"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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

Transit: A Review

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

My Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT/SKIP IT - Cinephiles should definitely check out this meditation on fascism, but be forewarned, this is a very “foreign” film so those not accustomed to such unconventional storytelling might want to skip it.

Language: German and French with English subtitles

Transit, written and directed by Christian Petzold and based upon Anna Segher’s 1942 novel of the same name, is set in modern times and follows the journey of Georg, a German trying to escape Fascists as their totalitarian reach stretches out of the Fatherland and across France. The film stars Franz Rogowski as Georg, with supporting turns from Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Barbara Auer, Maryam Zaree and Ronald Kukulies.

Transit is a fascinating and politically prophetic and potent film that masterfully creates the visceral experience of modern world where fascism reigns supreme. The film is based upon Anna Segher’s novel about the Holocaust, but in its more modern setting it is equally chilling. The suffocating sense of impending and unstoppable doom that permeates this movie makes setting this story in modern times all the more chilling because it seems so effortlessly believable. The archetypal energy currently on the rise across the globe (and whether we want to acknowledge it or not, in our own hearts) is that of the fascist, and in the long shadow of the fascist, fear, isolation and resignation grow like poison mushrooms. Transit tells the story of those under the boot of fascism and the attempt to balance primal instincts to survive against the spiritual need for human connection and love.

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Director Christian Petzold’s strength in this film is in making fascism feel tangible and palpable. The ominous sense of danger that Petzold conveys in this film, be it with a simple siren, screeching tires, a women on a street corner pointing or refugees refusing to look each other in the eye, is electric.

Petzold’s minimalism in respect to creating this menace is magnificent. By not physically transforming the world in which we live, but simply distorting our perception of it, Petzold makes the fascist threat feel immediate, intimate and personalized.

On one level, Transit reminded me of Michelangelo Antonioni’s intriguing film The Passenger (1975), in that it deals with a man stealing the identity of a dead man and having to face the repercussions of that act. In Transit, Georg assumes the identity of a dead writer in order to escape Paris as it comes under the perilous grip of the fascists.

Georg’s escape out of Paris leads him on a odyssey that reveals his external desperation to survive and his internal yearning to maintain humanity at all costs. The fascist menace forces Georg to fight this battle between his instinct and his humanity, where he must choose what kind of man he is and what kind of life he will lead.

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Transit, which is in French and German with English subtitles, is a decidedly foreign film in that it does not conform to Hollywood conventions. This eschewing of storytelling convention can be somewhat frustrating for the uninitiated or for those not prepared for it, so consider yourself warned. Understand that this film is really about the pressures of living, or trying to live, under the toxic cloud of fascism, and how the existential fear of obliteration at the hands of totalitarians turns people upside down to the point where they behave emotionally and in ways that seem irrational to those on the outside. Seeing the film through this lens will hopefully help make any moments in the film that seem unclear or unrealistic much more palatable.

As for the cast, Franz Rogowski does stellar work as the conflicted Georg. Rogowski is Joaquin Phoenix’s German doppleganger, cleft lip scar included. Rogowski even has the same energy as Phoenix and he carries that burdensome darkness and despair with him through this film like an iron cross on the road to his Golgotha. Rogowski’s intensity is heightened by his silence and stillness, which are filled with a vibrant intentionality that acutely convey his internal struggle.

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The ever luminous Paula Beer (last seen in the Oscar nominated Never Look Away) plays Marie, a mysterious beauty who keeps stumbling into Georg on his journey. Beer is a captivating and dynamic screen presence whose Maria is a compelling cauldron of regret, determination and despondency that never falls into caricature or fails to surprise.

The rest of the cast all do solid work, particularly Barbara Auer as a steely architect turned maid, in creating the atmosphere of maddening, dehumanizing and frantic fear that descends upon those under the thumb of a fascist threat.

In conclusion, Transit is not for everyone as its unconventionality can be at times unsatisfying, but for those who make the leap, they have the chance to be rewarded with a film that isn’t perfect but that is rich in psychological drama and political poignancy. My recommendation is for cinephiles who enjoy foreign film to definitely see Transit in the theatres. For those with less sophisticated film tastes, maybe start by watching Antonioni’s The Passenger, it stars Jack Nicholson and can be pretty challenging but is a good place to dip your toe into the water. If you like that then it is worth giving Transit a shot when it becomes available on Netflix/Amazon or Cable because even if you end up thinking the movie fails as entertainment, you may find that it succeeds as prophecy.

©2019

91st Academy Awards: The 2019 Oscars Prediction Post

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Estimated Reading Time: Just Like the Oscar Ceremony this article will last 4 hours and 38 minutes

As every sentient being on the earth, in the solar system, in the galaxy and in the universe knows, this Sunday night is the biggest night in the history of history. Yes, Oscar night is upon us. Ever since a loathsome but determined little creature crawled out of the primordial ooze, that creature has been making its way to this Sunday night, which will be, after billions of years of evolution, symbolic of the apex in human development. When most impossibly beautiful people gather to congratulate one another for their superiority, be it artistic, moral or both, mankind will officially have made the Kubrickian leap from fighting monkeys to star children.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is my church, movies are my religion and the Oscars my high holy days. I have been fasting and meditating for months to prepare for this most sacred of nights…and to hopefully fit into my gown by Karl Lagerfeld (RIP)!!

This has been an awful year for Hollywood movies and I have to admit that this years Oscars are particularly difficult to predict. Since the “New Academy”, formed in the wake of the ridiculous #OscarsSoWhite controversy three years ago, I have yet to figure out with any confidence or certainty how these new members and the old guard come together to form some sort of consensus. Obviously identity politics, diversity and inclusion are important issues to the new members…but how important? And how much has the old guard either embraced these issues out of solidarity or rejected them out of resistance? The answer of course is…I have no idea.

But will my ignorance stop me from making not just humble predictions but bold and assertive declarations of my Oscar picks? No. No it won’t. As long time readers can attest, not having a clue on a subject has never, ever stopped me from loudly pontificating my less than useful opinion…and that is most definitely true when it comes to the Oscars.

So with that in mind…light some incense, spike the holy water and buckle up because the most holy and most sacred Oscars are here. Like the Israelites in Moses’ absence, we must worship the golden calf of the Oscar statuette, for it may bring us salvation!! But please keep in mind that since the Oscars are a religious holiday…please no wagering.

So here are my picks for the 91st Academy Awards…

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams - Vice : Amy Adams has had a great career garnering 6 Oscar nominations. Adams’ portrayal of Lynne Cheney is the best performance of her stellar career, which is saying a lot.

Marina de Tavira - Roma : I loved Roma…but I have no idea why Marina de Tavira is nominated. Her role is so small and unremarkable that I am entirely baffled as to why she is here.

Regina King - If Beale Street Could Talk : Regina King is a fine actress but If Beale Street Could Talk is not a fine film and her work in it is just as underwhelming as the movie.

Emma Stone - The Favourite : The Favourite is proof that Emma Stone keeps getting better and better with each year. Stone’s manipulative social climber is a finely-tuned, sexy and charismatic performance that is a testament to her skill and talent.

Rachel Weisz - The Favourite : Weisz’s immovable object meeting Stone’s irressistable force makes The Favourite one of my favorites. Weisz’s masterful use of physicality in this role is something that actors should study closely.

Who Should Win - Amy Adams : Amy Adams first scene in Vice is so good as to be delicious and sets the stage for her powerhouse performance. Adams deftly turns Lynne Cheney into a formidable Lady MacBeth that is the straw that stirs the drink of Darth Cheney’s career. A truly great performance from one of the best actresses working in film today.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY : The Academy’s push for diversity clearly gives the edge here to Regina King over Marina de Tavira because for some reason diversity, at least in the eyes of the New Academy, only relates to Black people.

WHO WILL WIN - Regina King : King’s work is strikingly inferior when compared to Adams, Stone and Weisz, but she will walk away with the Oscar due to the Academy’s yearning to be “inclusive” and to quell any charges similar to the #OscarsSoWhite nonsense from a few years back.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mahershala Ali - Green Book : Ali does strong work as Dr. Don Shirley, the Black, gay, effete (and upper class) pianist struggling to survive in a decidedly hostile 1960’s world. Ali makes Shirley a genuine human being and uses his formidable skill to masterfully avoid falling into the easy trap of caricature.

Adam Driver - BlackKklansman : Adam Driver is…fine…in Spike Lee’s racial drama set in 1970’s Colorado. I didn’t think the performance was Oscar worthy…but what the hell do I know. It isn’t awful…but it isn’t great either. To be fair, I am entirely baffled as to why Adam Driver is a thing…I just don’t get it.

Sam Elliott - A Star is Born : I think you have to love Sam Elliot to love A Star is Born or love A Star is Born to love Sam Elliot. I love neither.

Richard E. Grant - Can You Ever Forgive Me: This is not a great movie…but Richard E. Grant is great in it. Grant turns what could have been a stereotype into a fascinating, frustrating and engaging character that captivates every second of his screen time.

Sam Rockwell - Vice : Rockwell gives his dim bulb character George W. Bush a desperate yearning for acceptance and respect that is genuine and compelling and shows an exquisite command of craft in avoiding the pitfall of imitation.

WHO SHOULD WIN - Mahershala Ali/Richard E. Grant - Both men give stand out performances that highlight their mastery of craft and undeniable talent. A win for either will not garner complaints from me.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY - The New Academy will want to reward Ali, who won the award just two years ago for his work in Moonlight, for no other reason than he is African-American in order to satiate the knee-jerk #OscarsSoWhite criticisms. That said, Ali’s award for Moonlight could actually hurt him this year as the Academy may feel they don’t NEED to award him since he already has one.

WHO WILL WIN - Richard E. Grant : Mahershala Ali has won all the preceding awards and is the favorite, but I am sensing that this will be the first upset/surprise of the evening. Grant has been on a charm offensive recently and with my ear to the ground I am picking up a great deal of support for him. Another factor helping Grant is that Mahershala Ali won the award two years ago and the actor’s actor, Grant, has never won it.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Favourite - Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara : A tight and smart script that plumbs the depths of palace intrigue to create a darkly funny and insightful story. The dialogue is exceedingly smart, funny and crisp.

First Reformed - Paul Schrader : Paul Schrader is one of the great screenwriters in Hollywood history, having written both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. First Reformed is a better script than it is a movie, which is both an indictment of Schrader’s directing and an endorsement of his writing.

Green Book - Nick Vallelonga and Peter Farrelly: This average script was elevated by Farrelly’s skilled direction, and with the addition of the controversy surrounding the writers, I don’t think it will win. If it does…this is going to be a very interesting Oscars indeed…and a very controversial one too.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron : A phenomenal script in terms of the themes it tackles and the scope of its narrative. Cuaron’s singular vision starts with his script and this one is chock full of magical realism mixed with working class reality. A truly terrific piece of screenwriting.

Vice - Adam McKay : I felt this script bit off more than it could chew, lacked focus and was structurally flawed. Definitely could have used a few more re-writes and edits to fine tune the whole thing.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma/The Favourite - Two high quality scripts that were exceedingly well written. An Oscar for either and you’ll hear no complaints from me. If Alfonso Cuaron wins this award…expect Roma to have a very, very, very big night.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: With no “diverse/inclusive” candidates to choose from (the New Academy doesn’t count Mexican men as diverse/inclusive for some reason), the New Academy will only work in the negative here by cutting Green Book off at the knees. Vallelonga and Farrelly have made enemies among the New Academy for their less than politically correct behavior and will be punished accordingly.

WHO WILL WIN: The Favourite : While I’d like to see Roma sweep the entire awards ceremony, I think voters hold a grudge against the film because it is a Netflix movie and it is foreign, the former of which will particularly hurt it in this category since the dialogue is in Spanish and Mextec. The Favourite is certainly deserving of an Oscar though as it is a beautifully written movie.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - The Coen Brothers - I have seen Buster Scruggs but have not reviewed it. I enjoyed it. I don’t think this script deserves a nomination though.

BlacKkKlansman - Spike Lee and friends - This was a good movie, but I do not think it deserves a nomination for its script. Spike Lee has written some masterworks in the past, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, but this is not his strongest work.

Can You Ever Forgive Me - Nicole Holofcener - I thought this script and this film was pretty shitty as it never figured out what it wanted to be and ended up being not much.

If Beale Street Could Talk - Barry Jenkins - Again…a bad script and an at-best average movie. The story and characters did not translate well at all from James Baldwin’s book.

A Star is Born - Bradley Cooper and friends - This script was a piece of junk too. God what an awful category. How is modernizing a movie that has been made three times before considered Oscar worthy?

WHO SHOULD WIN: BlackKklansman : As I said, I don’t think this is an Oscar worthy script…but this category is pretty terrible so this movie wins the tallest dwarf award.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Well, obviously the New Academy want to reward either Spike Lee or Barry Jenkins due to their race. Nicole Holfcener is another sleeper pick because she is a woman. The fact that Jenkins won this award two years ago, and Lee has never won and has never been properly awarded in his entire career, and his film was so politically charged for this moment in time, I think the New Academy goes with Lee.

WHO WILL WIN: BlackKklansman : Spike Lee finally gets the Oscar he deserves but only for a script that is undeserving.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cold War - Lukasz Zal: Zal’s use of black and white and his framing in Cold War is impeccable and stunning. A beautifully photographed film whose cinematography was integral to the storytelling.

The Favourite - Robbie Ryan: Ryan’s use of candles, shadow and light is exquisite in The Favourite and is a wonderful cinematic device that reveals much of the sub-text.

Never Look Away - Caleb Deschanel: I found Deschanel’s work on this film to be less than Oscar worthy. Not terrible at all, but just not noteworthy.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron : Cuaron puts on a virtuoso performance with Roma, and his cinematography is the icing on this cinematic cake. A stunning film to behold, Cuaron’s use of black and white and his extremely effective and complex camera movements and beautifully rendered framing is simply magnificent.

A Star is Born - Matthew Libatique : I found Libatique’s cinematography, with its excessive use of flares and close-ups, to be as underwhelming as the film.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - Roma is a cinematic masterpiece and Cuaron’s cinematography is absolute artistic and technical perfection.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Since the New Academy doesn’t recognize Mexican men as qualifying for their diversity/inclusion games, then this category offers no chance to virtue signal.

WHO WINS: Roma - Alfonso Cuaron: This is a tough category where virtually anyone can win. The knock against Cuaron is that the Academy, for a variety of reasons, do not want him to win all the awards. In this category cinematographers and other behind the camera technical people will resent Cuaron a bit for being a director AND a cinematographer…this stuff can be very territorial. A sign of that was when Lukasz Zal won this award at the American Society of Cinematographers Awards. Anyone can win this thing…and as much as I think the Academy has a bug up its ass over Cuaron and Netflix…I still think he sneaks out of here with this win. But if he loses it will be to Zal…who to be fair is a very deserving candidate as well.

BEST FOREIGN FILM

Capernaum - Due to time constraints, this is one of the few noteworthy films I haven’t seen this year…which bums me out. I hope to see it soon though.

Cold War - One of the best films of the year that boasts two outstanding performances and luscious black and white cinematography.

Never Look Away : An enigmatic movie that never quite lives up to its grandiose ambitions although it does raise something interesting thematic questions.

Roma - An absolute masterpiece that is as heartbreaking as it is gripping.

Shoplifters - An absolutely mesmerizing film that stayed with me for weeks on end after seeing it. Deftly directed and wonderfully acted, Shoplifters is an understated yet exquisite gem.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - It is easily the best film of the year and should easily win this award.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Roma hits all the right notes for New Academy voters but because it is a Netflix movie there is resistance to it.

WHO WILL WIN: Roma - There is an outside chance that the Netflix/Cuaron related backlash against Roma elevates Cold War to the victory. If that is the case, then this Oscar night will be turned upside down. I adored Cold War and it is one of the very best films of the year, but Roma is the best film, foreign or domestic, of the year, and if it doesn’t win here it will be a major upset.

BEST DIRECTOR

Alfonso Cuaron - Roma : Cuaron’s directing on Roma is a auteur’s virtuoso performance, a stunning tour-de-force that masterfully brings to life his vision with singular cinematic genius and reminds us of the power and artistry of cinema.

Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite : Lanthimos is one of the best directors in cinema and his masterful work on The Favourite has catapulted him to the heights he deserves.

Spike Lee - BlackKklansman : Spike Lee was once one of the most important figures in cinema, but that was over 25 years ago. Lee’s direction on BlackKklansman is not perfect and is at times jarringly shoddy, but in a down year for movies this one is a good enough comeback vehicle for him.

Adam McKay - Vice : I wanted to love Vice…I didn’t love Vice. McKay’s direction is scattered and uneven…a lot like this movie.

Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War : Pawlikowski direction on Cold War is superb as he crafts a compelling and beautifully profound film that is packaged in a tight 88 minute running time.

WHO SHOULD WIN : Alfonso Cuaron - Not to sound like a broken record, but damn Cuaron showed himself to be at the very top of his game and at the top of his profession with his work on Roma.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: The New Academy want to reward Spike Lee for his career and his making an overtly political film this year that is a favorite of social justice warriors, and because he is Black which would feed their need to virtue signal. Once again, Alfonso Cuaron, a Mexican man, doesn’t qualify for the diversity vote…a fact which helps those arguing that the Oscars aren’t “inclusive” since Mexican men have won this award 5 of the last 6 years.

WHO WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuaron - Roma : There is a chance…and it is actually a pretty good chance…that the New Academy and its “diversity” initiatives rear their ugly head and Spike Lee wins this award. If Roma and Cuaron are getting beat in other categories like screenplay and cinematography, then watch out for Spike Lee sneaking in for the upset which would be a travesty. That said, I think Cuaron’s work, regardless of the fact that it was for Netflix, is so overwhelmingly spectacular that voters will find it nearly impossible to deny him this Oscar…but stranger things have happened.

BEST ACTRESS

Glenn Close -The Wife: The Wife is a truly dreadful film, just awful, and to be frank, Glenn Close is pretty terrible in it. That said, she has been nominated a bunch over her long career and never won. The consensus seems to be that it is her time.

Yalitza Aparicio - Roma : A first time actress nominated for an Oscar is a pretty great story. Aparicio is terrific in Roma, totally present, genuine, grounded and alive on screen. A pleasantly surprising but very well deserved nomination.

Olivia Colman - The Favourite: Olivia Colman’s scenery chewing performance as the emotionally incontinent Queen Anne, who has the attention-span and temperament of a toddler, is a joy to behold. Colman is deliriously and deliciously delightful in The Favourite and is most-deserving of her nomination and if it happens, the award.

Lady Gaga - A Star is Born: I don;t get it. I don’t get Gaga being nominated, I don’t get all the love this film gets. This movie is kind of a hot mess, and Gaga’s performance is most definitely not Oscar worthy.

Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me : This movie stinks but Melissa McCarthy is a revelation as the curmudgeonly Lee Israel. McCarthy uses he natural comedic ability to great effect in this role but never allows it to overwhelm the dramatic honesty of her character.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Olivia Colman : Colman is so good in The Favourite it made me giddy. Just a ridiculously great performance that is compelling, energetic and devastatingly honest. I can’t wait to see Colman as Queen Elizabeth II on The Crown.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Glenn Close made a smart move at the Golden Globes by giving a speech that spoke to the Girl Power/Pussy Hat contingent in the media and the New Academy. This speech positioned Close to be the recipient of the New Academy’s diversity/inclusivity vote even though she is a White woman. Well played Ms. Close.

WHO WILL WIN: Glenn Close - The Wife: As much as I want Olivia Colman to win this award, and as much as I think she deserves it, I think Glenn Close wins it because she is a symbol of the #ImWithHer/Hillary brigade due to her always being the bridesmaid and never the bride come Oscar night. The Academy will reward Close despite the shitty work she does in that shitty movie. Such is life. That said, I put the chances of Colman sneaking in and winning this thing pretty high…so don’t be too shocked if Close is left holding the bag once again…and try not to laugh too hard at her expense.

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale - Vice: Bale’s work in Vice is absolutely stunning. His physical transformation into Dick Cheney never falls into the trap of imitation and that is a testament to Bale’s remarkable talent and skill.

Bradley Cooper - A Star is Born: Cooper’s work is the best thing about A Star is Born and I think he is deserving of an Oscar nomination even though i think the movie is not. Cooper is establishing himself as one of the top movie star/actors in the business. The next few years of his work will be interesting to see.

Willem Dafoe - At Eternity’s Gate : Dafoe’s acting in At Eternity’s Gate is very impressive, but the film never lives up to the stellar work he does in it.

Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody : I like Rami Malek. Everybody likes Rami Malek…he’s a good guy. That said, I was not as impressed by his performance as everybody else was. To me the script was so thin that Malek was never really able to get much depth to his performance. That said, he does the very best he can with the little he is given.

Viggo Mortenson - Green Book : Green Book has gotten a lot of heat for its racial politics, but Mortenson’s solid performance is beyond reproach. Mortenson uses skill and craft to give great depth and nuance to a character that easily could have fallen into caricature.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Christian Bale - Bale is head and shoulders above everyone else in this category. A remarkable performance that elevates Bale into the stratosphere of best working actors on the planet.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: This category has no Black actors in it so it is open to moronic charges of #OscarsSoWhite. But rest assured, Rami Malek is of Egyptian descent so the New Academy will rally behind him and be able to virtue signal their moral superiority due to their embrace of “diversity”.

WHO WILL WIN: Rami Malek - Everybody loves Rami Malek. While his performance isn’t Oscar worthy to me, my vote doesn’t matter. Malek is winning and there is nothing we can do about it. Since he is such a good guy, I won’t get mad about it. I do hope he wears the Freddie teeth to the ceremony though…or at least thanks them in his speech.

BEST PICTURE

Green Book - Green Book is a well crafted and fine film. Is it Oscar worthy? No. If this were 1985 then Green Book would win this award with ease…but this isn’t 1985. This sort of simple film is a lightning rod for those who hate it AND for those that hate the people who hate it. To be frank, I find all this shit exhausting.

Black Panther - It is a total joke that Black Panther, an at best middling super hero movie that isn’t even the best super hero movie of the year (which is easily Infinity War), is nominated for an Oscar. Black Panther is the recipient of the “leg up” program, and its nomination is a blatant piece of pandering and paternalism and is frankly a disgrace.

BlackKklansman - I liked this movie but it is deeply flawed and because of that do not think it is Oscar worthy. That said, due to Spike Lee directing, it is a sentimental and political choice for some.

Roma - The greatest film of the year. A masterpiece.

Bohemian Rhapsody - This movie is an absolute mess, a total shitshow. Yes, it is entertaining and fun to get see Queen rocking Wembley once again…but Oscar worthy? Good Lord no!

A Star is Born - I don’t get it…I just don’t get it. Thought this movie was not great…not great at all. Why people are so invested in it is beyond me.

Vice - An ambitious (and noble) misfire that boasts fantastic performances but never coalesces into a coherent piece of cinema enough to be considered an Oscar worthy movie.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - This is as clear as day. Roma is easily the greatest film of the year and it isn’t even close.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: I think Black Panther is going to get an awful lot of love for its diversity and inclusivity.

WHO WILL WIN: Buckle up. Roma should win…but in the shock of the night…BLACK PANTHER is going to steal this award. Roma has a lot of hurdles in the voting, the most obvious is that it is a black and white, foreign language film, and a foreign language film has never won Best Picture…and on top of that it is a Netflix film and the movie industry is very uncomfortable with Netflix. The Academy doesn’t want Roma to win Best Picture (or sweep all the awards) and is actively trying to find a substitute…and what I have picked up out here in Hollywood is that Black Panther is that choice. Listening to and talking with Oscar voters over the last month and Black Panther is the film that keeps getting mentioned…and never because people think it is great but because to a person they say they will vote for it because of the message it will send about “representation”, “diversity” and “inclusion”. Sadly, this is the world in which we now live, and Black Panther, that ridiculously shitty super hero movie, is going to beat out one one of the greatest films in recent history, Roma, because of a wave of self-righteous, identity politics driven virtue signalling.

