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18 Sep

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Outlander Is Looking Tired (and Its Ethics Are Somewhat Elastic)

21 Jan

Outlander (or Droughtlander, so-called because of the long gaps between seasons) is in its fourth season, the penultimate episode of which will air tonight.  I’ve written about the show each season, but it now seems like a bit of a chore.  I mean, the series is OK and all, but it’s been kinda boring this time around – it makes Barry Lyndon look like The Fast and the Furious.

 

oulander4

Are you guys gettin’ tuckered out?

North Carolina before the American Revolution just isn’t as exciting as, say, the intrigues in France of the second season, when our protagonist was running around Paris in décolleté fashions, hobnobbing with royalty, trying to prevent the battle of Culloden, and the like.  This season, Clare meets George Washington and takes out a guy’s ruptured appendix in the same night (and without getting blood on her elaborate  gown.)  Well done. Nonetheless, something isn’t the same.  Part of this may be that us viewers have to get used to Clare becoming a supporting player in a series that is ostensibly all about her.  This season, Clare’s daughter Brianna has made the leap backward in time and so has her sort-of husband Roger. The youngsters have to some degree taken center stage, and perhaps that takes some getting used to.  Clare and Jamie don’t even appear in one of the episodes (though, to be fair, the younger couple manage to carry the story just fine. )

Even when Clare and Jamie appear, the ol’ excitement isn’t there (like nearly getting burned at the stake for being a witch as happened in the first season – that was intense.)  This time around, Clare spends the better part of an episode nursing Lord John Grey though his bout with the measles while Jamie hangs out with John’s (really, Jamie’s) son.  Sure, I get it – sometimes there needs to be a transitional episode and not every segment of the story has to be full of “Damn the torpedoes!” moments.  Nevertheless, conflict is the stuff of drama, and we masses must have our bread and circuses.

The other thing that I noticed (and maybe my beef here is more with Diana Gabaldon, the author of the novels on which the series is based rather than the screenwriters) is that Jamie and Clare’s ethics seem to get stricter and/or looser depending on the situation at hand.  In an early episode, the time-crossed couple end up at a plantation run by Jamie’s aunt Jocasta. Auntie wants Jamie to take over the running of the place, but our heroes are so disgusted by the mistreatment of the slaves and the abject racism that they pass up the offer. Why?  Would they not be in a position to root out and dismiss cruel overseers, improve living conditions, transition the workers from slaves into de facto tenant farmers, and in time free them outright?  The episode depicts how the law itself was used to ensure that slavery remain entrenched, but still, it seemed to me that this avenue remained unexplored because the plot requires Jamie and Clare to accept a tract of land in North Carolina granted by the British crown.  Anyhoo, given the fact that they’re so repulsed by the cruelty that is the plantation’s very underpinning, why do they send the pregnant Brianna to live with Jocasta while they seek Roger, who has been sold to a tribe of Mohawks?  (That’s a longer story – I won’t go into it.)  I mean c’mon guys – if you’re so bogued out by the cruelty of the plantation, don’t send your daughter to live there even temporarily ‘cause you’re in effect turning a blind eye to the very thing you quite rightly despise.  Sheesh!

As usual, I don’t know where I’m going with this and I’m off in the weeds.  I guess in the main, the show seems to be losing steam and I have the impression that everyone involved is getting a little bit tired of doing it.

Currying favor in “The Favourite”

30 Dec

The Favourite explores the heady feeling of being close of power and what people will do to get near it. I have not researched the historical accuracy of the story, but I suspect that drama trumps history here. As the film opens, Abigail Hill, the penniless daughter of a former gentleman presents herself to her cousin Sarah Churchill requesting work at the palace of Queen Anne. Initially given the job of a scullery maid, Abigail soon works her way up the ladder and into a power struggle with Sarah. The queen is a semi-invalid who relies on Sarah as a trusted advisor and sexual partner. Abigail becomes determined to supplant Sarah in these areas.

