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An open letter to Joe Biden

Thank you for helping to remove Donald Trump from office. The last four years have probably been the most dangerous since the Civil War. And I think I can speak for everyone when I say I support your call to be the President for everyone, free from all parties, not just there for the people who voted for you.

However, if we’re going to start restoring correct political norms that will benefit everyone, one of the first norms from the public has to be that we can not give in to a cult of personality and that we have a duty to oppose those in power, and especially those whom we voted for.

I voted for you, not because I agree with much of the policies you proposed, but because you seem to be a decent human being and that is what we need right now (I’d prefer a decent human being who has the correct policies, but I didn’t have that as an option this time). And I think that many of the people who voted for you are in the same camp. We are moderates, a few practical Libertarians, and Never Trump Republicans. We didn’t vote for you to expand the ACA or tax the rich or bring about the Green New Deal, but because we needed someone to restore sanity to America. And that milquetoast victory speech that was more boilerplate than substance is not a good start—I can admit that a victory speech may not be the best time to pick a fight and it might be a tactical choice to wait until January 20th before picking fights, but there did seem some missed opportunities there, but again, I will write it up as a tactical choice.

Now, I hope that you are looking to be what we hope you would be, but I’m going to state what I think most of us believe, and hope that at least the ideas presented here will reach you in some form.

First off you need to bridge the gap with conservatives, real conservatives, not the populist hacks that have taken over the PR functions of the party. That means there should be three to four Never Trump Republicans in your cabinet. Just one token Republican in the Department of Transportation won’t do it. You need to make a sincere effort to reach across the aisle and find the best people for every position. It might be a bit too much to hope that you put Paul Ryan in as Secretary of Treasury, but something that blatant is needed. Further, you need to reject BOTH extremes, obviously the Trump wing of insanity must be rejected, but so must the Warren/Sanders/AOC wing of your own party—if you want to heal this nation then these illiberal extremes must be given exactly zero power—the illiberal left is just as dangerous as the illiberal right. To embrace the far left is just as bad as Trump’s embrace of populism, it is an illiberal philosophy that has no place in America and if you tolerate it, then your words of hope, opportunity, and healing are only words. Also, if you’re going to go after Trump and work on reforming the police through legal federal means, you’re going to need a Republican AG to avoid making it look like a liberal crusade—I have no idea who, but a conservative AG would deflect most the criticism from all but the Alex Jones crowd (and there was never any hope of getting their support).

Second, you need to calm the worries over the Supreme Court. The left is justifiably angry over McConnell’s court-packing and the right is worried about court-packing from the left (whether that’s rational or not, that’s what governing for all side is, you have to calm as many fears as possible, even the irrational ones). My suggestion is you go to Justices Thomas and Alito, who are both in their 70s and might want to enjoy the end of their lives instead of dropping dead waiting for another Republican president. Come up with a list of Libertarian/moderate justices who believe in abortion and LBGT rights but in limited government in all other things (those first two are about limited government as well so it would be looking for actually consistent justices) and work with them to find a pick they can agree that they will retire if you appoint that pick. This calms the left and the right, defends the most important right you care about, and restores faith in the Court for all sides.

Now let’s come to your goals. First and foremost you need to re-establish our place in the world. That means a heavy use of diplomacy, of not just reestablishing free trade but pushing it (rejoining TPP, ending the Jones Act, quickly getting a new trade agreement with the UK, rolling back all of Trump’s tariffs, and challenging China in the legal format of the WTO). Free trade is an absolute good, and it needs to be encouraged no matter how much the illiberal sides of both parties hate it. And while Trump has done a lot of stupid stuff, don’t compound the stupid by just reversing his idiocy—for instance moving the embassy to Jerusalem was silly, moving it back would be just as silly and petty. Don’t be petty. And while we need to re-establish our relationship with the world let’s not be groveling and begging forgiveness. The world wants the US to be the world cop and the stable one in the room they can all look to for support, that does not involve going around and groveling (like your former boss did). We can admit that Trump was wrong without acting like America is always in the wrong.

Next, you must establish limits on the Executive branch. You need to push for a Department of Internal Affairs that can investigate every president and every elected official and which is free from partisan politics. Presidents are not above the law and this needs to be made clear. A president who breaks the law needs to know that he or she can be arrested and hauled out of the Oval Office in handcuffs. If you don’t push for some kind of way to limit criminal behavior in the executive then you’ve missed what the mandate you were given was.

Further, you need to limit the capricious dictatorial power of the Presidency. A president who refuses to work with Congress and just says “I have a pen and a phone” and rules by fiat is not a president but a wannabe tyrant. This can no longer be tolerated from either side. You are the president, if Congress is being obstructionist, you have the bully pulpit and your job is to convince the people to push Congress to act. Now, part of this must be using that bully pulpit to push Congress to return power to committee created legislation and not just letting the House and Senate being the fiefdoms of the Speaker and Majority Leader respectively. I know full well this is a long-term project that you will not see the end of, but it has to start sometime, and the sooner the better.

In terms of economics, again: Free trade. You’re not going to bring manufacturing jobs back, because even if a company moved production back to the US it would be done by machines. But what you can do is open up more trade which will create more opportunities in new fields. I’m fine with more investment for vocational training and retraining but we are never returning to a 1950s manufacturing economy, and I have to hope your rhetoric on this point during the campaign was simply a pragmatic realization that right now you weren’t going to win without that voting bloc. But now act in that voting blocs best interest and bring them jobs for the future, not lying to them about bring back the past.

In terms of taxes. Don’t raise taxes. Just get rid of the myriad of stupid deductions that exist. You know all those loopholes that Trump uses to avoid taxes. Get rid of all of those. The smaller the tax code the better. And if the upper and upper-middle class can’t just deduct all their income then tax revenues will increase.

It goes without saying that immigration needs to be reformed. But it needs to be said again and again that there is no power given to Congress to regulate immigration. NONE. Any laws that try to limit immigration are unconstitutional along with evil and economically idiotic. ICE needs to be ended and the borders need to be opened.

The CIA needs to put anything they can into Putin’s water that will speed up his Parkinson’s.

Finally, there needs to be a return to a semblance of honesty, reality, and humility. Real daily press corp briefings, hold the White House Press Correspondents dinner and demand they do a full roast of you (I get there is a pandemic, but this is a norm that needs to be restored).

Of course, there is a plethora of other things that need to be dealt with, but let’s focus on these.

Now, Mr. President-Elect, you could be all talk, and like your former always willing to give into bitter partisanship, always foolishly throwing gas on a culture war fire, always only looking to play to the most infantile of your base…but I, and I think most of America, is hoping you’ll be better than that.

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What do to with the GOP?

Cathargo delenda est—Cato the Elder

I’m sure that quote means very little to most people. It translates to: Carthage must be destroyed. It was repeated over and over again by the Roman Senator Cato the Elder after the Second Punic War. If he gave a speech on the economics of Rome, he would end with Cathargo Delenda Est. A speech on the lack of morals in Rome, Cathargo Delenda Est. A speech on the new aqueduct…Cathargo Delenda Est. A speech on any…Cathargo Delenda Est. Cato the Elder believed that after the danger of Hannibal invading Italy in the Second Punic War that the only way to deal with the problem was to destroy Carthage completely. And he finally got his wish in the Third Punic War. Rome invaded the North African coast, laid siege to the Phoenician city where they worshipped Ba’al (you know, the god whose religion liked having babies thrown in the sacrificial fire), they defeated Hannibal for a second time, burned the city, crushed the stone, killed or enslaved the populace, and myth holds, salted the ground and cursed the earth that no one should ever dare rebuild on that spot. It seems a bit much, but I would also remind you of throwing babies into fires. And while Rome certainly then proceeded to make millennia of mistakes, one could argue that centuries of further conflict with Carthage would have been even more disastrous to all of human civilization.

Why do I bring this up? Because the Republican Party must be destroyed. And with all the finality of Carthage.

This is a party that has completely sold its soul, spine, and balls to a mentally stunted wannabe tyrant. The Republican Party must be destroyed.

It is a party that is beyond even hypocrisy—because hypocrisy requires you to have principles to be hypocritical about. The Republican Party must be destroyed.

A party who is seriously who is comfortable putting a person who wants a theocracy to replace the republic in a place of power. The Republican Party must be destroyed.

An embrace of racism, nationalism, white supremacy, crimes against humanity, a continued attack on free trade, and at this point meeting every single charge laid against King George III in the Declaration of Independence. The Republican Party must be destroyed.

They are encouraging a police state, unashamedly preaching that might makes right, will defend none of the rights enshrined in the constitution, and are making brazen attacks against liberty, capitalism, the free market, and rule of law. The. Republican. Party. MUST. BE. DESTROYED!

There is no reforming the Republican Party at this point. Yeah, Mitt Romney is still a man of character, virtue, intelligence, and maturity. There are probably still a few people in other offices who still have a soul, but their existence is few and far between and more proofs that there is nothing but rot and decay left in the Grand Old Party.

Even as late as the 2016 election the GOP still hadn’t fully shaken off the, by modern standards, minor crimes of Richard Nixon—if the party does not die it will bear the mark of Trump for at least a century if not more. That is not the vehicle to advocate for liberty, rule of law, and free markets. It can’t be. It is no longer and never again will be the party of Lincoln, Goldwater, and Reagan. It is the party of Trump, and that is all it ever can be from this moment on.

As I discussed before we need something new to grow in its place.

But to do that, say it with me now, The Republican Party Must Be Destroyed.

The name, the leaderships, the PACs, the mottos, the imagery. Everyone must go.

The good news is that history shows that it takes only 8-12 years after the collapse of a party in America for something new to take its place, but that is only after the party dies. The Whig party died a quick death after Willam Henry Harrison’s election…but the Federalists before them hung on as useless rump party for slightly nearly a decade after their last presidential election. We need a quick death. Why? Because it’s not like the Democrats are all that great. They have no understanding of how economics works, and while the liberal attitude to social issues might be better than the conservative one, it’s hardly the enlightened libertarian one. And while there are some Democrats who still understand foreign policy, too many of them are just as vile as Trump on this issue. They’re simply not a solution. No, we need to kill the Republican Party to ensure we have as short as a time as possible between now and when there is a viable alternative to the Democrats. (Sorry, Libertarians it will never be you—you’re simply not a party for adults.)

So how do we kill this evil?

First, stop voting for them and stop giving them money. In all forms. No politician, no PAC, nothing. Places like the Institute for Justice, Lawfare, and sane outlets like the Bulwark are fine, but at this point, I can’t think of a single previously conservative think-tank that hasn’t been polluted by nationalism and Trumpism (even my formerly beloved AEI is too welcoming to this evil). But anything that associates with the GOP cannot be supported.

The same goes for voting for them. Vote for the libertarian until we can get a sane party back.

If you can stomach it, ugh, you might want to join the Democratic Party and be involved in trying to push neoliberalism instead of progressivism (which is just populism under a different name). You probably won’t win, but you will show other neoliberals that they’re not alone and prime them to leave the Democrats whom they will eventually realize have nothing in common with the progressive idiots.

And it would be wonderful if we could boycott every company that supports Republicans and forces them to let the vile party wither from lack of funds. But the fact is that most companies give to both parties (they want to access no matter who wins, and I can’t entirely blame them for what is otherwise good business policy). But what you can do is look at what you can do is look for things you buy that you could do with two brands equally well and write to the company that gives more the GOP that you will not buy their product until the balance is changed greatly. And then actually boycott them, and tell everyone about why you’re doing this, don’t be pushy, but make it known. Granted there are only a few areas where there two equally useful products that it makes little difference what you pick but there is a lot of stuff with reasonable substitutes (I’m sure we could never get a firm consensus on whether Ben & Jerry’s or Baskin Robins is better, but we could all suffer through our lesser preferred one if we had to boycott one). I loved Sam Adams beer but then their CEO said nice things about a Nazi and I shifted to craft beers. And I know this is usually not worth your time, the last boycott I remember working was…well the Montgomery buses is all that comes to mind, but there has to be something more recent, but you get the point it’s not effective. But if you do decide to boycott you need to then put in the time to send letters to the company letting them know why they need to be boycotted. A letter, a tweet, and a post about why the company is supporting evil are probably more effective than you just not buying their crap.

The second thing we need to do is support any organization we can that is focused either on policy or legal changes (like the Institute for Justice) or that is working to restore some dignity and reason in politics (like Stand Up Republic, even though I know they haven’t entirely given up on reforming the GOP). And being involved as much as you can in local government. Especially difficult in these pandemic times…but I didn’t say this would be easy.

And then we get to the really hard things we need to do.

Like being involved in charity or community service of some kind. Again, I get this is difficult, near impossible in the middle of a global pandemic, but these are the kind of activities and interactions that actually build up community and social bonds. People retreat to tribes when they don’t have connections with the world around them. Now you won’t be able to reach everyone this way, but it will offer a way to build up a bulwark against further degradation. Find out what your church or other local community has for charity and community service going on in these wacky times we live through and do your best.

Finally, what should be the easiest, but will prove to the most difficult for all of us. We need to stop sharing news and posts and memes that make us angry or gleeful at seeing the other side gets hurt. We need to focus on policy, on actually working to hold to truth and facts and forcing our elected representatives to do the same. We need to check where things come from…for instance every few times TurningPointUSA will put out a meme or an accurate quote…but given that they are a bastion of populism, idiocy, and hatred of core American values, we can’t give them a free platform by reposting or reblogging or retweeting their crap. It might be true, but don’t give the vile shits who know that the most effective lies come between two truths. We’re all guilty, I know I am, but we have to be better. Honestly if it’s that good, just remake the meme…it’s not like it’s all that hard these days, even a five-year iPhone can mix text and pictures you find on the internet. If you reblog a meme, attach a real article that explains it and doesn’t let fools read into it things that aren’t there. If you an article that makes you angry, check it first, see if you can find a more authoritative version, make sure everyone agrees on the facts, and more importantly focus on remedies for what made you angry rather than reveling in the anger.

In counseling, you will hear that successful relationships are ones that look for the solutions for the future and unsuccessful ones look to cause blame while looking to the past or judge who is right and wrong in the present but only looking for solutions works. In relationships, we call society and the government has to be the same. We need to look for solutions, not blame or judgment, solutions. And in doing that we will simultaneously eat away at the foundations of the GOP and lay the foundation for whatever comes after it.

