Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.
A few days back, the Wall St. Journal published an editorial written by Yuri Vanetik about the Mueller report. Or, more specifically, about his personal connection to the subjects wound up in the just-released Mueller report.
Mr. Venetik is a wealthy individual from Orange County, California who uses some of that wealth to be politically active. If the Orange County, California isn’t enough of a tip-off, he supports Republicans. He also was born in the former-Soviet Union. His family were Jews who fled Ukraine in the 1970s when he was a child.
Mr. Venetik has contributed to conservative campaigns. Being a substantial contributor at that, he is knows and is known among the money circles of national politics. He has some decidedly superficial connections with some of the other names associated with Trump. He says, however, that he supported neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton in the last election; he backed Bush and Rubio in the primary and voted for an unnamed-third party in the general. More importantly, though, his first name is Yuri, a name that just drips with intrigue. It has even been used as shorthand for a Russian spy.
Mr. Venetik has not been investigated by the FBI nor by the Special Investigator’s team. He was never charged in that investigation and, apparently, has never been prosecuted for any criminal activity. However, a selfie taken with Paul Mannefort was enough to net him a four-part exposé in the newspaper chain which publishes the Sacramento paper The Daily Bee. The article juxtaposes various suspicious-sounding or minor incidents over the course of his lifetime into a narrative that implies Venetik is a Russian spy who works to manipulate Trump and the American body politic. He has sued the paper and obtained partial retractions but, as he suggests in his editorial, the accusations and innuendo will forever be tied to his name. Whatever he does until the day he dies, be it politics, charity, or just business activity, a Google search is going to bring up that he was part of this whole “Trump thing,” whatever that was.
I always assumed it was understood that the Left, particularly the hard-left, saw the Soviet Union as fellow travelers in the struggle for, well, whatever the hell they’re struggling for. It seemed to follow that they might look at the counter-reformist new Russians as inheritors of the Soviet’s mantel. I should be glad, shouldn’t I, that they too have come to see those ex-Soviets as the enemy of freedom – as an “Evil Empire,” if you will? The anti-Russian frenzy I’ve personally witnessed surpasses even that of the most ardent Cold Warrior of the early 80s. It is shocking, sometimes, but let us all agree. The Soviet Union was bad. Full Stop.
It makes me wonder, how out of place are the current tactics – both the political actions of the Progressive Left and the actions of the “Deep State” with regard to the Trump wiretapping and Hillary email revelations – how out of place would they be in Stalin’s Russia? Or maybe Kruschev’s Russia?
Could we find a case where a fairly successful resident of Russia had some opinions, and a propensity to express them, that didn’t jive with those of the Supreme Soviet. While that in itself wouldn’t get you shot in the back of the head, it might draw the wrong kind of “official” attention. Suppose also this figure had some relatives who fled to the West and on to America at the end of World War II. The possibilities might open an intensive investigations on the potential threat to Soviet security. Maybe somewhere along the line, they find he illegally imported something (literature, denim jeans, who knows) from Germany.
Maybe he’s brought up on charges for tax evasion or customs violations. He might end up in jail or a gulag. If so, from a societal standpoint, the man broke the law and, caught, he paid the price. You believe in the rule of law don’t you? Society and even the officials that control it have a plausible deniability that what, objectively, is tyranny is, for them, merely the rule of law, a fundamental pillar of freedom. Maybe the charges are minor, but the public association of that individual with improprieties means he loses a job, or misses out on promotions, or has difficulty forming and maintaining the relations that made him “successful” to begin with.
One can imagine this happening in the Soviet Union. I am almost certain I could find clear documentation of something very similar happening in Putin’s Russia. This is stock copy describing how a tyrannical government goes about controlling its people while avoiding the outright “gun them down in the streets” stuff that sparks revolution. I could probably, also, post a dozen variations on the story involving conservative figures in the United States, all taking place within the last couple of years.
Is there even a discussion left to be had? We have become what we have feared. We have met the enemy, he is us but, hell, he isn’t so bad after all.
The real question might be less about how far down a previously-unthinkable path we have come, but which direction are we headed? What horrors lie in the darkness under those trees, upon which we are quickly coming. Are we about to become Stalin’s Russia? That is most unlikely, as we have the example of Stalin’s Russia from which to learn. Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. What rhymes with “enemy of the State?”
The other day I read an article which analyzes the prospect of mass, armed violence on America’s near horizon.
I began thinking about it in the context of my recent post where I talked about the sense that people on the left witness an entirely different reality than that of people on the right. I have several times thought to share the above article with her, asking how she would interpret its analysis. To me I think the conclusions sound spot on. She has also expressed concerns that the downward spiral of America’s discourse is irreversible. But does she seem the same causes as I do? Doubtful. Would she agree with the “solutions” presented in this article? Even more doubtful.
I have yet to share this article anywhere but with you, my readers. The problem is, it is a fairly substantial article, much of which talks about the failed policies of America’s progressives.
There is a quote that I am unable to find. I thought it was from this article, but search as I might, I can’t locate it. It may have been in a referencing link to this article, or taken from another context about the same situation. The point, essentially, is that once we descend into violence, the question of who is at fault, who started it, will be of little concern to the participants. Historians may write about the roots of America’s Second Civil War and try to attach some blame, although even then it is more likely they will just bolster the righteousness of the ultimate victors.
It seems apparent that we are already, today, beyond the point where there is an identifiable perpetrator and victim. The reactionary forces within our body politic are prepared to retaliate against the latest attack, regardless of what lead up to it. In this sense, the long discussion of how and why the acts of progressives have become intolerable is mostly irrelevant. Can a liberal reader see through what is essentially an assault on their identity into the analysis that, I would say, makes for the meat of this article?
And what is that?
