting and lying for the ruling elite. The mainstream media's only real function, not just with the JFK story but with all stories, is to distract the masses by controlling narrative and limiting debate. Once you realize that the media are just Public Relations for the Military-Intelligence Industrial complex, Wall Street and the ruling elites then you come to understand the Truth that underlies the whole country. That Truth is this…that America is a casino, and the House always wins…and guess what…you ain't the house.

©2017

JFK and the Conspiracy Conundrum

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Estimated Reading Time : 9 minutes 11 seconds

TO BELIEVE OR NOT TO BELIEVE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

This past weekend the news broke that President Trump, in accordance with a law passed in 1992 (thank you Oliver Stone!), was going to allow the National Archives to finally release the remaining files on the JFK assassination that have been kept secret for the last 54 years. In Trump's tweeted statement he did leave himself room to change his mind, but as of right now, the document release is set to happen on October 26.

As everyone knows, the mainstream media is consistently awful, but nothing gets their goat quite like the topic of the JFK assassination. After reading of Trump's announcement, I turned on cable news to get their reaction…and it was just as you would expect. There was a lot of eye-rolling and sneering at conspiracy theories and theorists, which is always funny considering the media hates conspiracy theories except when they don't…like with the Russia investigation. 

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

MSNBC was particularly abysmal, like when "reporter" John Harwood went to great lengths to let his viewers know that HE believes the Warren Report is the final and faithful word on the assassination…good to know, John, thanks for sharing. I found the vitriol and venom directed toward people who believe Oswald did not act alone to be very strange since various hosts throughout the day also kept repeating the fact that polls show over 60% of Americans believe Oswald did not act alone. Way to alienate your audience guys.

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As I switched back and forth from MSNBC to CNN (I am incapable of watching Fox at this point in my life…sorry Rupert) some recurring themes presented themselves. Namely that the Warren Report was the "official" word on the JFK assassination, and of course, that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the president by himself. These two statements were repeated early and often and never once went challenged, which I found...curious. 

The cable news coverage was most curious because everyone kept banging home the talking point about the Warren Report and the "official determination" that Oswald acted alone. If a viewer did not know any better they would come away from watching cable news coverage of this story thinking that the final "official government determination" in the assassination of JFK was that Oswald acted alone. Technically, this is factually incorrect. 

John Harwood and the rest of the empty heads on MSNBC and CNN are being at least disingenuous if not downright deceptive when they claim that the government determined Oswald acted alone…either that or they are historically illiterate. 

HSCA IS MIA ON MSNBC AND CNN

Here is a fact…the United States Government, in the form of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, made the determination in 1978 that President Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy". The HSCA report is most certainly controversial and its conclusions and the science behind them are contentious, but equally if not more contentious is the science behind the conclusions of the Warren Report. 

In addition, the HSCA report determined that the FBI and CIA weren't just deficient in their duties in regards to the assassination, but were also deficient to the point of malevolence in regard to their interactions with the Warren Commission. Unlike the scientific conclusions of the HSCA report, the conclusion regarding Intelligence agency subterfuge is not in contention. In other words, the CIA and FBI lied, withheld crucial information and undermined the Warren Commission investigation at every turn, which is as good a reason as any to deem the Warren Report to be at a minimum insufficient, and at a maximum, manufactured propaganda. 

Regardless of your thoughts on the Warren Report and the HSCA, what I found so curious about the cable news coverage of the new JFK story was that the HSCA was never mentioned at all. Not once. This seemed to me to be more than a mere oversight, it seemed to be an intentional obfuscation of the facts and of history. 

DEMOCRACY DIES IN DARKNESS…SO LET'S KEEP THE LIGHTS OFF

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Upon reading the Washington Post and New York Times on the subject of the JFK document dump I found two other things to be very curious. Both newspapers basically wrote the same exact story, even including similar quotes from authors Philip Shenon and Larry Sabato, Jr. and a link to a Politico article they had co-written on the subject published last Friday. Shenon and Sabato's article declared that releasing the documents would be a "fiasco" and would only “help fuel a new generation of conspiracy theories,”. I found it particularly ironic that Shenon and Sabato's obvious disdain for transparency was printed under the Washington Post's new moniker,  "Democracy Dies in Darkness", which loomed like an Orwellian doublespeak blimp over the article that quotes these men so extensively. 

Both the Times and Post also included in their reports near identical quotes from Shenon about what these secret JFK files may reveal. 

The New York Times wrote -

They (Shenon and Sabato) wrote that the documents relate to what they call a “mysterious chapter in the history of the assassination — a six-day trip that J.F.K. assassin Lee Harvey Oswald paid to Mexico City several weeks before the president’s murder, in which Oswald met with Cuban and Soviet spies and came under intensive surveillance by the C.I.A.’s Mexico City station. Previously released F.B.I. documents suggest that Oswald spoke openly in Mexico about his intention to kill Kennedy.”

The Washington Post wrote -

“I’ve always considered the Mexico City trip the hidden chapter of the assassination. A lot of histories gloss right past this period,” said Philip Shenon, a former New York Times reporter and the author of a book on the Warren Commission, the congressional body that investigated Kennedy’s killing. “Oswald was meeting with Soviet spies and Cuban spies, and the CIA and FBI had him under aggressive surveillance. Didn’t the FBI and CIA have plenty of evidence that he was a threat before the assassination? If they had acted on that evidence, maybe it wouldn’t have taken place. These agencies could be afraid that if the documents all get released, their incompetence and bungling could be exposed. They knew about the danger of Oswald, but didn’t alert Washington.”

I found those quotes, and the fact that the Washington Post and New York Times highlighted them in their articles to be…curious….just like the cable news coverage. Why did I find them so curious? 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

The Post and the Times have for decades been used as mouth pieces for the intelligence community. They aren't so much news organizations as they are useful organizations for those in power to control narrative. In other words they are propaganda tools. You think I am paranoid? Well, just go look at the coverage during the lead up to the Iraq War, or the Bush torture…oops, I mean "enhanced interrogation" and surveillance programs. Or better yet, go read up on Operation Mockingbird. Mockingbird was a CIA operation that operated internationally and domestically (which is illegal in and of itself as the CIA is prohibited from operating on U.S. soil) which planted reporters, writers and editors in all of the major news organizations in America and the across the Globe from the 1950's to at least the 1970's. 

Think there isn't some form of an Operation Mockingbird operating in the media right now? Recent history reveals to us the Bush administration program involving the Pentagon/Military contractors and their use of paid analysts on cable news in order to "control narrative".

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And then there is the story of former Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune reporter and current NBC News National Security reporter Ken Dilanian, who got exposed for literally sending his articles to the CIA so that they could sign off on them before he submitted them. Dilanian is still paraded out on NBC as a serious journalist even after his CIA lapdog status was revealed. If you think these are isolated incidents, you are either willfully blind of hopelessly naive, these types of stories are just the tip of the iceberg. 

This is why when I read the almost identical stories in the Post and Times regarding the JFK document release and heard the uniform embrace of historical illiteracy and sneering at "conspiracy theories" on cable news, my bullshit detector went off.  

NEXT STOP - SPECULATION STATION

This is just speculation but considering the context of the pre-release media coverage, this is what I think the "narrative" will be once the release of the new JFK assassination documents occurs.

First off, there is always a chance that there is nothing of interest in these documents, meaning that there are no bombshells or any information that reflects poorly on the intelligence services. I sincerely doubt there is a paper trail to the grassy knoll so to speak, and if one does exist, the intelligence agencies are not in the business of incriminating themselves so they would have removed or destroyed those documents a long time ago. 

That said, if there is new information that is damning to America's national security apparatus  or other powerful figures, then I think that there are three tactics the establishment press will use to manage the story. Here they are in order of seriousness and likelihood, from least to most.

1. The new documents and any damning or alarming information contained within them will simply be ignored by the mainstream media. Establishment news outlets will say that there is nothing of relevance in the documents and will let the story drift off to the nether reaches of the internet that they condescendingly call the "fever swamps". "Serious people" will understand that to engage in talking about the documents or any damning information they may bring to light is a one-way ticket out of the Kingdom of Serious People. 

This approach is pretty standard, in fact, we have an example of it just recently with the release of information that shows that the United States played a pivotal role in the genocide in Indonesia 53 years ago. 

The New York Times covered the newly released documents but deep into the paper and with a very innocuous and misleading headline, "U.S. Stood by as Indonesia Killed a Half-Million People, Papers Show". In the heart of the article this sentenced appears,  "In 2015, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico reintroduced a resolution in the Senate calling for Indonesia to face up to its traumatic history. He also held the United States to account for its “military and financial support” there, which included providing lists of possible leftist sympathizers to the Indonesian government and, as one cable released Tuesday showed, pushing to bury foreign news coverage of the killings." Providing kill lists and managing a news blackout are not "standing by", that is considered active participation by most folks, just not by the people at the New York Times.

The U.S.- backed Indonesian genocide story has been successfully swept under the rug for over a half century and counting, you still won't hear it spoken of on cable news, that is for damn sure. But killing a half-million Indonesians 53 years ago does not equal the killing of one president 54 years ago in the eyes of the American people, so this head in the sand strategy might be ineffective in regards to the JFK file release. As stated earlier, over 60% of Americans believe there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, so the whistling past the graveyard, nothing to see here approach seems to have already failed and trying it one more time might be a useless endeavor.

2. Anyone who claims to find something important that challenges the "establishment narrative" of Oswald being the lone shooter or who contends there is a connection between Oswald and the CIA, will be mercilessly ridiculed. Any unflattering information that hints at conspiracy will be intentionally ignored and any people who claim a conspiracy will be crucified, demeaned and belittled as tinfoil hat wearing loons.

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"Conspiracy theorist" will be thrown around as a slur and the new damning revelations in the documents will be twisted beyond recognition until they are no longer deemed a threat to the establishment narrative. In this case the game plan will be to obfuscate, obfuscate, obfuscate. 

 

Again, this tactic has been used over and over again but as poll numbers indicate, Americans are seemingly becoming less and less enchanted with this approach. That said, the "fake news" taking point has certainly thrown the media-truth paradigm into chaos, so who knows if this tactic would be as successful this time around as it was years ago. 

3. If the documents reveal any truly damning information that could be seen as an indictment of the intelligence/national security community, such as a clear connection between Oswald and the CIA, like proof that he was on their payroll, then the national security establishment and their toadies in the media will quickly pivot and make the rather lame case that Oswald "went rogue" or they will bring out the big guns and blame Russia and Castro/Cuba for the assassination. Both are possible, but considering recent context, I think the latter is much more likely.

This would be the most interesting turn of events and frankly the most alarming. The Washington Post and New York Times quotes I mentioned above (and the Chris Matthews monologue I cite below), hint at this game plan and plant the seeds for it to come to fruition.

THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!

The intelligence community and their puppets in the establishment media will use any damning new information, if it exists, and contort it to their advantage. This sort of narrative jiu jitsu is the type of propaganda at which the national security state excels. As previously mentioned, over 60% of Americans believe in a conspiracy, so instead of fighting that fact the propagandists will finally embrace it. Admitting a conspiracy in the assassination, but only one that involves Russia/Cuba, is a devious masterstroke for the intelligence community trying to avoid exposure for their misdeeds. It will also psychologically buttress the argument for Russian manipulation of the 2016 election by making clear that conspiracies can occur and that Russians are the ones behind them.

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So, if Oswald is shown to have been connected to the CIA, the agency will simply claim that "yes, he was an intelligence asset and we sent him into Russia as a phony defector, but while in Russia he was "turned" by the KGB and unbeknownst to us, he returned to the U.S. playing both sides of the fence". The CIA will claim that the Soviets used their KGB double agent Oswald to assassinate President Kennedy. 

A story has circulated for years that during Oswald's alleged trip to Mexico City a few weeks before the assassination, that he met with the head of the KGB assassinations operations in the western hemisphere Valeriy Kostikov. He also allegedly went to the Cuban embassy and supposedly spoke openly about killing Kennedy. Famed "former" CIA agent Robert Baer extensively propagated these stories on his short lived 2017 History Channel program JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald

Considering the current pandemic of Russophobia among the mainstream media and the U.S. populace, I have no doubt that the national security community and the press will run with any cock and bull story blaming the Soviets/Russians for JFK's death. The framing of the narrative will be that "Russia killed our President in 1963, and killed our Democracy in 2016!"

STRAIGHT SHOOTERS AND SAINTS

The stage for this nefarious duplicity has been set over the last year as the media have lavished the highest and most sanctimonious praise on the Intelligence community over the rather dubious Russian election interference story.

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For instance, MSNBC dolt Joy Reid recently described former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Director of the CIA John Brennan as "the straightest of straight shooters"  when they came out and said Russia "hacked" our election. Ms. Reid must have a very different definition of "straight shooter" than I do, because James Clapper committed perjury when he lied to congress about NSA surveillance, and John Brennan oversaw the CIA as it spied on congress, which is not only a crime but an egregious act of treason. 

Ms. Reid's comrades over at MSNBC, like known liar Brian Williams, echo the same sentiment as they speak in the most hushed and reverent tones about "the brave men and women of our intelligence services". Yeah, the brave men and women who are responsible for the recent coups and the murders of innocents in Ukraine, Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Yemen just to name a few.

This current deification of intelligence agencies will continue in the aftermath of the JFK document release because the intel agencies and their puppets in the media, will make this claim...that the only reason that the CIA undermined and lied to the Warren commission and the HSCA about their connection to Oswald is because they knew the Russians/Castro killed Kennedy, but they did not want to start World War III.

In other words, they will claim that they lied to us for our own good, to protect us. The narrative will be that this is the type of sacrifice that good, noble people, like those in the intelligence community, routinely make in order to save the world from armageddon. Not only will they beat the rap for the Kennedy killing by blaming the Russians/Castro, but they will explain away the cover-up following the crime and will be made out to be heroes. Pure genius.

THE JOYS OF SCAPEGOATING AND LIVING IN DENIAL

It will all be nonsense, as Russia and Castro were not involved in the assassination at all, and in fact not only gained nothing from it but lost a president who was fast becoming a partner for peace. As it often is when dealing with the government and intelligence agencies, the real casualty in all of this, besides JFK and our democracy, will be the Truth.

Sadly, the American people, with a big assist from our repugnant media, will buy this story, hook, line and sinker because it tells us what we want to hear, namely that a conspiracy took place, which supports the view of a majority of Americans, AND that it was outside forces, those dastardly Russians/Cubans who did this horrible act to us, and not us. Thus we never have to do any introspective self-examination at all which is a psychological win-win for Americans.

As a result of our reflexive scapegoating of the "other" (Russia/Cuba) and our shirking of self-refelction upon, and responsibility for, our own actions, we will get another cold war, bordering on a hot one with Russia. This will please the Military Industrial Complex no end...and we may even finally get our revenge on Cuba for daring to free itself from our imperial clutches, in the form of a coup or maybe even worse. No doubt we will eventually be treated to staged and choreographed scenes of Castro's statue being torn down by "freedom loving" Cubans. 

THE CONSPIRACY CONUNDRUM - THANK YOU FOR PROVING MY THESIS, MR. MATTHEWS

On Monday, after I had written the majority of this piece. I had to step away for a bit to see a client and then after the client left I turned on the television for just two minutes and I caught Chris Matthews' final segment of his show which was titled "Let Me Finish". In the segment Matthews talked about the pending JFK document release and I fully expected his usual spittle flecked, vacuous ranting against JFK conspiracies. Matthews said he was hoping that the soon to be released JFK files had information in them about Oswald and whether he acted alone or "had help". He also wanted to know what went on during Oswald's trip to Mexico City to meet with Russians ands Cubans and whether the CIA and FBI dropped the ball in watching him. Matthews' monologue was littered with half-truths, innuendos, outright factual inaccuracies and lies. 

Matthews concluded the segment and the show by saying he wants to definitively know if Oswald worked alone "OR IF HE HAD HELP FROM THE HAVANA OR MOSCOW". Upon hearing that statement, any trepidation I may have had about writing this piece quickly evaporated as Chris Matthews had proved my point for me.

Matthews made it clear that there are only two options regarding the Kennedy assassination…a lone nut or a Russian/Cuban conspiracy. This is the only thing Mathews and his ilk are now able to conceive, that Oswald either did this on his own or he was aided and abetted by the Soviets and Cubans, who Matthews hints in his monologue may have been accessories after the fact. Matthews inability to even contemplate that the CIA , FBI and National Security apparatus could be guilty of anything but "dropping the ball" regarding the assassination says all you need to know about him and his intellectual impotence. The thought of the CIA, FBI, the Pentagon or some rogue element of any or all of those groups being nefarious actors in the JFK assassination is entirely inconceivable to Matthews.

What is very intriguing about Matthews' hedging towards a Russian/Cuban conspiracy is that in 2013 he was adamantly opposed to ANY conspiracy related to the assassination. In an interview with Vincent Bugliosi, who had just published a mammoth book on the JFK assassination titled, "Reclaiming History", which went to great lengths to dispel any conspiracy in the murder of JFK, Matthews said he "agreed 100%" with Bugliosi's claim that Oswald acted entirely alone and that is was impossible for a conspiracy to have taken place. 

The Matthews - Bugliosi love-fest just four years ago made it abundantly clear that Chris Matthews would absolutely not even contemplate any inkling of a conspiracy. Now, in 2017, on the eve of the release of previously secret documents regarding the assassination, he changes his opinion and seems to be suffering from a conspiracy conundrum. 

 Matthews' conspiracy conundrum is very curious behavior indeed, and it is made even more curious by the fact that he fails to acknowledge his previously vociferous anti-conspriacy stance. I wonder what changed in the last four years regarding the case that Matthews is now not poo-pooing all conspiracies, but rather hinting that it was a Russian/Cuban conspiracy? 

NORMAN ROCKWELL SYNDROME AND WHO STOLE THE CHICKEN?

There is a scene in Schindler's List where the Nazi Amon Goth, masterfully played by Ralph Fiennes, lines up a group of Jewish prisoners and demands to know which one of them stole a chicken. When no one answers, the he shoot a man with his rifle and then a guard shoots the man again in the head. As the man lay dead in front of his fellow prisoners, his dark blood pooling everywhere, a young boy, shaking with fright, steps forward weeping. Goth asks the boy if he took the chicken, the boy shakes his head no. Goth surmises the boy knows who took the chicken and asks him who it was. The boy sobs that he does know who did it…and then emphatically points to the dead man laying on the ground and shouts…"HIM!"

It is a great scene and if something untoward pops up in regards to the release of JFK files, the establishment will be the scared little boy, and the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro will be the dead man laying on the ground taking all the blame. The Soviet Union and Castro are no more, and therefore are unable to defend themselves, which means they are the perfect foil and diversionary target for the intelligence community to lay the blame. 