The best thing about the film is its actors, with Olivia Colman as the fragile Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as Sarah, and Emma Stone as Abigail. All three deliver strong performances, but my favorite among them is Colman, who is by turns pathetic, flighty, and forceful.

olivia_colman

Great acting, Olivia!

The film is also great to look at, though cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s visual style is quirky. Ryan is in love with the extreme wide-angle lens, to the point where straight lines at the edges of the frame are visibly bowed. During one notable shot, a long hallway seems to have an almost 90-degree turn. I don’t know if this visual approach was chosen for artistic reasons, practical reasons, or a combination of the two. It’s definitely noticeable, though I never found it intrusive.

Screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara take a detached approach, displaying wry title cards such as “This Mud Stinks” before each section of the film. I have intentionally not read reviews of the film by major critics, but I have seen the film described as a comedy and a farce. That may be, but if so, it’s a dark one.

I don’t usually notice costume design (the last time I did was in Angels and Insects, a film I hated, but I gotta admit, had great costume design) but Sandy Powell’s costume design is striking. One scene shows Sarah and Abigail shooting game. Sarah is resplendently mannish in a tricorn hat and stylish white coat. We feel like we’re watching a malevolent pirate, an effect that suits the scene perfectly. Powell works similar wonders with the dress that Queen Anne wears as she addresses Parliament.

I guess I should also mention the director, Yorgos Lanthimos, though this is the first of his films that I’ve seen. I’d like to see more of his work so I can work out what his directorial mannerisms are.

As with any review, the main question is whether the film is worth your time. Well, I guess it is, but I must admit I found the film a bit off-putting. Why? Well, the characters in the film are so darn nasty to one another, staring with the dodgy guy who pushes Abigail out of a carriage. There are also the maids who don’t warn Abigail that the lye in a scrub pail is highly caustic. Nicholas Hoult’s character Harley proposes that Abigail supply him with intel about the queen’s views and ends the encounter by pushing her into a ditch. That’s not even mentioning the stuff that comprises the bulk of the story – the dirt that Sarah and Abigail do to one another as they jockey for position with the queen.

I loved the acting, I loved the visuals, I loved the one-liners in the film (which I’ve left out so as not to spoil them for you), but I gotta admit that though I’m glad I saw the film, I’m really not sure if I liked it.

The Odd Couple: Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick

25 Dec

I’ve viewed and reflected on 2001: A Space Odyssey more than any other film. For a movie that turned 50 this year, it holds up pretty well. There have been (and continue to be) varied reactions to the film. You may find it fascinating, boring, uplifting, depressing, maddening, kitschy, intriguing, pretentious, funny, memorable, or completely forgettable. It’s all good; I wouldn’t dream of telling you that your reaction was not a valid one. (Check out Pauline Kael’s 1968 review here: http://scrapsfromtheloft.com/2017/01/05/pauline-kael-on-2001-a-space-odyssey/).

I read the novel by Arthur C. Clarke in when I was in the 8th grade and saw the film by Stanley Kubrick during its 1972 re-release. In retrospect, I’m wondering how Clarke and Kubrick worked together at all; it seems that the two were as different as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple.”

Clarke-and-Kubrick

Felix and Oscar

I usually like to read a book before seeing its film adaptation so the movie won’t “corrupt” the images I form in my head as I read. 2001 is one movie I wish I had seen first and read the book afterward (or perhaps not at all. ) This is not to denigrate Clarke’s novel, which I found readable and entertaining. Never before had I read a book where the cast of characters kept changing. The book introduced me to the concept of trans-dimensional ducts, an idea I found breathtaking (and still do.) The problem was that the novel imposed a meaning on the events depicted in the film that in some sense shackled me to Clarke’s narrative, rather than allowing me to experience the “Rorschach test” (as the film has been called) of the movie. Once I’d read it, I couldn’t un-read it. Looking back, I wish I could have gone to the theater for that first viewing and had my mind blown (or confused, or maddened) without the novel to provide a convenient road map.

