Thursday, July 12, 2018

Frank Miller's "300" is Completely Realistic. ...No, Seriously.



(Spoiler Warning)

As our story begins, an adolescent Leonidas faces a wolf that seems to have been conjured from Little Red Riding-Hood's worst nightmares. The size of a small horse, it has fangs reminiscent of dagger-blades, and eyes that glow like twin drops of molten bronze. The boy, our would-be king, stands nearly nude, barefoot in the snow, facing the monster with a makeshift spear. Observing the massive creature circling him, looking for an opening, he lures it into a narrow rift in the rock face behind him, forcing it to face him head-on.

Xerxes' messenger arrives at Sparta and warns Leonidas of his emperor's power; "an army so massive it shakes the ground with its march, so vast it drinks the rivers dry." The Spartan king answers Xerxes' demand for submission by kicking his emissary and entourage into a pit so deep we never hear them hit bottom.

Later, Leonidas ascends a windswept peak in the night, climbing bare stone hand-over-hand, to petition the support of Sparta's bizarre mystics, old men so pocked with sores and tumors that they barely resemble humans anymore. They consult their oracle, a young girl who delves into mystic wellsprings of fateful knowledge so vivid that she becomes nearly weightless,... floating above the ground as the spirits caress her.

Armored rhinos the size of small elephants. Elephants the size of three elephants.

Immortal warriors in golden masks that hide their monstrous visage. Lute-playing goat-men. A gluttonous executioner with crude bone-axes for arms.

Anyone who's discussed the movie with others is familiar with the objections.

"It's an awesome flick, but there's just no way it really happened anything like that."

Well, I'm here to tell you... Frank Miller was not exaggerating any of this. Speculating some of it? Perhaps. But, not exaggerating. All of this is very realistic. In fact, given the limited run-time audiences expect from feature films, if anything, the story is probably understated. 

How can this possibly be true?

It's actually very obvious. In fact, the explanation that renders the story literal is apparent throughout the film.

Here's a hint...



~Most People Don't Realize What This Story Isn't~

Pictured above is the character Dilios, as portrayed by David Wenham.

This character is not based upon a real historical figure. He did not really exist.*

He is entirely a literary framing device that lends self-awareness to the outlandishness of the narrative. It is a self-awareness that just about everybody misses.

Wenham's voiceover both bookends and accompanies the film, throughout each scene.

Remember that we are not seeing the Battle of Thermopylae nor the Last Stand of the 300. We are, to the contrary, seeing Dilios's account of these events in his effort to whip the Spartan legion into enough of a frenzy that they will demand the Council authorize them to go to war against Xerxes.

Miller makes this apparent through both dialog and, (I believe) a couple instances of symbolism.




~A Talent Unlike Any Other Spartan~

On the eve of the final confrontation with Xerxes, Leonidas pulls Dilios aside and tells him that he is sending him back to Sparta. To this, Dilios protests, saying that he is fit and ready to fight.

"That you are," Leonidas replies, "one of the finest. But, you have another talent, unlike any other Spartan."

Here he is referring to Dilios' eloquence as a speaker and an evocative storyteller.

"You will deliver my final orders to the council, with force and verve. Tell them our story. Make every Greek know what happened here. You have a grand tale to tell."

Leonidas remarks earlier in the film that if he is assassinated, all of Sparta will go to war. This is what he has wanted from the beginning; some way of prodding the stagnant and ineffectual Spartan council into action. He knows that his death would be a galvanizing force, but he suspects that it may still not be enough. He knows that the key lies in inspiring the Spartan Legion itself to demand war, leaving the council no other choice.




~The Eyes Have It~

During the skirmish with Xerxes' Immortals, Leonidas sustains a wound that leaves him with a vertical scar over his left eye.

Sometime later, Dilios loses his left eye to a war-wound of his own.

These wounds are seemingly window-dressing, as they have no effect on anything in the plot. Leonidas' cut is not deep enough to impair him, and Dilios is sent home because of his persuasiveness, not because he is unfit.

What these two seemingly insignificant details do result in, however, is that Dilios and Leonidas spend the entire third act of the film literally winking at the audience.

Their secret meeting, wherein Leonidas orders Dilios home, is shot close-up. The two men are standing face to face, only a foot or so away from one another, and speaking in hushed tones. The frame-up of each shot of their faces, during this meeting, (both in the film and in the original comic) centers on each man's wounded (read: "winking") eye. Gerard Butler's wounded eye is completely shadowed out, in spite of the lighting only dimming the rest of that side of his face.


And look what happens when we overlay the shots, one on top of the other...



Given that these wounds serve no real purpose in the story, I believe they are meant as a symbolic indication that Dilios is knowingly exaggerating the events of the story in the telling, in accordance with Leonidas' wishes and intent.

Frank Miller's "300" is thus not a story about a war.
It is a portrayal of the propaganda campaign that led up to a war.

Yes, the story was exaggerated deliberately. But, the film portrays this exaggeration in an unexaggerated way as part of the narrative. We are not seeing the battle, we're seeing how the battle is played out in the minds of the soldiers listening to Dilios' account.

So, all of it... the giant monsters and the twirly-whirly fighting and each Spartan dropping Persians by the thousands,... is in all likelihood very faithful to how the story was being told in those days, and the telling of the story is what the comic and the movie are really about,.. not the story itself.

In spite of all of this,... among the many things that Dilios exaggerated, changed, or fabricated... I remain at a complete loss as to why he gave Leonidas a Scottish accent. ;)


***

*-(It's possible that the character of Dilios was based, at least, in small part, upon two Spartan soldiers named Aristodemus and Eurytus. These two men were stricken with a disease of the eye, and were sent home to Sparta by Leonidas before the battle began. Eurytus, however... turned back in defiance of his king's orders, to die with his Spartan brothers at the last stand. Aristodemus, on the other hand, for continuing home was contrasted with Eurytus and marked as a coward by the Spartan legion until later redeeming himself at the battle of Plataea.)



Friday, March 30, 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

Op-Ed: Voluntaryists Have More in Common with Conservatives than with Liberals... a LOT More.


I believe that the philosophical position of libertarianism necessitates the political position of conservatism. In other words, when one is philosophically libertarian, being politically conservative is most in line with those principles.

Whether or not a Voluntaryist ought to be politically engaged is a personal choice and not the issue I'm addressing in this piece. That needs to be established right up front, here.

Remaining apolitical is, of course, perfectly consistent with the philosophy of libertarianism.

I am only saying that, as a libertarian (and in particular as a Voluntaryist) IF you are going to become politically engaged, the position of Conservatism in regards to the State is the only one that both makes sense for you, and carries sufficient relevance to validate your engagement.

To explain,... the terms "liberal" and "conservative," do not mean what they used to, in American politics.

To be "politically liberal" used to mean believing that the government should change, that it should evolve in every aspect of its operations and duties. It meant that government should constantly be looking for new ways to handle things, exploring new ideas and new methods.

To be "politically conservative" used to mean believing that the government should be slow to change. That we should be careful about altering or dissolving things that took effort and sacrifice to establish in the first place. It meant that protecting that which had already been discovered or gained or established was at least as important as seeking new gains.

Imagine a tribe of people gathering together in the wild. Over time, they build their civilization up from the dirt and establish themselves. The "political liberals" would be analogous in this example to the explorers of the tribe, the ones who wanted to leave the village and find what else was out there that could be obtained and benefitted from. They would argue that to just stay in the village and never look for new territory would lead to stagnation and resource depletion. The "political conservatives" would be the villagers who wanted to protect and refine the village. They would argue that the prospect of what might be found elsewhere was not worth abandoning what had already been built and obtained.

As Ben Shapiro has observed. Imagine two people, a liberal and a conservative walking across a vast countryside, when suddenly, they encounter a fence, blocking their path.

The liberal says; "I don't understand why this fence is here. It doesn't seem to be serving any purpose at the moment. Let's tear it down so that we can proceed."

The conservative says; "I don't understand why this fence is here. I should do more searching to find out why it's here before I decide whether it should be torn down."

It's important to note that I'm saying "political" conservatives and liberals. Because it's important to keep in mind that we're not talking broadly about human endeavor. In our village example, both the liberals and the conservatives are an essential part of their community. The current territory needs to be held and maintained or the community will collapse, and also new territory must be explored or the community will stagnate.

But, the "political" distinction changes things. "Political" does not refer to community. We are specifically talking about government. The State.