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the CIA and the national security establishment will acknowledge the role it played in the assassination and America will have a glorious come to Jesus moment and realize what actually happened 54 years ago and how it still affects us today. The gaping wound at the heart of America is the Kennedy assassination and the rot in our national soul springs from that event and the lies that surround it. Maybe if we just got a little bit of the Truth, we could start to heal that wound and maybe try to save ourselves. If not, if the lies continue, then rest assured that the wound to our national soul is surely as fatal as President Kennedy's head wound. It is only a matter of time before we bleed out and fade into eternal darkness.

It is anathema to Chris Matthews and the rest of his media cohorts to ever consider anything but the most benevolent intentions emanating from the establishment to which they are so beholden. These media establishmentarians like Matthews or even famed documentarian Ken Burns, whose recent Vietnam documentary opens with the delusional lines, "the war was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings", suffer from what I call Norman Rockwell Syndrome. For those with Norman Rockwell Syndrome, America is always and every time the good guys who only act out of benevolence and and never act out of malice.

It is human nature to want to embrace denial and avoid introspective self-reflection and clearly seeing the worst part of oneself (or one's country) at all costs and to project those shadow feelings onto the "other". When Matthews and his fellow Norman Rockwell Syndrome sufferers in the media shun self-reflection and go blind to national misdeeds and atrocities, like the JFK assassination or Vietnam, they are just displaying the usual symptoms of the syndrome, which are identical to the symptoms associated with the terminal disease of empire.

The disease of empire is corrosive on the spirit and soul of our nation and is a pestilence upon our democracy. On November 22, 1963 everything changed. It wasn't just the President of the United States, the myth of Camelot and the dream of America that died that day in Dallas, it was the Truth. 

Watch the two Chris Matthews' segments and you will get a taste of what is to come from the rest of the media in the awake of the release of the JFK files. Any thinking person with eyes to see and the courage to look will quickly recognize that, once again, the fix is in and we are never going to learn who stole that damn chicken because Truth doesn't stand a chance when lies rule the roost. 

©2017

Blade Runner 2049 : A Review

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****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

Estimated Reading Time: 6:10:21

My Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A good but not great film worth seeing in the theatre for the beautiful cinematography alone.

Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and directed by Denis Villeneuve, is the sequel to Ridley Scott's iconic 1982 film Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford. Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling as K, with Ford reprising his role as Sam Deckard along with supporting turns from Robin Wright, Jared Leto and Ana de Armas.

I was very excited to see Blade Runner 2049 because I am such a tremendous fan of Ridley Scott's original Blade Runner. That film, which is required viewing in order to fully understand and appreciate Blade Runner 2049, was a thoroughly unique, neo-noir, apocalyptic take on the science fiction genre which explored what it means to be human, a god and everything in between. Blade Runner 2049 is a good, but not great, sequel to the Blade Runner. 

What makes Blade Runner 2049 worth seeing, and worth the effort of seeing in the theatre in particular, is that it is one of the most cinematically gorgeous films you will ever witness. Ryan Gosling gets top billing for the movie, but cinematographer Roger Deakins is undoubtedly the star of this film. Deakins and director Denis Villeneuve worked together on Sicario in 2015 to spectacular effect, which earned Deakins the much coveted Mickey ©® Award for Best Cinematography. 

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Each of Deakins' shots in Blade Runner 2049 are like masterpieces depicted on a futuristic canvas. Deakins paints with a lush and vibrant palette that is striking to behold and alone is well worth the price of admission. His deft use of shadow and moving light is exquisite and effectively reveals the deeper sub-text of the narrative. Deakins is one of the preeminent cinematographers of his day and Blade Runner 2049 will no doubt garner him another much deserved Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. This expected nomination will be his fourteenth nomination and thus far, as incredible as it is to believe, he has never won the award. 

Director Denis Villeneuve does admirable work on Blade Runner 2049 but he ultimately comes up short in making the most of the complex philosophy, theology and psychology that made the original film so fascinating. The running time of the film is two hours and 45 minutes, which makes it a long movie. I am one of those weird people who actually really likes long movies, but with such a long running time you would expect Villeneuve to thoroughly flesh out all of the intricacies involved in the story, instead he squanders much of his time and in the second half of the film the story loses momentum. The Blade Runner mythology is so vast and so philosophically rich that Villeneuve's cinematic meandering feels like a sin when he loses narrative specificity and falls onto the easy path of generic storytelling. 

For a film that has so much time to use it frustrates by failing to give adequate purpose and meaning to the character's on-screen actions. The story begins to fall apart in the second half of the film because things become much too neat and simple to be intriguing or believable. This is a shame and this fundamental filmmaking error can only be blamed on Villeneuve. 

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To Villeneuve's credit, he does undergird the film with subtle and effective nods to Apocalypse Now (in particular in the Wallace scenes with their stark shadow and light contrast) and even A Clockwork Orange (with Las Vegas looking like a colossally overgrown Korova Milk Bar). This is the second big blockbuster sequel to pay homage to Apocalypse Now this year, with War for the Planet of the Apes being the first. This, along with the contrasting red/blue color scheme, certainly gets my attention in regards to the McCaffrey Wave Theory, but that is a discussion for another day.

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As for the acting, Ryan Gosling does solid if unspectacular work as K. He is the driving force for the entire film and certainly has the charisma to pull it off. I have always found Gosling to be an interesting actor and he doesn't disappoint in Blade Runner 2049. What may be most appealing about Gosling in the film is his underlying and undying sense of his humanity which is palpable and serves him and the story very well. 

The supporting cast is much less impressive. Regardless of his history of box office returns, Harrison Ford has always been a rather wooden, second rate actor and he proves that once again as the older version of Rick Deckard. Ford seems so detached from his surroundings it feels like he is in a constant state of having just been woken up. 

The more surprising of bad performances in the film belongs to an actress that I absolutely think is fantastic, and that is Robin Wright. I have been a fan of Ms, Wright's work for decades, but in Blade Runner 2049 she turns in a really awful piece of work. It seems to me that Ms. Wright is stuck in the rhythm, voice and posture of her House of Cards character Claire Underwood and it terribly underserves her as Lt. Joshi. This is a common problem for actors who have success in a television show where they must play the same character for months on end, year after year. That said, I was shocked to see it happen to an actress as talented and skilled as Robin Wright, but happen it did. Her character in Blade Runner 2049 is actually very pivotal to the story, so when she fails to deliver a quality performance, the film really suffers for it.

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Jared Leto, as always, does very good but strange work as the bizarre and god-like Niander Wallace. Leto is nothing if not committed to his roles, and that approach serves him well as the blind creator Wallace. Much like Woody Harrelson in War for the Planet of the Apes, there is a whiff of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now in Leto's creation, but it is entirely appropriate and always compelling.

I wish Blade Runner 2049 had been better as I ended up being mildly disappointed with it, which may have more to do with my high expectations after a 35 year wait rather than the film's failings. Blade Runner 2049 really is a decent film, but it could have and should have been much better than it was. There is true cinematic greatness lurking beneath the surface of Blade Runner 2049, but director Villeneuve fails to adequately conjure it to the surface and instead delivers a film that passes for good enough but not great. That said, I do recommend you watch the original film first and then go see Blade Runner 2049 in the theatre, if only to meditate on what it means to be human and to marinate in the spectacular genius of the visual masterpiece delivered by cinematographer Roger Deakins.

©2017

 

 

The Weinstein Fallout

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 48 seconds

The Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment/abuse scandal has only grown larger everyday since the New York Times published an article on October 5th, revealing at least 8 settled lawsuits brought against the movie mogul for his predatory behavior over the years. Since then, more women have come forward with horrifying Harvey stories, more public condemnations of Weinstein have occurred and more recriminations are most certainly on the way such as the hashtag movements #metoo and symbolic stances like the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), better known as the Academy Awards/Oscar people, kicking Weinstein out. 

Even when I wrote about the Weinstein scandal last week, it garnered a tremendous response, some of which was very interesting and insightful, some of it amusing and some of it disturbing. I did receive a great deal of supportive emails and comments, and for that I am grateful, but not surprisingly I have also gotten some less than encouraging ones as well. 

Some commenters thought I was too limited in my attacks on the guilty in regards to the Weinstein case. This is a legitimate criticism and one I hope to remedy. The main reason i skipped the following entities was due to strict length limitations.

LISA BLOOM

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Lisa Bloom is a "celebrity attorney" who has made a name for herself representing women who have been harassed or abused by powerful men. Some of her clients include Janice Dickinson in the Bill Cosby sex assault case and three women who sued Bill O'Reilly for sexual harassment. She is the daughter of attorney Gloria Allred, who blazed the same trail that her daughter followed in defending women against powerful men. It is nearly impossible to turn on a television and not see Ms. Bloom or Ms. Allred at least once a week sitting next to some woman claiming to have been abused by a famous man. The only thing Ms. Bloom and Ms. Allred like more than attention, is more attention. 

The shocking thing regarding the Weinstein scandal was that Lisa Bloom, who has built her brand on shamelessly getting in front of any camera she could find to defend women, sold herself out in order to defend Harvey Weinstein. It is stunning that she would so quickly discard her (and her mother's) life's work in order to kiss the ring of King Harvey, but that is what she did. A closer inspection of the situation reveals that Ms. Bloom had a book adaptation deal with Weinstein's company. Lisa Bloom is a perfect example of how men like Harvey Weinstein prosper because both men and women toss their ethics and morality out the window when fame and riches are dangled in front of their eyes.

CYRUS VANCE JR.

Speaking of shady lawyers, it was nice to see Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. involved in the Weinstein case. Vance Jr. was recently in the headlines for having scuttled an investigation into Donald Jr. and Ivanka Trump for criminal fraud. Shortly after he called his dogs off of the Trump siblings, Vance received a large campaign contribution from Trump's lawyer. Shock of shocks, it turns out Vance also decided not to pursue misdemeanor sex crime charges against Harvey Weinstein when the police brought him a witness and an audiotape containing Weinstein's surreptitiously recorded confession. This will shock you, but after Vance decided not to prosecute Weinstein, he got a large campaign contribution from Weinstein's lawyers. Vance is running unopposed for re-election this November, I hope his campaign slogan is "Cyrus Vance Jr., Corruption You Can Rely On!!"

POLANSKI AND WEINSTEIN - A CASE STUDY

I received some comments recently on a subject that a few different people asked me about which was why Harvey Weinstein was out of the Academy (MPAAS) but Roman Polanski is still in, and they asked, "what is the difference?" Brave Sir John Oliver also brought this topic up on his HBO show Last Week Tonight this past Sunday, so obviously this train of thought is gaining traction out in the world and deserves to be explored.

The answer is that there are many differences between Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein and their sexual scandals. One big difference between the two men is that Roman Polanski is an artist, and Weinstein is the antithesis of an artist, he is a business man. Polanski is considered a true visionary filmmaker and a few years before his rape charge he had made one of the greatest films of the era, Chinatown. This difference might explain why other artists are so much more willing to give Polanski a break regarding his crime and not Weinstein.

Another thing to remember, and this may be the most important thing of all, is it was 1977 when Roman Polanski committed "unlawful sexual intercourse" on a 13 year old girl, that is forty years ago. Polanski also admitted to his guilt and was punished for his crime, having spent time in jail as part of a plea agreement, but the judge went back on the agreement and wanted to put Polanski in prison for more time which is why he fled to France never to return. This is a rather large difference between Polanski and Weinstein.

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Also, context matters, and the context surrounding Polanski's sexual misconduct were that he had suffered a horrific, brutal and public tragedy just 8 years before when his wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by the Manson gang and his unborn child was carved out of her womb. This doesn't negate the severity of the crime Polanski committed, but it does provide a contextual understanding for the twisting of his soul which could produce such abhorrent behavior. 

Weinstein, of course, is the polar opposite of Polanski in that he never created anything except profits. Weinstein is notorious for butting heads with directors, demanding cuts to their films, so much so that he earned the nickname Harvey Scissorhands. He even had the temerity to demand Martin Scorsese, yes, Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, cut nearly an hour off of both Gangs of New York and Silence, which mortally wounded both movies. Being delusional enough to think you know more than Martin Scorsese about making movies says all you need to know about Harvey Weinstein and also why artists deplore him.

So, to sum up, Polanski's case was forty years ago, he admitted wrong doing, was punished for it and is a highly regarded artist which are all in great contrast to Harvey Weinstein's situation. Oh…and Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, now wants the case against him dropped, which is definitely not the case with Harvey Weinstein.

NUANCE NEED NOT APPLY

Another reader, a middle-aged woman who used to work in the entertainment business, wrote, "Weinstein, Casey Affleck, Polanski, Woody Allen…they should all be banned…I believe women always and every time!"

This sort of sentiment, which is entirely lacking of any nuance, is epidemic in our culture and sadly, is little more than a short cut to thinking. Here is the reality…women lie. You know how I know that?…because human beings lie, and women are human beings, therefore women lie. Not all women lie but not all sexual assault, harassment or rape charges are true. Some claims are true and some of them aren't.  Any sort of blanket statement that demonizes any group of people, even the most evil group of all...men, is absurd and unserious. Every sexual harassment, assault and rape case should be evaluated on its merits, not on the assumption that women never lie. For instance, the UVA rape case was a lie, as was Tawana Brawley's claim…this doesn't mean all claims are false, just that all charges must be investigated and backed up by facts and evidence. 

As for the particular charges this rather emotionalist commenter makes, the closer one looks at some of them, the less clear they become. Casey Affleck's case is a very convoluted one, with both sides disagreeing on the basic facts and the accusers choosing to still work with Affleck after the alleged events happened and then later agreeing to settle the case. This does not mean Affleck didn't sexually harass these two women, it just means that this case isn't as cut and dried as the pussy hat wearing brigade would claim it to be. 

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As for Woody Allen, his accuser wasn't a woman, she was a little 7 year-old girl. Personally, I think he is a twisted individual and a pedophile, but that is just my opinion. I have never understood Allen's success, I think he and his films, including Annie Hall, are dreadful, but actors, and famous actresses in particular, continue to work with him and defend him. Allen imperviousness to scandal baffles me, and I can't help but discount anyone who is attacking Harvey Weinstein but ignoring Woody Allen. But that is just me and the truth is if we are to "ban" people only on unproven allegations from one or two people, that means we are going to disregard logic, critical thinking and the courts and just allow for the emotionalist mob to rule. That is not something I want to happen, as I believe that it is more important for the innocent to be free than for the guilty to be punished. 

Say what you will about Polanski, Casey Affleck and Woody Allen, but the bottom line is this regarding dialogue in the age of Trump and in the aftermath of the Weinstein story…nuance need not apply. 

WHITE KNIGHTS DECLARE "HOW DARE YOU!!"

Another topic I got a lot of emails and comments on was of the "how dare you" variety. "How dare you attack the victims" was a common refrain and it was usually coming from virtue signaling men. Apparently people didn't like it that I had the temerity to expect the most powerful, connected and successful of Weinstein's victims to actually take a public stand against him back in the day and in so doing put an end to his reign of sexual terror. 

This sort of pseudo-feminist/protectionist approach infuriates me because it is so counter-productive to changing the demented paradigm that leads to sexual harassment in the first place. When the parameters of debate surrounding the Weinstein case are clearly defined that anyone who doesn't treat all of the victims with kid gloves is a beast beyond the pale, then we have calcified the structures that limit women and keep them powerless.

A friend recently sent me an article that describes how when people try to "humanize" Muslims in an effort to counter Islamophobia, they are actually reinforcing the dehumanization of Muslims. The basic premise is that Muslims are humans, so to try and "humanize" them actually and unintentionally dehumanizes them. I think a similar thing occurs in regards to women when men try and protect women they actually, on a fundamental and foundational level, make them more vulnerable.

For instance, when football player Ray Rice was videotaped knocking his fiancé out, everyone went crazy, and rightfully so. But…when Rice's then fiancé and now wife, Janay, came forward and said she had some responsibility for the physicality of the fight they engaged in and that she forgave Rice and wanted to marry him, people ignored her or worse scolded her for not being of right mind. By ignoring and scolding her they took away her agency and made the case that she, and all women, are emotionally, mentally and physically too weak to make their own decisions.

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This dynamic where women must receive special treatment and protections because they are mentally and emotionally too fragile and therefore inferior, leads to women seeing themselves as weak and defenseless. In this dynamic men are the strong ones who must protect women, and thus women willingly give their agency over to them. The more unsavory and predatory men will pick up on this weakness, and like any predator, exploit it to their advantage. Until women are given total agency and control over their lives, including the ability to make mistakes and take responsibility for them, then this cycle will continue. And the more "feminists" of both sexes try to lower expectations for women's behavior in an attempt to protect women from their own errors, the less agency they will have and the more disempowered they will become, generation after generation. 

I believe that women should be treated equally as men, that means being held to the same standard across the board. What happens in cases like the Weinstein scandal is that the foundational belief that women are fragile and delicate and therefore weak and defenseless gets fortified. When women are taught that they are weak and defenseless, they learn that they are "less than", and turn to men to protect them, which automatically makes men the superior entity in the power dynamic. Predators like Weinstein believe women are delicate and fragile, which is why he relishes abusing them, but the basic, foundational belief Weinstein holds regarding women, is the same foundational belief that the White Knights who came out decrying anyone who made the case that the more famous victims should have come forward sooner. These White Knights think they need to protect women, and in believing this they perpetuate the belief that women are less than men. In other words, White Knights are part of the problem, not part of the solution. 

Why I wrote that I felt it was imperative for Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd to have come forward when they were harassed is because they had a support system and were not powerless in the industry due to their famous families. I would not hold Weinstein's other victims to that same standard because they did not have the same support system and power. 

I think that Gwyneth Paltrow is someone who needs to be held to account for her lack of action in the face of Weinstein's harassment. Ms. Paltrow claims Weinstein harassed and tried to assault her in a hotel when she was in her early twenties. She then told her boyfriend at the time, Brad Pitt, who then threatened Weinstein. Well, Ms. Paltrow had more than Brad Pitt in her corner. She grew up in the industry, her mother is the famous, well-liked and respected actress, Blythe Danner. Her father was a well liked and respected producer, Bruce Paltrow. Her Godfather and de facto uncle is Steven Spielberg…and Spielberg may be THE most powerful person in the industry and he was partners with the two other most powerful people in the business, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. If she had gone to her father, mother and Spielberg, they could have snuffed Harvey Weinstein out like a bug beneath their shoe. But she didn't, in fact, she continued to not only work with Weinstein by becoming the first lady of Miramax, but she ardently defended him in interviews. It is obvious that Gwyneth Paltrow's ambition was more important than any feminist values she may have held, and so she sold out other, less powerfully equipped and connected women, to be victims of Weinstein while she reaped the rewards. That may sound harsh, but it is the truth. The fact that stating that truth is considered anathema is proof that the power dynamics where women are on the weak side opposite men will continue to prevail in Hollywood and America.

WEAKNESS IS STRENGTH - THE FALSE IDOL OF VICTIMHOOD

The same is true for women like Lena Dunham who are out there asking what "men are going to do" about sexual harassment. Stop asking for men to do anything, you do not need men to protect you, do it yourself. This sort of approach by allegedly feminist women is unconsciously self-defeating and fueled by emotion.

