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WHAT THE MAJOR HAS TO TELL US

In Entertainment, History, Military, Social commentary on April 11, 2014 at 12:10 am

Major Dundee is a 1965 Sam Peckinpah Western focusing on a Union cavalry officer (Charlton Heston) who leads a motley troop of soldiers into Mexico to rescue three children kidnapped by Apaches.

Along the way they liberate Mexican villagers and clash with French lancers trying to establish the Austrian Archduke Maximillian 1 as emperor of Mexico.

The Wild Bunch is universally recognized as Peckinpah’s greatest achievement.  It has certainly had a far greater impact on audiences and critics than Major Dundee.  According to Heston, this was really the movie Peckinpah wanted to make while making Dundee, but he couldn’t quite get his hands around it.

As a result, Dundee’s virtues have been tragically overlooked.  It has a larger cast of major characters than Bunch, and these are men you can truly like and identify with:

  • The charm of Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harrs), a Confederate lieutenant forced into Union service;
  • The steady courage of Sergeant Gomez;
  • The quiet dignity of Aesop (Brock Peters), a black soldier;
  • The quest for maturity in a young, untried bugler Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson, Jr.);
  • The on-the-job training experience of Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton); and
  • The stoic endurance of Indian scout Sam Potts (James Coburn).

These men are charged with a dangerous and dirty mission, and do it as well as they can, but you wouldn’t fear inviting them to meet your family.

,Major Dundee

Major Dundee (Charlton Heston)

That was definitely not the case with The Wild Bunch, four hardened killers prepared to rip off anyone, anytime, and leave a trail of bodies in their wake.  The only place where you would have felt safe seeing them, in real-life, was behind prison bars.

The Wild Bunch

Dundee is an odyssey movie, in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan.  Both films start with a battle, followed by the disappearance of characters who need to be searched for and brought back to safety.

Just as Dundee assembles a small force to go into Mexico, so, too, does Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) do the same, with his hunting ground being France.

Dundee’s men retrieve the kidnapped children and survive a near-fatal battle with Indians.  Miller’s men twice clash with the Germans before finding their quarry, James Ryan.

Before Dundee can return to the United States, he must face and defeat a corps of French soldiers.  Before Miller can haul Ryan back to safety, he must repulse a German assault.

Both groups of soldiers–Dundee’s and Miller’s–are transformed by their experiences in ways neither group could possibly articulate.  (Miller, being a highly literate schoolteacher, would surely do a better job of this than the tight-jawed Dundee.)

Dundee’s soldiers return to a United States that’s just ended its Civil War with a Union victory–and the death of slavery.  Miller’s soldiers return to a nation that is now a global superpower.

Of course, Ryan was fortunate in having Steven Spielberg as its director.  With his clout, there was no question that Ryan would emerge as the film he wanted.

Peckinpah lacked such clout.  And he fought with everyone, including the producer, Jerry Bressler, who ultimately held the power to destroy his film.  This guaranteed that his movie would emerge far differently than he had envisioned.

In 2005, an extended version of Dundee was released, featuring 12 minutes of restored footage.  (Much of the original footage was lost after severe cuts to the movie.)

In this, we fully see how unsympathetic a character the martinet Dundee really is.  Owing to Heston’s record of playing heroes, it’s easy to overlook Dundee’s arrogance and lethal fanaticism and automatically view him as a hero.  If he is indeed that, he is a hero with serious flaws.

And his self-imposed mission poses questions for us today:

  • Where is the line between professional duty and personal fanaticism?
  • How do we balance the success of a mission against its potential costs–especially if they prove appalling?
  • At what point–if any–does personal conscience override professional obligations?

Whether intentionally or not, in Major Dundee, Peckinpah laid out a microcosm of the American history that would immediately follow the Civil War.

Former Confederates and Unionists would forego their regional animosities and fight against a recognized mutual enemy—the Indians.  This would prove a dirty and drawn-out war, shorn of the glory and (later) treasured memories of the Civil War.

Just as Dundee’s final battle with French lancers ended with an American victory won at great cost, so, too, would America’s forays into the Spanish-American War and World Wars 1 and 11 prove the same.

Ben Tyreen’s commentary on the barbarism of French troops (“Never underestimate the value of a European education”) would be echoed by twentieth-century Americans uncovering the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald.

America would learn to project its formidable military power at great cost.  Toward the end of the movie, Teresa Santiago (Senta Berger), the ex-patriot Austrian widow, would ask Dundee: “But who do you answer to?

It is a question that still vividly expresses the view of the international community as this superpower colossus hurtles from one conflict to the next.

COUNTERING CORPORATE THREATS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 2, 2014 at 12:02 am

The events unfolding in Maryland provide yet another reason why America needs a nationwide Employers Responsibility Act (ERA).

Several weeks before the second season of “House of Cards” debued online, its producers sent Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley a threatening letter.

The Netflix series focuses on an unscrupulous politician–played by Kevin Spacey–who manipulates, threatens and even murders to gain revenge and power

True to the character of that fictitious politician, Frank Underwood, the letter warned: Give us millions more dollars in tax credits, or we will “break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state.”