And this is made all the more difficult that this 67 million idiots country just doubled down on the evil of the Republican Party. But it has to start somewhere. Sure any new party will have to include some of this useless scum that voted for Trump, it’s simply not practical any other way…but a huge number of them are more sheep than human and will follow just because it’s the party opposed to the Democrats. Just so long as the party is structured to make sure this degenerate sector never gets control of the platform or the primaries we’re good.

Cathargo Delenda Est

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How the Supreme Court Could Retain Its Respect

So at this point, the odds of Trump winning are getting closer and closer to zero. His people are worried they’re going to be prosecuted (they will be), some are even attempting suicide (can’t say I will miss the scum that pretends to be human or American), and a sane person (which Trump is not) would be running to daddy Vladamir right now begging for protection (he can bunk with Snowden, traitor roommates, I see a sitcom here).
But the fact is that even though the fascist will be leaving office (god I hope he tried to resist and needs to be forcibly removed) the court has been tainted by his (and McConnell’s) unquestionable hypocritical and unethical behavior.


This is going to leave us in a position where the Democrats are going to want to pack the court (which will hurt the court’s image) or the current nine justices stand with the mark of corruption on them. Neither is good and neither is in anyone’s best interest because we need to restore the three branches of government to some sense of reason, honor, and virtue.
But there is a way out of this.


Right now, Justice Clarence Thomas is 72 years old. The life expectancy for African American males is 72. Playing the odds, he is living on borrowed time and will likely die during the administration of President Biden—if he’s lucky, as Biden won’t be filling the whole term, he might make it to President Harris. If he thinks he’s going to just wait until there is a Republican in office again, he’s crazy. And either Biden or Harris will replace him with a liberal if he dies during their administrations.


However, if Thomas went to the White House during the first week of the new administration and said “I will retire if you nominate one of these 10 or so moderate justices” it would be a win-win (a libertarian judge who will not attack the liberal key points of abortion and minority rights, but will check the government on size and scope of government would appease the principled people on both sides). The rage over the Trump/McConnell sleaziness is quickly dissipated by the fact that you have a Democrat filling a previously Republican seat. Thomas ensures that the court only moves one step to the left instead of two. And the reputation of the Supreme Court is not destroyed in a fight to pack the court. Further, this means that Republicans are not encouraged to pack the court the next time they are in charge. And Biden would take it because it would mean he would not have to expend political capital on packing the court.


And the cherry on top is that Thomas gets to leave with the halo of a true statesman and won’t be just remembered for Anita Hill and living in Scalia’s shadow. Few opportunities ever come up to so clearly rewrite how history will remember you, and Justice Thomas would be a damn fool not to take this opportunity.


Quite frankly it’s a win-win for everyone. And that sadly is why no one would ever do it because there is nothing but pettiness and short-sighted idiocy in Washington on all sides at this point.

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Let’s have a serious talk about reparations

Recently I have heard the issue of the reparations come back up. Now, on the one hand you certainly can argue that slavery, institutional, legal, and systemic racism has held people the defendants of slaves back…but it is just as unjust to demand that those who never engaged in slavery to pay for those past mistakes. You don’t make things better by just adding to a number of wrongs and punishing the people who are not responsible.

So how do you make it so that only those who are to blame pay the price?

Further, the logical problem comes up with how long do you go back? Some of my ancestors came from Ireland, they were treated with bigotry when they came to these shores, they were certainly treated with outright hatred from the rest of Europe for over a millennia…but no sane person thinks that Britain should pay for the suffering my Irish ancestors endured. I mean, if you want to get crazy some of my ancestors came from France…should Italy pay reparations for their invasion of my ancestral homelands under Julius Caesar? That last line is preposterous but it makes the point at what point in history do you just say the past is the past and get over it?

Luckily there is a rational answer to both.

The first comes from the joys of genetics where we find that epigenetics is beginning to answer a lot of questions about why genes behave the way they do. Epigenetics is the study of which genes get turned on which ones don’t. For instance, that low metabolism you have, it might be because your parent or grandparent suffered from a period of great want in their life and certain triggers turned on in their DNA to ensure that their offspring process nutrients in a much more efficient way and store tons of it in fat because as far as their metabolism can tell the food is scarce and thus their offspring will need to have a metabolism that can store lots of food because there will be times it needs to run off only that fat…so one 10 year Great Depression ends in two generations of obesity and heart disease. And as far as science can find out, these triggers usually only go back to grandparents. And this affects numerous issues, such as IQ, metabolism, health, and personality, which in turn can have a massive effect on your life now. So from a very science-based way of looking at things, systemic racism against your grandparents is something that likely had an effect on you personally. So we will go back two generations. That is not going to address every wrong ever done, but it will address the wrongs that have a direct effect on an individual. And that is just, because it is not saying you should suffer or benefit from what your ancestors did, only from the very real environmental factors that had a direct effect on you.

The next question is who should pay for this? Because putting a tax burden on people now who were never born doesn’t make sense. It is the idea that the child should pay for the sins of the father (now it might be tempting to throw the whole Trump clan in Chateau d’If and throw away the key, but let’s be honest the kids have committed crimes on their own and can be tried and locked away for their own crimes and humanity is just as safe). So we should only make those who had a hand in these forms of racism pay. Luckily, due to the fact that corporations and governments are immortal, there are some very attractive targets to actually payout on this one.
First off, as anyone who has read Richard Rothestein’s excellent book The Color of Law knows that the entire housing market for the last century has been a racist mess (you should read it, it will make you unspeakably angry at the government for engaging in racist evil well into most of our lives, and then angry at liberals for not presenting these facts years ago…seriously if courts are ruling that segregation is only de facto and not de jure when it most certainly is de jure, a reasonable person is not going to get upset until they see the evidence that it is de jure…this book should have been published no later than 1990…and yet…). And we all know about the government’s last attempt to solve this problem: the subprime loan! Yeah, they not only encourage racism but helped to tank the whole system. But the government through the FHA made racism the de jure law of the land, and FHA’s inheritors Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac still have the blood on their hands. But in addition to blood, Fannie and Freddie have money and a lot of notes on house loans. Make them payout to everyone who can even suggest – that they, their parents, or their grandparents were prevented from owning a home get paid out from the complete, total, and irreversible liquidation of everything Fannie and Freddy own. Their total assets are around $5.5 Trillion but you’d probably have to fire sale that, so that’s only about $550 Billion…so that’s only a payment of about $13,000 for every single African American in the US. And the added advantage is that by killing Fannie and Freddy as they should have been eliminated a decade ago will do three things (1) make the banking system stronger as they will be able to acquire lots of mortgages at a fraction of the list price and less likely to fail again (2) lower the price of houses which in the long run is a much better system and (3) make that payout worth more in purchasing power as compared to today. Oh, government control over the economy would also be radically lowered. So actually paying out reparations in this way wouldn’t be hurting people who never engaged in these evils, but actually helping them.  Yes people who over invested in real-estate will be hurt in the short-run…but if you did that after the 2008 crash you deserve to pay for your foolishness.

But $13,000 isn’t going to make up for everything. After all the government engaged in contracts that prevent non-whites from getting jobs, police have harassed non-whites in ways ranging from annoyance to unjust fines to outright murder, and schools have systematically ensured that certain communities get lower education. No soft bigotry of low expectations here, this is outright evil. And you know who was behind those evils? Labor unions preventing non-whites from getting jobs, police unions keeping the racists on the street and preventing reform, and teachers unions making sure that the inept stay in their jobs. And you know what unions have, be they public or private? They have nice fat pensions accounts. Yeah, I’m suggesting taxpayers cease all contributions to those funds (because not everyone is to blame for this and doesn’t need to be punished further by continuing to fund this evil) and that those accounts be raided for every last cent. Yeah, some racist cops and some racist teachers will now be broke in their old age. I don’t care. (Please keep in mind I am a teacher and I do have some skin in the game when it comes to this proposal…not a lot, but money is money, and this is still the right thing to do even though I will be taking a loss.) Let’s throw in the pensions for every elected official in the country because their votes allowed all this evil to continue and they can pay for that. It is better that the people who had a hand in this evil pay, rather than a whole nation which would only lead to more animosity thus giving more fodder for the nationalists and populists to use against those who have already been abused. I couldn’t begin to calculate how much money that will be, but it probably will not be small.  And we’ll see how much the nationalists believe Blue lives matter…if they take care of the aging racists then they’ve put their money where their mouth is, but we all know that their support goes only as far as it hurts non-whites.

After that, we can certainly sue every cop, teacher, union rep, and legislator who you can show actively continued these policies, but that will only be pennies on the dollar compared to those pension funds…but those responsible must suffer.
Now, I’m sure there are companies and specific funds that can be gone after with the same logic. But this is the point, only those responsible and only going back two generations. This holds to justice and doesn’t allow people to think that they’re being abused.
Will this solve every problem in every minority community. Hardly. But it is a start and maybe if we’re lucky it’s a start that hastens the justice we yearn for actually getting here.

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Statues are Stupid

“It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of a son of a bitch or another. –Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly

Okay, so there is a lot of discussion about statues at the moment which is really stupid for three important reasons.


The first is that there are actual racist laws that need to be changed. There are organizations that have to be gone through with a fine-tooth comb to remove every corrupt racist/stupid/corrupt/violent SOB we can find. There are people in jail for crimes that shouldn’t be crimes that need to be released. And of course, there is a cadre of felon in the White House. You know, actually important things that need to be changed immediately because they actually affect people’s lives.
Secondly, I’m not convinced that the attacks on some of the less objectionable statues—like the statue to the idea of Progress that was ruined in Wisconsin or demands to take town statues of abolitionist Founding Father Caesar Rodney of people who fought against slavery and injustice—aren’t being done by Trumpkins and the police with the intent of making legitimate protesters look bad. We already have a video of cops doing the looting and cops destroying their own property and then saying it was protesters…so until you can prove that it wasn’t the MAGA crowd behind this, these acts of violence are suspiciously up their avenue.
But, thirdly, and what I actually want to deal with in this article is that, in the end, we have got to get away from all of this nonsense of revering people. This is not a nation based on people. Most nations are based on people and groups and ethnicities. They’re based on one conquering ass coming in, taking over, and putting themselves as a ruler and their subordinates as nobility, and they get statues made of their glory and conquests. That’s the history of most nations, they’re about people and the ethnicities that are associated with them.
We’re not. This nation is about ideas and ideals. We are about concepts. We are about the supremacy of law. This is why statues or days honoring any individual. And this applies in every case. There shouldn’t be a day or statue to honor Martin Luther King Jr., not just because as history goes on we find out more and more that the man was far from a saint or the pinnacle of ethics that his speeches would have you think, but because it limits the idea of civil rights to one person, and a person can always be attacked. Instead of a day for King, there should be a day for Civil Rights which can acknowledge, honor and teach about the struggles of not just one man but of Medger Evers and Rosa Parks and The Freedom Riders and Thurgood Marshall and of everyone who marched and worked to achieve and is still working to achieve equality under the law. If you have a statue to one person, if you find anything that is flawed (as most human beings tend to be) it taints the causes for which they fought and makes their quest seemed imperfect because it was taken up by a human being. Let’s not forget that most of those hated Columbus statues that are getting so much justified hate, were originally put up to honor what was at the time another ethnic minority, Italians. We shouldn’t have a president’s day, because less than a quarter of the people who have held that office have been competent or even decent human beings…rather have a day to the just execution of law and how all are equal under it, and how those who are entrusted to enforce should bear the highest scrutiny.
The Fourth of July is the model you should focus on. There are many individuals we talk about with that day, but the day is a day of celebration of an idea, possibly the most important idea—liberty. But it is not about one person. It is encapsulated in a document, not in a person. Yes, Thomas Jefferson was an asshole and bastard from every possible perspective you can find (personally wouldn’t mind seeing his statute go, but he monument with the words of the Declaration on the walls needs to stay).
If we want to move forward as a country, what we should probably do is admit that all human beings are flawed. Yes, we should never condemn someone for not being ahead of their time (god knows what future generations will think even the most inclusive of us were backwards for in a thousand years, not because we are bigoted but because we never even considered something). But we can, and should always condemn people for being behind their times.
And I realize my dream of taking down every statue and replacing them, if at all, with monuments to ideals like Liberty, Justice, Freedom, Rule of Law, Limited Government, Classical Liberalism, Capitalism, Reason, Logic, and Virtue…you know the things that actually make this country great…is a pipe dream. I know it’s not going to happen. But maybe what we should do is the following:
First, any statue of anyone associated with the Confederacy gets destroyed. They were traitors, Johnson’s pardon of them was beyond unforgivable, as was his not being removed, and not a single one of those slaveholding assholes should be honored unless you want to show them boiling in the fires of Hell as they deserve. There is no excuse, no justification, no reason for any soul of the confederacy to be honored in a statue. As for the rest, namely, the every complicated Founding Fathers, maybe in addition to the monument that marks what they did that was good, which it was, we can put up large signs of that list all of their less than spectacular actions (again, with Jefferson it might be easier to take the monument down because to list everything that asshole did might require the building of another monument), but most Founding Fathers and other historical figures it will be easier to list their mistakes. For instance, if we put up the sins of General Sherman it would be a simple little sign: he didn’t burn nearly enough (kidding aside, and even though they did have it coming, yes we probably should list some of his actions as being what we would now consider war crimes).
This would allow all the non-confederate statues to stand and still not be accused of whitewashing history or ignoring the ignorances and flaws of the past.
Of course, it’s probably too logical to ever get buy-in from all sides, as solutions aren’t the goal anymore, making sure the other side loses is all anyone seems to care about anymore.

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This was preventable, and we need to do better.

Okay because all too many are willing to go into knee jerk behavior where they see that one side of an argument is wrong they blindly defend the other side. This is stupid but it happens all too often.

So the latest issue is the protests/looting/riots in the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by corrupt police.

As the chart above shows, there can be lots of people who are wrong in this situation. There should not be looting, there should not be riots but there should not be a corrupt police force or a government that doesn’t respond to obvious problems. But here’s the thing, we, the people, pay the police and the government to be the adults in the room, and they are failing, miserably. And thus their sins are far worse than those committed by rioters.

