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Archive for the ‘Priorities’ Category

We live in an interesting age.  Daily, it seems, the news brings details of a society in which satire no longer has a place, because reality is far sillier and stranger than anything that the mind of even the cleverest satirist could conjure into being on paper.  It is a world in which the outrageous and stultifying have become so commonplace that even the most cynical among us are left with only a barely uttered “Of course…” when presented with the latest manifestation of the counterintuitive, and cognitive dissonance.  It is a situation which has often reduced my own reactions from what might otherwise be some form of analysis to silence in the face of what would have seemed inconceivable or laughably absurd a decade ago.

The expression du jour of this is the latest round of OUTRAGE!!!111!!!eleventy!! over the shootings in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week.   Once again, we were inundated with the predictable misdiagnosis of the issue, and the inevitable cries for the wrong solution.  What made this different is the added layer of “Huh?” laid over the now ubiquitous knee-jerk reaction in the form of the other hysterical outbursts of the same people slobbering out their calls for “commonsense gun control”, their hyperbolic insistence that President Trump is a fascist out to deny them all the freedoms.

This hue and cry was already turned up to 11, with the stubborn clinging to a narrative that the President “colluded” with Russians to influence the 2016 Presidential election, and the shrill characterization of this imagined skullduggery as “treason”.  This, we are supposed to believe, is the reason for Hillary Clinton’s loss, and not the fact that she was a terrible candidate who couldn’t be bothered to travel to Wisconsin and Michigan, and adopt the standard pose that she actually gave a damn about being the President for the people who live there.  Under normal circumstances, this would be an inexplicable reaction, but when the candidate herself still blames everyone but herself for this failure, it would at least explain some of this reaction.  The now revealed evidence of just how many people were involved in trying to fix the outcome in her favor, and her party’s own “collusion” with the Russians in compiling a salacious and incredulous “dossier” on her competitor brings some of this into focus, and at the same time, the astonishing degree of projection, and the obvious nature of it, causes the casual observer to wonder why it is that we are still investigating the President, and how after more than a year, we have found nothing to support the claims against him, while ample evidence of his opponent doing what he has been accused of has been laid bare, with nary an eyelash bat among the chattering classes, and her supporters.

Into this environment, we have such breathless exhortations such as “Democracy Dies In Darkness” emblazoned on the mastheads of blatantly partisan newspapers, whipping their ideological kin up into great frothy declarations of how this President is a fascist and a threat to freedom.   And then, in a society where mental health issues are encouraged, and celebrated, rather than treated, for the safety of the sufferer and those around them, we have a mentally ill person lash out and kill people.

The usual suspects are as predictable as the sunrise in the East with respect to these events.  Sadly, they cannot wait until the bodies are cool to start blaming the instrumentality, rather than the perpetrator, and waving the bloody bodies in their repetitious demands that the Constitution be abrogated because people who were deliberately made helpless were killed in the condition forced upon them by the state.  The second-tier foot soldiers in this assault on freedom quickly change their protests over from “Trump FASCIST!!!111!!!” to “WE MUST BAN ALL GUNZ NAO!!!111!!  AND IF YOU DON’T AGREE WITH ME, YOU HATE CHILDREN!!!111!!!”

This occurs without a single thought to the distance between the gears they have just shifted between.  Most people with normally functioning self-awareness might take the time to consider the logic of calls to disarm citizens while at the same time decrying the current administration as one characterized by fascistic tendencies so pronounced that it requires a “Resistance” and the constant drumbeat of how every action it takes will kill people.  But then, as I observed at the beginning of this piece, we live in interesting times.

It is a conundrum which I have been mulling over for a while.

And then, this morning, I read Scott Morefield’s excellent post at Townhall.com this morning, pointing out that context matters.  And it got me thinking, which then sent me back to re-read the account of Jesus’s arrest in the Gospels.  We know that the three synoptic gospels were all written for slightly different audiences, and that as a result, their accounts of the events of Christ’s life differ slightly, with emphasis on different aspects.  I myself have always been partial to the gospel of Luke, because he describes Jesus’s empathy with the human condition in a way that makes clear that he walked in the flesh, the same as you and I.

While Mathew and Mark describe Peter cutting off the ear of one of the mob come to arrest Jesus, they do not tell us which one, or what Jesus did for this man.  Luke gives us the missing details…that Peter cut off this man’s right ear, and that Jesus responded by saying “Permit even this.”, and touched the man’s ear, healing it.  All the Gospels state that at this point, Jesus chastised this crowd for not acting in this fashion, and instead sitting at his feet and listening when he was teaching in the Temple.