The author proposes that the 2018 and 2020 elections will be the next catalyst that will propel this country forward into its “new equilibrium.” By that, he means a new stable state that comes after the highly volatile situation we find ourselves in today. That state may take any number of forms but I think it’s impossible that we stay in the current political environment for much longer. Just as the author states that he does not predict the outcome of the elections, only what the results of the various outcomes will be, I also think dwelling on the righteousness of the winners and losers is a distraction from the analysis that he presents.
From hours after the results of the presidential election of 2016 became apparent, the left has focused their efforts on the election of 2018. In that, you may feel they are on the side of the angels, or you may disagree their near-maniacal anti-Trump focus. In any case, I think we can all agree that a plan and the intent to bring it to fruition indeed exists. Should the left “win” the election in a week or so, every tactic they have employed to get to that end will be, to them, justified. We also know that 2018 is merely preparatory for 2020. The goal of a 2018 victory will be to impeach, or at a minimum obstruct, Donald Trump.
I put “win” in quotes as this is subjective. What is a win for the Democrats? Gaining a majority in the House and Senate? Just the House? Is merely picking up a certain number of “red” seats sufficient? How about for the Republicans. Is merely holding on to the Senate sufficient to be a victory? All this is important because what happens next is less dependent on the political makeup of the resulting government and more upon the various sides’ perception of what happened.
I’ll also take a moment for a bit of an aside. The author uses the terms “the left” and “the ruling class” to be mostly interchangeable. To a progressive activist like my friend, however, these are opposites. I think it is important to consider that a progressive could (and, now that I think about it, probably has) written a very similar article talking about the sinister power grabs of the ruling class and how the reactionary right hands the means to do that. To the right, Donald Trump is the corporate outsider, hacking away at the alligators as he attempts to drain the swamp. To the left, he is the perfect example of a corporate overlord, a member of the elitist class that endlessly brushes aside any attempts to constrain, through democracy, attempts to curb their destructive behaviors.
He makes (roughly speaking) a four-branch tree of outcomes, based on Republican versus Democrat victories over the next two elections. Essentially, he predicts all but one will end in warfare. The Democratic takeover of the Presidency he gives as a kind of a default outcome, in that it follows in more-or-less a straight line the path that we are on. He foresees that party and the ruling class, having dispensed with the niceties of civil discourse, now in possession of the full power of State apparatus. They face off against a group, now completely cut off from power, that has learned a hard set of lessons from the “resistance” that put them there.
The article speaks about the fact that self-restraint, the inner control which prevents us from entering into violence against our fellow citizens, has already left the building. From my personal experience, his description of those on the right is accurate. He writes, “The conservatives, among whom the zealot’s taste for taking the speck out of the neighbor’s eye is not widespread, revere self-restraint in principle, but are learning to transgress against it in practice.” In this he contrasts them with liberals, for whom he says restraint is “anathema in principle as well as in practice.”
I think he simplifies a more nuanced situation. I note he uses the word “restraint,” and that is important. Conservatives are apt to talk a good game. Violence in defense of home and family, or even honor, is often talked about and even considered justified. It is but rarely invoked. Liberals often mistake the sentiment that “so and so deserves a good ass-kicking” to imply a propensity to do just that. Yet, it is exceedingly rare because whatever the conservative might think could be done, their sense of higher purpose restrains them.
Progressives on the other hand, I think, define violence a little differently. Screaming in someone’s face or denying a Trump supporter’s humanity is, whatever it may be, not violent. Nobody is shot and nobody is stabbed, so no “restraint” is required. Indeed, screaming a political figure and his family out of a restaurant may feel less inappropriate then the idle comment post-incident that “They better not try that on me, I’m armed.”
Point being, just as the author sees the progressive left as having pushed conservatives over the edge into violence, no doubt progressives themselves see the reverse as true, and the truth of it just as obvious. I make that point, perhaps, to help liberal reader get through the accusatory parts of the linked text. I also think it is why the current downward spiral is unrecoverable – in our minds, we are already reacting to actual violence perpetrated upon us by the other.
Back to those four outcomes. The author proposes that the only chance of peace in our time is a double Republican victory.
A loss in November will cause the left to question their emphasis on “resistance” and the tactics they used against Kavanaugh. Indeed they may temper their approach. In contrast, success in November tells them they are on the right track and need to ramp up their efforts further. His one downside for a Republican victory is that he figures it will lock-in Trump as the standard bearer for 2020 which, in his words, “would add its own level of uncertainty to the outcome.”
Two losses in a row would send a clear message to the left that this country is on the wrong track and put the ball of reconciliation into their court. Having failed to run Trump out on a rail and faced with eight straight years of Republican rule (plus decades of a conservative majority on the Supreme court), they would have every reason to seek a fair compromise. Such a compromise, he suggests, might be found in allowing States to go their own way.
So how would the other side view these conclusions?
Of course, if you are on the right, your only solution is a solid string of victories and every other way leads to disaster. Similarly, I’m sure the left sees the only way to peace via winning in November, impeaching Trump, and then putting Hillary into the White House in 2020. What, though, comes of their consideration of the author’s prediction about the results of that outcome? Do they intend to “crush” the “alt-right,” but see them as such a fringe minority that they don’t matter? Or do they figure conservatives, unlike themselves, will accept reversals at the polls with quiet dignity (and when did they start viewing conservatives so generously)?
These things I would like to know.
Maddy: ‘The world is falling apart and all we hear about is blowjob-gate.’
Danny: ‘When was the last time the world wasn’t falling apart, huh?’
For many years, I was not inclined to watch this one because I figured it was going to be too preachy. It’s not that I am opposed to making the diamond cartel the villain of this story; that whole industry seems pretty smarmy to me. I fully agree with the point, made in the movie, that it is the market manipulation of the major diamond distributors that drives the price of diamonds so high for consumers. Consumers that buy the diamonds largely because they are so expensive and, therefore, must be valuable. I don’t really want to hear it all when I’m trying to enjoy a mindless thriller, though.