The fact is that we pay taxes to the government to prevent anarchy, to defend and secure our rights. And for those payments, we have the right to expect certain things, and government has the duty to perform them. The first and foremost of them is due process of law. And they’re failing at this. Why? Because we seem to be hiring idiots at every level of government. Certainly, the voters are partly responsible for this, what with the major parties for the last few decades in the last eight presidential elections we have only once been offered a candidate with both brains and ethics by the major parties (long time readers know who I’m talking about, for those of you who don’t, ask yourself who is the only Senator to not vote with party and admit that Trump was guilty, guilty, guilty). But the problem clearly goes all the way down to code enforcers who think a kid’s lemonade stand is a public safety crisis and police who are, quite frankly, completely inept at their jobs and should be swinging from a tree limb. The most obvious of these are the police because they have guns and itchy trigger fingers, but make no mistake the Institute for Justice if full of stories of other people whose lives are made hell by the brainless legions of government employees who think that because they have the power they have the right to make the lives of citizens living hell.

Finally, government is supposed to be the part of society that thinks long term. The part that sees that corruption is starting in a part of its own apparatus (like the FBI warning that racist behaviors are increasing local police, so maybe they start working on how to find the bad apples and eliminate them). Or seeing that the criminal justice system was letting corrupt cops get away with murder and putting heavier internal punishments in place. Or maybe training, like the effective system that is in Camden, NJ…but apparently we did none of that. Or, maybe, just maybe, realizing that people the stress of lengthy lockdowns is going to exert stress on both the lives of citizens and the lives of police and thus make both sides more prone to being hostile to one another and working to reduce stress and reminding cops that they are paid to be the adults in the room and that they need to work extra hard to be that in these times. But we seem to want to do none of that.

And there are idiots who want to bitch and moan that protests should peaceful. Uh-huh, as has been pointed out all too often in recent days, the same people saying that we should only listen to peaceful protests are the same ones who wanted to bitch and moan about a football player taking a knee during the national anthem. I can’t think of a more peaceful protest. There also seems to be a heavy crossover with the idiots who liked to protest lockdowns with semi-automatic rifles (so peaceful). And last time I checked cops weren’t supposed to target the media and medical workers, but the cops seem hell bent on being the bigger criminals in all of this.

But any sane person could have seen this coming—certainly there was no way to predict when but with lingering social problems, a pandemic, millions unemployed, it was a given. When peaceful protests don’t work things get violent. Acknowledging this fact is not condoning the violence, but it is condemning that no reasonable moves were made to relieve the pressure and make things better. Such has been the history of the entire United States. Usually unplanned and inefficient at getting their goals done, with examples ranging from John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry the riots of the late ’60s, there have been some organized violent protests (everything the Sons of Liberty did in intimidating tax collectors from destroying their homes to tar and feathering, the systemized intimidation of Loyalist at the behest of the Continental Congress, the burning of the British naval ship the Gaspee, and still some disorganized killing of loyalists as there was a jump in the murder rate before the Revolution). But be it organized or not, it was all a very predictable out outcome of government incompetence.

Yeah, people should not be burning private businesses. Although, let’s be honest, there are so many questions about these masked umbrella men showing up breaking things. It’s irrational, ill-conceived, and doesn’t get anyone what they want. But government exists for the very reason that people cannot always be trusted to be rational. And it should be proactive in dealing with problems before they become riots or revolutions, not only after. And as much as I have major sympathies to the most extreme libertarians, I realize that near-anarchy will result not in a capitalist paradise but in a repeat of the French Revolution. Now I still would argue that protesters should do everything they can to be the adults in the room, because the least child-like actors are the ones who tend to win in the long term and just because the cops right now are trying to be the most tyrannical asses around shouldn’t be excuse to be just as petty—I know it’s hard, but be the adult in the room.

So, yeah the people who are committing crimes and burning buildings should be arrested and prosecuted. But if that is where you think that government actions should stop you are completely missing the point.

So what does need to be done?

Among the first things that need to be done is reform for police organizations.

You know, I used to think that if we just got body cameras on every cop the worst abuses would stop because every cop would know they would have a record of their actions and thus would watch what they do…but Floyd’s murderer knew he was on camera and continued in tactics that are only acceptable in the Reich. I had assumed that cops were only emotional, ignorant, and short-sighted. But I now know some police departments are hiring full blow sociopaths, and not even high functioning ones. How else do you describe someone who not only can murder a man who is begging for mercy, but who can do it knowing he’s on camera? But still, body cams should be put in place for the ones who aren’t sociopaths.

And a lot of money needs to go expanding internal affairs (honestly this not just a problem with police but with all levels of the government) and their ability to initiate prosecutions and let the public know what is going on. There needs to be a lot more transparency on the record of every officer. We clearly need better psych screening, but I suggest we start with the simple idea that any cop with racist tattoos be fired immediately (I’d prefer gutshot with a shotgun at close range, but I’ll deal in reality). Horrifically that would take out a staggering number of cops right then and there…and it’s so sad we’ve let it come to that.

Attached to that we need more community involvement and oversight. And to acknowledge that there are still some good people whom we should follow their example.

And unions with their ability to defend their corrupt members need to be neutered (anytime you have government unions you have corruption).

And as stated above the seemingly far superior training program of Camden, policy needs to be adapted to every other police force in the nation. If someone can improve on it, great, but it needs to be the absolute minimum.

Now we could try and pay for all of this or we could cut costs. I prefer the latter. How? One of the biggest (and most racist) boondoggles in existence is the war on drugs. Since its inception, it has been a waste of time, money, and resources that only serves to hurt people. Keep the public intoxication and intoxicated driving laws, and put in a reasonable age limit, like 26 (it’s also what should be the voting age) and literally let everything else be legal. Almost all police abuses, from barging into people’s houses on bad warrants, to the murder of thousands of dogs every year by police, to the criminal racket that is civil forfeiture, qualified immunity that makes crime legal for cops, militarizing the police, to an unhealthy percentage of our incarcerations trace back to the war on drugs. Get rid of that and just not care what adults do in the privacy of their homes and guess what we can get rid of the entirety of the DEA, a good portion of the ATF (as much of their work is detailing with guns going to those in the black market drug trade), and most of the bullshit done by the state, county and city police. I’m making an educated guess here but I would say that this could remove anywhere from 10%-30% of all police forces. Which either leaves those cops to go IA, reassigned to real work walking communities, or just firing the corrupt SOBs. And when drugs are not illegal then you won’t have street gangs and cartels using violence to keep their product safe which in turn will lower crime rates even further and further reduce the need for police work (Season 3 of The Wire was right, legalize it and you will end a lot of crime, as has also been shown in every nation that has either outright legalized it or turn a very blind eye). And a lot less crime means even less need for cops.

But this is only a start.

Police may be the most egregious and newsworthy form of petty bullies using government force against a civilian population but it is not the only kind. Every state, county, and city needs to go through all of their laws and codes and remove every power and regulation that has no purpose. Because understand it is in abuses of regulators acting like little Napoleons for idiotic rules that spark confrontations with violent cops (or do you need to remember that Eric Garner was choked to death by NY police because he was selling cigarettes without the proper permits to avoid paying the ridiculous NY taxes…and we used to praise men like John Hancock for selling things like contraband tea to avoid taxes, but now police are as petty and vile as the redcoats we used to justly shoot). There will regrettably always be petty tyrants in government because power attracts the corruptible (it doesn’t corrupt it only attracts those who want to be corrupt), but we can limit what they can do by limiting their powers.

You want to further stop this kind of insanity? Read Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, and realize that there is still a lot of de jure racism in our laws (although ignore Rothstein’s recommendations on how to fix things, he seems to think that if the government that caused the problem then MORE government will solve it), and as long as its there it’s going to attract the corrupt to enforce those laws. Get rid of all the zoning and housing regulations, and NIMBY BS that prevents affordable housing, actually implement full-scale school choice to prevent lack of education from still being something that holds people in the same economic bracket they’re born into, put in a nationwide UBI to replace the current insanity of welfare that keeps some people busy with a nearly full-time job to prove that they need assistance instead of actually going out and getting a job.

And there are dozens of smaller things, but to do any of that we’d need to realize that government’s job is to be proactive, solve the small problems with mild nudging and letting people live their lives long before it becomes big problems the merry playground for bullies and idiots.

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The Snyder Cut is coming and here is why that’s important

A perfect trilogy

I’m sorry for how rambling this is, but I haven’t been commenting on media for a few years so there is a lot of small things I need to deal with.

As might know by now HBOmax will be releasing The Snyder Cut version of Justice League in 2021 (possibly along with the Ayer Cut of Suicide Squad and maybe a lot of other DCEU content coming in the future).

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll try and give a truncated (ha! if you know the story you might want to skip down a little) version of what happened.

So, following the success of the more serious and adult version of Batman provided by Christopher Nolan in the Dark Knight Trilogy, Warner Brothers picked director Zack Snyder to direct a new Superman movie with Nolan as Executive Producer. Snyder decided to go in the same direction of the Dark Knight Trilogy and treat the story as an adult subject. Rather than putting his hero in a situation where there is an easy and satisfying resolution, the kind you usually find in comic books (especially of the Silver Age of Comics from the ’50s and ’60s) where a character is unquestionably good because they’re never put in a situation where they have to choose between only bad options. If only life were that simple. This culminated in a scene where Clark is made to choose between killing his enemy Zod or letting more people die (this is after Zod actually does the unthinkable and actually kills people in his evil scheme—up to this point most comic book villains threaten to kill millions but never seem to get the job done). Clarke does the right thing and kills Zod and then immediately has an emotional response to just an act, because that’s a big thing for Snyder’s movies, dealing with the effects of one’s actions, even the right ones that aren’t easy. But everyone freaked out that because “Superman doesn’t kill people”—which is odd because Chris Reeve’s Supes killed Zod after making him a powerless human (oh there was some unnecessary torture in there too), and the early comics has Superman killing people—but never let reality intrude on what golden past people’s nostalgia wants to believe was the case. I’m not terribly surprised, the entire world is caught between two political philosophies—one that sees a golden past where nothing was wrong, and one that sees a dystopian past where nothing was right, neither side wanting to deal in reality. But for some of us, we saw the genius of Man of Steel. Like Homer many generations before, Nolan and Snyder had taken crappy tales that had been told for generations and raised them to an adult art.

Then, Warner Brothers, seeing the money Disney was making with Marvel, pushed for more DC movies. It’s unclear if Snyder wanted more films before having the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman team-up or if he was simply rushed in production but we got Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The first part of the title was clearly WB executives playing to the lowest common denominator, the second what Snyder wanted. We know there was some executive interference because we finally got a director’s cut that that was a vastly superior movie over the studio approved original showing because the director’s cut had more character development and focus on thematic points and less of a push to make this just a fight movie. I noticed that people who went in looking for Batman v Superman were inevitably displeased with the movie, but those who went in looking Dawn of Justice were happy with it. But the people who hated it were just vicious in their reviews. And they latched onto absolutely bizarre things (the weirdest was that they were taken aback that clearly mentally unstable person would have a PTSD breakdown when he was reminded of the death of his parents—just shocking, that characters should actually act like real people). Attacks were made against the fans who liked the movie, against the director, against the actors, the writer. It was weird. I don’t like Marvel movies, so I don’t see them…I don’t claim the Russos are terrible people, I just don’t go see their movies, and when I was still seeing them for trying to be put up movie reviews attacked their thematic plots not claiming they were racists or misogynists or other weird things I saw labeled against the people behind of Dawn of Justice.  

Between the two films, Snyder and writer David S. Goyer gave us two movies that had deep philosophical material—Man of Steel was a deconstruction of the problems with Plato’s Republic, Dawn of Justice a similar look at the popular view Nietzsche’s philosophy. Then WB not thrilled with profit margins of about $200-300 million per film and wanting more of the Marvel style profits (around $400-600 million per film) started using more executive control over their DC films. This is a process I have never seen to be good, personally, I have only seen one director’s cut worse than the original film* and only a couple of movies that had a superior alternate ending that was the studio’s picks rather than the director’s**. This first resulted in heavy re-editing of Suicide Squad (leading to almost all of Jared Leto’s Joker being cut from the film), but since in terms of pure profit this had a higher return than the Snyder films the higher-ups at WB/DC decided they knew better than directors.*** They took Snyder’s plan to have three more movies (one where we have a future where Darkseid corrupts Superman and Batman, Cyborg, and the Flash have to send a message to the past to prevent that future, one that is closish to Snyder Cut we’re about to get, and one where the Justice League takes on Darkseid) and just told him to skip the third movie and just go to Justice League. So Snyder did that. And then he had to step away because his daughter committed suicide, and dealing with his family was the more important thing. So Joss Whedon was brought in. I’ll be honest I was hopeful because while he had been stumbling this was the man who created Buffy, Angel, Mal Reynolds, Echo—he knew how to deal with depth (in the years since Justice League I’ve become more convinced that he knew how to assemble a great team but when working solo he may not be as good as the writers he used to work with). We thought he would touch up a few scenes and get the final product ready. What we got was an almost entirely reshot movie.  We know because of the terrible CGI that almost every Superman scene was redone, the weird Russian family was added, terrible sexist jokes were added, and that crappy ethics of Age of Ultron where heroes suddenly don’t understand that when the fate of the entire world is at stake that the needs of the many outweigh the lives of a few, but hey let’s go back to Silver Age nonsense were acting like a boy scout doesn’t have negative repercussions real life. Between Whedon and his bosses at Warner Brother, they tried to make a Marvel movie. Not only did they fail at even that, but they also lost money, a lot of it. Which is good.

The calls for the release of the Snyder Cut started almost immediately, and that’s a story in itself, I’ll just link to that because this getting too long already.

But here’s a summary of what I saw. Fundraising. Online Petitions. Facebook pages and calls to hit social media with #ReleasetheSnyderCut. A lot of sales of shirts and whatnot with the theme of #ReleasetheSnyderCut. Now I’m not privy to all the internal of every fundraiser for this movement but I know a lot of that money wasn’t just used to buy adds but a good portion of it was used to a charitable organization that works for suicide prevention. Personally all I saw was people who wanted a movie and protested politely about it. Yeah we called Whedon, and Geoff Johns, and other WB executives idiots, because they were. They had something people wanted to see that, we now know, would only cost $30 million and will probably vastly more than that.