Another form of self-defeating activity is the #metoo. This hashtag, where women simply say that yes, they have been harassed, is just another form of embracing victimhood. Embracing victimhood is a dangerous game because it can solidify feelings of inadequacy and weakness. With so many women embracing victimhood, which is quite en vogue among all sexes in our culture right now, they are fortifying the structures that keep victimizing them. 

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Actress and director Sarah Polley wrote a piece in the New York Times this past weekend which is endemic of this type of thinking. Ms. Polley lays claim to being a victim, and that Hollywood is male dominated and being a women is isolating and scary, but she refuses to name any names of the men who harassed her. That is a serious problem because Ms. Polley, and the #metoo people are embracing victimhood without going through the next, and most vital step in psychological and cultural evolution, getting your power back by confronting your assailant. 

As long as Ms. Polley and #metoo and the rest just embrace their victimhood and do not name names, then the power dynamic will not change and the cycle of abuse will continue for generations. 

Look, these women did not ask to be harassed or abused and they didn't deserve it, but the reality is they have been and they must accept that it is a test. To pass the test they must confront the dragon that they fear will devour them and slay it. It is not enough to say you are a victim, or to say dragons exist, you must pull your sword, confront the beast, and kill it. Anything less and the dragon will have won, and will make others their victims.

NAMING NAMES - NUMBER ONE ON THE ENEMIES LIST

Which brings me to my final point. A few commenters took me to task for saying I knew what Weinstein was up to, but didn't do anything about it. This is true, I did nothing. I had no first hand experience or proof of Harvey Weinstein's misdeeds and I am not exactly a person anyone has ever listened to, and no one gives a crap about, but still, my inactivity on the subject is shameful. 

With that in mind, I will share with you the name of someone who is still working in the industry who I know for a fact sexually harassed and sexually assaulted someone on a film set. I heard this story directly from the person involved right after it happened, and know that there were dozens of witnesses who did and said nothing during and after the incident because Schiff was one of the bigger names on the small project. The person who sexually harassed and assaulted a female crew member was none other than actor Richard Schiff. Yes, Richard Schiff, everybody's favorite limp-dick, mealy-mouthed douchebag from The West Wing and now The Good Doctor.

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I am willing to bet that Mr. Schiff has assaulted other women, but I can only prove he did it to one. Will Hollywood hold Mr. Schiff to account for what he did? I doubt it because it is too busy scapegoating (in the classical sense) Harvey Weinstein for all if its ills. But I can promise you this, if I ever meet Richard Schiff, I will hold him to account. See, I am a big and very, very scary guy, and if I were in a room with Mr. Schiff he would get to feel what it is like to be on the short end of the power dynamic in a hurry. Schiff would quickly find out that when you are the weaker one it is no fun because you have to rely on the kindness of the more powerful and that is rarely guaranteed. As an example of this look no further than Mr. Schiff who, just like Harvey Weinstein, did not behave with kindness when he was powerful on a movie set and instead assaulted the woman with whom he was working.

Now, I doubt anything will come of this Richard Schiff revelation, but maybe I will catch a break and he will sue me. I hope he does because discovery would be an absolute treat. Who knows, if it comes to a court case maybe that ferocious defender of feminism, Lisa Bloom, will defend me. Fingers crossed!!

©2017

Harvey Weinstein is America

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 39 seconds

Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal isn’t only an indictment of his twisted soul but of America’s as well.

The story of Harvey Weinstein, the uber-powerful film producer, co-founder of Miramax Films and major donor to Democratic politicians, who got fired from his job as co-Chairman of The Weinstein Company after the New York Times ran an article exposing his serial sexual harassment of female employees, is such a perfect storm of corruption, depravity and hypocrisy that it exquisitely encapsulates the moral decay of America.

The Times piece revealed that Weinstein has settled at least eight different sexual harassment lawsuits over the years. The Times article was just the tip of a really grotesque iceberg though, for in its wake a plethora of other claims have surfaced.

In a New Yorker article, written, ironically enough, by Ronan Farrow, son of accused pedophile Woody Allen, even more claims emerged of Weinstein’s predatory behavior. One of the many lowlights from that article include Italian actress/filmmaker Asia Argento and two other women claiming that Weinstein raped them.

The most famous women among the sea of those claiming harassment at the hands of the movie mogul are Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette.

The odiousness of this Weinstein scandal is overwhelming, and nearly public person is going through the Kabuki theatre of denouncing Harvey and his lecherousness but this strikes me as disingenuous at best. All the movie stars, media members and politicians strongly reprimanding Weinstein now, displayed nothing but egregious cowardice during Harvey Weinstein’s grotesque reign of wanton terror.

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Many Hollywood heavyweights like Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lawrence, are feigning ignorance of Weinstein’s disgusting depravity, but the revelation of Weinstein’s repulsive misdeeds cannot possibly come as a surprise. Harvey, the rotund and repugnant Hollywood kingmaker, is notorious in the film industry for his petulant and imperious approach, which includes physically abusing underlings and being a lascivious beast to women. Tales of Weinstein’s bad behavior are so legion that even a complete nobody like me has heard them ad infinitum.

So how did Harvey get away with being such a gigantic creep for so long? The main reason is that he possessed the most rare talent that all of Hollywood covets, the ability to garner Oscar votes for his films. Weinstein produced films have been nominated for Best Picture 26 times in the last 28 years and have been nominated for over 300 Academy Awards overall. In other words, Harvey could make people rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams, which is why so many in Hollywood checked their humanity and ethics at the door and looked the other way when he was being such a troglodyte. To quote Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

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Blind ambition isn’t the only reason Hollywood looked the other way regarding Weinstein, political expediency played a part as well. Weinstein has been a long time supporter of Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in particular, and has donated a lot of money to their campaigns.  

A perfect example of someone making a devil’s bargain with Weinstein for political reasons is Lena Dunham. Dunham, a vociferous and vocal Clinton supporter and devout feminist, admitted that she knew of Weinstein’s predatory reputation in regards to women, but still shook his hand and performed at a fundraiser he held for Clinton’s campaign. Dunham said she betrayed her feminist values because “she so desperately wanted to support Clinton.” 

Hollywood liberals were quick to denounce Evangelical Christians for supporting Trump despite his moral turpitude and misogyny, calling them hypocrites. I agree that Evangelicals are hypocrites for supporting Trump, but so are Hollywood liberals for enabling Weinstein. Both sides, Trump supporters and Hollywood liberals, need to get off their high horse and read Matthew 7:5, “You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Speaking of enabling, the Weinstein scandal brought to my mind a line from a U2 song, “if you need someone to blame, throw a rock in the air, you’ll hit someone guilty.”  When I throw my rock it often lands on the media, and so it is with this case.

Ronan Farrow published his Weinstein story in the New Yorker magazine, but only because his employer NBC news refused to go with the story. NBC is in business with Weinstein on various film and television projects, and no doubt did not want to ruffle the feathers of such a powerful and litigious man like Harvey Weinstein, so they passed on it, which means this story says just as much about them as it does about Weinstein.

Even the New York Times, which broke the Weinstein story, came out smelling less like a rose and more like a manure pile after it became known that the newspaper spiked a similar story regarding Weinstein in 2004 after being pressured by the producer and his lawyers to do so.

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The New York Times dropping the ball on an important story in the early 2000’s should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the lead up to the Iraq war or Bush surveillance, but what was shocking was who helped to scuttle the 2004 Weinstein article. Matt Damon, yes, Matt Damon, Mr. Good Will Hunting and thought-to-be good guy, called the Times reporter to defend and vouch for Weinstein in an effort to stop the story. So did everyone’s favorite Gladiator Russell Crowe. I wonder how Damon and Crowe sleep at night knowing they were complicit in thirteen more years of Weinstein’s abusing women?

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It is uncomfortable to acknowledge, but another group of people who could have stopped Harvey Weinstein but did not were the more famous of his victims, like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd. These women did not ask to be placed in this terrible position, but they could have stopped him cold if they came forward years ago. The reason I cite them and not the other victims is because they were uniquely positioned to be able to defend themselves and to take on Harvey Weinstein, where the other victims were not. What I mean by that is that Paltrow, Jolie, Sorvino and Judd all come from entertainment families that are well-known and liked in the industry. They were not powerless because they have strong allies and deep connections in the business. These women, sans Judd, also won Oscars, giving them even more credibility and visibility to make their claims. I do not “blame” these women for being harassed or assaulted by Weinstein, I only wish they overcame their ambition and saved others from that awful fate.

 The cavalcade of condemnation for Harvey Weinstein will continue unabated for the days and weeks to come, and deservedly so, but to see him only as a target of derision diminishes his impact as a cautionary tale. Harvey Weinstein is simply a symptom of the wider disease which I call “reality show America”, which sees human beings as disposable and transactional objects whose value is measured in terms of their usefulness for entertainment or pleasure.

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The true power of the Weinstein story is not about his personal failings, but that it is symbolic of the fact that “reality-show America”, which thrives across the political and cultural spectrum, is a collection of self-serving, amoral, hypocrites who are quick to attack the failings of their enemy but slow to embrace self-reflection.

Will the denizens of “reality-show America” in Hollywood, Washington and the news media ask themselves how they have contributed to the culture that bred a man like Harvey Weinstein? I sincerely doubt it since deflection, emotional myopia and historical amnesia are as American as apple pie.

The Weinstein scandal is an opportunity, not only to see Weinstein for who he really is but also to see America for what we have become…an ethically bankrupt and indecent collection of moral cowards allergic to self-reflection and truth.

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This “reality show America”, currently starring the Trumps and Kardashians (with special guest appearance by the Clintons!) and produced by Harvey Weinstein, shows that America has devolved to the point of shameless obscenity, and regardless of how self-righteous we as liberals, conservatives, Democrats or Republicans may feel, we no longer possess any moral authority because, just like Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, Washington and Wall Street, we are incapable of being honest with ourselves.

It is difficult to admit, but if we mustered the courage to see ourselves as we truly are, we would recognize that Harvey Weinstein is America, and America is Harvey Weinstein. Both are bloated, entitled, corrupt, bombastic, blindly ambitious bullies, full of fear and loathing, that use their outsized power to exploit the defenseless in order to indulge their darker impulses and insatiable desires. The sooner we recognize that, the faster we can try to change it.

This article was originally published on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at RT.

©2017

The Emmys Get "Spicey"!!

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 37 seconds

Sean Spicer made a surprise appearance at the Emmys on Sunday night and it drove Hollywood and the establishment absolutely crazy.

On Sunday night, Stephen Colbert, host of CBS' Late Night with Stephen Colbert, hosted television’s Emmy awards, and brought along his trademark biting political comedy. For the most part, things went as expected on the show as diversity was cheered, Trump was jeered and self-congratulation dominated the evening.

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The biggest star of the night though, in absentia, was President Trump. Colbert set his sights on Trump and skewered him mercilessly throughout his monologue. Trump’s presence loomed large over the proceedings, even among the award winners, as Saturday Night Live won an award due to its comedic coverage of the 2016 election with Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy garnering awards for their iconic comedic portrayals on SNL of Donald Trump and Sean Spicer, respectively.

Speaking of which, the one big surprise of the evening that has gotten tongues wagging here in Hollywood, was not a wardrobe malfunction, a big upset winner or a La La Land - Moonlight Oscar level controversy, no, the big news of the Emmy awards was the appearance of …Mr. Sean "Spicey" Spicer.

Spicer, the much-mocked former spokesperson for the Trump White House, came on stage and had a little fun at his own expense when he said, "This will be the largest audience to witness the Emmys, period – both in person, and around the world”.  

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Spicer was playing off of his famously incorrigible, bordering on incontinent, defense of Trump’s inauguration crowd size, which occurred in the first week of his job as White House Spokesmen, and set an adversarial tone between he and the press, not to mention observable reality. Spicer's display of good humor at his own expense at the Emmys was moderately well received in the room and according to reports he was quite popular at the after parties.

Not everyone in Hollywood, or elsewhere, was so enamored with the Emmys “normalization” of Spicer. Zach Braff, former star of the television show Scrubs, summed up the opinion of many when he tweeted, "I’m not ready to laugh “with” Sean Spicer. I think he is an evil, opportunistic liar, that hurt our country". Many others on twitter followed suit. 

Jon Favreau, former speechwriter for Barack Obama, tweeted, "Harvard fellowships, Emmy appearances, huge speaking fees: there’s just gonna be no penalty for working in Trump’s white house ".

I dislike Spicer and am repulsed by Trump, but I found Favreau’s anger to be grating, considering the man he worked for, President Obama, committed a plethora of immoral acts while in office and no one ever dare speak of them, never mind hold any of his underlings like Favreau accountable for them.

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For instance, after Obama ordered a drone strike that successfully assassinated Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, a 16 year-old American boy living in Yemen, Obama’s spokesmen and Favreau’s colleague, Robert Gibbs, said that the child “should have a far more responsible father” if he didn’t want to be murdered in cold blood. What Gibbs said about the Al-Awlaki boy is decidedly much worse than anything Spicer ever said about crowd sizes or anything else, and Gibbs has faced no social penalty for that or for his boss’s unethical and potentially criminal acts while in office, and neither has indignant tweeter Jon Favreau.

And even though the mainstream media and many liberals like to brush aside these uncomfortable facts, let us not forget that besides murdering an American child overseas, and many foreign-born ones too, Obama also savaged the first amendment and freedom of the press here at home by attacking whistleblowers under the archaic espionage act, something he did more times, 8, than all of our other presidents combined. He also sold out the country, the working class in particular, when he ignored the rule of law by failing to prosecute the crooks and liars on Wall Street who, through egregious fraud, drove the economy off a cliff in 2008. Despite all of these atrocious acts, Obama and his underlings have no fear of being shunned by  “serious” people in elite circles.

And do not forget that Obama also made the cowardly decision to “look forward” and not prosecute Bush administration officials for their war crimes. Which brings us to Jeb Bush’s former spokesman Tim Miller, who proved it wasn’t just the mainstream left that were angered by Spicer’s Emmy appearance, but the establishment right as well, when he tweeted, “I know people who were offered opportunities to lie for Donald Trump and quietly declined. Harvard and The Emmys calling wrong folks”.

Anyone even remotely connected to the Bush family calling out Sean Spicer, or anyone else, for shamelessly lying is the height of hypocrisy. President Bush, unquestioningly supported by his low energy brother Jeb, lied America into a war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in Mesopotamia.

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Besides the war crime of preemptive invasion in Iraq, President Bush also undermined America’s legal and moral authority by presiding over a brutal torture and rendition program that violated international law and the Geneva Conventions. 

This is the same president Bush who also instituted an intrusive and unconstitutional domestic surveillance program in order to spy on the American people, and then had his surrogates lie about it to the American people.

Bush administration spokesmen, Ari Fleischer, along with Bush speechwriter David Frum, communications director Nicole Wallace and neo-con war cheerleaders Bill Kristol and Max Boot, among others, propagated the lies about WMD that convinced America to go to war in Iraq, and also dissembled the truth about domestic spying and torture and yet they now face no social stigma for their sins, but rather are celebrated by the establishment press.

In fact, if you turn on any cable news program you will be sure to see plenty of former Bush administration talking heads not just being “normalized”, but held in the highest regard for their knowledge and insight, instead of being berated for their moral depravity and ethical degeneracy. Fleischer is a regular contributor on CNN, and Frum, Kristol and Boot are all held in the highest esteem at the allegedly liberal MSNBC because they routinely assail Trump. Nicole Wallace is so adored by MSNBC, she got her own show on the network.

These miscreants should be shunned, badgered or chastised at every turn for being accomplices to the Bush regime’s crimes, but instead they benefit from the disease that is epidemic in America, political myopia and historical amnesia.

In the age of Trump, it is establishment liberals who suffer the most severe cases of this malady of myopia and amnesia, and there are no greater examples of this than the odious political comedian Bill Maher, and MSNBC host Joy Reid.

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Maher, an avowed liberal, has been waxing nostalgic for a return to the glory of the Bush years ever since Trump came to office. Apparently Maher abhors Trump’s assault on presidential “norms” so much that he prefers the good old days when the presidency wasn’t sullied by Trump’s uncouth behavior, but only by Bush’s preemptive war, torture and surveillance and Obama’s kill list, war on whistleblowers and his ignoring of Wall Street and Executive branch criminality.

Joy Reid, a devout Clinton supporting liberal, recently was quoted as saying that she has more in common with neo-cons like Frum, Boot and Kristol than she does with those on the far left. When you embrace the muscular American empire of Bush neo-conservatism and the globalist economics of Clinton neo-liberalism like Reid has, you’ve really mastered the art of bad ideas. But at least Reid is not alone with her vacuous ideology, as nearly everyone else in the mainstream media, Bill Maher included, parrot the same nonsense that she does. 

What I dislike even more than Spicer and Trump, is the holier-than-thou hypocrisy of those on both the left and the right in the political and media establishment who willfully ignore the moral and ethical depravity that infected the White House long before Trump ever did.

If the institutions of “decent society” can be so craven as to exalt the deplorable scoundrels who were accomplices to the crimes of Bush and Obama, then maybe those White House veterans, like Favreau, Wallace and Frum, who benefit from that amoral worship of power should, at a minimum, keep their mouths shut and be grateful they aren’t in prison or at the end of a rope.

But former and present Trump administration staff like Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon shouldn’t fret about their post-White House careers. If they really want to guarantee themselves a high-paying, cushy job in cable news, all they need to do is convince Trump to tweet less and kill more. You see, in the eyes of the “serious people” in “polite society”, tweeting is horrifically un-presidential, but killing, torturing and spying in the name of American Empire? That’s how you get the keys to the establishment kingdom.

This article was previously published on Wednesday, September 20, at RT.

©2017

 

 

Mother! : A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SKIP IT. Even the most edgy of art house inhabitants will find this film tough to swallow.

Most people don't know this about me, but due to a serious health condition (just like Christian Slater in Untamed Heart, I have a baboon's heart), I am one of those weird people who does not drink caffeine at all, no coffee, no tea, no Coca-Cola, and I almost never drink non-caffienated soda either. This is a shocking revelation, but I promise you it is true. Of the rare times I do indulge in a non-caffienated soda, it is always in the form of root beer and always when I go to the movies. One of the very few pleasures I have in my miserable life is to sit in the dark, watching a movie, drinking a gloriously oversized root beer and eating popcorn. Hell, sometimes I go to the movies just for the a taste of that bubbly brown nectar of the gods that we mortals know as the beer of root.

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When I trekked to the theatre to see Mother!, my usual pre-root beer sense of anticipation was heightened because the film is directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Darren Aronofsky. An Aronofsky film and an ice cold root beer…what could possibly go wrong? Well, two things happened that would portend that Mother! would not be the stellar movie going experience for which I was hoping. The first was that when I bought my ticket I saw that the price had gone up nearly four dollars from what I usually pay. In Los Angeles, movie tickets aren't cheap to begin with, and then to realize that even though I went to the first showing of the day, because that day was not a Monday or Tuesday, I would no longer get the matinee price. So, after being forced to take out a second mortgage in order to cover the costs, I reluctantly shelled out my $16.50 for my movie ticket and then bought my overpriced root beer and popcorn. At this point I was now deeply in debt and the movie hadn't even started yet. I then entered the darkened theatre and began my movie going ritual of shutting off my phone and my mind, and settling in for a film I was excited to see. 