One online review suggested that it is best to go into this film without preconceived expectations. So that is just what I did. I played the movie not expecting event to enjoy it all that much. As such, I was pleased with what I took in as a straight-forward, based-on-true-events action movie.
The political message, of course, has to be front and center. The controversy in the film largely post dates the issues and their resolution. Nevertheless, the film’s release brought broad public attention to an issue that most consumers of diamond jewelry probably didn’t think to much about. It didn’t get too, too heavy handed until the very end, and I suppose I could forgive that.
The lion’s share of the praise (at the time) went to DiCaprio’s performance. Both he and his costar were nominated for Oscars. He was decent in what, after all, was kind of a stock role. The hard-hearted mercenary comes to find his own humanity, and so forth. One scene that I, in particular, appreciated was near the end. Most of the fight scenes I just sat back and watched the action. Toward the end, I decided to count the rounds out of Leo’s rifle. Not only did he do a magazine change at the appropriate time, but I thought it was pretty well executed with good trigger discipline. By my reckoning, he either knows what he is doing or had some pretty good instruction.
All-in-all another one to that was worth enjoying before it was gone.
I was reading Facebook. I know, big mistake, especially on the Thursday night after Dr. Ford’s testimony during Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. A colleague of mine said that he was flipping back and forth between Hannity and Maddow, because he likes to hear both sides of an issue. His conclusion is that while Hannity and Maddow were both discussing a confirmation hearing they watched, he thinks they were watching entirely different proceedings.
I had also just read through, also on Facebook, the all-day postings from someone I went to High School. At the end, it was kind of like watching an real-time mental breakdown. Another one of her Facebook friends (probably former Facebook friend at this point), who happened to be pretty conservative, rather ineptly pointed out some of the faults in her reasoning. Her response filled many pages, without pause for breath or paragraph breaks.
Up until that point, she seems to have spent the day alternating between being glued to the spectacle on TV and writing-then-sending angry missives to her (Republican) federal representatives.
Like the Hannity/Maddow watcher, I’m trying to see this through her eyes. She seems somewhat better informed than the average citizen, so I feel like empathy should be possible. Just as a “for instance”, she had to correct a fellow traveler who chimed in on her feed. Said contributor wrote that the worst part about all this is how clear it is that the “Old Boys” of the Republican party blocked Obama’s Supreme Court appointment for this long, just so they could get Kavanaugh appointed. My friend had to clarify that Gorsuch filled the appointment to which she refers. That what we are actually watching now is an appointment to fill Kennedy’s seat.
Now here is where she and I find ourselves in two different worlds.
In my world, Kennedy announced his retirement, deliberately indicating that he felt an appointment before the midterm elections would help maintain the court’s balance. Trump worked from a short-list of conservative-friendly judges, but picked one that he thought would be somewhat Kennedy-like.
In her world, the appointment coincided with the revelation that Kennedy’s son’s tenure as a senior executive with Deutsche Bank was concurrent with both Russian-centric corruption and billions in loans to Trump’s business dealings. While she admits that Snopes is so far unable to confirm this particular conspiracy, it all seems like just too much coincidence to not be related. Thus it seems pretty likely, to her, that Kennedy was forced out, using his son’s problems as leverage, so as to replace a moderating voice on the court with someone who would be in Trump’s pocket.
Some of you may live in her world and some of you live in mine. As I try to look into both of these realms, it seems impossible that you can imagine one from where you sit in the other.
What she is seeing, as she watches the hearings, is that Republicans have already made the decision to confirm and there is no information that will make them change their mind. Because of this, the guilt or innocence of Kavanaugh isn’t actually that relevant to her criticism of the proceedings. The fact that his involvement can be questioned is proof that the there is nothing that one could accuse him of that would give Republican’s pause. A variation, if you will, of Trump’s campaign pronouncement that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody,” and his supporters would still back him. Clearly, in her mind, all motivation of the Republicans is purely political.
Of course, back in my world, it couldn’t be more clear that the motivation of the Democrats is entirely political and unrelated to Kavanaugh’s fitness or character. Sitting on evidence for as long as possible and trying to force this confirmation and its attendant chaos to take place in the weeks right before an election seems far more important that finding the truth or, indeed, finding any justice for his accusers. For the denizens of my world, although again no proof will be forthcoming, there seems no other explanation than that the victims in this have been set up by some powerful people, wither willingly or unwittingly, to provide a political victory, no matter whom those in power have to hurt to get there. Will this destroy the accusers along with the accused? Sure, but sometimes you have a break a few eggs.
Part of which world you live in is determined by whom you think are the more venal politicians, the left or the right. The small minority who are convinced that everyone is crooked and corrupt aside, I think most people have a good idea who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this play.
So as she watches the hearings, with mounting horror, the motives of Republicans become ever more clear just from watching them. Everything they do has clear political motivation. We know they put politics over principles when they blocked Obama’s nomination of Garland. This is just an extension of politics as usual for them.
What is special, this time, and what is making my friend write letter after letter to her Congressmen, is that all this dirt, appearing at just this time, means there is a real chance that Kavanaugh’s nomination could fail. All it takes is to have two Republican Senators demure; to feel enough uncertainty to say “let’s slow this down a little until I understand what is going on a little better.” In fact, to her, it would seem like more than a chance. More of a certainty, given the sordidness of these accusations.
But, one may ask, if we’re not sure if those sordid accusations are even accurate, how strongly do we weigh them? The key, in her universe, is that Kavanaugh is obviously one of “them.” The other. Raised in wealth, he went to an exclusive private school where he found himself at the top of the heap. He played football, partied with the cool kids, and got away with stuff that may have got most of us in trouble at his age. At least, those of us who aren’t so special as he was. Whether he did this or that, particularly, is not the issue. We know he did something and we have every hope that something will bring him down.
Seeing that hope slip away has got to be painful.