I can hear the more patient among you asking “Fine, fine, Blackiswhite… you have pondered something in the gospels.  This is relevant because…?”  The answer is very simple.  The mob was there to arrest Jesus because he had the temerity to present himself as who he was.   They came with the intent of causing him to answer for it, and yet he SHOWED them who he was with this simple act, and when this occurred right before their obviously lying eyes, it changed nothing.  Apparently not even the man who had his ear restored gave a second thought to what they had witnessed, and what it said about their purpose.  This speaks volumes, to know that such occurrences are not new, or that they can happen in the face of real evidence of the contrary.

And it is sad…that people can know so much, be so “woke”, and yet understand so very, very little.

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Sometimes, you are faced with a disconnect that is so profound that it is alarming in its implications.  One such example is the conduct that I and other friends have been on the receiving end of since Tuesday night.  The vitriol itself would normally be bad enough, as it has come at the hands of people who are usually vocal to the point of preachiness about “tolerance” and “diversity”, but when its coming from people we thought were our friends, it is as disappointing as their venom is disturbing.

Earlier today, I read a long post on Facebook from someone whom I have known a long, long time, explaining his justification for such behavior.  In several ways, this was a continuation of a series of disparagements and slanders he started Tuesday night, but to read just how much he’s allowed this poison to cloud this thinking really took me aback.  I had resolved to sleep on it before writing this piece, but when I got home, I saw this from another friend who I have only known for about ten years, a friend who I first befriended online, but who I later met in person (he lives in the north part of the Puget Sound region, and whom I have since met up with several other times):

so I’ve been called a racist three times in the last two days….twice by people who know me well and who should know better, and once by some idiot who doesn’t know me at all. So, I make this request of all of you…….If you consider me a racist for how I voted (which I’ve explained numerous times). Instead of dirtying yourself with that kind of ugliness, unfriend me both here and in real life…..It is wrong and ignorant and prejudiced and you know it. I have a pretty high opinion of all of you and would like to hold onto that opinion…..so just unfriend me and not ruin my perception of the better person that I believe you to be.
I wish you well.

Reading this angered me.

It angered me, because I know this man.  I’ve done business with this man.  I’ve had coffee with this man.  I’ve met his wife, and I’ve done work for the both of them.  This slander angered me.  And my disappointment tempered it.  I was disappointed because two other people who knew him could still hurl this accusation in a way that clearly displayed serious enough intent that he took it seriously.  I was disappointed because he was not the only person I knew experiencing this.

Which brings me back not only to the friend justifying this kind of behavior, but all my friends.  Facebook is really an interesting development.  While it can be a timesuck, it has also been a means  for me to keep in contact with family all over the country, to renew friendships with people I went to college with, people I went to law school with, people I worked pre-law jobs with, or to strengthen friendships formed in other places on the internet, as well as make new friends with friends of my friends, and join some online communities based on shared interests, some of which don’t really have too much at all to do with politics.

Now when you think about it, having friends from so many different experiences and times in my life, it should not be too terribly  shocking that some of them hold political leanings to the opposite of my own.  While this can “get loud” sometimes, I have never considered “unfriending” anyone because we disagree about something.  I have often said, my tongue only partially in my cheek, that if I were to act in such a manner every time someone else was wrong, I would have long ago given the world the finger, and moved to a remote cabin up in the mountains where I would no longer have to deal with such effrontery.  The truth is that I’m actually used to having relationships of various degrees with people who believe differently than I do.  Much of my family actually falls into this category, but it doesn’t dim my affection for them.  Some of my friends on Facebook are people whom I chose to be friends with, knowing full well their opposition to my viewpoint on various matters. I was able to do so because I still shared some sort of interest with them, or because I enjoyed the exchanges I had with them, because they were able to debate without the hyperbole, the slander, and the pigeon strutting which is all too common in my experience when dealing with those who have political views which oppose my own.  As for those who subscribe to a different view who are my friends from previous shared experiences, the point remains the same; I chose to be friends with them, if only because my previous experiences with them taught me that they weren’t bad people, regardless of their political views.  Put another way, their opposing viewpoints do not dim my affection for these people whom I made a conscious decision to associate with and  “friend” on the social media platform.  So when I see these same people unflinchingly and reflexively assert that the possession of an opposite opinion can ONLY be the result of evil intention and/or some debilitating form of ignorance or intellectual disability, which then somehow justifies the ongoing slander and disparagement, like some perverse cadence of curiously permissible hate and intolerance of the now “unfriended” or soon to be “unfriended” individual, my sadness becomes profound.  When the justification includes naked assertions of “facts” which are no such thing, and when the justifier is someone you know to be smarter than the things they are saying, I am disappointed.  When the justification is then wound up with this rather remarkable pronunciation:

People are not “unfriending” their “friends” because of an election. They are separating themselves from people who have exposed themselves to lack the benevolence, intelligence, sophistication and good-will-of-heart to participate in the advanced citizenship known as “America”.