Hopefully I am wrong (Please God let me be wrong!!). Hopefully Roma is justly rewarded, not just in the Best Picture category but in Screenplay, Cinematography, Directing and Foreign Picture…but I don’t have my hopes up.

As for the rest of the categories…I have even less of an idea about these than I do about the previous picks…so take them with a grain of salt as they are my best guesses.

VISUAL EFFECTS - FIRST MAN : If Infinity War wins this award it could signal the Academy’s acceptance of Marvel films and point to a big night for Black Panther.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING - VICE

ANIMATED SHORT - BAO

LIVE ACTION SHORT - SKIN

DOCUMENTARY SHORT - PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.

SOUND MIXING - FIRST MAN - Bohemian Rhapsody has a shot here, but the one to watch is Black Panther, which if it wins this award could point to a big night for the Marvel film.

SOUND EDITING - FIRST MAN - Same comment as the Sound Mixing award.

COSTUME DESIGN - BLACK PANTHER - If BP loses these next two awards to The Favourite…then it is done and won’t win Best Picture. (I have my fingers crossed this is what happens!!)

PRODUCTION DESGIN - BLACK PANTHER

FILM EDITING - VICE - Bohemian Rhapsody has a shot here.

ORIGINAL SCORE - BLACKKKLANSMAN - Black Panther is the favorite…but I think the Academy rewards Terence Blanchard…which will make me happy. But if BP wins this…and the Design awards and Sound Awards…look out…Best Picture is coming.

ORIGINAL SONG - “SHALLOW”, A STAR IS BORN - Outside chance BP and Kendrick Lamar wins this award.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - RBG - This is neck and neck with Free Solo, but I went with RBG because of the politics.

ANIMATED FEATURE - SPIDER-MAN : INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Ok gang…I think I covered all the categories. A few other things to touch upon before I go. Keep an eye out for certain narratives taking shape in the early awards.

The narratives that are in play…

  1. Roma dominates - Roma has a chance to absolutely destroy these Oscars as the film has a legitimate chance to win Best Picture, Best Foreign Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography and has an outside chance to win Best Screenplay and Best Editing as well…and if the longest of longshots happens and Yalitza Aparicio wins Best Actress…that will signal Roma has had a totally and gloriously dominant night…and I will be the happiest man on earth….except for Alfonso Cuaron.

  2. Roma destroyed - There is also a chance that Roma, due to its affiliation with Netflix and its artistic pedigree, could get snubbed across the board. There is a scenario where voters don’t vote for it for Best Picture because they assume it will win Best Foreign Film, and then other voters don’t vote for it for best Foreign Film because they assume it will win Best Picture…and it ends up winning neither. This scenario is much much more likely than I would like to imagine…and that along with all of the cocaine I’ve been doing is keeping me awake nights. In addition, it is very possible that Spike Lee is chosen over Alfonso Cuaron for Best Director out of a sense of wanting to finally reward Lee for his career’s work. Then throw in a Best Cinematography win for Cold War (which won the Guild award) and there is a chance that Roma leaves empty handed. YIKES.

  3. Black Panther goes on a run. As noted above, I have Black Panther winning Costume and Production Design…and if that happens it will look very good for my prediction of a Best Picture win. If the movie wins Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and either Original Score or best Song in addition to the production awards…it will definitely win Best Picture. There is a shot that we are looking at an Oscars where Black Panther wins 7 awards…let that sink in for a minute.

  4. Black Panther gets shut out. Things could go this way if Black Panther loses to The Favourite in costume and production design. If Black Panther loses those awards it is done in the Best Picture race and we Roma fans can breath a sigh of relief. If BP loses in the production awards it will not win Song, Score or either Sound award and will leave empty handed. The fact that this is a Marvel/Disney film could be a hurdle that even its identity politics cannot overcome. We will see.

  5. Bohemian Rhapsody goes on a run. Bohemian Rhapsody is an awful movie but it did win the Editing Guild award and has a legit chance to win Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards as well as the Best Editing award which would be a terrific night for the film. Add in Rami Malek’s guaranteed win for Best Actor and we are looking at 4 Oscars for this fun piece of crap.

  6. Chaos - A totally incoherent Oscars. In this scenario a non-Roma film wins Best Picture, Olivia Colman wins Best Actress, there are upsets in both Supporting actor categories as well as in Best Director and the Screenplay awards. Green Book ends up being a big winner.

  7. Non-chaos. All of the favorites win. Roma does well and everything goes according to plan with the other categories.

If you pay attention to the early awards you might be able to discern how the rest of the night is going to go…or not…who knows. This Oscars has me baffled and it shouldn’t because Roma is so clearly the best of this sad bunch in a very down year for Hollywood Cinema (foreign films excluded).

And thus ends my rambling and ragged Oscar predictions post. I have zero confidence in my picks and am genuinely concerned I will lose for Oscar pool for the first time in my life this year. That said, i do reserve the right to change my mind between now and the awards show. In a fit of cinema idealism I may discard my Oscar cynicism (Black Panther) and embrace my optimism and pick Roma to win because my heart tells me to…I’m just not sure my head will let me.

©2019

Jussie Smollett's Hate Crime Hoax Exposes America's Shocking Skepticism Shortage

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 38 seconds

The Jussie Smollett story is a microcosm of what is wrong with America and the mainstream media.

 “It’s not a lie if you believe it” – George Costanza, Seinfeld

On Thursday, US actor Jussie Smollett was arrested in Chicago after being charged with filing a false police report.

Jussie Smollett, a gay, African-American actor who stars on the hit tv show Empire, claimed that on January 29th he was the victim of a hate crime when two White men hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, punched, kicked and poured bleach over him, and then put a noose around his neck while taunting him by proclaiming “this is MAGA (Make America Great Again) country”.

Smollett’s story was dubious to some because the idea of two Trumpites out at 2 a.m. in Chicago hunting gay Black men with a noose and bleach in minus 20 degrees weather seems far-fetched…as does the idea that they would be pop-culturally aware enough to have watched Empire and recognize a marginal celebrity like Smollett in the first place.

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill

In the wake of Smollett’s unusual claims the media uncritically accepted his story and numerous celebrities such as Emma Watson, Katy Perry, Olivia Munn and Ariana Grande tweeted vociferous support. Actress Ellen Page gave a heart felt speech on The Late Show with Colbert laying the blame for Smollett’s attack at the feet of homophobic Vice President Mike Pence.

Democratic presidential hopefuls chimed as well with Kamala Harris and Cory Booker both calling the attack a “modern-day lynching”, and a cavalcade of other politicians who tweeted their unquestioning support for Jussie and devout belief in his story.

 The problem with all of the belief in Smollett is that, like Ms. Page’s impassioned Late Show rant, it was entirely based on emotion and not reason.

As is usually the case when decisions are made on emotion and not reason, many now regret their embrace of Smollett because his story has come into question. The two alleged assailants are not MAGA hat wearing White men, but Black men who claim that Smollett paid them to stage the whole incident. According to reports, as of this writing the Chicago police believe this entire hate crime is a hoax orchestrated by Smollett.

The media, celebrities and politicians who supported Smollett did so for the simple reason…it was easy. Smollett’s story confirmed all of their biases regarding Trump supporters who they believe are racist homophobes, and gave them the opportunity to signal their virtue and espouse their moral superiority.

This sort of indulging in one’s biases and signaling one’s virtue is epidemic in America and a big reason for that is social media.  Social media is built to be a personalized echo chamber that triggers emotion and shortcuts reason, and encourages a solidifying of instantaneous emotional reaction into permanent and intractable belief.

Another reason for this scourge of confirmation bias and virtue signaling is that the corporate press is not in the truth-telling business, they are in the tell people what they want to hear business. Just watch this MSNBC breaking news segment on the alleged attack on Smollett.

None of the professionals in this clip ever practice anything resembling journalism by actually questioning the voracity of the allegation. The anchorwoman Stephanie Ruhle is signaling her virtue so hard over this story, repeatedly declaring it’s a “horrible story” and “horrible to report” and then admitting she is “so shaken by the story”, that she can’t remember details of it.

This vapid emotional hyperventilation is a case study in cultural conditioning overpowering professional training. Ms. Ruhle, and the rest of the media who were so gullible regarding Smollett’s story, has been indoctrinated to quell skepticism regarding a “victim’s” story because doubt is now deemed the equivalent of assault. GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis made this clear when she commented on the Smollett story, “Jussie Smollett was victimized first in a hate-motivated and violent attack…and has since been doubly victimized as the subject of speculation by the media…” If reporters question Jussie Smollett’s story that doesn’t make them bigots, it makes them journalists.

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” – Vladimir Lenin

The confirmation bias and virtue signaling in American culture is not confined to the Smollett case. The establishment media’s handling of all Russia stories is equally rife with a pandering to biases and a self-righteous signaling of patriotic virtue.

For example, last fall both NBC News and the New York Times hyped a bizarre James Bond-level spy story claiming the Russians had developed a nefarious super secret sonic weapon and used it to attack U.S. personnel in Cuba. This story was riddled with logical inconsistencies but the press reported it as if Putin were pointing his sonic weapon at every American’s head. Of course, upon closer inspection, these “sonic attacks” weren’t attacks at all but horny crickets trying to attract a mate. 

The media’s reporting of similar stories detailing alleged Russian villainy is hysterical, literally. Whether it is Russia hacking the Vermont power grid or into C-Span, it seems there is no skepticism allowed when it comes to Russia. And similar to the Smollett case, if you dare question the voracity of these Russia stories your virtue/patriotism is questioned.

This suffocating of skepticism has led all Russia related stories to become sacrosanct and be considered gospel truth. Yet, just like in the Smollett story, if you look at the majority of Russia related reporting you will notice it is often based on reporters treating assumptions as facts.

“The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.” - Joseph Goebbels

The Smollett fiasco is small potatoes compared to the greatest example of media malpractice in recent memory, which was the Iraq war farce. The establishment media weren’t only entirely uncritical in regards to the Bush administration’s outlandish claims regarding WMD’s and an Iraqi connection with Al Qaeda, but were complicit in emotionally triggering the American people to sell them that insidious snake oil.

Back in 2003 during the build up to the war, dissent was verboten. The media were entirely in lockstep with the Bush administration and acted as stenographers to power as opposed to a check on it, with MSNBC even firing its highest rated host, Phil Donohue, because of his anti-war stance.

Just like the Smollett story and the reporting on Russia, in the Iraq war scam the media discarded skepticism in favor of confirmation bias and virtue/patriotism signaling. The disinformation the media disseminated during this period didn’t just lead to egg on their face, but blood on their hands, as thousands of U.S. service members and over a million Iraqis were killed or wounded.

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man” – Book of Jeremiah 17:5

It would be nice to think that those who fell under the spell of confirmation bias in the Smollett case would have learned their lesson, but if the response of filmmaker Ava DuVernay and author Roxanne Gay is any indication, nothing will change. As Ms. DuVernay told the Hollywood Reporter, “…this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t.”

Ms. Gay echoed the sentiment, “I’m not going to stop believing people who say they have suffered”.

The media is also proving their inability to learn from their mistakes by once again singing in harmony with the Washington establishment chorus who hunger for a coup in Venezuela. The continuing media sycophancy towards American imperialism and militarism across the globe shows a shameful myopia and a stunning historical illiteracy.

As the Smollett story teaches us, confirmation bias is a very addictive drug, and as the corporate media’s Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Russia and Venezuela coverage shows, it is a dangerous and deadly one too…and the only remedy for this epidemic of idiocy is an ardent and unrelenting commitment to skepticism.

A version of this article was originally published at RT.com.

©2019

On the Basis of Sex: A Review

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

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. This piece of HERstory is a Hallmark movie sold as Oscar bait and is so cinematically underwhelming it should be stripped of the right to vote and forever kept in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, where it belongs.

On the Basis of Sex, written by Daniel Stiepleman and directed by Mimi Leder, is the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight for women’s legal equality as she ascends from Harvard Law School all the way to the Supreme Court. The film stars Felicity Jones as Ginsburg with supporting turns from Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterson and Kathy Bates.

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I knew nothing about On the Basis of Sex before I saw it, but as a red-blooded American male anytime I see the word “sex” in a sentence everything else goes out of focus, so when I saw the title it read as “__ ___ _____ __ SEX”. With a title like that how could I not be interested? But then the movie started…and I have bad news for you…there is no sex at all in On the Basis of Sex…there isn’t any nudity either. This revelation was most disconcerting to me and left me feeling as if On the Basis of Sex was the most misleading film title since The Never-Ending Story. What a rip-off!

The truth is I actually had no interest in seeing On the Basis of Sex as I had seen the trailer and it looked pretty abysmal, but thanks to MoviePass, it was my only film option the other day so I took the plunge. MoviePass has altered its service and now only offers very few films in my area, which has made the service rather useless to me. In its current form MoviePass is like fishing off of the Venice pier, the odds of catching something are very slim but then if you do catch something in those sewage infested waters, you get one look at it and wish you hadn’t….which perfectly sums up my experience with On the Basis of Sex.

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On the Basis of Sex is a trite, saccharine, paint-by-numbers, made-for-tv bio-pic that is just dreadful to behold. From the uneven performances to the lackluster cinematography to the cliche-ridden script to the cloying music, everything in this movie is so predictable and dull as to be insipid.

On the Basis of Sex thinks of itself as Oscar bait, and I can see why, it is about an iconic female figure during our current “women’s moment/movement”, and is also directed by a woman, Mimi Leder. No doubt the studio and producers thought they were striking at the right time with the right story to cash in and gather some awards. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the Oscar podium…a few people saw this movie and realized it was atrocious.

One of the big problems with the movie is that Mimi Leder is a hack of a director. Leder has had great success directing in television but television and film are two very different animals. Add to that the fact that the script, written by Ginsburg’s nephew Daniel Stiepleman, is painfully pedestrian and you have one giant piece of Oscar bait that never even gets a nibble.

Regardless of your political perspective, there is no denying that On the Basis of Sex is a piece of propaganda, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with it being such rudimentary and ill-executed propaganda. Leder’s direction is stale and uninspiring and the script is painfully vacuous and remarkably paper-thin. There are some scenes where I audibly laughed, much to the irritation of the middle-aged ladies sitting in front of me. The scene where Ginsburg and her teenage daughter are caught in a rain storm in New York City and her daughter fends off catcalls from construction workers and hails a cab at the same time, was so contrived, absurd and artistically obtuse it made me spit up my root beer.

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Felicity Jones is a fine actress, but she brings little to the table as Ginsburg besides steely-eyed righteousness and occasionally pronouncing the word lawyer as “lawyuh”. Ms. Jones’ struggle to give genuine life to the suffocatingly dull script is a quixotic undertaking and never amounts to much of anything.

The rest of the cast do not fair well either. Justin Theroux is a dead-eyed caricature as a hotshot ACLU lawyer and Kathy Bates misfires as a curmudgeonly attorney and…well…we also need to talk about Armie Hammer.

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Armie Hammer is so awful in this movie he made my teeth hurt. Granted, Hammer is given nothing to work with in the abomination that is the script, but still…he somehow uses his terrible acting super powers to make the movie even worse. Hammer plays Ruth’s husband Martin, and from what I can tell Hammer’s Martin is a perfect cross between his character in Call Me By Your Name and a perpetually gently smiling saint. Hammer is so fake and so phony in the role it feels like your watching a two hour long toothpaste commercial sans the gravitas and character development.

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Hollywood tried for years to make Armie Hammer into a movie star, and once they realized that wasn’t happening they shifted gears and have tried to make him a viable “actor”, and I have news for Hollywood…that isn’t working either. Maybe Armie should do us all, himself included, a favor and just go enjoy life and forget about acting for a while…or forever.

There is one scene in On the Basis of Sex that does unintentionally hit upon something mildly interesting, and that is where the villain, James Bozarth (portrayed by Jack Reynor), a dastardly lawyer for the government, talks to his collegues about how gender equality will change American culture. Bozarth is made out to be a one dimensional, misogynistic bad guy, but in the scene he says something fascinating. The two other government lawyers basically lay out gender equality to be as absurd as cats and dogs living together, but then Bozarth says that if equality happens then “wages go down and the divorce rate goes up”. I found it intriguing that this statement was mixed together with the other ludicrous statement because what Bozarth said isn’t ludicrous…it is true. Since women joined the work force en masse in the 70’s, divorce has gone up and wages have gone down. Which is not to say that women should not be treated equally, just that the law of unintended consequences is an unstoppable force regardless of how noble your cause may be…which might have been a more interesting theme to create a movie around.

In conclusion, On the Basis of Sex is a suffocatingly conventional, rather poorly made film that looks and feels more like a Hallmark or Lifetime movie than a major cinematic venture. I know Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a beloved figure and has been turned into a cultural celebrity, but the cinematic story of her life falls decidedly flat and needed a much more skilled and deft directing hand to make it worthwhile. Do not waste your time and energy seeing the chaste On the Basis of Sex, even if you can see it for “free” on Netflix or cable or using MoviePass. Speaking of MoviePass…since the pickings are so slim and I wanted to throw the stinky, rotting catch of On the Basis of Sex back into the water, I am going to cancel my subscription. I’d rather eat bait than the garbage MoviePass is currently sending my way.

©2019

Toxic Femininity: 'Badass' US Women Demand Right to Torture, Maim and Kill for Empire...Just Like Men

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Estimated reading Time: 3 minutes 56 seconds

Thanks to a new wave of feminism and its call for equality, it isn’t just toxic men who can kill, torture and surveil in the name of American militarism and empire, women can now do it too!

 This past weekend was the third annual Women’s March, which is a protest originally triggered by Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election that encourages women across America to rise up against misogyny and patriarchy.

 As sincere as these women are in their outrage, in their quest for power they are inadvertently reinforcing the immoral and unethical system that they claim to detest. This is most glaringly apparent when this new feminism boldly embraces the worst traits of the patriarchy in the form of militarism and empire.

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 The rise of the #MeToo, Time’s Up and the anti-Trump Women’s Movement has brought forth a new wave of politically and culturally active neo-feminists. This modern women’s movement and its adherents demand that “boys not be boys”, and in fact claim that the statement “boys will be boys” is in and of itself an act of patriarchal privilege and male aggression. The irony is that these neo-feminists don’t want boys to be boys, but they do want girls to be like boys…at least the morally degenerate boys.

The inherent contradiction of that ideology was on full display recently when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) put out a guide to treating men and boys. In the guide’s summary the APA makes this extraordinary claim, “Traditional masculinity – marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression – is, on the whole, harmful.”

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 These APA guidelines blatantly turn “traditional masculinity” and “toxic masculinity” into synonyms, and never once mention testosterone, revealing a staggering ignorance of male biology. The APA is in essence blaming the bull for his horns. Further diminishing their credibility, how can anyone look at the mess that is the current emotional state of our world and think we need less stoicism and not more?

 The hypocrisy of the APA guidelines are glaringly evident because everywhere you look nowadays girls and young women are constantly being urged to be more competitive, dominant and aggressive. I guess when women do it, it is empowering, but when men do it, it is dangerous.

 Women, and some men, often tell me that if women were in power, the world would be a better and safer place. But that old trope, which obviously animates the feminist movement of today, is foolishness. I mean have none of these people ever heard of that pernicious beast Margaret Thatcher? And does anyone think that Hillary Clinton’s proposed no-fly zone over Syria or her tough talk about Russia would have led to more peace and less war?

 Another example of the vacuity of this ideology is the group of Democratic women with military and intelligence backgrounds who won seats in Congress in 2018. These women, who have dubbed themselves “The Badasses”, how toxically masculine of them, are being touted as the “antidote to Trump”.

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 No doubt these former military and intelligence “badasses” will be so much less toxic than their male counterparts when they demand the U.S. “get tough” by militarily intervening across the globe to further American interests. This sort of star-spangled belligerence is no less toxic in a pantsuit than a three-piece suit, and will only lead to more victims of America’s “competiveness, dominance and aggression” around the world.

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 Other toxically masculine women in government are also being hailed as great signs of women’s empowerment. Gina Haspel is the first female director of the CIA and women now also hold the three top directorates in that agency. Ms. Haspel proved herself more than capable of being just as deplorable as any man when she was an active participant in the Bush era torture program. No doubt the pussy-hat wearing brigade would cheer her “competitiveness, dominance and aggression” when torturing prisoners…most especially the traditionally masculine ones.

 Hypocritical Hollywood has long been a haven for toxic masculinity, be it in the form of depraved predators like Harvey Weinstein or Woody Allen or counterfeit tough guys like John Wayne. Hollywood has also long been the propaganda wing of the American military machine. It is well established that for decades Hollywood and the Department of Defense have worked hand in hand in creating films that tout muscular American militarism and empire.

 Now Hollywood and the Department of Defense are using the social justice calling card of “diversity and inclusion” to take the next step in indoctrinating young people with the noxious ideology of American exceptionalism and aggression…but this time they are targeting girls and young woman.

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 The latest product of the Hollywood and D.O.D. propaganda machine is the Disney/Marvel movie, Captain Marvel, which comes out this March. The film, which has a budget north of $150 million and stars one of the leading feminist voices in Hollywood, Academy Award winner Brie Larson, tells the story of Carol Danvers, a former Air Force pilot who “turns into one of the galaxy’s mightiest heroes.”

 With Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans set to potentially leave their roles as Iron Man and Captain America respectively, Disney is positioning itself to replace them as the face of the multi-billion dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe with Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, who is described as a “badass superheroine”…one more flag-waving, baddass lady for the girls to look up to!

 The movie has been described as “the recruiting tool of the Air Force’s dreams”, and will no doubt be a huge boost to female recruitment, much like Tom Cruise and Top Gun boosted male military recruitment in the 1980’s.

 The Department of Defense has been partnered with Marvel since 2008’s Iron Man. The D.O.D. and Air Force demand that any film project with which they assist “portrays the Air Force and military in an accurate way and that it is in the service’s interest to partner on the project.”

 It is good to know that ultra-feminist Brie Larson is cashing in by partnering with the Air Force to make a movie that indoctrinates millions of American kids, specifically girls, with the dream of being able to bomb innocent brown people across the globe from miles up in the sky and look really “badass” while doing it.

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 I’m sure Ms. Larson, a public and outspoken advocate for abuse victims here in America, has meticulously weighed the pros and cons of being a recruitment tool for the U.S. military, who in recent years have aided and abetted, or been directly responsible for, the murder of women and children in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

 The cacophony of feminist voices in the public square has effectively challenged some minds about some things, but not the right minds about the right things. The mendacious U.S. establishment and its virulent military industrial complex have co-opted this current feminist moment and are using it to further solidify their deadly stranglehold on the American consciousness and Brie Larson is now an accomplice to that crime.

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 Is this what the new wave of feminism is all about, putting lipstick on the pig of American empire and militarism and calling it a victory for equality? If so, I’ll pass on that toxic femininity. I’ll stick with traditional masculinity, you know, the stoic kind, whose adherents, principled men like Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Daniel Ellsberg, Pat Tillman and Edward Snowden, among many others, all did the right thing in the face of enormous opposition, and who didn’t tout themselves as “badass”, didn’t start fights but finished them, didn’t torture, didn’t spy and didn’t bomb innocent women and children into oblivion.

 I strongly believe that men and women should be equal in their rights and opportunity, but I also believe that regardless of gender, no one has the right to kill, maim and torture for American empire.

This article was originally published on January 25, 2019 at RT.com.

©2019

Vice: A Review

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

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. Although a cinematic misfire of sorts, it is worth seeing for the extraordinary performances and for the civics lesson.