The State operates in total under the authority established by the fact of its legal monopoly on aggression. "Aggression" is defined as the initiation of violent force. (That's initiation. Meaning, acting violently or threatening imminent violence before anyone else in a given situation has. Violence employed in defense of oneself or others either in person or property is non-initiatory and hence, non-aggressive.) The terms "liberal" and "conservative" only make sense in reference to politics if used as descriptors for one's ideas on the appropriate application of said aggression-based authority to the address of problems, issues or challenges facing the society that a given State-apparatus is assumed to govern.

The American Left is only truly "liberal" in terms of their belief in the application of government. They believe that when a problem or challenge is encountered, the society should liberally apply aggression-derived authority (government) to address it. The American Right is "conservative" in the same terms, believing in a conservative application of government to address issues.

If you believe in the Non-Aggression Principle,... at all... (whether with exceptions or without) ...then to simultaneously believe in a liberal application of government/force to the address of issues is philosophically inconsistent and/or intellectually dishonest. Additionally, if you believe in individual freedom, then belief in a liberal application of aggression-derived authority is inconsistent.

Philosophically, I am a Voluntaryist and Anarcho-Capitalist.

For a very long time, I was against all forms of political action. I have changed on this, within the last several years. History has no examples of people successfully *ignoring* government away. Nor is there precedent for the successful institution of a voluntary society via the sudden overthrow of an overgrown state-apparatus. Collapsed states have never lead to successful anarchy. They only lead to new and more violent states.

Therefore, I do believe in the reduction of government by any and all means possible, short of open violence, and I do support political actions that seek to shrink government,... *while understanding* how often such actions are mere pretexts for surreptitious government expansion.

I don't believe that any political party long survives with its principles intact, so I will never register as- nor join the Republican Party. But, I do see eye to eye with political conservatives, because, as I've said... 99 out of a hundred people with *politically* conservative views are basing them on *philosophically* libertarian principles.

As a Voluntaryist, I rarely agree with the Republican Party.

But, I never agree with the Democrats.

"Never" is significantly different from "rarely." Occasionally, a Republican proposal is a sincere effort to reduce state intrusion into private life. I have neither seen nor heard of a Democratic proposal about which the same can be said. Even those proposals with the most liberty-oriented rhetoric, are always and only couched in the expansion of aggression-based authority when they come from the Left. Sometimes, albeit rarely,... proposals that come from the Right, seek to accomplish the expansion of liberty via the reduction of government.


***



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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Catharsis for the Last Jedi... *SPOILERS*

Reviews for “The Last Jedi” are in abundance right now. Everybody has an opinion and the general consensus seems to be that the movie was terrible. I can’t argue with that. There is not a lot to like here. There is a little, don’t get me wrong. But, overall… you’re right to be so pissed off about Disney’s handling of this movie’s legacy.

I’m going to do my best here to not simply regurgitate what’s already been said about this film. (This will be tough, as I think the movie’s been reviewed more in the last two weeks than any film’s been reviewed in a year. But, I think my take is a bit different from most of what’s out there.)

I’ll also note that this review took me a while to finish, because, like everyone else, I wanted desperately to like this movie.

But, I don’t.

It took me a bit to come to grips with the reality of that.

It's not all bad. There are, in spite of everything… three things about this movie that are legitimately great. Three things that shine out in the darkness and valiantly try,… (though sadly fail…) to redeem the rest of it.

Since the movie is such a tangled knot, I’m going to leave those things out, and at the end I’ll cover those three gleaming diamonds in all this rough.

Stick with me. Those diamonds are indeed worth the pain involved in reaching them. In spite of the rest of the film, I’m glad those three things happened.

Let’s begin…

***




“This is not going to go the way you think.”
-Luke Skywalker


I open with this quote because it says everything relevant about the film in terms of the writing and direction, (both furnished by Rian Johnson.) It is not by accident that every trailer for the movie features this line in a prominent way. In both of my viewings of the movie, it struck me that Johnson seemed to be attempting to find every possible way to reiterate this idea through the medium of Star Wars.

This movie, for better or worse, hurts to watch. It’s meant to. (I’ll explain why later.) Anyone who tells you that the movie met their expectations is lying to you. Anyone saying that it exceeded their expectations is straight-up delusional.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is,… from top to bottom, an examination of the subversion of audience expectations. Not-doing-what-we-thought-they-were-going-to-do is the point of this movie. I can’t really fault Rian Johnson too much for this. He's certainly not a bad filmmaker. He's got a good movie to his credit (Looper) and a great movie to his credit (Brick.) In being tapped to write and direct a chapter of the main Star Wars saga, he had the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders and after Episode 7’s deluge of plot-setups and hanging story-threads, he was staring down the barrel of the single largest glut of fan-theories any director has ever had to contend with in the history of film. As such, he has given us a story that examines baiting and switching so often and so repeatedly, it would make Anthony Jeselnik cringe. This occurs in every scene throughout the film. Events build toward a conclusion and then that conclusion is reversed, and re-reversed, until you feel foolish for having had an expectation in the first place.

I believe that this is Rian Johnson expressing his pain as much as it is his servicing of the plot. Many filmmakers, when pushed, will push back with a kind of half-subliminal trolling in their films. Sometimes this chiding is subtle and ingenious (Stanley Kubrick,) and sometimes it’s ham-fisted and moronic (George Lucas.) I don’t think Johnson falls on either extreme, but is somewhere right in the middle-average range.

(See what I did there? -nyuk nyuk-)

-The bombers are trying to do one thing, they aren’t going to do it, oh… no wait, they are. Now they have a chance to do another thing (take out the Dreadnought.) No, they can’t do that, no wait, yes they can. (Editorial: Rian Johnson Doesn’t Understand Physics – Part I: How are they *dropping* bombs? Yes, *dropping,* the movie explicitly says “drop.” The bombs are not *launched* nor are they *fired* they are literally dropped to fall on the Dreadnought… in space… where there’s no gravity.)

-Luke does take the lightsaber. But, he just throws it away and walks off. She follows him until he finally agrees to train her. Then, he freaks out and says that he won’t. Then Yoda’s ghost shows up and talks him into training her after all. Then he dies before he can actually train her. (I know… he’ll probably be back as a Force ghost.)

-Chewbacca’s killed and roasted one of the porgs and is about to eat it. Then he sees them staring at him with puppy-dog eyes and decides not to. Then he changes his mind and roars to scare them all away and goes to bite into the roasted porg anyway. Then he sees one little porg still staring at him, so he throws the roasted porg away.

-Kylo contemplates blasting Leia to death. Then he doesn't. But, it doesn't matter because there's an explosion and Leia gets sucked out into space and apparently dies. The audience collectively thinks this is how they’ve decided to handle Carrie Fisher’s death. Then,… nope, she wakes up,… (in the frozen vacuum of space, by the way?) They open the door (RJ Doesn’t Understand Physics – Part II: No decompression effect,… we literally *just saw* a bunch of people blown out into space by explosive decompression, but now it’s magically not a thing?) Then she falls into a coma. Then wakes up again. To everyone’s great surprise, Leia is the only member of the original trilogy’s roster of heroes who is still alive at the end of the film, even though the actress is the only one not still alive in real life.

-Rey goes to Luke for training. Not receiving it, she concludes that the Rebellion’s best hope lies in her turning Kylo back to the Light, (in fairness, she’s correct, Luke is an utterly useless shadow of his former self in this film.) She confronts Kylo and Snoke. She is tempted to the Dark Side, but not really. Kylo turns on Snoke, kills him and joins Rey in fighting off the Imperial Guard. But, he doesn’t actually turn to the Light, he wants Rey to join him in ruling the First Order. She doesn’t.

-The Walkers are storming the base on Krayt and it’s just a matter of time before their giant battering-ram-cannon blasts through the gate. All is lost. No, wait… it’s not. The rebels fly out to meet them in beat-up old fighter-skiffs. No wait, all is lost again, the fighters get torn apart like an army of toilet-paper trying to fight an army of flaming wheat-threshers,… but, then the Falcon shows up and diverts the TIE fighters away from the Walkers. But, then it doesn’t matter because the fighter-skiffs are still just getting torn apart like they’re nothing.