Clarke the novelist has a job to do and he does not shirk his duty. He dons his conductor’s cap and says “Hi there. We’re going on a trip that lasts eons. With words as my tools, I’ll make sure that you know where you’ve been. You’re going to have some fantastic experiences, but I’ll help you make sense of them.” Clarke proceeds to do just that. When Clarke the novelist is done with us, we know we’ve been in capable hands and things are very tidy.

Stanley Kubrick the filmmaker doffs his conductor’s cap and says, “Images and sounds are my stock in trade, and they’ll do the job here. We’re going to a few different places, but don’t look to me as your guide. You’re going to have to make your own connections. You may see and hear some things that help you make sense of the journey, but that’s not a given. I’ll provide the sounds and the images, but this is really up to you. This is a big-budget MGM movie, but in some ways, it’s an experimental film. We’re off.” When Kubrick the filmmaker is done with us, we’re in disarray, wondering what has just happened.

If you’ve never viewed 2001, by all means, do. Even if you find the film a disjointed series of vignettes tied together by a bewildering big black slab with no plot, I’ll bet that your eyes and ears will find something to like.

discovery

Your eyes and ears’ll like it

 

A Two-State Solution

11 Oct

Perhaps it’s time to admit that the divisions in the US have become so great, the polarization so insurmountable, that the only course left is to split into two nations, US x and US y – a civil war without the war. This will be more like a messy divorce, only with lots more lawyers.  The actual country names can be worked out later (Personally, I like Fredonia and Cloud Cuckooland.)  Like the Brexit, this will pose some problems.  How do we divvy up the deficit? Will Washington D.C.will become a ghost town or a historical theme park? (Ride the Filibuster! World’s longest lasting ride!)  How do we decide who gets what turf? The good news is that after it’s over we’ll have two nations whose inhabitants are reasonably happy with their respective countries.

The turf question provides an array of possibilities. In the lower 48, we could decide on an East-West demarcation line or one that runs North-South, like we had during the Civil War. A more likely solution is that the two nations will split by ideology. Each state will vote to decide whether to join US x or US y. Those living in states that voted against their preferences will need to migrate to the other country or stay in place and dislike the government (which is already the status quo for many.)

The Presidency, the Congress, and the Supreme Court will all be dissolved along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Each country will decide on its capitol and system of government.  The nukes will be divvyed up along with the other military hardware and the military itself.  Each nation will have its own legislature, currency, courts, tax laws, health care policy, drug policy, firearms regulations, you name it.  The possibilities are endless – US x may decide to have a monarchy.  US y may abolish its former state boundaries and become one big nation.

two_state_solution

US x and US y

In the illustration, I divided the country into those states that voted Democratic in at least two of the last three Presidential elections and those that voted Republican in at least two of the last three. (Florida, who’d a thunk it?) It may not play out this way in real life should it actually come to this, but you get the idea.  I dispensed with the colors blue and red, as I wanted to suggest that these will be two brand new nations, albeit only one is contiguous.

International treaties will be torn up and new ones written for each country. Corporations will have offices in both countries (they, along with the 1 per cent will come out OK no matter what.)  Each country will decide to build a wall and try to get the other to pay for it.

The concept of a bifurcated US is certainly not new – Robert A Heinlein explores this idea in If This Goes On … and Coventry.  Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle postulates a US ruled by Nazi Germany in the East and Japan in the West.  You can probably think of other examples.

At first, the two nations will be hostile to one another, like an intense football rivalry. As time goes by, old divisions may be forgotten and the two may become like the Great Britain and the current US. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not thrilled with the idea – it sounds like a big, fat drag.  Nevertheless, the status quo seems unsustainable.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us (or not).  And the US will live as two.

The Persistence of Memory

2 Oct

As I write, Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her while both were in high school is perhaps the top story in the news (at least in the US.) The story has become a Rorschach test of sorts; how you see the issue depends not just on your political views, but on other views, such as your views on how memory works.