Luckily for human civilization AT&T recently bought Warner Brothers and it is clear they have cleared out the people who cared more about their egos than profit or artistic integrity. And they have announced that we’ll be getting the Snyder Cut of Justice League in 2021.  

_____________________

So that’s the background to this. (And here’s another take on it)

Now let’s get to the important stuff. Why is this important? Well there are as far as I can tell 4 reasons.

1. The first reason is that this shows that movies with depth can make money. Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, and Wonder Woman—which I argue are discussions of Plato, Nietzsche, and Calvin respectively—made money. Yeah sure not Star Wars or Avengers money, but a mentality that scoffs at a $200 million profit is bad business, especially when scoffing at it makes you lose money. This shows that while Disney can make formulaic movies that everyone will go see it’s mainly because they’re Disney. Trying to beat Disney at their own game is, at best, suicidal. They have the market cornered for simple films that don’t need a lot of depth (not that all their stuff if without meat on the bones, but they’ve always been a fan of skeletons that appeal to the audience)…and what they don’t have Dreamworks and Spielberg take up. The market can only bear so much simple.

Less than a week out from the Snyder Cut announcement it’s hard to say exactly how HBOmax is doing with signups, but I don’t think anyone thinks this is going to hurt their bottom line. And this means that market will continue to give a diversity of movies. Had the #ReleasetheSnydercut movement failed we would have probably had to deal with a revival of the 1990s where there were some years where the deepest thing Hollywood would put out would be a Grisham movie. Thankfully this means that works of both high and low brow material will continue to made and thus everyone can be happy.  

2. This shows that directors should be trusted. WB screwed up trying to get too involved in the Justice League and Suicide Squad, not happy with getting $200 million a movie they wanted more and they ended up getting less. And you know, while Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker made obscene amounts of money, I don’t think anyone thinks that the studio system over at Disney is exactly churning out anything to please fans, they’re just coasting on a nostalgia…and 2020 may reveal that Disney had better switch to a new model as I don’t think fans are ready for another subpar Star Wars trilogy, another plodding phase 4 of Marvel, or more Disney live actions (especially given how mismanaged the next ones up seem to be).

Maybe AT&T’s move, and the money they’re likely going to be raking in from this, will put some more faith in directors and less in the studio system.

Maybe I’m being too hopeful.

But at least this will not kill the director’s power just yet.

(If you want to further help that I would suggest we all go see Nolan’s Tenet in a couple of weeks. Find a time and place where you feel safe and go see it).

3. Playing to the lowest common denominator doesn’t pay off.  

Clearly WB executives thought that their fans didn’t want to see non-white actors—seriously any long term reader of this blog will know that I don’t go into an argument about race or gender like a lunatic. And I tend to find arguments that say putting an all-female cast is pushing feminism (from the right), or that not including any actors of color is racist (from the left) equally preposterous if someone tries to make them. Ghostbusters sucked because it was poorly written not because it was an all-female cast, one should never look for a conspiratorial argument. But they cut out Karen Bryson, Kiersy Clemons, Harry Lennix, Orion Lee, playing Cyborg’s Mother, Iris West (Flash’s girlfriend), Secretary Swanwick/Martian Manhunter, and Ryan Choi (Atom), that ranges from major roles to fan service. And while they also cut Defoe, our new Green Lantern, and the gods…the seems to have been a lot of cutting out of non-white actors. So much so I’m not comfortable saying that WB executives didn’t think that, incorrectly, their fans were a bunch of white boys who couldn’t emphasize with anyone who didn’t look like them. Might also suggest why we had to be treated to that idiot Russian family—because WB producers thought we would be able to relate to them. Hint: we didn’t (honestly if the Russians had died and Steppenwolf had lived I would have been happier, they were so hamfistedly forced in I learned to loathe them).

Some of the characters who were cute…I see a pattern

And dare we forget the at best juvenile, and at worst sexist, “thirty” and face planting in Wonder Woman’s cleavage.  Whatever the motive was the producers thought this more sophomoric humor would be best, which is probably why they hired Whedon (both the producers and Whedon forgot that Whedon’s quirky humor, which this was hardly the best example of, only works when counterposed with serious stakes like Buffy dying or having to send Angel to hell mere moments after he gets his soul back…without tragedy the humor just comes off as dumb).  

Thankfully this has shown that this kind of assumption that your audience is dumb, racist, sexist, and just useless has proven to be a big mistake monetarily and hopefully will be kept at bay for a while longer.

4. Finally, that there is still the power of the consumer to control the market. Various idiots from all sides of the political spectrum like to talk about how capitalism is not responsive to the market anymore, and this strangely usually leads arguments that power should be put in the hand of bureaucrats or executives—weird how few sides want to give economic power to the people. But what does work is a primarily civil but forceful call for what we want.  

In the last couple of days there has been this weird call that fans of the Snyder Cut are bullies and racists. I’m sure there are some assholes out there, every movement has them. But the Snyder cut fans were asking for the scenes with Cyborg’s backstory, the return of Flash’s girlfriend Iris, the return of Secretary Swanwick (who is the Martian Manhunter), and the man who would eventually become the superhero Atom. Not one of these people is white. What we wanted to be removed was that dumb Russian family—never do we want to see that bullshit again.  

It’s a bizarre argument that I can’t find any basis in fact. At best it bizarrely cherry-picks to find the few scum that every pop culture fandom has. It’s like me saying that the one former friend I found out was hiding from me that he was #MAGA scum for years, at which point I promptly cut off all ties to him, was also a die-hard Marvel fan and extrapolating out that all Marvel fans much be fascist trash—that is obviously not the case.  

What the Snydercut fans did was raise money for charity, and make their presence known on social media, and buying a lot of ad space. I don’t recall any serious calls for Joss Whedon to die (at least not tied to this, there was some #MeToo stuff in his life but that’s a whole other bag of cats), no one threatens to burn down Warner, nothing like that. It was social media and boycotts.  

But then again we live in a society where a peaceful protest of taking a knee is seen not as something to agree or disagree with the cause of the protester but like it’s an all-out assault to end their way of life.  

But knee jerk lunatics aside, this showed that civil but forceful movement can have an effect. Just so long as we all do the right thing and not get HBOmax as we promised and do not at any level support or encourage any kind of pirating or stealing of the material. We argued for this, now we have to put up on our side and pay for what we wanted. Otherwise they’ll just go back to make worthless dreck.

And then there is this last weird thing in all of this. Several major news sources are saying that WB putting this out through is caving into “toxic fandoms” and how this sets a dangerous precedent. First off this is hardly the first time that fans have demanded that artists meet what they wanted…the first time I can recall is when the public forced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to bring Sherlock back from the dead, and then there was that time fans brought Star Trek back, and in further irony of Joss Whedon’s life I could have sworn it fans clamoring that got him Serenity to follow Firefly after it was cancelled (so when fans are for Whedon that’s good before his wife outed him as hating women, when they’re against after we know the truth about him, that’s toxic. Makes not a damn bit of sense to me but Hollywood’s always been crazy). Demands of fans have been pushing pop culture for as long as pop culture. Also weird is that none of the articles I can find show evidence of the toxic nature. The Vanity Fair article on this is a good example, they list the harassment on twitter (because just putting #ReleasetheSnyderCut on everything apparently is so mean), they also list that the writer for the new Suicide Squad, James Gunn (a man I would like you to remember was rightfully persona non grata just a few years ago because he was making pedophila jokes) was getting death threats…but as far as I can tell those threats are coming in from Marvel fans. Look I’m sure there are complete assholes who are harassing people in the Snyder fandom, because there are those jackasses in every one of the fandoms. And other than the fact that Fascist Pravda (otherwise known as Russia Times) is publishing pro-SnyderCut articles (it’s weird as the anti-tyranny and pro-immigration themes of Snyder’s work doesn’t fit with RT’s usual line…but the world is going crazy so it’s just the latest thing that makes no sense to anyone) I can’t think of any real source of toxicity coming from a movement that funded itself by splitting its proceeds with charities. But apparently not liking Whedon’s misogynistic “thirsty” jokes is now toxic. Who knew. “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate “is apparently the only way to understand the opposition to this great moment.

*Pretty Woman, and I’m can’t find out if the “director’s cut” was actually Marshall’s doing or if the studio just wanted people to buy the movie and put in all the scenes the director cut and called it a “director’s cut.”

**The only one that comes to mind is Lucky Number Slevin where the original was significantly darker and offer no redemption for the main character making the entire film devoid of meaning, and this single example I know of where the studio choice was the right one. I’m sure there is more, but in the aggregate I’m sure the studio is usually wrong.

***I’m not sure how Wonder Woman escaped the studio interference. Either there was interference I am not aware of or Patty Jenkins repeatedly beat the studio execs with her awards and nominations for her previous work…either way Wonder Woman came off, to my knowledge, away with little interference.

****The saddest irony here is that Whedon should have known better. His original script for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was taken by inept producers and turned into a hollow, meaningless version of itself. And so Whedon did the same thing that was done to him. Nietzsche isn’t always correct, but his warning “When fighting monsters be careful not to become a monster yourself” seems relevant here.

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Questions that need to be asked about COVID 19

Is it just me, or are we handling this entirely the wrong way?

Let’s state up front that I’m not saying stop social distancing, we’re on this path and it would be idiotic to stop once on it, but let’s start looking at what we did right and wrong here because the is a chance this is going to go in wave and maybe we should think before engaging in this silly policy for a second round.

Probably, the best course would have been for China to be more honest and shut down everything more quickly, but it would have been intelligent if every nation now run by brain dead populists had shut China off when they knew this was going to be a problem and quarantining those who might have been to China early on (we knew it early enough for members of Congress getting intel briefings to know to dump all their stocks, we should have known then to start taking action then).

 

But once it’s out there there are really only two courses of action. Either shut things down to keep “flattening the curve” or to just let the dice fall where they may—the first comes with lower death tolls but large economic problems, the latter with huge death tolls but less economic problems. Every country seems to have decided on taking an idiotic middle path so we can get the death toll of letting the cards fall where they may PLUS an even bigger death toll.
And the real problem here is that no one is thinking. In every discussion of “flattening the curve,” I haven’t heard any discussion of the long term.
What do I mean by the long term? Well, as was so succinctly put in the film the Big Short in quoting research on unemployment “Every one percent unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die.” Now with the unemployment rate going up, with a reasonable expectation being 20%+ starting at our current 4% that’s a 16% increase. That’s 640,000+ people dead from unemployment. And that’s before counting in the fact that we all now the suicide rate is going to spike as cabin fever starts to set in.
So the question is how many people are flattening the curve going to save? The way most articles put it, flattening the curve will prevent there from being a shortage of treatment, ventilators, beds, and the grim kind of rationing that we’re seeing in Italy. But I hate to ask because I understand how callous it sounds, but someone needs to ask the question: Is this preventing people from dying or just preventing doctors from having to make the hard call about who can and cannot be saved. Every discussion of flattening the curve seems to suggest that the majority of people will eventually get sick, and there doesn’t seem to be any discussion on how this will lower the death toll, only how it will lower hospital strain. Honestly how many people who get put on a ventilator are going to survive this? Are we letting nearly two-thirds of a million people die in silence so that a half million people who were going to die anyway have a last few days with a modicum of false hope and doctors able to soothe their consciences by saying they did everything they could?

I don’t have an answer to that. Mainly because no one does real reporting and asks these difficult questions.

But it’s a simple question is it going to save more than 640,000 people?

Is it?  I’ve done some rough estimates that say if ventilators will save 10% of the people who are put on them then fewer will die by flattening the curve…but that is made based on so many assumptions due to lack of information I will never have.  But just because I don’t have that information doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t have or couldn’t get it, but I know from many years of experience government never asks the right questions.

Because if it isn’t then we picked a policy that will actually kill MORE people.
And worse if reporters aren’t asking this question, then you know for sure none of the sycophantic populist buffoons in the White House, 10 Downing, or any of the halls of power are asking it.
Yeah, seeing elderly people dying in the halls of hospitals in Italy is tragic. But what about all the heart attacks, suicides, strokes and other various ways people die due to the stress of unemployment?
It should be a simple question. Which path kills more people. And right now I’m feeling that the tragedy of the elderly dying in hospital halls is actually a smaller tragedy than the nearly two-thirds of a million deaths.
Granted I don’t have numbers or resources to model which path will have the least death. But I do know that doctors can be very short-sighted and have little understanding of practical costs, so while we may be listening to doctors in their own field, it might help to listen to economists as well and ask which path actually does the most harm.
Now, I certainly might be wrong and this is the best path. But what I am sure of is that no one is asking the right questions

Now granted Trump and his idiot followers who think that the stock market is the economy are just willing to throw people off to die because they don’t like how their quarterly profits are looking. But this is not an argument for that. Trump’s a moron and clearly not acting on anything other than his first grade understanding of how the economy works. But the fact that he’s a blithering idiot whom we all wish will get COVID-19 and spare us having to hear his fascist blather ever again, doesn’t negate the fact that the other side of this is not asking the right questions. Just as when the media ignored Obama’s human rights abuses on the border but only cared when Trump did it. They don’t ask the right questions ever, and so we need to demand that these questions be asked.

How many people will die from all causes if we do not flatten the curve?
How many people will die from all causes if we do flatten the curve?
No one seems to be asking these questions. And we need to. We need to find out which version has the least suffering. And then go with that option.

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What I’m looking for in November…

As I have already said we are living in insane times.
And things aren’t going to get extravagantly better in the immediate future as all the candidates running are far too left of center for any sane person’s taste (except maybe Bill Weld, but I have a better chance of winning the Powerball and Megamillions in the same week than he has of winning the Republican primary, so not exactly an issue there).
So I think for most of us we have two choices to sit out the presidential election and/or write in a candidate’s name as a protest-vote or pick the least evil of the candidates. I’m not sure which camp I’ll be in yet, but here is what I’m going to be looking for.
The biggest problem we have unquestionably seen with the last 20 years of presidential idiocy and corruption is the executive branch has become way too powerful and Congress, especially the Senate, has become way too weak.
And there are ways to fix this.
Now I’m not going to get into heavy detail at this point but here are a few things that could be done:


Establish a Department of Internal Affairs. The Department would investigate government corruption and only have jurisdiction over government employees. It can investigate, subpoena, take indictments to a grand jury, and prosecute government officials it finds has committed crimes. The Department will be split in half with two directors, each side with equal budgets, and the two heads appointed independently by the majority and minority party leaders of the Senate, but with each head subject to Senate confirmation. This will prevent the corruption we saw with Eric Holder, and which has been put on steroids in William’s Barr attempts to turn the US into the Reich. This way no matter what party is in power, they will not be above the law. We absolutely must stop the party in power having the power to ignore its own crimes.
Congress must pass laws making it a crime with severe penalties for the executive branch refusing subpoenas of Congressional investigations.
Congress must remove most, if not all, of the laws that give the president power over trade, tariffs, unilateral military power engagements and control of the budget.
Congress must put in some kind of regulatory and/or veto power over executive orders.
Internally, the Senate needs to reestablish the filibuster and supermajority rules.
Congress must put in rules that take power away from the party leaders and give it back to committees.