I realize that some of the people who cry loudest about “tolerance” and “diversity” are least capable of living in a society that values it, or can benefit from it.  Henry Ford once famously quipped at an early point in his company’s life “You can have one of my cars in any color you like, as long as it’s black.”  That kind of restriction doesn’t live up to the ideal presented in either word, nor does it make for a healthy society.

My unfriending friend also made a point often made by various members and followers of the Left over the last decade or so…his own variation on the slightly humorous assertion that he and others who share his view are the “adults” in the room:

We can relate to children because we were all children once upon a time. However, as we grow older and wiser and more sophisticated, we do not socialize with children. They are not part of our peer group. We do not pass notes that say “yes, no or maybe” when we are 30 or 40.

That is, of course, his view.  For myself, once I moved away from the community we both grew up in, and went to law school, where I started to ask questions which made some of my professors uncomfortable, and started reading the treatises that used to be used to train lawyers, but have been long since abandoned in favor of the case method, I grew to form more conservative views than those I have been exposed to (less diplomatic people might be inclined to say “indoctrinated in”) when I was younger.  The irony is that the more I read, and the more I observed, and the more my body of knowledge grew as I continued my education, the more I developed these views.  The key to this is the “I”.  I didn’t come to these conclusions because they were what I was being taught.  I didn’t come to these conclusions because it was what my professors were telling me.  I did that, as my knowledge and experience grew and developed.  These weren’t conditions that lend themselves to “regression” to some troglodyte lens through which the world is viewed, and while I’m not hurt by the endless broad brush assertions to the contrary, I have grown impatient with apparent apprehension that is excuses people who state this from having to take me seriously, and instead somehow get a free pass to insult me and my friends, and casually ascribe all manner of ill or evil intent to our views.  If you’re a friend of mine, and you’re doing this, the question I challenge you to answer is this:

“Are you really that unwilling to focus your wit and intellect on persuading me to see the reason in your position, or are you simply incapable of successfully doing so, and your actions are instead some kind of coping mechanism?”

I submit that the question is one that you should answer honestly as much for yourself and your own well-being as it is for mine.

Will any of this cause my unfriending friend to engage in any serious introspection, or will he simply continue his social media crusade and unfriend me too?  I hope that it is the former and not the latter, not just between us, but between all of the people in this country right now, because it is one thing to call me an enemy, but still engage in a dialogue for the sake of our shared experiences and amity (Hell, if Jefferson and Adams could do it, there is no reason for us to want or believe otherwise).  It is quite another to call me an enemy, then set out to treat me as one…and if this happens often enough, to enough people, then that is exactly what we will have, and nothing about that is “American”.

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I gave up trying to predict the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election.  If I spoke out about the very real reasons why Hillary Clinton, a/k/a Felonia von Pantsuit, could not be allowed to win the election, I was usually greeted with responses asking how Trump could possibly be more acceptable.  While I loathed the idea of President Trump, the idea of a person who clearly flouted public records laws in order to conceal a pay-to-play scandal that monetized a government sinecure and put US policy up for bids by interested parties.

Having said that, I wasn’t sure that Trump could actually take down the great Clinton criminal enterprise.  I decided that I wasn’t even going to watch the election results, but at about 8:30 pm, my curiosity got the best of me, and I turned to the CBS coverage, and discovered that it was actually a fight.  I ended up staying with it, rotating around to the various networks and ended up really enjoying watching the various talking heads struggling to contain their disappointment.  But what has been simultaneously disappointing and amusing has been the post-mortem the legacy media has engaged in after their humiliation Tuesday, and how so many of them fail to grasp the real cause of the Trump victory.

No, this wasn’t a “whitelash”.  No, this wasn’t misogyny.

This was about the average American deciding that they are fed up with constantly being lectured to, with serious looks, smug condescension, and wagging fingers about how they are everything wrong with this country, and how the way they have lived, and want to continue to live, is a crime against humanity, and that even considering that they are being fed nonsense is somehow a thought crime for which they should feel utterly and completely ashamed for not abjectly debasing themselves and groveling for the pardon of their fellow citizens who fancy themselves to be the intellectual, cultural, and yes, even moral betters of the people they deign to look down upon.  I’m not the first person to make this observation, or to be disappointed that instead, the introspection of these “experts” too often leads to the conclusion that it is someone else’s fault.  The pollsters.  The voters who could have only voted for Trump because of evil motives and dark hearts.  But this is only part of the story.

The other factor is the incestuous relationship between the Left and the Media, and what they have done to Republican Party for decades.