-Then Finn (the most ineffectual and useless Star Wars character since Jar-Jar Binks) is going to sacrifice himself to take out the cannon and finally be of some actual use. ...Until Rose swoops in and saves him. (RJ Doesn’t Understand Physics - Part III: So, these two ancient, fragile vehicles collide at several hundred miles per hour, literally IN the beam of the high-powered laser-cannon and somehow… neither pilot dies?)  

-Luke shows up and is apparently destroyed by cannon-fire.
Then he steps out of it, demonstrating that he is still the most powerful Jedi in history.
Then, he’s not… because it was just a Force projection and he wasn’t really there.
Then, he’s great again because we realize he’s been projecting himself from half-a-galaxy away.
Then, he sucks again because the strain of it literally kills him.

Why did any of this happen,... why bait and switch Luke's sacrifice only to switch it again and have him die anyway? This one was obviously just to piss us off.

It is the entire movie. Bait, switch, switch-again.

The idea resonates at the macro-scale here, as well. It comes into play between Star Wars films overall. Last Jedi effectively turns The Force Awakens into one massive bait-and-switch. Absolutely none of the threads that JJ Abrams set-up in Episode 7 pays off in Episode 8. Nor are they left to potentially pay off in Episode 9. They’re all just defused. Eliminated from the story.

My greatest irritation with the previous movie (The Force Awakens,) was that it effectively overturned a lot of the story elements that the original trilogy had established.

-Turns out Han didn’t really grow as a person. He’s an absentee father who can’t even be bothered to visit, and is still dodging hitmen and smuggling contraband for drinking money.

-Turns out the Empire wasn’t actually defeated with the destruction of both Sith Lords and the second Death Star. The Rebellion is still a small, underfunded band of rag-tag freedom fighters, and the First Order is still a monolithic behemoth with unlimited resources casting its shadow across the entire galaxy.

-Turns out Luke didn’t reignite the Jedi Order. He gave it up in frustration over a single difficult student, and ran off to live as a hermit.

So, what the hell was the point of the original trilogy?

Well, what Episode 7 did to the original trilogy, Episode 8 does to Episode 7! It’s like a soft reboot on top of the soft reboot they already gave us.

-Snoke is set up in The Force Awakens as the biggest bad-ass Sith Lord ever. Last Jedi reinforces this as he links-up two other people’s minds across the galaxy without either of them knowing that he's doing it. Later, he overpowers both Rey and Kylo in the raw exercise of power, while reading both of their minds and stonewalling every effort at telekinetic subversion. He suspends Rey in the air with a casual wave of his hand. (By the way, this is the girl who literally picked up a lightsaber for the very first time in her life and defeated a Sith who’d been training since childhood. This was after she’d already out-muscled him telepathically. Later in this same movie, we see her effortlessly suspend and cast off dozens and possibly hundreds of tons of solid rock.) And this incredibly powerful Force-Talent is fighting Snoke's telekinesis with all of her might and it amounts to nothing. That is how badass they want us to believe Snoke is. Then, this Grandmaster of the Dark Side, who can surreptitiously read and influence the thoughts of other extremely powerful Force-sensitives from hundreds of light-years away,… somehow can’t hear a rusty, old lightsaber rattling around on the table right next to him.

He dies and we never learn anything about him other than the fact that he was (unnecessarily) a CGI creature, and that he had the power to literally do anything,… except when the writer needed him out of the way.

There are some fan theories out there about how Snoke knew what he was doing all along, and wanted to die, to project himself as a Force Demon into someone else,... or something. But, I think they're giving Rian Johnson way too much credit. Especially after this...

Over the summer, Rian Johnson infamously trolled Star Wars fans on Twitter by posting a picture of himself holding a napkin that says “Your Snoke Theory Sucks.”



Not half as much as yours, Rian.

Or, more to the point,... maybe, they did. Maybe our theories did suck. But, at least we had theories, Rian.

At least we had ideas about the main villain.
It’s unfortunate that you didn’t.

-Rey, who’s secret background is hinted at relentlessly in The Force Awakens,… is revealed to just be some random kid from nowhere, whose parents literally sold her for drug money. (I’ll come back to this later, because I have a lot more to say about it.)

-The victory of destroying Starkiller Base also amounts to nothing as the Rebels are still on the run and literally being wiped out as the movie begins. By the time the movie ends, only a handful of the Rebellion is still alive. All that remains is a "spark."

At this point, the next time the Imperials build some kind of superweapon, any rebel pilot would have to be a complete idiot to want to volunteer to help destroy the thing. It literally never accomplishes anything. 

Ok,… let’s put all of this aside for now.


There is another quote featured prominently in each of the film’s trailers,…

“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”
-Kylo Ren


The reiteration of this quote in trailer after trailer, I believe, is also not a coincidence. It summarizes where Disney’s head is at in terms of how they are intending to utilize the Star Wars property. In other words, Luke’s quote is effectively Rian Johnson talking and Kylo’s quote is Disney.

They want Star Wars to be theirs, and creatively… it isn’t,… and they know this. So, they want to create something new out of it, all on their own, something that they can put their stamp on. But, at the same time, they want to use the nostalgia surrounding the Star Wars brand to sell their new version. They want the intellectual credit for Star Wars, in addition to the intellectual property of Star Wars. The property can be (and has been) simply bought outright, but the credit doesn’t work that way.

(As an aside here, in all fairness to Disney; who can blame them for thinking it does? George Lucas has been incorrectly assigned the credit for Star Wars for decades.**)

The problem is that they’ve been chasing two goals here from the jump. They want to sell us nostalgia for the old movies, but they also want something they can keep selling us, knowing that the three main actors of the original films are all getting very old. Carrie Fisher, as we know, is no longer with us.

In the Red Letter Media review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Tale, Rich Evans observed… “They can’t just keep doing [stormtroopers, lightsabers, and space-battles in every movie,] because then it definitely will get old.”

He’s not wrong.

Star Wars is old. I know because I’m old and Star Wars is only one year younger than me. If you’re thinking that Disney’s intention is to conclude this old saga by giving us the long-awaited Episodes 7, 8, and 9, so that we can all have the closure we’ve been wanting all our lives,… you’re very much mistaken.

Disney’s intention, which they’ve made no secret of, is to keep making Star Wars movies for as long as they can keep the property profitable, at a rate of 1 and eventually 2 movies per year. Episodes 7-9 are, in essence, just the launch of what Disney intends to become a new Star Wars property. They’re filming the Han Solo stand-alone film. They’ve announced a Boba Fett movie, an Obi-Wan movie, a Yoda movie, a Rebellion-Era TV-Series and quote… “many more.” As I sit here, I promise you they will also continue the main saga. There will undoubtedly be an Episode 10, 11, 12,… etc.

They’re not looking to wrap-up something old. They are, to the contrary, in the process of launching something new. There’s nothing wrong with this, and people who scream and yell about how evil and corporate this is, are morons. Star Wars is owned by Disney. People who own things are entitled to do whatever they want with them.

By extension, if you, as a consumer, want to cast out everything Disney does with it, and hold the original trilogy as “your Star Wars,” …nothing that Disney has done, will do, or is even capable of doing,… can stop you. Those movies still exist and they always will. Stop whining and grow up.

But, from a production standpoint, if they want the property to remain profitable, Rich Evans is correct; They can’t just keep milking nostalgia forever, or this won’t work.

Hollywood has been wrestling with this problem for a long time. They went through a phase of making movies based on old TV shows. Then they started remaking old movies. (Yes, I know they’ve always done this. But, I’m talking about the trends that they’ve focused on.) Soon, the term “reboot” came into use in the movie industry. They put genuine effort into normalizing the idea that movies are supposed to be updated and reiterated every so often. But, they wasted no time in overplaying that hand, (there were three different Spider-Men in a single decade,) and people quickly stopped buying into it,… and so now, the big studios are all in the business of building story-continuities, …"Shared Universes" that can unite several movies.

On its face, this is not a bad idea. It allows them to use our Love for what they’ve done before… to market the next wave of products. At any given time, everything you’re seeing now exists not only for its own sake, but to whet your appetite for the next batch of products as well. This is what TV’s marketing strategy has always been, and Hollywood has been trying to adapt it to the feature-film market forever. Shared Universes allow them to do that.

Keep in mind that we’re changing as audiences too. Binge-watching is a thing now. People can and do watch TV series’ a season at a time. Visual storytelling is becoming a richer medium in that way. We're watching movies thinking about other movies related to it. But, as with anything new, there’s also going to be a lot of garbage mixed in with the gold… and a lot of stumbling as studios and production companies come to grips with the new normal.