During the legislature’s hearing on March 28, the following exchange occurred:

DELEGATE C. WILLIAM FRICK: It sounds like you are suggesting that they wouldn’t film Season 3 here after we’ve given them $31 million already.

Is it possible that they would just leave after we gave them $31 million?

DOMINICK E. MURRAY, SECRETARY OF THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: We hope that they won’t.

DELEGATE MARK N. FISHER: We’re almost being held for ransom.

Click here: ‘House of Cards’ threatens to leave if Maryland comes up short on tax credits – The Washington Post

A nationwide Employers Responsibility Act would address such behavior–and a series of other evils for which employers are directly responsible:

  • The loss of jobs within the United States owing to companies’ moving their operations abroad—solely to pay substandard wages to their new employees.
  • The mass firings of employees which usually accompany corporate mergers or acquisitions.
  • The widespread victimization of part-time employees, who are not legally protected against such threats as racial discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.
  • The refusal of many employers to create better than menial, low-wage jobs.
  • The widespread employer practice of extorting “economic incentives” from cities or states in return for moving to or remaining in those areas. Such “incentives” usually absolve employers from complying with laws protecting the environment and/or workers’ rights.
  • The refusal of many employers to provide medical and pension benefits—nearly always in the case of part-time employees, and, increasingly, for full-time, permanent ones as well.
  • Rising crime rates, due to rising unemployment.

If passed by Congress and vigorously enforced by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor, an ERA would ensure full-time, permanent and productive employment for millions of capable, job-seeking Americans.

And it would achieve this without raising taxes or creating controversial government “make work” programs.

Such legislation would legally require employers to demonstrate as much initiative for hiring as job-seekers are expected to show in seeking work.

One of its provisions would strictly forbid the seeking of “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to moving to or remaining in cities/states.

Such “economic incentives” usually:

  1. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
  2. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
  3. allow employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
  4. allow employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

Employers who made such overtures would be prosecuted for attempted bribery or extortion:

  1. Bribery, if they offered to move to a city/state in return for “economic incentives,” or
  2. Extortion, if they threatened to move their companies from a city/state if they did not receive such “economic incentives.”

This would

  • protect employees against artificially-depressed wages and unsafe working conditions;
  • protect the environment in which these employees live; and
  • protect cities/states from being pitted against one another at the expense of their economic prosperity.

For thousands of years, otherwise highly intelligent men and women believed that kings ruled by divine right.

That kings held absolute power, levied extortionate taxes and sent countless millions of men off to war–all because God wanted it that way.

That lunacy was dealt a deadly blow in 1776 when American Revolutionaries threw off the despotic rule of King George III of England.

But today, millions of Americans remain imprisoned by an equally outrageous and dangerous theory: The Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

Summing up this employer-as-God attitude, Calvin Coolidge still speaks for the overwhelming majority of employers and their paid shills in government:

“The man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.”

America can no longer afford such a dangerous fallacy as the Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

The solution lies in remembering that the powerful never voluntarily surrender their privileges.

Americans did not win their freedom from Great Britain–-and its enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of kings”-–by begging for their rights.

And Americans will not win their freedom from their corporate masters–-and the equally enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of employers”-–by begging for the right to work and support themselves and their families.

And they will most certainly never win such freedom by supporting right-wing political candidates whose first and only allegiance is to the corporate interests who bankroll their campaigns.

Corporations can–and do–spend millions of dollars on TV ads, selling lies.

Lies such as the “skills gap,” and how if the wealthy are forced to pay their fair share of taxes, jobs will inevitably disappear.

But Americans can choose to reject those lies–and demand that employers behave like patriots instead of predators.

COUNTERING CORPORATE THREATS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 1, 2014 at 12:15 am

It’s a technique well-known to Mafia extortionists–and corporate CEOs.

“You do —–,” goes the threat, “or I’ll do —–.”

In the case of the Mafia, the threatened action can range from breaking a victim’s legs to murder.

In the case of a corporate CEO, the threatened action usually translates to: “Give us huge tax breaks or we won’t move to your community.”

Or: “Give us more tax breaks or we’ll move out of your community.”

The seeking of “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to or remaining in cities/states usually means:

  1. allowing employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
  2. allowing employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
  3. allowing employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
  4. allowing employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

At least one state has had enough of such behavior–and is prepared to punish it.

Several weeks before the second season of “House of Cards” debued online, its producers sent Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley a threatening letter.

The Netflix series focuses on an unscrupulous politician–played by Kevin Spacey–who manipulates, threatens and even murders to achieve revenge and power.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood

True to the character of that fictitious politician, Frank Underwood, the letter warned: Give us millions more dollars in tax credits, or we will “break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state.”

Click here: ‘House of Cards’ threatens to leave if Maryland comes up short on tax credits – The Washington Post

For readers who want to see the specific way this threat was worded:

“We know that the General Assembly is in session, and understand legislation must be introduced to increase the program’s funding.

“MRC [Media Rights Capital] and House of Cards had a wonderful experience over the past two seasons and we want to stay in Maryland.  We are ready to assist in any way possible to help with the passage of the bill.

“In the meantime, I wanted you to know that we are required to look at other states in which to film on the off chance that the legislation does not pass, or does not cover the amount of tax credits for which we would qualify.