While Trump was not my first choice, nor my twelfth choice, I did previously note, with not a small degree of amusement, Trump’s ability to take everything the Democrats and the media could throw at him, shrug it of, and essentially say “AND???”  Even the Republican Party failed to understand how he was able to do this, but the answer lies in the votes of the people who made him the President-Elect:  Double-standards and political correctness are not embraced by average people.   For decades, Democrats have catered to excess.  They have constantly advocated the use of liberty as cloak for vice.  Republicans, as a general rule, have aimed for a different demographic, hence the generalization about “family values”.  This has provided a powerful tool for Democrats and the Press, because while everyone is human, human failings have only been suitable for pointing out as it applies to Republican candidates.  At the same time, we have had a creeping transformation of expectations focused around the dubious notion that we each have a “right” to not be offended.  As this cancerous idea grew, and metastasized, victimhood has become both a sword and shield as everything has become offensive to someone.   The result is that Democrats could condemn their opponents for weaknesses that they themselves would never had to defend in their own lives, and over decades, Republicans became conditioned to being cowed, to pulling punches, to not uttering obvious truths aloud, and to slinking away in the face of opponents who could be caught red-handed in all manner of morally questionable deeds, criminal acts, blatant lies, or influence peddling, and never ever display a shred of shame, and under no circumstances ever, ever,ever back down.

And into this scenario, where the average person is fed up with being told they’re the problem with America, that there is the law for the average person, and the law for the rich and powerful, and that subsets of government can pick and choose which laws they want to follow, walks a man who could never be elected.  A man who has said crude things.  A man who has been married multiple times.  A man who has been bankrupt more than once.  A man with an outsized ego (a trait he shares with many politicians, but in his case, this was “unacceptable” to our betters because he wasn’t a member of the political class.)

And when the accusations were flying like mud, he didn’t cower.  He didn’t slink away.  He pushed back.  He’d say stupid, feisty things, rather than getting quiet.  And he would say the things that average people were thinking, whether or not they were politically correct.  As I look back, I am reminded of the Vulcan proverb: “Only Nixon could go to China.”

He has an opportunity that hasn’t come in a very long time.  We have one party in the White House, the House of Representatives, and Senate.  If he chooses smart people to advise him and to be in his cabinet…if he chooses to approach Congressional leaders with an intent to actually work with them, and he pursues an agenda of shrinking government, of cutting regulations and reversing the administrative state, and enacts tax cuts and tax reforms, then we could see a real economic improvement the likes of which we haven’t seen in this country since I was I child.

I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that we could have some real change, and I find myself praying, yes truly praying, that he is visited with divine wisdom, and that he appoints and listens to people who can destroy “business as usual” which has spawned a complacency which has converted public service into a sinecure that creates previously undreamt of wealth for the arduous task of creating nothing but laws and regulations formed by experts with no practical experience or skill.

And I hope he doesn’t blow it.

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1. I get it. Really, I do.
As a conservative, the idea that Trump could be the GOP nominee is terrible. Hell, as a human being, I find this idea repugnant. But honestly, the question for me is “When the media and the Left (BIRM) have taken their best shots at Mr. Hell Toupee, and he and his followers (I’d say supporters, but in truth, I’m not seeing much to differentiate them from Obama followers, and we all know why we use that word to describe them) have just laughed them off and doubled down, to great applause, what does National Review believe that this will accomplish?” At best, this is an exercise in preaching to the choir; and at worst, it makes as much impact as a fart in a hurricane.

2. Principles matter.
People like me are glad to see that some people who identify as Republicans are now on board with this idea have decided to join the rest of us. Perhaps if a few more self-identified Republicans had been as vocal on this point when those elected in 2008 and 2010 declined to fight the fights that matter, the fights we elected them to fight, regardless of their assessments of success in doing so, then we wouldn’t be facing the apparent possibility of a Trump candidacy, let alone the horror of a Trump nomination. Instead, usual suspects continued to support the Marquis of Queensberry Rules and the Imperial Rules of Engagement, and rendered all their talk hollow and cheap to a frustrated electorate. So when the party and its institutions point out that Trump’s prior statements and actions don’t square with his current ones, they fail to recognize that they are the pot calling the kettle black for most Americans, and most bitterly to those who until this latest election season, trusted them.

3. Endorsements of Trump from the likes of Bob Dole and Trent Lott don’t help. Seriously, the next party flunky who jabbers about the “unacceptability” of someone with principles, who has walked the walk, and demonstrated an understanding of the Trumanism “If you want a friend in D.C., buy a dog.” while extolling Trump’s “electability” should be given his or her walking papers. The mere utterance of the word by someone with Republican credentials is taken as confirmation that the label matters more to them than the content, that the win matters more than policy, and that is why “electability” has given us sterling candidates, like Romney, McCain, and Dole, whose great success in Presidential elections gives credence to this concept and the priority that the party put on it.

4. Condescension doesn’t work.

You can say that people don’t know the issues and don’t know what they are doing, and in many cases, you’d be right. But are those people going to listen to anything you say after that? Probably not.