Then, just as the lights dimmed and the opening credits rolled, I took the inaugural sip of my root beer and….God help me…it was FLAT. Now there may be nothing worse in the entire universe than flat root beer…not famine, not pestilence, not war. Nothing!

Now, my conundrum was this, do I get up and make the mile and half death march to the concession stand to make my displeasure known, which will no doubt be followed by a lackadaisical response to my complaint by the ill tempered staff, which will then trigger a disinterested plea on a walkie-talkie to the theatre bureaucracy to change out the floppy bag from which my gallon of flat root beer was birthed. I surmised that breaking through the malaise of employee indifference to solve my flat root beer problem could take at least 15 minutes, and by that time, the entire opening of the movie would be long gone, and God knows they sure as hell weren't going to rewind the reel and let me start my cinema experience over front the beginning. 

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My other option was to, Christ-like, be a root beer martyr and just sit there and suffer the brutal indignity of taking tiny sips of the flaccid, syrupy concoction I was served. Being the good Irish-Catholic boy that I am, I made the difficult decision to endure my tonic torture and root beer brutality, and I stayed to watch the film with my gargantuan, de-bubbled companion. I should have known, all the signs were there, but my flat vat of root beer was a very bad omen indeed for Mother!, which turned out to be just as unpleasant to ingest as my 40 oz cup of flat, teeth dissolving and gut-rotting root beer. 

The basics of Mother! are this, it is written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and the story is a sort of supernatural, psychological thriller-dramedy about a couple living in an isolated farmhouse. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence with Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michele Pfeiffer in supporting roles.

I am a great admirer of director Darren Aronofsky, I believe him to be a true visionary and auteur, and one of the great filmmakers of his generation, second only to Paul Thomas Anderson. Aronofsky's breakthrough film, Requiem for a Dream, is a masterpiece, and his movies The Wrestler and Black Swan are truly outstanding pieces of work . Even The Fountain, one of his least critically successful films, is a fascinating and mesmerizing movie that I genuinely adore.

Aronofsky's last film though, was the utterly abysmal Noah, which was so atrocious as to be staggering. As I said though, I am ever the optimist, so I had very high hopes that with Mother!, Aronofsky would shake off the big budget blues that plagued Noah and return to his signature intimate character study approach to filmmaking that he does so well. Sadly, with Mother!, it seems Aronofsky is still grappling with the same thematic and cinematic demons which devoured him on Noah.

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Mother! is a difficult film to categorize, some call it a psychological thriller, others a supernatural comedy and some still a religious horror film. I think it is mostly none of the above. If I am putting Mother! in its best light, I would say it is an ambitious, experimental, art house, horror-esque film. It is at times, very remotely reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby and maybe even The Shining, but then again it is absolutely nothing like those film at all. There really is no straight up comparison between Mother! and any other film I can think of, which I suppose can be taken as a compliment towards the movie. 

The trouble with Mother!, is that the first two thirds of the film are so suffocatingly monotonous, repetitious and dull that they swallow up any redeeming qualities the film may conjure in its final act. The final third of the film definitely intrigued me the most as it is Aronofsky at his most experimental and interesting. That said, even though the last act is unique, incredibly ambitious and its apocalyptic vision is certainly relevant in regards to what is resonating in our cultural consciousness at the moment, that doesn't mean it is good. While I admire Aronofsky for his bold approach in that final act, I also recognize that he failed at what he was trying to accomplish. I believe that third act is a noble failure, but it is a failure nonetheless. Unfortunately, the first two thirds of the film are so stultifying as to be cinematically fatal. I understand that the first two acts are supposed to be a sort of slow burn that builds to the chaotic, frenetic and Boschian final act, but because the first two acts are so tedious the film never generates enough interest or artistic momentum to make the final act worthwhile or artistically satisfying. 

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The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, who is as captivating and compelling an actress as we have working today, but even with her charisma and luminesce beauty, she is unable to save the banal script from itself. As I watched Mother! I marveled at how it is impossible to imagine any other current actress being able to undertake the mammoth role and responsibility Jennifer Lawrence does in this movie. She is on screen the entire film and is in close up relentlessly, and while the camera dances dizzily around her head she never fails to be magnetic. While Mother! is not a good film, and reflects poorly on its director, it is still a monument to the colossal talent and skill of its leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence.

Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michele Pfeiffer all struggle with underwritten and rather incongruous roles that are little more than an annoyance to behold. These characters are so irrational, illogical and unbelievable that it is impossible for the viewer to be anything but repulsed by their presence and annoyed they must be endured. All three characters feel like they have wandered in from a very poorly written off-off-off Broadway play.

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In terms of theme, Mother! is a film that uses a plethora of religious allegories and metaphors to tell a greater story than just that of a young couple living in a remodeled farmhouse. While the film is set entirely in a rather claustrophobic old house, to call the movie biblical in its ambition, if not its scale, would be entirely accurate. Aronofsky uses this house to play out the struggle of God from Genesis in the Old Testament to Christ's birth and crucifixion in the New Testament and even all the way up to our modern times and beyond. The most intriguing aspect of the film is the thematic exploration of the divine Feminine and its relationship to the divine Masculine. The Anima - Animus relationship is one well worthy of cinematic investigating, and watching the Patriarchal God usurp the Goddess is fascinating in theory, but not in execution. I was deeply enthralled by all of the philosophy, theology and themes on display in the film, but viscerally repelled by the lackluster consummation of those topics. 

Despite the intriguing third act and Jennifer Lawrence's noteworthy performance, I simply cannot, in good conscience, recommend Mother! to anyone. Watching the film felt more like an exercise in cinematic endurance or surviving creative torture than entertainment or artistic experience. I would maybe…just maybe...tell my more adventurous cinephile friends, and those who are ardent fans of Darren Aronofsky, to roll the dice and go see the film just to see if they agree with my assessment of it. But for regular folks, and even those who enjoy the art house, I say skip Mother! in the theatre and everywhere else. 

In conclusion, Mother! is similar to root beer, that delightful beverage that is infused with bubbles and a delicious pile of sugar as large as Scarface's desktop cocaine stash. Like root beer, Mother! has all the right ingredients, a uniquely gifted, visionary director in Darren Aronofsky, and a talented and alluring lead actress in Jennifer Lawrence, but just like my lifeless and insipid root beer at the theatre, Mother! never properly mixes its many desirable ingredients or infuses them with carbonated energy, and thus leaves viewers with a bitter and sour taste in their mouth once they've taken an unfortunate taste. Yuck.

©2017

 

The Media Hates Conspiracy Theories…Except When They Don't

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Estimated Reading Time : 6 minutes 38 seconds

KOOKS OF THE TINFOIL HAT BRIGADE

This week marks the 16th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. Whenever the topic of 9-11 comes up in the establishment press, it is wrapped in the warm cloak of officialdom and protected by vociferous assaults upon "conspiracy theories" and their unhinged purveyors. What is odd is that even during the anniversary week of the attacks, actual 9-11 conspiracy theories rarely rear their head anymore, only the denunciations of them from authority figures in the media who over time have become all the more fervent and ferocious in their attacks upon them. At this point, the sight of the anti-9-11 conspiracy crusaders pontificating in the media is akin to watching a straw man tilting at windmills.

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The anti-conspiracy forces in the press don't just deride 9-11 conspiracies but all "conspiracy theories", reshaping the term into an epithet meant to belittle and mock anyone who dare believe in such nonsense as a "conspiracy". Without fail, every year, the establishment news puts out an article that "scientifically" proves that anyone who believes in a conspiracy is a loser and kook who eats his own boogers and maybe other people's boogers too. Google "why do people believe in conspiracies" and you can see the same article repackaged year after year in different media outlets. NPR, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Scientific American, CNN, Business Insider, Research Digest and the Washington Post all have articles reinforcing the belief that anyone who believes in a "conspiracy theory" does so because they are uneducated, lack control in their lives, are emotionally and psychologically unstable and are also inherently more violent and dangerous. 

This belittling approach to conspiracy theories by the establishment press has been very effective, for anyone who wants to be allowed entry into the Kingdom of Those Who are Taken Seriously, knows not to "peddle in conspiracy theory". A friend of mine, a man in his seventies, is so indoctrinated by this thinking that whenever any sort of "conspiracy" is even remotely alluded to he simply says "now you're talking conspiracy theory" and abruptly ends the conversation. He is not alone, as I have had more conversations than I care to recall with people of all ages where people simply refuse to consider something because they label it a "conspiracy".

"SERIOUS PEOPLE" VS. CONSPIRACY THEORY AND MAGICAL THINKING

Kurt Andersen followed the pattern of these dismissive and presumptuous articles when he wrote a magnificently awful, bias confirming, self-aggrandizing piece titled, "How America Went haywire", in last month's The Atlantic magazine where he bemoaned America's descent into non-rationality and conspiracy theory. The piece is taken from Andersen's book on the same subject and if you don't want to read it I'll give you a quick summary, Andersen majestically gets on his pristine high horse and doesn't just tell kids of this generation, but kids of ALL generations, to get off his impeccably groomed, rational and science based, lawn. Andersen's thesis is basically that he and anyone enlightened enough to agree with him, like his establishment liberal friends in the media, are the smart, rational and noble ones who are caretakers of all knowledge, and aren't fooled by idiocies like conspiracy theories or, God-forbid...religion. 

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Adam H. Johnson, did a thorough and wonderful job of eviscerating Andersen's lazy, lackluster and thoughtless piece, and I encourage you to go read his article before, or instead of, reading Andersen's insipid Atlantic piece. As I read Andersen's article I was struck by many things, and then when I read Johnson's takedown of the piece I recognized that he and I both had nearly identical thoughts about Andersen's screed. The first thought I had was…why did Andersen start his timeline for when things really went off the rails in terms of conspiracy theory and magical thinking, after the Iraq invasion without ever mentioning that debacle? This struck me as odd because the Iraq war was a gigantic moment when a conspiracy theory and magical thinking came together and were peddled to the American public as fact by those in authority in the government and the press. It seems to me that the Iraq war was a key moment in destroying the credibility of the news media and authority in the eyes of Americans, which made the public more likely to disbelieve "official stories" and start to believe "alternative stories". But then Adam Johnson enlightened me as to why Andersen skipped the Iraq war altogether in his jeremiad…Andersen's editor at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, was a key player in the spreading of those false conspiracy theories regarding Iraq and 9-11, and is a neo-con who pushed hard the magical thinking of American empire in the middle east. In other words, Andersen sold out to his paymaster in order to get his piece published in The Atlantic, which will now act as a commercial for his new book. Needless to say, Andersen's credibility and intellectual integrity are entirely scuttled by his decision to ignore some of the more glaring examples of conspiracy theories and magical thinking in recent times.

It isn't just the graveyard of the Iraq war that Andersen whistles past, what about the other real conspiracies that happened in the same time frame that effected us all, like when Goldman Sachs and the other too big to fail banks conspired to defraud their customers and the country, along with mortgage lenders, ratings agencies and the regulators? And while we are on the topic, what about the magical thinking of trickle-down economics? Or the fed re-infalting bubble after bubble? Or neo-conservatism as an ideology? Apparently, according to the King of Rationality, Kurt Andersen, neo-conservatives are not like those foolish rubes who worship an invisible man in the sky. No, neo-cons, just like Kurt Andersen, worship the right God…namely, the dollar and American Empire, neither of which are targets of Andersen's lazy, shallow, pompous and self-serving diatribe. 

THE SCIENCE IS SETTLED

"Serious person" Kurt Andersen reminds me of another self-serving, self-styled rationalist of his same, decrepit generation, Little Bill Maher, who just like Andersen, despises religion and worships "science". The trouble is that Andersen and Maher's faith in science is fundamentally flawed. An example of this occurred a few months ago when Maher was arguing with a guest on his show about the Scooby-Doo/Russian story, and his guest said that there is no evidence to support the conspiracy claims, and Maher vociferously retorted, "The science is settled!! All 17 intelligence agencies say so!!". Little Bill, as always, was talking out of his ass, as "all 17 intelligence agencies" did not sign off on Russian interference, four of them did, and they only claimed that they were "asserting" this to be true, but did not provide one iota of evidence.

Maher's phrase, "the science is settled", stood out to me. Science is rarely, if ever, "settled". The fact that it was lost on Maher that science is always evolving is ironic, considering his admiration for Darwin. What Little Bill and his equally arrogant comrade Kurt Andersen also mis-understand about "science" is that just because something cannot be replicated in a laboratory doesn't mean it is impossible or isn't true, only that it has never been replicated in a lab. Science is, at its heart, fueled by the humbling acknowledgement that we as a species have very little understanding about ourselves, our world and our universe. Maher and Andersen's presumptuous vision of science is one of a near omnipotent force that has figured out just about 99.9% of everything that is knowable in the universe. The reality is that mankind knows next to nothing about itself, its world and this universe, but the adherents of scientism, like Maher and Andersen, are too enamored with their delusions of superiority to ever fully contemplate or grasp that inconvenient truth. 

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In terms of conspiracy theory, Little Bill is no better than the rest of the establishment media. On a show this past spring, Maher was talking with former CIA operative, Malcolm Nance, about the Scooby-Doo/Russia story, and Little Bill proclaimed that the intelligence community had Kennedy killed because he had a "pussy problem", meaning that Kennedy was vulnerable to blackmail because he was such a philanderer. This statement was remarkable for a few reasons, the first of which is that it went completely unchallenged by the former CIA agent, Nance, with whom Maher was talking, which would indicate that he too agrees with Maher's assessment of Kennedy's assassination, which is an extraordinary revelation. The second interesting thing about it is that Maher, ever the rationalist, is a strident opponent of 9-11 conspiracies because of his hatred of Islam, so his aligning himself with not only the Russian conspiracy, but a JFK one as well, was noteworthy in that it was a glaring intellectual inconsistency. 

Of course, what was really happening was that Little Bill was willing to set aside his usual adherence and allegiance to "facts and science"  in order to confirm his bias against Trump and the Russians, and in a round about way, be in support of the intelligence agencies. Maher wasn't saying that the intel community assassinating Kennedy was a bad thing, he sounded all for it, and in so doing he came across like he was encouraging them to do the same thing to Trump.

Little Bill's exercise in confirmation bias is, just like Maher himself, entirely unremarkable, as it is standard operating procedure in the institutional press and media. Just watch the intellectual contradictions fly on cable news or in the newspapers without any mention of the obvious moral, ethical, political and mental gymnastics required to ignore the glaring hypocrisies hiding in plain sight. 

CONSPIRACIES DON'T EXISTEXCEPT WHEN THEY DO

What I find interesting about this approach on all things conspiracy, is that it is entirely emotionally driven and so transparently vacuous as to be absurd. The reality is that a "conspiracy theory" should not automatically be dismissed simply because it claims a conspiracy occurred. The truth is, conspiracies happen all the time. I am not saying Bigfoot shot Kennedy or that Hillary Clinton is a Lizard Person (…although..I believe that he probably did and she more than likely is…), but conspiracies do not just live in the realm of fantasy, but flourish right here in reality. For instance, people are routinely charged with and convicted of "conspiracy" to commit one criminal act or another all the time here in America. So when people automatically and instinctively label anything a conspiracy false, simply because it is a conspiracy, they are not only taking a shortcut to thinking, they are denying things that are observably true. 

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9-11 conspiracy theories, in particular, seem to really rile the mainstream media and those in authority a tremendous amount. Any 9-11 theory that deviates from the "official story" as compiled by the 9-11 Commission, is deemed a threat to the establishment order and treated as such with attacks and ridicule in the form of the demeaning slur of "conspiracy theory". The problem with this approach, for anyone who cares about language or…God-fobrid, Truth, is that the "official story" of 9-11 is actually...a "conspiracy theory". According to the 9-11 Commission, Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts in Al Qaeda, CONSPIRED together in a cave in Afghanistan, to have 20 hijackers fly planes into various U.S. landmarks, killing thousands of Americans. When two or more people conspire to commit an act, that is a conspiracy, and in the case of 9-11, if you subscribe to the official story, then you are subscribing to a conspiracy theory, but you will never hear the media call the official 9-11 story a conspiracy or conspiracy theory.

The truth is most people just use the term "conspiracy theory" as a way to bludgeon a disquieting set of facts or ideas that are contrary to their ideology or worldview. There is a very clear example of this dominating the headlines and talk shows on cable news this very day…the Russian Election Meddling Story. Most people I know unquestioningly believe this story, that the Russian government colluded with the Trump campaign and interfered with the U.S. election, to be absolutely, 100% true, and it may very well be true, but people are believing it without ever even reading the Intelligence report that is the foundation from which all of the stories about the subject are based.

If the Russians did collude with Trump and interfere in the election, than that is most definitely a...conspiracy, but interestingly enough, the news media are very careful to not ever call the Russia story a "conspiracy". The establishment has so systematically and thoroughly degraded the word conspiracy that they cannot even use it when they are alleging an honest to goodness conspiracy in which they themselves actually believe. 

RACHEL MADDOW LOVES SCOOBY-DOO

A friend of mine, the incorrigible Johnny Steamroller, calls the Russian "meddling story" "The Scooby-Doo Story", because "meddling" is an amorphous, weasel-word term that lacks much needed specificity, and that in the old Scooby-Doo cartoon tv show, Scooby and his gang would always solve some crime and the perp would tell the cops he "would've gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids!!" The Scooby Doo/Russian meddling story is interesting in terms of conspiracy theory because it is an "official" conspiracy theory and not an "alternative" conspiracy theory. That is the key to understanding the establishment media and their loathing or loving of a conspiracy theory. As gatekeepers for officialdom, the mainstream news will not counter any official conspiracy theory, but will eviscerate any alternative conspiracy theory. 

As a result of the distinction between official and alternative conspiracies, we get Rachel Maddow whole-heartedly embracing the Russian election conspiracy theory to the point that she makes Glenn Beck look like Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity look like Edward R. Murrow. Maddow sees Russians behind every single thing that happens and furiously reports it as though she's found the Lindberg baby in the arms of Jimmy Hoffa. This should not be surprising though, as when it comes to the "officially" sanctioned Russian conspiracy theory, anything goes. Even the most stodgy of old school media entities have embraced the most batshit conspiracy peddlers in regards to the Russian story, one need look no further than the New York Times op-ed page where the certifiably insane Louise Mensch was allowed to write a pieceas proof of that.

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Maddow may end up being totally right about Russia, and everything she is reporting true, but there has not been any solid, tangible evidence put forward to date to corroborate the claims of Russian interference she embraces. None. There was an Intelligence Report, that I wholeheartedly encourage people to go read (that Ms. Maddow tells her viewers to only read from select sections and not get bogged down in the details) that makes assertions that the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 election, but even that official report is completely devoid of evidence. That doesn't mean the story isn't true, it just means there is no evidence the story is true.