Because for my friend and many who share her world, there is no doubt that appointing Kavanaugh is an existential threat to the nation and to civilization. The key seems to be that comment he made about shielding a sitting president from prosecution. From that, it is clear to them that Trump selected Kavanaugh to protect him legally and, like Caesar, Trump would rather put an end to the Republic than expose himself to impeachment and prosecution. Kavanaugh is the key to this grand plan.
Now back in my world, Trump’s selection of Kavanaugh was an obvious attempt at selecting the compromise candidate out of, I’ll admit, a pretty decent field (for conservatives). The willingness to call in a nuclear strike on Kavanaugh indicates that they will never compromise even on the most minor of issues. Furthermore, while the anti-Trump crowd may have specific things that bother them about Kavanaugh, the left stated clearly that they were going to fight whomever Trump nominated, even before they knew who it was. Can we really believe them when they say that this is particular to Kavanaugh when they’ve already said it doesn’t matter who it is?
Clearly there are fundamental world views that cannot be reconciled here. A bigger question is will this eventually pass, allowing us to participate together in the civic process? Or is this one more step down a road from which there is no turning back?
One area we might agree on is what happens if the Democrats succeed and so scupper Kavanaugh’s nomination.
First, those who tend to support some combination of either Trump, Kavanaugh, or Republicans in general will turn, viciously, on each other. While the Democrats engineered and executed this circus, the right will blame each other for the outcome. More accurately, factions within the right will blame other factions within the right. The resultant infighting will certainly hurt the November elections, including races that have nothing to do with Trump, the Supreme Court, or the political questions involved.
Second, we’ll probably get an even better nominee proposed to the Supreme Court, and Republicans may make an effort to get that done before the November election. Yet another Facebook acquaintance is even of the opinion that Trump is behind it all, deliberately setting up the Democrats to embarrass themselves with Kavanaugh so that he can get that better choice appointed without resistance (Amy Barrett comes to mind). Also, in this analysis, Trump tricked the Democrats into opening sealed records from the Bush administration; records which cover controversial topics such as Vincent Foster’s death and the September 11th terrorist attacks. Kavanaugh was just a tool to get incriminating documents before the public. I wonder what Snopes has to say about that?
But now, with Kavanaugh withdrawn or disqualified, the rush will really be on to confirm quickly. In Kavanaugh’s case, extreme measures were required to delay his confirmation through the election. But if a new nominee starts now, is it really possible to wrap it up in just over a month? Particularly if the Democrats “win” this round, it would give them momentum going into the next one. And since, going back to my “first” (two paragraphs up), chaos and anger and bitterness are seen to help them in the upcoming elections, this might all feed into a scenario where they can hamstring the Supreme Court with a 4-4 ties throughout the remainder of the Trump administration, and then, after they take him out, they get their “permanent majority” plans back on track with solidly progressive Supreme Court appointments easily confirmed by their new, but eternal, majority.
I wonder what my high school friend would have to say about my world?
Last night I watched The Wall on DVD. No, not that The Wall*, this The Wall.
When I write about something I’ve just watched, I’ll usually try to spare you, the reader, by not giving away the plot twists and endings. You may read what I write and decide to watch the movie and it wouldn’t be right to ruin the experience for you. In this case, however, I feel that in order to discuss this film, I’ve got to give away all of the plot points. So if you want to watch the film, I’d say stop and go do it, and them come back and analyze it along with me. It is a short film, only 1:21 minutes, so I don’t mind waiting.
Alternatively, if you figure that you’ll never really want to watch the film at all, you might go to this site and read a plot-blowing synopsis of the film. Then when I refer to the content, you at least know about what I am talking. The film has a lot of violence and a lot of profanity so clearly it is not fare for everyone.
If you are going to watch the movie first, I would also recommend you not read reviews or plot summaries. If you’re going to watch the movie, just watch the movie. That’s what I did. I knew it was something about Iraq and some American soldiers getting pinned down behind a wall. I also saw it got almost four stars in the old Netflix rating system, and so I decided to give it a try.
What I didn’t know until I started watching was that the movie was produced, in part, by Amazon. Seeing that, I wondered if it hadn’t been already available for free on Amazon Prime, which it was. As I looked at the Amazon listing I noticed that the reviews on the site were very, very low with a huge number of one star reviews. So I began reading them. That turned what was a decent, but not particularly remarkable movie into a subject for extensive analysis. Why does this movie make so many people so angry?
So watch the movie. Get angry, get bored, get entertained… whatever it does for you. Then come back here to discuss your reaction.
Here Be Nothing But Spoilers
The move could be classified in any number of ways. It is an Iraq War film. It is in that “sniper duel” subgenre of war movies. Or maybe it is none of these. For almost the entire movie, there are exactly two characters on screen, and one of them dies about halfway in. Not much of a war movie.
Perhaps it is instead a psychological thriller, and the setting in the Iraq war is incidental?
It may have more in common with some kinds of horror flick, where the enemy sniper takes the role of monster.
In many ways, the whole film needs to be digested before your can start to consider these things. I know that, for me, I watched the movie and had a fairly non-nuanced impression of it. It wasn’t until I started the reading the angry reviews that I began to think of the film on some additional levels.
This is a little bit surprising. The writer is relatively unknown and has no significant pictures to his credit. The budget was low. With the money coming from Amazon, it seems like a perhaps a fairly low-investment attempt to pad the availability of movies for Amazon Prime streaming customers. Granted the director is well known for his Borne movies, but that doesn’t exactly create expectations for a movie containing hidden meaning.
So while we need to start our analysis at the end to get the “big picture,” let us still start with the story as it begins. Opening shot has an American sniper team observing the site of an ambush. We learn they are trying to determine whether any of the enemies are still present in the area and have, so far, waited some 22 hours without seeing any hint of activity. The sniper thinks what he is looking at is an attack that is long since over, a feels they are being overly cautious by waiting and watching. The spotter, on the other hand, feels something is off. He throws out the name “Juba,” which the sniper quickly dismisses.