On the election side, here’s a simple thing that needs to happen:
Just pass a law that every statement made at a campaign rally, in an add, on any social media or basically in any public space other than the floor of Congress (you do need to protect the freedom of debate) every elected and appointed member of the federal government is to be considered under oath and that the penalties for lying under oath as an elected official should be significantly higher than they are for perjury in court. Think about it, not a single thing Bernie Sander, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, and Ted Cruz have said for the last decade would pass this test and they’d all be rotting in the jail cells they belong in right now if we had a law like this. It would be a much better world.
The other thing is that while we need a public record of what happens in Congress, we need to acknowledge there is a corrosive nature of the show of visual mediums. I have no problem with keeping a video record of the actions of Congress, but it should stop being a TV show were people are pandering for video clips for the pundit shows to show again and again. The Supreme Court is correct to only allow audio recordings, a moratorium of two years for House video and six years for Senate video should be enough to turn back into legislators from the reality TV idiots they’ve become.

The next most important thing for the presidency is the need to regain sane foreign policy. Regrettably, Clinton’s short-sightedness, Bush’s ignorance, Obama’s indifference, and Trump’s evil have left the US in a terrible position to be a force for good in the world. So everything here is baby steps at best. But what I’m looking for is the following:
An eagerness to engage in trade deals that lower as many barriers and tariffs while boxing in tyrannies like Russia and China.
A push to restore power such bodies as the WTO which helps to force bad actors to improve if they wish to engage with the rest of the world.
An effort to reduce the power and influence of Russia and China, unlike Trump and Obama who did everything they could to help these two tyrannies.
An understanding that America is the shining city on the hill and has a duty to not just provide an example, but to help the growth of capitalism, rule of law, and liberty the world over.

If at all possible (ha!) a desire for at least the New Democrat ideal that the era of big government is over, and a desire to shrink the government in every way possible.

If I feel that a candidate can at least move the momentum of the country in the direction of these goals then I will hold my nose as I vote for them despite whatever short term problems they may cause. Clearly that won’t be the socialist scum that is Sanders, Warren or Trump. But if I can’t be convinced they will work for these goals then I might as well vote for Mickey Mouse.

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Election 2020–Best Case Scenarios in a Realm of Terrible Scenarios

 

We are living in an age of absolute insanity. Just about every politician out there is clearly out what little mind they have.
Now I have decided that I want to focus more on policy than the ground games of political games from now on because the momentary stream of manure from the politicians is and always be secondary to real policy developments. But we still should have a vague understanding of what is going on.
So I’m going to give out the best to least good outcomes that could happen.
Now the real problem is that there is not really a single capitalist with a snowball’s chance running right now. So in even a vaguely plausible scenario, we’re still left with only less bad options.

So best case scenario (third-least likely) would be that in a rare moment when all three branches (including all the cabinet members) are in D.C. with full attendance of both houses of Congress save Mitt Romney who is out of town, a meteor crashes in D.C. and rids us of all the morons. I would really appreciate if God could get involved in this and clear the slate for us because not one of these asses in either party (save Romney) deserves air let alone their office. Yeah, at the moment, Democrats are aligned with the truth that Trump is the worst president ever and has committed so many crimes and eternity in Hell will not balance the scales…but they had the exact same cult of personality for all of Obama’s (7th worst president ever) idiocy and corruption. So a plague on all their houses. Meteor, volcano, freak Cat 5 tornado, some act of nature to wipe all the scum out of this plane of existence.

The next best, and unquestionably least likely solution, would be for the Libertarian Party to nominate a sane person who has a chance of winning. Never. Going. To. Happen. They never embrace the best parts of the Libertarian party (capitalist economics and laissez-faire social issues) for nominees, they only seem to pick the worst (drug use, isolationist pro-tyranny foreign policy, bat shit crazy attitude). A sane libertarian candidate is the least likely thing I plan to see.

The next best solution would be for the GOP to grow a spine, throw Trump to the gutter he belongs in and embrace Bill Weld’s campaign for the nomination. Sadly the meteor of death is still more likely than this.

Finally, the most likely (still not very likely) option would be for the Democrats not to completely blow it. They need to admit that Biden is not going anywhere and that Klobuchar is not the moderate she claims to be. And that the Sanders/Warren wing is a bunch of socialist scum who unquestionably shares a lot of commonalities with the MAGA crowd and needs to be forcibly pushed out of the party (and preferably off a cliff). Obama needs to get out there and actively campaign for Buttigieg, and publicly state that any African-American who won’t vote for him because he’s gay is a homophobe who is as vile as the racists who have persecuted them. Pete should then probably put Bloomberg as his running mate, making the campaign unstoppable and probably fill his staff with a mix of New-Democrats centrists and Never-Trump Republican, and maybe a sanish libertarian or two, pushing for the realignment we know is coming where it will be the socialist/populist Trump/Bernie people versus the free-market centrists.  He’s not an ideal candidate, not by any measure, but he might have the sanity to put us back on a sane track. That’s the way to win. I doubt the Democrats will have the brains to do that.

Pretty much every other option will either leave Trump in power or put someone worse in.

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Top 15 movies of the 2010s

Okay, so we’ve gone over what the top films of 2019 were, and we’ve gone over what actually makes for great art. So given that it’s 2020–and by consensus the start of a new decade (yeah I know there is no year zero, but Christ was likely born in 6 or 7 BCE and it’s just as arbitrary to say the first decade had only nine years as to say the decade doesn’t begin until 2021…the fact is this is where the majority lies). So what are the top films of the 2010s?

As anyone who has been with this blog for the last decade will know some years I have trouble making a full Top 10, and some overflow but only with middling entertainment value, few reaching to level of great art. But it is a decade list and we should admit that there are more than just 10 films to honor. That being said, I’m going to group someone of them because my praise of them stems from a similar source.

So let’s get this list going with

#15: Les Miserables
Ideally, this movie should be higher. It appeals to a need to be both charitable in a personal sense, oppose tyranny when it comes up, but to also deal in the real world as best we can. Excellent messages of virtue all around. The problem is that upon repeated viewing it becomes clear that Hooper only realized how to film a musical about halfway through the movie, spending too much early in production with just letting the camera stay on one actor singing for far far too long to be comfortable. Also, sadly, what he did learn about the proper way to film a musical (as seen in such songs as Stars and Master of the House) was quickly forgotten as filmed the second worst film of the 2010’s—Cats. (In case you’re wondering, The Counselor is the unchallenged worst film of the 2010s and in all likelihood of all time).
14. The Age of Adeline
Snobs may have not been completely infuriated by the previous pick, but this one likely is setting them seething. I don’t care. The film may not have the pretentiousness that is so often praised by critics but is superbly acted by Blake Lively (whose range as a serious from The Town to A Simple Favor is always underrated because of her stunningly beautiful face). Compared to a lot of movies it is a quiet film about what really matters in life, and how things we may even complain about are truly blessings.
13. Destination Wedding
Never have I seen two actors carry a movie entirely. Only two actors speak for the entire film. This wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on stage, but on film it is essentially unheard of (discounting endless college films and snobby crap that no non-critic should ever waste a millisecond of their time on). But Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder manage to hold a whole film with only their dialogue and a few establishing shots. And the direction is half the joy, as many directors could not pull off having seemed natural, entertaining, or anything other than tedious. But this film is wonderfully entertaining as it honestly deals with the modern cynicism about relationships without sacrificing a faith in the timeless truth of love.
12. A Star Is Born
It took four attempts at making this movie before they made a good one. I’ll be honest, when it was first announced I was unconvinced, they had made three godawful films with this plot before why would the new one be any better. And then Lady Gaga. And then it is the directing debut of Bradley Cooper, in a film starring himself. A bad story with an annoying pop star directed by someone who was on what appeared to be a vanity project. And then the trailer interested even jaded old me…and then the movie. For once the husband was not despicable only pitiable, for once the starlet’s love for her husband was endearing and not pathetic and leaving me screaming “Leave his worthless ass.” For once they did what they meant to do, talk about how stardom is a fickle mistress who will just as soon destroy you as raise you up without making me despise all the characters involved. But now that we’ve made a good version can we never remake this movie again in my lifetime—I’ll probably be dead by the 2070’s so nothing before then.
11. The Accountant
The 2000s were a time when Ben Affleck did literally any film that would pay him money. Some were endearing in their own way (Jersey Girl and The Sum of All Fears) and others were abominations that should have never been filmed and should still be wiped from the face of the Earth so that future generation may never know of their worthlessness (Gigli, Daredevil, Surviving Christmas, Pearl Harbor, Bounce, Reindeer Games, Boiler Room…you get the idea). Thankfully the 2010s reminded us that this was the guy who wrote Good Will Hunting and made us cry in Armageddon (don’t lie we all cried before we learned a cynicism for Bay movies). And while we’ll soon deal with his directorial genius, let’s look at what is possibly his best film not directed by himself (Affleck might be the best Batman, but his performance in The Accountant is better). In The Accountant, Gavin O’Connor gave us a great mystery, a thrilling action piece, and an understanding of how autism actually presents seldom seen in Hollywood. It is thrilling and insightful at every turn and offers us not only the Accountant’s struggle to do the right thing while wanting to be a part of a society he can’t fully integrate into, but also the redemption of two separate FBI agent as they work with Affleck’s character to achieve some small measure of justice in the world.
It is touching, exciting, and intriguing all at once.
Let’s crack the Top 10 with
10. Glass.
I don’t think I include Unbreakable in the best films of the 2000s, and I don’t necessarily regret that, Unbreakable, while a beautiful film was inherently only the first part of a story. And I’m not including Split here either because it was a bridge piece that set up this final movie. But Glass is what turns these otherwise good but not great films into a perfect trilogy. So many of M. Night’s films are about finding your place in the world (The Sixth Sense, Lady in the Water, Signs) but Glass uses the modern obsession with comic book characters to relate the struggle of these larger than life characters to real human beings who are held back by fears of what they can accomplish. And while Glass may have set up a larger universe which we may never return to, as much as we might want, the theme of Mr. Glass’ initial plea about how terrible it is to not know your place in the world is resolved not just for our three central characters. And is what was needed more than any further discussion of the conspiracy that kept those with abilities down (certainly without ethics, but not entirely without logic to their purpose). And further, we see there is dignity and even greater purpose in the role of those who are not the extraordinary but in what would usually be considered the role of the sidekick, as it is those who believe without powers, who do more to harm the behemoth of the conspiracy than the superheroes and villains ever could.
9.Knives Out