Also, keep in mind, that shared movie universes are not a completely new thing. The original shared universe came in the form of the monster movies released by Universal in the forties through the sixties. Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula,” Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein,” and Lon Chaney Jr’s “The Wolfman” all took place in the same shared, fictional world, (…along with “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “The Mummy,” and “The Invisible Man,” among others.) But, it is a new phenomenon for shared universes to be the standard into which movie studios are throwing all of their effort.

So, I think this movie was meant to be a deliberately harsh and poignant casting-off both of– and from– the original property.

In concept, this is both good and bad. I appreciate what they intended to do, (divorce themselves from the original Star Wars and give us a new and fresh take on everything,) but, I hate how they did it, at the same time. Undoubtedly, it must have been a tough call to make.

If you’re Disney, you’ve got to do something with this property and the original actors were all still alive at the time of purchase. To not include them would have been seen as disrespectful, if not outright mean-spirited. Fans have never really forgiven George Lucas for not giving us episodes 7-9 in the 90s. But, at the same time… you need to do something new and fresh if you’re launching a whole new iteration of the property. So, a full reboot is off the table, which leaves you painted into a corner with the soft-reboot seeming like your only option.

Yeah, I know… you could just continue the saga and rely on creative people to deliver fresh new ideas anyway. But, with billions of dollars at stake, no one’s going to take that kind of a risk. What Disney did instead is they tried to have it all. They tried to go both ways simultaneously. They wanted to play it safe, but not too safe, and they wanted new ideas, but not too new.

Unfortunately, these were two clubs that just couldn’t be juggled, it seems, because the property, (at least in terms of going forward with the main saga,) has become a travesty. It was a one-two punch. If Episode 7 was the hard left-cross, Episode 8 was the right uppercut that finally KO'ed the franchise's integrity. They killed the old saga off in an unfair, unpoetic, and inappropriate way, while establishing a new saga that is uncompelling, uninspired, and uninteresting.

Luke was right. It didn’t go the way we thought it would.

Nor the way we hoped it would.

Even as the movie began, I thought I was in for something much better than what they delivered. I thought; “Whoa! Ok,… so this entire movie is going to revolve around one big desperate and seemingly inescapable situation. There’s going to be a ticking clock that spans the entire film, this time. That is something Star Wars hasn’t done before. Man, I’m already invested in this!”

Then the rest of the movie happened.

Exactly none of that dramatic tension or momentum was harnessed or utilized in any meaningful way. There were plot-holes you could fly Dreadnoughts through, three at a time. (Others have compiled numerous and exhaustive lists of these glaring mistakes, so I won’t do so here.)

Suffice it to say, they botched this. Badly.

Not just in terms of Star Wars, either. This was just a bad movie. Period.

The one bait and switch that I would have kept, the one that I thought was really meaningful,… was the fact that Rey came from nowhere. The fact that she was just some girl.

That was moving, I thought. Or,… it would have been, if they’d done anything with it.

Star Wars has always given us people from great families or dynasties, and then there’s the outlier. To Luke’s *Son of the Most Powerful Sith Lord Ever* and *Chosen One Who Will Bring Balance to the Force* and Leia’s *Princess of Alderaan,* and *Leader of the Rebellion,*… we had Han’s *Just some guy,* who started as a scoundrel and ended-up a hero.

How cool is the idea that, this time the nobody is the biggest bad-ass Force-wielder in the galaxy?

But, they wrecked it by making her such a Mary Sue with no explanation. Sure, she had fighting experience with her staff and living as a young, female scavenger on Jakku. But, she beats a Master lightsaber-duelist (Kylo Ren) and a Grandmaster Jedi (Luke) with no formal training, taking down the former literally the first time she’s ever held a lightsaber, and the latter… with a god-damned stick!

I’m all for this natural virtuoso discovering raw power within her and being fearful of it. That's awesome! But highly developed precision skills should never just come from nowhere. It doesn't make sense. That’s just bad storytelling economy. It smacks of a filmmaker who thinks that "Stuff People Can Do," is all intrinsically of the same nature. That someone who's good at computer programming is fundamentally the same as someone who's really strong,... or even... really lucky.

Yes, I know that between the three chapters of the original trilogy, Luke had a grand total of like two-weeks of training, but he also pretty much got his ass handed to him in both of his duels with Vader. In Empire, Vader is pretty clearly just toying with him, trying to teach him about the ultimate futility of things like hope, faith in friends, and the Light Side of the Force overall,… everything dies and so the Dark always prevails,… that kind of thing… capping off the lesson by literally slicing his hand off, and leaving him defenseless, broken, and alone, hanging upside down over a miles-long drop, with nowhere to turn except to him. Luke proves him wrong by trusting in the Force, and the Force provides. Beyond his knowledge there is another Force sensitive nearby. On instinct, he reaches out to her and she rescues him. And in Jedi? Luke literally gets driven into *hiding under the stairs* to avoid Vader until he manages to get the upper hand by opening himself to the Dark Side. As the more powerful Force-Sensitive, he managed to overpower his father by doing so. Palpatine wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted Luke to take his father’s place at his side. It’s the way of the Sith, the strongest earns his place by proving his strength,… “beating the Man to be the Man,” as it were.

Rey being nobody also works in contrast with Kylo. Kylo is very much “Dark Luke.”

Kylo is special because of his blood, and he knows it and you’re going to know it too, damn it!

Rey is the flip-side of that.

Again,… IF it had been handled better.

Another thing that I thought was pretty good was Luke’s appraisal of the Jedi as stagnant and overly rigid in their approach. He’s right.

The Jedi had indeed become stale and dogmatic. This refusal to change and adapt led to the rise of the Empire right under their noses.

The problem, Rian... is that Luke already proved that and redeemed the Jedi in Return of the Jedi. The two literal ghosts of the Jedi order were telling him he was a fool for thinking that it was even possible to turn back to the Light Side after succumbing to the Dark, that he was a fool for wanting to risk himself as the last Jedi to save his friends from an inescapable fate.

He proved them wrong. On both counts. He had already demonstrated the staleness of the old way and forged ahead with a new path.

Why is he cycling back to this realization again in his 60s like it's something new?

Nonsense!


Ok, so what about those three diamonds in the rough, I mentioned?

1. Luke’s lesson to Rey about the Force.

That moment, when Luke has Rey close her eyes and reach out to the Force... It’s something that has happened in every Star Wars movie. There’s always that moment when the Jedi closes their eyes and “reaches out with their feelings.” It calms them, centers them, and shows them their place in the great turning of the awesome machinery of nature, giving them uncommon insight into the way of things.

But, this is the first time we’ve ever been given a glimpse of what they’re seeing/feeling/perceiving when they do this. We all know how insightful and wise the Jedi can be. We've seen some of the amazing things they can do and we've heard them pontificate about things like 'feeling the will of the Force,' 'feeling that the Force was 'strong' with someone,' etc. But, in this scene, we are given our first ever sample of what all of that looks like *from the Jedi's perspective.* This scene was the very first time that we were allowed to actually see, for ourselves, through the eyes of a Jedi, and to experience the Force directly, the way the Jedi and the Sith do, rather than merely bearing witness to its aggregate effects like a bystander.

Concordant with Rey's meditation, Luke’s dialogue both reiterates and expands upon the timeless framing of the Force that Yoda gave us in “Empire.”

Isn’t that just so God-damned much better than fucking Midichlorians?

That one moment returns the Force to something mystical,… shamanic,… archetypal. A metaphysical alchemy that exceeds both the reach and grasp of one's biology, the Force can only be comprehended in that headspace where the mind anchors the soul.

For that moment alone, I would sit through the rest of this movie.


2. Rey and Kylo take on the Imperial Guard.

What I’m about to say is not intended as hyperbole. This scene is, without question, the best action scene Star Wars, as a franchise, has ever given us. It is the best action-choreography, -pacing, and -cinematography that any of the other films; (original trilogy, prequel trilogy, animated series,’ or Rogue One) have ever given us, but with all of the portent and dramatic weight that lightsaber duels haven’t had since 1983.

It was perfect.

3. Yoda.

Yoda has always been, and remains today, my all-time favorite Star Wars character.