Vice, written and directed by Adam McKay, is the story of the meteoric rise of former Vice President Dick and his Machiavellian use of power. The film stars Christian Bale as Cheney, with supporting turns from Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell.

Vice is another one of those films of 2018 for which I had high hopes. I absolutely loved director Adam McKay’s last film, The Big Short, which brilliantly dissected the 2008 financial meltdown and I hoped that when he set his sights on Dick Cheney he would be equally effective in his vivisection of that worthy target. McKay proved with The Big Short that he was more than capable of turning a dense, intricate, complex and complicated topic into an entertaining and enlightening movie, a skill that would be desperately needed for a film about Dick Cheney.

Watching Vice was an odd experience as I found the film had multiple great parts to it, but on the whole, while I liked it, I didn’t love it and ultimately found it unsatisfying. I was so confounded by my experience of Vice that I have actually seen it three times already to try and figure out specifically why I feel that it missed the mark and is not the sum total of its parts. And yes…I realize that seeing a movie I don’t love three times makes me sound insane.

Why am I so interested in figuring out why Vice is not great, you may ask? Well, the reason for that is that Vice desperately needed to be great because it is such an important film for the times in which we live. Trump did not come out of nowhere…he is a fungus that grew out of the shit pile that was Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush/Cheney and Obama…and as we all know, past is prologue, so if we don’t fully understand and integrate the lessons of Dick Cheney’s nefarious political career, we are doomed to stay stuck in the tyrannical rut in which we find ourselves.

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Dick Cheney was a pivotal, behind the scenes player in American politics for four decades (70’s through the 00’s) and so bringing his sprawling yet mundanely bureaucratic career successfully to the screen is a massive and difficult undertaking. It is also an vital undertaking as the argument could be made, and Vice makes it, that Cheney’s underlying cosmology and his political and bureaucratic success are what has brought the U.S. and much of the world to the brink of collapse.

Sadly though, Vice is so structurally unsound as to be nearly untenable. McKay cinematically stumbles right out of the gate and makes some poor directorial decisions that lead to a lack of narrative coherence and dramatic cohesion that diminish the impact of this important movie.

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I could not help but think of Oliver Stone as I watched Vice. Stone’s Nixon is an obvious cinematic parallel to Vice in that it is a bio-pic of a loathed political figure whose career spans multiple decades. The problem with Vice though is that McKay not only lacks Stone’s directorial skill and talent, he also lacks his testicular fortitude and artistic courage.

In Nixon, which is a terrific film you should revisit, Stone and his cinematographer, the great Robert Richardson, go to great lengths to show us Nixon’s point of view and perspective, and it works in drawing viewers into the man who otherwise may have repulsed them. Stone and Richardson occasionally used the technique of switching film stocks and going from color to black and white in order to distinguish Nixon’s point of view and to emphasize flash backs and time jumps. (Vice certainly could’ve used this sort of approach to make the time jumps it uses more palatable and cinematically appealing)

Of course, Stone was pilloried for his dramatic speculation in Nixon by the gatekeepers of Establishment thinking, but despite the critical slings and arrows, it was the proper creative decision. Stone turned Nixon into a Shakespearean character and we knew him and understood him much better because of it, which turned the film about his life into fascinating and gripping viewing.

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Cheney, like his one-time boss Richard Nixon, is also cold and distant figure in real life, but McKay never emulates Oliver Stone and bridges that distance by using dramatic speculation in telling his story. McKay makes the fatal directorial error of only on the most rare of occasions allowing viewers into Dick Cheney’s head and giving them his distinct perspective and point of view. For the majority of the film the audience is forced to be simply spectators to Cheney’s villainy and not participants or co-conspirators, which undermines the dramatic power of the film.

The most interesting parts of the film are the two parts where we are actually given Cheney’s perspective and inner dialogue. The first time that happens is when we hear a voice over of Cheney’s thoughts as he meets with presidential candidate George W. Bush to talk about the Vice Presidency. In this scene we are given access to Cheney’s Macchiavellian musings about the man, Dubya, that he will use as an avatar to bring his dark vision to life, and it is intriguing.

McKay’s brief speculation of Cheney’s inner thoughts in the Bush scene propels the audience into Cheney’s head…which is where we should have been all along. We are then ushered out as soon as we arrive and are left with only a bird’s eye view of Cheney’s world until the final scene. Vice would have benefited greatly from McKay throwing the audience into Cheney’s head from the get go, but instead we get a rehash of Cheney’s greatest hits, or worst hits, depending on your political point of view, which is neither illuminating nor gripping. ( to be fair, McKay’s refusal to speculate on Cheney’s inner thoughts and motivations could be a function of the fact that Cheney is still alive and able to sue, but regardless of the reason, it does a terrible disservice to the cinematic enterprise)

McKay was obviously going to great lengths trying to be “historically accurate” in this bio-pic, but he falls into the trap of many, if not most bio-pics, in that he tries to recreate history instead of creating cinematic drama. McKay simply shows a series of well-known events in Cheney’s life (hey…remember that time Cheney shot somebody in the face!) without any new or interesting insights into them. In this way, Vice is less a drama/comedy than it is a docu-dramedy that merely skims the surface of its subject and re-tells history for those who already agree with its political perspective.

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The biggest hurdle though in telling the story of Dick Cheney is…well…Dick Cheney. When your film’s lead character suffers from an egregious charisma deficit and has created a persona of impenetrable banality, you have quite a hill to climb. Besides mastering the art of dullness, Cheney is also an unlikable and politically despicable person, which only adds to the burden that this film must carry. Unlike in The Big Short, where McKay was able to use multiple characters to propel the narrative, each one different and interesting in their own right, in Vice, McKay is forced to have Cheney be the sole focus and driver of the narrative.

As vacant a character as Dick Cheney is, Christian Bale makes him a genuine human being. Bale disappears into Cheney and crushes the role to such an extent that he solidifies his place amongst the best actors working today. Bale’s confident use of stillness and silence is volcanically potent. There is no wasted motion with Bale’s Cheney, and it is when he isn’t saying anything that he is saying everything. Bale fills Cheney with very specific and detailed intentions that radiate off of him and penetrate his intended target with deadly precision.

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The rest of the cast do outstanding work as well. Amy Adams is simply one of the best actresses on the planet and her work in Vice is a testament to that fact. Adams’ first scene as Dick’s wife Lynne is so dynamically compelling I nearly jumped out of my seat. Right out of the gate Adams tells the viewer everything we need to know about Lynne, she is smart, tough and will not put up with any bullshit. Adams’ Lynne is insatiable when it comes to power, and she is the Lady MacBeth behind Dick’s throne. Amy Adams has given a plethora of great performances over her career, but she has never been better than she is as Lynne Cheney in Vice.

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Sam Rockwell is also outstanding, playing the cocksure but dim-witted poseur of a president George W. Bush. Rockwell plays Bush as an unwitting moron and dupe who is so stupid he doesn’t know how stupid he really is. Cheney’s manipulation of Bush is seamless and entirely believable with Rockwell playing the insecure second generation President. Rockwell never falls into caricature with his Dubya, and fills this empty man with a delightful and at times poignantly meaningful nothingness.

Steve Carell is also great as the enigmatic Don Rumsfeld. Carell morphs into the irascible political climber Rumsfeld with ease and shows a deft touch in making Rummy a genuine human being, a sort of arrogant fly boy whose wings never get permanently clipped.

All in all, the entire cast do great work with Bale, Adams and Rockwell all deserving Oscar nominations for their work, and Bale and Adams very much deserving of the trophy.

As much as Adam McKay won the casting room, he did have other failures when it came to filmmaking. I am sure it is no coincidence that McKay hired editor Hank Corwin to work on his film, as Corwin edited Stone’s Nixon as well. Surprisingly since he was so good on Nixon, Corwin’s editing on Vice lacks a cinematic crispness and is one of the weak spots of the film. Corwin repeatedly uses a black screen for transitions which I found broke the pace and rhythm of the film and scuttled any dramatic momentum. Of course, this is not all Corwin’s fault, as McKay may have demanded that approach, but regardless of why it happened, it happened and the film suffers for it.

Another issue with the film was the use of a narrator. Well, to be more clear, it wasn’t the use of a narrator, but the choice of the narrator and how that character fit into the story. Jesse Plemons, a fantastic actor, plays the role of the narrator but it never quite comes together. Plemons is fine in the part, but considering the amount of information that needed to be passed along to the audience, a more direct and straight forward narrator would’ve been a better choice. Once again, Oliver Stone comes to mind and his mesmerizing opening to his masterpiece JFK, where Martin Sheen (and phenomenal editors Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing) masterfully set the complex stage for everything that follows.

As much as I was frustrated by McKay’s direction, there were some moments of brilliance. McKay’s use of Alfred Molina as a waiter explaining the crimes of the Bush administration was absolutely magnificent. His expanded exploration of the idea of the “Unitary Executive” was smart and well done too.

Other sequences by McKay that were simply sublime were when McKay would show the global and life altering power of the Presidency. In one sequence we see Nixon and Kissinger having a discussion about their Vietnam and Cambodia policy…and then we see the catastrophic results of that policy on regular people. The same thing occurs in relation to Bush and Iraq in one of the finer cinematic moments of the movie, where all of the power politics in America reduce people half way around the world to cower under a table in fear for their lives.

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There was one other scene that is worth mentioning, and not because it is so great, but because it reveals something nefarious about the film itself. In one scene where the principals of the Bush administration, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice etc., are debating whether to invade Iraq or not, there is a bit of dialogue which states in essence that Israel is opposed to the U.S. invasion because it will destablize the region. This is historically completely inaccurate and entirely at odds with reality. Why would Adam McKay put this bit of Israeli misinformation into his film that purports to tell the truth about the Bush administration? I think I know the reason why…but that is an uncomfortable discussion for another day.

In conclusion, as much as I wanted to love Vice because it shares my vision of the world and of the Bush administration, I didn’t love it. Cheney, like Nixon before him, should have been prosecuted and imprisoned for his crimes, instead of having his lackeys turned into exalted talking heads on MSNBC and CNN. If Vice were better made, if it were more coherent, cohesive and effective in its storytelling, it could have done to the Bush/Cheney administration, what The Big Short did to Wall Street…exposed them bare for the repugnant, amoral and immoral criminal pigs that they are.

Sadly, Vice doesn’t rise to the challenge, and so the historical myopia that pervades our current culture will persist and prosper. Liberals will continue to think everything was great before Trump and that Trump is responsible for all that is wrong in the world…and thus they doom themselves to repeat the cycle that brought us Trump in the first place. Just like Nixon gave us Reagan and Reagan gave us Clinton and Clinton gave us Bush/Cheney and Bush/Cheney gave us Obama and Obama gave us Trump…Trump will birth us another monster and it will devour us all unless we wake up and understand that it isn’t the individual that is rotten, it is the system that is rotting.

With all of that said, if you get a chance I do recommend you go see Vice, it is worth seeing for the exquisite performances of Bale, Adams and Rockwell alone. It is also worthwhile to see Vice to understand that as much as we’d like to blame others, be it Russians, Republicans or Democrats for all of our troubles, the truth is that Cheney bureaucratically maneuvered to give us the fascist tyranny for which we were clamoring. The fight is simply over who gets to control it the beast that is devouring us, and to see how much we can make selling rope to those who wish to hang us. My one solace to this national existential crisis is revenge, and the hope that I will get to see Dick Cheney and the rest of his gang at the end of one of those ropes before I die.

©2019

JIMINY CRICKET! A Curious Case of Mystery Attacks, Microwaves and Media Manipulation Gets Even Curiouser

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 47 seconds

MY ORIGINAL ARTICLE ON THIS SUBJECT, PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 19, 2018, IS PASTED BELOW THIS NEW ARTICLE. PLEASE READ IT FOR A MORE IN-DEPTH BACKGROUND ON THIS STORY.

On September 1, 2018 the New York Times ran an article from Pulitzer Prize winning science reporter William J. Broad titled, “Microwave Weapons are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers”. In the article Broad makes the case that U.S. “diplomats” (code for spies under diplomatic cover) stationed in Cuba, were attacked by Russians using a microwave weapon that caused concussion like symptoms and brain injuries.

On September 11, 2018, NBC News and its cable news outlet MSNBC, broke a story titled, “U.S. Officials Suspect Russia in Mystery Attacks on Diplomats in Cuba, China”. MSNBC ran the story, based entirely on the claims of anonymous U.S. Intelligence sources, as breaking news and covered it across their programming that day and into the next, with numerous hosts and guests saying that Russia and Putin had never stopped fighting the Cold War and that this attack was a dangerous escalation.

In the wake of that NBC report, numerous media outlets regurgiated the evidence free-claims and the hysteria went up a notch with feeble minded info-tainment hosts like Chris Matthews and Little Bill Maher and latching onto the story and declaring “of course Russia did it!!” and “Russia attacked us in Cuba!” respectively.

On September 19, 2018, I wrote an article on the subject that was published at CounterPunch.org where I made a clear case that the reporting on this story was at a minimum, journalistic malpractice, and more likely than not bold faced U.S. Intelligence agency anti-Russian propaganda.

The most compelling pieces of evidence of Intelligence agency manipulation were the Times article’s focus on a rather dubious source, Allen H. Frey, a biologist, who based on no tangible evidence at all claimed that Russia did it and that his theory should be believed because it was “viable”. Mr. Frey also made the far-fetched and incredulous claim to have been given access in the Soviet Union to the Soviet’s classified microwave weapon technology by the Soviet’s themselves at the height of the cold war and with the fear of the Cuban Missile Crisis fresh in Soviet hearts and minds.

The another piece of evidence was that NBC’s National Security Reporter, Ken Dilanian, was the point man for that network’s breathless and hyperbolic coverage of the story. As I have pointed out repeatedly, Dilanian is a notoriously ethically challenged reporter who has a long history of being a collaborator and shill for the U.S. intelligence community, so much so that as a reporter for the L.A. Times he would send the CIA his stories for them to vet and edit.

One final piece of evidence shows that these reporters and media outlets were either willing accomplices in deception, or blind to their own bias and anti-Russian animus, and that is that there was very clear and compelling evidence that Russians had no involvement in the “attacks”, but also contradictory evidence doubting that any “attacks” had taken place at all. The New York Times and NBC both either ignored or downplayed that evidence and instead embraced the “Russia did it!” narrative all based on either a dubious and uninformed source, or anonymous intelligence sources.

Now, four months later, a study has come out that puts a major kink in the “Russian Microwave Attack” story. The study, done by Alexander Stubbs of Berkeley and Fernando Montealegre-Z of the University of Lincoln (UK), decimates a critical piece of evidence claiming a Russian attack.

In 2017 the Associated Press obtained a recording of the sound the “diplomats” heard during the alleged attacks. The thinking was that this this sound was the sound of the microwave weapon being used and what caused all the damage and injury to the embassy personal.

The study by Stubbs and Montealgre-Z shows that this sound is not a microwave weapon, but a particular type of cricket trying to get the attention of any and all single crickets for the purpose of making more crickets. In other words, the nefarious Russian Bond-villain microwave super weapon is in reality nothing more than a horny cricket.

Stubbs and Montealgre-Z’s findings are in complete agreement with another group of scientists who studied the sound but were ignored, Cuban scientists have long claimed the sound was that of crickets…but since they are Cuban, and God knows we can’t trust Cubans, well, at least Cubans in Cuba, their findings were discounted.

The Cuban scientist weren’t the only ones whose conclusions were ignored by the media in favor of the more salacious claim that Russia did it with a microwave super weapon. Numerous American doctors and scientists, even the esteemed JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) examining the case thought that the evidence of physical harm showed that no “attack” had taken place at all. These scientists and doctors thought that there were other reasons behind the symptoms that the alleged “victims” had suffered, up to and included hysteria.

Look, more evidence may come out that proves or shows beyond a shadow of a doubt or even a preponderance of evidence that attacks did take place on U.S. “diplomatic” and embassy personnel in Cuba and China, and that Russia was behind it. A mysterious attack of some kind having taken place is a possibility. Russian guilt in that potential attack is definitely “possible”…but at looking at the evidence presented (or not presented as the case may be) and the claims made in the media in September, that possibility seemed unlikely to me then, and with this new study pointing the finger at crickets, seems even more highly unlikely today.

The lessons to be learn from this story are thus…first…skepticism regarding any claims of Russian misconduct or criminality is a must if you are going to keep your head about you in our current media climate. Russia has been successfully turned into a boogey man for all the ills of the U.S. and the world. This phase of the propaganda war against Russia began in earnest earlier this decade and has hit hyper-speed since the 2016 election. In order to wade through the morass of anti-Russian stories that are riddled with an implied or implicit Russo-phobia, one must not only seek, but demand, actual evidence when claims are made against Russia.

These false stories of Russian nefariousness, whether it be their supposed hacking into the Vermont electrical grid (false), the election systems of 21 state (false), C-Span (false), or their manipulation of the mainstream news or social media (false), all come in with a chest-thumping and flag-waving bang and leave with a red-faced whimper because they were such hysterical nonsense.

I know liberals and Democrats don’t want to hear this, but another story included on that list should and will be all of the claims about Russian “meddling” or “interference” in the 2016 election. The paucity, if not the downright total absence of evidence in the Russian meddling case is astonishing, and if you do not see that, that is an indictment of you, your wishful thinking and your confirmation bias, not Putin and the evil Russians.

Secondly, any story that relies on anonymous sources who make convenient claims that support your previously held belief, must be discarded. That doesn’t mean you immediately ignore all anonymous sources, just those who do not back up their claims with documentary evidence. For instance, Edward Snowden gave us documents, Bradley Manning gave us documents, Wikileaks gives us documents. Of course, Snowden, Manning and Wikileaks are now atop the public enemies list because they PROVED U.S. criminality, and the establishment and their media wing are not interested in documented U.S. wrong-doing, only in speculation of undocumented Russian wrong-doing.

In this case NBC News had anonymous sources from various U.S. intelligence agencies that claimed to have signal intelligence that proved that Russia was behind the attacks. Of course, NBC never saw that intelligence but just took the word of the intelligence officials that the alleged signal intelligence existed and that it proved Russian guilt. As I said in my original piece, “this is not journalism, this is stenography.”

And finally, and maybe the most important thing to take away from this whole story is that…I was right in smelling a rat. I’m kidding of course, no one cares that I was right in sniffing out a piece of propaganda. I will not be offered a job at The New York Times or The L.A. Times or NBC News for having seen this story for what it is…or for the myriad of other stories I have accurately diagnosed and dissected. No, I am not the type of guy those media outlets want to let loose on the world because I am not a mealy-mouthed, kiss ass only interested in access to power or fame or any of the other bullshit that distracts those fools from seeing the crickets fucking at the end of their nose. No, my only interest, and where my loyalty lies, is the Truth.

A good way to try and find the Truth amid the tidal wave of bullshit is don’t just read the headlines, but read the news, and don’t just to read the news, but read between the lines of the news. The major media in the U.S. is designed to disseminate disinformation and to leave citizens either misinformed or uninformed and always either afraid or angry or both. My best advice to news consumers trapped in a corporatist, oligarchic and aristocratic empire in a death spiral…think often, think critically, think skeptically and think rationally (and go read Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent). As Orwell tells us, “To see what is in front of one’s nose, needs a constant struggle.” Keep struggling...constantly.

©2019

MY ORIGINAL ARTICLE OF SEPTEMBER 19, 2018, IS BELOW. PLEASE READ IT FOR A DEEPER BACKGROUND ON THE STORY.

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The U.S. media’s lazy reporting of mystery attacks on American personnel in Cuba takes the predictable path of blaming Russia without evidence.

I came across a story recently in the New York Times that was intriguing. The story, headlined “Microwave Weapons are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers”, was written by William J. Broad and was about mysterious “attacks” that started in 2016 on U.S. personnel stationed in Cuba who had suffered the equivalent of concussive brain trauma and the ensuing after effects, such as hearing loss, dizziness and diminished cognitive function, yet had not been visibly assaulted or struck in the head. The article posits the “attacks” were made by a microwave-type of weapon that would invisibly strike its targets.

In the Times article it never states outright but certainly gives the distinct impression, that the mystery is now solved and that the “attacks” were made by a microwave type of weapon that would invisibly strike its targets.

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The most striking thing about this story was the seemingly out of nowhere speculation that it was Russia that perpetrated these “attacks”. What was so odd about this assertion was that upon closer inspection it became clear the actual facts presented in the story indicate there is no consensus or actual evidence Russia was responsible for the attacks or that any attacks had even taken place.

The article begins by giving a brief history of microwave radiation as a weapon, stating in its opening sentence, “During the Cold War: Washington feared that Moscow was seeking to turn microwave radiation into covert weapons of mind control.”

For the next nine paragraphs, Broad never mentions Russia, but then with no background as to where his speculation comes from, he writes,

“The microwave idea teems with unanswered questions. Who fired the beams? The Russian government? The Cuban government? A rogue Cuban faction sympathetic to Moscow? And, if so, where did the attackers get the unconventional arms?”

In re-reading the opening paragraph, you will notice that there is no proof that Russia has ever had a microwave weapon, only decades-old “fears” it was “seeking” to develop one. It would seem the entire basis for the speculation blaming Russia in this article is nothing more than some old, fleeting sense of Soviet super-villainy, that this fact is hidden in plain sight reveals a deft but ultimately duplicitous hand writing the story.

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In fact, the only person quoted in the piece claiming Russia as the prime suspect is a scientist, biologist Allan H. Frey, who has vast experience with microwave technology. Mr. Frey is described as having “traveled widely and long served as a contractor and a consultant to a number of federal agencies.” That description of Mr. Frey is curiously, if not suspiciously, lacking in specifics.

The New York Times goes on to write in regards to Mr. Frey, “he speculated that Cubans aligned with Russia, the nation’s longtime ally, might have launched microwave strikes in attempts to undermine developing ties between Cuba and the United States.” Mr. Frey describes his own analysis as a “perfectly viable explanation.”

So the New York Times bases the underlying assumption of Russian guilt on the uninformed speculation of a biologist, who has no expertise or insight into the subject, and who also admits that his beliefs only rise to the rather tepid level of being a “viable” explanation.

Frey’s credibility and believability takes a serious hit later in the article when he recounts the story of how, after he made a name for himself in the early 60’s with numerous papers about the effects of microwave energy on the human body which brought him a lot of attention, so much so that these effects were given the name the “Frey effect”, he was invited to the Soviet Union to speak.

The New York Times writes, “The Soviets took notice. Not long after his initial discoveries, Mr. Frey said, he was invited to the Soviet Academy of Sciences to visit and lecture. Toward the end, in a surprise, he was taken outside of Moscow to a military base surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire fences.”They had me visiting the various labs and discussing problems”, including the neural impacts of microwaves, Mr. Frey recalled. “I got an inside look at their classified program.

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Now, just think about what Frey is claiming here. Frey is saying that at the very height of the Cold War, with the Cuban Missile Crisis fresh in everyone’s mind, he was invited to go to the Soviet Union and then WAS GIVEN AN INSIDE LOOK INTO THE SOVIET’S CLASSIFIED PROGRAM! In what universe is this even remotely plausible? This story has got to be at best embellishment and at worst a total fabrication. And yet, the New York Times prints it as if it isn’t a big deal and must unquestionably be true. Frey reveals himself to be a pretty dubious character with that statement, and yet the New York Times’ reporter, William J. Broad, still uses him as the backbone of his assertion that Russia was behind the “attacks”.

Another rather remarkable piece of news that appears towards the end of this article is some contradictory evidence to the notion that Russia is the culprit behind the attacks, namely that other alleged microwave attacks have happened to U.S. diplomats stationed in China.

What makes that fact all the more salient is that the article describes a list of states that may have the ability to make a microwave weapon.