This casual reference will come back later and will be significant both in the plot and in why the film has elicited the reaction that it has. The Iraqi sniper named Juba is real – or at least was claimed to be real. Iraqi propaganda claimed that such a super sniper was loose in Iraq, and claimed he was responsible for a large number of American forces killed. Several videos were released apparently showing the sniper at work.
American intelligence figures it is more likely that the Iraqis were combining unrelated attacks into a single “Juba” story and that there was no such person, and the videos were pure propaganda. Likely the absolute truth can never be known. But for servicemen worried about sniper attacks, the possibility of a master sniper out there and gunning for them would certainly have been unnerving.
The mere inclusion of the reference to Juba at the beginning of the film combined with a jab at George Bush is probably a large part of what accounted for the extreme reactions against the film as anti-American. The idea being that the Iraqis, in their own low-budget, low-tech way tried to create this sniper myth (perhaps not so successfully), but here is “Hollywood” doing their work for them with Amazon’s deep pockets to make it look good.
I can understand the sentiment, but given the years that have passed been the existence and non-existence of Juba, it is hard to attach malice to making him part of the story line. The cut at Bush was a little gratuitous, but it may also have just been an attempt to establish the mindset of the soldiers. They are fighting in a war that is essentially over. That means that the risks, whatever they once were, have really dropped off. If a scene looks like it is non-threatening, it probably is, especially after 22 hours of staring.
Having decided that if something hasn’t moved in 22 hours, there is probably nothing out there to move, the sniper moves down to the scene of the attack, with his spotter remaining hidden. Once he gets close, he realizes that the spotters fears were right; the attack was very different then what he thought it was. He then comes under sniper fire himself and is disabled. The spotter rushes down to rescue him and gets pinned down, himself, behind “the wall.”
This scene provoked further ire in the reviews. First, the gap between actual operational procedure of American troops (who try to use their depth of support to the best advantage) and two lone soldiers walking into the ambush. The second is the skill of Juba who, as we are soon to find out, struck our main characters water bottle and radio antenna precisely from a range of a about a mile. It is seen as evidence of movie that emphasizes American lack of competence against a impossibly skilled Iraqi enemy and, therefore, is a fundamentally anti-American message.
To the first, I again point out why the setup is important. The mission is believed to be low risk. Is there any situation imaginable where a sniper team would be called to walk in, alone and without backup, into a scene of a firefight? I don’t know, but the setup seems to say if it could happen, well, here is that situation. By the end of the film we are to learn that Juba has complete control over the friendly communication network and could have set up pretty much any back story necessary. By not making that back story explicit the authors are allowing us room to suspend our disbelief, should be we inclined to do so.
But, as I ask at the beginning, is this a war movie or just a psychological thriller set with the Iraq War as its background? Should Juba even be thought of as a man, an adversary like our main characters? Or is he the boogeyman? His he like the slasher movie villain who manages, time after time, to do the impossible and keeping coming back no matter what the heroes manage to throw at him? In the film, there was some discussion of the rifle Juba might be using and more angry, on-line discussion developed over the unsuitability of the .308 cartridge to mile-long shots. Yes, shooting a radio antennae at one mile is impossible for perhaps even the world’s best snipers from any nation. But for the bogeyman, it may just be a possibility.
The nature of Juba then begins to come clear to both the main character and to the audience. First Juba pretends to be part of a friendly unit coming to the rescue, but suspicion catches him in that lie. Juba then reverts to himself and discusses a few details about his life while eliciting information from the main character. Again, the suspicious mind starts to see holes between the backstory of Juba and his superhuman skill set.
But consider this; Juba is constantly lying in an attempt to trick information out of his victim. We don’t see the full scope of it until the end, but once we do, why should be believe that anything Juba has said at any time is true. Maybe he is actual a Soviet sniper posing as a Iraqi? Maybe he’s Iranian? The fact is, nothing we may have assumed was true may in fact be true and when the movie is finally over we are left to wonder what, if anything, we really knew while we were watching.
In this latter part of the film the final piece of “anti-American” plot comes to the fore. Throughout the film, we see there is something going on with his spotting scope and its former owner. Under pressure from Juba, he admits that he killed his former partner in a friendly fire incident and then covered it up. Once again, one might read into this the insinuation that Americans are the type to not only shoot one of their own (although this, at least, sounds like a genuine accident) but lie and cheat to get away with it. It is also an indictment against an American military that can’t, in an investigation, tell the difference between friendly fire and an enemy kill.
The importance of this particular plot point is less obvious to me than the others, but still on its own I just don’t see it as an attempt to sully America. I suspect it was just a way to add depth and drama to the story and wasn’t meant to have a secret meaning. But if you’re already seeing bad intent in this movie, I’m sure this is another brick in that wall.
Interesting to me, the ending of the movie was not the original. In the first ending, our main character is successfully rescued and is choppered away. After screening this for a test audience the director decided to re-shoot and end with Juba bringing down the rescue helicopters. This is interesting to me, because it is hard for me to see the film working any other way.
Of course, this might be one last nail in that anti-American coffin. We’re used to movies where the “good guy” prevails, so if Juba has won doesn’t that make him the “good guy?”
Well, no. In those slasher movies, however close the heroes think they have come to defeating the monster and saving themselves, just before the final credits we see that the monster is still out there. So is Juba.
With that final scene, it all comes together. This was part of a chain of events that Juba, with his tap into the American communications, has been orchestrating from the get-go. Some pipeline workers call in support from a contractor team. The contractor team asks for sniper support. Helicopters fly in to back up the snipers, and then… One can criticize that, having seen a dozen people already killed, the military would stop sending in folks to be killed piecemeal. But what we are missing – what we’ve just realized we’ve been missing all along – is that Juba is controlling the story of what happened. He can describe the situation to downplay the danger and set up the next ambush. We don’t know how, but if we’re willing to suspend our disbelief for a short hour and 21 minutes, one might imagine there is a way to make it all work.