Daniel Craig is a good Bond. He is great as Benoit Blanc. In possibly the best murder mystery since Agatha Christie (that sounds like hyperbole, but trust me it isn’t) Knives Out holds the promise of a new private detective that will become a part of the collective conscious right up there with Holmes, Poirot, Wolf, Marlowe, and Spade. Every line is a masterpiece of wit and mystery, and you’re not sure who killed who, who is even dead, and what is going on in-between laughing your ass off at the insanity of the characters and their well-crafted lines. With any luck, several Blanc films will grace the best films of the 2020’s list, but for now, let us revel in the genius of the first film that closed out the decade.
8. The King’s Speech/Dunkirk/Darkest Hour
I’m grouping these three together because they basically all have the same theme central theme: individuals dealing with extraordinary situations, and all three use the backdrop of Britain in the Second World War. Sadly, three great films about the virtues of the British people (notably about the nobility, the commoners, and educated gentry that straddles the two, i.e. most of Britains classes) should have the backdrop of Britain committing economic suicide and destroying the union that the WWII generation fought to create (but it’s a time when America is also opting for self-immolation, so it’s not only a flaw in Britain at present). None the less all three demonstrate that the correct attitude to problem is to face them with a personal virtue and determination to follow what you know is right even when the world and those in it seem to be against you.
7. Motherless Brooklyn
It is a film that has nearly unparalleled directing, writing, and acting. Probably if Ed Norton hadn’t burned so many bridges in Hollywood it would be recognized for the genius it has this year beyond. But as it stands it both balances a personal story of redemption with a startling accurate critique of current corruption by using real evils of the past as an example we should learn from. If all movies were this good I would never be disappointed.
6. Widows
I honestly fail to see which current social problems this film did not at least touch on. Racism, personal and structural. Political corruption and graft. Misogyny. The need to establish connections with other people to survive. And it does it all without becoming preachy or pedantic. Between this and Motherless Brooklyn Hollywood has a new standard by which to judge all movies that comment on society’s ill. If you cannot do it with the entertainment factor of both of these films don’t bother.
5. The Town/Argo/Live By Night
Ben Affleck’s personal life seems to be an endless mess. Ben Affleck the actor is good. Ben Affleck the director is a godsend. The three films are very different in tone and theme but all three show a director who knows how to tell complex stories, make characters of questionable character sympathetic and endearing, and how to give powerful messages about the nature of virtue through the lack of it, the price of redemption, and the necessity of balancing intellectual and emotional needs in both our lives and on film. I look forward to every film that Affleck directs and wish there were more of them.
4. The Dark Knight Rises
This is a difficult one to say exactly where it goes. It’s hard because it really shouldn’t be view outside the nature of the Dark Knight Trilogy, so it becomes a little difficult to fit into a decade review of films as the other two films were in the previous decade. That said, let’s try and look at this film as a stand-alone. It offers one of the most enduring messages of any of the Dark Knight movies, in that it shows the flaws of those who listen to Bane’s progressive/populist drivel and how those who spout such nonsense often don’t believe in what they say, just in playing to the ignorant masses. How different this decade would have been if people had actually listened to this message.
Further, the movie is the most character-centric of the Dark Knight films, showing Bruce dealing with his role in Gotham and the world and how his attempt to hide from life behind the cowl was not a long term solution to bigger issues.
And for this, it is still the strongest part of the trilogy and should be appreciated on its own.
3. Inception/Interstellar
Okay, so I’ve put all four of Nolan’s films for this decade on the list. Like Snyder and Affleck he is simply a director I will implicitly trust for the moment. Someday he might give a subpar film, but it was not this decade. I put these two films together not just because they both are science fiction tales, and not just because they both challenge us to think about reality in a different way, but because they show very clearly that for all the intellectual knots we can tie ourselves into it is connections to others out of love that will usually be the things that save us from the problems in our lives.
2. Winter’s Tale
This one might seem to be the odd one out to be this high on the list. Most of these films people might admit that they have exceptional acting and directing they just might think there are other, more pretentious, films that should be in the top list (usually because they believe what critics tell them). But Winter’s Tale flew under the radar. Terribly marketed, poorly understood, and just comes off as cheap fantasy to anyone who isn’t watching closely. However, this film takes a small portion of Mark Helprin’s beautiful novel and puts the dense philosophy on film. And when one takes the time to watch this movie you will realize it is not just a beautiful love story, but a stirring film about spirituality and hope, about how everything in existence happens for a reason, and how it bends inevitably toward growth and eventual perfection.
1. Man of Steel/Dawn of Justice/The Snyder Cut
Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan did for stupid and crappy comic book stories what the bards we collectively call Homer did for stupid and crappy campfire tales. They made the mundane into true art. And while Nolan’s genius was more for the last decade Snyder gave us three great films of philosophical depth that in many ways outshine the Dark Knight Trilogy.
And I get that putting a movie that hasn’t even been released yet is a bit of cheat, but the fact is that everyone with a brain knows that the actual Snyder Cut was vastly superior to the shit Justice League that the studio released and that everyone involved in ruining Justice League from Joss Whedon all the way to the WB executives should, in a just world, be subject to tortures usually reserved for the Inquisition.
But from Man of Steel, a film that tore apart the evils of Plato’s Republic, Dawn of Justice which showed the evil inherent in the beliefs of Nietzsche, and from the few clues to the real Justice League we can see that the film was supposed to be an attack on the isolationism of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Few directors would tackle one of those in a film, but Snyder kept all of his comic book movies, one after another, challenging heavy philosophical questions. He gave us superheroes who weren’t the comic book cutouts that did what was needed for the plot, but rather real human beings (even the aliens) for whom the plot followed their character development. We were treated to a Lois Lane who wasn’t just a hanger on to Superman, but a woman whom we could believe earned a Pulitzer. A Superman who wasn’t the dumb big blue Boy Scout but a virtuous man who struggles with the consequences of his choices in trying to right thing. A Batman who is understood to be mentally unstable, because stable people without superpowers don’t do this kind of shit, and who have very real PTSD issues from all the crap he’s faced. They were films for serious adults, and critics bitched that it wasn’t the mindless superhero crap Disney was putting out.
Regrettably, neither the critics nor the public want films that both entertain and cause us to think at the moment, and so these films will not get the credit they deserve. But they are still the best the decade had to offer.

On the flip side, I feel I should also discuss the worst of the decade. And that’s a toss-up.
On the one hand, there is The Counselor, in my mind the single worst film ever made. Conversations that make no sense, characters all spouting off like they’re drunken sophomore philosophy students, Cameron Diaz sexually molesting a car (and my soul in the process). It was just a terrible film at every level.
But slightly above that is what Disney did throughout most of the decade. The early Marvel films not owned by Disney weren’t great but they weren’t completely terrible. But once Disney took over they became bland, formulaic, and just a series of cheap quips and explosions. And not that Star Wars was ever great art, but the extended universe novels offered a road map for character development and depth, but not once did I see the words Mara Jade or any other suggestion that Disney wanted to offer us anything other than mindless shit. Perhaps if the entertainment industry wasn’t such a blind monkey-see-monkey-do kind of business the I could have been fine with Disney releasing some dumb crap and other studios giving me something to sink my teeth into, but it isn’t that way and Disney showed you can make money with the bland formula (but only for a while, a caveat they haven’t learned) and thus every other studio wants to repeat the same thing leaving comparatively little diversity for those of us who got tired of the formula early on. And for that, they have created the worst thing in entertainment for the decade. And the unquestionable cuteness of baby Yoda and baby Groot won’t make up for that.

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The Importance of Art and Culture in Politics

I have recently engaged in several arguments with a few people over the values of art. Some have complained about why I would waste time on blogs  The Snyder Cut and some have told me they think Shakespeare has no value. Both viewpoints are silly. Now, most people will concede the importance of art for entertainment purposes in their own lives, and maybe for having a message so long as it is entertaining and the message is clear, again in their own life. But art, in almost any form, has far more important functions than just the personal entertainment aspect, it is, as Faulkner put it “It [creating art] is his [the artist’s] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” (Faulkner was talking specifically about literature, but I don’t think he would disagree with having his words applied to all the arts). Specifically, in the context of this blog, art serves to aid in both an understanding of ethics, politics, and philosophy in life.

Art is important for both political and spiritual reasons. Why?  Because ideas have consequences.  Major ones.  And the single most efficient way to convey ideas is through art.  High brow or low, it doesn’t really matter.  Art is ideas, and ideas have consequences.  So, caring about even movies and books you would like to dismiss as silly or trite is an important issue in life.  But this brings up a few issues.  What is the purpose of art?  What makes good art?  How deep should we dig with a work of art?  And finally, why it’s important to look at art as more than just mindless entertainment but rather as a tool for the mind.

Let’s first deal with what the purpose of art is.

The Purpose of Art

As far as I can figure out there are three purposes to good art.

The first is catharsis. The second is what I can only call the ethical or mythic purpose. The third purpose is the philosophical. I will get into exactly what each of these is in a second but I would say that there are many good works of art that exhibit at least one of these purposes, there are a good portion of works that demonstrate two of these, and of course, the rarest of all are the works that can fulfill all three purposes. (And then there is, of course, the question of how well they fulfilled all of these, but we’ll get to that later).

The first purpose is catharsis. Catharsis is a psychological reaction to art that requires an emotional response. We smile. We grip the armrest in anticipation. We laugh. We cry. We scream in fright. We cheer and applaud. We have a strong emotional reaction. In other words, we’re entertained. There is a release of emotion. I dare you to find me a competent piece of art that doesn’t spark some kind of positive emotion. I say this because disgust and revulsions are not catharsis, even though they are the only sane reactions to most works of modern “art” (I use the word very loosely in this case). We may be angry at some movies or books, but if it is righteous indignation then it is a correct recognition to injustice and helps to stoke this virtue in the right sort of way. But emotions like revulsion or disgust are not as psychologically healthy as laughing and crying, and even sometimes anger, are. I would say that any work of art (music, books, film, paintings) should have to meet this requirement or it’s not really art. For instance, a novel that is long-winded and boring, has dull characters, and no enjoyment isn’t art—it’s a waste of paper, no matter what any intelligentsia hack critic says. If it is not taping into the emotions, at the bare minimum if it is not entertaining, then it is not art.

Art that simply covers this area of enjoyment would be the meaningless pop music we listen to, the quickly forgotten sitcoms and action films we see, and the cheesy romance novels some people read. Anything put out by Marvel would be a good example of this; it has no depth, no real insight in characters or society, no grand questions of life, but it is entertaining. And for what it is, that’s fine (but as we’ll get to later, it doesn’t mean that it only impacts is at the entertainment level.)

The second purpose provides a set of clear and simple rules for people and society to live by—ethical guidelines to follow. I call this also the mythic purpose as much of mythology wasn’t so much to explain the workings of the universe, it was to provide examples of archetypal heroism, the standards of ethics of how we should all live our lives. What is right and what is wrong. How should we act and who should we put up as a moral model. The ancients had Achilles, Odysseus, and Theseus. Nowadays we have Superman, Emma Swan, and Frodo. Just because I call this the 2nd level doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more sophisticated than the first level (there are some comedies that serve no purpose other than entertainment that are much more complex and sophisticated than a comic book which does serve the 2nd level purpose). At its best this type of art raises questions about what is right and leaves you for quite a long time in a gray area before offering you any resolution or answer, forcing you to take the chance to think for yourself about ethics and morality—hopefully a habit you use after you have left the work of art behind. And when it forces this self-reflection art begins to move into the third level.

The third purpose is the philosophic purpose. Literature has a habit of raising questions not just of ethics (and by extension politics) but also questions of metaphysics (Revolver, City of Angels, Winter’s Tale), epistemology (Inception and The Matrix), and aesthetics (Portrait of Jenny and more poems than I care to list). The Grand Big Esoteric questions that reality and life are based on. And it’s not just in movies. Go look at Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam,” it’s not a coincidence that God, the divine intellect, is depicted with a robe that is flowing in the shape of a brain. Might not seem like much now, but in a day when biology and anatomy were on questionable legal ground showing the brain as the seat of intelligence is a heavy philosophical point.

In this respect, Art can make us ponder the meaning and definition of existence and life. What is it all about? (Again, just because it tries to ask big questions doesn’t mean it’s any good…look at any piece of crap directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, a man who should be legally barred from ever getting near a camera).

So yeah maybe all movies aren’t that third level of philosophical genius (but really how often do we get that?), but, still, they are relevant. Why? Well for two reasons. First no one is ever going to have enough life experience to cover all possible situations they could come across. The ability to live vicariously through the situations found in art is one of its greatest benefits. In fact, when dealing with the issue of politics you need to know history, you need to know philosophy and you need to know psychology…and when it comes to psychology in addition to actually having experience with people, and maybe taking a psychology course or two, you need art to understand people (especially the masters like Shakespeare, Helprin, Hugo, Hawthorne, Whitman, Tennyson, and Faulkner). Thus art, any kind of art, becomes necessary to understanding politics (the primary purposes of this blog). And as cinema is the primary form of art in this era, I would have to be a damned idiot not to discuss any film that has relevant philosophical, political, and ethical implications.

So, those are the purposes of art.  And for the purpose of art in terms of its social implications and dealing with the fact that ideas have consequences we first have to deal with what makes art good and great.

What is Great Art?

And before we can fully discuss why it is such an important feature, we need to set down some ground rules of how to judge art and decide what makes great art. “But it’s all a matter of opinion”, “it’s all subjective” “you like it but I don’t and you can’t argue that something is good because it’s just the way I feel” some will claim—nope, yes there is personal taste in what you may find enjoyable, but that doesn’t change what is great and what is not—I personally love some truly terrible books and movies, but I don’t for a minute think they’re great; conversely, there are works that I can recognize as great but which have little impact on my taste for them. There are standards that separate the works of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Michelangelo from all the rest and it’s not just personal taste. Whether you enjoy a work of art or not does not determine if it’s great.  So, let’s start with the three purposes of art.

  1. It provides entertainment.
  2. It offers ethical examples.
  3. It offers philosophical discussion.

Now, these 3 purposes lead to 4 different qualities that art needs to be judged by. And these 4 qualities are not just my ideas, you will see these qualities if you review the works of Aristotle, Sidney, Shelly, Faulkner, or Barzun when they discuss what makes great literature, I’m just highlighting and distilling their points. It’s important to have an actual way to judge good art because otherwise, you have to deal with that liberal, post-modern BS that art is purely personal taste or that “well you simply don’t get it.” If you ever hear those words be careful. Sometimes it’s true, Shakespeare for instance, to fully understand Shakespeare takes a lot of time and effort to learn the medium and language, but if you don’t understand the intricacies of the humor, the tragedy and the passion almost always come out if performed by an even remotely competent actor and director. Which is why the first criteria of any art form is that:

1.  Great art creates catharsis; effectively it mixes High Tragedy and High Comedy flawlessly. Good art will leave me with some kind of emotional reaction. With great art basically, I should be crying, either from having my heart ripped out and stomped on or from laughing so hard I’m hyperventilating or on the rarest of occasions because I am struck with a sense of awe…preferably all in the same work. Yes, there is a certain education level required to understand any work of art, but anyone with even a basic level of education listening, seeing or hearing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Michelangelo’s David, Shakespeare’s “St. Crispin Day’s speech” can’t help but be moved. If it doesn’t entertain at some level for someone, it’s not art, but to be great art it must not just entertain it must provide catharsis. This is the flaw of all modern visual art, modernist writers (E.E. Cummings, Pound, H.D., Salinger), and just a disgusting host of pompous movies as the only emotional reaction they cause is disgust or revulsion (and that’s when they cause an emotional reaction at all). If you have something to say but can’t bring it to an emotional level, we have philosophy and journalism and commentary for that—art is by definition something that causes emotional reactions. It can cause mental stimulation, but it MUST cause an emotional reaction to be art, and must provide catharsis, swelling of uncontrollable emotion, to be great art.

Now, this is the part that can be most influenced by personal taste.  As I said already education can have an effect on your enjoyment.  But, so can life experiences.  If you see something in a bad mood, go in looking to have a terrible time, or go in looking for something other than what the work is meant to give you, you might not get the catharsis that a person in the right frame of mind would get.  That’s the reason why so many great novels are ruined by bad high school English teachers—instead of teaching with passion they force-feed words down students unwilling gullets, turning art into streams of meaningless words.  Works that have moved souls for generations do not stir the being of students forced to read it from a teacher who doesn’t really care…but that doesn’t mean the work doesn’t cause catharsis to those open to it.  So, for this criteria more than most we have to look not so much to our own reaction but to the reaction of others, if we don’t particularly feel catharsis because even if it doesn’t move us if it moves a large numbers of others then we have to say that for whatever reason it didn’t move us, it still met the criteria of causing catharsis in others.

2. Great art has a deep understanding of the human psyche. It is accurately said that all good drama is character drama, and good character drama comes from understanding how people actually act. If characters don’t act realistically there can be no suspension of disbelief and thus nothing to do with point one. This is a bit harder to see in forms of art that aren’t literature, theater or film, but this understanding is there. Look at a Waterhouse painting and you will see the wheels turning in the brains of the people depicted there, listen to a Copland piece of music and you will hear the characters and people they represent and how well Copland understood them. The best art reveals something about the human psyche that reveals truth about yourself. Again, back to Copland’s music, the “Fanfare for the Common Man”, for example, reveals not only the greatness that a human being is able to achieve but upon reflection offers us a reflection of the person we should ourselves strive to be. By contrast, a painting by Picasso shows no understanding of how people think or act. There is none of the humanity that one would see in a Raphael, none of the complexity that exists in a Rembrandt, just chaos. And yes, chaos is an aspect of humanity, but it is not the only one.