Progressive philosophy and dogged determination have done much to dumb our neighbors down. There is no immediate miracle to reverse this. But what you can do is engage individuals and respectfully challenge their assumptions and conclusions, and when you win them with patience and a dogged determination all your own, they will do the same.

5. We are in a scary place right now…
…and the impossible choice between and inveterate liar with no regard for the lives of people who selflessly dedicate their lives for this country, self-proclaimed socialist who promises to make everything “free”, including things government has no business providing to anyone, while at the same time acknowledging that those “free” things have an enormous cost on one side, and on the other, an egotistical, brash narcissist who, like the man he seeks to succeed, also has no understanding of the limitations imposed on the Executive branch of government, by design, is frightening. Especially when this man’s exaggerated sense of self-worth impairs his ability to thoughtfully reflect on the actions of others and respond in a manner which is best for the country, rather in a fashion that would best assuage his outsized ego.

Anger, righteous anger, and a willingness that no mainstream Republican demonstrated to actually talk about issues unfiltered by the restrictions of euphemism and fear of offending anyone brought us to this point. We can talk all day long about how anger doesn’t win elections, but 2008 and 2010 are proof that this is wrong. Because of this, and the excuses and failure yielded by the trust placed in the party after the last two elections, the talk about anger not working will fall on deaf ears, closed by the empty past rhetoric of “electability” and “compromise” from suits festooned with the party label.

Until the party publicly declares ownership of this disaster, it won’t regain any credibility with anyone. And the longer we go on without this admission of responsibility, the more likely it is that we really will have to hold our noses and choose the least onerous choice on a menu of excrement, and if that happens, we will remember the people most responsible for this for a long, long, long time.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk with you tonight, because as the song says, “Let us not talk falsely now, because the hour is getting late.”

Can we turn the lights down please?  I would rather that those who are watching have more reason to concentrate on my words, rather than the size of my pores which are being illuminated with the light of multiple suns.  Ahh, thank you.

*walks to the front of the stage, sits down on the edge with legs dangling off the side*

That’s better.

By now, I’m sure that you have all come to understand that an organization that calls itself “Islamic State” has declared war on the West, which includes US.  I know that there are no shortage of voices who will trip over each other in their hurry to tell you that IS represents an “extreme” or “militant” version of Islam, and still others who are just as eager to tell you that they don’t represent Islam at all.  Frankly, I’m going to leave it up to each one of you to make your own determination as to whether any of these voices are correct.  I’ve done my research.  I’ve noted certain patterns, and methods of operation.  But you, each of you, deserves the right and luxury of being able to make your own investigations, and draw your own conclusions, without the constant drumbeat of people who either don’t trust you to come to the correct conclusions, or cannot fathom of conclusions differing from their own without condemning them as some form of “-ism”, “bigotry”, or other object of “offense”, not worthy of consideration, and totally devoid of merit.

Tonight, and in the coming days of this election, you will hear candidates of all leanings, from both of the major parties who will tell you that if you will only elect them, they “will keep the Homeland safe.”

This is a lie.

The fact is that they can’t “keep us safe”.  The reason is two-fold.

First, too many of our nation’s resources have their gaze, and their suspicion fixed on American citizens, as part of an institutional culture that routinely rejects the sovereignty of individual Americans and regards the exercise of their sovereign rights as threats to the state…a state which is being morphed into an end of its own, rather than an expression of an ideal set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  This is why you will increasingly refer to “the Homeland”, rather than “America”, despite the fact that Americans need no “reminder”, subtle, or otherwise, that America is our home.  At the same time, we have trained those who are supposed to be looking out for our nation that we cannot possibly act in a prudent fashion to secure ourselves from external threats, or keep from transforming these external threats into internal ones.

Secondly, we face a foe which loves death more than they love life.  They are ruthless.  They are determined.  And they are patient.  This means that even if all of the government’s considerable resources were trained in the right direction, the odds are still against us, and successful attacks will succeed.

If we are to rely on only our own agency to combat this, then the only path to victory is a terrible resolve, to either make the death they love so horrifying, so terrible, that they will chose life in the alternative, or to fight this evil to every last man, woman, and yes, child, because they have enlisted even their own children in this conflict.

We are in a moment of decision, when we need to have clarity in our deliberation, and the wisdom to understand that leaders take responsibility not only for the successes of their subordinates, but for their failures as well.  While it is apparent to me that this should disqualify many of the candidates running for office, I understand the temptation to want to believe that a specific candidate who talks tough can be a savior.  The best leaders lead by example, and first, we need to actually elect a leader who believes in the American people, and who can remind them of their own genius, and their goodness, and inspire them to live them, rather than deferring to a government that is poorly equipped to assume a moral responsibility that runs contrary to too many of its own purposes.  For too long, we have compromised with evil, and clothed it in the mundane as we have made it part and parcel of our daily life.  This will lead some among us to believe that compromise is a laudatory and worthy goal, and will seek to make it happen.  The best outcome we can hope for with this is a temporary peace, and an arrogant complacency which will make us subject to an eventual defeat.

