Archive for the 'Movies and Books' Category

Dec 27 2015

Star Wars-No spoilers yet allowed

Published by under Movies and Books

On Christmas Eve, following some last minute shopping as is my tradition, I went to see Star Wars VII-The Force Awakens. All in all, I thought Disney did a good job with the movie. I do have some criticisms, but those will have to wait until the "No Spoilers" embargo which one sees all over Facebook and Twitter is lifted.


It is hard for me to believe that there is yet another Star Wars movie in the series. After all, I was all of 20 years old when I saw the first Star Wars movie ( which in the convoluted counting system that George Lucas came up with is actually episode IV) during my 2nd class cruise in San Diego. It was at the theater on the main street in Coronado. Is that theater even there anymore? ( Its been over 4 years since I was last back in San Diego). I was young and the franchise was young.

Now of course, we are both a lot older.

I am both a Star Wars fan and a Star Trek fan, although given a choice I have to give the nod to Star Trek. Which is why I was concerned when I heard JJ Abrams was going to direct this latest Star Wars movie. I have never fully forgiven him for the shredding of the Star Trek canon he did in the Star Trek re-boot,  and I have to admit, I was afraid he was going to do the same thing here.

I am happy to report that he did not do that. Thus if you have not been to see the movie, then by all means get out to see it and help Disney make another billion dollars by the 15th of January. As a Disney stockholder, I strongly want you to. As I science fiction fan, I don't think you will be disappointed.

But if you have watched all the previous movies, don't be surprised if you end up playing "connect the Jedi" during this movie.

I've liked all the Star Wars movies and I have never understood why George Lucas was so savagely criticized for the prequels. Yes, Yes, he does have the sin of creating Jar Jar Binks to atone for, but the prequels filled in some necessary history and background on everything in the Star Wars universe. Episodes IV-VI did not do that so well IMHO. Your mileage may vary, but I think you will find the new movie carries on the traditions of the galaxy far, far away pretty well.

How did you enjoy the movie?



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Sep 13 2015

Recent Reading

Besides the volume of recent work, I have been deeply involved in several books recently. Not really an excuse for my lack of steady posting, but it did provide a different sort of diversion. Below are my reviews of three of the best of the group. ( I have finished 7 in all since mid-July).

The first book was an oldie,  but goody. It is from the 1970's and it is Saul Bellow's, To Jerusalem and Back, A Personal Account. Published in 1976, the book is a fascinating series of anecdotes and stories about all aspects of the experience of Israel during that decade and the decades before. Bellow writes of a discussion with Jean Paul Sartre published many years earlier. He has a brief view of the power ( or lack thereof) of the United States Sixth fleet, back during the time that the US Navy actually put ships in the Mediterranean ( of which I was a part in the late 1970's). The book is a report of the authors personal experiences but it is much, much more than that-it is a series of vignettes that show the complexity of modern Israeli life. What is amazing to me is just how forward looking Bellow was. He was writing in 1976, but his observations still hold true today.  As one critic said, " Forty years later, it's like reading last week's news analysis from the Middle East. If he hadn't been one of the great novelists of the 20th century, Bellow might have been one of its greatest journalists." That's a pretty good summation of the book.



Along the same lines, and as an adjunct to my job, I try to read a lot of background material on Israel. I had stumbled on Bellow's book in the library and I am glad I did. Interestingly enough, I tried to add it to my Kindle library and Amazon said it is not available to readers in the US, due to copyright restrictions. I found that interesting, if not a trifle disappointing. 

For the reason I listed above, I also completed reading a newer book that does the same thing as Bellows book-provide unique insights into the complex puzzle that is Israel.  The book is by Ari Shavit, who is a writer for Haaretz newspaper, and it is called, My Promised Land. The book is a series of interviews and retelling of specific pieces of Israel's history staring with the first waves of Aliyah ( emigration to Israel) that began in the 1890's and moving up to present day ( 2012).

We meet Shavit’s great-grandfather, a British Zionist who in 1897 visited the Holy Land on a Thomas Cook tour and understood that it was the way of the future for his people; the idealist young farmer who bought land from his Arab neighbor in the 1920s to grow the Jaffa oranges that would create Palestine’s booming economy; the visionary youth group leader who, in the 1940s, transformed Masada from the neglected ruins of an extremist sect into a powerful symbol for Zionism; the Palestinian who as a young man in 1948 was driven with his family from his home during the expulsion from Lydda; the immigrant orphans of Europe’s Holocaust, who took on menial work and focused on raising their children to become the leaders of the new state; the pragmatic engineer who was instrumental in developing Israel’s nuclear program in the 1960s, in the only interview he ever gave; the zealous religious Zionists who started the settler movement in the 1970s; the dot-com entrepreneurs and young men and women behind Tel-Aviv’s booming club scene; and today’s architects of Israel’s foreign policy with Iran, whose nuclear threat looms ominously over the tiny country.

As it examines the complexities and contradictions of the Israeli condition, My Promised Land asks difficult but important questions: Why did Israel come to be? How did it come to be? Can Israel survive? Culminating with an analysis of the issues and threats that Israel is currently facing, My Promised Land uses the defining events of the past to shed new light on the present. The result is a landmark portrait of a small, vibrant country living on the edge, whose identity and presence play a crucial role in today’s global political landscape.


In reading the book I was struck by two of the main points that he raised. First, he points out that both the Israeli right and the Israeli left have yet to come to grips with a central fact that lies at the heart of Zionism-namely that whether they realized it or not, the movement was built on the foundational idea of dispossessing the current occupants of Palestine, in favor of a group of people who had no modern historical ties to that particular chunk of real estate. They only have a thousands year old religious mystery to cling on to that underpinned the reason why Palestine and only Palestine could be the Jewish State. Shavit very skillfully points out that one cannot duck that particular fact, and it is at odds with the narrative of Israel as a benign civilizing force in the region.

The second issue, and its one I had not given much thought to before, is the idea that the Holocaust changed the demographics of the Zionist movement dramatically. It is important to remember that Herzl's vision of Zionism was essentially a European one. The Jewish State he envisioned was to be a a modern, sophisticated and technologically advanced and Europeanized society. Herzl was aware of the Sephardic Jews ( Oriental or non-European Jews) but he tended to discount that.