And this is often the problem of the more pretentious and useless works of liberal drivel (and the little the alt-right produces).  They portray people as these terrible cookie-cutter images that act for motivations that no person has ever felt because these liberal and populist loons don’t actually understand what motivates people.

The other thing to keep in mind here is that you are not the world.  Just because you wouldn’t do something a certain way does not mean that a character is acting in a way contrary to human nature.  The ignorance involved in the hysteria over a character with severe PTSD, which was tied to the death of his mother, being triggered when someone says his mother’s name is just bizarre —  that’s how people with PTSD react.  Just because a work of art actually portrays behavior uncommon from how you would deal with things does not mean it doesn’t have a clear understanding of human nature.

3. Great art must understand how to use the tools of the medium in a skillful way. This is a twofold requirement. It needs to look or sound good depending on the medium. It needs to at some level capture real-life accurately—visual art needs to look as close to a photograph as possible (with deviations from reality only for the purpose of meaning), film and literature needs to accurately capture realistic human experience (again only deviating for theme). But I said this was twofold, the second is the complexity factor. Faces are easier to draw than hands, but the artist who can do both is great, simple tunes like happy birthday may have melody but demonstrate nothing of the complexity of a Beethoven concerto, anyone with a video camera can film something, but it takes great skill to make it have meaning beyond a record of what is happening. Great art has a complexity to it, even when it is simple (look at the levels of some Shel Silversteen poems if you want complex but simple). For poetry, that means the use of language. For music, it means the mixture of the instruments to create melody. For painting and sculpture, it means the ability to create life-like representations mixed with symbolism. The more complex the art form the more elements that have to be mastered. This is the technical aspect. A person may have written deep and powerful lyrics and mixed it with superb music but if they can’t sing, the song is probably not great art (Bob Dylan is the artist I’m thinking of here…he is in the Top 5 of 20th-century poets…but he is not a great musician.) Why must art be technically accurate? Well because art, and especially great art, has layers. You’ll notice that the first two qualifications I had for great art match up with the first two purposes of great art. Well, it is in point 3 and 4 that we get the third purpose of art, the philosophical purpose.

What do the layers of meaning and content have to do with philosophy? As you know, philosophy is the study of reason and the truth (I mean real philosophy, not the hack excuse you get in Philosophy Departments which seem to have abandoned the search for truth and instead sought out in a search for the most convoluted bullshit). Life is not easily understood. The facts are all there around us, but they do not put themselves together on their own. You have to search for meaning in all the little breadcrumbs left for you by the universe and human civilization (especially since I believe there is a higher-order to existence, then looking for the patterns and themes becomes especially important because nothing is a coincidence and there is meaning in everything). And art that includes these layers is what can train your mind to see these patterns and small details that lead to a greater understanding.  Even in the research of the social sciences like economics or politics, there is as much an art as there is a science to looking at data and deducing the motivations and causes of the reports and stats you see.  Without the understanding that comes from seeing the depth of art, you can’t fully understand how humans interact even in the dismal sciences.

Aside from the psychological, moral, and philosophical benefits that art provides this is probably the most important function that art serves—it trains us in how to think. So why didn’t I list this in my three purposes of art…well because I’m not sure most artists think about this when they’re writing. They may be intentionally hiding a message under layers (as Shakespeare hid his pro-Catholic politics under layers of metaphors, tragedy and comedy, character development, and universal themes) but he didn’t think “I’m going to write something that will train people to think.” I don’t think the majority of artists have this thought when they create their works…they may pat themselves on the back for how skillfully they hide a theme, but I don’t think they view the layers qua layers as an end in and of itself. Granted, recently, modernist and post-modernist hacks have done this but, with one exception, I can’t think of anyone who has done that and is any good. The exception to this might be T.S. Eliot who intentionally wanted his readers to wade through the layers of obscure references to make them think about what he was saying…but given that his message was the modern world (i.e. all those hacks) are dead and lifeless and without humanity, he kind of is the exception that proves the rule.

However, I can think of artists who do come up with complexity for the sake of complexity and thus ruin art by doing it. James Joyce and Herman Melville come to mind. Melville, for instance, had a perfectly wonderful 90-page novella about a man bent on vengeance against a whale; it had human drama, stirring lines, and ethical statements. The problem is that Melville never wrote that book, instead, he wrote a 300-page monstrosity that has pages upon pages of information about whale blubber and sailing and harpooning and the history of Cetology at the time of the book. Within all this boring muck is embedded an even more dreary philosophy on the nature of epistemology and some metaphysics. And it quickly becomes one of the most overrated hack works in the history of human civilization. (A basic rule I find for art: the more meaty and in-depth the philosophy you’re dealing with, the more catharsis and emotional reactions you will need to hold your audience. If you’re going to raise in-depth points of epistemology I better be seeing Keanu Reeves in a black trench coat dodging bullets or Leonardo DeCaprio spinning tops and running through dreams, otherwise, just write philosophy and ignore the art because as dry as epistemology can get, it’s better than whale blubber.) But the worst ever in this category of absolutely putting style and layers ahead of content is James Joyce. Joyce wrote Ulysses attempting to write a book that no one would understand. He failed, people got it, though it didn’t really say much. So, then he spent 20 years writing Finnegan’s Wake, and succeeded. No one understands what that thing is about, probably not even Joyce. Frankly, there is no point. In music, you should look at Mozart, technically complex and detailed harmonies, but no meaning, just notes. In visual arts, you see this in 18th-century portraits and 19th-century realism—all very lifelike, all very dull and meaningless. For the film counterpart to this look at the worst of Orson Wells, who valued pretty camera shots over plot, characterization, theme, dialogue, but he had some nice shots. All of these value style over substance, which is what makes them inferior works.

This is an important part of art as it is a process that teaches people to think at deep levels, but the process should never be more important than the message.

4. Finally, great art must have an underlying hopeful, positive, and ethical philosophical base.

I start from the premise that the universe, human nature, and civilization are more or less is intelligible, reasonable, ethical, and leading to continuous human progress and evolution.

This comes from my conservative and spiritual beliefs. As such, for art to be great it must mirror these philosophies—it must mirror the truth. There is an Aristotelian principle that art should capture life as it is (my second and third requirement) and as it should be (this requirement). If you are a conservative in the vein of Burke and Adams to Coolidge, Goldwater and Reagan you believe that life has a purpose. That human beings can rise above whatever their present condition through force of will, self-education, and the goodness of their humanity. You believe that freedom is the highest of all virtues in human society.  That the good society seeks to balance justice, order, and equality and not sacrifice any of those three at the expense of the others.  That the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Moderation, Fortitude, Justice, Faith, Hope, and Charity are what should lead a person, and the political virtues of a rule of law, limited government, free enterprise, and liberty should lead a government.

And art, great art, MUST reflect these values.

Or again, as Faulkner put it:

“The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Why?  Because ideas have consequences.  Most people do not constantly question and reassess their ideas.  So offering small little ideas here and there against what a person might usually believe is like holding a magnet near a ship’s compass.  It won’t immediately take you off course, but after several days you’re nowhere near where you want to be.

Literature, film and paintings need heroes, poetry and music need passion for what is right and good and true…or at least the tragic absence of these things. Nothing else is worthy of being called great art. And any form of art that contradicts these principles can’t be great because it’s endorsing a lie. Now rationally since we don’t know all the minutia of the truth of human existence (if we have a vague idea that it’s in the direction of hopeful, ethical, rational, etc.) we should be willing to give a wide latitude for a variance in belief so long as it does not depict the world as utterly chaotic (the works of Picasso) irrational (the works of Joyce), dreary (the works of Mozart), that humans are inherently evil (the works of Dickens) or that life is pointless (the works of Camus). So, to review, great art must cause a cathartic experience, understand the human condition, show great skill of the form, and point to a higher ideal. There can be good art that meets two or three of these requirements. There can be enjoyable art that meets one or two of these requirements. There can be endless debate about whether or not a work actually meets these requirements. But there is no great work of art that does not meet all four of these requirements. Now we can get on to discussing why art is important to live in a political and sense….

A Question of layers

But we always have to be on guard to give any work the right amount of attention.

Art is something that no person who wishes to think deeply (be it politically or spiritually) can long avoid. One of the often-overlooked reasons that art is important is because of the skills it teaches us. It teaches us to think, to examine to look deeper. No, I don’t mean the philosophical skills. Yes, good art raises philosophical questions of life, ethics, politics and attempts to answer these questions or get us to answer them for ourselves. But I’m talking about something deeper. The peeling away of the layers of meaning one after the other, the stripping away of the surface meaning and even the meaning after that…the analysis of small details, and word choice, and metaphor and symbolism.

Right about now most of you are rolling your eyes. You’re thinking back to your high school English class and your English teacher telling you that the cup on the table, or whatever random and meaningless detail they want to focus on, was supposed to be symbolic of some major political upheaval and you just stared at the page thinking ‘is she on drugs?’ Let me get something out of the way, your reaction was likely not one of ignorance or stupidity…most English teachers are terrible at their jobs. I’m an English teacher and I can tell you without a moment’s hesitation, most English teachers are hacks. They really are. A disturbing portion of English teachers just want to pile onto their students endless heaps of obscure crap and modernist shit that they think is oh so deep…and why do they think it’s deep because they have been taught by other terrible English teachers that anything you can’t understand is deep and meaningful so they parrot what they have been taught and teach crap that amounts to nothing. They believe because they can’t understand it, it must be great. Don’t believe me? Go listen to an English teacher talk about their favorite work. Four times out of five they trying to justify the fact that they don’t get it by saying it’s just so damn wonderful because they don’t get it. And because they believe it is great they search for meaning where there is none, and since they believe it is great they create meaning where there is none. But they have this theory because they misunderstand great art. Art is supposed to be difficult and art is supposed to make you think…but what they misunderstand is that just because you don’t get something on the first round doesn’t make it great…it’s only great if there is something underneath all the work. For instance, both T.S. Eliot and Herman Melville do not give up their depth easily…but where Eliot has some rather harsh and pertinent critiques of human civilization buried under obscure references and complex metaphor, Melville only has pompous musing about knowledge buried under whale blubber. The ideas have to be valid if you’re going to bother hiding them under layers. And then these terrible hacks get into the problem of thinking that everything written must have layers upon layers. Yes, Shakespeare is the greatest writer ever because he hid a pro-Catholic plea to the Protestant rulers of England under universal themes of the human condition under complex character development under rich and exciting plots and great comedy under rich metaphor and language…but just because Shakespeare could master that many levels to be perfectly balanced at all time, that doesn’t mean that it’s in every book or work of art. Sometimes a rosebush is just a rosebush in a story and not a complex symbol for the imprecise use of symbols (and sometimes it is), it depends on the author.

Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot have layers…Stephen King not so much. And in between those two extremes is a whole lot of layers of authors who use different amounts of layers—the intelligent person realizes this and doesn’t try to force more layers on something than it deserves.  And this often has to do with the intent of the artist, they will often signal in some way how deep they want you to go, but you have to get used to a lot of art to recognize those signals.  But back to the central point, good art has layers upon layers, and it does not yield its answers immediately to the first passerby who only gives it a cursory review. Great painting should require hours of study, great music should require multiple listenings, great literature should require you to read it three, four, five times over. Each time finding some new idea, some new detail, some new insight, some new thing to apply to your life or your understanding of the world. Because that is what good art does. It’s important because it is training for life not just to dig through these layers, but to recognize how deep to dig and recognize when you’ve gone too far.

I sense eye rolling again, stop it…This kind of art is important for life because life is not simple. Life does not give up its answers easily—even when they’re staring you in the face. The problems in life for most people come from the fact that they only look at the first level of things. And politics is often the same way.  Real solutions are not simple ones.  Yes, saying that we’ll get rid of the bad politicians through term limits, but when you peel back the layers and look at the data that this has never once led to better legislation in ANY legislative body it has ever been tried in begins to tell us that the problem runs deeper and can’t be solved with feel-good statements like “drain the swamp.”  The same is true of any solution in politics it takes time, research, comparisons to other policies, looking at patterns, at history, at human nature…and this is what analyzing great art teaches us to do, to look for the deeper level and go the extra step in our thinking.  It allows us not to be comfortable with the shallow hack politician who offers catchphrases because our mind has already been trained to look through their words to the deeper meanings.

Why the discussion of art is important.

“Politics is downstream from culture.”—Andrew Breitbart

Before his name became a byword for everything he fought against, Andrew Breitbart realized that the culture wars were more important than the political ones.  Why?  Because the way culture moves determines how politics will.  And unlike every failed attempt to change culture in history which traditionally is thought to only ban things it didn’t like or scream at them—which never works because it only makes the government more powerful thus giving your enemies the power to put you down when they grab the reigns and it makes that which you’re attacking cool for being attacked—Andrew realized you have to confront the ideas head-on.

You have to talk about the ideas being pushed in culture.  You have to offer high-quality alternatives, and you have to defend those alternatives when they are of superior quality but being attacked for the very reason that they do support ideas that those who do stand for virtue support.

Now some will claim that we should not waste our time with popular culture, but that ignores two very important facts.  First that everyone from Plato and Aristotle to Shakespeare to Breitbart realized that it was popular culture, not the distant works of the intelligentsia, that drive culture and thus drive politics.  The second is the lie that popular culture cannot be great art.  Homer was once popular culture.  Shakespeare was once popular culture.  Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Oscar Wilde…all once-popular cultures.  Granted not everything popular is great, but just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s not great.  Thus, we need to look at popular culture because it is where the most influence comes from, and where the greatest works are born.

The number of times liberals and progressives have used culture to further their ideas are so numerous and well known, it doesn’t need to be bear repeating.

But it’s not just the variations of the modern Left, but the return of fascism and fascism’s “useful idiot” populism are there too but less known.