“I am sure you can understand that we would not be responsible financiers and a successful production company if we did not have viable options available.

“We wanted you to be aware that while we had planned to begin filming in early spring, we have decided to push back the start date for filming until June to ensure there has been a positive outcome of the legislation.

“In the event sufficient incentives do not become available, we will have to break down our stage, sets and our offices and set up in another state.”

The letter was signed by Charlie Goldstein, senior vice president, television production, for Media Rights Capital, the show’s California-based production company.

Copies were sent to:

  • Dominick Murray, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development;
  • Hannah Byron, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development;
  • Jack Gerbes, Maryland Film Office; and
  • Debbie Dorsey, Baltimore Film Office.

A similar threatening letter went to the speaker of the House of Delegates–the state legislature–Michael E. Busch.

In recent years, Maryland has spent more than $40 million to reward movie and television production companies that choose to film in the state.  Most of those monies have gone to “House of Cards.”

“This just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Delegate Eric G. Luedtke.  Until recently, Luedtke had strongly  supported film tax credits.

“And my question,” asked Luedtke, “is: When does it stop?”

“House of Cards” has created nearly 6,000 jobs and pumped more than $250 million into the state economy.

Angered by the threatening tone in the letters, the Maryland House of Delegates issued a threat of its own:

Go ahead and leave.  But if you do, we might use eminent domain to buy, condemn or seize your sets, equipment and other property.

Click here: Maryland pulls an Underwood on ‘House of Cards’ — with vote to seize property if cast leaves state | Fox News

Delegate C. William Frick made the threat on March 27.  It was quickly approved–with almost no debate or even a roll-call vote.

“I literally thought: What is an appropriate Frank Underwood response to a threat like this?” said Frick.  “Eminent domain really struck me as the most dramatic response.”

The amendment states:

“Under certain circumstances” the Department of Business and Economic Development can “exercise certain powers of eminent domain” to acquire the property of a film production company that has claimed more than $10 million in tax credits and then ceased filming in the state.

“House of Cards” is not specifically mentioned in the amendment.

Each year, Maryland earmarks $7.5 million for production companies that film in the state. The producers of “House of Cards” expected to get $15 million for filming Season 3.

“Cards” has already received or expects to receive $26.6 million in tax credits for filming its first two seasons in Maryland.

GRIZZLIES AND AMERICANS

In Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 31, 2014 at 12:00 am

There is a poignant scene in the middle of John Milius’ classic 1975 adventure film, “The Wind and the Lion,” that Americans would do well to remember.

The movie is set in 1904 America and Morocco.  An American woman, Eden Pedicaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children have been kidnapped while vacationing in Tangier.

The kidnapper is a Berber brigand named Mulai Ahmed Raisuli (Sean Connery, trying–successfully–to shed his James Bond image).

To Raisuli, the Sultan and his uncle, the Pasha of Tangier, are corrupt and beholden to the European powers struggling to ontrol Morocco.

Raisuli then issues an outrageous ransom demand to provoke an international incident, embarrass the Sultan and start a civil war.

In the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is running for re-election.  He sees the crisis as a way to score campaign points and demonstrate America’s military strength as a new power.

So he issues a demand of his own: “Pedicarus alive–or Raisuli dead!”

While events rapidly spiral out of control in the Middle East, Roosevelt decides to vacation in Yellowstone National Park.

One night, a grizzly bear attacks the camp and is shot by Roosevelt and several other campers.  The next morning, Roosevelt holds an imprumptu press conference for the reporters who have accompanied him.

Brian Keith as Theodore Roosevelt

REPORTER:  Did you take part in killing the grizzly, Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  Yes, unfortunately.

REPORTER:  Why do you say, ‘unfortunately,’ Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  The American grizzly is a symbol of the American character: strength, intelligence, ferocity. Maybe a little blind and reckless at times, but courageous beyond all doubt. 

And one other trait that goes with all previous.

REPORTER:  And that, Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  Loneliness. The American grizzly lives out his life alone. Indomitable, unconquered–but always alone. He has no real allies, only enemies, but none of them as great as he.

REPORTER:  And you feel this might be an American trait?

ROOSEVELT:  Certainly. The world will never love us. They respect us–they might even grow to fear us.  But they will never love us, for we have too much audacity! 

And, we’re a bit blind and reckless at times, too.

REPORTER:  Are you perhaps referring to the situation in Morocco and the Panama Canal.

ROOSEVELT:  If you say so. The American grizzly embodies the spirit of America. He should be our symbol! Not that ridiculous eagle–he’s nothing more than a dandified vulture.

When the Pasha of Tangier refuses to negotiate with Raisuli to secure the return of Pedecaris, the American Consul to Tangier, Samuel Gummere, decides on action.

He confers with Admiral Chadwick, commanding the South Atlantic Squadron, and a Marine captain named Jerome.

Gummere then orders a company of Marines, supported by a small detachment of sailors, to seize the Pasha.  But privately he admits to the riskiness of the decision:

GUMMERE:  You realize, of course, that if we fail in even the slightest way, we’ll all be killed.

CHADWICK:  Yes, and the whole world will probably go to war.