I once had a job repairing damaged motion picture prints of a talking head giving a lecture. The guy in the film talked about significant emotional events,  those events that  leave an impact that is not soon forgotten. The event could be a long-lasting one, such as the Great Depression, or a shorter one, such as the experience of being shouted at by another person.

persistence_of_memory

No, not that Persistence of Memory…

I’m not surprised that Dr. Ford says that she does not remember some details of the alleged incident, as that’s how memory often works. When I was in high school, a teacher/coach grabbed another student and I and slammed our heads together. (Our crime?  We’d gone to our lockers  for our books, and he hadn’t authorized the trip.) My head hurt and I remember feeling angry, humiliated, and helpless. I pulled out of the teacher’s  grasp and made an “Errrrgh!” sound, the most resistance I could muster at that moment. Though he hadn’t quite managed to knock us out, I not sure whether I went back to his classroom or went somewhere else after this incident. (I’m not even sure of the time of year, though I believe it was late winter / early spring.) Had the other student or I reported the teacher, he might well have faced disciplinary action, perhaps even termination. I don’t remember telling anyone about the teacher’s mean-spirited act at the time. I believe that the first person I told may have been my wife, years later.

Several things stand out here: vivid details that I remember, other details that are hazy, a failure to tell others, and a passage of decades.  At the core though, I remember the other student’s name, I remember the teacher’s name and that this event happened.  There is no possibility that a different student was there or that another teacher assaulted us.  If anyone were to suggest that over time I confused the student with a different classmate or the teacher with another, my account would not change; though I have forgotten many details about that day, I know who the other parties were.

Some have suggested that Dr. Ford is mistaken, and that the alleged perpetrator was someone other than than Brett Kavanaugh.  I doubt that. My own experience of a significant emotional event suggests that  vivid recollections of disturbing events  remain vivid over decades, though peripheral details may be lost. In regard to current events, I believe that those who suggest otherwise are at best mistaken about how episodic memory works, or at worst, trying to dissemble. Those who suggest a political motive may well have their own.  Though I have used the term “alleged” throughout this post, I must admit that I believe Ford’s account; I know how episodic memory works. Of course, don’t take my word for it – think of a dramatic or traumatic event from your own life (not too traumatic, I hope!) and see if your experience fits the same constellation.

Mad Men and Richard III

14 Sep

Our adult daughters introduced us to Mad Men (we never watched during its run), and we’ve been binge-watching it on Netflix in two-episode sprints. It’s a window on a brave new dysfunctional world (or a brave old one – it’s set in the 60s, after all.)

[ This next bit has spoilers, but let’s face it, they’re no longer making new ones. ]

Mad Men is a pithy title.  It’s an anagram for “Damn Me.”  Rearranging the letters again yields “Med Man”, a good title for a future doctor show. How about a gender-bending show?  “Mme Dan”, of course! After watching a few episodes, I thought the show should be called “People Who Smoke Too much, Drink Too much, Cheat on Their Spouses a Lot, and Generally Make Poor Choices.”  Or perhaps, “Men and Women (but Mostly Men) Behaving Badly.”  By virtue of its brevity, Mad Men is a much better title.  Lately I just call it by my own title: “Sick People.”

This is not to say I don’t like watching Mad Men.  It’s just that watching the show is sort of like watching a version of Shakespeare’s Richard III where more than one character is playing Richard.  This comparison admittedly falls short of the mark; no character seems “determined to prove a villain.” The characters are often villainous, but unlike Shakespeare’s Richard, they don’t see themselves as such. Jon Hamm’s Don Draper steals another man’s identity because it’s the easiest way out of a war.  Vincent Kartheiser’s Pete Campbell takes advantage of an au pair he has helped because he feels a sense of entitlement.  John Slattery’s Roger Sterling is essentially amoral (albeit not unlikeable.) He’s not trying to be a villain – he just is one.

mad_men_opening

During the opening credits, how come the woman’s leg doesn’t kick the guy back up in the air?  That’d be cool.