The election season is one that demands, and receives, a degree of suspension of disbelief that would be unthinkable in any other aspect of our lives.  We would never accept the brazen lies told to us by politicians from friends, co-workers, lovers, or family, and yet we expect it, hell, we want it from people who have continually demonstrated that they are utterly unworthy of our trust, which we freely give every time, like Charlie Brown expecting Lucy to not pull away the football.

We don’t need the puffery, the exaggerations, and the flat-out lies.
We don’t need someone who doesn’t like us to wag his finger and tell us who we are and who we aren’t, when he’s only interested in who he wants us to be.  We know who we are.  And we need a leader who is one of us, not someone who has contempt for who we are, and who cynically seeks to exploit us because that is who they are.  We just have to decide if we are going to chose a leader who represents our qualities, and if we want to win the conflict that is being brought to us, or if we will be “fundamentally transformed”, and chose to be the last ones eaten by the alligator.

Good night.

*fade to black*

 

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Black Sea

Captain Robinson has a problem.

The movie opens with the veteran submarine captain being informed by a desk jockey that his employment with the salvage company he works for has come to an end.  Robinson’s reaction is a mix of shock and anger, as he realizes that the career he has lost his family to has discarded him like so much refuse.

However, a conversation with other unemployed salvers in a pub offers the hope of a privately finance salvage job in the Black Sea…one that would allow him to retire richer than he could ever imagine, so he could attempt to rekindle his relationship with his 12 year-old son, who is being raised by his ex-wife and her new husband.  Soon he and his fellow conspirators hatch a plan to reach a Nazi U-boat, which supposedly disappeared in 1940 after taking on a cargo of gold paid to the Nazis by Stalin in a desperate attempt to buy peace with Germany at the outset of the Second World War.

He is soon introduced to a mysterious individual, who offers to provide the necessary financial backing in exchange for 40% of any gold found up to $40,000,000.00, and 20% of any gold above that amount the salvers recover.  From there, Robinson, and his friends hatch a plan to buy an old Soviet diesel submarine to use in their attempts to salvage the gold without either the Georgian or the Soviet navies learning of their efforts.  In order to keep the costs down, they decide on a half British, half Russian skeleton crew of misfits and psychopaths, and travel to Sevastopol to purchase a floating wreck which is no longer adequate to be repurposed into razor blades, and set to refitting and provisioning for the trip.

You can guess that this is a recipe for disaster, and you would be right, but Jude Law’s performance as the haggard captain convincingly portrays the kind of desperation that would push a man who should know better to seal himself in a tin can with a small crew of people who don’t like or trust their own countrymen, and mix them with an equal number of foreigners who they despise even more.  Once the predictable series of events and disasters start to unfold, the good captain becomes even more desperate, and ends up compounding the problem, returning to balance only when he discovers that he and his shrinking crew have been set up by their former employer, and weren’t ever going to be able to keep the tons of gold they sacrificed so much to retrieve, because the corporation and the Georgian government had already divided it among themselves.  At this point, the clichéd reimagining of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” ended, as the captain ended up sacrificing himself to save the only two characters who weren’t modern-day pirates.

Black Sea

While there were some “liberties” taken with the script in terms of the science involved in undersea adventures, there was really only one that managed to pull my attention from the story to the gaff and make me say “oh, c’mon…”.   I was also put off a bit by the language, but it would be foolish to expect a movie about sailors to feature sailors who didn’t talk like sailors.

Overall, it was an ok story, and a decent diversion for a short time, but it isn’t one that I would be looking to purchase for my collection.

The Equalizer

When this movie first came out, I made some jokes about how Hollywood had to put some old white male actor out of work in this “reimagining” of the 80’s television character, and how disappointed I was that some social justice warrior wasn’t starting a hashtag campaign in protest.  I confess that while I did so as a joke, I do suffer from a certain annoyance with Hollywood’s proclivity to “reimagine” my childhood, and often cast it in a darker light, rather than simply telling a new story, and that is why I took so long to get around to watching this movie.