Herzl completely rejected the race theories of Israel Zangwill. He became increasingly aware of the existence of Sephardic Jewry, but he envisioned the Jewish State as a state of Europeans, who might speak German. In his diaries he wrote:

"I believe German will be our principal language…I draw this conclusion from our most widespread jargon, 'Judeo-German.' But over there we shall wean ourselves from this ghetto language, too, which used to be the stealthy tongue of prisoners. Our teachers will see to that." (June 15, 1895, Diaries, 1: 171)

In The Jewish State, Herzl envisioned the government of the new state to be an "Aristocratic Republic," apparently modeled on contemporary Austria or Germany. In 1902, Herzl published a utopian novel about the Jewish state,  Altneuland (old-new land) a vision complete with monorails and modern industry.  Altneuland envisioned a multipluralistic democracy in which Arabs and Jews had equal rights. The novel concludes, "If you will, it is no legend."

Der Judenstaat and  Altneuland were visions of a Jewish state to be populated by European Jewry, who in 1900 were far more numerous than the tiny remnant of oriental and Sephardic Jews in Muslim lands and the Balkans. Herzl himself was no doubt aware of Zionist yearnings among Sephardic Jews. His grandfather was a friend of RabbiYehudah Alkalai, a Zionist precursor. But Herzl addressed his vision to the Jews of Europe.

Shavit points out that the Holocaust destroyed that vision and changed the planned demographics of the new state of Israel. A lot of the initial immigration to Israel came from the Sephradi population, especially as the Arabs turned away from toleration to outright hostility. Those population numbers had a distinct impact on Israel's politics and societal views and Shavit points out that those effects are still present.

Shavit is a great writer and the book is very readable and fascinating to immerse yourself into. For non-Israelis, and Americans in particular I would recommend this book as a must read. It shatters a lot of myths-and that is a good thing. Americans need to understand Israel as it really is, not as they think it it is.




The final book I have been reading off and on is a return to one of my favorite writers and historians, Arthur Schlesinger. A while back I read his collection of letters and posted a review.  Subsequently his journals have been published. They are much more candid than his letters and his insights into many of today's political figures when they were younger are amazing to read.Schelsinger is a great writer and I particularly got some great satisfaction out of his description of Charles Krauthammer. It is simply priceless as it points out what a slug Krauthammer really is, long before the rest of us really knew about him:

Last night I appeared on ABC's Nightline (Ted Koppel), leaving an entertaining dinner party given by Ahmed and Mica Ertegun for Irving Lazar. My combatant on the show was a fellow named Charles Krauthammer who writes particularly obnoxious neo-conservative trash for the New Republic and other right wing journals. His special line is that a mature power must understand the vital need for an imperial policy and for unfettered executive secrecy in the conduct of foreign affairs. He argues this line with boundless self-righteousness and sublime ignorance of American history. He is also, alas, a paraplegic, having dived into a waterless swimming pool. The joy of dealing with Krauthammer perhaps tempted me into undue vehemence. I have been trying to establish a new and more benign television personality. His performance was surprisingly feeble, and I was unnecessarily testy. Still, it gave me much satisfaction. [Political cartoonist] Jules Feiffer called this morning and said, "If Krauthammer were not already in a wheelchair, he certainly would be now after the pounding you gave him last night.

The puzzle is that there are people who take Krauthammer seriously as a deep thinker.

Those lines were written in 1986, long before Krauthammer sold his soul to the devil that is Fox News.  They remain as true today as they were then. Schlesinger saw his mediocrity long before the rest of us. 

Its a fantastic insight into a half century of history and well worth the time to read. The best part is, that because it is a journal, you can leave it and come back to it. That is what I have done for the last month. Whenever I have extra time, my old friend Arthur Schlesinger is there-thanks to the modern innovation that is Kindle.


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Aug 03 2014

Recent Reading

Published by under Movies and Books

While I was back in the land of the free and the home of the stupid and overweight, I had a chance to stumble into Barnes and Noble. This was ostensibly for the purpose of purchasing a study guide for the examination I have to take later this year, but that did not stop me from perusing the aisles and finding some other great books. Since I am home sick today-woke up at 4AM sick as a dog-I thought I might share them with you.


When I left the store 1+30 after entering it and 167 dollars poorer, I had five books in my bag. The study guide of course, and this one, by Michael Lewis:


Originally published in 1991, this is a collection of the columns he wrote after leaving the world of investment banking. Taken together they are a great picture of the foolishness that was the 1980's-and provide insight into the ideas that laid the foundation for the disasters we say in the second half of the first decade of the 21st Century. I have now read 4 of his books and enjoyed all of them very much. I had recently finished this book, which was a fascinating investigation of Flash trading and how it screws the average investor:


The book is a fascinating read. 

Flash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post–financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading—source of the most intractable problems—will have no advantage whatsoever.

The characters in Flash Boys are fabulous, each completely different from what you think of when you think “Wall Street guy.” Several have walked away from jobs in the financial sector that paid them millions of dollars a year. From their new vantage point they investigate the big banks, the world’s stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms as they have never been investigated, and expose the many strange new ways that Wall Street generates profits.

The light that Lewis shines into the darkest corners of the financial world may not be good for your blood pressure, because if you have any contact with the market, even a retirement account, this story is happening to you. But in the end, Flash Boys is an uplifting read. Here are people who have somehow preserved a moral sense in an environment where you don’t get paid for that; they have perceived an institutionalized injustice and are willing to go to war to fix it.


What I found most interesting was the lengths these companies would go to , to gain milliseconds in time. And the outrage they expressed when someone actually called what they were doing the thievery that it is and was. The main narrative involves Brad Katsuyama, a trader at the Royal Bank of Canada, a relatively obscure firm that is no where near the top tier when it comes to Wall Street trading. Katsuyama discovers that his trades aren't getting filled as he expects, and he becomes suspicious and goes looking for the problem. He finds it-and a whole lot more problems.


In both books, it is a fairly clear common thread that the people with money, are conspiring to keep other people from joining in the party. Investing is increasingly rigged against the average person and small investor-which I find especially disgusting in light of how corporations have walked away from their obligations to provide pensions and made millions of Americans utterly dependent on making good investment decisions. The problems identified in both books are symptoms of a bigger problem, namely that people do not embrace a business model that looks out for all the stakeholders in a company, which includes more than just the shareholders; it includes the employees and the customers. If you ever needed convincing of why unregulated markets are dangerous, these two books do a good job.