“Russia, CHINA and many European states are seen as having the know-how to make basic microwave weapons that can debilitate, sow noise or even kill. Advanced powers, experts say, might accomplish more nuanced aims such as beaming spoken words into people’s heads.” (emphasis mine)

Obviously, if China is capable of making this sort of weapon and there have been “attacks” upon U.S. diplomats in China, wouldn’t China be a better suspect than Russia? And China also has deep connections to Cuba…so…why did the New York Times write so suspiciously of Russia and not China? It makes you wonder if an “advanced power” like the U.S. beamed this article into the head of reporter William J. Broad.

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Further proof of something being greatly amiss about this article and story is the paucity of actual evidence that an “attack” even took place. According to thew York Times’ own reporting, the most clear cut pronouncement of an attack was made by James C. Lin, a scientist and expert in the field who wrote in a paper that the effects felt by the U.S. diplomats could “plausibly arise” from microwave beams. “Plausibly arise” is an extremely low bar, so much so that it is absurd to base any conclusions on that statement at all. Of course, many other things could be “plausible explanations”, and Broad even admits that no one really knows or agrees on what happened.

“Scientists still disagree over what hit diplomats. Last month, JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) ran four letters critical of the March study, some faulting the report for ruling out mass hysteria.”

Mass hysteria sounds like it could be not only a “plausible” explanation for this alleged Russian microwave attack in Cuba but also for the Times’ slanted article, as well as the spate of Russo-phobia infecting America’s establishment media.

The Times article glosses over the skepticism of scientists that actually claim they do not know what happened, and instead embraces speculation it was a “microwave attack”, and then despite a total lack of evidence and in the face of some contradictory evidence, confidently speculates that it was Russia that is the likely suspect.

Furthering this journalistic malpractice was NBC News, which followed up on the Times article ten days later with even more vapid reporting on the subject. The NBC News headline of September 11th reads “U.S. officials suspect Russia in mystery ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Cuba, China”.

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What is so amusing is that even the headline questions whether these events are attacks at all, putting quotation marks around the word. But that doesn’t stop NBC from devouring intel agency pablum hook, line and sinker. NBC relies entirely on anonymous sources for the story and never quotes anyone saying what the story so boldly asserts, which is that Russia is the main culprit in these “attacks”.

NBC News simply repeats unchallenged, the claims of anonymous intelligence officials that the suspicion of Russia is “backed up by evidence from communications intercepts”. The same paragraph making this assertion ends with this gem of a revealing statement, “The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence”.

So NBC, which ran the story on as “Breaking News” and hyped it endlessly on MSNBC, simply repeats intelligence agency speculation without ever seeing any of the alleged corroborating evidence or challenging the voracity of that alleged evidence, and calls it news. That isn’t journalism that is stenography.

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The stenography charge against NBC shouldn’t come as a surprise since one of the reporters who “broke” the story is Ken Dilanian. Dilanian is a notorious intelligence agency shill, who was exposed by The Intercept as having shared his stories and outlines with the CIA before he submitted them while he was working as a national security reporter at the L.A. Times, a shockingly unprofessional journalistic practice. What is even more outrageous is that Dilanian’s lack of journalistic ethics never hampered him from getting a job at NBC as their lead national security reporter. And since he has gotten to NBC he has done nothing but regurgitate intelligence agency approved talking points and narratives non-stop.

NBC’s and the Times’ reporting on this issue is perniciously vacuous, insipidly shallow and riddled with an insidious anti-Russian bias. These articles are forms of malignant disinformation that alchemically transform speculation into fact and replace critical thinking with presumption, the final result of which is that these presumed “facts” will go unchallenged and become part of a wider and often nefarious narrative. An example of which is that last week cable news talking heads like Chris Matthews proclaimed “of course Russia did it!” and even comedian Bill Maher roared “Russia attacked us in Cuba!”

These incidents may very well be proven to be attacks, and Russia may ultimately be responsible for them, but we should wait for actual evidence and not accept whispered innuendo wrapped in a slavish deference to intelligence agency authority as proof.

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After the media’s complicity in deceiving the American public into war with Iraq, followed quickly by their acquiescence on torture, or as the Times preferred to call it “enhanced interrogation”, and then concealing Bush’s warrantless surveillance program, of which the Times was aware but refused to publish for more than a full year, we the people must condition ourselves to read all of the establishment media news with an acutely jaundiced eye.

Similar to the delirious fever for war in the lead up to Iraq, the media are currently suffering from a virulent hysteria, this time of the anti-Russian variety. Now more than ever it is imperative to maintain a healthy and vigilant skepticism whenever Russia is blamed for misdeeds but there is a dearth or absence of concrete evidence. If we succumb to the corporate media’s Siren’s call of compulsive Russia blaming, our new Cold war may just turn very hot, and that will be a catastrophe for all of us.

A version of this article was originally published at CounterPunch.

 

©2018

Cold War: A Review

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

My Rating: 4.5 our of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A fantastic foreign film that is both personal, political and philosophical that boasts tremendous performances from both of its leads.

Cold War, written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, is a Polish drama set during the Cold War that tells the story of the love between a young singer Zula, and the musical director who discovers her, Wiktor. The film stars Joanna Kulig as Zula and Tomasz Kot as Wiktor.

Just when I thought 2018 was to be officially designated as cinematically irredeemable, a bunch of foreign films have appeared late in the year that have been a lifeline to artistic redemption. Four of the best movies this year are foreign films I’ve seen in the last month, Shoplifters (Japan), Roma (Mexico), Happy as Lazzaro (Italy) and now Cold War (Poland).

Of course, context is everything and a less gracious interpretation of my adoration of these four foreign films could be that their artistic success is a result of their being in such stark and glaring contrast to the cinematically vapid garbage vomited upon the movie-going public by Hollywood this year. Regardless of why foreign films are so good this year and Hollywood films so bad…the fact remains that it is decidedly so and I will simply enjoy quality cinema without compromise where I can find it.

Which brings us to Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War. Cold War is a beautiful and brilliant film that is both personal and political, poignant and prophetic. Shot in a stunning black and white that highlights a bleak but bold aesthetic, Cold War is both visually striking and dramatically potent.

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Pawlikowski, who also directed the Academy Award Best Foreign Picture winner Ida (2014), deftly crafts a lean film that is able to thoroughly tell the story of Zula and Wiktor amidst the wider Cold War that comes in under 90 minutes. Pawlikowski trims all the fat from the narrative and we are left with a strikingly effective and deeply insightful film that flows seamlessly through decades of personal and political history without skipping a beat.

Cinematographer Lukasz Zal masterfully uses the stark black and white to enhance the sub-text and narrative by deftly painting with shadow and light. Zal’s framing is impeccable, as evidenced by his very subtle but extremely effective and polished use of mirrors throughout the film to highlight the difficulty in discerning what is real and what is illusion. There is a shot of an after-concert party with a mirror for a wall that is so ingenious, precise and finely detailed I nearly fell out of my seat.

Pawlikowski and Zal never hit you over the head with their artistic virtuosity, as it is so understated as to be sublime, and creates an exquisite cinematic experience that is not only gorgeous to behold but extremely useful in propelling the narrative.

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Joanna Kulig gives a transcendent and mesmerizing performance as the singer Zula. Kulig is a luminous talent and she is blessed with a vivacious, vibrant and voluminous magnetism that is unrelentingly irresistable. Ms. Kulig’s Zula is a wild animal from the hinterlands of Poland and she is as palpably dangerous, untamable and uncontainable as she is volcanically compelling, charismatic and complicated. Zula is a singer of traditional Polish folk songs and jazz, but she has a rock and roll soul as evidenced by her ecstatic and deliriously contagious reaction upon hearing Bill Haley and the Comets in one electric scene.

Ms. Kulig is like a Polish Jennifer Lawrence, stunningly beautiful with a relatable groundedness and charming fearlessness. Simply said, viewers, much like the character Wiktor, are unable to take their eyes off of Zula whenever she is on screen.

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Tomasz Kot is equally effective as Wiktor but in much less dynamic ways than Ms. Kulig. Mr. Kot’s Wiktor is much more intellectual than the visceral Zula, but once she awakens the primal nature within him there is no putting it back to sleep. Wiktor is at first a rational man who is securely contained in a distant coolness, but as the film progresses and he gets ever closer to the inferno that is Zula, the ice melts and with it goes Wiktor’s rationalism.

What is fascinating in Cold War, is that the love story of Zula and Wiktor is such fertile ground for very profound political, social and philosophical symbolism. Zula is not just a firebrand from the back woods of Poland, she IS the Polish anima. While she may be swayed from one camp to another, be it the lure of western decadence or the security of Soviet protection, she is ultimately true only to the “folk” of Poland. In this way, Cold War is a meditation on the nationalism that is currently spreading across the globe in general and Europe in particular. Throughout history, Poland may fall under the rule of the Soviets or the West or some other power, but it will never fall under their spell. As Zula and Wiktor show us, Poland is for the Poles, and only Poles can truly understand it…which is true no matter what nation you plug into that statement.

Both Wiktor and Zula find “freedom”, at least as freedom is defined by western capitalism, but they don’t experience it as freedom at all but rather as decadence that is corrosive to their hearts and souls. The “easy living” of the west is a fool’s gold and Zula and Wiktor would rather be prisoners to political oppression in the east than slaves to their own desires in the “free” west. Zula and Wiktor learn that the “lie” of Soviet communism is dreadful, but the even bigger lie of the capitalist west is even more destructive to them.

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Zula struggles to survive no matter where they go in Europe because at heart, she is the Polish countryside, and it is only there where she can find transformation and transcedence, and only with Wiktor. Early in the film Wiktor stumbles upon the ruins of a church and discovers giant female eyes painted on the wall that look right through him and watch him wherever he goes. Wiktor then looks up and sees a large round opening where the church roof used to be that reveals the sky. This circle, a symbol of wholeness, is the key to the film, as it reveals that both Wiktor and Zula, must go on their grueling journey of heart and soul in order to complete that circle and be transformed. The circle is atop a Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is the container for the spirit of the Polish people and the Polish anima - Zula. The Catholic archetypes are the ones that resonate in Poland, and Wiktor and Zula need to transcend the limitations of not only the Cold War powers that govern them, but also the religion trying to contain them. Their love is a love of wholeness that is as boundless as the heavens that dance above that whole in the church’s circular roof, but they can only attain it by going through the archetypes of the church.

In conclusion, Cold War is a stunning film about love, loss, identity and artistry that is dramatically powerful and politically poignant. Visually stunning and propelled by glorious performances from its two leads Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot, Cold War is a must see for any cinephile. More conventionally inclined viewers may struggle with the film as, like most foreign films, it is rather existential in nature and is less rudimentary in its storytelling. That said, if you love movies or have a cinematically adventurous heart and open mind, then you should definitely see Cold War.

©2019

Happy as Lazzaro: A Review

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

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An insightful Italian fable that eloquently and poignantly speaks to our modern world and our fallen nature. Be forewarned, it is a foreign film, so those with more conventional tastes may find it a bit odd…but it really is worth giving a try if you can.

Happy as Lazzaro, an Italian drama written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, is the story of a good-hearted simpleton, Lazzaro, who lives and works in a farming community in Italy that gets turned upside down as the modern world encroaches upon the isolated village. The film stars Adriano Tordiolo as Lazzaro, with supporting turns from Nicoletta Braschi, Sergi Lopez and Alba Rohrwacher.

Happy as Lazzaro is a fable that insightfully exposes the “progress” of 21st century capitalism that has crushed most under its heel and has broken the spirit and stolen the souls of all those fall under its spell.

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Lazzaro is exquisitely portrayed by Adriano Tordiolo who imbues the character with a genuine humanity that is impeccably good-hearted without ever being cloying or gratuitous. Tordiolo gives Lazzarro a distinct physicality, his arms hanging straight down by his sides, his posture erect, his heart exposed. Like a rural Italian Chauncey Gardner, Tordiolo’s doe eyed Lazzaro is immune from cynicism and illuminated by an eternal optimism.

Lazzareo is at once a holy fool, a saint and a martyr. He is the memory of innocence and the hope of salvation. His entry into the modern world is reminiscent of the scene from The Brothers Karamozov where Christ meets The Grand Inquisitor, echoes of which are seen when Lazzaro is thrown out of a Catholic church and the sacred music follows him. Lazzaro, like Christ, is a shepherd who is unwanted in our cruel and dehumanized world.

Writer/director Rohrwacher deftly tells this gem of a story and allows the narrative to unfold at a leisurely but effective pace. Rohrwacher exquisitely creates Lazzaro’s idyllic world, and then masterfully pulls the rug out from underneath it and the viewer.

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In the latter portion of the film, Rohrwacher expertly uses tempeture, both climate and color, to indicate how Lazzaro’s world has changed, from the warmth of the old village to the foreboding bleakness of the modern city.

Lazzaro’s village, Inviolata, is a symbol of both innocence and a quaint version of shared feudal exploitation. The simplicity of the earlier part of the film is then overtaken by the dark inevitability in the latter part of the movie. Everyone from Inviolata is violated and learns from this violation to spend their time out of that Garden of Eden violating others. Rorhwacher shows that the old ways of exploitation in the village have metastasized and are now global in scale, but the modern world is actually much worse because its exploitation strips the comfort, security and solace of community away from people. The modern world turns everyone into a hustler and grifter, afflicted with a narcissistic myopia focused solely on their own survival at the expense of others.

As the film teaches us, capitalism is exploitation upon exploitation, a cancer of competition where everybody is exploiting somebody…the lone exception being Lazzaro who only gets exploited but never exploits, for he is in this world but not of it. Only saints like Lazzaro can keep their integrity and humanity in tact under capitalism, but integrity and humanity is no protection from the corrupting beast of the free market or the wolf of mankind’s darker nature.

Lazzaro stands guard against the wolf, he communicates with the wolf, he knows the wolf and the wolf knows him. Lazzaro is not afraid, he is immune to fear, which is epidemic in capitalism and is also its fuel…fear of lack, fear of other, fear of self…keep us all on in a state of pain and capitalism sells us the snake oil to soothe our discomfort. Lazzaro is devoid of all of these fears and, even though he is a tireless and selfless worker, is an existential threat to capitalism.

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Lazzaro is a saint, literally the last good man, an innocent whose soul and spirit is pure even though he has been exploited many times over. In the modern capitalist world all things are violated and violate…the church, government, business, people. It is no coincidence the climactic scene of the film takes place in a bank and shows that the spiritual corrosive of capitalism turns everyone into wolves…hungry and insatiable and afraid…always on the hunt for the weaker, needing to exploit…in the end, the actual wolf is replaced by us.

In conclusion, I was deeply moved by Happy as Lazzaro as it is a powerful fable that insightfully speaks to our current spiritual void and how capitalism feeds our darkest impulses. Lazzaro is like a character from a dream who comes to remind us who we really are but have long forgotten, it will do you good to spend two hours with Lazzaro trying to remember. Happy as Lazzaro is currently on Netflix and I whole-heartedly encourage you to watch it.

©2018

22 July: A Review

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

My Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. Not the best film of the year but maybe the most important film of the year.

22 July, written and directed by Paul Greengrass, is based on the book One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway and Its Aftermath and tells the true story of the infamous 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway committed by right wing extremist Anders Breivik which killed 77 people. The film stars Anders Danielsen Lie as Brevik and Jon Oigarden as his lawyer Gier Lippestad.

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I have been a fan of director Paul Greengrass since I first saw his film Bloody Sunday in 2002. Greengrass’ direction on Bloody Sunday was extraordinary and his frenetic cinematic style made that film a viscerally unnerving movie to experience. As a first generation Irish-American, my attachment to the Irish people protesting against the British in Bloody Sunday was already entrenched, but Greengrass’ innovative visual approach made the film and the horrific slaughter it depicts so emotionally jarring that I had difficulty containing myself as I watched.

Greengrass has tackled other emotionally raw material besides Bloody Sunday, as he also made the 9-11 film United 93, which told the story of the passenger rebellion against the 9-11 hijackers on that ill-fated flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. On United 93 Greengrass’ signature mixture of documentary-style realism combined with a hectic stylized hyper-realism through manic camera movement made that already emotionally combustible story all the more charged.

Grenngrass has used his style on other films such as Captain Philips and three of the Bourne franchise movies to good effect even though those stories were not so emotionally imperative and volatile as Bloody Sunday or United 93.

Which brings us to 22 July. 22 July is a very emotionally potent story even without Greengrass’ cinematic maneuvers, as it deals with children and young adults being in mortal peril. Any story dealing with the violent targeting of children is bound to arouse an emotional response from viewers, especially parents. I don’t know this for sure, but I would assume that the response of being revolted and unsettled at the sight of children being harmed is hardwired into the human brain. (and this biological auto-response is a useful tool for propagandists, as I have written before).

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As I watched 22 July for the first time, as a father I found my reaction to be similar to my reaction to Bloody Sunday, I was shaking with emotion, projecting my son onto the children in peril in the film. But I also noticed something peculiar about the film, namely that as much as I was shaken by it, Greengrass actually seemed to be pulling his visual punches in telling the story. The scenes of Breivik’s attack on youth campers was jarring, but the way Greengrass shot it actually felt a bit watered down. The violence was palpable and garnered a visceral reaction from me but it was not even remotely explicit. Even Greengrass’ shaky camera seemed tamed down a bit.

I don’t blame Greengrass for being more strategically sensitive in his depiction of such an atrocity, but that decision to soften the blow of the tragedy a bit seemed to permeate the rest of the story. The more I watched the more I felt as though the drama Greengrass was trying to build was being undermined by the earlier decision to spare the audience of the grueling physical aspects of Breivik’s carnage.

After the attack sequences, which as I stated, were emotionally effective if visually subdued, the film struggles to maintain a compelling pace and narrative, as it focuses on the struggle of the survivors to come to grips with Breivik’s destruction.

The action skips between the Rocky-esque physical, mental and emotional recovery story of a young man and the story of Breivik’s attorney, who accepts the thankless job of defending this monster.

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The survival story is uncomfortably trite and feels as though it is from another movie altogether as it is paced differently and thematically is out of rhythm. Jonas Strand Gravli plays the wounded young man, Viljar, and he gives a good effort to a very difficult role, but he never quite moves beyond indicating and graduates to experiencing. Viljar is not as multi-dimensional a character as he needs to be, whether that is Gravli’s fault or the fault of Greengrass’ script is open to debate, but regardless, the film suffers because of it.

The lawyer story though, is fantastically compelling, and is in many ways the best part of the movie. The lawyer, Gier Lippestad, is precisely and exquisitely portrayed by Jon Oigarden, who is a fantastic actor. Oigarden plays Lippestad as an understated hero, an archetypal Knight in Invisible Armor who does his duty because it is the right thing to do even if he doesn’t want to do it.

For those not familiar with the Norway Massacre upon which the film is based, which is probably true of most Americans, 22 July will be a startling and unnerving revelation. Breivik accurately foretold of the coming populist and nationalist wave that is currently engulfing the entire planet. In some of the darker corners of the web, Anders Breivik, who massacred 77 people, 69 of them children, is referred to as St. Breivik because he is part prophet/part martyr for the cause of European ethno-nationalism. Breivik told Europe, the U.K. and the world what was coming, and no one listened to him. Breivik may be evil, he may be mentally ill, but he certainly wasn’t wrong.

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The Lippestad character is the one that viewers should focus on if they are looking for a way to quell the call of St. Breivik upon their countrymen and the equally thoughtless reaction of liberals to Breivikism. Lippestad does not embrace emotion, he does not embrace revenge, he does not embrace reactionary measures to silence dissent. What Lippestad does is pledge his loyalty and his life to the law. Lippestad understands his place in Norwegian civilization, and his critical role in keeping it afloat. Lippestad’s courageous decision to defend the heinous Breivik, despite what it costs him personally and professionally, make him a hero not just for Norway, but for all of Western Civilization.

The U.S. is well beyond repair now because it has long lacked people like Lippestad, most strikingly in the wake of 9-11. The Patriot Act, the expansive surveillance, the torture, the illegal wars…all of it…were a result of America and Americans embracing myopic and emotionalist vengeance. As is always the case, when emotion is your guide and an eye for an eye is your philosophy, everyone ends up blind.

Besides embracing the Lippestad ethic, viewers would be wise to not label Breivik as an irrational loon or outlier and should focus more on answering the legitimate questions he asks and the problems he raises. Breivik was not created in a vacuum, and while it would be comforting to simply try and eliminate or ignore him and his far right acolytes, the idea that propels them is uncontainable and on the loose, you ignore it or try to banish it at your peril. Liberal’s tactic of reducing their opponents to nothing more than irrational “racists” not only doesn’t solve the problem, it greatly exacerbates it. Stifling debate, delegitimizing serious concerns and ignoring observable reality is a sure fire way to radicalize opponents even to the point of violence. If liberals shut down the immigration debate with cries of “racism”, that doesn’t mean they’ve won it, or changed people’s minds, it just means they’ve abandoned the debate and shoved the resentment of their opponents into the closet, thus turning it into a shadow element that grows in power and intensity in the dark. Breivik is a fungus that grew in that shadow darkness…and he won’t be the last.

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Breivik is a monster, but he was also right. Immigration is a major problem in Europe. European cultures are under siege and attack and Breivik’s logic was pristine when seen through that lens. Ignoring these realities doesn’t make you an enlightened liberal, it makes you a damn fool. When a people or culture are under attack one of two things can happen, these people can either capitulate or they can fight. Throughout human history the usual response has been for people to fight. You can see this in recent history, from the Middle East to Britain. Not surprisingly America was not welcomed as liberators in Iraq…or Afghanistan…or Syria…or Yemen…or Libya…or anywhere else. Just like the waves of African, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants have resulted in Brexit, Viktor Orban, the Five Star Movement, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen and Trump and every other anti-immigrant, pro-nationalist movement on the rise in Europe.

As I have written before, when an invasion occurs, war breaks out. Whether that invasion is of military troops or migrants makes no difference. And when war breaks out, always bet on the home team…that is why the U.S. has lost in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. And that is also why the nationalist surges in Europe and even in the U.S. are the favorites to prevail.

An example of why this is can be seen in the behavior of my liberal friends out here in Hollywood, where everyone likes the idea of diversity, but once it costs them a job, or their children an opportunity or puts their children at risk, diversity goes out the window. People either fight or they capitulate. Here in Los Angeles, a very diverse city, many of my liberal friends who literally say that “diversity is the most important thing” to them, don’t send their kids to the very “diverse” public schools, but rather move to a tony neighborhood where the diversity isn’t “so diverse”. Either that or they send their kids to extremely expensive private schools in order to embrace “diversity” but just not too tightly. Like most things, diversity is great in theory, but more difficult in practice. In most cases when it comes to Hollywood liberals, “diversity” is deemed mandatory but only for those “racist” other guys, which is just like the Hollywood liberal approach to immigration, which they wholeheartedly support just as long as it doesn’t negatively effect them.

In conclusion, while 22 July is not the best film of the year, it is among the most important ones. I urge people to steel themselves and watch it, especially because you can see it on Netflix for free. 22 July asks viewers very uncomfortable questions that we all need to find the courage to deeply and honestly ponder, as we might not like the truth that presents itself when we look deep enough to find the answer. For me, the greatest takeway from 22 July is that Breivik was a prophet of doom and Lippestad is the needed antidote to Breivikism. The unsettling reality is that the Breivik infection has spread while the Lippestad antidote is in very short supply.

©2018

Roma: A Review

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

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE. IT. NOW. A directorial tour de force and utter masterpiece from Alfonso Cuaron.

Roma, written, directed, shot and edited by Alfonso Cuaron, is the story of Cleo, an indigenous young woman who works as a live-in maid for a middle-class Mexican family in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood in the 1970’s. The film stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in her first acting role.