I’d never claim that I’m looking at the next Godfather here, but there does seem quite a bit more to it than initially met the eye.
*Although I haven’t watched Pink Floyd: The Wall in quite some time, I also (last night) just happened to view a bit of a Swedish documentary where Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters is a guest. The title of the You Tube video is revealing in that in comes from an underlying assumption about the “Trump voter.” Watch, if you care to, how the assembled discuss “Trump voters” as a sort of mythical beast. Surely nobody here is friends with one of the creatures, but have you perhaps seen one in the wild? Knowing that they exist, can you see them as fellow human beings? Can you empathize with them?
Roger Waters does get a few points for using Comfortably Numb lyrics within his talking points, but that aside, am I wrong to find this disturbing? When people can sit in full public view and dehumanize a significant fraction of the population, how can this ever end except in rivers of blood?
This movie got put into my queue by my kids. They wanted to watch Dinosaur movies and were looking at anything that Netflix dredged up as related to their interests. I don’t think they watched much of this one, as there is a complete lack of animated Dinosaurs. However, when I was checking out their viewing history I managed to watch the first half-a-minute or so and I thought that this film sounded kind of interesting. I put in my streaming queue, but never managed to get around to it.
The opening titles explain that, in 1990, there were only 12 Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons that had been unearthed around the world. None had more than 40% of the skeleton recoverable. The name of the film comes from the finding of the 13th.
The movie starts out with the locating and extracting of that 13th specimen. It was not only larger than any other known T-Rex fossil, but also roughly 90% complete. The story is told with a combination of present-day interviews with the participants and video camera footage taken by them during the dig.
It quickly becomes evident that this movie is less about dinosaurs than it is a story about the Federal Bureaucracy. Yes, terms like “dinosaur” and “fossil” may well still apply, but unfortunately they don’t refer to a species long extinct.
The real story of the film is the horror of having agents of the Federal government set their sights upon you and then proceed to utterly destroy you while backed by the full faith and credit of the People of the United States.
The narrative of what happened is convoluted and, mostly likely, unknowable down to every detail. I’ll try a short version. If you would rather watch the movie and have it delivered to you in a nice presentation, I’d say stop here. The film is well done, and worth watching – and it may be made better if you don’t know what is coming.
The basics are this – an organization (Black Hills Institute) of privately-organized (i.e. non-goverment, non-university) fossil hunters discover a ground-breaking example of a T-Rex fossil. After an agreement with the landowner, they remove the fossil and begin preparing it (most likely) to be displayed in their own museum, which they will build to house this and their other artifacts. Someone (unknown in the movie) notifies the Feds. It turns out that the fossil was located on an Indian Reservation, which would have made it the property of the Indian Tribe. The film suggests that perhaps the tribe brought the original complaint. However, the particular parcel of land is actual held in trust by the U.S. Government for an individual (Indian) landowner, the landowner who agreed to sell the fossil in the first place. The film suggests also that perhaps the landowner brought the original complaint, as a way to get out of his original agreement to sell. The identity of the complainant is not known. In any case, because the parcel is held in trust, the selling of land (and a Federal judge, eventually, concludes that because fossils are really just “rock” they are, indeed, land) requires a permit (cost $100) be obtained the Bureau of Indian Affairs – to protect the Indian from himself one presumes. Furthermore, as U.S. Federal Land, the Antiquities Act of 1906 prevents unlicensed removal of any artifact without prior permission of the U.S. Government. Throw into all this, once the Federal action begins, the landowner claims he did not consent to the original sale of the fossil and says therefore that the Black Hills Institute folks should never have taken the fossil away in the first place. The fossil, the records of its discovery and collection, and many of the other records of the Black Hills Institute are seized and impounded by the Government who claims, because of all the improprieties, that it now owns the fossil.
Ultimately, the fossil is returned to the landowner. The original sale was for $5000, which was a record sum at the time. He sells again at auction, this time to the Chicago Museum of Natural History (backed by major corporate sponsors) for $7.6 million.
In the meantime, the tale takes another turn. The Federal Government brings charges against five individuals and the business entity itself for various violations under the Antiquities Act, charges totally some 150 counts. Many of these are felonies. If convicted, some individuals face incarceration for several hundred years. The Tyrannosaur fossil that started all of this, however, is absent from the indictment, likely because of the determination of the courts that it was privately owned. The crimes charged are not particularly serious from a layman’s standpoint. They mostly involve collecting fossils from the land borders where the diggers thought they were on one side of a border and the government asserts they are on the other. But, as it goes with Federal crimes, the government has built upon the charges. A fossil dug without a permit first crosses state lines (to give the Feds jurisdiction) and then is sold overseas. Charges can include then the transfer of money internationally (wire fraud and money laundering) and of course that old standby, conspiracy (because there is a team of fossil collectors involved).
At the end of the trial, all but a dozen of the charges are dismissed and there is only a single individual to whom a felony has stuck. In one of the examples, failing to declare the carrying of travelers checks upon returning from Japan results a felony customs violation. The defendant maintains that the form in which he had the travelers checks issued exempts them from declaration. While this detail made the transport of the travelers checks legal, the distinction between different check endorsement options was simply too complicated to convincingly explain to a jury. Note that it is not alleged that any impropriety occurred with the money. Once back in the United States, the money was deposited in the banking system, properly accounted for, and all taxes and fees were paid. For the convictions, the judge ordered double the maximum sentence – a total of two years in Federal prison for the improper completion of customs forms. The title quote is the governments entry on the prisoner’s intake forms.
The movie speculates that the judge was driven to punish these defendants (they tried several times to get him to recuse himself for bias) because he was swayed by a divide between the academic/governmental paleontologists and the amateur/for-profit fossil hunters. While for most of our history it was private interests that discovered the fossil record, since the late 1970s those in academia see those without as essentially pirates, stealing the heritage of humanity for their own nefarious purposes. One theory is that these individuals were punished so heavily as a warning to others to stay out of the federally-funded university system’s playground.