But that said, if you believe, as Rachel Maddow does, that the Russian government "meddled" in the election and colluded with the Trump campaign, then you believe in a conspiracy theory, that as of right now, has as much solid proof behind it as 9-11 being an "inside job" or the CIA assassinating Kennedy. Again, that doesn't mean those things didn't happen, it just means those things haven't been proven to have happened. 

EMOTION AS A WEAPON

Contrast Maddow's approach to the Russia conspiracy, an officially sanctioned conspiracy, to her approach to the Seth Rich murder - alternative conspiracy theory. Rich, a DNC staffer, was shot and killed at the height of the election season last year. The case is unsolved and what happened and who did it are unknown. Regardless of the void of information regarding the Rich case, Maddow, and the rest of her cohorts at MSNBC, are so opposed to any notion of a conspiracy in the Rich story that they are physically repulsed by it. The thread running through all of the anti-Seth Rich conspiracy reporting in the establishment press is that anyone who dare consider a conspiracy in the case is being cruel and vicious to the Rich family. These types of pleas to emotion by the media are giant red flags in terms of their credibility. Why should the media care if the family's feelings are hurt by people investigating the very mysterious death of Seth Rich, a case where no one knows what actually happened and who was behind his murder? And why is considering a conspiracy something that should never be contemplated ever again just because the family finds it offensive?

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The same appeal to emotion occurred in regards to 9-11, when Maddow, in particular, and the establishment media in general, consistently claimed that anyone talking of conspiracies were being disrespectful to the memories of the fallen and their families. Even in the case of the JFK assassination, considerations for the Kennedy family were said to be of paramount importance to those in power and so if anyone asked why so many standard operating procedures were ignored, the establishment used the delicate feelings of the Kennedy family as an excuse for deviations from standard, or to hide documents or even destroy them (the autopsy notes etc.). 

The truth is that people may say they don't believe in conspiracy theories in general, but they will believe in a conspiracy theory as long as it acts as a piece of confirmation bias for their belief system or helps to alleviate their cognitive dissonance. If a conspiracy is useful to them, they will give it more credence than if it challenges their ideology. For example, the Scooby-Doo/Russia story is a conspiracy theory that confirms the bias of a lot of people on the left and in the establishment in regards to Trump's election victory, and may also help to reduce their raging cognitive dissonance. Being able to blame Russia for Hillary's defeat isn't just a salve for Mrs. Clinton, her adamant supporters or the media, all of whom have a great deal of humiliating egg on their faces, but it also allows all of these folks to avoid doing the thing we as human beings least like to do…namely, admitting we were wrong or that we made a grievous mistake. 

The Russia interfering in the election causing Trump to win narrative means that America isn't a nation that has lost its mind, Hillary wasn't as atrocious as she always has been and democrats weren't idiotic to have nominated her, and Clinton supporters and the media's instincts weren't as spectacularly wrong as they obviously were. Russia is a very convenient scapegoat for those looking to blame everyone but themselves for the election disaster that brought us President Trump. 

THE LADY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH, METHINKS

As I previously said, the Russian election conspiracy may very well be proven true. There is a long history of foreign governments meddling in other countries elections, the problem is that the country doing the meddling is usually the U.S. This is an inconvenient fact for those in the establishment, and is usually ignored or glossed over as "whatboutism" or "moral equivalence", two terms in vogue at the moment used to shut down debate. 

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That said, there have been previous cases of election meddling in the U.S., but these examples are also uncomfortable to the institutional press because they undermine the narrative of the establishment and American democracy as being above reproach. One noteworthy example was when Nixon sabotaged LBJ's Vietnam peace talks in 1968, in order to keep the war going and increase his chances of winning the presidency. What is interesting about this bit of election meddling is that the establishment media is only talking about it now in order to equate Trump with Nixon. 

Another example of U.S. election meddling is one that the mainstream press will deride as a "conspiracy theory", but which is in reality a conspiracy fact, and that is Reagan's treasonous deal with Iran to keep the U.S. hostages imprisoned until after Reagan won the 1980 election. Go read Robert Parry's outstanding work on this topic as it will surely help you to see Reagan's America, and the media's adulation of him, in a new light. It will also help to give context to this past year's election and the possibility of Russian interference.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, Official media go to great lengths to belittle conspiracy theories because they are seen as a threat to them and the established order they are committed to defending. The gatekeepers in the media are little more than stenographers to those in power, so when citizen journalists start stepping on their toes with questions those in authority would prefer not to hear, then the media kick it into high gear asserting their control over debate.

Just because something is a conspiracy, does not make it false, nor does it make it true. Each case should be studied and judged on the merits of the actual evidence. When judging the probability or possibility of a conspiracy, it is vital that we acknowledge our own personal predisposition's and biases and take them into account just as we take the veracity and amount of evidence into account. Know this, conspiracies happen, and the truth is that the most reliable theory of history is conspiracy theory, not the coincidence theory that the establishment hoists upon the public. 

The best bet regarding the current conspiracy du jour that the media won't call a conspiracy, the Scooby-Doo/Russian election story, is for the buyer to beware, not because the Russians are saints and Trump is a beyond reproach, but because the establishment and their shills in the media has been proven to lie over and over and over again…trusting them is a sucker's bet.

Regardless of whether a conspiracy has the imprimatur of officialdom or originates from an alternative source, it is imperative for us to demand clear-cut evidence and proof for or against whatever assertions are being made when people are trying to convince us of anything, especially when we are predisposed to believe what they are selling. Now…in that spirit, please go read the entire intelligence report on Russian election interference, especially the sources and methods section…you may find it very enlightening.

©2017

 

The Whitewashing Controversy Part Two : A Response

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Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 02 seconds

I am a very lucky man, and one of the reason I am so lucky is that I have the best readers for which anyone could ever hope. I consistently receive quality correspondence from readers across the globe who bring tremendous insight to many of the issues about which I write. I am always grateful to receive such correspondence as it helps to elevate not only me and my quest for understanding, but the conversation or debate that I think is necessary for growth, both personal and collective. 

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In keeping with my lucky streak concerning thoughtful readers, yesterday I received an email from a longtime reader of my blog in response to my "Whitewashing Controversy" article that I posted the other day. The reader, who I'll call Tiny Dancer, is a very talented, successful, working Asian-American actress. I have always found Tiny Dancer to be an astute and discerning person with a very insightful perspective on things, and her email to me regarding the whitewashing issue is more proof of that.

I thought Tiny Dancer's email would be useful in broadening the discussion about whitewashing and may help bring the issue into a more clear focus. For that reason, I share it with you now. Here is the email...

"Thank you for writing this and sharing it. It’s a great article, well thought out with a definitive POV which I so appreciate.

Below are thoughts I had that, most likely, are more addendums to your article. I view them as spring boards for interesting dialogue we can have.

1. Thank you for pointing out the difference between white washing and yellow face. Important distinction and not one many people think to make. Salient.

2. The statistics you bring up are important to highlight and I’m so glad you published them: Blacks and Asians are being appropriately represented, and thank god. However, and maybe people aren’t consciously thinking of it this way, I think people are responding to the amount of RELATABLE STORIES being told that don’t span the ethnic statistic. So, while actors are being statistically represented in TV / movies, the stories themselves are not statistically represented. Sure, stories are human stories. But most likely a White person wrote it, another White person is the show runner, the writers room is White, the grips, the sound crew, the key, the camera operator, are White. yes that’s from the very limited Hollywood perspective, but look how close I am to it, and it looks like that. Ok, so now I’m someone outside of the industry sitting down to watch a show about a family drama, or a work show comedy….  and even though 12% of my population is being repped, are they people in the foreground with lines? Or are they in the background with no lines, but they COUNT as a statistic b/c technically they’re SAG so they’re on the payroll. And even if they are being seen, and speaking, is the story being told from THEIR perspective? Or does their opinion count as only 12% important to the story? 

OK so then, we ask: is this the responsibility of the White/Jewish/male that currently runs the studio/network? One would, smartly argue, of course not. ANYBODY is welcome to write a story and broadcast it. well, then WHY aren’t these stories being repped by said ethnic groups? Are they not writing / creating them? hmmm… So THEN we wonder: maybe they are writing them, but they're not being given the opportunity/power to greenlight these projects? Does this turn into an affirmative action work place, larger than Hollywood, American, global issue? Maaaayyyyybeeeee.

3. Chloe Bennett: I don’t know her, never met her, but….Crying Racist aside, she’s not ENTIRELY wrong. I had been advised to change my last name many times when I was younger, and because I was from a different generation, I chose NOT to give in to the social media pressure of white washing and proudly clung to my birth name. 

The truth is….It has sort of gotten in my way.

Not because I can’t face the fact that sometimes I’m just not the right person person for the role, but because sometimes your name is just on a list. Initially. And sometimes you just get cut from the list. Because when someone doesn’t know who you are, and your name is all they’re staring at in a sea of names in an email, and it reads “ETHNIC”, you’re cut. When they're looking for a lead, chances are better with “Bennett” over “Wang”. Because you have to understand that…still….to this day, if the breakdown doesn’t mention “open to any ethnicity” then EVERYONE will read it as “WHITE GIRL”. Wong or Wright, that’s the way it is. 

4. Reverse Racism: Yes, yes I hear you. Salient point and will likely be a topic I continue to wrestle with/think about for the rest of my life.

5. By virtue of the fact that you write movie reviews, I think you’d agree that everybody views talent through a subjective lens. When you investigate what is subjective, you can't help but see that it’s all driven by Emotion. This irrational component called emotion that dances through your White Washing article isn’t evil, but also isn’t exalted. Like it or not, we are driven by it when we watch movies and TV shows through the lens of personal experience. So then why wouldn’t it be fair for a casting director/producer/director to do the same? Why can’t they view an actor in the room through their own personal lens of history, privilege or lack thereof, economic status, or if that someone reminds them of someone they love or loathe etc…. I cannot believe I’m taking that POV at the moment, because I’m mostly on the receiving end of their emotional preference. Which means not working most the time. But I, like you, am interested in all angles and find it’s fair to look from their perspective as well. 

So, if it’s fair for one as a critic to respond with a personal opinion, then it’s fair for that person casting a movie and it’s fair for Chloe Bennett and it’s fair for on and on and on…..

Like a fun house mirror that goes back and back... Sifting through "Why Was This Person Cast" will never have a satisfying answer. We'll never know if an Asian / Black / Latina actor would be better off in the role written "ethnically ambiguous" or if the White person that gets cast really was the best actor in the room. Emotion wins. 

Which brings us to...Your last statement: Hollywood is equal parts shitty. 

Ok. So how does it get fixed?

MAYBE by someone like Ed Skrein stepping down and starting this conversation between us, and others……

I would love to keep talking about this. None of this was said with judgement and written with the hope that we can keep dialoguing. 

You’re a smart AND compassionate human, first and foremost. Your compassion drives you to write beyond boundary and political correctness which is always applause worthy. I’m so curious if you’ll get responses on this, please share if you do."

I thank the Tiny Dancer for sharing her thoughts and encourage anyone else who has them to do so. 

Another piece of information worth contemplating was in an article in the Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday of this week that states that the film Flash Boys will not go into production because Hollywood either can't, or won't, find an Asian actor for the lead role. Flash Boys, in case you do not know, is a book written by Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, The Blind Side and The Big Short, all of which were turned into very successful films. Prior to all the focus on whitewashing, Flash Boys would have just cast a well-known White actor in the role of the Asian character and not thought twice about it. But now that the issue is under such scrutiny, that is not an option that casting people and producers can take.

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Flash Boys not being made due to an inability to find an appropriate Asian actor for the lead is another pivotal piece of information about this issue, but one that is very difficult to solve. At the moment, there are simply no Asian actors in Hollywood in that age range with sufficient star power and acting credibility to be able to not only financially open a film, but creatively carry one.

As Tiny Dancer points out, maybe Ed Skrein backing out of Hellboy is the first step in changing the fundamentals of Hollywood so that more Asian actors will get opportunities earlier on, and from those opportunities maybe an actor of great talent and star power will emerge in order to fill the void that currently exists regarding Asian actors. I certainly hope so. 

Which brings me to a discussion I had with another reader who thought I was "racist" because I stated in my article that, "Merit is why he (Ed Skrein) was chosen, not race, and replacing him with an ethnically "appropriate" actor who was not as good, will reduce the quality of the film". To clarify, what I was saying in that quote was that Skrein was deemed to be the best actor to have auditioned...by the producer. What my accuser interpreted that sentence to mean was that I believed that Asian actors simply cannot be as good as White actors because of their ethnicity. I prefer to chalk this misunderstanding up to my weakness as writer more than anything else. 

In the light of that misunderstanding, I feel it necessary to state the most painfully obvious thing about this issue, and that is, that there is no question that Asian actors are capable of being truly great actors and movie stars. Proof of this fact is that some of the greatest actors and movie stars the world has ever known were Asian. 

A great example is Bruce Lee, who was a victim of whitewashing himself back at the start of his career, when he created the concept for the television show Kung Fu, and then had the idea and the show stolen out from under him by Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers promptly cast David Carradine, a White actor, to play the role of the mysterious Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine that was originally intended for Lee. Bruce Lee had to go all the way to Hong Kong to get his big break in movies, and once that opportunity arose he made the most of it by becoming the biggest movie star in the world before his untimely death. 

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A different type of example is Toshiro Mifune, one of the greatest actors to have ever lived. Though Mifune never rose to the heights of Bruce Lee in terms of Hollywood stardom, that had more to do with his limited English language skills, and not his tremendous acting ability. In fact, Mifune is one of the actors I consistently show clips of to my clients and students in order to teach them about acting and approaches to character and physicality. In my mind, he was truly a master and is on the Mount Rushmore of Greatest Actors of All-Time.

The reason I bring up Bruce Lee and Toshiro Mifune, two of my favorite actors, is to squelch any absurd and offensive notion or misinterpretation, that Asian actors are somehow less capable of being great or accepted by wide audiences simply because they are Asian. Mifune and Lee are just two of many examples that prove that mis-guided notion wrong.

In conclusion, whitewashing is a very complicated and nuanced issue, one that can lead to either a civil and productive discussion, or one that can lead to a passionate argument. In my experience, it takes two respectful people of good will to have a civil discussion, but it only takes one emotion-fueled jackass to have an argument. I truly thank Tiny Dancer for adding to the whitewashing discussion by sharing her thoughts and experiences, and for not assuming me to be the aforementioned jackass. I hope this is a first step in a long and fruitful conversation.

©2017

 

The Whitewashing Controversy

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Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 18 seconds

HELLBOY IN HELL

Last week, Ed Skrein, an up and coming actor best known for his work as the villain in Deadpool, dropped out of the role for which he was cast in the remake of Hellboy, after charges of "whitewashing" were made against the producers of the film on social media. You may be asking yourself…what is whitewashing? Well, whitewashing is when White actors are cast in traditionally non-White character roles. In the case of Hellboy, Ed Skrein is a White actor and his character Ben Daimio is Japanese-American in the original comic book source material. 

Once the Hellboy whitewashing uproar gained some steam on social networks, Skrein dropped out of the role stating, “I accepted the role unaware that the character in the original comics was of mixed Asian heritage. There has been intense conversation and understandable upset since that announcement, and I must do what I feel is right.”

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Skrein continued, “Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed heritage family,” he said (Skrein is of Austrian-Jewish and English descent). “It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and give voice to inclusivity.”

From a public relations standpoint, this is a masterstroke by Skrein. He turned a story that was potentially damaging to his career into one that makes him out to be the hero. As for the repercussions of Skrein's decision on the wider world in general, and Hollywood in particular, I am skeptical that his kowtowing to the anti-whitewashing mob is a positive maneuver. 

THE WITCHES OF WHITEWASHING AND MICKEY ROONEY SUCKS

Whitewashing has been a hot topic in Hollywood of late, as a string of high profile White women have been cast in Asian roles or that had Asian women in the source material. The three most notable were when Scarlett Johannsen was cast as the lead in Ghost in the Shell to play a character that was Asian in the source material, Tilda Siwnton was cast in a role that in the comic book was a male Asian guru in Dr. Strange, and Emma Stone was cast as a woman who was 1/4 Hawaiin and 1/4 Chinese in Cameron Crowe's Aloha.

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Whitewashing is not to be confused with "yellow face", which is when a White actor plays an Asian character and wears make up to simulate Asian characteristics. Yellowface is to Asians as Blackface is to Blacks, it is a highly offensive and aggressive way to demean and diminish a minority through caricature and stereotype. The most famous instance of yellow face is Mickey Rooney's cringe-worthy performance in Breakfast at Tiffanys, but other famous actors, including Marlon Brando and Katherine Hepburn, have done it as well. And it wasn't just back in the 50's and 60's either, as recently as 1992 Jonathon Pryce starred on the London stage wearing yellow face in Miss Saigon.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND STATISTICAL REALITY

In terms of whitewashing, the theory behind people's resistance to it is entirely understandable. As long as Hollywood has been in existence, the majority of roles have been for White actors, and for a good portion of that time minority actors were systematically discriminated against, so casting Whites in potentially minority roles doesn't sit very well with some people. That historical context is important to keep in mind when addressing the whitewashing issue, and it easily explains the perception that White actors are still cast at disproportionately high rates compared to minority actors. That being said, while the conventional wisdom is that there is an imbalance towards Whites in casting, the statistical reality does not match up with that perception.

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Whites are certainly cast in the overwhelming majority of roles, but that isn't due to racism, but more likely because Whites make up the overwhelming majority of the U.S. (and English speaking world's) population. Some statistics jump out at me in regards to casting and population in terms of race and ethnicity. For instance, an Annenberg study found that Asians are cast in 5.1% of roles in film and television, which doesn't seem like much, but, according to the American Community Survey in the 2010 U.S. Census, Asians make up 5.1% of the U.S. general population. This shows that Asians are not under represented in casting, but in fact, are perfectly represented. The same is also true of Black actors, who are cast in 12.2% of roles and make up 12.4% of the U.S. population. These statistics show that contrary to popular opinion, Asian and Black actors are not under represented. 

In addition, a further look at the Annenberg study shows that White actors are not over represented according to their population percentage, but slightly under represented. According to the Annenberg study, Whites are cast in 71.7 % of roles and the census tells us that Whites account for 73% of the population. This seems counter intuitive to many people, but it is accurate, at least according to the Annenberg study and the census.

REVERSE RACISM? SO WHAT!

The question remains though, do any of these statistics matter in regard to the whitewashing controversy? The casting pendulum, so long on the White side of things, has swung away from White dominance in the last few decades, and now casts people (at least Asian, Black and White people) at relatively the same rate as their population percentage. This is a positive thing, but the fact that some people still perceive an imbalance towards Whites creates an atmosphere where whitewashing accusations resonate. 