Moving on to the other purchases, to keep up with my commenters, I purchased this little gem:





It is a great book and one I have really enjoyed. I look forward to using some of these quotes to respond to Curtis in the future.




On a more serious note, I came across this fine book by astronaut and moon walking explorer, Buzz Aldrin. 





Basically, Aldrin is offering a well reasoned argument that: 1) Exploration is important, 2) The US manned space program is broken and finally 3) there are some commons sense and affordable solutions on our part that would fix it.


I agree with this assessment:


"There is no reason to go there," "Let's wait until we have better technology," "Let's straighten up our home front first before we venture into somewhere else." These tired, old excuses could have been said to Columbus or any of the great explorers in our history; people use them to stall progress since the day of dawn. Yet, here we are, thousands of years later, and we still kill each other on a daily basis. Let's face it, humanity haven't changed a bit, and if we were to wait for the perfect time for everything, we would still live in caves and pray for some imaginary lightning god for fire. Curiosity and exploration are the real driving forces of progress. We harvest and bask in the fruits of scientific progress today, of which not a small part come from space exploration from our kitchenware to satellite TV. Similarly, the process of exploring Mars could hold technologies that could define our future for centuries to come. Or maybe not… But if we don't go and look, we will never know!

For that reason, I wholeheartedly agree with the central premise of this book, and I am overjoyed to see the growing number of private companies taking up the baton our government had dropped decades ago.

"The day we stop exploring is the day we commit ourselves to live in a stagnant world, devoid of curiosity, empty of dreams."

– Neil deGrass Tyson


Specifically, Aldrin avoids the trap of saying we have to go back to the moon. He argues that while we should eventually have bases and industry on the moon, its not sufficient enough of a challenge to motivate us and keep us on track. Using the year 2035 as a benchmark and bemoaning all the lost time we have squandered in the last 20 years-Aldrin lays out a good plane to have government and private industry work together to get mankind out into the solar system on a long term basis. For going back to the moon- Aldrin does not ignore it, rather he proposes that we outsource it. E.G. let the Japanese or Chinese or Europeans go there and we should applaud them all the way.  For the US he says we should go for bigger game: a blueprint for establishing a base on Mars involving a novel “flexible path” approach, with Mars’ moon Phobos as a docking station. He endorses commercial space travel for paying passengers, as a way to work on technology and get more people to buy into space exploration. "He favors the use of "reusable, recyclable space transportation" and equipment as the building blocks of "cycling" networks to support and replenish the movement of people, cargo, and other essential materials between the "celestial triad" of Earth, the moon, and Mars."


Most importantly, despite what many say, Aldrin's plan is affordable. Certainly it will cost maybe 15% of what we wasted on worthless wars for worthless Arabs over the last dozen years. Just think what we could have done if the US had not wasted all that money on the hell hole that is Iraq?


Read the book for yourself. I think we should put Aldrin's ideas into action. If there is any one criticism I would levy, it is that Aldrin's strategy assumes a steadfast government over the years. Given that the legislature has morons like Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and an asshole like Louie Gohmert, I am not sure that is a good assumption.

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May 29 2014

Stupidity on Parade

Some things just set me off. Today was a day where I came across something quite innocently posted by someone on the old Facebook page, that when one reads it, you just have to shake your head in disgust.

Over at The Federalist, a slick conservative blog for the learning impaired, a writer named Bethany Mandel really showed her stupid chops today when she got her panties in a bunch over this Google header:(click to view properly)


Seems it really bothers her that Google would honor a woman whose book was a landmark publication at the time, created a lot of discussion and controversy, and played a key role in our understanding of the consequences of not paying attention to our environment. Somehow, that really seems to bother her.

Those who decry life-saving anti-mosquito chemicals like DDT are the kinds of progressives who call conservatives anti-science and heartless. They do so while withholding environmentally safe chemicals from saving the lives of children in the developing world. Rachel Carson and her present-day admirers throw nets at those at risk of malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses. There are charities that give them out like candy.


Next year, when Google’s doodle team thinks about what or who to honor, I invite them to spend a few nights under a suffocating net in tropical and scenic Cambodia. Experience the true legacy of Rachel Carson. After throwing off the net at 2 a.m. in order to breathe, I invite them to spend days or weeks ravaged by fever in Kantha Bopha Hospital in a non-air conditioned room with 60 other families. 


And here is the kicker-she has the gall to blame Carson for a setback that befell her-and blames it all on what Rachel Carson supposedly set into motion. After all she has a report from…….wait for it……..The Heritage Foundation to prove it. Like they are an honest broker.

Ms Mandel fashions Rachel Carson as some sort of genocidal murderer. There is just one problem with that conclusion and its typical of websites like The Federalist and morons like those who write for the Liars Club, it is not true. 

Not… one ….bit.

But never let the facts get in the way of a good wingnut tirade shall we

Google has really angered the Wingnuttospere this week. First off, on Monday, the search engine failed to put up a special doodle for Memorial Day, because Google Hates America — actually, the page did mark the day with an American flag and yellow ribbon icon, but they were too small and didn’t go up at midnight like they should have, but later in the day.* Then Tuesday, Google drew the wrath of all nine fulltime staffers of Twitchy by honoring Rachel Carson on what would have been her 107th birthday. This tribute to a known environmentalist sparked a Twitch-Fit, because of course by writing Silent Spring, a book that eventually led to the banning of DDT, Rachel Carson personally murdered millions:


Wingnuts love to distort history in any way, shape or form, so long as it makes them come out looking like the victim. Especially when the deeply disturbed people tending Breitbart's mausoleum are on the case.

Funny thing is Rachel Carson died two years after her book came out-and was never in government. How that somehow turns her into the Joseph Mengle of the 1960's is beyond me. Especially when you look at what she really believed:

Rachel Carson, who stoically weathered misinformation campaigns against her before her death from breast cancer in 1964, would find the current situation all-too predictable. As she said once in a speech after the release of Silent Spring, many people who have not read the book nonetheless “disapprove of it heartily.”