JEROME: Gentlemen, if we fail and are killed, I certainly hope the world does go to war. 

CHADWICK:  A world ar war!

GUMMERE:  A world war.  Now that would be something to go out on.

In just ten years, they will get their hearts’ desire when World War 1 erupts.

The Marines quickly overwhelm the Pasha’s palace guard, take the Pasha hostage and force him to negotiate.

The film ends with a confident Theodore Roosevelt expecting (accurately) to be re-elected–and telling reporters  that “the fate of Morocco will be decided tomorrow by me.”

“The Wind and the Lion” is set in an era when

  • nuclear weapons did not exist;
  • Russia and China were militarily insignificant nations;
  • England was the world’s superpower;
  • America, Germany and Japan were on the rise;
  • Israel was still a distant dream in the eyes of European Jews;
  • the “Great Powers”–Germany, France and Great Britain–were struggling to carve up the Middle East to exploit its massive oli reserves; and
  • Americans did not feel threatened by Islamic radicals.

That era–for all its faults–is long vanished.  As complex and dangerous as it often seemed to those living in it, that era has been succeeded by one even more complex and dangerous.

In this new and even more lethal era, it is well to remember Theodore Roosevelt’s warning that “we’re a bit blind and reckless at times, too.”

HONEST VS. POLITICALLY INCORRECT

In Politics, History, Social commentary, Business, Entertainment on March 28, 2014 at 12:05 am

The 1992 military courtroom drama, “A Few Good Men,” climaxes with a brutal exchange that has since become famous.

Jack Nicolson vs. Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men”

The legal combatants are Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

COLONEL JESSUP: You want answers?

KAFFEE: I want the truth!

COLONEL JESSUP: You can’t handle the truth!

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audiences.

[WARNING: This column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]

On February 18, 2012, editor Anthony Federico posted this headline on ESPN’s mobile website: “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-Snapping Loss to Hornets.”

The headline was posted at 2:30 a.m. and quickly removed when someone realized that it might be seen as offensive. By Sunday afternoon, Federico had been fired from ESPN.

Jeremy Lin

It’s true that “Chink” is seen by Asians as a derogatory word. It’s equally true that ESPN has the right to discipline its employees when they violate its journalistic standards.

But ESPN should not have the right to treat its audience like so many school children who must be protected, at all costs, from life’s unpleasantness.

Consider ESPN’s apology:

“Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET.  The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET.

“We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

Note the words “posted an offensive headline.” If you didn’t already know what the headline had said, ESPN wasn’t going to enlighten you.

And other news networks–such as ABC and NBC–have acted similarly, referring to the “c-word” without telling viewers just what was actually posted.

Since the “c-word” is often used as a euphemism for “cunt,” it’s easy to see how many viewers could imagine the writer had used a very different expression.

The official reason given for refraining from actually saying the word that lies at the center of the story is to offending some members of the audience.

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said–and let the audience decide for itself.

The evening news is–supposedly–aimed at voting-age adults.  And adults need–and deserve–the hard truth about the world they live in.  Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Examples of such censorship are legion.  For instance:

In 1976, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates?

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby.  When his comments became public, Butz was forced to resign.

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism.

Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print.  Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information.

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain.

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination.

Nor is there any guarantee that such censorship will not occur again.

On February 16, 2012, Foster Friess, offered his views about the importance of legalized birth control.  Friess was the wealthy investor bankrolling a super PAC for GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Foster Friess

“This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such inexpensive,” said Friess. “Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

It’s understandable that women would be highly offended by this remark.

But shielding them from the women-hating mindset of those who support right-wing candidates like Santorum would ill serve their interests.

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships.  It has no place in a democracy–no matter how well-intentioned the motives of those doing the censoring.

Some words will always be hateful–to blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, women, men.  In short, everybody.  Refusing to acknowledge their use will not cause them to vanish.

The truth is the truth. If you can’t handle it, that’s your problem.

But those of us who can deserve the opportunity to learn it.  And, when necessary, to act on it.

DA PLANE! DA PLANE!

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 20, 2014 at 12:35 am

On March 8,  2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing Capital International Airport.

Less than an hour after taking off, the boeing 777-200ER last made contact with an air traffic control tower–and then vanished.

With it vanished 227 passengers–the majority of them Chinese–and a crew of 12.

By March 18, 26 nations were participating in the search.

Not since the 1937 disappearance of aviatrix Amelia Earhart has the disappearance of a single plane triggered such an international frenzy.

And that frenzy extends to the media coverage given it–especially on CNN.

Since its disappearance on March 8, Flight 370 has been the preeminent story on CNN.

With no telltale wreckage or even an oil slick to indicate the plane’s fate, CNN has been forced to make do with maps and “talking heads” speculation.

And to keep audiences attuned while there is no actual news to report, CNN has been forced to rely on a steady stream of “BREAKING NEWS” headlines.

And then what follows is more “talking heads” offering more speculation.

On March 16, CNN anchor Don Lemon and Brad Meltzer, host of Brad Meltzer Decoded, raised the possibility of “the supernatural” as responsible for the disappearance.