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The problem with claims of whitewashing, is that they push the pendulum beyond the center sweet spot of equality, with its embrace of a meritocracy, to a position of identity/inclusivity, where an actors ethnicity or race trump questions of talent and skill. This identity/inclusivity approach is just as unfair as a White dominated approach, and is ultimately cancerous in the wider culture as it brings with it a backlash in the form of White resentment and in some cases, even White supremacy. 

Many people would say, "so what?" to charges that identity/inclusivity angers White people because it is a form of reverse racism. Some people I have spoken to on the subject tell me that White people are racists or have an inherit privilege, so they deserve to be shortchanged for once. I get the sentiment, I do, it is entirely understandable in historical context, but the problem with that kind of thinking is it is entirely emotionally driven and not rational. Shortchanging White actors because they are White may be emotionally rewarding in the moment, but in the long run it is not only unfair to White actors, but undermines talented minority artists and diminishes artistic quality across the board.

IS WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE WHITE GOOSE, GOOD FOR THE MINORITY GANDER?

An example of this can be found in the Skrein case where, according to the producer, he was cast not because he was White, but because he gave the best audition. Merit is why he was chosen, not race, and replacing him with an ethnically "appropriate" actor who was not as good, will reduce the quality of the film. But for those crying "whitewashing", merit has no appeal in casting decisions, only identity/inclusivity matters. Again, this approach may feel emotionally gratifying at the moment, but it is intellectually incoherent, and ultimately counter productive for minority actors when taken to its logical conclusion. For instance, if, as those crying whitewashing wish, we base casting decisions solely on the identity of the character in the source material, then no minority actor would ever be able to do classical theatre like Shakespeare (with Othello being the notable exception), Chekhov or Ibsen and Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams would be off the table as well.

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Identity casting is much like identity politics, it is a double edged sword. When democrats make politics about identity, then not only will minorities respond to that siren's call, but White people will embrace their identity as well, and like it or not, White people are the overwhelming majority of America. In casting, this slavish embrace of identity can, and most likely will, come back to haunt those who celebrate it. An example of this was seen when Edward Albee's estate refused to let a theatre company do a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? with a Black cast member. People were outraged by this decision and charges of racism soon followed, but Albee's argument (through his esate, Albee died in 2016) was that the play is about White people, and a Black actor would distort the meaning of the play. This is the flip side of the same argument that the whitewashing crowd uses against Scarlett Johannsen playing the lead in Ghost in the Shell

The reality is that many minority actors have gotten jobs not despite of their ethnicity, but because of it. Many theatre companies are compelled to use diverse casts in order to get grants and funding and it is in their best interest in some cases to eschew a more talented White actor in favor of a less talented minority actor, in order to get that funding. The same is true of tv shows and films, because contrary to what "whitewashing" critics think, networks, studios and producers desperately want diverse casts. This leads to minority actors actually having a slight advantage in the casting process, not a disadvantage, due to their non-White identity.  

The bigger problem, beyond claims of whitewashing, is the mania and hysteria brought on by our current addiction to identity, be it in casting or politics. This hysteria showed its face with the vapid #OscarsSoWhite campaign over the alleged racism of the Academy Awards. Just like claims of whitewashing, claims of Oscar racism are emotionally driven as well, and are proven false by statistical analysis. (see that statistical reality here).

CRY RACISM, AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR

Another story from last week that highlights the corrosive effect our current identity/inclusivity mania and hysteria has on Hollywood and our culture, was when actress Chloe Bennet, best known for her role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., played the role of victim when she said that Hollywood is racist. Bennet, whose real last name is Wang, is of Taiwanese descent, and when someone questioned her for changing her Taiwanese last name, her defense was that she changed her name because "Hollywood is racist." This episode is a wonderful study in how identity politics and casting will devour those that cling to them. 

To start with, Ms. Bennet was smart enough to sense that she was going to be the victim of the same mob that attacked Hellboy and Ed Skrein when asked about her name change. The left is great at eating their own, and Ms. Bennet knew to throw them some red meat or she would be the next meal. In order to avoid the consequences/shame of her name change, Bennet took the cheap and cynical way out by crying racism, which seems to be the only way many liberals can argue these days, and claimed she never got cast in anything until she changed her name. Of course, the charge is vacuous at best, and insidious at worst.

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Are there racists in Hollywood? Sure, there are racists in all walks of life. But did Ms. Bennet not get cast prior to her name change because of racism? To think that anyone would care if an actress had the last name of Wang as opposed to Bennet is the height of absurdity. Casting people don't give a rat's ass about your last name, usually only your fame, talent and your attractiveness. Ms. Bennet did not become more or less attractive or talented with a different last name. Ms. Bennet basically admitted her reasoning was circumspect when she said, "Changing my last name doesn’t change the fact that my blood is half-Chinese, that I lived in China, speak Mandarin, or that I was culturally raised both American and Chinese". Yes, her name is different but she still looks exotic and not pasty White, so if Hollywood was racist they would discriminate against her for how she looked, not her last name. 

Ms. Bennet's cries of racism, besides being self-serving, were counter productive, not only in Hollywood, but in America. It is statistical fact that Asians are cast at exactly the same rate that they make up the population, so there is no casting bias against them. Yet by crying racism, Ms. Bennet diminishes the power of that charge, and undermines and belittles the struggles of people who are truly suffering under the torment of racism and injustice in the real world. 

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. STRANGE

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An example of the intellectual inconsistencies of the anti-whitewashing crowd was also on display when Tilda Swinton was cast in Dr. Strange. Swinton's character, the Ancient One, is a Tibetan man in the comic books, and the reason the producers cast a White, middle-aged woman in the role was because they explicitly wanted to avoid any racial stereotypes, such as the Fu Manchu - Asian man, stereotype. The anti-whitewashing crowd got up in arms about it anyway. Apparently Asian men are higher on the victim scale than White woman, which will come as a terrible shock to many of the White women I know in Hollywood who proudly wear the hat of victimhood like a crown. 

Further making the Dr. Strange case intellectually incoherent, was the fact that in order to have a more diverse cast, the producers cast Chiwetel Ejiofor, a Black actor, in a role that was a White character in the original source material. Apparently, slavish adherence to source material only matters when White actors are cast in minority roles and not vice versa.

BREAKING NEWS: THE BRITISH ARE PASTY WHITE

The identity/inclusivity mania and hysteria was even on full display this summer regarding the film Dunkirk. The film, set in 1942, tells the story of the British army and their emergency evacuation from Dunkirk, France in world war two. The cast of the film is almost entirely White, which is completely in keeping with the historical facts of the story, yet controversy swirled around the film for not having a diverse cast. USA Today's reviewer, Brian Truitt, commented about the film's lack of minorities in his review by writing, “the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way". Not surprisingly, right wing writers had a field day at Truitt's expense, turning what some thought was a molehill of a comment into a mountain of political correctness. 

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In response to the right-wing backlash against Truitt's review, Jason Wilson, a writer at the Guardian, wrote a piece decrying the right wing outrage as being manufactured nonsense because no person in their right mind would be bothered by Dunkirk's racial make up. Wilson's piece makes pains to point out that the right wing is itching for a culture war over Dunkirk, but none exists. Then a week later, Sunny Singh, a writer at the Guardian, wrote a piece directly in contrast to her compatriot Wilson by decrying Dunkirk's unabashed whitewashing and lack of Black faces. The cherry on top of the unintentional comedy of Singh's article is that Dunkirk actually does have some Black faces in it, the same ones she longs for in her piece. 

The whole Dunkirk episode, and most of the cries of whitewashing or racism, are exhausting because they are so bloated with the wine (or is it whine?) of emotion, and are thirsting for even a drop of the rational. But sadly, in this emotionalist age in which we live, this is the nonsense that captures our imaginations. 

LIBERTE, EGALITE, FRATERNITE

In a perfect world, we would live under the rule of equality, where meritocracy reigns supreme, and as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, people would be judged by the content of their character, or in this case, their ability, talent and skill, instead of their ethnic or racial identity. I certainly hope that we get there one day, but I am not nearly as optimistic as Dr. King. If history and human nature is any guide, with our current pendulum swing beyond the center where equality lives, into the deeper realm where cries of whitewashing and imaginary racism are not only accepted but encouraged, then the inevitable swing back away from that will go into even darker and more perilous waters than I care to consider. 

In our current age of emotionalism, people of all races and ethnicities do not value merit, or talent, or content of character, as much as they care about identity and instant gratification. This rise of this Church of Identity brings with it dangers, and one of those dangers now resides in the White House. If we are going to make things about identity, then we can expect to feel the wrath of the majority identity in America…White people. The resurgence of White identity, and White supremacy, is a direct result of the emotionally-driven, factually unsubstantiated claims made by those decrying White privilege where no privilege exists. As the Annenberg study and the census proves, this is the case in regards to the casting of television and film. 

When viewed within the troubling historical context of White domination in casting and the vicious arrogance and repulsive racism of yellow face, it is understandable that some, if not most, Asian actors and their supporters, would find the story of a White actor, like Ed Skrein, losing a job simply because he is White, emotionally satisfying, but that doesn't mean it is logical, rational, fair or right. Sadly, the whitewashing controversy is just another sign of our troubled and troubling times.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying Hollywood is a wonderful place filled with rainbows and puppy dogs where people are treated kindly and fairly…it isn't and they aren't. Make no mistake, Hollywood is an absolutely awful place where people are routinely and systematically dehumanized, diminished, exploited and victimized. That said, it is apparent to me that  Hollywood, with its unquenchable hunger for money and power, treats everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, equally like shit.

 

©2017

 

Logan Lucky : A Review

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****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

My Rating : 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SKIP IT. No use seeing this clunker anywhere or at anytime. 

Logan Lucky, written by "Rebecca Blunt" and directed by Steven Soderbergh, is the story of Jimmy Logan, a down on his luck West Virginian from a perpetually unlucky lineage, who decides to pull off a heist of a NASCAR race with his family and friends. The film stars Channing Tatum, and features supporting turns from Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarland, Katie Holmes and Hillary Swank.

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David Lee Roth and Elvis Costello

A few years ago, director Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring from directing movies. I know people who hold Soderbergh in the highest artistic regard, they would place him on the Mount Rushmore of American filmmakers alongside Kurbick, Scorsese, Malick and Altman (or whatever filmmakers you may choose for such an honor), so when he retired they were downtrodden.  I have never disliked Soderbergh, but I have never held him in such high esteem either. Soderbergh is worshipped by critics, which, considering my tepid opinion of him, always makes me think of what Van Halen's frontman Diamond David Lee Roth said in 1984 about another critical darling, Elvis Costello, who is the musical equivalent of Steven Soderbergh. Roth said, " I think music critics LIKE Elvis Costello, because they LOOK LIKE Elvis Costello". I believe the same can be said of Steven Soderbergh. 

Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh

I think Soderbergh is a very skilled director, but if I am being honest, I think his greatest talent is in elevating otherwise mundane material into moderately above average films. Even his great films (meaning most successful financially and critically) like Traffic, Erin Brockovich and the Ocean's Eleven trilogy, are anything but transcendent. Traffic is arguably Soderbergh's best film and won him a Best Director Oscar, and while it is certainly an interesting film, it never rises to be a truly great one. 

 

That said, I did enjoy Sex, Lies and VideotapeTraffic and Che (maybe my favorite Soderbergh film), and was even entertained by the technical proficiency of the Ocean's Eleven franchise, so when I heard Soderbergh was returning from his self-imposed exile, I thought I'd go check out the fruit of his labor. 

The thought that came to my mind while I sat through the first third of Logan Lucky was…Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement for this? At the half way point of the film, the thought I had was…Soderbergh definitely should've stayed retired. In the final third of the film, it occurred to me…he did.

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Logan Lucky is a derivative, repetitive, manipulative and painstakingly dull movie with no redeeming value whatsoever. The film is an homage to Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven films, and even self-consciously describes itself as Ocean's 7-11, a play on the fact that it is a heist movie featuring hillbillies in West Virginia and not professional thieves in Las Vegas. The question remains though, were people clamoring for a redneck Ocean's Eleven? And why would Soderbergh return to moviemaking with such an insidiously frivolous and insipid film that, even giving it every benefit of the doubt, has no artistic purpose to it and is devoid of any greater meaning? I understand that not all movies have to "mean" something, and I readily accept that Logan Lucky is meant to be nothing more than pure entertainment, but that still doesn't explain why it would be Soderbergh's comeback vehicle.

In terms of entertainment and fun, Logan Lucky fails in the most conspicuous way because it contains absolutely zero laughs. The continuing and only punchline in the film are the hillbillies who inhabit it, which makes Logan Lucky feel uncomfortably like a modern day version of Stepin Fetchit set in Appalachia meant to belittle and demean working class White people. Everyone in the movie is a one-dimensional idiot and a walking caricature and if they were a racial or religious minority would undoubtedly be considered extremely offensive. 

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Another huge issue with a heist movie populated with idiotic bumpkins, is that it makes the heist seem totally unbelievable. In the Ocean's Eleven films you had professional thieves concocting elaborate schemes to rob a casino, and those films certainly strain credulity, but they are able to maintain a tenuous grasp upon reality because they have set up the premise of an all-star group of sophisticated con men attempting to pull off the job. In Logan Lucky, the exact opposite occurs, the set-up for the film is that everyone is a moron with "Born to Lose" tattooed in their chests, yet they are somehow able to conceive, coordinate and then pull of this complicated and convoluted heist in the most improbable way. The film suffers from this detachment from any sort of believability also because of its own disgust with the culture and people it portrays. 

The other problem with having a cast of characters that are all nitwits, is that you never connect with them, you only laugh at them. What this does is eliminate any sort of suspense or drama when they are trying to pull off the heist. You don't care if they get caught because you don't care about them. It is impossible for an audience to care about characters when the filmmaker doesn't, and in Logan Lucky, Soderbergh is holding up the rednecks for ridicule, not reflection. 

It doesn't help that uniformally, the cast does a second rate job of acting. The accents are all too big, too showy and hit too hard to be even remotely considered believable. And it seems everyone, with the notable exclusion of Channing Tatum, turns their character into a quirky  eccentric for quirkiness and eccentricities sake. The film is so stuffed with whacky, unreal characters it feels more like an homage to Hee-Haw than Ocean's Eleven.

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Sadly, the film also boasts what may be three of the worst performances I've seen this year. Seth MacFarland, Hillary Swank and Katie Holmes are so bad in this movie it is staggering. MacFarland is so atrocious he should be banned from ever appearing on any screen, anywhere, ever again. Holmes  strains so hard to be her "character", I was afraid she was going to have a stroke. And Hillary Swank makes the unbelievably poor decision to try and imitate Clint Eastwood with her performance as an FBI agent. I am not kidding, she looks like a third-rate Rich Little trying to impersonate Clint, with everything from her voice to her posture mimicking the iconic tough guy. Not surprisingly, it comes off as amateurish, unreal and frankly embarrassing. 

What made the Ocean's Eleven films successful were that they were efficiently made, beautifully shot, and they allowed the audience to feel like they were hanging out with the biggest movie stars in the world. Men got to project themselves onto George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and company, while women got to project themselves with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and company. At their core though, what the Ocean's films really did, was give the celebrity worshipping audience an opportunity to watch good looking famous people have more fun than they ever would, at a party they could watch but weren't invited to enter. 

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Why Logan Lucky fails is that, while efficiently, but certainly not exquisitely, made, it gives the audience an opportunity to hang out with people with whom they would never choose to be around. It gives male audience members no one to project themselves onto, and gives female audience members no one to swoon over. At Logan Lucky's most basic level, it is an utter failure. The blame for that rests on Steven Soderbergh, and on screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, who may or may not be a real person, and may be a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself. I can see why Soderbergh would want to hide behind a fake name for churning out the piece of excrement that is this script. 

In the final analysis, unlike say Detroit, which was an awful movie about an important topic, Logan Lucky is a meaningless movie about nothing, so it being as dreadful as it is didn't make me angry, it just made me bored. I had no interest in anyone or anything in this movie. I was daydreaming and even considered leaving, but I figured, if nothing else, I'd sit in the air condition and enjoy the full two hours of cool darkness. That said, even if you are desperately attempting to avoid sun stroke or dehydration, don't do it by sitting through Logan Lucky. I recommend you embrace your heat induced hallucinations rather than waste your time and money sitting through this dead on arrival piece of detritus. And even if you stumble across it for free on tv, skip it, life is too short to spend two hours of it watching something as inconsequential and moribund as Steven Soderbergh's latest, and hopefully final, film.
 

©2017

Mayweather, McGregor and the Heart of Darkness

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Estimated Reading Time : 6 minutes 32 seconds

Many moons ago, in my mis-spent youth as a tortured Catholic high school student, I had to do a book report on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for my English class. I was a deplorable student, ranked last in my class, so having to get up in front of everyone to give an oral report on a book I didn't want to read was something that filled me with dread. 

Luckily for me I discovered that my favorite movie at the time, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, was loosely based on Conrad's novel. This gave me an in with the book and actually inspired me to read it, which was a big deal for me at the time as I almost never read books. I ended up really loving Heart of Darkness, and was so glad that Apocalypse Now was my rough guide to the book. 

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As I prepared for my oral report, the newspaper (Unlike books, I did read the newspaper, well…at least the sports section) was filled with stories on the build up to a prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. I had been a huge boxing fan since I was a little kid, watching fights on Saturday and Sunday when the regular networks would air them. It was a golden age of boxing back then, at least for the lighter weight classes, and as I devoured the fights of some of the greats, Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran, Argeullo, Pryor, Mancini etc., I developed an appreciation not only for the art of boxing, but for it's mythic and archetypal power. 

The mythic and archetypal power of boxing was on full display in the Leonard - Hagler match up. Hagler was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world and considered one of the baddest men on the planet. Leonard, the golden boy, was an Olympic gold medal winner and a multiple time welterweight champion and was coming off a three year retirement in part due to an eye injury.

Hagler and Leonard were very different fighters and people. Hagler was an ominous and foreboding, no nonsense fighter with a shaved head and perpetual scowl, whereas Leonard was an athletic, flashy, handsome, charming, and camera friendly fighter who said and did all the right things. 

I was a Leonard fan, I loved the way he fought and how he carried himself. To me, Hagler was overrated, having fought in a weak weight class (middleweight) and, unlike Leonard, never having the courage to step out of his comfort zone to find top flight talent in other divisions to fight. I lived in Boston at the time of the fight and Hagler was from Brockton, Mass. so I was surrounded by Hagler fans, and as anyone can tell you, there are no more obnoxious fans than Boston sports fans, and I was mocked continuously for my support of Leonard.

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In the lead up to the fight, there were stories in the paper about how awful Leonard looked in his training camp. He looked off, and old and out of shape. He got knocked down repeatedly in sparring sessions and Boston sportswriters openly worried that Hagler may really hurt Leonard, so much so that they worried for his life. I didn't believe those stories, I had a hunch that Leonard was working an angle and was getting into Hagler's mind, but I did find that  "his life may be in danger" narrative intriguing. The idea that Ray Leonard was going into the ring to literally (and mythically) fight for his life against this superior, seemingly invincible opponent, one that is symbolic of his psychological shadow, made me think of Heart of Darkness and its protagonist Charles Marlow who goes up the river deep into Africa to face Kurtz, who embodies Marlow's, and mankind's, shadow.