2018 has not been a good year for movies, and as the final days of the year quickly fall away the chances of a cinematic redemption have grown ever more bleak. But sometimes a Christmas miracle occurs and a movie comes along that reminds us why God invented cinema in the first place…Roma is that movie. Simply said, Roma is a stunningly beautiful, staggeringly well-crafted masterpiece.

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Director Alfonso Cuaron has made some very good movies in his time, the most notable of which were Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) and Gravity (2013), for which he won the Best Director Oscar. My personal favorite of Cuaron’s movies is the under appreciated Children of Men (2006), which I thought was magnificent but was maybe a little too dark and too existential for audiences and Oscar voters to embrace. Cuaron’s filmography is a testament to his storytelling ability and his dedication to craft, which brings us to Roma…and in the case of Alfonso Cuaron, all roads lead to Roma.

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Auteur Cuaron puts on a remarkable directorial and cinematographic tour de force with Roma. Cuaron’s direction is intimate, intricate and impeccable and creates an immersive cinematic experience that is so sublime as to be hypnotic. Cuaron’s artistic visual prowess is on full display from the very first shot of the film, which is cinematically glorious in every way, and only grows from there.

Cuaron shoots the entire movie in black and white and intermittently uses a slowly panning camera which at times goes a full 360 degrees, to masterfully tell the story of Roma with moving pictures instead of words. Cuaron’s camera movement, framing, choreography and blocking are absolutely exquisite, and are the work of a true master. In fact, you could watch Roma with the subtitles off, and if you don’t speak Spanish or Mixtec you would still have an equally profound cinematic experience. There are so many visual sequences in Roma that are so breathtaking, and dramatic scenes so gut-wrenching, that viewers are left in a cinematic stupor when it is all over.

Cuaron’s use of black and white and his complete mastery of craft are reminiscent of another great auteur’s seminal work, Martin Scorsese and his 1980 classic Raging Bull. While the story’s of Raging Bull and Roma are very different, the artistry and craftsmanship that brought them to life and propelled their narratives are very similar.

Roma is a perfect stylistic combination of realism and formalism, where the viewer is shown a realistic slice of life in Mexico City in 1970 but one that is littered with mythic and political symbolism. Everything in Roma is intentional and deliberate, filled with deeper meaning and symbolic significance.

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Water opens the film and plays a vital symbolic role throughout, signifying transitions and/or baptisms and rebirths. The symbolism of dogs (and their shit) rears its head…literally…and carries with it the symbolism of status and social hierarchy throughout the film. Planes, (symbolic of higher planes of spiritual existence), containers such as eggs and cups (symbolic of the womb-the container of the life force) along with natural disasters (symbolic of God/Fate/Destiny) and social unrest (symbolic of the political as the personal) are all used throughout the movie to great affect. These rich symbols are hiding in plain sight in Roma, but their deeper mythic and archetypal meaning is pulsating just beneath the mask of Mexico City’s middle-class mundanity.

Roma is the story of one drop of water lost in the meaningful, yet mystical and mysterious, Sea of Life. It is a detailed glimpse of the specifics of one woman’s life, where tedious work is transformed into transcendent ritual and the minute and mundane into spiritual magnificence.

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Roma’s politics are both personal and profound, as class and social hierarchy are at the fore of the story, and speak to the scourge of income inequality and the enormous disparity of wealth across the globe and the angry populists sentiments rising in reaction to it. The reason viewers so quickly project themselves onto Cleo is because so many of us are in her shoes in one way or another, under the boot of someone higher up the social/economic class totem pole. Cleo is all of us, exploited and degraded by those who consider themselves our superiors and who look down upon us from tony, Ivy League, Washington, Wall Street, Media, Hollywood perches. Cleo’s struggles are our struggles, in one form or another, and as elites across the globe have been slow to discover, that struggle is quickly becoming conscious and growing very sharp and lethal teeth.

Cuaron’s skillful direction is not limited to just his camera work, as he coaxes an astounding performance from first time actress Yolitza Aparicio. Ms. Aparicio is staggeringly good as Cleo, creating a grounded and genuine character that is part sherpa and part lama, whom the audience is instantly drawn to and sympathetic towards. Aparicio is so comfortable on camera that it appears she isn’t acting at all, and while this may be a case of a person just being perfect for a specific role, that does not diminish her incredible work in Roma. There are so many scenes where Ms. Aparicio has to do so much in regards to blocking and specific “business” and has to do them all with perfect timing and in synchronicity with very detailed camera moves, that it is just remarkable she is able to pull it off. I can tell you with first hand, recent experience with some famous actors, that Ms. Apricio’s skill in regards to doing this is very, very uncommon, and extremely beneficial to a director. Ms. Aparicio isn’t painting by numbers as Cleo either, she brings a potent and palpable emotional vitality to the role that is so compelling it drives the entire film.

In conclusion, Roma is a monumental and magnificent masterpiece that is a film for our times and of our times. It is one of those films that restores my faith in the art form and reminds me of why cinema exists in the first place and why I love it so much. I am hesitant to write too much about the film because I don’t want to spoil it, but just know this…I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go see Roma. If you can see it in the theatre, do so to swim in the lush and immaculate waters of Cuaron’s cinematography on the big screen, but if not, watch it on Netflix (it is available now). I don’t care where you see it, just see it, and bask in the glow of Alfonso Cuaron’s talent and skill, because with Roma, he is currently at the height of his glorious cinematic powers.

©2018

Scrooge Sends Season's Greetings From Syria

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Estimated Reading Time: Longer than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer but shorter than The Little Drummer Boy

Since it is the holiday season, I thought now would be a good time to try a different approach to my writing and actually say something nice for once. I know, I know, it is as big a shock to me as it is to you, but sometimes at Christmas there is a wondrous magic in the air that allows people to have their hearts opened and their perspectives changed…just ask Ebeneezer Scrooge (a role I once played…PHENOMENALLY…on stage!!).

In my case, I thought it would be a good time to give credit where credit is due for people who I usually chastise but who have recently done something good and honorable. The catalyst for my change of heart regarding these folks isn’t Scrooge, but Syria.

First on the list is everybody’s least favorite carnival barker, sideshow clown and general asshat Donald Trump. I loathe Trump with the intensity of a thousand suns and have for decades, but like a toddler, when he does something good, he deserves my encouragement. Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria is an excellent thing…a truly excellent thing.

My fear with Trump has always been that because he is such a needle-dicked, insecure bully and poseur, that he would start a war to bolster his flaccid virility and tenuous manhood. The fact that Trump is actually ending a war, or at least the U.S.’s involvement in one, is…and I can’t believe I am saying this…a courageous act.

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Trump is going against the entire political and media establishment in America. The Military Industrial Complex, the Intelligence community and their lackeys and shills in the corporate media, and the Israeli lobby, do not take kindly to American militarism and imperialism in the Middle East being curtailed in any way. This is why I think Trump was brave to do this (we will see if he actually follows through) because he basically signed his death warrant or the death warrant of his presidency. The forces Trump is taking on with this Syria decision are not known for playing patty cake and they do not forgive or forget. When Kennedy reversed course on the war in Vietnam and shifted toward deescalation, he ended up with his brains all over Jackie’s nice Chanel suit, I would not be shocked if a similar fate awaited The Donald in one form or another. Robert Mueller might be laying in wait on his own grassy knoll as we speak with an indictment in his hands instead of a Mannlicher-Carcano. (Or don’t be surprised if one of the CIA’s friends in ISIS kills a bunch of people in America and Trump is blamed because he pulled out of Syria or as evidenced by Mnuchin’s signals to the big banks, that the propped up, phony, smoke and mirrors American economy has the rug pulled out from under it in order to knee cap Trump and Trumpism once and for all)

Of course, Trump could reverse course on his reversing course, or could start a war somewhere else that is bigger in scale, in a place like Iran, in order to appease the rabidly nefarious neo-con class, but for now, leaving Syria is a very good thing, and because of that I am saying…gulp…Thank you Mr. President.

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There are a few other people that stand out for sticking to their convictions regarding Syria. Ted Lieu, the congressman from my neck of the woods, has been a vociferous attacker of Trump but he stood up for Trump’s Syria withdrawal. Republican Senator Rand Paul along with Democratic Representatives Ro Khanna, Justin Amash and Tulsi Gabbard have all done the same. These people have shown themselves to be loyal to something higher than political party, they are loyal to their moral and ethical values and beliefs, and it is refreshing and encouraging to see politicians actually have principles and stand by them.

What is not so encouraging are the plethora of politicians on both sides of the aisle who are slavishly addicted to American militarism. Most disheartening are not just the pro-war Democratic politicians, but everyday liberals who are so hypocritically opposed to Trump’s withdrawal from Syria (including the usually reliable Michael Moore).

It is truly astonishing but these supposedly liberal people are angry at Trump for ending U.S. involvement in a war. Of course most of these dopes didn’t even know the U.S. was so heavily involved in Syria in the first place (the U.S. occupies 1/3rd of the country), but that doesn’t matter, all that matters is if Trump is for something that means it must be bad. This is how the game works now, and the establishment has used that emotionalist response to great effect to get people to go against their own interests.

Liberals are currently being played by the establishment class. Liberals hatred of Trump has blinded them to reality, has muddied their mind, soiled their soul and left them with a permanent case of political myopia. Hating Trump is not a belief system, it is not an ideology, it is not a governing philosophy…it is a moral, ethical, political and philosophical cancer…and it is eating at the heart, soul and mind of liberalism and our democracy as it distorts the judgement and reason of both the liberal and conservative populace.

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Great examples of this are how liberals now adore the FBI and CIA. War criminals like John Brennan, Michael Hayden and James Clapper are held up as guardians of all that is good and pure. Robert Mueller and James Comey, two of the worst deep state operators, are held up as paragons of virtue. George W. Bush, who lied us into a war that killed millions, tortured thousands and surveilled millions across the globe, is being rehabilitated in the media and held up as a decent man because he gave Michelle Obama a piece of candy at church…what the fuck?. None of the crimes of these people, from their deceptions on Iraq, to their support and involvement in torture and illegal surveillance, are ever mentioned when they are spoken of in such hushed and reverential tones by know-nothing talking heads. (as an aside, the reason for this might be because St. Barrack Obama decided to look forward and not backward, thus becoming an accomplice to war crimes after the fact…thanks Obama!)

Bush cronies and Iraq war demagogues like Max Boot, David Frum, William Kristol and Richard Painter are regulars on America’s liberal network MSNBC, and their complicity in war crimes and their moral and ethical depravity are never mentioned. Nicolle Wallace, a former Bush administration official even has her own show on the “liberal” network.

These national security establishment shills in the media pout and preen like cheap tarts at a red light street when it comes to Trump and his “lawlessness”…but international and domestic laws are nothing but props for these people as evidenced by their embrace of torture, surveillance, the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus by U.S. forces and their support for the war in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan and their unabashed adoration Israel and its illegal occupation of the Palestine.

The establishment, in an impressive bit of propaganda jiu jitsu, has used the fear of Trump to bolster their grip on the minds of Americans, most especially liberal Americans who should know better, or at least think they know better.

If only liberals would stop claiming to be “woke” and actually wake the fuck up and realize that the #Resistance is being co-opted by insidious and duplicitous neo-cons. Understand this, all of these newly politically active liberal anti-Trumpers out there are being indoctrinated and propagandized to worship the military/intelligence industrial complex, and that will be disastrous for the future of America and the world.

The allegedly liberal NBC and MSNBC have been the worst agents of disinformation and propaganda in this respect. Proven Intelligence Agency asset, NBC’s Ken Dilanian, has been breathlessly reporting how Trump is endangering America by leaving Syria and how the Pentagon is in shock and horror at the news. I wonder if the CIA proof read Dilanian’s work which is his standard operating procedure.

Another example of MSNBC’s madness has been the lather raving Russophobe and liberal charlatan Rachel “Mad Dog” Maddow has been in for days now, particularly when 5 star douchebag and ”confirmed life-long bachelor” (*wink-wink*) General “Mad Dog” Mattis, announced, no doubt with his signature lateral lisp, his resignation as Secretary of Defense over Trump’s Syria withdrawal.

MSNBC has had a cavalcade of “national security experts” on as well assure liberals that leaving Syria now is the worst decision ever and jeopardizes American lives. It is amazing to me that we are supposed to listen to and believe these “national security experts” as they are the same geniuses who got us into Iraq, which went so well, and Yemen, where that is going so well, and Libya, where that went so well, and Syria, which is again…going so, so well. These are the same moral and ethical stalwarts that have allied us with the deplorable terrorists of the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, which gave us 9-11, and the Nazi coup in Ukraine….both of which have gone so well.

These are the same “national security experts” who got us into Somalia in the 90’s, Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 80’s, South America in the 70’s and Vietnam in the 60’s…all of which worked out incredibly well. ..right? RIGHT? Sadly, watching MSNBC has now turned into watching Soviet era state-tv or Fox News, where no voices in opposition to the war are ever allowed to be heard.

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Watching the media’s hysteria in the wake of Trump’s Syria plan has been extremely enlightening and entirely disheartening. As far as I can tell, there have been no voices in the corporate media that have pointed out the most obvious fact about America’s involvement in Syria…namely that it is entirely illegal. Not only is it illegal under U.S. law, as congress has not approved the war, but it is also illegal under International law, as the U.S. is illegally occupying a third of Syria. The fact that the media instinctively supports any and all military action by the U.S., and only gets up in arms over a proposed withdrawal of troops, tells you all you need to know about who is pulling the strings on the information machine. U.S. military withdrawal from anywhere in the world, be it Japan, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, is entirely inconceivable to the corporate media, who are totally blind to their imperialism and militarism. Somewhere Noam Chomsky is nodding to himself saying, “I told you so, you stupid sons of bitches”

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You know what else is never mentioned on NBC or anywhere else in the media? The Richard Engel scam that NBC participated in with anti-Assad forces (aka ISIS) when the reporter claimed he was kidnapped by Assad’s forces and then was saved by anti-Assad groups that killed his kidnappers. NBC hyped the story no end and kept up the charade after Engel was returned safely, even though the network knew that his story was bunk, and that the truth was that it was anti-Assad forces (aka ISIS, no doubt with an assist from the CIA) that kidnapped Engel in a bit of false flag political theater. I wonder why no one mentions that story when Syria is brought up?

Another topic that never gets explored are the alleged chemical weapons attacks that the U.S. blamed on Assad but that were in actuality false flag attacks by anti-Assad forces to dupe the American public into supporting more U.S. military intervention in the region. The media, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, simply regurgitates the dubious official story in regards to these attacks and blames it on Assad. I wonder why the corporate media doesn’t want to look to hard into those stories? I also wonder why liberals are so willing to accept them as proven fact? Maybe because they have stopped thinking rationally and are victims of their own emotionalism.

Speaking of emotionalism, remember when the media used a dead little Syrian boy washed ashore on a beach to try and get the U.S. more militarily involved in the Syrian war? Such naked pleas to emotion are a hallmark of manipulation and propaganda and are used to cover the truth, not reveal it, and in the case of that poor little boy, are a case of American foreign policy making it rain outside and then Americans complaining about the weather.

The truth is this, the U.S. and its intelligence agencies started the civil war in Syria. The intelligence community and their assets and shills in the corporate media have been feeding the American people a truck load of bullshit and blatant propaganda in order to drum up animus toward Assad and Syria (as well as toward Putin and Russia). This entire Syria (and Iraq before it) operation has been done for the benefit of neo-conservatives, Israel and powerful oil and gas interests that are all virulently opposed to Iran and Russia. The civil war in Syria that started in 2011 was, just like the coup in Ukraine in 2014, just another geo-political maneuver by the U.S. in an attempt to isolate, weaken and ultimately destroy Russia economically and eventually militarily by drawing Russia into two quagmires.

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The U.S. has also been in a full scale, blatant and shameless propaganda war against Russia and Russians for a long time, but that shifted into overdrive in 2014 with the coverage of both Ukraine and the Sochi Winter Olympics. The saddest part of all this is that since it began under Obama, liberals have fully and whole-heartedly embraced the vicious anti-Russian xenophobia being peddled by the corporate media and our government. Liberals blind hatred of all things Russian went into the stratosphere with the alleged “hacking” of the election, which is such a foolish and vacuous story that it truly boggles the mind that liberals, who pride themselves on being so smart, fall for it. But to be fair, Russia makes an easy scapegoat, and it is much easier for Democrats to blame Russia than blame themselves.

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Ok…I am not doing a good job of being filled with the Christmas spirit here, so I am going to end on a positive note. There is one media member in particular who has been the target of my ire and been on the receiving end of many a vicious drubbing from me over the years because he was consistently behaving like a brain-addled buffoon. An example of my distaste for this person is that I once eloquently and accurately described him as a “spittle-flecked, syphilitic baboon”. But since it is the Christmas season, I want to extend my thanks and gratitude and even my momentary respect to my favorite spittle flecked, syphilitic baboon…MSNBC’s Chris Matthews of Hardball fame.

Matthews actually stood up for genuine progressive values and principles when, during his “Let Me Finish” segment on Hardball last week, he fervently and ferociously took to task the neo-con and neo-liberal war mongers and chicken hawks who were so outraged by Trump’s withdrawal from Syria. I was genuinely shocked, and frankly moved, to see Matthews so boldly and brazenly take on the Washington Establishment and their default setting of war, war and more war.

What Matthews understands is that it is easy to get into a war and very difficult to get out of one. Once troops are in place, any attempt to withdraw them will be met with cries from war-mongering armchair tough guys of “appeasement” or “defeatism” or “anti-Americanism”. “Right-minded serious people”, as liberals like to think of themselves, will chastise any attempts at withdrawal by saying “now is not the right time” or that “we need a plan for the aftermath” or “we need to think about the children” or “what about our allies” or my favorite “we need to listen to the generals”, because yes, the people we need to listen to are the ones whose livelihood depends on maintaining war.

Anyone clamoring for the U.S. to stay in Syria, or Iraq or Afghanistan, needs to pick up a history book. As the Pentagon Papers show, the Washington establishment and the Military/Intelligence Industrial Complex knew full well for years that Vietnam could never be won but sacrificed young American boys and men at the altar of American Empire and ego rather than do the right, but difficult thing.

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The powers that be knew before any invasions ever took place that Iraq and Afghanistan were ultimately unwinnable wars, but winning those wars was never the point, fighting them was. Those wars in particular and the War on Terror in general, have generated billions if not trillions in profits for the weapons, construction, intelligence, surveillance, energy and technology sectors of the U.S. economy. War is big business and with the militarism of American Empire, business is booming. Pulling out of Syria is bad for the war business and bad for Israel which means it is bad for the business of corruption in Washington, which also booms during wartime. (As an aside, if you want to see real election meddling, turn your gaze from Russia and open your eyes to the real power behind the American throne…Israel)

And this is why I tip my cap to Chris Matthews, Ted Lieu, Ro Khanna, Justin Amash, Tulsi Gabbard, Rand Paul and even Donald Trump. These folks are swimming against the overpowering tide of blood-thirsty, greed-fueled war mongering, the deep-seeded moral and ethical depravity in the form of indifference to other people’s suffering among political elites and the shameless corruption of the Washington/media establishment and the Military Industrial Complex, and they deserve our praise for speaking up when everyone else, most depressingly liberals, are shouting for more war, more empire, more death and more destruction.

In conclusion, I wish all my readers, all my friends, all my enemies and everyone everywhere, even the spittle-flecked, syphilitic baboon Chris Matthews and spittle-flecked, syphilitic orangutan Donald Trump, a very Happy Christmas. May the celebration of the birth of Jesus bring about a birth of conscience in the halls of power and in the hearts and minds of less powerful people across the globe.

©2018

If Beale Street Could Talk: 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. A Beautiful mess of a movie that is gorgeous to look at but story wise is derivative and dull, making it difficult to sit through.

If Beale Street Could Talk, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is an adaptation of the James Baldwin story of the same name that follows the travails of two African-Americans, Tish and Fonny, as they navigate the perils of young love in a racist New York City of the 1970’s. The film stars Kiki Layne as Tish and Stephon James as Fonny with supporting turns from Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry .

If Beale Street Could Talk, director Barry Jenkin’s much anticipated follow up to his 2016 Best Picture winning Moonlight, is another in a long line of disappointments on the very bumpy ride of cinema in 2018.

Based on the James Baldwin story of the same name (which I have not read), If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful mess of a movie. It is at once visually stunning yet also narratively pedestrian and culturally juvenile.

Let’s start with the good news. Cinematographer James Laxton delivers an impeccably lush and cinematically vibrant aesthetic to the film. Laxton’s camera engages in an exquisite dance with his subjects while painting the world of the film with a delicate and ethereal palate that is not only gorgeous to behold but narratively profound. Laxton’s work on Moonlight was equally sublime and dramatically insightful, and with If Beale Street Could Talk, Laxton has shown himself to be not only a master craftsman but a powerful artist.

Sadly, Barry Jenkins script never lives up to Laxton’s stirring cinematography. Jenkins inability to write efficient and effective dialogue and build a coherent and compelling narrative make If Beale Street Could Talk a frustratingly uneven and ultimately unsatisfying film to watch.

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When Jenkins (and Laxton) flashes back and focuses on the blossoming first love of Tish and Fonny, the film crackles with life. The chemistry between actors Kiki Layne (Tish) and Stephon James (Fonny) in these flashback scenes is palpable, and Laxton superbly bathes them in gorgeous light, shadow and color as he lets the viewer see the characters as they see each other, through the prism of unabashed love.

It is when the film shifts to the present moment and its drama of “legal peril”, which is decidedly stale and stultifying with cringe worthy dialogue to match, when the wheels come of the cinematic wagon. An example of which is that there is a scene between Tish and Fonny’s families that is so poorly written, poorly directed and poorly acted that it was like watching kids put on a play…a very bad play…in their basement.

The “legal peril” storyline is so trite, hackneyed and derivative it seems like it was lifted from an episode of Law and Order or some equally awful television show. Anytime the focus of the film shifts to the legal story and its adjacent narratives, it serves as little more than an irritating distraction.

The film is equally abysmal when it tries to convey a political or socially conscious message. When Jenkins tries to use the movie as a statement on race in America, it reveals itself to be, at best, painfully adolescent in its cosmology.

Ironically, in its social themes, If Beale Street Could Talk is as much an unnuanced distorted Black view of America as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry is a unnuanced distorted view of America through the White perspective. Both film’s are little more than wish fulfillment and fantasies driven by archetypes deeply embedded in the American psyche. In the case of Dirty Harry, it is the archetypal Righteous Gun Slinging Vigilante, who is part of the system but operates outside of it to protect Whites from those lawless “others”, most notably Blacks (think of the “you feel lucky” scene, where Dirty Harry points his .44 Magnum in the face of a “Black criminal”).


In If Beale Street Could Talk, the thematic archetype is one of the Righteous Victim (think of Fonny as the young Black criminal with Dirty Harry’s .44 in his face), who is oppressed by the system and must operate outside of it in order to survive it. In this way, If Beale Street Could Talk is social justice/victimhood porn and propaganda, which on its surface claims to be about speaking the truth of the Black perspective in America, but in reality is about reinforcing and strengthening the victim archetype and narrative.

What is striking to me about this aspect of the film, is that it also reinforces the racist tropes that fueled the Dirty Harry era to begin with and which eventually led to Clinton’s infamous crime bill in the 90’s which further criminalized Black men. For instance, the lead character Fonny which, along with Tish, is whom the viewer is supposed to identify with, and yet when we first learn about Fonny, he commits a crime, theft. Fonny’s lawlessness is not even given a second thought, but in the narrative structure of the film it subconsciously undermines the audiences connection to him to a devastating degree. This is not some personal revelation from me, this is just Cinema 101: Basic Storytelling and Character Development.