My original memories of the show are somewhat vague, as I was still fairly young, and it originally aired at 10 pm on Saturdays, a time when I was normally in bed.  I recently borrowed the first season from my local library, and found that the Joel Surnow produced show was fairly well written and acted.  It featured Edward Woodward as the “retired” spy who set up shop in New York City after an operation was botched badly by a jittery agent who prevented Robert McCall from keeping his word to the subject of the operation.  Because he still had some highly placed friends in the Agency, because he knew where the bodies were buried, and because he agreed to make himself available for certain ops that required his expertise and skill set, the Agency unofficially agreed to look the other way, and not bring him in from the cold.  As I watched the episodes in order, I found myself reasonably impressed by the tradecraft written into the series, although some of the technology seems horribly dated in this day and age.  However, I believe that one of the things that the original series got absolutely correct was that its main character carried himself like a successful operative would, which is anything but what we see James Bond do in film after film.  Woodward’s McCall is an older man, without any distinguishing features that would make him stick out in the average person’s memory.  Yes, he had an English accent.  Yes, he drove a Jaguar, which was much less common on the nation’s roadways at that time than today.  But he also knew how to blend into the crowd.  He could, and often did observe without drawing any attention to himself, and if you ran into him on the street, there was nothing about him that would raise your awareness or pique your curiosity unless he wanted it to.  That’s why the character worked for several seasons.  And that’s why I found it easier to believe he was who he was supposed to be than Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall.

The movie opens quietly, and it doesn’t take long to see that McCall is a man who is hiding, and it isn’t until fifteen minutes or so into the movie that you start to get a glimmer of what it is…who it is…he is hiding from.  But it is obvious from the  introduction that while he lives a quiet life, it is not who he is.  His apartment is spartan, and spotless.  Nothing is out-of-place.  His bed is made so tightly that quarter could bounce on it.  He’s clearly been up since well before dawn.  His morning routine shows a rigid discipline, and his own personal maintenance, appearance and demeanor is too focused, too ordered, too strack for him to be the quiet widower working for a home improvement warehouse that he appears to be.

It is his routine that guides him into the conflict, and the confrontation with himself that drives the story, however, as his middle-of-the-night trips to his local 24-hour diner draw him into a friendship with a much younger prostitute working for the local Russian mob.  When she makes the mistake of believing that she could be something more, the local mob boss puts her in her place with a brutal beating that sends her to the local ICU, and McCall finds himself, almost absent-mindedly using his formidable skills against the gangsters, and the local cops who are on their payroll.  This brings him into conflict with the crime family’s enforcer, “Teddy” (brilliantly portrayed by Marton Csokas), a former Spetznaz member who is unburdened by emotion or sentiment, and who shows a singular determination to find the party responsible for upsetting the enterprise’s apple cart, and make an example of him.

McCall and Friend
When McCall realizes that his own message has invited a much larger response, he makes a trip to visit his former boss, who still has connections with the Agency, to get intelligence about his new and lethal adversary.  She, and her husband are both pleasantly surprised (but not too surprised) to learn that McCall is still alive, after having apparently faked his death shortly after his wife passed away.  This lead to one of what I felt were the two most telling sequences in the film, where in a moment of candor, his former boss tells McCall that it is time for him to go be who he is.  After he left, her husband asked “Is everything alright? Were you able to help him?”, and she sagely responded “He didn’t come for help. He came for permission.”
This permission wasn’t just official sanction, it was permission to be the person who he promised his dead wife that he would never be again, because that was the person who the world needed him to be.  This was the part of the story that the movie got absolutely correct, and because of it, this was the story that I had vainly hoped to see when I watched Harry Brown.  Washington’s McCall was the man I expected from Caine’s Brown.  A man who could afford to be quiet, because everything about him screamed the motto “Be polite, be courteous, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

The movie’s other telling moment came after Teddy, who is impersonating one of the dirty cops on his employer’s payroll, confronts McCall, because he doesn’t believe that the intelligence the police have gathered on McCall is correct.  While each knew who the other was, neither stepped away from the charade that they had decided to play.  McCall played the sort-of-informed citizen, who just happened to be at the restaurant where the mobsters were rapidly and efficiently dispatched, a bystander who wanted to help, but hadn’t seen a thing, and Teddy the detective, just trying to follow up with all potential witnesses.  However, McCall’s body language and actions didn’t match those of a harmless and ineffectual widower, and instead sent a very different message than his words.  The encounter ended on an awkward note, when McCall’s average citizen asked a provocative question, leaving Teddy to make a poor excuse as he retreated to the waiting SUV driven by one of the dirty cops, who had listened to the exchange without any idea of the conversation the two had physically carried on with each other, leaving Teddy to utter the one truth about Washington’s portrayal of the former spook that was obvious about him from the opening of the movie: “Everything about the man is wrong.”

It isn’t often when there is such an obvious disconnect in a film, and I end up liking it anyway, but this is the case with “The Equalizer”.   This might only be because I concluded that Washington’s McCall was never a spy so much as he was a fixer.  He wasn’t a man who could be inconspicuous unless he chose to be very conspicuous.  He was a man who would be sent to deal with problems in a very permanent fashion, and that would be what would allow him to be the Equalizer in today’s society, in which reason is much discussed, but rarely practiced, and in which the veneer of civilization is polished much more brightly in order to hide just how thin it has come to be.

This is a film I would watch again, because it reflects the world we live in.