I was hoping that at some point in this new trilogy, we would see Yoda’s ghost. When he died, he didn’t just die, he faded away like Obi-Wan did. Vader was surprised and confused by Obi-Wan’s vanishing act, if you’ll recall. (He nudged around in the empty robes with his toe.) This tells us that Jedi don’t usually just vanish like that. So, there was something special and unique about this method of dying. The other unique thing was returning as a ghost.

Now, admittedly… back in the 80s, I’m pretty sure we all thought that Jedi’s spirits tended to linger on after death, and other Force-Sensitives could see them. It wasn’t until Lucas decided that Ghost-Projection was just Force Technique #672 of the “Spirituality” Power-Tree, ...that any of us thought otherwise.

I thought that Rey’s training would have been a perfect time for Yoda to show up.

His effect on the story is not what I had hoped it would be. However, his final parting lesson to Luke was great.

It was, (unlike prequel-Yoda)true to the original trilogy version of the character,… which is the Yoda I like.

He spoke about things like letting go and accepting that we do not control anything, we merely guide things by going with the flow, and that ultimately everyone has their own destiny and their own choices to make along the path toward finding it.

“The greatest teacher, failure is.” (This line actually gives me hope for Star Wars in spite of Last Jedi. That’s how awesome Yoda is!)

“We are what they grow beyond. That is the burden of all Masters.”

Yes!

His prequel-doppleganger was just some dogmatic little Pope sputtering nonsense about how one subjective emotion objectively always leads to some other subjective emotion, before leaping around like a circus monkey with a tiny, baby-sized lightsaber and NOT seeing the Sith Lord *TALKING TO HIM* in meetings.

I was very happy to see the real Yoda one last time.

All in all, Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is one big, giant sigh of longing for what might have been. It’s a bittersweet thing that is a lot more bitter than sweet. But, as I said,… it’s just a movie. The original trilogy is still there for us.

Eventually,… way down the line… Star Wars is going to be rebooted.

Here’s hoping that, when that day comes, the saga finds itself in more capable hands.

It’s sad that we’ll never get a proper sequel-saga with Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford.

But, let’s be honest with ourselves… The original trilogy was lightning in a bottle. It was never going to happen anyway. You can’t summon that kind of synergy on purpose. It’s the result of everything just coming together perfectly in ways that no one is consciously capable of orchestrating.

You can’t go home again.

But, you also don’t need to, because though you left home, what mattered most about home never left you, and it never will.

So, despair not, my fellow fans.

Disney used a couple quotes to summarize their message. I’ll use one to summarize mine.

“Remember, the Force will be with you,… always.”
-Obi-Wan Kenobi

***

Also, watch this. It's funny as hell...





***


**In spite of what most fans think, George Lucas’s Star Wars is something we’ve never actually seen. It’s a Love-letter to Flash Gordon, wherein Luke Starkiller is a 60-year-old retired general with a robotic head, Han Solo is a 7-foot-tall humanoid frog, and Yoda is a literal elf complete with pointy-toed shoes, and magic wand, straight out of Santa’s workshop. The Force, meanwhile is a power that comes from a kind of cosmic Holy Grail called the Khyber Crystal, the finding of which the series was originally intended to revolve around.

Nearly all of Lucas’s original ideas for… (*deep breath*)

“The Adventures of Luke Starkiller, As Taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars,” (…yes, that was the original title. No joke.)

…were overruled, shot down, and laughed out of the writers-room by those he was collaborating with. At the end of filming, the movie he’d shot was an unmitigated disaster. Gary Kurtz, the film’s producer has been quoted as saying it was all “terrible trash of the worst kind.”

It was then given to two gifted film editors (Richard Chew and Paul Hirsch) who basically performed the editing equivalent of turning water into wine in transforming George Lucas's pile of hot celluloid fecal-matter into the modern masterpiece we know today as Star Wars.

The film stands to this day as the greatest example of just how much can be accomplished through editing.

In spite of this, George Lucas has been riding the “I’m the Guy Who Created Star Wars” hero-chariot for forty years. So, yeah… it’s understandable that Disney might feel they can hijack the credit for Star Wars.

It has, after all… been done before.

Monday, November 7, 2016

How to Feel Good About this Election (or... "The Silver-Lining You've Probably Missed")



So, this post comes on the heels of a very rough week, for me. The past several days have been probably among the toughest and most challenging experiences I've lived through.

It started for me when some people I know,... members of a certain hacktivist group you've heard of, unless you've been living under a rock for the last several years... started talking about an information dump that was coming in the (then) immediate future. It was something coordinated with Wikileaks, that had originally been intended as part of the "October Surprise." It had been delayed, when those compiling the information discovered that what it contained was several shades darker than anyone had anticipated, and they wanted to give their sources a chance to get out of the country before going public with it.

That information has since come out.

I was immediately blown away by what it contained. It turned my stomach worse than anything I've ever read, but I committed myself to doing my research and publishing a trio of articles here, examining the information in stages.

However, as I commenced with my research, I found that it was making me physically ill to keep focused on it. Initially, I put in a good eight hours of work, after which I felt dizzy, nauseous and unable to continue. I took to bed for the night. Since then, I've only been able to work in very short, (thirty-minute to one-hour,) sessions and ultimately, I just ended up feeling evicted from the work. I simply could not continue to put my eyes to it. I couldn't get my fingers moving on the keys. I had to stop.

Then, I checked into social media, (Facebook & Twitter are my primaries, which makes me as unique as your average Bic pen.) Predictably, everybody's talking about tomorrow's election, and every last post that I so much as glanced at stirred up my stomach again.

The only way I can describe the feeling was an intense and pervading sense of dread. It was a certainty that no matter what happens tomorrow, it's going to be bad. I shut off my computer, and my phone. I climbed into bed and just shut down.

Today, I've found... quite by necessity, a new outlook.

I still intend to push forward with my work on the John Podesta email-dump, but for the time being, I thought I would focus on something more positive. Because I realized that there is a silver-lining to this election, and it's one that is absolutely guaranteed to happen. "Silver" isn't even the right word for it. It is incandescent! It shines with a light all its own, more brightly than the sun on a clear day.

No matter what happens tomorrow; whether Trump's landslide is publicly acknowledged by the powers that be, or the Axis of the DNC, the Clinton Campaign and the Mainstream Media completely obscure it to pilfer the election,... a gleaming upside will remain.

The real takeaway that we should all be very happy with, from this entire, year-long ordeal of debates and mudslinging and propaganda is this: Realizing that we have now moved completely into and are living in the Information Age, (that is; the era of information is no longer "being built" or "having its foundation poured," but is now fully established, fully in effect and cannot be stopped...) the previous, undisputed rulers of Information... have been deposed.

No one trusts the Mainstream Media anymore. In fact, it's actually become something of an oxymoron to refer to them by that term. Public trust in the MSM is at a historic low. It is now below 6%. That means that over 94% of the American public no longer trust CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, FOX, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, etc. The true "Mainstream" of the media is now what has been heretofore referred to as "Alternative Media," or simply "New Media."

Here's what this has to do with feeling good about the election;... No matter what happens tomorrow, November 8th, 2016... the (previously) "Mainstream" Media will never, and can never... recover from this shattering of the American people's faith in them.

Their handling of this election has become the final nail in the coffin containing what's left of their public-trust.

If Trump wins, it will only confirm that the MSM has been straight-up lying about their polling data, their consumer feedback studies, and their reporting on the public-reaction to the debates and news-items. If Trump wins the election, after six-straight months of media pundits telling us, firstly that he has "absolutely no chance to win," and secondly that they're basing that assessment on real figures and data-points,.. (for a great example, listen to the pundit discussions before the last of the three Presidential Debates; it was nothing but, "Trump can't win," "It's over," "Get used to saying 'Madam President," etc.) If, after all of that, Trump ends up winning, it will officially be the end of anyone buying into Mainstream Media narratives ever again.

"But," you're probably asking, "what if the election goes to Clinton?"

It's a real possibility. A lot of people are saying that "she's going to win, whether she actually wins or not," ...and I think that's an astute assessment of how things are working in Washington right now.

So, it's a fair question; If the election goes to Hillary, won't that just confirm everything the MSM has been saying for the last year?

Well,... no.

See, here's the thing... full disclosure; I'm not a Trump fan. Prior to this election, I've never followed Donald Trump, particularly. I read his book, "The Art of the Deal," years ago. But, I'm not a big Trump guy. I don't think he's nearly the ridiculous monster that many others do, but that's not to say that I'm a "fan."

That having been said, there is something pretty major that I have in common with at least 99.9% of the people in this picture...