Lemon used a toy plane to demonstrate a series of turns and dives before simulating a landing on his anchor desk.

 Don Lemon with his toy plane

“We go to church, the supernatural power of God,” said Lemon.  “People are saying to me, ‘Why aren’t you talking about the possibility?’

“And I’m just putting it out there–that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding.”

And Meltzer responded: “People roll their eyes at conspiracy theories, but what conspiracy theories do is they ask the hardest, most outrageous questions sometimes, but every once in a while they’re right.

“You can say, ‘Oh, it crashed into the ocean.  But where are the parts? Where are the pieces? Why did it keep going for seven hours?”

This, in turn, has had both a positive and a negative effect.

On the positive side: CNN–which has found itself struggling in the ratings war against Fox News and MSNBC–has seen its ratings surge.

Over the weekend of March 15-16, CNN’s ratings soared, rising by almost 100% in prime time.

On the negative side: CNN’s “All-Vanished-Plane/All-the-Time” coverage has annoyed and angered many other viewers–including some prominent ones.

One of these is Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox News program The OReilly Factor.

“When I’m watching this, I’m like throwing–I’m upset about it,” he said on March 18.   “I know it’s ratings obviously or people wanna watch the mystery, but it’s now corrupting the news business I think.”

Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist, replied: What bothered him was that networks were treating the tragedy as “a game, when actually it was a terrible, terrible event.”

“There comes a point where it becomes a burlesque show, it becomes a farce and we’ve reached that point on this coverage,” O’Reilly said.

“When does Godzilla come in? And on another network they actually said aliens might’ve taken it. They actually said that on the air!”

As a result, there are three journalistic truths that CNN can–and should–take to heart:

  1. Breaking News!” means “news that is happening right now.” It does not mean “news that happened last week but we just found out about it today.”  Nor does it mean speculation about events that still remain a mystery.
  2. It is possible to broadcast more than one news story in a 24-hour period. The disappearance of the Malaysian plane does raise troubling questions about aviation safety. But there are other events going on in the world. And some of them are–surprise!–even more important.
  3. When you don’t have any actual news to report on a particular story, just say so and move on to another story where you do have news. Putting a half-dozen “talking heads” around a table to endlessly speculate about what might have happened isn’t the same as actually reporting the news.

There’s nothing wrong with a network’s sticking with a story as long as (1) it’s truly important, and (2) it’s actually ongoing.

The classic example of this: When, in August, 1991, the KGB and other Right-wingers overthrew Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Soviet Union.

Closely following this story–for reporters and viewers–made sense: The Soviet Union commanded enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the United States.

Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Federation, denounces the KGB coup

So it truly mattered whether Gorbachev–a moderate reformer–remained in power or was replaced by a KGB-sponsored coup.

Fortunately–for Gorbachev and the West–he was returned to power and Communism collapsed.

Watching on TV as Russians throw off the yoke of 70 years of Red slavery was like watching the fall of the Roman Empire.

This was a truly monumental and historical event.   And those who lived through it as spectators could be grateful to CNN and other networks for their ongoing coverage.

But the disappearance of a single Malaysian plane doesn’t fit into these categories.  Even if it proves monumentally good for CNN’s ratings.

WHAT’S AT STAKE FOR PISTORIUS–AND SOUTH AFRICA

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on March 6, 2014 at 12:25 am

He’s the O.J. Simpson of South Africa–a gifted athlete charged with cold-blooded murder.

For Oscar Pistorius, life began as a struggle, on November 22, 1986.  Born with fibular hemimelia (congenital absence of the fibula) in both legs, at 11 months old, he was forced to undergo the amputation of both legs below the knee.

But still he persisted to lead an active–even an extraordinary–life.  As a child and teenager, he played rugby union, water polo and tennis, and took part in Olympic wrestling.

After a serious rugby knee injury, Pistorius was introduced to running in January, 2004, while undergoing rehabilitation at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre.

Fitted with racing blades, he has been dubbed “Blade Runner” and “the fastest man with no legs.”   He took part in the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens and came in third in the 100-metere event.

In summer, 2012, he became the first double leg amputee to participate in the Olympics, winning  gold medals in the men’s 400-metre race and the 4 X 100 metres relay.

Oscar Pistorius

And then, having achieved so much against so much adversity, he found himself facing trial for a ghastly crime:

The February 14, 2013 murder of his 29-year-old girlfriend, model and paralegal Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot three times through a locked bathroom door.

Reeva Steenkamp

Pistorius claims he thought Steenkamp was a nighttime intruder. The state alleges that he and his girlfriend  argued before her death and he intentionally killed her.

His trial opened on March 3 in Pretoria, South Africa.  A conviction on the murder charge in South Africa would carry a mandatory life sentence.

Throughout South Africa, women believe the odds are high that Pistorius will escape justice for murder owing to his sports celebrity status.  And they may well turn out to be right.