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*******SPOILER ALERT********

Avengers  Age of Ultron

Today my oldest son took me to see the latest Avengers movie as my belated Father’s Day gift. I enjoyed it tremendously. I have a bone to pick with one of the central plot points, but for other reasons, the film redeemed itself spectacularly. Let’s start with the “bad” first.

Like so many other people, I grew up reading comic books, and the Avengers were one of my favorite titles. And in the world of Marvel Silver and Bronze Age and the 80s, Ultron was Hank Pym’s cross to bear. I realize that many of you may be saying “C’mon, you’re being silly. It was a great story!”, and you’d be absolutely right. I freely admit that the hang up about this is my own, and as stupid as it sounds, it is because these characters were as much my friends growing up as any flesh-and-blood people actually were. And because I actually give a damn, part of me was wondering all the way through “Is it too much?” Ultron was, and is, an extinction-level baddie, who was one of the many bad pennies that The Avengers had to deal with time and again. Because of this, I couldn’t help feeling that putting his creation on to the consciences of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was a manifestly unfair act in story-telling. Tony is a man whose entire life has been shaped by his self-doubt and failure, a man who is divided between constantly running from his demons, and trying to make up for them. No matter how tormented be may be privately, at least he gets to hide behind the image of success, and a million-dollar smile, even if the music he hears when he closes his eyes is a thundering rendition of “Eminence Front”. Bruce Banner can only dream of that kind of peace. Instead, the best he can hope for is a life of anonymity in the shadows, where he can hide from EVERYONE, especially himself, and the monster that is freed by rage and anger. He lives a life in which he can’t close his eyes, because all he’ll hear are the screams of the hundreds of thousands the beast within has killed or maimed since being freed in an accident of science. This is why I questioned the retcon of the old familiar story. These two have enough on their plate without throwing Ultron into the mix. But that said, “It is done”, and so the cinematic universe continues.

Moving on to the “good”, first and foremost, the team has completed its metamorphosis from a group of unique individuals, into an actual “team”, with even a haunted Bruce Banner willingly freeing The Hulk when the team gets in over their heads with Hydra forces at the beginning of the movie and Hawkeye is injured. The team calls in a “Code Green”, bringing the gamma beast into the fray, and tipping the balance into the team’s favor.

Even so, there is still room for surprises, and we get to see Natasha let her guard down, and admit her attraction to Bruce Banner, which in a fun scene, she herself admits is improbable. We also got to see them all having fun in moments where nothing of consequence was at stake, and it very much felt like we got to enjoy it with them. But the part that hit it out of the park for me was the fact that Hawkeye got his due in this film.

In a world where so many spend so much time and effort attacking symbols for what they want to see in them and spend so little addressing the actual issues, because doing so might offend someone, or laud men in dresses for their “courage” while vilifying those who patiently ask “How is that courageous?”, Hawkeye reminded us what real heroism looks like. I know, I know, he’s a fictional character on a team of super heroes. How can that possibly represent real heroism?

The answer was plain as day in the story. Hawkeye and the Black Widow aren’t like the rest of the team. They aren’t invulnerable. They don’t have super powers, or a special suit to help keep them safe. They can be injured…severely…or even killed. And yet, they suit up. They play their parts on a team as members of a team. They are unafraid to put their lives on the line to save a teammate, or anyone else. When other people are running from danger, they run toward it. And they don’t have to.

When everyone on the team is paralyzed by the visions of their fears, the juxtaposition couldn’t have been more jarring to me. Captain America, in looking to those dreams, had to confront the truth that he fought for something he never got; the right to come home, and enjoy the peace he gave so much for and do it with that special someone. And now, he fights to give others that opportunity. And yet Hawkeye opened a home that only two others knew he had when they needed a safe place, and when the team had to leave, maybe for the last time, in order to settle accounts with Ultron, he left that oasis, a pregnant wife, and two small children, in the hope that whatever sacrifice he made, and whatever price he paid, other people would get that chance to go home, to be surrounded by their loved ones, to live.

His wife didn’t hesitate to support his decision to do so, and she clearly understood that even if he wasn’t super-human, he was still central to the team being a team, and only asked that he made sure that they were worth the sacrifices he was chancing. But the finest moment came when he put himself in harm’s way to save the Scarlet Witch, who he had been fighting only a short time earlier, and gave her the game-winning pep talk when he could no longer ignore that there was still much work to be done if they were to carry the day.

Doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here, you’re good, I’ll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.

And then he pulled an arrow from his quiver, kicked open a door, and went back outside.

The men and women who run toward the danger.

They are the heroes.

The ones who will STAND when the odds are against them, because the fight matters.

They are the heroes.

And although Joss Whedon can be the world’s biggest knucklehead when he gets in front of a microphone, he understands how to tell stories that inspire. And for that, I can forgive him.

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