The same is true of the other Black men in the movie, all of whom are equally lawless and all of whom commit crimes. Fonny’s father steals from the docks, and his pseudo father in law not only steals but beats the hell out of his wife…and yet these men are supposed to represent “regular Black men”.

Add to that Fonny’s friend Daniel who is fresh out of prison, and just like Fonny claims he is entirely innocent of the charges against him. Apparently Fonny and Daniel are the two guys who really didn’t do it…even though we’ve already seen Fonny commit a crime and Daniel’s sketchy reputation precedes him.

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While all of the Black men in the film are criminals, none of them take responsibility for their criminality. The crimes they commit are all the fault of the system that is screwing them, thus demeaning these men even further as they are deprived of any and all agency. This is the Victim archetype in full bloom, where no matter what the character does it is never their fault. This is an extremely unsatisfying quality in a cinematic Hero, as it simply castrates the Hero and asks the audience to pity them rather than relate or project on to them. It also does not allow for any catharsis on the part of the character, and that in turn doesn’t allow for any catharsis on the part of the viewer, which results in a psychologically frustrating movie-going experience.

Consider other Hero stories where the Hero is brought down by a corrupt system…movies like Braveheart, where William Wallace ultimately loses, but he goes down swinging, screaming “Freedom” at the top of his lungs as he is torn to shreds. Or think of a parallel for the Fonny character to maybe the best known Hero story of them all…Jesus Christ. Jesus is persecuted, just like Fonny, but the key to the Jesus story is that he has agency and chooses to be crucified….thus becoming Christ. Jesus is the empowered form of the Victim archetype…which is the martyr, who is victim by choice. The choice here is the important thing as it means the Hero may suffer a terrible defeat but he still maintains his agency. In contrast, the perpetually disempowered Fonny is just laundry being tossed and turned in a washing machine, who never chooses but always loses.

In terms of the criminality of the characters in the film, there are other contrasting examples, think of The Godfather or Goodfellas. The mobsters in those movies do awful things to people and yet audiences relate to them and embrace them as “Heroes” of the story, why is that? The reason for that is because those characters, from Michael Corleone to Henry Hill, embrace their criminality. They maintain their agency and don’t claim to be victims of the system, instead they are gaming the system.

These details in the DNA of If Beale Street Could Talk may seem minute to the less sophisticated viewer, but it is these specific elements that can make or break a film and its narrative in the unconscious of the audience. In the case of If Beale Street Could Talk, these subtle archetypal issues deter viewers from fully accepting and embracing the characters, story and film.

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It isn’t just the Black men who fair poorly in If Beale Street Could Talk, as White men are portrayed as truly devils in this movie. White men are sexual predators (again, the inverse of the Dirty Harry movie where Black men are predators) and are inherently evil, from a lecherous perfume shopper to a cop who is so consumed with racial hatred he comes across as more than a little insane. For the White characters in this movie, just like Black characters in Dirty Harry, they are entirely devoid of nuance and are absurd caricatures. Even White characters we never see are predators, as there is one who impregnates a poor Latina women and then leaves her with nothing, and then maybe even returns to rape her.

It is for these reasons that If Beale Street Could Talk is just as insidious and insipid as the blatantly racist Dirty Harry movies.

As for the acting, Stephon James and Kiki Layne are glorious in their falling in love sequences. Laxton’s camera holds on their loving gazes for extended periods and their love for one another is tangible in these shots. But when they are asked to do more than just look longingly and lovingly at one another, the two stars lose much of their power.

James is a charismatic screen presence, but he seems rather limited when it comes to the more static shots. James is unable to compress his magnetism and dynamism when he is contained in such a confining space and he loses his power because of it.

Kiki Layne is quite engaging during the dreamy love sequences as well, but she too falls well short when things get much more complicated. Layne’s strong suit is her ability to seem to be overcome by her wonder for the world, but when the world stops being wondrous, she stops being interesting and starts being wooden.

Regina King does solid work as Tish’s mom, but she is hamstrung by being stuck in the intolerably mundane legal drama portion of the story, and while she is a compelling actress, none of her scenes are particularly noteworthy.

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If Beale Street Could Talk, which may be the second most mis-leading title in the history of cinema right behind The Never Ending Story because Beale Street is never seen in the movie and all the action takes place in New York (I am kidding, the title is explained in the opening, but still…I found it funny), is another in a long line of films that underwhelmed in 2018. Barry Jenkins (and his cinematographer James Laxton) has a distinct and luscious visual flair to his work, but his storytelling and character development need serious work. Therefore I can only recommend this film to the most committed of cinephiles who would want to see the cinematography on the big screen. For everyone else, there is no reason to see this in the theatre, but if you stumble upon it on cable one night or on Netflix, feel free to check it out if you like, and tell me if I am wrong or not.

In conclusion, if Beale Street could talk, I’d tell it to shut up because while it talks a lot and does so in a beautifully melodious and mellifluous visual voice, it actually doesn’t say a whole hell of a lot, and what little it does have to say is so vapid and vacuous that it has no value whatsoever.

©2018

Mary, Queen of Scots: A Review

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

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. You would be better served getting your head chopped off than ever seeing this movie.

Mary, Queen of Scots, written by Beau Willimon and directed by Josie Rourke, is the story of Mary, the young Catholic Queen of Scotland in the 1500’s, and her struggle for power in her native land amidst her rivalry with England’s Queen Elizabeth. The film stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth.

Recently, in the midst of a magnificent hurricane of my own cleverness, I came up with a stunning new maxim that feels decidely old when, after weeks of fasting and meditation in a cold and windowless room, I declared to myself that “Wokeness Kills Art”. For proof of the veracity of my maxim, one need look no further than Mary, Queen of Scots.

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As a first generation Scotsman (and an outspoken supporter of a Independent Scotland), a Catholic, and a classically trained actor, a period piece/historical drama about Mary, Queen of Scots starring Saiorse Ronan, who is one of my favorite actresses, and Margot Robbie, another top-notch actress, should be right up my alley. I was pretty excited to see Mary, Queen of Scots, so much so that I actually went and saw it the day the film opened in theatres. Once I actually saw the movie, my excitement was left dead-eyed, with its decapitated head rolling down the aisle of the theatre.

It is difficult to succinctly state how absurdly awful this movie is…but my best attempt would be to say that Mary, Queen of Scots is a narratively incoherent, cinematically obtuse and historically vapid piece of painfully progressive propaganda.

Director Josie Rourke, who comes from the London theatre world, is so cinematically illiterate I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting her watch a movie, nevermind make one. Ms. Rourke’s inability to even comprehend the most rudimentary aspects of storytelling in film is remarkable to behold.

Rourke’s take on Mary is that she is a symbol for social justice warriors everywhere due to her anti-patriarchy, pro-feminist, pro-gay, pro-trans and pro-diversity views. Ms. Rourke should have renamed the movie, Mary, Queen of Woke. This film has all the cinematic craftsmanship and political subtlety of a Dinesh D’Souza movie combined with the historical veracity of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

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Lord Thomas Randolph

Adding to the tsunami of historically inane things thrown into this film to fit a modern liberal agenda, Ms. Rourke uses some bizarre and frankly, distractingly ridiculous color blind casting. So viewers are supposed to be woke enough not to notice that Adrien Lester, who is Black, is playing Lord Thomas Randolph, who was so pasty white in real life he bordered on transparent. Ms. Rourke doesn’t stop there, as she casts Asian actress Gemma Chan as Bess of Hardwick, again, a very, very, very White woman who was decidedly NOT Asian.

The guy playing Lord Thomas Randolph

The guy playing Lord Thomas Randolph

Color blind casting in a historical drama is more complicated because “people of color” back then had their own history and back stories. Seeing a Black man as Lord Randolph begs the question…how did a man of African or Caribbean descent, who back then was more likely to be a slave or a servant, rise to the upper echelons of the aristrocracy? The same is true of an Asian women playing Bess of Hardwick. Asian women existed in the 1500’s, obviously, but not in the Royal Court or in the halls of power or among the blue blood families of England. So when audiences see an Asian women or a Black man in such a prominent role in English society in the 1500’s, they have questions, and when the film never addresses or answers those questions, audiences feel deceived and betrayed.

In addition, Bess of Hardwick and Lord Thomas Randolph are real people from history and they were very White…why is it ok for them to be played by non-White actors? Would it be alright for a White actor to play Jesse Jackson in a film about MLK or Louis Farrakhan in a film about Malcolm X? Of course that Whitewashing wouldn’t be acceptable, so why should it be ok for the opposite to occur here? It seems with the Woke Brigade, diversity and inclusivity top authenticity and the evil of cultural appropriation is something of which only “other” people are guilty.

The rest of the cast is also littered with token “people of color”, “token” being the operative word, no doubt to fulfill some wondrous “inclusivity rider”, but that doesn’t make it any less distracting or any more palatable or even remotely believable.

I understand that color blind casting is more acceptable in theatre where the threshold of believability is considerably lower, and while I find it and the reasons behind it distasteful there as well, I accept it as an unfortunate reality. But film is not theatre and the dynamics between film audiences and screen, and theatre audiences and stage, are very dramatically different. Film audiences are much less inclined than theatre audiences to suspend their disbelief over such things as colorblind casting, no matter how well intentioned it is, especially in a historical drama.

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In film, audiences want to feel like they are watching the actual events as they take place, and they make a bargain with the movie maker, ‘you make it seem real and we’ll go along for the ride’. But when the Royal Courts of Scotland and England in 1500’s, which were obviously lily white, are populated with a cornucopia of minorities, then audiences just roll their eyes and tune out thinking the whole thing is little more than politically correct nonsense…which it is…because it doesn’t reflect the reality of the time.

Added to the absurdity of the film’s rainbow coalition in Royal Court, was the notion that Mary was a proud champion of gay and trans people. There is a scene where Mary forgives her gay/trans best friend for an act of stunning betrayal simply because she is so accepting of his homosexuality and thus excuses his awful act. This is so historically illiterate as to be absurd. The fact that Mary was a Catholic Queen in a Protestant land, and yet would not divorce or convert in order to save her skin or take the throne, is maybe a strong indicator that her religion IS PRETTY FUCKING IMPORTANT TO HER…and her religion at the time was quite clear in how they felt about “Sodomites”. But for Ms. Rourke, religion means nothing to Mary, it is her modern progressive values that really matter.

In keeping with the vacuous wokeness of the film, the overarching theme of the entire enterprise is that Mary and Elizabeth were feminist sisters, but it was those damn men who ruined everything. Of course, Ms. Rourke and her ilk are too ignorant to understand that taking the agency away from these two historically powerful women and reducing them to victims of the evil patriarchy doesn’t make them iconic, it makes them unconscionably weak…not exactly the girl power message the filmmaker intended.

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Ms. Rourke, and her equally abysmal screenwriting accomplice, Beau Willimon of the execrable House of Cards fame, go so far as to have Elizabeth claim that she is “now a man and not a woman”, therefore making sure that when Elizabeth does something bad…and anyone who knows history knows she does something bad to Mary…masculinity is to blame! See…even when women do something terrible to another women it isn’t their fault! Damn you patriarchy because women have no agency!

I went to the film with a decidedly bleeding heart social progressive, the Honourable Rev. Dr. Lady Pumpernickle - Dusseldorf Esquire, and even she thought the cavalcade of suffocating political correctness in the form of colorblind casting, pro-LGBTQ and anti-maleness on-screen was way too much, and to an eye-rollingly ridiculous degree.

As for the actual making of the movie, Ms. Rourke is terribly ill-equipped as a visual artist. With the luscious green Scotland as a backdrop, Ms. Rourke somehow manages to make a visually dull, flat and stale film. Ms. Rourke’s inability to even do the most basic of blocking for the camera, as opposed to the stage, makes for some very stodgy sequences, not the least of which is a poorly executed battle scene that is staggering in its incompetence.

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The aforementioned Beau Willimon’s script is equally inept. Willimon starts out trying to balance the Mary narrative with the Elizabeth narrative, but then just scraps that idea altogether and throws in a myriad of betrayals and counter-betrayals that end up only muddying the already murky historical waters. Willimon’s script is a key component in making the film such a garbled, incoherent mess, but it is Ms. Rourke’s weak direction that ultimately sinks the ship.

As for the acting, the majority of the cast is so poorly directed that they end up with lots of theatrical histrionics but very little genuine humanity. There is a lot of light but absolutely no heat from the cast that pushes too hard, too often to make something out of nothing.

Ms. Ronan is a compelling figure on-screen but her talents are entirely wasted on this disaster. It certainly would be a treat to see her play the role under the eye of a different, more competent, director though, as Ronan is very well equipped to play such a demanding and complicated character.

Margot Robbie is both out of place and under utilized as Queen Elizabeth. Robbie’s Elizabeth is such a listless and lifeless figure that she is no match for the dynamic Mary, which is maybe why they just, of the blue, stopped comparing and contrasting the two of them mid-way through the film.

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The climactic scene of the film, which is at best historically dubious, has Mary and Elizabeth facing off. This sequence is so poorly shot, blocked and executed it was stunning to behold. Rourke uses fabric hanging from the ceiling to build a maze that the two actress…and the camera, must navigate until they finally come face to face. I get what Rourke was trying to do there, using the fabric to symbolically show the layers of barriers between the two women that they must wade through in order to actually see one another, but this is just another example of a theatre director trying to make a movie. This sequence is so visually ineffective and cinematically impotent that it boggles the mind. While Ms. Rourke intended this sequence to be a metaphor speaking volumes about the world Mary and Elizabeth inhabit, what it really does is perfectly highlight Ms. Rourke’s filmmaking ineptitude.

On the brightside, some of the costumes look nice.

In conclusion, Mary, Queen of Scots is a bitter disappointment because it tries to turn this historical drama into a piece of woke propaganda. As a historical drama it fails miserably both as history and as drama. As propaganda it also fails miserably because of the heavy handed incompetence of director Josie Rourke. If I could go back in time and had a choice between having my head chopped off or having to sit through this movie, I would gladly go under the executioners axe than suffer through this cinematic abomination.

If you want to see an exquisitely crafted and highly entertaining period piece and historical drama, do yourself a favor and go see the deliciously sublime The Favourite and skip the putrid cinematic detritus of Mary, Queen of Woke.

©2018

The Favourite: A Review

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

My Rating: 4.35 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A very dark, arthouse comedy set in the early 1700’s that speaks to the absurdity of the world in which we live today.

The Favourite, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is the story of palace intrigue in early 1700’s England as two cousins, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill, conspire to out do one another in an attempt to be the favorite of Queen Anne. The film stars Emma Stone as Abigail, Rachel Weisz and Sarah and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, with a supporting turn from Nicholas Hoult as Robert Harley.

As I have said repeatedly over the last few weeks, 2018 has been a rather tepid year for cinema, but finally, after the recent ill-exectued visual art house bombast of the highly anticipated At Eternity’s Gate and the messy mainstream misfire of the even more highly anticipated Widows, I have come upon a film worthy of my cinematic attentions and affections. That movie is The Favourite.

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Director Yorgos Lanthimos has directed two previous films that I have seen, The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), both of which were exceedingly dark, at times laceratingly funny, uncomfortably insightful and strikingly original. Lanthimos’ ability to make the off-beat and absurd, not just palatable but penetratingly profound, elevated those two movies onto my list of best films of the year.

Thankfully, Lanthimos is up to his old tricks with The Favourite, as he coaxes deliciously powerful performances from his three leading ladies, Stone, Weisz and Colman, all while putting on a master class in verbal sparring, physical comedy and visual storytelling.

The crazy thing about The Favourite is that it made me laugh out loud on occasion due to the absurdity of it all, but it wasn’t until after seeing the movie and reading about the story, that I discovered it is based on a true story…which makes it all the more absurd…and also makes it extraordinarily prescient in regards to our current political moment.

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Watching Stone’s Abigail and Weisz’s Sarah jockey for position and using ever more outlandish tactics to get their way in order to have the Queen’s ear, made me think of the pervasive palace intrigue of Trump’s soap opera White House. Sarah and Abigail could be Ivanka and Kellyanne or Jared and John Kelly or Sarah Sanders and The Mooch or any of the myriad of other miscreants who, in an attempt to warm their hands at the hearth of presidential power, have latched themselves onto the mad king currently sitting on the throne.

Speaking of which, Olivia Colman gives a deliriously Trumpian performance as the rabidly insecure, emotionally incontinent, childless and widowed Queen Anne. Queen Anne is blissfully uninformed, ill-informed and disengaged when it comes to politics and governance…sound familiar? Colman’s Queen Anne is, for all intents and purposes, an entitled basket case (again, sound familiar?), so for Sarah and Abigail, manipulating the erratic sovereign takes a deft hand and a decidedly strong stomach.

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The Favourite is also relevant not just for political reasons but for cultural ones as well, as Queen Anne’s court and kingdom have a glaring lack, and a desperate need, for traditional masculinity…there are no warriors here, only connivers. The women, such as Sarah and Abigail, are the ones with power, close to power and jockeying for power, while the men, all impotent and effeminate dandies, are little more than pieces on a chess board for the women who rule the roost to manipulate. These “men” are not only emasculated but embrace their emasculation, and are thus reduced to being second rate women as opposed to first rate men, this is evidenced by Nicholas Hoult’s small but truly stellar performance as Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer.

The sex in The Favourite, whether it be in the court of Queen Anne or in a filthy brothel, is, in keeping with the grander theme, entirely transactional. Even when men are involved there is no actual penetration when it comes to consummation, for the fairer sex prefers to keep these perfumed and powdered geldings literally at an arm’s length during carnal interactions. In the female dominated world of The Favourite, the only body part used for penetration is the tongue…and it is very effective.

Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan do a masterful job using light and darkness to illuminate the rich sub-text in The Favourite. Ryan’s use of candles is particularly sublime, as he creates a crisp vision of light dancing in a sea of darkness, symbolic of the perils of swimming in the black oceans of power where danger lurks just out of sight and where your humanity, your name and your future can be snuffed out at a moments notice.

Ryan’s framing and Lanthimos’ embrace of animals as sub-text and storytelling devices work hand in hand and are both extremely well done. For instance, Lanthimos’ and Ryan wisely use the symbolically vital seventeen rabbits in Queen Anne’s room as notable backdrops for certain important scenes and although it is very subtle, it is extremely effective.

The performances in The Favourite are stellar across the board. Stone, Weisz and Colman all deserve Oscar nominations for their complex and thoughtful portrayals of what could have been caricatures in lesser hands.

As previously mentioned, Colman is particularly mesmerizing as the petulant Queen who fluctuates between being a tantruming toddler and a vengeful tyrant. Colman gives Queen Anne a remarkable depth, and makes her clownish antics both pained and somehow poignant.

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Rachel Weisz is a force to be reckoned with as Sarah, and make no mistake about it, she literally and figuratively wears the pants in Queen Anne’s court. Weisz’s Sarah is the cunning and compelling brains behind the throne. Weisz’s impeccable use of her physicality to convey Sarah’s strength and determination brings a forceful element to the power dynamic of the Anne-Abigail-Sarah narrative.

Where Sarah is vulnerable though, is where Emma Stone’s Abigail strikes. Stone’s Abigail is more feminine than Sarah, but equally vicious when it comes to getting what she wants. Stone’s performance is beguiling as she taps into a darker and more overtly sexual side as Abigail than we have ever seen from her before, and it suits her nicely. Stone’s natural charm makes her Abigail all the more adept at manipulating the Queen and in turn, the audience.

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I would argue that The Favourite may be Best Actress Oscar winner Emma Stone’s greatest performance to date. I also think Olivia Colman deserves to be nominated and maybe even win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, for her remarkable work as Queen Anne. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of Stone and Weisz get nominations as well as they are certainly worthy.

Politically The Favourite teaches us that being a slave to your ambitions ultimately leaves you a slave. I think Jared Kushner, Don Jr., Michael Cohen and the rest of the Trump bootlicking groupies will understand this film more than most as it highlights the degradation, humiliation, inherit myopia and associated dangers involved in doing anything and everything to gain favor with power. As the film and the actual real life events that inspired it show, the long game, if you have the strategic mind, testicular fortitude and vigilant patience for it, is a much more complicated, complex and ultimately rewarding venture than just being a sycophantic ass-kissing lackey.

In conclusion, The Favourite is a dark and delightful treat of an art house film. I believe the film is worthy of your time and energy to see in the theatre in order to enjoy not only Colman, Stone and Weisz’s performances but Robbie Ryan’s exquisite cinematography. I also think it is worth seeing for no other reason than to get a glimpse of what is no doubt the absurdist black comedy playing out behind the scenes right now in the epicenter of buffoonery known as the Trump White House.

©2018

Bush, Bertolucci and a Requiem for Truth

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 66 seconds


There is a common belief among the hoi polloi that famous deaths happen in threes. While I can’t prove that to be true, it certainly seems to be true. For instance, just this last week, former President George HW Bush died along with famed Oscar winning director Bernardo Bertolucci. Who was the third death you may ask? My answer to that is, the third death this week was Truth.

Bernardo Bertolucci died on November 26th, 2018, but the truth regarding Bertolucci died two years ago when the media ran with a story about the man and his work that was so ludicrous and odious as to be absurd. The gist of that story was that while filming one of his great works, Last Tango in Paris (1972), Bertolucci directed his star, Marlon Brando, to use butter as lubricant and rape his lead actress Maria Schnieder, on camera.

The story, on its face, is absolutely ludicrous and only an imbecile would believe it, and yet, the media ran headlines misinterpreting a Bertolucci quote and Hollywood celebrities went into overdrive virtue signalling to condemn Bertolucci and Brando. Some, like the genius Chris Evans of Captain America fame, actually called for the two men to be in prison. No one had the heart to break to the dim-witted Mr. Evans that digging up the long dead Brando to stuff his body into a jail cell was not really worth the time and effort.

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I wrote a piece about this Last Tango/butter rape story back when it happened, and that piece got quite a lot of attention. Even though I was prescient enough to write in that 2016 story about actual, real sexual abuse taking place in Hollywood a full year before the Weinstein scandal broke, many people attacked me for my article claiming that I was somehow condoning rape. Of course, my counter argument was pretty simple…no rape had occurred so I couldn’t be condoning rape. In fact, not only did no rape occur, but no sexual contact of any kind occurred, but that didn’t appease the future #MeToo-ers from getting hysterically hysterical.

With Bertolucci’s death last week came a whole new wave of stories highlighting the fallacious butter/rape nonsense, with a great number of columnists, in as serious a tone as possible, condemning the man and saying that the butter/rape story overshadowed his artistic genius and must be in the first paragraph of his obituary. I nearly gave myself seizures from rolling my eyes so much and sighing so heavily at the moronic group think and political correctness consistently on display by these intellectually impotent, flaccidly unoriginal, know-nothing writers, but somehow I survived.

The one bright spot was that nearly every piece I read, especially the hard news pieces as opposed to the editorials and columnists, made clear this time around what they failed to make clear two years ago, namely that all of the sex in Last Tango in general, and in the “butter scene” in particular, was simulated. It is a sign of the idiotic times that the bar is set so low in regards to Truth that I took that bit of raging obviousness to be a small concession and a partial victory. My thinking was that, at least my article from two years had some impact…and that has to count for something (much like my Chris Kyle piece made a minor ripple in the culture four years ago). While I am certainly not a hero in the war for Truth, I can at least claim to have fired a shot….whether it hit or not is another thing entirely.

Which brings us to former President George HW Bush, who died over the weekend. Bush was preceded in his death not only by his wife of 73 years, Barbara, but also by the Truth. For proof of that one need look no further than the glowing media coverage of the elder Bush that spontaneously erupted even before rigor mortis had even set in after he shuffled off his mortal coil.