Rachel Carson never called for the banning of pesticides. She made this clear in every public pronouncement, repeated it in an hourlong television documentary about Silent Spring, and even testified to that effect before the U.S. Senate. Carson never denied that there were beneficial uses of pesticides, notably in combatting human diseases transmitted by insects, where she said they had not only been proven effective but were morally “necessary.”


“It is not my contention,” Carson wrote in Silent Spring, “that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge.”


Many agreed. Editorializing shortly after The New Yorker articles appeared, theNew York Times wrote that Carson had struck the right balance: “Miss Carson does not argue that chemical pesticides must never be used,” the Times said, “but she warns of the dangers of misuse and overuse by a public that has become mesmerized by the notion that chemists are the possessors of divine wisdom and that nothing but benefits can emerge from their test tubes.”


Carson did not seek to end the use of pesticides—only their heedless overuse at a time when it was all but impossible to escape exposure to them. Aerial insecticide spraying campaigns over forests, cities, and suburbs; the routine application of insecticides to crops by farmers at concentrations far above what was considered “safe;” and the residential use of insecticides in everything from shelf paper to aerosol “bombs” had contaminated the landscape in exactly the same manner as the fallout from the then-pervasive testing of nuclear weapons—a connection Carson made explicit in Silent Spring.


Furthermore-a lot of scientific evidence backed up her contentions. Kind of like the debate about climate change today, there is a dedicated body of folks, like the writers at The Federalist, who seem content to just spew out garbage and hope no one calls them on it. My hope in this post is to call them the contemptible liars they are. For example, I am at a loss to understand why Carson is somehow to blame for the deaths of children when she herself is gone and DDT is not banned. Seems Ms Mandel missed that little detail:

At one level, these articles send a comforting message to the developed world: Saving African children is easy. We don’t need to build large aid programs or fund major health initiatives, let alone develop Third World infrastructure or think about larger issues of fairness. No, to save African lives from malaria, we just need to put our wallets away and work to stop the evil environmentalists.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy.

For one thing, there is no global DDT ban. DDT is indeed banned in the U.S., but malaria isn’t exactly a pressing issue here. If it ever were, the ban contains an exception for matters of public health. Meanwhile, it’s perfectly legal—and indeed, used—in many other countries: 10 out of the 17 African nations that currently conduct indoor spraying use DDT (New York Times, 9/16/06).

DDT use has decreased enormously, but not because of a ban. The real reason is simple, although not one conservatives are particularly fond of: evolution. Mosquito populations rapidly develop resistance to DDT, creating enzymes to detoxify it, modifying their nervous systems to avoid its effects, and avoiding areas where DDT is sprayed — and recent research finds that that resistance continues to spread even after DDT spraying has stopped, lowering the effectiveness not only of DDT but also other pesticides.(Current Biology, 8/9/05).

And even if you do agree with Ms Mandel ( and you are a moron if you do), the book was still a landmark incident of the 60's and worthy of historic recognition. Somehow Ms. Mandel seems to ignore that. Probably because, writing inside the wingnut echo chamber, perspective and context are things that easily get lost. Certainly it works out well for her. She gets to publish inaccurate precepts, her readership is generally too stupid to know better, and so in turn they spread it around to all their right thinking friends.

This is why we can't have nice things. 

She marking them begins a wailing note And sings extemporally a woeful ditty How love makes young men thrall and old men dote How love is wise in folly, foolish-witty Her heavy anthem still concludes in woe, And still the choir of echoes answer so. (William Shakespeare)

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Nov 14 2013

I shall not go quietly into that great good night.

Well at least if they are going to fuck me over, they are going to pay for it up front first.

Sitting in the lounge here at Stuttgart airport, enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and preparing to board a flight to Istanbul and then onward to points elsewhere. Great thing about going through Istanbul is the Star Alliance lounge there. I planned a three hour layover so I can stuff my self on their free food and beer. Its an huge spread of kabob, pasta, and soups and salads. And beer. Did I mention beer? After all, if what is left of my so called "career" is going into hibernation, one ought to damn well fatten up for it. 😉

This will be the second of four trips in about as many weeks. My kind of month. Problem is-with the current lunacy that passes for governance these days-its feast or famine, and when I get back the long travel drought will begin. Its even going to be touch and go as to whether I maintain my elite status this year-something that pisses me off to no end.

C'est le guerre.

On the way over to shopping mall, I flew on Lufthansa, which actually was not too bad. If you have to be trapped in economy, its always better to be so on a recognized foreign flag carrier than an American one. As I was nursing my post dinner Warsteiner, I happened to stumble on this movie in the entertainment queue: the English title is Chorus of Angels. Its a recent Japanese movie having come out just last year. The Japanese title is Kita no canaria tachi. ( Canaries of the North). Don't know why they did not translate the title exactly since it is more appropriate to the subject of the film.



The movie is set in a village on an island that is just north of Hokkaido-one of several that are around the Northernmost Island of the Japanese Islands. Its a small village with a small school. The main actress, now living in Tokyo and retired ( I cannot remember her name) is visited by the Tokyo police. The suspect is one of her former students. The boy as a student had been unruly and the teacher had made contact with him through songs-and the group got really good. The teacher revisits the island to find out what has happened to each of her six students from 20 years ago.

The movie's plot is a little off kilter-but it provides an interesting venue for telling the story. Over abut 90 minutes it unfolds the story of each of the students and of the teacher and the events that drove them together and eventually apart. The movie was fascinating for me-and it was a great chance to hear the language I miss so dearly, and I was happy I could understand most of it, without the subtitles to help. The movie is very interesting once you accept the plot improbabilities-but it is also very sad. I found my self tearing up near the end. My next door neighbor in the adjoining seat probably thought I was crazy. But it was a movie that tugged on you heart strings.

Here is a trailer from the movie (sorry about the lack of subtitles):


Its worth the time if you can find it in English-or Japanese for that matter. I liked it.

Time board the plane. Onward!

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Oct 30 2013

Recent reading

Published by under Movies and Books

Well, after two nights of work-I finally have repaired all the damage the spambots caused to my humble little web site. Blogger may have had its drawbacks-but it did not require as much care and feeding as Word Press does.