Consider:

  • According to one study, South Africa has “the highest rate [of violence against women] ever reported in research anywhere in the world.”
  • Statistically, a woman gets raped in South Africa every four minutes. Only 66,196 incidents were reported to police in 2012 and their investigations led to only 4,500 convictions.
  • The murder of Pistorius’ girlfriend happened one day before she planned to wear black in a “Black Friday” protest against the country’s disgracefully high number of rapes.
  • “If data for all violent assaults, rapes and other sexual assaults against women are taken into account, then approximately 200,000 adult women are reported as being attacked in South Africa every year,” said Lerato Moloi of the South African Institute for Race Relations.
  • The real figure is considerably higher, she said, since most cases never are reported.

The rate of murders of women in South Africa is equally appalling:

  • A woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours in South Africa.
  • No perpetrator is identified in 20 percent of killings, according to a study published by the South African Medical Research Council.
  • That is double the rate of such murders in the United States.

In assessing what’s at stake in the Pistorius trial, Niccolo Machiavelli sounds a warning:

Niccolo Machiavelli

In The Discourses, his seminal work on how to preserve freedom within a republic, Machiavelli warns: “Well-ordered republics establish punishments and rewards for their citizens, but never set off one against the other.”

The soldier, Horatious, he writes, had saved ancient Rome from the Curatti.  But when he murdered his sister, he was put on trial for his life.

While Rome might seem guilty of ingratitude, writes Machiavelli, “the people were to blame rather for the acquittal of Horatius than for having him tried.

“And the reason for this is, that no well-ordered republic should ever cancel the crimes of its citizens by their merits….

“Having established rewards for good actions and penalties for evil ones, and having rewarded a citizen for good conduct who afterwards commits a wrong, he should be chastised for that without regard to his previous merits.”

A state that adheres to this principle will retain its liberty; a state that doesn’t will quickly be destroyed.

For if a citizen who has rendered eminent service to the nation becomes convinced that he can commit any wrong without fear of punishment, “he will in a little while become so insolent and overbearing as to put an end to all power of the law,” writes Machiavelli.

Americans learned the truth of this after the 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson for the slasher-murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and a waiter-eyewitness, Ronald Goldman.

In September, 2007, he led a group of men into a hotel room at the Palace Station casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, and, at gunpoint, seized sports memorabilia which he claimed had been stolen from him.

He was arrested and eventually convicted for criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.

On December 5, 2008, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison with the chance of parole in  nine years, in 2017.

WONDER WOMAN: COARSENING THE CULTURE

In Business, Entertainment, Military, Social commentary on February 7, 2014 at 1:32 am

On November 7, 2013, American television culture took yet another step deeper into Toiletville.

It was the Two and Half Men episode, “Justice in Star-Spangled Hot Pants.”  And it starred Lynda Carter as the target of a crush that was both infantile and obscene.

Carter, of course, is the singer/actress best-known for her role as Wonder Woman (1975-1979).

And watching this episode of Men, it was hard to tell where the real-life Carter left off and the fictional character she was playing took over.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

Here, in brief, was the plotline:

Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) learns that his roommate, Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher) knows Lynda Carter.

Having an enormous crush on Carter from his years of watching her as Wonder Woman, Alan asks Walden to set him up on a date with her.

Against his better judgment, Walden agrees to invite her to the house for dinner.

Now, if Carter had been playing a fictional character, there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with this premise.

Nobody, for example, would have mistaken Laurence Olivier for Richard III.

But she wasn’t.  She was playing herself.

And, in her real-life self, she’s 62.  An admittedly good-looking 62, but, even so, a woman about 40 years older than the character (Alan) who wants to meet her.

And not simply meet her.  Bone her.

Bone her?  Yes–that’s exactly what he says when Walden initially turns down his request to introduce him to her: “Now I’ll never get to bone Lynda Carter.”

And since Carter was playing herself, it’s useful to recall that she is, in real-life, a married woman (since 1984 to attorney Robert Altman).

And the show achieves an even lower level of crassness when Walden says Alan is so desperate to meet Carter that he’d skulk around in the bushes in front of her house.

“Wow, Lynda Carter’s bush,” says Alan, practically salivating over the contemplation of a 62-year-old woman’s vagina.

But males aren’t the only gender who get to descend to new depths of bad taste in this episode.  There’s the character of Jenny (Amber Tamblyn), the lesbian sister of the departed character Charlie (Charlie Sheen).

Again, the show’s writers simply couldn’t resist the temptation to mix real-life with fantasy.

Jenny is, at first, not even aware who Lynda Carter is until Alan, shocked, clues her in on the infantile series she’s best-known for.

And, after meeting Carter, Jenny remain unimpressed.  There’s an edginess in her voice as she comes face-to-face with the actress who’s well-known for supporting gay and lesbian rights.

“I understand you’re into cuffs,” she tells Carter–a reference to the “magic bracelets” worn by her character, Wonder Woman.

But it’s also a double entendre, conjuring up the image of Carter (perhaps in her Wonder Woman outfit) staked out on a bed in a bondage fantasy.

For all of Alan’s over-the-top infatuation with Carter, it’s not him that she’s interested in.  It’s his buddy, Walden (Ashton Kutcher).

Lynda Carter and Ashton Kutcher

And to prove it, she gives him a real smackeroo of a kiss.

Which may well have conjured up, for him, real-life memories of his May-December marriage to the actress Demi Moore.

Kutcher was 27 when he tied the knot with Moore in 2005.  Moore, by contrast, was 42.