And, to be fair... it's something that I'll bet I have in common with everybody in this picture too...



...and it is this: I HAVE FUNCTIONING SENSES!

See, the MSM has been talking up how nobody likes this Trump-guy, he's got less than no chance to win the election, his Mommy dresses him funny, he's got weird hair, and he said "Pussy" once, tee hee hee... etc.

All the while, THIS...



...has been the actual reality of the physical universe we occupy for the last twelve months.

Donald Trump was drawing crowds of between 200,000 and 300,000 people per rally.

Hillary Clinton drew a total of just over 25,000 people at all of her rallies combined!

That's right! Hello! Good morning, everybody! Reality check! The magician isn't *actually* pulling a magical rabbit out of a hat! The emperor is wearing no clothing at all! Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and toaster-pastries that don't taste like chalk are figments of your imagination!

...And Hillary Clinton is *nowhere near* Donald Trump in terms of popularity with voters.

So, no... if the election goes to Hillary it won't "prove the MSM right." It will actually prove Trump's assertion that the electoral system has been rigged and that the Mainstream Media is bullshitting you!

That is your silver-lining: The Mainstream Media in the United States of America in 2016 AD, has performed the single greatest instance of painting oneself into a corner, in the history of man. They have no way out of this exposure. They did it to themselves. They lifted their own curtain. The bell cannot be un-rung.

Whatever else the future might hold in store... the straight-up terrorist, propaganda and indoctrination institution known as the "Mainstream Media" has been broken. The people of this country are demonstrably,... deafeningly... tired of a government that treats them like they are the enemy. It is a system that uses and abuses them, while charging them for the privilege and demonizing them for good measure, all because their interests don't align with that of the ruling elite-class. The media has been trumpeting the virtue of this wholly perverse and lecherous system, in open condescension and defiance of the will and awareness of the people. Watch the Presidential Debates again. They're all available, in full, on YouTube. They're not even hiding their bias for the left, nor their pure, elitist contempt for the "unwashed masses," that are their vision of the American public, anymore.

They have devoted billions of dollars toward focusing on a candid conversation that took place on a bus, over a decade ago... to the complete exclusion of literally thousands of pages of revelations of criminal activity on the part of the Clintons and their inner-circle! They have held their narrative line of "violent, rioting Trump supporters," in open denial of the revelations about George Soros' funding of Clinton supporters to riot at Trump rallies! They have maintained their stance on fraudulent polling practices, and voter fraud, in open denial of the Project: Veritas video evidence showing said fraud happening right in front of all three-hundred million pairs of American eyes!

And now, most recently? We've got reams of evidence, straight from the Clinton campaign themselves, that the Clintons and John Podesta have participated in Satanic, Cannibalistic rituals involving pedophilia and child-sex-slave trafficking... and the MSM has flat-out, openly refused to cover it!

Their defense?

"B-b-but... 'grab 'em by the pussy, they let you do it," ...remember, guys?

Their problem is that this is not the 1930s. They don't decide what information the public eye has access to, anymore. The internet exists. The information is out there, widespread and decentralized. The marketplace of ideas remains a FREE-market, whether-the-fuck they like it or not! We can find this information, and we can put our eyes on these things. So, the big "news" networks are only further torching their own credibility, when they pretend that they can suppress information by sticking their collective heads up their asses.

Well,... we've seen them for the propagandists that they are, now. No one believes them, and no one is interested in their spin anymore.

New Media has, over the course of the last few years, risen to not only "compete with," but to replace... the MSM. Viewership for New Media outlets is screamingly high, and it only continues to rise, as public trust in the MSM continues to wither away to nothing.

The power of the elite to obscure and spin the truth has all the horsepower of a motorized flea-circus.

That is going to remain true, no matter what happens tomorrow.

So,... to liberty minded people, I say this; Keep speaking truth to power.
Your audience has never been larger.



*****

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: The Walking Dead - S7 Premiere - **NO SPOILERS**

Don't worry if you haven't seen the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. I won't spoil anything here.



The episode definitely stung,... a lot. It left a very sour taste. It left me, as a fan, uncertain of how I felt about it.

But, that's exactly how they want us to feel at this point. The episode, (again, without spoiling anything) is devastating. If you have anything to do which requires a cool and clear head, don't watch this episode right before it.



I Love Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Everything I've ever seen him in, he is both entertaining and completely convincing. Good actors can give you one or the other of those things. It takes a great actor to give you both,... and a superb actor to do so, consistently.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a superb actor.

His portrayal of the Comedian in Watchmen, made me Love the character I liked the least (and even hated) in the comic. I can't picture anyone else playing any of the characters he's played; from John Winchester in Supernatural to Clay in The Losers. He makes every role his own. Negan is no exception to this. From start to finish, I absolutely believe in how utterly cruel, remorseless, and psychopathic the character is.

I have this problem with TV dramas. It's a pretty big one and it's certainly pervasive throughout the medium and the genre; with very rare exceptions, the villains suck. They just never convince me. They're just not dark-dangerous-foul enough to get me to genuinely worry about the heroes. The villains thus far on The Walking Dead have been,... ok, I guess. But, they've always been a trade-off of factors. Some were almost dark enough, but didn't have the chops to do anything about it. These psychopaths were usually dangerous only because of circumstances beyond their direct control that facilitated an opportunity for them to act on their hateful urges and pose a real threat. On the other hand, those villains that were capable enough to be dangerous without a Deus ex machina putting the gun in their hand, weren't nearly dark or evil enough to make their talents scary.

Negan is the first TV-villain I've seen in a long time that actually scares me. What's lurking just out of sight, behind that razor-blade smile, is more sinister than all of the other villains who've appeared on the show, combined. What's worse, he is not a mere beneficiary of circumstances. He is a creator of them. For the entirety of his screen-time, he is in utter control of the universe. His people, Rick's people, even entire hoards of walkers, are to Negan, nothing more than tools which he turns to his own designs, seemingly without notable effort. Even those actions and events that occur outside of his control, end up serving his purposes, and *not by chance,* but by the way he adapts himself to them. He is unflappable.

He is a threat to our heroes in every conceivable way. He manipulates everyone and everything around him to accomplish his goals. Nothing is ever out of hand, for him. And again,... the guy is just pure, psychopathic evil personified.

What I'm saying is that it's good that the episode's sting is as harsh as it is, and it is, in fact a must-watch.

Good TV-villains are black diamond-rare. They're also commensurately expensive. Speaking in the currency of narrative, it will (and should) cost something to establish such a show-stealing threat. Into every pot of chili, a few scoops of spice must fall. Otherwise, the longer it's on the fire, the weaker it will become.

At the outset of the show's seventh season, I'd say it's a good time to reach for the Japanese Ghost Peppers.

***

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Don't Lose Friendships Over Politics

Has election season always been this rough on friendships?

Friendships and families are actually too precious to throw away for transient reasons.So many people I know are getting into Facebook fights, Twitter wars, Instagram arguments, and Snapchat squabbles. What begins as an ideological dispute ends in bitterness. People are provoking others, demanding those who do or don’t support their candidate leave their networks, cutting ties with friends and family, and all because of political differences.

I can’t even imagine what the Thanksgiving table will be like this year!

People perceive the stakes this year to be that high. To be sure, political philosophy does matter and does carry high stakes. However, the partisan struggle for the control of the state apparatus by this or that temporary manager doesn’t matter as much as election season seems to suggest. You might be being manipulated, and friendships and families are actually too precious to throw away for transient reasons.

It’s a pity to cause permanent rifts, and so unnecessary. The people who rearrange their personal relationships for the election imagine that they are taking control of their lives. They don’t seem to realize that they are actually letting strangers control their lives – strangers who care nothing for them in a system that actually seeks to divide people so it can conquer them. To permit politics to fundamentally alter something so important as friendship is to give politicians more importance than they deserve.

Trolling and Banning

To isolate yourself, and hate others for their views plays into exactly what the political system wants for you to do.Now, of course there is a proviso here. If there is someone in your network who is deliberately trolling you, harassing you, and goading you to respond, the best possible response is to block them. Not talk back. Not engage in a tit for tat. Just quietly block, without drama or announcement, much less denunciation.

Most public people I know have blocked as many as one hundred plus people over the past year, simply because this election season has been so contentious, with the alt-right and alt-left (who oddly agree on so much) battling it out on social media. Blocking is the far better path than engaging them. Vicious back and forths on the Internet can be life-consuming and draining. People who are trying to do that to you deserve exclusion from your conversation circle.