The week has been going about as well as one can expect-given that all of us are just getting ready to get fucked up the ass assimilated into oblivion. For the short term I will have to deal with it, until I can more clearly outline a path to something better. I have no doubt what that is yet-but trust me-I will be thinking about it. I will be using some of my time on upcoming trip back to the Whining States of America to talk with folks a lot more learned than your humble scribe.

Over the last month, I have done a considerable amount of book reading. As this abomination of a reorganziation was going through its birth pangs, I took making sure I left my desk at lunch time, and holing up somewhere nice and read my I-pad with all my books on it. I covered a lot of ground.

The first book was this one:


The book was very interesting, and I enjoyed it. I think all the hype about Resa Aslan being a Muslim was way overdone. Plenty of Christian scholars have written well on Mohammed and that did not diminish from the quality of their work at all. In the book Aslan just postulates Jesus as yet another rebel who was among many who advocated freeing Israel from their Roman oppressors. I get that. He point out that what distinguishes Jesus is that he was quite successful at it. But the major point he makes is that -the rise of Christianity came after Jesus' death. And to that death- Reslan makes what I consider, a major omission. He does not even try to explain the story of the resurrection-he simply treats it as if it did not happen. But given that, he fails to make a compelling case for the level of his followers devotion afterward. What Reslan does do well, is to explain the schism in the early church; between the followers of Paul and those of James. And that goes a long way towards explaining the difference in tone between the letters of Paul which compose most of the New Testament and those of James. Paul has much more emphasis on mysticism-for which I agree with Reslan devolves into the modern Catholic Church, and James who puts a lot more emphasis on doing the right thing, and still respecting the Jewish faith that begat Christianity. James' letters are a more practical guide to life than Paul's, and Reslan does a good job of chronicling the split in their views. Its worth a read-whether you are devout or not.

The next book is one on Wall Street. Its The Big Short  by Michael Lewis. Lewis is a gifted writer and this is an excellent retelling of the malfeasance that led up to the financial crisis of 2008 and how a handful of investors turned it into a huge money making opportunity.  One group of pessimists he discusses turned 112,000 dollars of their own money into 447 MILLION.  True story.  If you have any sympathy for the big Wall Street banks and the crisis-this book will disavow you of it. And make you understand what truly greedy bastards they are.

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Moving on.

I've been reading a book about Sex in China. Which is great because it points out how lousy the Western influence was on China. When China was alone to itself over a 1000 years ago-sex was not dirty, it was a vital part of life. Along came first, Confucianism and later on Christianity and they together fucked things up royally. The book does a good job of how the Chinese used to have, as did the Japanese, a health love of sex and appreciation for pleasing both partners repeatedly. Christianity came along and fucked that all up. And then-came Mao, who was a disaster for the evolution of good sex in China, and for whom many of the post Mao events can be blamed. ( This, while he was evidently getting fucked regularly by any number of willing modern day concubines). The book is called, Behind the Red Door , by Richard Burger. 

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Of course, all the book did was make me want to immediately go to Frankfurt and board a plane to Shanghai.

The next book that I read, was one I really liked-mainly because it told the story of how despite all of our supposed "adoration" for the American Military man, the governing class is devoted to selling them out at every opportunity.  This is something I became painfully aware of myself as I watched a a worthless piece of shit a useless man pull the strings to fuck the rest of us over.  Andrew Bacevich wrote the book, Breach of Trust, How America is failing its Military as a song to urge the general population to understand the civil military divide:

In Breach of Trust, bestselling author Andrew Bacevich takes stock of the separation between Americans and their military, tracing its origins to the Vietnam era and exploring its pernicious implications: a nation with an abiding appetite for war waged at enormous expense by a standing army demonstrably unable to achieve victory. Among the collateral casualties are values once considered central to democratic practice, including the principle that responsibility for defending the country should rest with its citizens.

Citing figures as diverse as the martyr-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the marine-turned-anti-warrior Smedley Butler, Breach of Trust summons Americans to restore that principle. Rather than something for “other people” to do, national defense should become the business of “we the people.” Should Americans refuse to shoulder this responsibility, Bacevich warns, the prospect of endless war, waged by a “foreign legion” of professionals and contractor-mercenaries, beckons. So too does bankruptcy—moral as well as fiscal.

I particularly identified with his citing of Smedley Butler, and his explanation of how some of us experience a "Smedly Butler moment"-namely that point where you realize, that every thing you have worked for, every ideal you believed in about your chosen service, every year you spent in its service, was pursued in support of an overwhelming abomination and a lie. Butler had that moment back in the 30's-and I had that moment reinforced to me in the lead up to this abomination of a reorganization.




Bacevich's main argument, backed up by some good data is that the All Volunteer Army is a mistake- a huge one. He makes it clear he believes, as I do, that national service should be a requirement of every American. Bacevich takes it farther than I do-my belief is that it is a requirement of manhood only, based on my firm belief that women have a much different role to play in society.  Nonetheless he's right in that " an all-volunteer army in a democratic society simply does not work, and that the present system is "broken." It is bankrupting our country, and not just financially, but morally. He tells us that Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the longest and most expensive wars in U.S. history, have evoked little more than "an attitude of cordial indifference" on the part of a shallow and selfish populace more concerned with the latest doings of the Kardashians, professional superstar athletes or other vapid and overpaid millionaire celebrities, reflecting "a culture that is moored to nothing more than irreverent whimsy and jeering ridicule."

This book is well worth your time.

And finally, I finished the book by This Town, by Marc Leibovich that explains in all too close detail the inner workings of the pundit and lobbying class in Washington DC.



This is not an in-depth investigation into Washington corruption; it is, rather, a panoramic view of the culture of Washington, the fertile soil in which the corruption grows and flourishes. Presented in a lively, humorous manner, it is rather enjoyable to read. So much so that one tends to lose sight of the fact that these are people – Washington insiders, that is – who enrich themselves with money taxpayers are forced to send to the government. You get the sense that these people always have a smirk on their faces, laughing at the stupid people – everyone outside of the Beltway – who support their little aristocracy upon the Potomac ('The Club', as it's referred to). The author, Mark Leibovich, doesn't draw conclusions for us, he presents the rather corrupt underbelly of Washington – politicians and their minions as they really are – and let's us decide just how bad it really is.

I happen to agree with that review. Nonetheless, the book is still worth the read.

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Jul 18 2013

Movie Review

Published by under Movies and Books

Better late than never, I guess.