We are also treated to some interviews with the Bureau of Land Management’s agent who investigated and compiled the charges. He explains his righteous cause in protecting public assets from theft. It makes sense. It is only when one sees this taken to its logical, albeit absurd, conclusion that one starts to question whether this kind of power is really necessary. Particularly so in light of the modus operandi of Federal prosecutors to use maximum force (150 charges) to hammer anyone who strays outside the law.
Most of us understand that without recourse from the law, there are bad actors in our society that will take advantage of the rest of us. Indeed, they often will either way, but we enact laws to try to prevent, mitigate, and punish. When we see an obvious wrong (e.g. a commercial entity profiting by taking valuable minerals from public land), we fully support efforts to protect the public interest. Law enforcement likes broad and, perhaps, vague laws so that they have the “tools” to deal with such wrongdoing. If they recognize that something bad is happening, they want the law to be broad enough to cover them. This allows them some discretion to enforce or not enforce, depending on their take on the individual situation. Most will say that they use their discretion, and won’t pursue purely technical violations. And yet, I’ve read time and again about prosecutors coming up with creative interpretations of laws allowing them to punish individuals for doing things that on the face of it are not illegal. Particularly at the Federal level, there seems to be a goal of charging everyone who is targeted and convicting everyone is charged. With each of us committing 3 felonies per day, in practice that means the Federal government can pretty much jail anybody, for any reason, at any time.
This is not a good thing.
Thus many of us would rather see too few laws than too many. More left to individual action and reaction than clear guidance in the laws of this land, even if that leaves loopholes for the worst of society to exploit. For this, we are called extremists and worse. But I don’t think it is an extreme view to see the occasional horrible and unjust abuse of the law as an inevitable result of our current legal structure.
This very week, President Trump has set off what will probably be another protracted legal battle by undesignated significant fractions of two National Monuments within the state of Utah. Trump cited “abuses of the Antiquities Act,” giving excessive power over land use to “far-away bureaucrats.”
I neither knew this was in the news when I began watching Dinosaur 13, nor did I know the role that the Antiquities Act played within the film. Viewing Dinosaur 13 just became a lot more topical.
I recently read a pair of articles. They’re really quite different in almost every way, but I think they both touch on the same problem.
The first is coauthored by former White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State James A. Baker III and form Ambassador-to-the-U.N. Andrew Young and is titled “Identity Politics Are Tearing American Apart.” It was an op-ed in the Wall St. Journal on August 31st, and it probably behind the paywall for you.
The article opens up lamenting the state of politics in our nation. Coming from two such eminent figures, I wanted to know their prescription for how to heal this schism. When I got towards the end of their article, though, it seems they engage in much the same political tactic that they are criticizing in the first place.
The problem is familiar. Politically, we are splintering in to factions with intractable issues dividing us. Given that we got here from what we all remember as a less trying time, it would seem like there must be a way back. We could, of course, simply endeavor to eliminate our opponents from the political arena. While this seems to be the preference from all sides, it hardly seems likely without much genocide and reeducation camping. The alternative would be to find what brings us together, rather than what drives us apart.
When Baker and Young finally arrive at their political solution, about midway through the article, it does not appear that they have any intention of seeking out a path to reconciliation. Instead, they’ve come up with a political program of their own; one which they deem to be just the compromise we need. I don’t know if, at this point, the particulars are that important, but their plan is to increase spending on infrastructure and civic projects, as well as to raise taxes generally to facilitate a reduction in corporate tax rates. Certainly there is support for just such proposals. Perhaps even broad support. But there also there are many who (for various reasons) would oppose these initiatives. Many of those opponents would be just as earnest as the authors in their desire to serve the common interest of all Americans.
In the end, I interpret the message of Mssrs. Baker and Young, juxtaposing as they have the violence and incivility in today’s politics with their own sensible plan, that in order not to be an “extremist”, you need to back their favored position. Essentially this echoes the language of the partisan actors causing those very problems that they are claiming to solve.
Are you with me, or are you with the Nazis?
Speaking of partisan actors, the second piece that got me going was some clickbait referring back to to a Huffington Post article. I’ll not link to any of it, as the clickbait site was just regurgitating another’s material and HuffPo, while original, is engaging in this behavior that is so harmful for America. The original article had the incendiary headline, Senate Candidate Was On Radio Show With Pastor Who Said Gays Should Repent Or Die, and you are free to google it if you want to see the original.
Suffice to say that the headline was more inflammatory than the article itself. The subject is the primary race in Alabama, which was forced into a two-man runoff. The more conservative of the two remaining candidates (Roy Moore) is a newcomer and underdog in the legislative race, having been a State Supreme Court justice. As part of his campaign (one presumes), he was on a Colorado talk show with a conservative pastor who has argued for a fire and brimstone interpretation of the bible, particularly with regards to homosexuals. Ted Cruz also appeared on this radio show during the presidential campaign, and was forced to scrape, bow, and apologize for the offense. In the case of the Alabama race, said senate candidate was clear he did not advocate for the execution of gays.
I came across this whole kerfuffle when a friend posted a link to the headline, and others quickly piled on with their virtue signalling about how awful this all was, and what a “scary” guy the Senate candidate is.
The problem with today’s politics is not the mere existence of personalities like the conservative, talk-show pastor. I, frankly, think he is wrong theologically, as well as being wrong to use his platform to suggest that his fellow human beings should “die.” But such people have always existed and always will, and yet civilization survives and thrives.