One can view the show through an anthropological lens, a diorama of life in America just after the midpoint of the last century.  I don’t know if the show’s depiction of working at an ad agency in the 60s is an accurate one, but if so, no one seems to work particularly hard (save for Elisabeth Moss’ character Peggy Olsen), smoking is ubiquitous, drinking on the job is OK, and policies to prevent sexual harassment don’t exist. Males rule; Mel Brooks’ adage “It’s good to be the King” definitely applies here.

Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is a bit of an antihero. His adulteries are casual, he cruelly rejects a younger sibling who seeks to reunite with him, and he commits the aforementioned identity theft.  Nevertheless, we never really stop sympathizing with him (in part due to the flashbacks to his lousy childhood.)

Hamm’s character seems at his best when he is not doing something.  When Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) stages a power play, Draper’s sparse, “Gentlemen, include me out” non-reaction allows him to carry the day and Phillips is the one frozen out.  In a later episode, Draper pretends to shoot an expensive TV commercial knowing that the ruse will spur a rival firm to shoot a TV spot and overspend their budget. It’s when he acts that he seems to stumble most; during a meeting with a cereal company, he blurts a slogan that a hapless job seeker (Danny Strong) had pitched to him earlier. When the client buys the slogan, he is forced to hire the candidate.

As usual, I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to say that watching Mad Men gives me pause. Sure, the acting is good and the writing is often good (except when they toss in dream sequences to fool the viewer – that’s a pet peeve of mine), but the world that the show depicts is often ugly.  I know, I know – you’re probably thinking, “It’s a fictional TV series, man – get a grip!” I hear ya.  But let’s face it, it’s not like watching, say, Gilmore Girls. Watching Mad Men is akin to eating potato chips  – ya know that you should stop, but they’re so darn addictive, ya just don’t.

Lord Bullingdon Bounces Back

22 Jul

“But what will I tell Stanley?”
-a question/lament said to have been uttered often by employees of Stanley Kubrick

“I loved him. I hated him. I went though every emotion with him.”
-Malcolm McDowell on Stanley Kubrick

Filmworker 1 begins by likening Leon Vitali to a moth who got his wings burned by the bright light of Stanley Kubrick. It’s a poetic conceit, but I’m not sure it holds up. Vitali worked for Kubrick over 30 years and remained in the job of his own volition. Vitali, as you may recall, played Lord Bullingdon in Kubrick’s 1975 film, Barry Lyndon. He later worked for Kubrick behind the camera as a jack-of-all-trades and continued in this capacity up to (and even after, as the film shows us) the director’s death in March, 1998.

One learns about Vitali during the course of the documentary, but let’s face it, that’s not why anyone will see this film. Most people (that would be me) will go hoping for stories about what an obsessive crazy nut Kubrick was, and in this regard, the film does not disappoint. (Kubrick ordered around 30 takes of the scene where Barry Lyndon beats Lord Bullingdon. In the film, Ryan O’Neal expresses regret about hurting his co-star. There are other, better stories, but I don’t want to ruin the film for you.)

Vitali goes without sleep, works while ill, and endures Kubrick’s never-ending demands for his time and energy. Emilio D’Alessandro, another 30-year Kubrick assistant, tells similar tales in Stanley Kubrick and Me. Neither work is a hatchet piece, but while Emilio’s book left me feeling bathed in a warm, nostalgic light, I felt angry at the end of Filmworker. I couldn’t figure out why until I realized that in a book one cannot see the narrator. The documentary shows us Vitali both as a pouty young man and as the wizened, wiry man he is today. It’s not hard to look at him and think “Kubrick did this!”.

filmworker-vitail

It’s your fault, Kubrick!