So now that I had not only my favorite movie, Apocalypse Now, but my favorite fighter, Ray Leonard, to draw on for inspiration, I wrote up my book report and prepared for my oral presentation. To me the hook was pretty simple, that the story of Heart of Darkness was not some remote thing to look back upon, but was integral in people's lives today, in the here and now. We are all Marlow/Willard/Leonard who must make the journey up the river or into the ring to face our shadow.

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The Leonard - Hagler fight was on a Saturday night, I gave my presentation the following Monday morning. I was beaming because I had been right in my prediction of a Leonard victory, with Sugar Ray winning a "marvelous"  12 round split decision, and my classmates were fuming and pretty angry about it. As I gave my presentation I felt their wrath as they laughed at me and mocked me unmercifully. To be fair, as I said, I was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so whenever I did anything in school it was expected that people would laugh at me, but still, this time it really stung because I was so invested. As I finished my report I still felt pretty good about what I had written, I thought it was easily the best thing I had ever done, and I was proud of the amount of work I had put into it and the fact that I had the insight to  "crack the code" of Heart of Darkness and make it relevant even to the lives of the dopey kids in my class. While my classmates mocked me, I thought my teacher would see my genius, or least be appreciative. 

After I finished, my teacher, a middle aged crone of a woman whose name I thankfully cannot remember (my psyche no doubt protecting me), came up and sneered to the entire class that she couldn't believe I brought up "that stupid fight" and how "maybe I should stop watching movies and read a book" for once in my life. I was crestfallen, but as is my nature, I was not made mournful by my teacher's rather mean-spirited criticism, instead I let the rage inside of me grow and pulsate to such a degree that, like my mythical Irish forefather Cuchulainn, I must've been burning a bright fiery red that no cold sea could douse.

The teacher, in all of her academic wisdom, gave me a "D" for my paper, no doubt deciding giving me an "F" may very well result in a life-threatening incident that just wasn't worth the risk. What made me the most angry about this situation was not my grade, or the teacher's insults or my fellow students belittling laughter, what bothered me was that I had written a piece that was actually quite brilliant, if I do say so myself, and well beyond my teacher's limited intellect and mind. She thought I was a moron, and maybe rightfully so, but the truth was that she didn't understand my report not because I was a fool but because I was speaking in a language, that of myth and archetype, of which she was illiterate. Despite a "D" being vengefully written in red ink on my paper, if I had the sense to have kept it, it would be something that I am sure I would be proud to this day.  

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You may be asking yourself, "what the hell does your 'stupid' book report and the Leonard -Hagler fight have to do with anything?" Great question. What it has to do with is that this Saturday night Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor square off in a boxing match in Las Vegas, and the build up to this fight has reminded me of that time back in 1986 in the lead up to the Leaonard - Hagler fight. While I think  Mayweather - McGregor is a cynical money grab, so much so that I, a big fight fan, will not be watching it, preferring to save my hard earned money for the much more worthy Canelo Alvarez - Gennady Golovkin bout next month, that doesn't mean that Saturday night's fight has no mythic value at all, it does, you just have to look really hard for it.

In the fight on Saturday, we have a great fighter, Floyd Mayweather, who is 49-0 as a boxer and is considered one of the best, if not the best, boxer of his era, taking on Conor McGregor, a man who has never boxed professionally and is treated by boxing professionals like the novice that he is. McGregor is an overwhelming underdog, and every boxing expert is picking Mayweather to destroy him, much like Hagler was the big favorite in 1986 and Leonard the afterthought.

McGregor has never boxed before but he is no joke as a fighter, for he has made a name for himself fighting and winning titles in Mixed Martial Arts with the UFC. McGregor is a champion MMA fighter, and if this fight were in an octagon or in the street, Conor would beat the living hell out of Floyd in no time at all, but sadly for McGregor, this fight is in a boxing ring.  

All of that said…there is one thing intriguing about this fight. Mayweather is such a heavy favorite, and deservedly so, that the narrative surrounding the fight has a familiar ring to it. There is talk of McGregor being in danger of getting really hurt, of how he has zero chance to win and how this is all a sideshow and Mayweather is unbeatable. Sound familiar? To me, it sounds exactly like the build up to the Leonard - Hagler fight. Although, to be fair, the similarities between Leonard and McGergor are nonexistent, as Leonard was one of the most accomplished boxers of his time before squaring off with Hagler, but the mythic narrative being set up for Mayweather - McGregor is somewhat reminiscent of Leonard - Hagler.

The similarities between Mayweather - McGregor and Hagler - Leonard strain and crumble under closer inspection, but there is another competition that has a mythic narrative around it that is eerily reminiscent of the Mayweather - McGregor fight...the presidential election last November between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

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One of the things this fight and the election have in common is that there is no hero, as both the participants, Mayweather and McGregor, are pretty loathsome individuals, just like Hillary and Trump. This is not one of those classic, Ali-Foreman, good vs evil type of stories, so much as it is an evil versus evil story. If the villain from Rocky III, Clubber Lang, and a cross between the villain in Rocky IV Ivan Drago and Rocky V villain Tommy Gunn fought, then this would be its equivalent. The loud mouthed, woman beating, money hungry Mayweather fighting the loud mouthed, untested, money hungry McGregor is not exactly a fight that will pique the archetypal impulse in the collective.

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Of course, somewhat like the election with its gender battle, with this fight there is the race factor as Mayweather is Black and McGregor White. But again, while a Black man fighting a White man is usually good for tapping into mankind's uglier instincts, in this case there is no "good guy" to cling to on either side so it is much less compelling as a racial drama then say, the Jack Johnson - Jim Jeffries "Great White Hope" fight in 1910, or even the Larry Holmes - Gerry Cooney "Great White Hope" fight in 1982. As we learned in the Clinton-Trump election, naked appeals to gender, or in the case of this fight, race, just don't cut it when both combatants are so terribly unlikable. 

And finally, this fight is similar to the election because one of the participants is a neophyte. McGregor has never boxed professionally just like Donald Trump had never run for elected office prior to running for president. McGregor and Trump's inexperience led experts to conclude that for their opponents, the consensus establishment picks Hillary and Mayweather, victory was inevitable. Well, in Hillary's case her victory certainly was inevitable, until it wasn't.

Every boxing expert I have read, and every person I have talked to, believe Mayweather will win easily. On paper he certainly should have an easy go of it on Saturday. Mayweather is as smooth, skilled and precise a fighter as we have seen in this generation. His technical proficiency is beyond question. He most definitely SHOULD win easily. But as Hillary Clinton learned last November, SHOULD ain't got nothing to do with it.

Conor McGregor has a tiny thing going for him heading into this bout…he is the unknown. No one knows if he can actually box, or if he can even withstand a single round with Mayweather, who it is doubtful has the ability to knock him out, but most certainly does have the ability to carve him up and humiliate him.

McGregor also has one other thing going for him, he has nothing to lose. If he loses this fight, and even if he is embarrassed, he just collects his money, says "hey, I'm not a boxer, but I am rich" and goes back to MMA. Floyd on the other hand, simply cannot lose. If Floyd loses, his ego and self-image are destroyed, his Self is annihilated. Floyd cannot even contemplate losing this fight, it is too great a fear for him to ever touch upon it. In this match-up, much like Hillary in the election, Floyd is the psychologically brittle one, and this is why I think the fight will not go the way the experts think it will.

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My years of watching, studying and training in boxing and martial arts tell me that Floyd Mayweather should trounce Conor McGregor…BUT…there is something in the air, the same thing that was in the air on April 6, 1987 when Leonard beat Hagler, and in the air in February of 1990 when Buster Douglas beat Iron Mike Tyson, and when in June of 2016 Brexit stunned the UK and last November when Trump shocked the world.  The impossible is now possible, anything can happen, just last year the Cubs won the World Series and the Patriots came back from the largest defect in Super Bowl history (down 25 points in the 3rd quarter) to win the Super Bowl. In our current time, up is down, left is right, Donald J.Trump is president and cats and dogs are living together. Crazy things are happening and I think some crazy things are going to happen Saturday night in Las Vegas (besides the usual crazy things that happen in Las Vegas).

In the turbulent age in which we live, we must expect the unexpected, which is why I think Conor McGregor wins the fight Saturday night. I think that either Conor McGregor knocks Floyd Mayweather out in the most stunning fashion imaginable, or the fight goes all 12 rounds and Mayweather wins on points. But even if Mayweather gets the decision, it will be Conor McGregor who will have "won" the fight just by going the distance. 

God knows Conor McGregor is no Ray Leonard, nor is he Charles Marlow or Captain Willard, but just like Floyd Mayweather he is going into the heart of darkness Saturday night, and while both men will face their shadows, I think Mayweather, like Hillary Clinton, is psychologically unprepared to come face to face with the deepest and darkest fear that dwells within him. McGregor will overcome his shadow, and Mayweather, and teach us once again that we know nothing, especially those of us who consider ourselves experts. 

I know, I know, it's crazy for me to pick the underdog McGregor against such overwhelming odds, but just like Conor McGregor, I have absolutely nothing to lose (except the mortgage payment and maybe getting a "D" on this blog post), which is the exactly why he will win. 

UPDATE : I was wrong.

GRADE : D-

©2017

 

The Tragedy of Charlottesville and the Age of Identity

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Estimated Reading Time : 8 minutes 13 seconds

I attempted to write about the whole Charlottesville situation last week but found I just didn't have the heart to do it. As I am sure it does for others, the entire episode depresses me no end. My depression does not come from the knowledge that there are neo-Nazi's and racists in America, I've known that for a long time. What has depressed me so much was that I was forewarning about this exact type of conflagration for some time and no one heeded my alarm and now a young woman, Heather Heyer, is dead. 

My depression has only gotten worse since the murder Saturday, August 12, because of the strategically inept, emotionally driven, intellectually vacuous and politically self-defeating response to it by those on the left and in the media. 

Even though I know it is a fruitless endeavor, I will once again throw out some thoughts the I hope people will consider if they really, truly want to succeed in overcoming the darker aspects of American politics and culture. Do I expect anyone to listen to me or heed my warnings? Of course not, but goodness knows that has never stopped me before. 

PUNCHING NAZIS AND PANDORA'S BOX

Let's start at the beginning, I have written more articles than I care to remember about the subject of violent political language leading to political violence . I have written ad nauseam about how when you give yourself the right to punch Nazi's because they are terrible people, you open a Pandora's Box of violence and self-aggrandizing righteousness that can never be shut and will ultimately be used against you. 

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For one example, at the end of May I wrote a piece titled, Greg Gianforte, Punching Nazi's and the Absence of Moral Authority where I lay out the case that giving yourself permission to punch bad guys only gives the bad guys permission to punch you back, or to preemptively punch you first. Punching Nazi's may feel like a fun thing to do, but the problem with punching Nazi's is that they will definitely punch back, and last Saturday they punched back with a Dodge Charger killing Heather Heyer and wounding dozens. It is easy for liberals to scream about there being "no moral equivalency" between the Nazi's and Antifa, but that doesn't mean that Antifa, liberals and the left don't bear some responsibility for the conditions which led to Ms. Heyer's death. Here are some other examples of where I made the same argument and warned against violent language leading to violence. Link, Link, Link, Link.

THERAPEUTIC VS. STRATEGIC

This past week the New York Times ran an interesting piece by Moises Velasquez-Manoff about how to counter Nazi protestors and, not the least bit surprising to me since I've been saying this all along, the best way to do so is to not confront them physically. Confrontation is oxygen to neo-Nazi's, when you attack them you are giving teeth to their tiger. This quote from the Times piece echoes what I have been saying non-stop on the subject.  

I would want to punch a Nazi in the nose, too,” Maria Stephan, a program director at the United States Institute of Peace, told me. “But there’s a difference between a therapeutic and strategic response.” The problem, she said, is that violence is simply bad strategy."

As everyone's favorite Nazi, Hans Landa, would say…"That's a BINGO!!"

"Violence is bad strategy". I have said that over and over and over again but to no avail. And still in the wake of Charlottesville, the left is doubling down on this strategy and holding up Antifa as a noble resistance movement. It isn't, it is a collection of the self-indulgent having tantrums for personal reasons wrapped in the political.

More from the Times...

"Violence directed at white nationalists only fuels their narrative of victimhood — of a hounded, soon-to-be-minority who can’t exercise their rights to free speech without getting pummeled. It also probably helps them recruit. And more broadly, if violence against minorities is what you find repugnant in neo-Nazi rhetoric, then “you are using the very force you’re trying to overcome,” Michael Nagler, the founder of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the University of California, Berkeley, told me."

Another BINGO!! Mr. Nagler is correct, but the majority of the left and the media are in a bizarre emotionalist hysteria at the moment where reason and self-reflection are anathema. If those resisting Trump and the neo-Nazi's truly want to succeed in their endeavor, they would step back from their emotionalism and embrace a calm, cool and calculating strategic approach to do so.

More from the Times...

"Most important perhaps, violence is just not as effective as nonviolence. In their 2011 book, “Why Civil Resistance Works,” Dr. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth examined how struggles are won. They found that in over 320 conflicts between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent resistance was more than twice as effective as violent resistance in achieving change. And nonviolent struggles were resolved much sooner than violent ones.

The main reason, Dr. Stephan explained to me, was that nonviolent struggles attracted more allies more quickly. Violent struggles, on the other hand, often repelled people and dragged on for years.

The broader issue, in her view, is this: Why do oppressive regimes and movements invest so much in fomenting violence? (Think of our president and his talent for dividing the country and generating chaos.) Because violence and discord help their cause. So why would you, she asks, “do what the oppressor wants you to do?

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A triple BINGO!! What frustrates me no end is that people on the left are so hysterical that they never answer the most important question of all…why are you acting emotionally and violently (including language) when that is exactly what your oppressor (Trump et al) wants you to do? The left may be too lost in their echo chamber to realize this, but Trump won Charlottesville and the aftermath. Polling from NPR/PBS clearly shows this. And Pelosi and the democrats overreach regarding the taking down of confederate statues is unpopular with a majority of Americans and Black Americans (44% -40% think confederate statues should remain), and will only empower Trump and weaken them further. And the greater problem of liberal overreach is that there has already been vandalism of and calls for removal of statues that aren't confederate, with examples being Joan of Arc, St. Junipero Serra and Christopher Columbus. As a friend of mine, an independent voter in a blue state, said to me the other day, "I hate to say it because he is such a disgusting person, but Trump is right about the statues." "Regular" people can be repulsed by neo-Nazi's and still not want statues to be removed, this nuance is lost on democrats and it is a trap they should avoid.

Regardless of statues, the larger problem is that we live in a culture, and the politics of both the left and right are reflective of this, that demands instant self-gratification. As the Times piece points out, and as I have been saying for ages, punching Nazi's may be therapeutically useful in the moment, but ultimately it is strategically asinine and self-defeating. Many on the left do not care about the long term political effects of this self-sabotaging strategy, only that it assuages their personal psychological discomfort in the moment. 

IS THERE ANY POINT TO PROTESTING?

The New Yorker ran a piece by Nathan Heller on August 21, 2017 titled "Is There Any Point To Protesting?"  that discussed the efficacy of protests. The piece pointed out that most protests simply don't work. For instance in the lead up to the Iraq war millions of Americans, myself included, marched and protested against the war, but the war happened anyway. The piece points out that the effective protests are the ones born of a strong leadership structure and precise strategic and tactical goals and objectives. The civil rights protests led by Martin Luther King, Jr. being the prime examples. 

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Besides the strategic, tactical and moral genius of King, the civil rights movement also displayed what the Times piece, and I, advocate, non-violence. Civil rights protestors maintained their dignity and their righteousness by exposing the moral and ethical deviancy of their opponents. What shocked America, and white America in particular, into siding with the civil rights protestors was that the chaos, anger and violence were only emanating from those fighting for discrimination and segregation. The moral strength of the civil rights activists was what deeply moved white Americans, who chose King's spiritual strength against the physical strength wrapped in moral weakness of the segregationists.

TARGETING THE ACLU AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT

The current strategic idiocy of the left is not confined to just the failure to embrace non-violence. In the wake of Charlottesville, liberals have decided to attack the ACLU. The ACLU is a crucial bulwark for the left in the battle against Trump, but liberals want to hold them accountable for daring to fight for the 1st amendment right of Nazi's to rally and march. This is the most self-defeating approach imaginable for the liberals. If liberals want to succeed, they better start understanding that the constitution is the only way they will be able to defeat Trump and Trumpism. This is something I wrote about immediately after Trump's election in my strategic guide to defeating him, but I was ignored then too. I promise you that the left will come to rue the day they failed to embrace the first amendment unabashedly because their enemies will use that as a weapon against them. 

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Speaking of which, I saw the founder of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors, on television last week and she was saying that "hate speech is not protected by the first amendment." You know who would really be shocked to hear that? The founding fathers who wrote the constitution. Of course hate speech is protected by the first amendment, and Ms. Cullors should be very happy about that. Yes, it allows Nazi's to march, but is also allows Black Lives Matter to march. What Ms. Cullors and many on the left fail to understand is that if you water down the 1st amendment, or any other constitutional rights, those weakened rights will be used as a weapon to destroy you. Lots of people out there think what Black Lives Matter advocates is hate speech, which means Black Lives Matter needs the first amendment and the ACLU in order to exist, they would be wise to act accordingly. I seriously doubt they will. 

HATING HATE AND THE HATERS WHO HATE

Which brings us to the word "hate". I've heard the word hate a lot these last few weeks, and I have to say that "hate" is a losing battle for liberals as well. Any protest that wants to be successful need not only be non-violent, it desperately needs to have a very clear objective. The civil rights protests of the 50's and 60's had an overarching objective of civil rights for Black Americans, and specific objectives to each locality, for instance the ending of segregation on buses in Montgomery etc.  The current protests have no clear cut objective. What they say they are against is "hate". They want to stamp out "hate", and carry signs saying "No hate!!". Well, the bad news is that hate is an entirely natural human condition. It has been around ever since we've had sentient beings on this planet, and it will be around when the last man breathes his final breath. You cannot stamp out hate anymore than you can stamp out love, and trying to do so is a fools errand of Quixotic proportions.  

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Targeting hate sounds like something a 1st grader would wish for, right after Legos and action figures. Hate is a state of mind that you cannot police because people will just bury it in their psychological closet when in mixed company. In that psychological closet, hate doesn't diminish, it grows in strength and power so that when it does rear its head it will have grown into a very potent force indeed. On the other hand, if people are "allowed to hate" in thought, but not allowed to discriminate in action, then you are on the path to find that delicate balance where disparate people can live side by side without killing each other in a democracy. So being specifically against "discrimination" or "segregation" or whatever specific goal you choose, as opposed to against an amorphous "hate", is the way to go if you want to politically succeed in the long run. 