Apart from these cases, it strikes me as pointless to hurl someone out of your life because of political differences.

First, by denying yourself access to different points of view, you risk isolating yourself from a critic who might teach you something you need to know, maybe about anything in life, but maybe even about politics.

Second, talking to people with different opinions keeps you making sense and speaking in a civil way, addressing others in a way that could persuade them.

Third, and most critically, to isolate yourself, hate others for their views, and regard people with different points of view as less deserving of dignified treatment, plays into exactly what the political system wants for you to do.

But Aren’t They Aggressors?

A counter to my point was offered by a friend of mine last year. Speaking as a libertarian, he said, he regards anyone who supports some government action – even just casually and without much thought – as wittingly or unwittingly contributing to an opinion culture that supports rising political violence. The only friends he believes deserve the time of day from him must hold steadfastly to his voluntarist perspective, else he regards them as a direct threat to his life and liberty.

Now, this strikes me as vastly too severe. The truth is that most people who support some government action do not regard themselves as violent people. They believe that they are favoring something that is good for others, perhaps fostering the better life for the community.

For example, if a person favors higher spending on public education, they believe that they are pushing for policies that are good for others, not calling for violence against taxpayers to support unworkable programs. How can you possibly persuade them otherwise if you cut off all ties?

And it’s not just libertarians who can be this way. A good friend of mine was a casual lefty and, like most from his tribe, he was dead serious about the issue of climate change. I had no idea until the subject came up over coffee. I expressed some doubt that the science was truly settled concerning all causes and effects, solutions, costs and benefits, and so on. I was actually very measured in my comments, but somehow they caused him to blow up, call me a science-denying, tin-foil-hat-wearing capitalist apologist, and then actually leave the conversation. And that was it.

The politics of identity is causing precisely these sorts of irrational and pointless splits among us.I was stunned. I was merely disagreeing with him, however cautiously. But somehow, he had come to believe that anyone who disagreed with him bears some responsibility for the rising sea levels, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the gradual disintegration of the planet, even though I’ve written very little on the topic at all.

He was letting politics control his life and even determine his friendships. Both of us are spiritually poorer as a result of this friendship loss.

And consider the toxic effect the rising politics of personal identity – on the left and the right – are having on the ability of people to find value in each other. Imagine how you would make me feel if you believed my whiteness represents a continuing stain on the world order. There is no chance for any kind of engagement; after all, I cannot change my race. Or what if I believe your blackness or gayness or atheism or whatever is leading to demographic or cultural destruction – how can we possibly be civil to each other? The politics of identity is causing precisely these sorts of irrational and pointless splits among us.

What Is the Point of Friendship?

What the libertarian and the lefty I mentioned above do not realize is that they are guilty of the same error of allowing politics to invade the conduct of their lives and determine the conditions of their personal happiness. Once this kind of thing starts, there is truly no end to it.

Must everyone agree with you on every jot and tittle of your ideology to be your friend? Must there be zero tolerance for even the slightest difference in outlook, priority, application, and goal of your particular political outlook? In other words, must all your friends believe exactly as you believe?

If this is your perspective, you might consider: there is not much point to being friends and engaging in conversation with someone who has the exact same view on all things that you have. It seems rather boring. Might as well stay home and reflect on your own infallibility.

If we long for a better world of mutual understanding and peace, one way to help achieve it is to live as if it already exists.I like to think of friendship much the way we think of economic exchange. In economics, goods and services do not exchange in the presence of perfect sameness. They exchange because each party to the exchange believes himself or herself will be better off than he or she was before the exchange. It is only in the presence of unequal expectations that exchange becomes mutually rewarding.

It is the same with friendship. We need to hear different points of view. We need the insights of others. Even if we don’t accept them in total, we can still hope to understand people and the world better by considering what others have to say – with sincerity, warmth, and honesty. In other words, friendships like this help us have an open mind and keep us all humble and teachable.

Candidates Will Betray You

Neither is it a good idea to give up a friendship based on loyalty to a particular candidate. The top two contenders for the presidency have held many different and conflicting views on a huge range of political issues, from taxation to immigration to war. These people are wired to be adaptable based on the polls. To follow one or the other all the way to the point that it affects your associations is to risk compromising your own intellectual integrity.

Neither is worth that.

One of the great tragedies of politics is that it can take people who in real life would be peaceful and loyal and loving friends and turn them into bitter enemies. I’m always struck by this when I see a political rally, with face offs between backers and protesters. What exactly is gained by this? If you put these same people in a shopping mall or movie theater or restaurant, they would have every reason to get along and no reason to be screaming obscenities at each other.

We should hold on to that realization. Each of us is a human being with feelings, hopes, dreams, and a vision of a life well-lived – every single person, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or ideology. Politics should change nothing about that.

If we long for a better world of mutual understanding and peace, one way to help achieve it is to live as if it already exists. Above all, that means never letting politics get in the way of rewarding human relationships.

Jeffrey Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hillary Will Tax You to Death... and Then Tax You for Dying

What’s the worst possible tax hike, the one that would do the most economic damage?

Raising income tax rates is never a good idea, and there’s powerful evidence from the 1980s about how upper-income taxpayers have considerable ability to change their behavior in response to changes in incentives.

But if you want to know the tax hikes that do the most damage, on a per-dollar raised basis, it’s probably best to focus on levies that boost double taxation of saving and investment.

The Tax Foundation ran some estimates on five different tax increases, for instance, and found that worsening depreciation rules (an arcane part of the tax code dealing with the degree to which new investment is taxed) would do the most damage, followed by a higher corporate tax rate, and then higher individual income tax rates.

But I wonder what they would have found if they also modeled the impact of a higher death tax. That levy is particularly destructive because it directly requires the liquidation of capital. The assets of investors, entrepreneurs, farmers, small business owners, and other victims take a big hit as politicians grab as much as 40 percent of what they’ve worked for during their lives.

This is bad for the economy because it directly reduces the capital stock. Sort of like harvesting apples by cutting down 40 percent of the trees in an orchard. The net result is that the economy’s ability to generate future income is undermined.

But it’s also bad for the economy because it reduces incentives for successful taxpayers to both earn and invest while they’re alive. Why bust your rear end when the government immediately will take at least 39.6 percent (actually more when you consider Medicare taxes, state taxes, and double taxation of interest, dividends, and capital gains) of your income, and then another 40 percent of what you’ve saved and invested when you kick the bucket?

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem to care about such matters. She actually just decided to double down on her destructive tax agenda by endorsing an even bigger increase in the death tax.

I’m not joking.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is not exactly impressed by Hillary’s class-warfare poison.

On Thursday she decided that her proposal to raise the death tax to 45% from 40% isn’t enough and endorsed even higher levies that would apply to thousands of estates. Though she defeated Bernie Sanders in the primary, she is adopting the socialist’s death-tax rate structure. She’d tax all estates over $10 million at 50%, apply a 55% rate on estates over $50 million, and go to 65% on assets above $500 million. The 65% rate would be the highest since 1981 and is another example of how she is repudiating the more moderate policies of her husband and the Democrats of the 1990s. …the Sanders plan that Mrs. Clinton is copying did not index exemption levels for inflation. …Mrs. Clinton would also end the “step-up in basis” on stock valuations for many filers, triggering big capital gains taxes for a much broader population.

Wow, this is class warfare on steroids. And the part about this being more like Bernie Sanders than Bill Clinton hits the mark. Economic freedom actually increased in America between 1992 and 2000.

Hillary, by contrast, is a doctrinaire and reflexive statist. I’m not aware of a single position she’s taken that would reduce the burden of government.

By the way, here’s a bit of information that won’t shock anyone familiar with the greed and hypocrisy of the political class.

Hillary and her friends will largely dodge the tax, which mostly will fall on small business owners who lack the ability to create clever structures.

…most of her rich friends will set up foundations, as she and Bill Clinton have, to shelter most of their riches from the estate tax. …In any case, Mrs. Clinton is now promising total tax hikes of $1.5 trillion over a decade if elected President.

Gee, knock me over with a feather.

The Tax Foundation may not have included the death tax when it compared the harm of different tax hikes, but it has looked at how the death tax hurts the economy by discouraging capital formation and capital accumulation.