Early in Filmworker, Vitali describes a sort of epiphany he had while working on Barry Lyndon. “This was filmmaking”, he says (or something to that effect – I didn’t take notes!) Though he had acted in film and television, it was not until he worked with Kubrick that he felt truly cognizant of what filmmaking could be.

Though I enjoyed the documentary, it may not be for everyone. I particularly liked a sequence where the color timing of Kubrick’s films is discussed. Timing refers to the adjustments in exposure and filtration that give a film it’s “look” when the negative it is printed. Vitali discusses his efforts to get labs to produce the desired result. Even Kubrick’s detractors will concede that his work is well -photographed (look at any given frame in Paths Of Glory if you don’t believe me), and this section provides a look into one step in that process. Though the section is brief, it may seem wonkish to some.

This is definitely a film for Kubrick fans, and for fans of cinema in general – I would recommend this film. Though it does not strike me as a “great” documentary (whatever that means) I found it to be engaging and definitely worth your time.

1. Filmworker isn’t a great title, but it’s apparently the occupation that Vitali listed on his passport.

Land Wars in Asia, Sicilians, and Buildings in the UK

29 May

You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”1

-The Princess Bride (Movie)

My wife and I have got hooked on watching shows on the idiot box2 about restoring old buildings in the UK. There’s Restoration Home, which we like, and Restoration Man, which we like even better. (The first seasons of the latter have this cool Monty Pythonesque animation, that is, sadly, absent in later seasons.)

animation

Gotta love that animation

North America lacks any really old buildings, but the UK apparently has scads of ‘em, some of which date back to before the time of Shakespeare. Now, some UK folks with more enthusiasm than sense (or money) fall in love with one of these derelict, falling down hulks and vow to restore them, turning an old ice house, or water tower, or church, or mill into the home of their dreams. We’ve watched multiple episodes of these shows, and this next bit is for you if you’re one of those UK folks bitten by the “I can restore this old ruin” bug:

This next bit:
Run away! This will make you crazy! It will cost more than you ever dreamed, take far longer than you thought, and the UK planning commission folks will be arbitrary- they’ll impose rules that make absolutely no sense! Build a new house or buy an existing one – it’ll cost less! Take a cold shower! Sober up! Run away!

OK, if you’re not one of the UK folks bitten by the restoration bug, I can explain. Watching a few of these shows doesn’t make me an authority, but patterns have emerged. The restorers frequently say the same things:

1. “We have budget of X thousand pounds to complete the project.” (Double it!)

2. “We will be in by Christmas.” (It’s not gonna happen!)

3. “I think the planning commission will accept my proposed design and extension.” (These folks are bonkers! They’ll reject stuff for no apparent reason!)

OK, I’m not against preserving the past – I like the fact that there’re folks willing to take on these arduous projects. However, if preservation comes at the cost of peoples’ mental and economic health, then some of these old structures can sink back into the bogs from whence they came, in my humble opinion.

Many of these old structures are “listed”, which means that they’re part of a national registry of old buildings. You can’t do anything you want to these buildings – a commission has to give the go-ahead. Some of these commissions seem reasonable, while others seem downright despotic. An episode we watched recently (shot in 2008, I think) showed a couple with four daughters who restored a building that dated from 1632. The timbers were in good shape, and they’d installed a beautiful new thatched roof. The rub was that the existing structure was inadequate for six people, so they’d designed a two-story extension to be connected to the original building. (This is apparently not uncommon and such additions are often approved if something, say, a glass-enclosed corridor, separates the old from the new.) For no discernible reason, the planning commission dictated that the extension’s size be reduced by 40% and that it not be as tall as the existing structure. If this were, say, Tokyo, where every square foot of space is precious, this might make sense. However, this was a rural part of England, with no other buildings in the vicinity. Go figure.

This couple were lucky in that the original timbers were still in good shape. Many of these folks find to their horror that deathwatch beetles3 have eaten the wood, or the house is plagued with ‘rising damp’ (whatever that is) or some other unforeseen calamity.