And just like fighting against the first amendment, fighting against "hate" will easily be used as a weapon against those trying to stamp it out. For instance, people on the left "hate" Nazi's, or "hate" Trump, so they themselves "hate" and feel comfortable doing so. You see, decrying hate is a loser's game because everyone hates something. Just because you think you hate the right things doesn't mean your hate is righteous, only that you're a hypocrite for pointing out other people's hate and being blind to your own.  

NOT-SEEING THE NEO-NOT-SEES

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My friend, the inimitable Jungian Falconer, often talks to me about the psychology of Nazi's and the Nazi impulse within us all, but he makes the point that "Nazi" is really "Not-See", meaning the Nazi/Not-See does NOT SEE the humanity of the other. Obviously white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the like do not see the humanity of those different from them, but maybe not so obviously, those on the left are also guilty of this same bit of Not See-ism. These Not-Sees are not interested in searching for Truth, only in confirmation bias and the warm embrace of the echo chamber.  They adamantly avoid the hard work of  exploring and discovering anything new about the world or themselves, they just want to FEEL good and self-righteous right now.

Not See-ism is ascendant in the world right now. This is just a fact of where we are on the historical cycle/wave. To stop it we don't need marches or "pussy-hats" or righteous indignation, what we need is self-reflection, introspection and the hard work of making ourselves conscious of the demons that dwell and work inside of us all. 

THE RELIGION OF SELF AND THE CHURCH OF IDENTITY POLITICS

On the subject of historical waves, there is one large issue that most seem to be unaware of that plays a vital role in the current clash between Not-See Left and Neanderthal Right, that issue is religion. In the long arc of history, the religions of the world that have held cultural sway for the last two thousand years are in decline and collapse in the west. Just because religion is in decline does not mean that people no longer have a religious impulse. Studies show that humans are hard wired for religion, so what happens when the old religions die? New religions get born. The new religion of our time is The Religion of Self, and one of its most powerful denominations is the Church of Identity Politics. This new Religion of Self and its Church of Identity was born after the Century of the Self where advertising and public relations primed humans to respond to their personal unconscious wants and desires before contemplating community or anyone or anything else.

Identity Politics, of both the left and the right, is personal and psychological and fills an unconscious need for the faithful and feeds the narcissism of our time. On the left the identity politics movement fulfills people's need to feel of worth by valuing them based upon their individual identifying markers…race, sexual orientation, gender etc. On the right the same principle is in practice, with white power and white supremacy being the most malignant forms of right wing identity politics. What both the left and right versions of the Religion of Self and the Church of Identity Politics share is that they are both ruled by the quest for sanctity in the form of Victimhood. Victimhood is held up as the highest marker of value and worth and achievement.

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The religious impulse of the current Identity era is similar to the religious impulse of the Christian era in that it gives its adherents a sense of purpose and meaning. In addition, its doctrine and dogma is based on faith and feelings, not logic and reason, and it is also infused with a heavy dose of intoxicating self-righteousness and the prestige of exclusivity, which gives the faithful a psychological release of powerful psychic and emotional energy through the use of scapegoating, shaming and exiling of those who do not conform to the dogma being preached. This is true of disciples of the Religion of Self and the Church of Identity Politics on both the left and the right.

On the right, the impulse is to brand heretics with everything from RINO, Republicans in Name Only, to Cuckservative, the clever and effective meme that at once eviscerates and emasculates any political opponents who don't adhere to the proper dogma. Shouting "Cuckservative" is to the right as crying "racists/misogynist" is to the left. Two sides of the same coin in the collection plate at the Church of Identity Politics. 

With the democrats, you see a similar thing when the members of the Clinton Cult attack, shame and exile non-compliant leftists by calling them racists and misogynists for daring to disagree with the Identity Dogma which demands people be judged by their race, gender, sexual orientation and position on the victimhood scale and not by the content of their character or their ability. 

Right before the horrors of Charlottesville there was a great example of this dogmatic impulse when centrist democrats wailed about racism from "Bernie Bros" who don't support California Senator Kamala Harris, a Black woman, for president in 2020. The centrist attack was transparently ridiculous, but it was undertaken with all of the fervor of the Inquisition. The blindness revealed by the Clinton Cult regarding Harris and her opponents alleged "racism" is staggering. Calling Bernie Sanders supporters and those who dare to question Kamala Harris "racists and misogynists", means that the multitude of people of color and women who support Bernie Sanders and question Harris are treated as if they are invisible by the centrist democrats, which is exactly what the Clinton Cult claim Sanders supporters do to women and minorities. Add to that the fact that some of the most effective spokespeople for the progressive ideology that fuels the leftist movement (and Bernie Sanders) today are Tulsi Gabbard and Nina Turner, two powerful women of color, and you can see how Clintonistas have earned the moniker of Hillary Hypocrites.

PRAY FOR YOUR ENEMIES

Speaking of church, the civil rights movement which was so very successful at protest, was grounded in Christianity, which gave it a built in moral authority and common ground with even its most ardent adversaries. As previously stated, the time of Christianity in the west has passed, but none of the new religions, The Religion of Self and the Church of Identity Politics most especially, have been able to fill that moral void or accentuate community through common experience.

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I read an interview last week with the Eagles of Death Metal lead singer Jesse Hughes. To refresh your memory, Hughes and his bandmates survived the horrific Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris back in November of 2015 where 90 people were slaughtered in a concert hall. In the interview, Hughes spoke of how he reached out to Ariana Grande, the young signer whose concert in Manchester, England was targeted by Islamic terrorists in May of this year. Hughes recounted how he has tried to handle the psychological and emotional tumult brought on by his brush with death two years earlier. Hughes advice to Grande was "you've always got to pray for your enemies". I truly believe that and try to practice it, and that means praying not only for Heather Heyer, but for James Fields, the neo-Nazi who killed her, who is desperately in need of solace from  the torment in his lost soul regardless of the heinous atrocity he committed. But I am aware that to advocate for prayer now, in the wake of Charlottesville and in the Identity Age, I would only, at best, be laughed at and ridiculed. And I understand that is because calling for prayer in this day and age is in itself seen to be a divisive act in this time when the Religion of Self reigns supreme.

The reality is that this is the post-Christian western world we live in. The philosophical and psychological container of the old religions cannot hold the New Man, and the old religions have earned the public's disillusionment with corruption and hypocrisy on an epic scale. The collective is currently disoriented because they no longer have a foundational orientation to the old religions, and are struggling to re-orient to a new religion that can adequately contain the New Man in all of his complexity. 

What we need at this time are new versions of Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Thich Naht Hanh, Gandhi and Anthony DeMello, but with no viable new religion with which to re-orient ourselves, civilization is left with underserving religions, like the Religion of Self and the Church of Identity Politics and its sacred Victimhood, which are unable to contain the New Man in his entirety and therefore not fertile ground from which any new great men and women can grow and flourish. Instead, from our disorientation from the old religion and failure of the new religion, we flail about and embrace the false prophets and idols on the left like Black Lives Matter, The Clinton Cult and their emotive neo-liberal cohorts in the media, and on the right like Fox News, the Confederacy, Chris Kyle and Donald J. Trump. 

THE ROUGH BEAST IN WINTER

I wrote last June that a beast was awakened and slouching towards Bethelehem. I wrote last month that winter isn't coming, winter is here. Both of these things have been proved by the events of the last year and last month to be entirely true. There is no way to stop the historical wave we are on that is, like a tsunami, gaining strength and power every moment of the day. Delusional liberals believe removing Trump will stop it. It won't. Fighting against "hate" won't help. Protesting won't help. The dye is cast, the conclusion inevitable. Our only wise course of action now is to accept the inevitable, embrace our disorientation, and prepare for impact and the aftermath of the crash. 

This is the world we have built, these are the politics we deserve. If we cannot pray at all, never mind pray for our enemy, we are no better than our enemy, and we will be engulfed by the same flames that devour him. Our blindness is no excuse, our ignorance is no excuse, our arrogance is no excuse. We deserve Trump, for he is a mirror reflection of us and our narcissism, intellectual vacuity, self-defeating strategies and crumbling empire. The darkness is upon us, all of us, and until we realize that, we are doomed to remain without light. Know this, things are going to get much, much worse, before they get any better.

©2017

Colossal Warning on Korea

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****WARNING - THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM COLOSSAL!! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 12 seconds

The other night a young lady friend of mine, the esteemed Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf, wanted to "spend some time" with me, and she decided that the best course of action was for the two of us to watch a movie together. Ever the gentleman, I accepted her invitation and added that she should pick the entertainment for the evening. The Lady chose Colossal, the off-beat art house movie starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. I had already seen Colossal back in April when it was first released, but when a vivacious, pretty, young lady wants something, I am in the practice of always obliging, so we sat down on the couch at a respectable distance from one another and watched Colossal. 

The first time I saw the film I enjoyed it a great deal, so I was more than happy to watch it again. Colossal isn't a perfect movie, but it is definitely an original and unique work of art. Both Hathaway and Sudeikis turn in solid performances and writer/director Nacho Vigalando was always a step ahead of me with his storytelling. 

The reason I mention Colossal now, after my second viewing, is that when I watched it this time I watched it through the prism of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula between the U.S. and North Korea. Watching the film as potential prophesy made the movie even more compelling to me the second time around, although it also made it slightly less entertaining. My Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory©®™ uses, among many other things, the myths and archetypes of films as a trend analysis and prediction tool, so I am very conscious of movies as a means to reading tea leaves. That said, Colossal has not, at least not yet, reached certain artistic and popular benchmarks demanded by the Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory©®™ to be considered an "Indicator" film. What that means is that the film is unlikely to be of high value as a trend analysis or predictive tool, but to be clear, unlikely to be of high value doesn't mean it has zero value, which is maybe why I was unsettled by what I observed hiding in plain sight in the film and how it relates to our world at the moment.

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The similarities between the Colossal and the current Korean situation are pretty fascinating. Let us start with the players. The film's lead character Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway, is a psychologically wounded, self-destructive narcissist New Yorker in a state of perpetual adolescence. When Gloria gets mugged by her unconscious (in her case by getting really drunk), a giant monster, the manifestation of her psychological wound, appears in Seoul, South Korea and starts demolishing the city. 

In regards to our current Korean crisis, does the description of Gloria as a "psychologically wounded, self-destructive narcissist New Yorker in a state of perpetual adolescence" sound like anybody else we know? It seems relatively obvious to me that Gloria is a much prettier, ultimately more self-aware version of Donald Trump. 

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The main male character is Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis, who is a psychologically wounded, love starved, desperate, self-destructive, at first passive-aggressive and then aggressive-aggressive, control freak with some extra spicy misogyny thrown into the mix. To give you a glimpse of Oscar's darker impulses, in a pique of jealousy and anger he sets off a gigantic firework in the bar that he owns and operates, which is a family owned business he inherited, which results in setting the place ablaze, all just to prove to Gloria and her ex-boyfriend how Oscar is the one in power and complete control. Similarly to Gloria, Oscar also comes to discover that his psychological wound manifests itself in Seoul leaving death and destruction in its wake, but unlike Gloria whose demon takes the shape of a monster - a living organism with feelings (albeit unconscious ones), Oscar's demon takes the shape of a robot, symbolizing his total lack of connection with any emotional self.

To me, Oscar sounds an awful lot like Kim Jong-un, the "psychologically wounded, love starved, desperate, self-destructive, at first passive aggressive then aggressive aggressive, control freak" leader of North Korea who "inherited the family run business" of leadership of his country and who seems very capable of igniting a "gigantic firework" that lights the family business on fire.

Watching Colossal as primer for a potential Korean conflict was a bit unnerving, which is the main reason why I found it less entertaining the second time around. To me, it is entirely believable that the two stunted children grown large, Trump and Kim Jong-Un, would use the people of Seoul as their playthings and ultimately sacrifice them at the altar of their egos and personal psychological deficiencies and wounds.

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If it meant proving a point about how powerful and virile they both are, I have no doubt that these impotent fools would gladly fire some phallic missiles at one another. The brunt of the damage of any conflagration on the Korean peninsula would fall on the city of Seoul, where 25 million people live in the crosshairs of North Korean artillery. Most power-hungry people who become presidents and leaders of nations are little more than sociopaths if not outright psychopaths, but Trump and Kim seem beyond the pale of even the ordinary madmen who rule supreme on this earth. Both of them appear to me to be craven enough to not even consider the fate of the people in Seoul or anywhere else in the world if their fragile psyches and delicate masculinity were on the line. Just like Gloria and Oscar, Trump and Kim only care about themselves and their own insatiable and relentless wants and needs.

As I mentioned in my original review, the fact that Gloria's monster appears in Seoul, as opposed to Tokyo or Beijing, is no coincidence. Seoul, or more accurately, SOUL, is the battleground where Gloria must reclaim her Self and heal her psychological wounds. If she fails in the task of psychological evolution and integration, then Seoul/her soul, will be destroyed. The same is true of Trump, that if he is unable to restrain his most base desires, which for him are to gain power and control and to avoid embarrassment and humiliation, then Seoul will be forced to pay the heavy price that his ego demands. 

The same is true of Kim, but in a slightly different way. Kim's life is on the line in any resurgence of Korean hostilities. Kim's self-preservation instinct is currently all that is keeping the entire Korean peninsula from armageddon.  For the narcissist, the survival instinct is very strong, as the need for love and approval can be a powerful fuel to get them through life. But as strong as the survival instinct is for the narcissist, there can be a turning point, a sort of emotional/psychological event horizon, beyond which there is no turning back. The narcissist will not only do anything for love and control, but for spite…and Kim could certainly get to the point in the Korean situation where he simply must act in order to maintain his delusion of self-worth and identity, which will have dire consequences for his people, the people of South Korea, and the U.S. military men and women serving in the area. 

In the end of Colossal, Gloria gets sober, thus giving her control, not over others, but over herself and her unconscious, which frees her to do the hard work of self-discovery and self-healing that she desperately needs in order to evolve beyond her childhood trauma and into adulthood. Gloria saves Seoul and defeats Oscar by putting herself directly in harms way and taking responsibility for her life and her choices. Obviously, this is where the Gloria-Trump comparisons come to a screeching halt. Trump, the 71 year old man-child, is not going to change now, and so the people of Seoul will have to live on the razors edge of his erratic psyche until he is no longer in office. 

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There is a line in Colossal where Gloria says to Oscar, "you've lost your mind…you know that, don't you?", to which Oscar replies, "The important thing now is that you don't lose yours". Kim Jong-Un and his father and grandfather, have always been described as madmen by their adversaries here in America. To be fair, the U.S. ALWAYS describes their enemies as crazy, so that epithet isn't unique to the ruling family of North Korea. That said, for the first time in my lifetime, it appears that America has a true-blue lunatic of their own leading our nation in Donald Trump. So in the near future we may be dealing with an equation in which Kim Jong-Un has potentially "lost his mind" and we are forced to rely on Donald Trump "not losing his" mind. If that becomes the case then we are in some very deep shit. 

In the final analysis, Colossal is a unique film worth seeing that I hope is just a nice piece of original entertainment and not a doomsday prophecy. Although, if I am being honest, I have to admit I have a sinking feeling that in the long run, Colossal will end up being much too prophetic for my comfort. The sad truth is, when two men with twisted souls like Trump and Kim square off, we all might end up losing our Seoul. 

©2017

 

 

Eternal Darkness of the Artist's Mind

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Estimated Reading Time : 4 minutes 03 seconds

A friend of mine, the inimitable Johnny Steamroller, sent me this short, six minute documentary about Jim Carrey today. I was hesitant to watch it because I figured, how interesting could a Jim Carrey documentary be, right? But after some hemming and hawing, I relented and watched. I was very glad that I did. I highly recommend you watch it now…here it is (again it is only 6 minutes long).

I found this brief glimpse into Carrey's mind and soul to be stunningly insightful, profound and deeply moving. What struck me most about the film was that I was unable to specifically pin point exactly why I felt the way I did about it. Maybe it was discovering that even though Jim Carrey and I are very different people living very different lives, we share a great deal in common, so much so that I would say we are kindred spirits nearly identical in our essence. Or maybe I just related to Carrey's desperate yearning to grasp anything tangible in the blinding hurricane that is life. 

Upon further reflection I have come to wonder if the film resonated so much with me because Carrey and I share a similar affliction and suffer from the accompanying symptoms of that affliction, namely a desolation of spirit and isolation of heart. From that desolation and isolation comes the quest for…something…be it Truth or meaning or purpose, to be a salve for the existential despair and discomfort. 

We do not get to choose the cross we will bear in life, the cruel twins of fate and destiny do that for us. Most would say that Jim Carrey's cross is a pretty sweet one to have, but when it comes to suffering, the cross on the other fellows back always seems lighter. Jim Carrey is a millionaire and very successful, but his humanity is just as delicate and fragile as the rest of us. Unlike a child born in Yemen or Sudan, Jim Carrey is not in danger of starving to death, but that doesn't mean he doesn't suffer from a form of hunger that could consume him if not satiated.

I realize this post is a bit…unfocused…but that might be the point of it. A lack of rigid clarity and coherence is the only way to find the esoteric sweet spot where the world recedes, the veil thins and the Truth enters. It is in this no man's land where illusions fade away and cracks in reality reveal things as they truly are. In this in-between state where shamans pass between the worlds with ease and artists, poets and prophets sojourn, if you keep still you are able to hear the trees conversing with one another in the midst of a raging blizzard, or see Deer materialize out of the hazy dusk air to welcome you to their secret haven, or receive messages from Hawk, unseen by others, who brings you greetings and messages from A, or THE, Great Spirit. Like trying to grasp water, holding onto this sweet spot too tightly results in it slipping quickly through your fingers. 

The artist, poet or prophet is just like the rest of us, a drowning man lost and doomed in the middle of an endless ocean, but the artist, poet and prophet has the wisdom to not waste time and energy swimming for a distant and entirely unattainable shore, but rather he repeatedly dives beneath the tumultuous seas to catch the briefest of glimpses of where he is destined to spend eternity. When the artist, poet and prophet surfaces from the deep gasping for air, he shouts out what he has observed fathoms below the surface, these cries are his art, his poetry and his prophecy, hopefully heard by some other drowning fool frantically swimming for the horizon. Maybe that lost ill-fated soul, upon hearing the penetrative howl of the artist, poet and prophet will momentarily feel slightly less alone on his hopeless scramble for survival.

It is in these icy depths of his soon to be watery grave, that the artist, poet and prophet discovers that it is, in fact, HE who is the artwork, a masterpiece of complex simplicity from an unknown, virtuoso master artist. The artist, poet and prophet does not come to understand this revelation, he comes to remember it, as this knowledge was at his fingertips all along but consciously just out of his reach. Only in the depths of the unconscious can the artist discover what at once seems so foreign yet so familiar. It is in these same dark depths of his quiet sea that the artist, poet and prophet overcomes his fear of spiritual death, and ultimately becomes immortal by returning to the mystery from hence he came. 

©2017