The marriage ended in 2013, amid tabloid reports that Kutcher had cheated on her with Sara Leal, a 22-year-old San Diego-based administrative assistant.

Kutcher, born in 1978, was still rolling around in his cradle while Carter–born in 1951–was wrapping up her third and final season as Wonder Woman.

So, for Kutcher, maybe it was a case of deja vu all over again.

On Veterans Day from 2001 to 2004, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) aired the 1998 Steven Spielberg World War II classic, Saving Private Ryan, uncut and with limited commercial interruptions.

Both the grity, realistic battle scenes and profanity were left intact.

Storming the beach at Normandy in Saving Private Ryan

But in 2004, its airing was marked by pre-emptions by 65 ABC affiliates.

The reason: The backlash over Super Bowl XXXVIII’s halftime show controversy (starring the infamous bared breast of Janet Jackson).

The affiliates—28% of the network—did not clear the available timeslot for the film.

And this was even after the Walt Disney Company–which owns ABC–offered to pay all fines for language to the FCC.

No complaints, however, were lodged with the FCC.

It speaks volumes to the priorities–and values–of American television when a film honoring the wartime sacrifices of American soldiers is banned from network TV.

And it speaks volumes as well to the priorities–and values–of American television when a casually juvenile and crudity-laced series like Two and a Half Men becomes CBS’ biggest cash cow.

A NEW LOOK AT AN OLD CLASSIC

In Business, Entertainment, Politics, Social commentary on December 30, 2013 at 12:42 am

Every Christmas, TV audiences find comfort and triumph in the rerunning of a black-and-white 1946 movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a decent husband and father who hovers on the brink of suicide–until his guardian angel, Clarence, suddenly intervenes.

Its A Wonderful Life Movie Poster.jpg

Clarence reveals to George what his home town, Bedford Falls, New York, would be like if he had never been born.  George finds himself shocked to learn:

  • With no counterweight to the schemes of rapacious slumlord Henry F. Potter, Bedford Falls becomes Potterville, filled with pawn shops and sleazy nightclubs.
  • With no George Bailey to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in a frozen pond, Harry drowns.
  • With no Harry to live to become a Naval fighter pilot in World War II, he’s not on hand to shoot down two Japanese planes targeting an American troopship.
  • As a result, the troopship and its crew are destroyed.

George is forced to face the significant role he has played in the lives of so many others.

Armed with this knowledge, he once again embraces life, running through the snow-covered streets of Bedford Falls and shouting “Merry Christmas!” to everyone he meets.

Audiences have hailed George Bailey as an Everyman hero–and the film as a life-affirming testatment to the unique importance of each individual.

But there is another aspect of the movie that has not been so closely studied: The legacy of its villain, Henry F. Potter, who, as  played by Lionel Barrymore, bears a striking resemblance to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter.jpg

Henry F. Potter

It is Potter–the richest man in Bedford Falls–whose insatiable greed threatens to destroy it.  And it is Potter whose criminality drives George Bailey to the brink of suicide.

The antagonism between Bailey and Potter starts early in the movie.  George dreams of leaving Bedford Falls and building skyscrapers.  Meanwhile, he works at the Bailey Building and Loan Association, which plays a vital role in the life of the community.

Potter, a member of the Building and Loan Association board, tries to persuade the board of directors to dissolve the firm. He objects to their providing home loans for the working poor.

George persuades them to reject Potter’s proposal, but they agree only on condition that George run the Building and Loan.  Reluctantly, George agrees.

Later, Potter tries to lure George away from the Building and Loan, offering him a $20,000 salary and the chance to visit Europe.  George is briefly tempted.

But then he realizes that Potter intends to close down the Building and Loan and deny financial help to those who most need it.  Angrily, he turns down Potter’s offer:

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter!

“In the in the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider.”

It is a setback for Potter, but he’s willing to bide his time for revenge.

On Christmas Eve morning, the town prepares a hero’s welcome for George’s brother, Harry.  George’s scatter-brained Uncle Billy visits Potter’s bank to deposit $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash funds.

He greets taunts Potter by reading the newspaper headlines announcing the coming tribute.  Potter  snatches the paper, and Billy unthinkingly allows the money to be snatched with it.

When Billy leaves, Potter opens the paper and sees the money.  He keeps it, knowing that misplacement of bank money will bankrupt the Building and Loan and bring criminal charges against George.

But at the last minute, word of George’s plight reaches his wide range of grateful friends.  A flood of townspeople arrive with more than enough donations to save George and the Building and Loan.

The movie ends on a triumphant note, with George basking in the glow of love from his family and friends.

But no critic seems to have noticed that Henry Potter’s theft has gone unnoticed.  (Uncle Billy can’t recall how he lost the money.)  Potter is richer by $8,000.  And ready to go on taking advantage of others.

Perhaps it’s time to see Potter’s actions in a new light–that of America’s richest 1%, ever ready to prey upon the weaknesses of others.

Justice never catches up with Potter in the movie.  But the joke-writers at Saturday Night Live have conjured up a satisfactory punishment for his avarice.