…an estate tax increase would cause economic production to be allocated away from business equipment, reducing the quantity of business equipment in the economy. …Many of the assets that fall under the estate tax, such as residential structures, commercial structures, and business equipment, enhance productivity, or gross domestic product (GDP) per hour worked. …The relationship between these assets and productivity is the focus of one of the most common models in economics, an equation called the Cobb-Douglas production function, which describes how workers and capital goods together produce economic output. Under this model, more capital increases output or income, even as the number of workers is held constant. It therefore increases GDP per hour worked, making people richer. Under such a model, reallocating economic production away from the capital goods that enhance output would reduce GDP in the long run. This is an effect that one might expect to see in a macroeconomic analysis of the estate tax.

Amen. If you want more output and higher living standards, you need to boost worker pay by increasing the quality and quantity of capital in the economy.

Here are the estimates of what happens to the economy with a 65 percent death tax.

So what would happen if lawmakers instead did the right thing and abolished this wretched example of double taxation?

The Tax Foundation has crunched the numbers. Here’s the impact on the overall economy.

And here’s what happens to federal revenue over the same period.

By the way, the Wall Street Journal editorial cited above did contain a bit of good news.

Congress is starting to push back against President Obama’s stealth death tax increase. Rep. Warren Davidson (R., Ohio) read our recent editorial about Treasury plans to raise taxes on minority stakes in family businesses by artificially inflating their value, and he’s drafted a bill to stop Treasury’s tax grab as a violation of the separation of powers. …A former owner of several businesses, Mr. Davidson says the U.S. economy needs owners focused on “growing assets, not structuring them for life events.” He explains that many farms in particular may carry high values but hold little cash, and so the death tax triggers land sales to pay the IRS. “The whole concept of a death tax is immoral,” Mr. Davidson says, and he’s right. The tax confiscates assets that have already been taxed once or more when first earned, and it punishes a lifetime of investment and thrift.

I wrote about this issue the other day, so I’m glad to see that there’s pushback against this Obama Administration scheme to unilaterally boost the burden of the death tax.

P.S. Politicians are not the only beneficiaries of the death tax.

Republished from Dan Mitchell's blog.

Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Monday, September 26, 2016

You Never Go Full Keynesian

When I was younger, folks in the policy community joked that BusinessWeek was the “anti-business business weekly” because its coverage of the economy was just as stale and predictably left wing as what you would find in the pages of Time or Newsweek.

Well, perhaps it’s time for The Economist to be known as the “anti-economics economic weekly.”

Writing about the stagnation that is infecting western nations, the magazine beclowns itself by regurgitating stale 1960s-style Keynesianism. The article is worthy of a fisking (i.e., a “point-by-point debunking of lies and/or idiocies”), starting with the assertion that central banks saved the world at the end of last decade.

During the financial crisis the Federal Reserve and other central banks were hailed for their actions: by slashing rates and printing money to buy bonds, they stopped a shock from becoming a depression.

I’m certainly open to the argument that the downturn would have been far worse if the banking system hadn’t been recapitalized (even if it should have happened using the “FDIC-resolution approach” rather than via corrupt bailouts), but that’s a completely separate issue from whether Keynesian monetary policy was either desirable or successful.

Regarding the latter question, just look around the world. The Fed has followed an easy-money policy. Has that resulted in a robust recovery for America? The European Central Bank (ECB) has followed the same policy. Has that worked? And the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has done the same thing. Does anyone view Japan’s economy as a success?

At least the article acknowledges that there are some skeptics of the current approach.

The central bankers say that ultra-loose monetary policy remains essential to prop up still-weak economies and hit their inflation targets. …But a growing chorus of critics frets about the effects of the low-rate world—a topsy-turvy place where savers are charged a fee, where the yields on a large fraction of rich-world government debt come with a minus sign, and where central banks matter more than markets in deciding how capital is allocated.

Inflation and Unemployment

The Economist, as you might expect, expresses sympathy for the position of the central bankers.

In most of the rich world inflation is below the official target. Indeed, in some ways central banks have not been bold enough. Only now, for example, has the BoJ explicitly pledged to overshoot its 2% inflation target. The Fed still seems anxious to push up rates as soon as it can.

The preceding passage is predicated on the assumption that there is a mechanistic tradeoff between inflation and unemployment (the so-called Phillips Curve), one of the core concepts of Keynesian economics. According to adherents, all-wise central bankers can push inflation up if they want lower unemployment and push inflation down if they want to cool the economy.

This idea has been debunked by real world events because inflation and unemployment simultaneously rose during the 1970s (supposedly impossible according the Keynesians) and simultaneously fell during the 1980s (also a theoretical impossibility according to advocates of the Phillips Curve).

But real-world evidence apparently can be ignored if it contradicts the left’s favorite theories.

That being said, we can set aside the issue of Keynesian monetary policy because the main thrust of the article is an embrace of Keynesian fiscal policy.

…it is time to move beyond a reliance on central banks. …economies need succour now. The most urgent priority is to enlist fiscal policy. The main tool for fighting recessions has to shift from central banks to governments.

As an aside, the passage about shifting recession fighting “from central banks to governments” is rather bizarre since the Fed, the ECB, and the BoJ are all government entities. Either the reporter or the editor should have rewritten that sentence so that it concluded with “shift from central banks to fiscal policy” or something like that.

Small-Government Keynesianism?

In any event, The Economist has a strange perspective on this issue. It wants Keynesian fiscal policy, yet it worries about politicians using that approach to permanently expand government. And it is not impressed by the fixation on “shovel-ready” infrastructure spending.

The task today is to find a form of fiscal policy that can revive the economy in the bad times without entrenching government in the good. …infrastructure spending is not the best way to prop up weak demand. …fiscal policy must mimic the best features of modern-day monetary policy, whereby independent central banks can act immediately to loosen or tighten as circumstances require.

So The Economist endorses what it refers to as “small-government Keynesianism,” though that’s simply its way of saying that additional spending increases (and gimmicky tax cuts) should occur automatically.

…there are ways to make fiscal policy less politicised and more responsive. …more automaticity is needed, binding some spending to changes in the economic cycle. The duration and generosity of unemployment benefits could be linked to the overall joblessness rate in the economy, for example.

In the language of Keynesians, such policies are known as “automatic stabilizers,” and there already are lots of so-called means-tested programs that operate this way. When people lose their jobs, government spending on unemployment benefits automatically increases. During a weak economy, there also are automatic spending increases for programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid.

I guess The Economist simply wants more programs that work this way, or perhaps bigger handouts for existing programs. And the magazine views this approach as “small-government Keynesianism” because the spending increases theoretically evaporate as the economy starts growing and fewer people are automatically entitled to receive benefits from the various programs.

A Claim With No Evidence

Regardless, whoever wrote the article seems convinced that such programs help boost the economy.

When the next downturn comes, this kind of fiscal ammunition will be desperately needed. Only a small share of public spending needs to be affected for fiscal policy to be an effective recession-fighting weapon.

My reaction, for what it’s worth, is to wonder why the article doesn’t include any evidence to bolster the claim that more government spending is and “effective” way of ending recessions and boosting growth. Though I suspect the author of the article didn’t include any evidence because it’s impossible to identify any success stories for Keynesian economics.

  • Did Keynesian spending boost the economy under Hoover? No.
  • Did Keynesian spending boost the economy under Roosevelt? No.
  • Has Keynesian spending worked in Japan at any point over the past twenty-five years? No.
  • Did Keynesian spending boost the economy under Obama? No.

Indeed, Keynesian spending has an unparalleled track record of failure in the real world. Though advocates of Keynesianism have a ready-built excuse. All the above failures only occurred because the spending increases were inadequate.

But what do expect from the “perpetual motion machine” of Keynesian economics, a theory that is only successful if you assume it is successful?

I’m not surprised that politicians gravitate to this idea. After all, it tells them that their vice of wasteful overspending is actually a virtue.

But it’s quite disappointing that journalists at an allegedly economics-oriented magazine blithely accept this strange theory.

P.S. My second-favorite story about Keynesian economics involves the sequester, which big spenders claimed would cripple the economy, yet that’s when we got the only semi-decent growth of the Obama era.

P.P.S. My favorite story about Keynesianism is when Paul Krugman was caught trying to blame a 2008 recession in Estonia on spending cuts that occurred in 2009.

P.P.P.S. Here’s my video explaining Keynesian economics.

A version of this article first appeared on Dan Mitchell's blog.

Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.