Having said all this, the restorers are often amazing. Experienced builders may find themselves in over their heads, while novices determined to make a go of it often learn quickly and do the work themselves.

For me, the appeal of these shows is in seeing several years of hard ‘graft’ (in the UK it apparently means ‘work’, but in the US anyway, it means ‘corruption’) distilled down to about 40 minutes of screen time in which we follow a couple (usually) from the rapture of finding their dream ruin, though trials and setbacks (on the job site, in the pocket book, the relationship, and/or in the bureaucracy) to the payoff where we get to behold the completed structure. Or not – in several episodes (a Restoration Man with a hapless chap trying to restore an ancient tower comes to mind), the work never even gets off the ground.

As usual, I don’t know where I’m going with this, except perhaps to say that I find the concept of a “dream home” a bit dubious. Having a nice view, or energy efficiency, or clean tasteful lines all make a house a more pleasant place to live. However, in the end, it all comes down to the people in it.

1. Only slightly less well known than that is “Never restore a listed building in the UK when your sanity and finances are on the line.”

2. A lot of these episodes are on You Tube, but we’re watchin’ You Tube on our idiot box. Is this You Tube stuff bootlegged? I have no idea.

3. Xestobium rufovillosum, if you wish to be pedantic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deathwatch_beetle

Smarter Than the Rat

1 May

“The more weapons you posses,
the greater the chaos in your country.”
-Lao Tzu

I haven’t posted anything in a while, an’ it’s ’cause I wanted to write something about guns.  However, this policy stuff is not in my normal books-and-movies stomping ground, hence I dawdled.

I gather that most people don’t care about the issue one way or the other. I base that on the fact that the NRA holds so much sway – most Americans disagree with the NRA’s extremist views, yet the NRA continues to get its way.

I once knew a veteran who related a dream about being back in Viet Nam. To his surprise, a rat was in charge of everything. “Why is the rat in charge?”, he asked his buddies. “After all, we’re smarter than the rat.” I don’t remember the rest of the story, but in a similar vein, I have often wondered the same thing about the NRA.

If there was a contest for being the most contemptible organization in America, the NRA would win (despite stiff competition from multi-level marketing companies.) Their rhetoric about freedom, the Second Amendment, law-abiding citizens, and the like is just a smokescreen; the NRA is nothing more than a flack for the weapons industry. The “Brand Partners” listed on the NRA’s Web Site include Ruger, Hornaday, Smith and Wesson, Mossberg, and Sig Sauer, and that’s only some of them. The organization claims it’s “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization.” Why the plural form?

nugent

Distinguished NRA Board Member Ted

As I write, more than a month has passed since the March for Our Lives. I know that the young people from Marjorie Stoneman High School have rattled folks at the NRA by the amount of invective being hurled at them. These students have obviously struck a nerve. News stories have quoted NRA board member Ted Nugent as saying “These poor children, I’m afraid to say this and it hurts me to say this, but the evidence is irrefutable, they have no soul.” Wow, Ted. Irrefutable. I never knew that you were the arbiter of such things. I don’t think that Nugent has any integrity, though; he famously declared “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I Will Either Be Dead or in Jail by this time next year.” Obama was re-elected, but Ted still hasn’t delivered on his promise.

For me, it comes down to pointing out the obvious:

1. The Second Amendment does not describe a right to own any weapon you want and carry it wherever you want.  Even the Supreme Court’s Heller decision (much lauded by the NRA) states:

“Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

The Heller decision went against over 100 years of jurisprudence on firearms, but even Heller is not a blank check.

2. You don’t need a military-style semi-automatic weapon to protect yourself.  You might want such a weapon, you might even own such a weapon. But you don’t need it.

3. The absurdity of “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is just plain (I don’t like to work blue, but I’m afraid I must here) cow poop. The NRA came up with this one after the Sandy Hook massacre. Note how it plays into the weapons industry’s agenda – if you bought more of our guns, you’d have more weapons than the sociopath who bought our guns.