So, what do we see in pulp culture from the other side?  We see shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones which glorify absolute monsters as our main characters…and people try and defend why they love the shows…gee I wonder if treating the ethically deficient as heroes in a story has any effect on culture…I mean it’s not like we would ever put a sociopath of that level in charge of the country, oh wait we did, we elected Joffrey (I realize that is unfair, the Trumps are far worse than the Lanisters).

It’s not like the reboot of Star Trek which turned Kirk from a great leader in the mold of Horatio Hornblower into an inept sex-crazed James-Dean-wanna-be had any effect on what we were looking for in a leader.

The modern obsession with horror films at record numbers helps both the left and alt-right as it helps to stimulate the fear that both sides feed on, but the high levels of zombie survival tales, exemplified by The Walking Dead make some very fascist lessons, like all people not in our tribe our bad, the others cannot be trusted, free trade and relationships built on trust are always disastrous, and of course, might makes right.

And of course, it’s not like a movie that questions the one good thing from Hobbes, the part that Locke and the Founder realized needed to kept around, that is, the Leviathan—the government monopoly on the use of violence—to ensure the stability of society not breaking down into chaos, was questioned and the heroes were shown to be the people who didn’t want to follow legitimate government control on the use of force.  No, he has America in his name, so to hell if his actions are against the very foundations all government since the Enlightenment.  (The other series had the decency to admit that such vigilantism makes our characters “criminals” or showing those with power coming to talk to those in power.)

Nor should we overlook the fact that the villains are showing that getting away with it makes it right in How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, and dozens of others.

And dare we talk about the love of idiocy that is reality TV.  Christianity used to be a religion of thinkers and philosophers from Augustine to Aquinas to Dante to Milton to Adler, it has a rich and distinguished history of depth and reflection…and what is put by culture as the pinnacle of Christianity: a bunch of braindead hicks who make duck calls.  The most inane and worthless version of a great tradition lauded as the best and the depth and richness the religion deserved all but ignored.   Do you think this valueless, ethic-less, brainless manifestation of Christianity being put up by numerous different sources helped these so-called Christians, modern-day Pharisees, tell themselves that voting for the deal that would gain them the world at the cost of their soul was a good one?

And those are just a handful of the major examples. The smaller subtler forms are everywhere.  In pandering to the lowest common denominator to try and get every last penny the media has ended up seeking the to the lowest form of perversion: populism and fascism, and all the lies that this entails.  They’re small things, but when an incorrect belief system is reinforced a million different tiny, almost unperceivable ways they do lead up to a death of a thousand cuts for the truth.

There has always been very little that actually speaks to the best in humanity…but now it seems to be attacked.  Granted no movie is perfect, but it now seems that if a movie is actually hopeful and speaks to the best in humanity it is attacked mercilessly (Winter’s Tale, Hancock, Tomorrowland, Age of Adeline, Firefly, Wonderfalls) while movies that speak to the worst in humanity but with far worse flaws are allowed to pass or are even praised (Mad Max, Star Trek reboots, an endless train of teen-novel movies with heroes just as detestable as their villains).  I’m not saying we shouldn’t recognize the flaws in a film, we should, but we should view the work as a whole and balance nitpicking flaws against thematic greatness.  We should think about the films as more than just brain candy—brain candy is nice, but to give our brains only a diet of candy will rot them.  And it’s especially unforgivable when the work that can be both entertaining and deep when if you only take the time to think about them so many films can reveal layers upon layers of depth and when you see the depth you see the quality and easily forgive little things in plot.  (Oh by the way, if you had a bad English teacher you probably think plot is important.  It’s not.  The only thing less important is setting—in serious literature be it in print or on film, theme and character are the most important, plot is merely there to make sure that theme and characters have somewhere to go.)

And these are the works that we as individuals not only need to look at at a deeper level, but which we need to encourage others to do the same, because while most people’s conscious minds don’t run through the philosophy, their subconscious does run through.  Ideas have consequences.  And the idea of popular culture does run downstream into politics, and if the core ideas of progressivism and fascism are allowed to stand as the “great” enjoyable films and anything with depth is attacked and ignored not because it’s lacking in quality but because deep down those who want those progressive and fascist ideals at some subconscious level understand that these are a problem, and those who are just followers understand that these works promote an ethic that requires them to think and act and not just follow.*

Full Circle

So, we return to the question of why care about comic book movies like Dawn of Justice?  Because those are the films that reach people.  Because those are films with the ethics that we need to get more into the consciousness of the culture, those are the work that not just entertain but move us, that provide catharsis and thought.  They are the great works and they need to be treated as such.  To just treat everything as “I enjoyed it” or “I didn’t enjoy it” is to both insult the work of artists and to insult your own brain which is capable of so much more.  Yes, there are some works that can be dismissed as enjoyable or not…but to not treat each work with the level of depth it deserves is to either admit the shallowness of your own mind and your surrendering culture and thus politics to that shallowness, or to willfully not give the work the thought it deserves which means you are actively working for the effects such an action results in overtime.  And that may seem like a rather sweeping suggestion, that something so small can have such great results…but no single raindrop thinks it’s responsible for the flood, and yet those small little drops add up to a deluge.  Small acts of thoughtless behavior by numerous people over long periods of time do add up.  You know that’s true.  And this is one of those small acts we must all work to stop in our own lives and do what we can to convince others to do the same.

*A note here.  If the movie attempts the right ethics but isn’t just flawed in the nitpick stupid way of some very good film, but DEEPLY flawed like those Atlas Shrugged movies where they are so bad they should never have been filmed, those you don’t need to defend.  Real trash should be treated as trash.  Minor nitpicky shit in the face of thematic genius should be discarded.

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Best Movies of 2019

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So it has been a weird year for movies. Long stretches of nothing, the end of two vapid franchises owned by Disney, probably the last intelligent superhero film for another ten years (unless we get the Snyder Cut). As usual, most lists of top films have a long string of pretentious crap that is all style and no substance and which no human being will ever watch…here I look at real movies. Overall the horizon doesn’t bode well for the future as most studios are going more and more for simplistic films made by committee: But still, there were some stand out films.
Up first the honorable mentions.
Jojo rabbit —I’ll be honest this one might deserve more but I didn’t see it because the marketing made it look pretty indifferent to the evils of Nazism. That and Johansson is a terrible actress that seldom makes decent films. I have been told however that it is quite damning to Nazism and will see it when I’m sure the studio will be getting a far lower portion of the ticket…they should not be rewarded for such an inept marketing campaign.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood—Quentin has one theme “violence is destructive to a sense of identity” so when for the first time I didn’t see that theme in this movie I was left a little rudderless in how to interpret it. The best I can say is he’s depicting the lie that Hollywood likes to tell itself about itself, but I’m not sure that’s what he was going for. I’m not sure about anything about that film other than the last 10 minutes were horrifyingly entertaining.
John Wick 3–Ugh. I’m not going to say that the series jumped the shark, but this was significantly below the last two. They might still pull out of this tailspin, but I’m withholding judgment.
Serenity—An under-appreciated film. Not as good as The Matrix, Dark City, or Revolver but still entertaining and hold a modicum of metaphysical depth.
Murder Mystery—A silly Netflix film and possibly only the third or fourth watchable Adam Sandler film, but still fun.
Happy Death Day 2U—You’d think this would have just been stupid, but it was rather touching.
Doctor Sleep—I would have preferred if they had ignored that godawful Kubrick film existed (but I am impressed with the production department being able to recreate the Overlook so perfectly), but it was still fun.
Last Christmas—Not the best Christmas film ever, but it was sweet and more in line with the meaning of the holidays than a lot of Christmas films.
Dumbo—Live-action remakes for Disney are hit and miss. But Dumbo built on the original film, dropped the weird psychedelic elephants and questionable crows, and built on some real human character development.
So let’s get to the top 10 (really 11 because we have a tie)
10 tie. Charlie’s Angel—I know this got bad reviews but clearly, only idiots reviewed the movie. It is far funnier than any of the previous films, with better character development and actual wit instead of dumb sight gags.
10 tie. Bombshell—Holy shit were things bad at Fox. And given that there do not seem to be any lawsuits against the movie that suggest it’s all essentially true (or at least true enough to avoid defamation)…which is horrifying. The FoxNews building probably needs to be burned to the down to get rid of that kind of evil.
9.Pokémon Detective Pikachu—PG Deadpool. Nothing more or less. The simple trick for all movies is to make sure Ryan Reynold is not encumbered by the laws of reality.
8.Aladdin—It’s better than the original. Smith’s genie is more relatable and his jokes will not age as poorly as Williams’ have. They fleshed out the character and surprisingly improved on the story. Yeah, Jasmine’s solo felt a little forced when all the other songs didn’t stop the action, but all it really did is make me wonder why we didn’t get “Home” for Beauty and the Beast. Regrettably, between a Mulan staring a communist shill for human rights abuses or A Little Mermaid directed by an inept hack, Aladdin is probably the last good live-action Disney film.
7.Jumanji: The Next Level—Somehow they managed to make the story seem fresh and not formulaic. And again we see that Jack Black is hideously underused an actor with range (who knew?)
6. The Good Liar—Okay, it’s pretty obvious by the previous picks that this has not been the best year for serious films, but this film is a winner. I can’t talk about it too much because this is one of the rare films where spoilers really do matter. But Mirren and McKellen do a fabulous superb job of playing each other.
5. Frozen II—I honestly feel this is the first Disney film that is clearly marketed someone other than children (I’m not counting Pixar films for the purposes of that statement), but with moments ridiculing the naiveté of youth, questions mortality the need for self-discovery, and the need to “Do the Next Right Thing” no matter how much you lose in life—especially when you have lost everything—was thematic material unquestionably not geared to young children. This had teens in mind, and I appreciate Disney venturing into deeper waters. (Maybe by the third film Disney executives will have the guts to admit that Elsa is gay.)
4.It: Chapter II—I’m not entirely thrilled they changed the ending, but I get why the Ritual of Chud would have been difficult to put on film. I would have preferred to see the spider and Bill save his wife (and there are rumors that a much longer directors cut is coming), but I can still say without hesitation that this is probably the best we’re ever going to get for this story being on film. All the actors, young and old, brought depth and humanity to their characters and didn’t let them become the stiff cardboard cutouts of that abysmal TV miniseries.
And then we get to the top 3 which I feel are more than just enjoyable but true art.
3. Knives Out—This is one of the best comedies and best mysteries in years. As if Agatha Christie wrote slapstick. Rian Johnson needs to stick to writing films like this and The Brothers Bloom because his talents are wasted on second rate sci-fi. Not only is Craig perfect as the Southern gentleman sleuth Benoit Blanc, but Chris Evans for the first time in a long time acted in his performance as the arrogant Ransom. Every actor was perfect in this movie, even typically second-tier actors like Don Johnson were great throughout. It is a mystery with a giant hole, like a doughnut, that has to be filled (and that bizarre statement will be hilarious after you’ve seen it). I am pleased that Johnson has already said he has a second Benoit Blanc film planned. Please let it come sooner rather than later.
2. Glass—Probably the last intelligent superhero film for the foreseeable future (unless we get the Snyder Cut), this film completed the Unbreakable Split Glass Trilogy and offered us a satisfying conclusion to both Bruce Willis’ hero and the evil of the Hoard from their respective films. Returning to M. Night’s core theme of finding one’s place in the world and its importance in being happy in life. Certainly, there were a lot of loose ends that I wouldn’t be sad if M. Night worked into a two or three-season show for Hulu or Prime…but the story of our three central characters and their respective character arcs were finished perfectly.
1.Motherless Brooklyn—Finally what is in my mind the unquestionable best film of the year. Best Actor. Best Director. Best Script. Best Picture. A story of a 40’s PI with Tourette’s Syndrome having to solve the murder of his mentor. It is both historically accurate in showing the corruption of government building in the post-war theory, and also wonderfully gives us a villain in the person of Alec Baldwin playing a corrupt New York developer turned politician who plays to nationalist, racist and populist themes…sound familiar but Baldwin’s character is actually quite intelligent, so it’s not entirely you know who (but Baldwin probably still deserves the award for best-supporting Actor). At every turn, it works to show some of the worst and best of humanity and offers hope even in terrible situations.
And I know I usually do the worst of the year. It’s Cats. We all know it. I can add nothing to the mountains of disdain already heaped on this monstrosity of a film.  It should have never been made.  I really wanted to put Star Wars or Avengers as the worst films of the year for Disney just vomiting out mindless drivel, cheap jokes, and explosions…but no, Cats is quite possibly the worst things Hollywood has ever created sans The Counselor.

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Headlines for the Week

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Humor

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A new year…in which I return to blogging…

So it’s a new year and a new chance to improve our lives. Granted every day is that. So since we’re in a looking back sort of mood let’s start off with making the first and probably most important resolution for the whole year:

EVERY DAY IS A NEW START

If you have a goal you want to meet during the year. And you fail to meet it for one week, guess what start again.

Every culture in the world has observed the basic premise that we all fail at doing things, but it is the process of starting over that and getting better, doing it again, finally succeeding no matter how much you have failed that defines true success.

Starting weight loss resolutions is probably silly in the middle of winter when your body is making brown fat to keep you warm (which may be helpful in the long term but in the immediate you’re not going to shed the pounds)

But you know what instead of pointless bullshit like losing weight (yes it is pointless because being healthy is what you really want, and you know the easiest way to be healthy, to fill your time with something meaningful not just going to the gym and watching what you eat).

So let’s focus on some important things:

Call an old friend

Read at least one book a month

Find a charity to help with

Engage in your faith more

Journal

Say something nice to at least one person a day

Get a new hobby

Take a vacation

Or in my case, get back to blogging.

Quite frankly just pull out one of those sappy posters on life advice and do as many of them as you can.

Do things that actually fill your time instead of just passing it.

And again just accept you will fail to meet your new goal for a day, a week, a month. It doesn’t matter if you go a whole month screwing up everything you hoped to accomplish, the only thing that matters is if you start again.

For me this year is about being more positive, about planning ahead more, and about getting shit actually done. Far too often I have an idea at the last minute, that leads to stress and negativity and it means I never finish anything. This post, for New Year’s resolution was actually written in August. It’s a lot easier this way. I can write about what’s on my mind, go back and add things as they come up and am not desperate to come up with something to fill up space. It also forces me to talk about things that are more timely, not just reacting to whatever stupid and other pointless story is in the news but to focus on what really matters.

Other than that here are some other pieces of good news from over the last week to keep you in a good mood.

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