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In America we have no official state religion, and that is because our de facto state religion is the religion of state. The deaths of former presidents and first ladies trigger an instantaneous high holy days in America where critical thinking is replaced with maudlin displays of faux patriotism that is more akin to a cult than a country. This flag-waving nostalgia spreads like a pandemic in post-presidential death America, and it infects both establishment political parties equally.

The establishment and its duplicitous corporate media wing kick into high gear when a venal American aristocrat like HW Bush dies. Michael Beschloss, Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin are, like wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s, dug up out of the basement, dolled up and rolled out for the mindless to gawk at as they, ironically, wax eloquently about what a kind man Bush was and how he put country before self. It is all so soft and nice and is nothing but a pandering, manipulative fairy tale. Added to the mix now is how Bush the Elder was so different from the usurper currently sitting on the throne…the scandalous Donald Trumpenstien. Of course, the reality is that the media is only interested in style over substance and form over function, and thus their distaste for Trump and lavish adoration of HW Bush.

Bush’s death has notched the establishment’s hatred of Trump well past 11 and into the stratosphere…even more so than when St. John McCain died earlier this year, leaving behind his grieving common-law wife Lindsay Graham, who no doubt still suffers from the vapors. Mainstream media talking heads poetically pontificating about Bush’s and McCain’s “civility” and their “unquestionable patriotism” is like a never ending and gratuitous funeral dirge meant to signal the end of one noble life (and reprehensible lie) and the continuation of the greater tradition (and bigger lie) of the great American city brightly shining on the hill in all its moral superiority. This is all just smoke and mirrors to tap into emotion over reason and distract from the Truth.

What really comes across to me in watching the vacuous and vapid coverage of HW Bush’s demise, is that it is really just one more echo of a scream from the vicious and brutal killing of Truth in American life.

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For example, whenever MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace rhapsodizes on Bush’s compassion but fails to mention his belligerent refusal to apologize to the Iranian people when in 1988 the U.S. military shot down Iranian Air Flight 655, a passenger jet that was flying in Iranian airspace, killing 274 innocent civilians, including 66 children, Truth dies. Truth dies further when the fact that Bush awarded the commander of the ship (U.S.S. Vincennes) that shot down that civilian aircraft a medal for his actions, is ignored.

Whenever Rachel Maddow declares that Bush is so dramatically different from Trump, but fails to mention that both men were born with silver spoons in their mouth that were so big they still shit bullion, Truth dies.

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Whenever CNN’s Anderson Cooper talks of Bush’s beautiful 73 year marriage to Barbara and holds it up as a symbol of true love and devotion but fails to mention Bush’s long-term affair with his aide Jennifer Fitzgerald, Truth dies.

Whenever some pundit calls Bush a “self-made man” but fails to mention that he was born into one of the most powerful families in the country and his father was one of the most powerful bankers in the country who later became a U.S. Senator, Truth dies.

When the fact that HW Bush came from one of the most powerful blue blooded families in the country and then married into another wealthy and politically connected family, the Pierces, is not mentioned in regards to his life, Truth dies.

Whenever some historian speaks of Bush being unlike Trump because he put “country before self” and fails to mention his deplorable treason of the October Surprise, where Bush conspired to keep Americans hostage in Iran until after the 1980 election, Truth dies.

Whenever Bush is held up as a paragon of civic virtue as opposed to Trump, but his pardoning of his compatriots in the Iran-Contra scandal, many of whom could have ratted him out for his own criminal involvement in the scandal is omitted, Truth dies.

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Whenever media members decry Trump’s treatment of illegal immigrants but fail to mention Bush’s Operation Condor, which was a covert operation in effect while Bush was head of the CIA, where the U.S. funded, trained and directed assassination and death squads in Central and South America who hunted, tortured and killed thousands of political dissenters and dissidents in order to keep right-wing dictatorships in power, Truth dies.

Whenever Bush is revered as a dignified statesman, but his illegal invasion of Panama, where he arrested Manuel Noriega, who was one of Bush’s partners in the Central American portion of Iran-Contra, and who under CIA supervision and protection, facilitated drug and gun smuggling throughout Central America and major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Miami that ravaged minority communities here in America and entire countries in Central America, which now fuels our immigration crisis, Truth dies.

Whenever talking heads speak of Bush’s impeccability in contrast to the corruption of the Trump administration but fail to mention the Bush family’s connection to the S&L scandal, in particular HW’s son Neil Bush, who was neck deep in that mess, Truth dies. Or when HW Bush’s father and his connections to the Nazi’s is conveniently lost down the memory hole, or the Bush family connections to the Bin Laden’s, or the House of Saud, or even…wait for it…the Hinckley family, whose son John Jr. shot President Reagan just months after he became president, and if Reagan had died, then Vice President George HW Bush would have been eligible to be president for the next 11 years…when all of those connections are ignored…Truth dies. (And Truth dies before I even mention the memory-holed information like HW Bush’s compelling connections to the Kennedy assassination, including his being a CIA operative at the time, the use of off-shore companies he is connected with as a money laundering vehicle for the Kennedy operation, and his allegedly being in Dealey Plaza on that day. )

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Whenever historians, with misty eyes, eulogize Bush and bemoan Trump, but fail to directly connect the failures of Bush and his ilk to the collapse of trust in institutions which led to Trump, Truth dies. For instance, Bush’s CIA led Operation Condor and Iran-Contra, both de-stablized Central America and have directly led to the immigration crisis of today, which led to Trump. The same is true of Bush’s handling of the S&L scandal, which directly led to the Wall Street crisis of 2008, the anger over which led to Trump. The same is true of Bush’s (and Reagan’s) meddling in the Middle East, from putting Marines in Lebanon, which empowered Hezbollah, to dealing with Iran in both the October Surprise and the Iran-Contra scandal, as well as the head fake to get us into Iraq War I, and the devastating effect that had on regular Iraqis who were killed in the war and starved in the sanctions in the war’s aftermath, not to mention the debacle that was Iraq War II, all of which led to Trump.

Bush was not only a failure as a president, but as a father and a human being. He is responsible for the deaths of millions of people and for the misery of millions more. He has the blood of thousands killed in Central America on his hands and is morally responsible for the countless others he condemned to life in misery here in America with the easy flow of drugs and guns into inner cities under the Iran-Contra flag.

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Bush’s son, the execrable George W. Bush, the 43 president, was an even worse president and presided over the killing of millions across the globe, most specifically in Iraq. Besides lying us into a war, Dubya also shredded the constitution with his expansive surveillance programs and his rendition and torture programs, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of his awfulness since I haven’t mentioned his failure (or complicity) on 9-11, and his use of that tragedy for personal political gain. Dubya’s moral and political corruption and failure led to Trump.

Bush’s other sons are no walk in the park either, as his previously mentioned son Neil was deeply involved in the S&L scandal, and who also had a dinner scheduled with John Hinckley Jr.’s older brother the night after the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan…how uncomfortable that phone call to cancel must have been. And I’m not even going to get into “Low Energy” Jeb Bush because, ironically, I just don’t have the energy, but trust me when i tell you that Neil Bush and Jeb Bush make Don Jr. and Eric Trump look like pikers at the entitlement and corruption table.

The bottom line is this, the establishment rants and raves about Trump and his destruction of American institutions and his attacks on Truth, but the reality is that the establishment destroyed their own institutions through flagrant corruption and fragrant mismanagement (“Heckuva job Brownie!”), and George HW Bush is the epitome of the depravity, nepotism, fraud, malfeasance, unscrupulousness and above all the entitlement that has turned many Americans against the establishment and which led directly to Trump.

The media has failed right along with the rest of the establishment, and their glaring and self-serving hypocrisy and mendacity only furthers to erode any remaining credibility they hope to hold on to. HW Bush’s failures shouldn’t be papered over by the press in the wake of his death, they should be shouted from the mountain tops in an attempt to regain the credibility that they so frivolously squandered with their cheerleading for war in Iraq (both I and II), their boot-licking of Dubya Bush on torture and surveillance (like the New York Times not using the word torture and holding a story on illegal surveillance until after the 2004 election) and for being lackeys to power in both Washington and Wall Street (such as media asshats like Jim Cramer yelling “BUY, BUY, BUY!” for Bear Stearns as it collapsed).

The media continues to degrade itself and its credibility when it bends over backwards to condemn Trump but simultaneously rehabilitates George W. Bush and his ilk. The same neo-con crew that lied us into the Iraq catastrophe and slept walked through 9-11, are still held in the highest regard by the overlords of American mass media. The allegedly liberal MSNBC is a festering cesspool of Bush apologia that actively rehabilitates Bush along with his nefarious intelligence agency henchmen like General Michael Hayden, John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey and Robert Muller. An example of MSNBC’s Bush sycophancy is that the network lets Bush administration alum Nicole Wallace have her own daily show and regularly allows such worm-tongued troglodytes as Bill Kristol and Max Boot on their programs with never a mention of their Iraq War villainy or any of their other egregious sins.

The problem with the lack of Truth in regards to HW Bush or Bertolucci is that the lies we tell ourselves only end up fooling ourselves. The lies the media tells itself and attempts to spread far and wide now ring hollow across large swaths of the the culture, and thus we have President Trump.

Telling ourselves lies, or believing in lies in order to make ourselves feel morally superior, like Chris Evans and the rest of the anti-Bertolucci, butter rape believing crowd, only ends up creating more shadows dancing on our cave walls meant to distract us from the harsher reality we prefer to ignore. So Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Jessica Chastain et al, used the Bertolucci butter rape story to make themselves feel better, like they were strong and taking a stand, but it also conveniently distracted them from their silent complicity with Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein and other sexual predators hunting young women and men in Hollywood. The reason they raged against Bertolucci and not against Woody Allen or Weinstein, is because it was easy…it was a form of cheap grace. Calling out Woody Allen or Weinstein (at the time before the story broke) would have cost them something…but attacking Bertolucci was free…free from repercussions and also free from fact.

The same is true of the media in regards to their hagiography of George HW Bush and family. Instead of speaking Truth, they pass on polite platitudes about service and nobility rather than highlight the family’s and man’s utter moral depravity, because it is easier to lie than seek or speak the Truth. To be fair to the media though, they are just doing their job…which is to propagandize the population with lies and inoculate them against Truth.

In conclusion, George HW Bush is dead. He inflicted great harm and evil upon the world, that is not a partisan assessment (I think the same of Clinton and Obama), but one founded on a very clear rational, moral and ethical basis. By ignoring the truth about George HW Bush, or distorting the truth about Bernardo Bertolucci for that matter, the media, and we the people, are condemning ourselves to our own execution. For as some have only come to discover under Trump’s mendacious and malevolent presidency, if the Truth has no meaning, than life has no purpose, and we are left in a Nietzschean will to power death spiral where, like a narcissistic ourboros, we cannibalistically gorge ourselves on our own lies and bullshit, and therefore end up being annihilated by eating ourselves into oblivion.

©2018

2018 Mid-Terms: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 35 seconds

Well, the mid-term elections are in the rear-view mirror and fading fast in the public consciousness as the never ending and frantic news cycle moves on to other topics like Jeff Sessions’ firing and the horrific shooting in Thousand Oaks. Before the election results are permanently lost down the memory hole though, I thought it would be wise to revisit them and see where we are and where we are headed.

GOOD? BAD? UGLY?

I predicted there would be no “blue wave” and depending on with whom you talk I might have been right. That said, the Democrats in the House outperformed my prediction, I thought they would either lose or win the House by a nose, and they exceeded that.

Some in the media are calling this a “blue ripple” as opposed to a blue wave, that may be more accurate but it also strikes me that it might be a desperate attempt to find the bright side. This election was billed as a referendum on Trump, and the cold hard reality is that Trump was not repudiated. Yes, Trump lost the House, but historically speaking, he substantially outperformed his predecessors. For example, Obama lost 66 House seats in 2010 and Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994 in their first mid-terms compared to Trump losing 30 (or so, the final tally isn’t in yet) this year…and they both went on to win reelection. Add to that the fact that Trump expanded his majority in the Senate and it appears that while Trump is certainly more vulnerable with a Democratic House, Trumpism is, to quote The Simple Minds, “Alive and Kicking” here in the good old U.S. of A., which means that while my House prediction may have been too pessimistic, my prediction of very bad things to come in our future is going to be right on the nose.

BAD

The Democrats, with their chests puffed out after winning the House, have seemingly decided to take a gigantic shit all over themselves and keep Nancy Pelosi on as Speaker of the House. What a brilliant strategic move, making an elderly, rich, corporate whore, machine politician as the face of your party when populism pulsates throughout not just the critical rust belt states you so desperately need to flip in order to win back the White House, but the majority of the country as well. Power is there for the taking if only the Democrats would abandon Wall Street in favor of Main Street and tack far to the left economically. But we all know they won’t do that because, just like the Republicans, they are pigs at the trough, and regular folks are left with nothing but the foul stench of their excrement after the establishment hogs have gorged themselves.

GOOD AND BAD

I had a reader email me earlier in the year regarding Beto O’Rourke, this reader is a very smart and engaging guy and always has terrific insights to share. In one email he told me he was excited for Beto in Texas, and thought he could be a game changer. I replied to the reader and told him that I liked Beto a lot as well, but that Texas politics is like the movie Chinatown, and while Democrats keep insisting that it is going to flip blue, at the end of the day Democrats will only be left agog in the middle of the street as their partner tries to console them by saying, “forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

I do admit though, that on election night as I saw the numbers come in I totally got sucked into the Beto magic and started thinking he might pull it off and be the next JFK and become president in 2020 and save the universe. But then the Beto love (played by Faye Dunaway) got shot and killed and the creepy Ted Cruz drove off with the election with incestuous lust in his eyes for his daughter/granddaughter and I was left muttering to myself, “forget it Mick, it’s Chinatown.”

GOOD

With all that said, Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Gillum in Florida are both cases that prove that genuinely economically progressive politicians will outperform the usual centrist drivel put forward by the Democrats. I keep hearing how O’Rourke was fool’s gold, same with Gillum, and that the lesson to be learned from their loss is that the Dems need to move to the center. This is beyond moronic. Both Beto and Gillum were supposed to lose because both Texas and Florida are Republican states, but they did extremely well and exceeded expectations because, one - they are top-notch political talents and two - they were selling a genuine progressive economic agenda that has proven to be extremely popular among the masses regardless of party. Hell…in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, voters passed initiatives to expand Medicaid and in Arkansas and Missouri they voted to increase the minimum wage.

I believe that the lesson to be learned from Beto and Gillum is the same lesson to be learned from Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise showing in the last British election, which was met with the equally inane analysis of “but he didn’t win!”. In our myopic culture, one must look to the big picture and the long game in order to have a strategic advantage, for Corbyn, his “loss” was a “win” because he gained momentum and was positioned to win at the next election and would not be held accountable for the shit show that is the current Brexit negotiations. For Beto and Gillum, they “lost” but won because they can now spend their time positioning themselves and gearing up for future races which might be more advantageous than this latest one. Beto and Gillum are serious talents, they just have to find a way to maintain the magic and not sell out before the next election.

GOOD

On the bright-side, one of my least favorite politicians of all-time, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, was defeated. Walker is a Koch brothers sycophant and an anti-Union hound, and I hope his next job is testing the strength of two by fours with his face.

BAD

Steve King of Iowa and Peter King of N.Y. are two more of my least favorite politicians. Being a native New Yorker, I find Peter to be the more deplorable of the two kings but it is close. Sadly, they both won re-election, and seem to be the type of politicians who will probably become Weekend at Bernie’s Congressman who continue in their jobs long after their death.

BAD

Speaking of awful people winning elections…in my home state of California, the repugnant Gavin Newsom won the Governorship and the repulsive and decrepit Dianne Feinstein won her fifth Senate race. Both Newsom and Feinstein are the poster children of Democratic fecklessness and corporate sluttery.

Newsom is one of the more phony and manufactured politicians you will ever come across, he makes Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney look like Robin Williams and Jonathon Winters. Newsom no doubt has his sights set on the White House, but the reality is that he doesn’t stand a chance. Trump would chew up and spit out a canned clown like Newsom and his corporate friendly economics with ease.

Dianne Feinstein, or DiFi as I like to call her, is a prostitute for the military and intelligence industrial complex. She loves the intelligence community and shamelessly kisses and licks their ass on her own volition and upon their request. Why liberal Californians love DiFi is a complete mystery since she is actually a closeted Republican, which makes sense since she is old enough to be Calvin Coolidge’s big sister.

THE WAY FORWARD

As for the next two years…as I stated in my prediction post, things are about to get really interesting. The Democrats seem to want to try and impeach Trump, which strikes me as a bad move strategically.

I am all for hearings and holding his feet to the fire, but I think it should be done in moderation and with surgical precision. Like Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York the Democrats must stick the knife in where it will be fatal. Random investigations of petty offenses may actually be fruitful in the short term, but long term would only strengthen Trump across the country. Remember, a lot of people hate Trump, but a lot of people also hate grandstanding Democrats (see Cory Booker and his “I am Spartacus” buffoonery) and the media (see Jim Accosta). So the wise move is to do fewer hearings but to have them cut deeper and in fatal areas. My advice for the Democrats…and I have been saying this from the get go…DROP THE RUSSIA BULLSHIT. The Russia investigation is going nowhere…even if Russia is guilty of what everyone says they are (which I still do not believe since I have yet to see one iota of proof), no one but liberal partisans gives a flying fuck.

Want to get under Trump’s skin, forget Russia, forget Stormy, forget emoluments…go after his business. Trump will go nuts, he will flail and freak out because going after his business means going after his family. And going after his family may turn some people off, but unlike the Russia story, Trump’s business is ultimately a political winner for Democrats. Trump can be shown to be just another silver-spooned, Daddy’s little rich girl, corrupt business man who is cheating the little guy and breaking the law. Exposing Trump’s business does two things, it will show him to be criminal and most importantly it will show him to be a failure and that will resonate with regular people who do not care one bit about the Russia nonsense.

The other thing Democrats should do, is use their newfound leverage to actually make deals with Trump. Trump will want the wins, and Dems may not like letting him have them, but big picture, getting Trump, a Republican president, to sign off on Medicare for all, would be a huge win for Democrats and would shatter any Republican coalition. It would also show that Democrats are more than just Anti-Trump, and that they actually have a governing philosophy and want to get things done and that will play in the heartland.

The Democrats would also be wise to move closer to Trump on immigration and make a deal with him on it. Immigration is an issue that the Democrats are going to lose on, and so they must find a reasonably moderate solution to it before 2020. Trust me, open borders and shutting down ICE are not going to work as a position on immigration. The Democrats (as I have been saying for years), should make the immigration debate about economics, which would again, split the Republicans. The Chamber of Commerce Republicans want illegal immigration because it gives them cheap, non-union labor but “Springsteen voters” (working class who voted for Obama twice but switched to Trump) don’t want illegal immigration because it lowers their wages and dilutes the culture. Dems would be wise to placate the Springsteen voters because they are the ones who can give them Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio…and thus the White House.

As I said in my prediction post, we are in a phase of destruction right now, which is a part of a natural historical cycle. Some readers have asked me what they should do with that information, many wondering if it won’t lead to apathy or depression. My response is simple, use that information to your strategic advantage. The system we have is collapsing, and understand that means you can stop trying to prop the old system up, but instead position yourself to prosper when the systemic collapse becomes glaring.

Trump understood, either consciously or more likely unconsciously, that the system was failing. He ran as someone outside the system who would replace the system. Clinton ran as part of the failing system who would fix that system. The collective unconscious knows the system is dying, and anyone trying to fix it by breathing life back into it will seem absurdly crazy to the collective. It is like performing CPR on a corpse, it is a fruitless and exhausting endeavor and will only end in fatigue and failure.

With this in mind, Jeremy Corbyn’s loss in the UK, or Beto’s loss in Texas or Gillum’s in Florida, seem less devastating, in fact, they seem downright invigorating. Centrist, globalist, neo-liberal economics and neo-conservative foreign policy are of the dying system, and Clinton’s loss in 2016 and the Democrats under-performing in 2018 are a death rattle for that ideology.

What liberals and leftists need to do is to keep their heads down and their nose to the grindstone. They need to be ready for when the system collapses entirely and that void sits at the center of our culture and state. Reaganism, Republicanism, Centrist Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism have all failed and will be rejected as akin to CPR on a corpse when the system dies. Liberals and leftists need a coherent and cogent substitute in order to step up when the time is right and make the case for what the New America will look like.

Bernie Sanders already planted the seed with his electric run in 2016. He has been followed in 2018 by numerous top-notch candidates as well as the Democratic Socialists of America who have a genuine alternative to the dying system, which gives them an edge going forward. No doubt we will see even more Democratic Socialists and Bernie backed candidates in 2020 and beyond.

Corbyn has done the same in the UK, and is poised to lead New Britain after Brexit…just as American liberals and leftists must themselves prepare to lead the New America after its inevitable collapse. Any liberals and leftists clinging to dreams that a Clinton-esque neo-liberal shift to the center will be the ticket to success in 2020 better disabuse themselves of that delusion because that will guarantee another four years of Trump and God knows what that will bring.



©2018

2018 Mid-Term Elections

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Ever since Trump was elected president in 2016, the media have declared that he would face a comeuppance in the form of vast Democrat victories, or as they call it, a “blue wave”, come the 2018 mid-term elections. While I would like to think that would happen…I don’t think that will happen.

As long time readers know, I was one of “those people” who, in the face of a cavalcade of opposite opinion in the media and in my social circles, accurately predicted Trump’s victory in 2016. As I said in my writing from that time, I didn’t want Trump to win (nor was I a Hillary supporter), I just thought he would. I ended up being right and we have all had to suffer through the never ending reality show that is Trump TV ever since.

The formula I used to predict Trump’s 2016 victory is my McCaffrey Wave Theory, which again, I am sure long-time readers are sick of hearing about…but what can you do? My wave theory uses, among other things, popular culture, most specifically, at least currently, film and television, as indicators of the mood in the collective unconscious. The formula of the McCaffrey Wave Theory is actually very complex and complicated, and takes into account numerous cultural and historical “waves” or “cycles” that are all simultaneously in motion.

Interpreting the data from these waves/cycles and measuring their relationship to one another is how the McCaffrey Wave Theory is able to “predict” certain turn of events. And to be clear, this is not about being Nostradamus and saying planes will fly into buildings on 9-11, but rather about understanding the ebbs and flows of the collective unconscious and knowing when both big and small shifts will occur when portions of the collective unconscious become conscious.

The key elements of the McCaffrey Wave Theory are the archetypes, narratives and sub-texts prominent in films/tv along with their color scheme and visual/cinematic tendencies. These data points are how my wave/cycle theory is able to discern which films and/or television shows are leading indicators and which are lagging indicators of the collective unconscious. Leading indicator films are the ones that express the unconscious desires/fears of the collective, while lagging indicator films are the ones that express conscious fears or desires of the collective.

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Some examples of leading indicator film and tv were pretty obvious in 2017 when HULU’s A Handmaid’s Tale (its narrative and vibrant red and green color scheme) and the DC film Wonder Woman (its narrative and red and blue color scheme) jumped to the fore of our culture in the early summer. These two successful projects accurately foretold of the coming feminist outcry and the rise of the #MeToo movement in the wake of the Weinstein revelations that came out in October of 2017.

A good example of a lagging indicator film was in 2017 as well, when Steven Spielberg rushed into production his thinly veiled anti-Trump/pro-Hillary film, The Post, that underwhelmed both at the box office and come awards time. The Post failed both artistically and financially because it was little more than wish fulfillment that attempted to give the audience what it wanted, not what the collective sub-conscious needed.

In the years leading up to the rise of Trump in 2016, there were numerous films and television shows that were ominous signs of a very dark impulse coming to the fore in American life and across the globe.