4. The absurdity of “Criminals will always be able to get guns so gun laws are useless.” Embezzlers still embezzle despite laws against embezzlement. Ponzi schemers still run Ponzi schemes despite laws against them. This argument peddles the false idea that unless a law is 100% effective, it’s bad policy.

Now, I don’t know who this is going to play out in the future, but I’m rootin’ for the students.

A bewildering mash-up of US tax legislation and a really good short story by D.H. Lawrence

8 Feb

I didn’t want to bring this up, but there’s  no gettin’ ‘round the subject of the tax legislation that passed late last year. This topic deserves mention simply because those who passed it again repeated the same hackneyed pap they always repeat after passing legislation that mostly benefits the wealthy (that is, tax cuts that benefit the rich are just what us average folks across America need most.)

money_programme

A press release from Representative Tim Walberg (R-Michigan) states: “With this bill, the typical family of four earning the median family income of $73,000 will receive a tax cut of $2,059.”1 This conveniently leaves out the fact that according to a non-partisan analysis, the average 2018 tax cut for people in the top 1% will be $37,000.2 (And if anyone takes issue with the line they’re being sold, members of Congress can always suppress the dissenting view.) 3 This “trickle down” theory was all the rage during the Reagan era, and Congress and the current White house have revived it again (not that they necessarily believe it themselves.)

However, I’m already off in the weeds.  All this policy wonk stuff doesn’t ultimately interest me.  Books and movies do, and as I read of the latest attempt to sell the American people on this shopworn idea, I kept thinking about D.H. Lawrence’s, The Rocking Horse Winner.

In this short story, an unhappy wife, an unlucky husband, two daughters, and a son, Paul are haunted by voices:

Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll’s house, a voice would start whispering: “There must be more money! There must be more money!” And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment. They would look into each other’s eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each one saw in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. “There must be more money! There must be more money!”

Paul’s frenzied rides on his rocking horse allow him to predict the winners of horse races. His winnings are considerable; through his uncle and the family lawyer he arranges for a thousand pounds to be paid to his mother on her birthday for five years. The mother renegotiates the deal to receive the entire five thousand in one lump sum. Once again, D.H. Lawrence:

And yet the voices in the house, behind the sprays of mimosa and almond-blossom, and from under the piles of iridescent cushions, simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy: “There must be more money! Oh-h-h; there must be more money. Oh, now, now-w! Now-w-w – there must be more money! – more than ever! More than ever!”

The story is a good one, so I encourage you to read the whole text (and its subtext, for that matter.)  It’s often in anthologies or you can read it online 4.

In my humble opinion, real life will mirror fiction in the current round of tax cuts. The cuts will kick in, and instead of Shangri-La, the end result will be that those who benefit most will in a relatively short time go back to complaining how much they’re taxed. Big business will still grouse that US corporate tax rates are too high. Businesses will reward their stockholders, their workers not so much, the deficit will rise, and that will be that.

I’m not anti-tax; I actually like having good roads. The thing that rankles me is that not only did the Republicans (not trying to be partisan here – let’s face it, the GOP owns this one) pass the bill, they tried to sell the American people an obvious fiction.  I would have had more respect for ‘em if they’d have said “Hey America, guess what? The beneficiaries of this legislation will mostly be Big Business and the top 1%!  Your kids will end up paying for the resulting increase in the deficit! We did it!  Hooray for us!” Had they done this, I would have respected ‘em more.  Not much more – maybe 0.000125 % more. But more, nonetheless.

  1. https://walberg.house.gov/issues/taxes-spending
  2. http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-tax-plan-analysis-tpc-gop-bill-text-2017-11?op=1
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/11/02/non-partisan-congressional-tax-report-debunks-core-conservative-economic-theory-gop-suppresses-study/#12928b2922e6
  4. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1s3hvkcwikiUJdgRxDTb3wS79DHhUpr3gkjwlu2BNr1o/edit?pli=1