Thursday, June 22, 2006

Whatchu got

Atrios writes:

Republicans really believe that by promising to stay in Iraq forever they'll win elections. I do think the politics of Iraq are a bit tricky, even though the press completely ignores polls showing that the Democratic positions are in fact popular, but it's up to Democrats to make the public understand that this is in fact what the Republicans are gloating about.

Make no mistake. I like Atrios and appreciate his effort. I check out his site pretty much every day. And although I don’t visit quite so often, I even like the earnest young folk at Daily Kos. In fact, I like pretty much everyone out there in left blogastan. So I don’t take any pleasure in the fact that their dreams will never come true. I’m not saying that they are ineffectual. That would be sad, yes, but hardly tragic. No, tragically, they are worse than ineffectual. Don’t misunderstand. I tell you this from absolute knowledge. I can see the future.

But more on that later. Here in the present, the Senate’s 86 - 13 vote against withdrawal from Iraq tells us everything we need to know about the state of the party. I say party in the singular because the Democrats are no more of a political party than the Washington Generals are a basketball team. For those of you unaware of the Washington Generals, they are a fake basketball team that plays the Harlem Globetrotters in venues all across the country. They are not really an independent team that plays to win. They are employees of the Harlem Globetrotter corporation who are paid to lose, and lose in such a way as to make the Globetrotters look good.

Same thing with the Democrats, hereafter referred to as Doormatocrats. They fulfill the same corporate role as the Washington Generals. They make a few shots, keep the score close, maybe even hold the lead for a time, but when it matters, they’ll stand idly as Curley or Meadowlark dribble circles around them and go in for the winning lay-up. And if corporate interests are deemed to be at stake, they won’t even make it close. They will lay down on the porch with a black Welcome emblazoned prominently on their backs.

So when Atrios and our other liberal friends wistfully opine that the Doormatocrats could win if “only they could make the public understand...” it’s a bit pathetic. The Doormatocrats are not even going to play meaningful defense, much less lead.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fat Man and Blunderbuss

My parents were in town this past weekend and the whole family drove up to West Point to take the tour. It’s not the first time I’ve been there. One time a friend and I took a boat up the Hudson to see the Army vs. Air Force game. The football game was much better than the weekend tour because we could walk freely around the grounds and the cadets were out in their cute little grey uniforms. I didn’t care a whit for the football game itself, but the pageantry was interesting. This time we were limited to a tour bus, the gift shop and a museum.

Understand, West Point is one of the more beautiful spots on the Hudson. It looks like a medieval castle complex on a hill above the river. The buildings are made of grey stone from local quarries that complement the cute grey uniforms of our future military leaders. Familiar names are on statues and plaques throughout the campus. The view of the river valley from the north end amphitheater is spectacular, especially in the fall.

Nowhere did I see the names of any Confederate officers. I was curious how they were viewed by the guardians of West Point’s history, but did not ask because my father is a big civil war buff and something of a wingnut. To be a happy family, we must avoid any talk that could be remotely considered political and anything to do with the civil war falls into that category. Nevertheless, I was happy to imagine that the lack of statues or memorials to the likes of John Bell Hood or Robert E. Lee was due to the fact that they were traitors responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and problems that plague us still. It’s a pleasant thought but I don’t really know. Next time I’m there I’ll ask.

I was a bit uncomfortable taking my son there. He’s only seven and boys can be impressionable at that age, especially when it comes to violence. And my fears were immediately, and comically, realized. They had big screen television showing a propaganda video in which young men climbed walls, forded streams, jumped out of airplanes, and fired all manner of guns. He’d seen it two times through when I walked over. He turns around, face beaming, and says “dad, I want to join the army!” Of course you do Bub, I want to say, and you can walk over my dead body on your way to enlist, but I laugh and let it go. Other kids are having the same reaction, but their parents are encouraging them. Honestly though, as mentioned in an earlier post, I have some respect for our officer corps and even though it’s not a future I wish on my kids, I hope that good decent people continue to attend West Point where by all accounts they get a very good liberal arts education.

I like to think that they should educate the enlisted men as well instead of turning them into mindless killing machines. I understand the reasoning, but would be interested in hearing knowledgeable people discuss the subject. Is it not possible to have mindful killers? Would that necessarily make us weaker? You know I think that a major reason for our failure in Iraq is directly tied to the behavior of the troops. I think that the day-to-day humiliations they inflicted on Iraqis fed the insurgency when we actually did have a chance for a decent outcome and ultimately made us weaker than if we would have taken a few more losses up front and treated people with respect . Perhaps we’d have a lot fewer dead now and terms like “Haditha” and “Abu Ghraib” wouldn’t be dogging us into an ever more dangerous future, if the enlisted men were expected to be as enlightened as the West Point graduates.