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Two glaring examples were HBO’s Game of Thrones with its marketing campaign which for years was warning us all with their ice-blue billboards proclaiming that “Winter is Coming”. The other was Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, a show about what America would be like if the Nazi’s and Japanese won World War II, which hit the airwaves in 2015 accompanied by a prodigious marketing campaign which had the Nazi Eagle on the American flag and the Imperial Japanese flag plastered all over the New York subway and elsewhere. Both of those shows resonated within the culture because they accurately gave voice to what was lurking in our collective unconscious. On some level we knew what was coming…a horrible “winter” and the Nazi’s/Not Sees…and these shows knew it before we were even conscious of it. (and don’t kid yourself, the Nazi/Not See impulse is not solely of the right, the left has a strong Not See impulse too).

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In 2015 there were many films that were also giving us warning signs of big trouble ahead. The Martian, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens were all through their narratives, color schemes (Martian - Red, Hateful 8 - Blue, Revenant - Blue, Star Wars - Red and Blue) and cinematic visuals (shots of foreboding vast expanses) the equivalent of a flashing red sign that a gigantic storm was coming.

In 2016 things got even clearer, as the blockbusters Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and even La La Land all revealed through their narratives (internecine warfare), sub-text and color schemes (all of them with vibrant clashes of red and blue) that our cultural train was headed off the track if not the cliff.

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As I have previously written, last year cinema gave us some signs of what to expect going forward. The big archetype of the year in 2017 was Winston Churchill…with the films Dunkirk, Darkest Hour and the Netflix show The Crown. The Churchill archetype can be interpreted in numerous ways, but when seen in conjunction with other wave/cycles, it strikes me that the Churchill archetype is manifesting in the Trump’s of the world…in other words…it is actually the Churchill shadow archetype that is taking center stage.

Which brings us to this year and the mid-terms. As I said, there has been incessant talk of a blue wave and in its jubilant wake the possibility of a Democratic House and maybe even Senate where, like a scene out of The Godfather where Michael settles all family business, liberals exact revenge by impeaching not only of Trump but Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. As entertaining as that liberal porn may be…I don’t think it is going to happen.

According to my wave theory, there will be no blue wave. Not only will the Democrats not win the Senate, I don’t think they will win the House either, and if they do it will be by the skin of their teeth. Now…before you stick your head in the oven…to be very, very clear…I could certainly be wrong about this, God knows it wouldn’t be the first time. For starters, I have never used my wave theory to predict a mid-term before, and it could be I am interpreting the data entirely incorrectly, this is a distinct possibility. But with that said, ever since last June, when I wrote a piece for CounterPunch on the topic, along with a follow up posting on this blog in July, I have thought that this blue wave was a mirage.

As I stated in my CounterPunch piece, the big warning signs for me were the prominence and success of both Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, both of which had narratives, sub-text and color scheme that spoke clearly of the failure of the opposition to Trump to succeed in toppling him.

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Other films, such as A Quiet Place, Hereditary and even A Star is Born, that have all resonated deeply within the culture this year, are also leading indicators of a Democratic failure come the mid-terms because of their narratives and sub-text. Believe it or not, A Star is Born is remarkably insightful sub-textually and that sub-text very clearly (once you crack the code of it) states that if not Trump, then at least Trumpism, is here to stay as a replacement for the old paradigm, as indicated by the song in the film “Maybe it’s time we let the old ways die”. (I hope to have a full analysis of A Star is Born done soon).

Just as importantly, there are lagging indicator films that are, just like Spielberg’s The Post in 2017, falling flat, which highlight what isn’t resonating in the collective unconscious. Films with similar narratives, like the “aggrieved and under-appreciated genius wife/power behind the throne” stories of The Wife and Colette, or the “police shooting/racism” films The Hate U Give, Monsters and Men and Blindspotting, have all fallen flat in the broader culture. Even the colossal failure of the cinematic celebration of multi-culturalism and female empowerment, A Wrinkle in Time, is telling us what is going on in our collective unconscious, and it isn’t good news.

Now…maybe I am dead wrong about all this…maybe I am misreading and misinterpreting the data, that is a distinct possibility. Maybe the Democrats win a huge majority in the House and even get one in the Senate…but neither of those things will lead to a return to “normal”…only an escalation of the clash for civilization that is currently taking place.

Even if Democrats win, the intensity of the political turmoil here in America will not recede but proceed at an even quicker pace. Two more years of impeachment talk and congressional hearings will only heighten the tensions that are already near a boil. If you thought Trump was awful these last two years, wait until he faces an existential threat to his presidency from a Democratically controlled House and possibly Senate.

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On the other hand, if, as I have been predicting since June, there is not blue wave, don’t expect tensions to lessen. If Democrats fail to gain the House, Trump will turn his obnoxiousness up to 11 and liberals and the media will ratchet up the crazy to unseen heights. And on top of that, if Mueller ends his investigation with no bombshells or smoking gun of “Russian collusion”, the liberal and Democratic meltdown will make Chernobyl look like a cookout.

In other words…no matter the outcome on November 6th, the conflagration that is American politics will only grow bigger, hotter and much more dangerous.

The reality is that there is no stopping the collapse of the institutions of western civilizations. Trust me, we have a very, very bumpy road ahead. That means more authoritarianism across the globe (Bolsonaro will win in Brazil) and more shocks to the system, like economic earthquakes, natural disasters and war.

The good news is that this current wave/cycle of collapse and destruction will not last forever. Eventually, after maybe a decade or so (or God help us a decade or two), this collapse and destruction wave/cycle will transform into a more optimistic wave/cycle of growth, stability, relative peace and prosperity. Remember, destruction is the first act of creation, and we will create, hopefully, a more just, localized, thoughtful and sustainable civilization in the crater where this one once stood.

As for the bad news…we are still in the destruction phase…and come November 7th there are going to be a lot of really pissed off Democrats, liberals and anti-Trumpers, who will still have no power in Washington with which to vent their rage. And if you thought things have been bad the last two years, what ‘til you get a load of what comes next because you ain’t seen nothing yet.


©2018

Fahrenheit 11/9: A Review

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

My Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An insightful glimpse into America’s future and its not too distant past, that shows Trump is a tumor that grew out of the cancer that is the corporate controlled establishment political parties.


Fahrenheit 11/9, written and directed by Michael Moore, is a documentary that explores Donald Trump, the forces in America and American politics that made his presidency possible, and the repercussions of Republican and Democrat corporate rule upon regular Americans.

Michael Moore may not be the best documentarian of his time, but he is certainly the best known documentarian of his time. Moore is a polemicist and a provocateur, but to his credit he is a really good one.

Moore’s filmography is a testament not only to his liberal bona fides but his extraordinarily accurate instincts in regards to the American unconscious. His scathing Roger and Me swam against the Reaganite tide and exposed free-market, trickle-down economics for the charade that it is well before that was a popular notion.

His Oscar winning Bowling for Columbine exposed the deep psychological wounds inflicted upon generations of young people raised under a flag-waving dream of unabashed corporate militarism that led to the illusion shattering nightmare of Columbine.

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His most financially successful film, and the most financially successful documentary of all-time, Fahrenheit 9/11, pushed back against the establishment media’s War on Terror hagiography and exposed it for the fraud that it was. Fahrenheit 9/11 was a cultural phenomenon, a lightning rod both for liberal anger at the Bush administration and for conservative angst with liberal fifth columnists.

Moore’s films in recent years have not had the same cultural cache of Fahrenheit 9/11. Sicko was a smart and insightful film, as was Capitalism: A Love Story, but it sells out at the end by embracing Obama, who ended up being a poison pill for any real Wall Street or health care reform that would work for regular folks.

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Moore’s, Where To Invade Next, is a film that was widely overlooked and ignored, but which is a gem, and shows Moore to be at his most prophetic best. In the movie, Moore goes to various foreign countries to see what parts of their culture and government we should bring to America. This film was a precursor for the wave of progressive ideas that buoyed Bernie Sander’s campaign and which have animated the progressive left to such a degree that even some centrist corporate Democrats are parroting the same lines.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is Moore’s best film since it’s pseudo-namesake, Fahrenheit 9/11. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is pulsating with an anger bordering on desperation that shows the iconic filmmaker taking on not only Trump and the Republicans but establishment Democrats as well.

Moore wisely doesn’t focus on Trump for the majority of the film, we know Trump and most everybody is sick of the guy, instead, Moore takes side trips to Flint, Michigan, to reveal what the rest of America is going to look like if the corptacracy of establishment Republicans and Democrats stays in place, then to West Virginia to show what the power of unionization and solidarity can accomplish in the face of government corruption, and finally to Parkland, Florida to show the younger generation as the key to breaking the logjam of bullshit that is American politics.

The opening sequence, an homage to Moore’s own Fahrenheit 9/11, is exquisitely funny in the darkest of ways. Watching the “I’m With Her” crowd of fools and the media, so sure of her ascension to the throne, have their hopes dashed upon the rocks of reality is hysterically funny, especially for me, since like Michael Moore, I actually told people before the election that Trump would win. I was ridiculed before the election for saying that, and was pilloried after the fact for having been right.

As Moore dives into the loathsome oddity that is Trump, he covers much well-trod ground. What was refreshing about this section is that Moore holds himself accountable for not having taken Trump to task when they were on a talk show together, and for how Moore’s own career has been bolstered by Trump lackeys Steve Bannon and the crown prince himself, Jared Kushner. Moore’s honesty is refreshing and no doubt will blunt counter-attacks to his movie.

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Trump is a pretty disgusting character and is a total conman, this we all know, and Moore backs up his claims to this fact, but where Moore stumbles in this section is in his gravitating towards the salacious and the prurient by making the argument that Trump and Ivanka have or had a sexual relationship. I get what Moore is doing, he is exposing Trump for being a gross and lecherous fiend, but this part of the film feels cheap and much too placatingly easy for me. I actually think Trump is a lech and a fiend, but Moore leaves himself too easily open to charges of being more tabloid propagandist than documentarian with this particular section of the movie.

The best parts of the film are the Flint and West Virginia sections. The Flint section is breathtakingly depressing, as it lays bare the craven contempt that politicians (of both parties) hold not only for the truth but for their fellow citizens. Moore’s compelling thesis is that Flint is the future of America, where corporate interests override all humanity, and people are left to live in an environmentally toxic open air prison.

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Included in this indictment is the Holiest of liberal Holies, President Obama, who is shown to be a despicable shill for corporate interests and brazenly contemptuous of the working class and poor people of Flint. Adding to the case against Obama is the fact that not only did he aid and abet the poisoning of the population of Flint, he also terrorized them by using their city for target practice. Obama’s charlantanry, including his subservience to Wall Street (Goldman Sachs in particular), his callous drone program and his complicity in war crimes, is no shock to me, but I think the Obama adoring liberals I know will feel like this section of the film is an absolute gut punch. Fahrenheit 11/9 is a worthwhile film for no other reason than no liberal who watches this movie will ever feel the same way about Obama again.

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The West Virginia section of the movie is as equally insightful as the Flint section, but much less depressing. As per Moore’s thesis, Flint is the future of America, but West Virginia is the model for how to fight back. Moore’s examination of the teacher’s strike and how unionization and solidarity are the the only way to stop the spread of government/corporate fascism that is destroying America, American cities and towns, and the American family, is so energized it makes you want to put a red bandana around your neck and go out and crack some skulls.

Moore makes an important point in both the Flint and West Virginia stories, namely that race and ethnicity is used by both Republicans AND Democrats to divide working class and poor people in order to maintain the corrupt and disastrous status quo. As a striking teacher says in the film, “class above all else”, and this clarion call for unity through class will no doubt be a sharp slap in the face to the establishment corporate Democrats, the Hillary Hypocrites first among them, but it is one, as Moore points out, that they so richly deserve.

Moore’s multiple story lines don’t all work, as I found the Parkland narrative to be especially vapid and frankly illogical. Moore’s anti-gun sentiments are well-known, but it is striking to see these young Parkland students, so traumatized by the shooting at their school, be held up as the ideal because they are so stridently anti-gun, in the context of a documentary arguing that Trump may literally be the next Hitler. The lack of self-awareness in this Parkland section is staggering, especially in the midst of the Trump and Flint sections, which lay bare the fact that regular Americans are literally under assault and it is only going to get worse.

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To watch earnest but misguided young people, so sure of their righteousness and rightness, vehemently argue for disarmament right after watching the U.S. military invade Flint and Trump contemplate being president for life, is breathtaking for its stupidity. Moore’s blind spot on this issue, like those of the teenagers he highlights, is due to being the victim of unabashed emotionalism. The young Parkland teens that Moore holds up as the paragon of virtue and the path forward, are not the solution to the problem Moore presents, but the problem itself. To see the effects of emotionalism laid so bare in the form of these Parkland teens is a remarkable thing.

An example of the illogic on display in the film is when Moore declares the danger of Trump as a potential Hitler, and then uses history professors from NYU and Yale to persuasively make the case that America is in peril but then transitions to the Parkland anti-gun crusaders, which completely undermines the intellectual and political seriousness of the thesis of the film. If Trump is Hitler, disarming is ridiculous if not absurd. The logical and rational response to the notion that Trump is a tyrant or Hitler is to go out and arm yourself, not disarm yourself and everyone else.

Despite the weakness of the Parkland section, Fahrenheit 11/9 pulses with a vitality and urgency because Moore, like many Americans, even Trump voters, feels America disintegrating before him. Moore is a polemicist, of that there is no doubt, but he is a damn fine documentarian and an even better political physician. In Fahrenheit 11/9 Michael Moore’s diagnosis of America is once again completely accurate, and his prescription is, for the most part, spot on as well. Moore makes the extraordinarily insightful case that the establishment Democrats are fighting for a return to the Pre-Trump America, but that Pre-Trump America is what got us to Trump. As Moore points out, the good old days before Trump weren’t so good and and the tumor of Trump grew out of the cancer of establishment Republicans and Democrats who are beholden to corporate interests over the interests of the people.

America, and liberals in particular, had better wake up and start listening to Michael Moore, who, like me, accurately foretold of Trump’s presidency. If liberals ignore Moore’s prescription and turn back to the old centrist Clinton medicine to heal the Trumpism that ails them, the disease of Trump will spread and gain strength, and once again liberals will have no one to blame but themselves, but will lack the self-awareness to do so.

In conclusion, if you like Michael Moore, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, you’ll love it. If you are a sturdy centrist Democrat who cheered Hillary and loved Obama, go see Fahrenheit 11/9 to be disabused of the notion that those two people are anything but different faces on the same evil machine of exploitation, abuse and destruction. If you are a progressive or liberal looking for hope, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, and learn the lesson that I have been preaching for decades, that hope is insipid. If you are an American citizen, the bottom line is this, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, if for no other reason than to see what has been done to Flint, and what can be done by West Virginians.

©2018

A Curious Case of Mystery Attacks, Microwaves and Media Manipulation

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 47 seconds

The U.S. media’s lazy reporting of mystery attacks on American personnel in Cuba takes the predictable path of blaming Russia without evidence.

I came across a story recently in the New York Times that was intriguing. The story, headlined “Microwave Weapons are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers”, was written by William J. Broad and was about mysterious “attacks” that started in 2016 on U.S. personnel stationed in Cuba who had suffered the equivalent of concussive brain trauma and the ensuing after effects, such as hearing loss, dizziness and diminished cognitive function, yet had not been visibly assaulted or struck in the head. The article posits the “attacks” were made by a microwave-type of weapon that would invisibly strike its targets.

In the Times article it never states outright but certainly gives the distinct impression, that the mystery is now solved and that the “attacks” were made by a microwave type of weapon that would invisibly strike its targets.

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The most striking thing about this story was the seemingly out of nowhere speculation that it was Russia that perpetrated these “attacks”. What was so odd about this assertion was that upon closer inspection it became clear the actual facts presented in the story indicate there is no consensus or actual evidence Russia was responsible for the attacks or that any attacks had even taken place.

The article begins by giving a brief history of microwave radiation as a weapon, stating in its opening sentence, “During the Cold War: Washington feared that Moscow was seeking to turn microwave radiation into covert weapons of mind control.”

For the next nine paragraphs, Broad never mentions Russia, but then with no background as to where his speculation comes from, he writes,

“The microwave idea teems with unanswered questions. Who fired the beams? The Russian government? The Cuban government? A rogue Cuban faction sympathetic to Moscow? And, if so, where did the attackers get the unconventional arms?”

In re-reading the opening paragraph, you will notice that there is no proof that Russia has ever had a microwave weapon, only decades-old “fears” it was “seeking” to develop one. It would seem the entire basis for the speculation blaming Russia in this article is nothing more than some old, fleeting sense of Soviet super-villainy, that this fact is hidden in plain sight reveals a deft but ultimately duplicitous hand writing the story.

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In fact, the only person quoted in the piece claiming Russia as the prime suspect is a scientist, biologist Allan H. Frey, who has vast experience with microwave technology. Mr. Frey is described as having “traveled widely and long served as a contractor and a consultant to a number of federal agencies.” That description of Mr. Frey is curiously, if not suspiciously, lacking in specifics.

The New York Times goes on to write in regards to Mr. Frey, “he speculated that Cubans aligned with Russia, the nation’s longtime ally, might have launched microwave strikes in attempts to undermine developing ties between Cuba and the United States.” Mr. Frey describes his own analysis as a “perfectly viable explanation.”

So the New York Times bases the underlying assumption of Russian guilt on the uninformed speculation of a biologist, who has no expertise or insight into the subject, and who also admits that his beliefs only rise to the rather tepid level of being a “viable” explanation.

Frey’s credibility and believability takes a serious hit later in the article when he recounts the story of how, after he made a name for himself in the early 60’s with numerous papers about the effects of microwave energy on the human body which brought him a lot of attention, so much so that these effects were given the name the “Frey effect”, he was invited to the Soviet Union to speak.

The New York Times writes, “The Soviets took notice. Not long after his initial discoveries, Mr. Frey said, he was invited to the Soviet Academy of Sciences to visit and lecture. Toward the end, in a surprise, he was taken outside of Moscow to a military base surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire fences.”They had me visiting the various labs and discussing problems”, including the neural impacts of microwaves, Mr. Frey recalled. “I got an inside look at their classified program.

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Now, just think about what Frey is claiming here. Frey is saying that at the very height of the Cold War, with the Cuban Missile Crisis fresh in everyone’s mind, he was invited to go to the Soviet Union and then WAS GIVEN AN INSIDE LOOK INTO THE SOVIET’S CLASSIFIED PROGRAM! In what universe is this even remotely plausible? This story has got to be at best embellishment and at worst a total fabrication. And yet, the New York Times prints it as if it isn’t a big deal and must unquestionably be true. Frey reveals himself to be a pretty dubious character with that statement, and yet the New York Times’ reporter, William J. Broad, still uses him as the backbone of his assertion that Russia was behind the “attacks”.

Another rather remarkable piece of news that appears towards the end of this article is some contradictory evidence to the notion that Russia is the culprit behind the attacks, namely that other alleged microwave attacks have happened to U.S. diplomats stationed in China.

What makes that fact all the more salient is that the article describes a list of states that may have the ability to make a microwave weapon.

“Russia, CHINA and many European states are seen as having the know-how to make basic microwave weapons that can debilitate, sow noise or even kill. Advanced powers, experts say, might accomplish more nuanced aims such as beaming spoken words into people’s heads.” (emphasis mine)

Obviously, if China is capable of making this sort of weapon and there have been “attacks” upon U.S. diplomats in China, wouldn’t China be a better suspect than Russia? And China also has deep connections to Cuba…so…why did the New York Times write so suspiciously of Russia and not China? It makes you wonder if an “advanced power” like the U.S. beamed this article into the head of reporter William J. Broad.

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Further proof of something being greatly amiss about this article and story is the paucity of actual evidence that an “attack” even took place. According to thew York Times’ own reporting, the most clear cut pronouncement of an attack was made by James C. Lin, a scientist and expert in the field who wrote in a paper that the effects felt by the U.S. diplomats could “plausibly arise” from microwave beams. “Plausibly arise” is an extremely low bar, so much so that it is absurd to base any conclusions on that statement at all. Of course, many other things could be “plausible explanations”, and Broad even admits that no one really knows or agrees on what happened.

“Scientists still disagree over what hit diplomats. Last month, JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) ran four letters critical of the March study, some faulting the report for ruling out mass hysteria.”

Mass hysteria sounds like it could be not only a “plausible” explanation for this alleged Russian microwave attack in Cuba but also for the Times’ slanted article, as well as the spate of Russo-phobia infecting America’s establishment media.

The Times article glosses over the skepticism of scientists that actually claim they do not know what happened, and instead embraces speculation it was a “microwave attack”, and then despite a total lack of evidence and in the face of some contradictory evidence, confidently speculates that it was Russia that is the likely suspect.

Furthering this journalistic malpractice was NBC News, which followed up on the Times article ten days later with even more vapid reporting on the subject. The NBC News headline of September 11th reads “U.S. officials suspect Russia in mystery ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Cuba, China”.

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What is so amusing is that even the headline questions whether these events are attacks at all, putting quotation marks around the word. But that doesn’t stop NBC from devouring intel agency pablum hook, line and sinker. NBC relies entirely on anonymous sources for the story and never quotes anyone saying what the story so boldly asserts, which is that Russia is the main culprit in these “attacks”.

NBC News simply repeats unchallenged, the claims of anonymous intelligence officials that the suspicion of Russia is “backed up by evidence from communications intercepts”. The same paragraph making this assertion ends with this gem of a revealing statement, “The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence”.

So NBC, which ran the story on as “Breaking News” and hyped it endlessly on MSNBC, simply repeats intelligence agency speculation without ever seeing any of the alleged corroborating evidence or challenging the voracity of that alleged evidence, and calls it news. That isn’t journalism that is stenography.

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The stenography charge against NBC shouldn’t come as a surprise since one of the reporters who “broke” the story is Ken Dilanian. Dilanian is a notorious intelligence agency shill, who was exposed by The Intercept as having shared his stories and outlines with the CIA before he submitted them while he was working as a national security reporter at the L.A. Times, a shockingly unprofessional journalistic practice. What is even more outrageous is that Dilanian’s lack of journalistic ethics never hampered him from getting a job at NBC as their lead national security reporter. And since he has gotten to NBC he has done nothing but regurgitate intelligence agency approved talking points and narratives non-stop.

NBC’s and the Times’ reporting on this issue is perniciously vacuous, insipidly shallow and riddled with an insidious anti-Russian bias. These articles are forms of malignant disinformation that alchemically transform speculation into fact and replace critical thinking with presumption, the final result of which is that these presumed “facts” will go unchallenged and become part of a wider and often nefarious narrative. An example of which is that last week cable news talking heads like Chris Matthews proclaimed “of course Russia did it!” and even comedian Bill Maher roared “Russia attacked us in Cuba!”

These incidents may very well be proven to be attacks, and Russia may ultimately be responsible for them, but we should wait for actual evidence and not accept whispered innuendo wrapped in a slavish deference to intelligence agency authority as proof.

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After the media’s complicity in deceiving the American public into war with Iraq, followed quickly by their acquiescence on torture, or as the Times preferred to call it “enhanced interrogation”, and then concealing Bush’s warrantless surveillance program, of which the Times was aware but refused to publish for more than a full year, we the people must condition ourselves to read all of the establishment media news with an acutely jaundiced eye.

Similar to the delirious fever for war in the lead up to Iraq, the media are currently suffering from a virulent hysteria, this time of the anti-Russian variety. Now more than ever it is imperative to maintain a healthy and vigilant skepticism whenever Russia is blamed for misdeeds but there is a dearth or absence of concrete evidence. If we succumb to the corporate media’s Siren’s call of compulsive Russia blaming, our new Cold war may just turn very hot, and that will be a catastrophe for all of us.

A version of this article was originally published at CounterPunch.

 

©2018