In this version, Uncle Billy suddenly remembers that he left the money with Potter.  Enraged, George Bailey (Dana Carvey) leads his crowd of avenging friends to Potter’s office.

Potter realizes the jig is up and offers to return the money.  But George wants more than that–and he and his friends proceed to stomp and beat Potter to death.

The skit ends with with George and his friends singing “Auld Ang Syne”–as they do in the movie–as they finish off Potter with clubs.

Click here: SNL and Dana Carvey perform the “Alternate Ending of Its a Wonderful Life!

America is rapidly a divided nation–one where the richest 1% lord it over an increasingly impoverished 99%.

The time may be coming when many Americans are ready to embrace the SNL approach to economic justice.

THE PIRATES OF LIMBAUGH

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 20, 2013 at 3:34 pm

On April 8, 2009, four Somali pirates boarded the Maersk Alabama when it was located 240 miles southeast of the Somalian port city of  Eyl.

The ship, en route to Mombasa, Kenya, was carrying 17,000 tons of cargo, including 5,000 tons of relief supplies for Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda.

As the pirates boarded the ship, the crew members locked themselves in the engine room.  To buy time for his crewmen, the captain, Richard Phillips, surrendered to the pirates.

Captain Richard Phillips

The crew later overpowered one of the pirates, and sought to exchange their captive for Phillips.  The crew released the  pirate, but the other three pirates refused to release Phillips.

The pirates left with Philips in a lifeboat which carried ten days of food rations, water and basic survival supplies.

On April 8, the destroyer USSS Bainbridge and the frigate USSS Halyburton were dispatched to the Gulf of Aden to deal with the hostage situation, and reached Maersk Alabama early on April 9.

On April 9, a standoff began between the Bainbridge and the pirates in the Maersk Alabama’s lifeboat, where they continued to hold Phillips hostage

On April 12, marksmen from SEAL Team 6 simultaneously opened fire with telescopic-sighted assault rifles and killed the three pirates on the lifeboat.

The SEALS believed Phillips faced an immediate threat of execution, having received a report that one of the pirates was pointing an AK-47 at his back.

The SEALS, known for their legendary marksmanship, took out all three pirates with shots to the head.

Phillips was rescued in good condition.

The vast majority of Americans rejoiced.  The Maersk Alabama had been the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years.  And the encounter had ended with the ship and crew safe and its captain rescued without injury.

But not everyone was happy about the outcome.  Naturally, the pirates infesting the Somali coastline were infuriated at this setback.

But, surprisingly, there were some Americans who felt more sympathetically toward the Somali pirates than the man who had ordered Phillips’ rescue: President Barack Obama.

One of these was Rush Limbaugh, the American Right’s chief spokesman.

Rush Limbaugh

The Rush Limbaugh Show airs throughout the U.S. on over 400 stations and is the highest-rated talk-radio program in the United States. When Limbaugh speaks, his “dittohead” audience listens—and acts as he decrees.

On April 14, 2009, Limbaugh gave his take on the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips:

“The Somali pirates, the merchant marine organizers who took a US merchant captain hostage for five days were inexperienced youths, the defense secretary, Roberts Gates, said yesterday, adding that the hijackers were between 17 and 19 years old.

“Now, just imagine the hue and cry had a Republican president ordered the shooting of black teenagers on the high seas….

“They were kids. The story is out, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but apparently the hijackers, these kids, the merchant marine organizers, Muslim kids, were upset.

“They wanted to just give the captain back and head home because they were running out of food.  They were running out of fuel, they were surrounded by all these US Navy ships, big ships, and they just wanted out of there. That’s the story.

“But then when one of them put a gun to the back of the captain, Mr. Phillips, then bam, bam, bam. There you have it, and three teenagers shot on the high seas at the order of President Obama.”

And there you have it–an American Fascist making common cause with the heirs of Blackbeard and Henry Morgan.

Click here: President Obama Ordered the Killing of Three Black Muslim Kids – The Rush Limbaugh Show

In Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare lets Marcus Brutus give his reason for murdering Caesar, his onetime friend: “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.”

Limbaugh and his Rightist stooges could have said they opposed the rescue mission for a similar reasono: “Not that we loved the Somali pirates, but that we hate Obama more.”

Consider the comment Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) made on an Iowa radio program on October 3, 2011.

One caller, “Donna,” told Bachmann that the president was a “walking nightmare” who was “blowing up our country.”

“I would vote for Charles Manson before this guy,” she said. “But I’m pulling for you big time, all the way, go Michele!”

“Thank you for saying that,” Bachmann replied.

Thus, Bachmann–who supposedly represented the democratic system–chose as her hero a convicted psychopathic murderer over a legally-elected President.

The rescue of Richard Phillips has been dramatized in the 2013 movie, “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks in the title role.

Audiences cheered at the climatic moment when the three pirates met their deserved fate.

But what they didn’t see depicted was Limbaugh’s Greek chorus for the Right–and the sheer hatred he and they have for anyone who doesn’t share their Fascistic views.

The ordeal of Captain Phillips and the crew of the Maersk Alabama is over.  But the heirs of Blackbeard  still roam the seas near Somalia.

And the heirs of Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini still conspire to remake America in their own Rightist image.

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