I finally got to see the latest Star Trek movie in the JJ Abrams reboot of the franchise. Star Trek, Into Darkness was a much better movie than the first, in my humble opinion-although I still have BIG issues with how they took and shredded the Star Trek timeline, and in the process destroyed some of the best moments of the Star Trek "history".

If you are not a serious Star Trek fan, which I most definitely am, then its a good two hours of hit tech computer graphics entertainment. But for the serious Star Trek aficionado the rebooted movie series still leaves a few things to be desired.


Things I liked about the movie. For one thing-I am definitely warming to Zachary Quinto as Spock. He brings some depth to the character that Leonard Nimoy also could have done, had not the Original Series script writers not been so stilted.

You will completely understand the Admiral Marcus character better ( a lot of critics evidently complained about it)-if you watch the TV Show Star Trek Enterprise 4th season two part episode "Terra Prime".  Basically he is reprising the character he played in those episodes-and Peter Weller is doing it equally as well as he did before. "Terra Prime-forever!"

Simon Pegg as Scotty is awesome.

The whole Spock -Ohura thing is at the same time pretty cool; and kind of creepy. However the actress who plays Ohura is definitely in the "do-ability" window.

I was really digging the chick who played Carol Marcus. She could have my baby. ( But here's a question-how do you have an American father and grow up with a British accent?)

Things I didn't like:

So Star Fleet is victim of a terrorist attack that kills hundreds of people in London. An emergency meeting is called on top of their HQ building and it also gets attacked by Khan the minute it starts. Does it seem believable for you to imagine a helicopter successfully going in front of the oval office to attack the President just after a deadly terrorist attack? It's already incredibly far-fetched and stupid in our time – how are we supposed to describe a similar situation 300 years in the future with an exponentially better technology?

The opening scene was just ridiculous-and also adds nothing to the movie. Sure it sets the stage to show the interplay between Capt Pike and Kirk-but there are much better ways to that. And the Enterprise underwater? Give me a break!

Again, just like in the first film, Midshipmen do not go from being a midshipman to being a Captain. It screws up some of the development of the original CAPT Kirk. Unbelievable-especially when you think that Starfleet is a global organization. Global organization= global bureaucracy.

How did Khan teleport to Kronos?  And if he can transport that far-why do you need Starships? That's a big hole they should have thought through better.

They did not explain the background history of the Eugenics Wars at all. This is key to understanding who Khan is and why he is such a dangerous guy. And furthermore-he may have been genetically enhanced, but that surely does not make him immortal. So the whole "super blood thing" is just unbelievable.  Even in the new Star Trek Timeline, surely they would have known who Khan was.

And while we are on Khan; He certainly does not look Noonyan Sing like. Khan was from South Asia. ( Nonetheless, the actor who plays him is a great villain) .

The whole juxtaposition of the "Wrath of Khan" and this movie was neat-but the Spock screaming "KHAN!" thing was just too much.

And finally , what's with the Nazi designed Star Trek uniforms? When did Herr Goebbels become a fashion consultant to the movie business?


Its a good ride-but it could have been a better movie. AND it could have paid better homage to the series and its history. Makes me wonder how JJ Abrams is going to fuck up Star Wars. ( You think Star Trek fans are geeks-wait till you have literally 1000's of Jedi Knight wannabe's on your case.)


 Oh, and speaking of Zachary Quinto, this Audi commercial with him in it is just awesome:

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Jun 19 2013

Some recent thoughts on Israel

I spent the last two weeks in Israel pretty much covering the country from Beersheba to the Sea of Galilee. So there was little time to post. It was a good trip-and I will have to post my pictures soon. I also, in my spare moments was attacking two different books. The first was, This is My God, by Hermann Wouk. I read this in a major effort to understand the modern tenants of Judaism-which I think is important to understand the link Israelis make as a whole of their Jewishness with their nationality. In no other religion is nationality so bound up in a particular faith. I do not understand it-even after finishing the book.

The second book was a re-read of a book I bough about 14 years ago, called Mandate Days by Dr. A.J. Sherman. Its an examination of the 30 years of the British Mandate and how the British tried to please both Arabs and Jews and in the end alienated them both. I found it especially pertinent after visiting the Etzel ( Irgun) museum in Tel Aviv. ( You can get a 2 for 1 ticket that works for both the Irgun and IDF history museums-the IDF museum is just across the street at what used to be the old Jaffa train station. Well worth a visit).

I found the Irgun museum more than a little disturbing. Because basically,  it is celebration of outright terrorism-the same exact type of terrorism that Israel decries every day and has had to deal with. Yet in telling the story of the Irgun, it does not just lay out the facts,  it glorifies the terrorist acts they committed against the British. And it ignores a basic fact, namely that the Arabs and specifically Islam were in Palestine for a longer period than the sons of Judah. The dome of the Rock has been on temple mount for 1300 years, longer than either the first or the second temples. And then, due to Zionism in the 20th century-along came waves of Jewish Immigrants-waving a Bible and the Balfour Declaration and demanding that both the British and the Arabs step aside.

That was the dilemma that the British faced in pre-World War II Palestine. After the war-the tragedy of the holocaust, coupled with the knowledge that the Allies, in general,  and the US State Department in particular, had turned a blind eye to clear cut evidence that the tragedy was taking place. Actions could have been undertaken that would have saved lives-in particular going after the camps with bombing raids and loosening up US immigration quotas. The pressure to provide the promised Jewish Homeland was enormous.

But did that actually justify mindless acts of violence in response? I tend to think not. While I was going through the museum, I couldn't help but think-how would I react, if I were in Baghdad, and saw exhibits that glorified the bombings of Americans; stating that they helped drive out the American occupiers?

This is not to say I want to undo the past. Israel exists and it thrives today and has made Palestine on the whole a much more productive place than other nations in the region. But it also drove home to me that the historical story is not as one sided as our Israeli friends sometimes wish to portray. The truth, as it always is, just a bit blurrier.

Whatever-both books are worth a read, especially if you spend a great deal of time in Israel.

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Jan 07 2013

Recent reading

Published by under Movies and Books,The S.0.

I know I have been long overdue in posting some reviews of recent books I have read. Perhaps the one benefit of my recent trip across the pond is the books I got read ( and in one case) re-read. But I have been remiss in sharing them with you.