We ended the visit on a weird and disturbing note by visiting the museum. It started out okay. All of our wars, little and big, are represented in a glass case or two and winding through the displays gives a nice, albeit narrow, look at the history of the United States. But I think we all became a bit sick to our stomachs walking through the floors dedicated to weapons. Although many are beautiful for their craftsmanship, I don’t think any of us could get away from the fact that their purpose was to kill people. Although some, such as the blunderbusses or the atomic bomb, are worse than others, all of them are brutal and primitive by their very nature. No sane and decent human being would want to be on either end of one of them. Even my uber-patriotic pop made a wry comment. And my son has yet to say anything about wanting to join the army since that little tour.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Shallow Born Critic

I read Killer Instinct, the story of the making of Natural Born Killers by Jane Hamsher on the recommendation of a commenter at Alicublog.

Natural Born Killers is one of my favorite movies. No that doesn’t do it justice. Natural Born Killers is one of the greatest movies of all time. It is great on every level. The story is great, the cinematography, the acting, the soundtrack, the editing, you name it.

And it wasn’t an accident. Everyone involved in the film went for greatness. They went for it on every level, threw caution over the cliff and took a flying fuck at the pantheon. I’m not going to regurgitate the plot or link to any reviews. If you haven’t seen it, see it. If you saw it and were disgusted, see it again with an open mind. That’s all I have to say on that level.

Although I’ll happily put Natural Born Killers up there with Apocalypse Now or A Clockwork Orange, I’m not going to claim that Jane’s book is War and Peace or anything, but it’s a great read. I don’t usually go for those Hollywood insider or how the movie was made stories, so I can’t compare it to any other book. If anything, it reminded me of Hearts of Darkness, the film about the making of Apocalypse Now, but I wouldn’t quite put it in that category.

Nevertheless, it is a page-turner and provides interesting portraits of a great number of Hollywood characters. And it’s good on a level beyond the day-to-day story it tells, because we recognize universal human traits in the Hollywood snivelers and other flawed characters that Jane so thorougly dissects. It helps the interest level that some of the these snivelers (Quentin Tarantino) and flawed characters (Oliver Stone) are so well-known.

Yea, I can’t deny it, I get a kick out of learning that Tarantino is every bit the low life talent-challenged asshole he appears to be on tv. But I was sorry to see what an ass Stone can be. But at least he had his noble moments. I was genuinely saddened that Trent Reznor was such a putz in the story, taking credit for someone else’s work.

But hey, that’s the stuff of drama. Can the hero overcome his faults and succeed in the end? That’s what keeps us watching. And although these famous people, as well as the losers in the story, act out their flaws in over-the-top Hollywood performances, the same shit happens every day among the cubicles and factory floors. People are people -- the vain, selfish, venal and back-stabbing will always be among us, and sometimes we manage to produce great stuff nevertheless. And so do they.

Before reading the book, I had forgotten about the controversies surrounding Natural Born Killers, the copy cat killings. the questions of artistic irresponsibility, or complicity in the murders of innocents. This was a bit strange because I was personally involved in one of those incidents. Around that time, my former step-brother and his girlfriend went on a cross country killing spree, ended up killing my best friend’s aunt and uncle in the Arizona desert and stealing their RV. But unlike Mickey and Mallory riding the highways in their RV at the end of NBK, poor Toney died in a shoot out after a short, laughable RV chase with the cops outside of Barstow. The future wasn't so kind to him.

But the comparison came only from the press. It’s very unlikely that Tony had ever seen Natural Born Killers. My friend whose aunt and uncle were murdered knew enough about all the parties involved to know exactly how it went down, and we’re sure there was no artistic inspiration at the bottom of it.

Quite the contrary, that story illustrates one of the reasons that Natural Born Killers is such a great fucking piece off art. I remember Tony when he was 9 years old, everyone had gone way overboard to give him a great Christmas because he had been so deprived up until that point. When he walked into the living room and saw all of those presents, his face looked just like the boy who played young Mickey in the movie and on other days when his asshole father yelled at him, or beat him, that hurt that was captured so poignantly in the film was written all over his face. I wouldn’t describe him as a natural born killer though. Natural made killer would be much more accurate, and the same is true of Mickey and Mallory, but that fact takes nothing away from the film. Ya gotta give em some dramatic leeway.