The problem with today’s politics is not the existence (or even the popularity) of candidates like Roy Moore. It is difficult to speak to Candidate Moore’s actual qualifications relative to his opponent as I don’t follow Alabama politics and the articles I’ve seen on the subject tend to focus on particularly provocative aspects of the race. Moore was actually removed from the Supreme Court for his defense of a “Ten Commandments” monument in the courthouse, so there is plenty there with which to provoke. The race also pits “the establishment” versus “the real conservatives” as big names in politics have taken one side or the other. For all I know, maybe I would have preferred his opponent (Moore subsequently has won the election), but I did not follow the race well enough to know. In any case, I have no indication that Moore is any different from many other conservative candidates in heavily Republican leaning parts of the country.
“Southern women like their men religious and a little mad,” as Michael Shaara put it.
Rather, it is these headlines themselves are the problem. The problem is media outlets that will turn a story into a “fightin’ words” headline. The problem is that media outlets that will only run the more provocative stories in the first place, depriving the voting public with a comprehensive overview of the election. And the problem is also the reading public who reinforces this trend by being drawn to the spectacle and influenced by the smear tactics.
To be clear, the Huffington Post dislikes Moore, not because of an association with a particular pastor, but because he is a Republican, and a very conservative one at that. They know that they share this dislike with the left-leaning half of the country. The problem is, “their people” are less than half of the electorate of Alabama. So their goal is to tarnish Moore with an extremist tag that will reduce his support from those that would otherwise be inclined to vote for him.
Understandably, accusations of genocidal tendencies, whether they be based on race or religion or sexuality or other anything, tends to raise a big red flag for any citizen. Unfortunately merely the accusation, even if ultimately unfounded, influences our perception and, consequentially, our motivation. This is part of human nature. In another recent example, when organized white supremacist groups take a liking to a candidate, that association is blasted throughout the press. Donald Trump, seemingly is surviving it, but I remember the same tactic being used against Ron Paul right before his Republican presidential primary. It didn’t change anything about the candidate, but it changed the tone of the election. All the positive messaging of a candidate is sucked out of the room by the mere association with certain words and phrases.
This is where we stand today. We have realized the power of the “extremist” tag, and the ease with which it can be applied – often with the slightest of connection. But as we stare into that abyss, it also stares back at us. As we define the political landscape only by its “scary” “extremists,” that is the shape that the landscape takes.
This is not a path we should be walking.
Related to the topic of my last political post, Dilbert artist Scott Adams posted an analysis, of sorts, suggesting that something like half the body politic is experiencing “Mass Hysteria” (and isn’t dat sexist right there?)
Earlier this year I called it “fantasy to the point of derangement,” which accounts for it on a case-by-case basis, but begs the question of why it is so widespread. Mr. Adams suggests a cultural phenomenon as a way to explain its breadth.
I guess it goes without saying that I’m one of the ones he describes as being “outside the bubble.” I also find it interesting that, for the purposes of his argument, the actual truth is irrelevant. In other words, even if Trump is proven to be a Hitler-loving, racist, National Socialist who is under direct control of the Russian government, it still doesn’t change the fact that those who assumed the truth have been suffering from a mass hysteria.
Donald Trump’s victory has given both sides of the aisle cause for reflection. Up until the killing of a protester this past weekend, I was seeing a particular theme coming up with regularity. It applies to both sides. The question is, given the surprise of Trump’s victory, how must the parties adapt to this “new” political landscape?
For the right, most of the articles followed immediately after the election. The theme was that the politics of Trump had some significant departures from the politics of the Republican Party. What those difference were probably depend on your perspective (are we talking conservatives, “establishment” Republicans, activists, or what?). But, just to pick an example, Donald Trump’s appeal to economic isolationists seemed at odds with both Republicans and Democrats and (at least initially) aligned only with Bernie Sanders and maybe the likes of Ted Cruz. So should the Republican party shift away from its traditional free trade position to Trump’s protectionism? Would this gain votes or lose votes?
In some ways, it is the same argument that takes place election cycle after election cycle in the Republican party. Different factions, from libertarians, to Christian Conservatives, to “neo-cons”, etc. etc., fight for their positions in the party agenda. The new wild card is the whether Trump has drawn traditional Democrat voters (or perhaps just non-voters) to the Republican side, and whether Republicans should adapt so to keep them. The discussion was most intense right after the election, and has dwindled as the press cycle focuses more on the Donald day-to-day.
For the left, though, the chorus has been growing. Initially the shock that Trump actually won was too great to allow for introspection. The blame came next, and wasn’t very constructive. But recently I’ve seen a lot written about what lessons the Democrats need to learn, and how they need to adapt. The more thoughtful (and lengthy) articles I’ve read (a recent one here, if you can see past the Wall St. Journal paywall) are by center-left Democrats. However, even the party activists are saying roughly the same thing. Which is…
What the Democrats are learning is that they failed to speak to their main-stream supporters in their efforts to push farther to the left. The advice, the goal, is to refine their message to explain to the traditional working class why they need to support Democrats. The article above talks about an inspirational message – one that unites us around our common citizenship and the quest for a better society.
But what the article doesn’t say – what I’m not sure any of the articles say – is anything about changing their policy. In fact, the recent evidence actually suggests the opposite. When party activists talked about trying to open the party to pro-Life Democrats, the response was fast and furious. So, the party needs to change the tone of their message to convince, for example, the pro-life but otherwise left-leaning voter to come back, but what they will not do is soften their actions to obtain the result that these lost lambs would like to see.
It’s not said directly, but the implication is that, having lost an election (presumably on the basis of the policies they espoused), how do they repackage and sell themselves so that they can win power to, in fact, enact those same policies?
The fact is, I have no idea whether the actual policies, and behavior of the party faithful when in control, is a factor in winning and losing elections. Maybe, indeed, it is all messaging. To me is seems dishonest to get the sale by simply describing your (unwanted) product in different ways until the buyer gets fooled. To me, assuming that you’re doing everything right but people just don’t understand what you’re saying is elitist hubris that is bound to backfire on you.
But I’m probably wrong. I didn’t think Trump could win, either.