Well, no longer. Lets start with the one I most recently received:


I only received it recently and am only about half way through it. I like Kaplan's books even if his support for the Iraq war was totally misplaced. I think, from his tone in this book, he realizes how much the Bush administration fucked up its planning and execution of the war-and it also serves as a prime example of how a failure to understand how geography, and how it influences groupings of people-caused the US to experience nothing but pain and suffering in Iraq.

Kaplan also makes a great point that Americans live lives that are largely ignorant of the travails of the rest of the world. Protected by two oceans and unbombed and uninvaded, Americans have a sense of superiority over Europe that is unjustified. As he points out: "The militarism and pragmatism of continental Europe, to which Americans always felt superior, was the result of geography, not character." reminding us as John Adams did, "There is no special providence for Americans and their nature is the same as that of others."

I am just now to the section discussing the Indian Sub-continent where he is pointing out that for all their faults, the British were a unifying force in India-and their leaving created a vacuum that has never been fully replaced. ( Not that I believe either the Indians or Pakistanis are fully capable of doing so). 

I am looking forward to finishing the book.


Next up is Thomas Rick's book The Generals.  This is a comprehensive look at America's Army flag leadership from World War II to the present. Like Rick's other books its very readable-but at the same time its hard to agree with all of his conclusions. A few of my disagreements:



1) He is too much in love with the idea of firing people. He cites Marshall's propensity to fire people. This may have indeed been the case-but in Marshall's day people got second chances. Plus, as the history shows, sometimes firing someone only made matters worse. Firing only should be an option of last resort-not first. And times now are different than then.

2)  He has clearly drunk the Petreaus Kool-Aid, more than a little too much of the stuff.  ( The book was written before the great and powerful man was exposed as just a man-with unfulfilled needs like the rest of us.) In his examination of the Iraq war and Petreaus he glosses over the fact that Petreaus was a part of the problem before he became the solution.  And that contrary to popular belief, "The Surge" of which he was proclaimed a saint because of-did not work.

3) While some of his other criticisms of generals are on the mark-in particular his sizing up of MacArthur, he is very, very, unfair in his criticisms of Norman Schwarzkopf. Basically he takes the side of the "we should have gone to Baghdad" crowd. I think this a case where "Stormin Norman" was smarter than Washington Post journalists. And Schwarzkopf was fortunate enough to have a President who understood what his real mission was.

It still a good read-so long as you understand up front, that Ricks has his own agenda, and its not necessarily right.

Don't drink the Kool-Aid!


I re-read Joseph Stiglitz book, The Price of Inequality. I think the guy is right on the mark.


To Mr Stiglitz, this inequality is the result of public policy being captured by an elite who have feathered their own nests at the expense of the rest. They have used their power to distort political debate, pushing through tax cuts to favor the rich and adjusting monetary policy to favor the banks. Many of the new rich are not entrepreneurs but “rent-seekers”, he says, who use monopoly power to boost profits.

I happen to agree with his view point 100%

Stiglitz is right to focus on the issue. Across the developed world, the average worker is suffering a squeeze in living standards while bankers and chief executives are still doing very nicely. This dichotomy is bound to have social and political consequences. Most reasonable people understand that-not so your average Fox News viewer in America. Who is too busy complaining about "wealth redistribution" to the "Lucky Duckies" than what is really happening. Namely that the wealth is heading upwards.


The final book I am in the process of finishing ( have been reading it off and on in starts when I am depressed, which lately has been a lot) is submitted without comment. 


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Jun 25 2012

Recent Reading….plus other stuff

I have a lot I would like to write about. I just have no spirit or energy to do so. I've been busy at work getting ready for a meeting next month. And at home I have been dealing with S.O.'s increasingly frivolous views of life and doing her womanly duty. Long story-best not gotten into here. Bottom line is she better change…..soon. Don't even think about asking me to change; zero sex is not an option. I am getting laid one way or another.



I've done a lot of reading on planes and trains lately. I thought I would pass on some of my observations on the books I have read recently. First on the block is my reading of a book about an American in Paris.

 The story of this book is simple. A writer in a rut in New York, basically citing a language ability higher than his real skill in French-bluffs his way into an a job as a copywriter in an advertising firm in Paris. The ensuing chapters regal us with the story of his running hard into the wall of believed ability in French vs real ability in French. Something I can relate to. (  See previous post, "I can totally speak Nihongo".) Like me he rapidly discovers that he understands what is being said to him reasonably well-however his ability to turn that into a spoken response that doesn't make him seem like a complete idiot is a rather daunting task. ( One I overcame when actually living in Japan, however now-thanks to 4+ years away from the promised land-is atrophying. As for my spoken German-the less said the better).

The book is an enjoyable read and at the beginning you are quite enthralled with the experiences that he relates that anyone who has lived overseas has experienced. The typical American frustration that things don't work the same as they do back home; trying to communicate basic needs; culture shock at a different value system ( although by the end he quite correctly points out that the French are not as different from Americans as we think they are) and finally the challenge of keeping a relationship alive when you partner is even more at a disadvantage than you are. ( Which quite accurately describes my issue with the SO in Alabama and here).

Unfortunately, in this book you ultimately end the read with a bad taste in your mouth. That is mainly because, just about when you get to the point where you are rooting for Rosecrans Baldwin, he goes and figuratively kicks you in the nuts.  After a mere 12 months of living in the city of light-he abandons it, for a pretty crass reason-he sold his book. And he decided to go home. After that point I had no sympathy for the guy. A year and you pack it in? In Tokyo that person would be considered a wimp of the first order. And he didn't even have to deal with Japanese toilets. A year in Tokyo is just scratching the surface of the city and the people-I have no doubt its the same in Paris. That this cretin was allowed to turn it into a book that made him some money ( this was not the book he sold BTW) just grated me to no end. Add on to that the fact that he was getting to do some good traveling and meet some high powered people and you have to ask yourself one question, " Who the fuck does this guy think he is?" It reminds me of a satyr who goes to Bangkok and whines about the quality of the cuisine. You are in the middle of a steak banquet and don't know it.

There are some interesting anecdotes in the book-but in the end I was disappointed. It was your typical expat "nose in the air story". Basically the European version of " I came to Asia and can't believe all these Western men who went nuts over the women. I didn't come to Japan for the women." Yea, well screw you pal-I did and they lived up to expectations. Clearly Bangkok would be wasted on this guy.

So, I am glad I read the book-but I won't  be reading it again. Take you highbrow attitude back to New York.  And come to an overseas country when you can stay a while.


The other book I have read recently was much more satisfying intellectually-and quite depressing professionally and emotionally. I read Peter Beinart's The Crisis of Zionism. Its good for me professionally since I am having to deal with Israelis in real time in my day job-which is both fulfilling and frustrating at the same time. 

In June 2010, Peter Beinart published a long article in the New York Review of Books with a provocative title: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment." The article caused a storm of protest. There had been increasing reluctance from the Jewish establishment to criticize any aspect of Israeli policy. This assault was all the more shocking because it came from "inside the tent.'' Mr. Beinart is a committed Zionist and an observant Jew


Beinart's book was useful for me, because it exposed many of the the falsehoods that lay at the core of the beliefs of the Israelis that I have to deal with. If you spend any time with members of the IDF they will consistently remind you that Israel is a small country surrounded by enemies. What they conveniently leave out of course is that many of the enemies have been created by the IDF themselves-and by Israelis schizophrenic settlement policy in the west bank. Beinart correctly points out that Israeli policy is at least in part life-threatening. With continued hostility from the outside, Mr. Beinart is convinced that the best solution would be the establishment of a Palestinian state. But recent peace proposals have been accompanied by conditions that make acceptance impossible. Above all, Jewish settlement in the West Bank has made the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state increasingly unlikely.


And it is that point I part ways with Peter Beinart. He supports the core belief of Zionism-that such a state is ultmately necessary. My point is that religion-whatever its form-is a lousy basis on which to build a nation state. If Israel were not so tightly wedded to the Jewish faith-and to its really radical Haredi practioners it could probably come to a reasonable accomdation that would servie the interests of both Jews and Arabs. But that is at odds with Israel's very core-and thus the problem we live with. As a Mandate supporter -albeit retrocactively- I understand both points of view very well.


But Beinart is right-there is no going back to that, and there can be no denying Israel's Jewish character. So ultimately it is in Israels interest to solve the Palestinian problem.


Except-under Netanyahu-it does not want to. A point Mr, Beinart makes quite well.


Beinart does the math that most conservative evangelical Christians don't want to-nor do the most ardent supporters of AIPAC.


  Most experts believe that if Israel does not disengage from the Palestinian territories, the number of Arabs living under Israeli control will soon outnumber the number of Jews, forcing Israel to make a difficult choice: Either maintain the status quo, in which Palestinians can't vote, and stop being a democracy, or grant Palestinians the right to vote and end the country's status as a democracy with a Jewish majority. 

"The big question for me is can Israel survive as a democracy and a Jewish state?" he said.

"We are moving toward the day in which Israel's occupation will be permanent, when it will be impossible to create a viable Palestinian state," he added. "When we wake up to the reality that that's happened, it will force my children to make the choice that I don't ever want them to have to make: between being a Zionist and being a believer in democracy."


If you don't believe him, spend some time reading Israeli newspapers-which is a part of my daily work-and you will see he is closer to the mark than we care to admit.



I'd love to write some more about US politics, but to tell you the truth, it really depresses me right now. The stark truth is that country is slowly, but surely, heading off the rails. Its legislative branch is not functional and it has primarily to do with one party only. Please spare me the both sides do it bullshit. Only one party clings to a brand of idealism totally out of sync with the ideas of the world these days. And its aided by a hack group of enablers called the Roberts Supreme Court:

Underscoring the point, a Bloomberg poll of 21 constitutional scholars found that 19 of them believe the individual mandate is constitutional, but only eight said they expected the Supreme Court to rule that way. The headline nicely conveys the reality of the current Court: "Obama Health Law Seen Valid, Scholars Expect Rejection."

How would you characterize a legal system that knowledgeable observers assume will not follow the law and instead will advance a particular party-faction agenda? That's how we used to talk about the Chinese courts when I was living there. Now it's how law professors are describing the Supreme Court of the John Roberts era.

Ezra Klein writes quite skillfuly how this happened.

The first step was, perhaps, the hardest: The Republican Party had to take an official and unanimous stand against the wisdom and constitutionality of the individual mandate. Typically, it’s not that difficult for the opposition party to oppose the least popular element in the majority party’s largest initiative. But the individual mandate was a policy idea Republicans had thought of in the late-1980s and supported for two decades. They had, in effect, to convince every Republican to say that the policy they had been supporting was an unconstitutional assault on liberty.


But they succeeded. In December 2009 every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate unconstitutional. They did this even though a number of them had their names on bills that included an individual mandate. (For more on the political history of the mandate, see this post.)

The unity among Senate Republicans reflected a unity among all the institutions associated with the Republican Party. Fox News and right-wing talk radio pushed the idea that the mandate was unconstitutional. Republican attorney generals began pushing the idea that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Conservative think tanks — including the Heritage Foundation, which arguably brought the mandate to Washington and the Republican Party in 1989 — began releasing a steady stream of material arguing that the mandate was unconstitutional. Conservative legal scholars began developing arguments showing the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Within a matter of months, the fact that the individual mandate was unconstitutional was as much a part of Republican Party dogma as “no new taxes.”

All of this forced the controversy over the individual mandate into the mainstream media, too. After all, if one of America’s two major political parties thinks the most significant health reform since Medicare is unconstitutional, well, that’s a story! And, as most Americans are not constitutional law scholars, it made the individual mandate look like questionable policy. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin put it to me in the New Yorker, “If you’re reading articles in the Times describing the case against the mandate, you assume this is a live controversy.”


This was in great part due to all the months of coverage of “grassroots” town halls with people screaming that “Obamacare = Socialism”, endlessly covered by networks like CNN, had something to do with the message being muddled. Then when White House officials go out to correct the narrative, they get shouted down by Village types who say “But clearly the people are against this, so why are you doing it?” It is clearly wrong-as most smart Constitutional Scholars point out. But what it says about the stupidty of the American people and the dysfunction of a government that should know better is glaring.

And so the founding fathers weep from heaven. And I remain comitted to living away from those besotted shores because of that stupidity.

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