Adaptation Troubles (Part Four)
mably you've read all three previous parts of this series, which means I don't have to explain very much to you. Suffice it to say that his is it, the promised final post, where I clear everything up for everyone and tie everything up in a neat little package. Hopefully, anyway.

Let me begin with the complaint regarding the three women: Arwen, Tauriel, and Susan. Here's the deal: my problem is not as much with the "women fighting" concept in and of itself (that is a discussion for another time), but with how these three women in particular are characterized. I'll start with Arwen: her characterization goes all over the place, from awesome horsewoman who can outrun Ringwraiths in Fellowship to fragile flower who, admittedly briefly, wusses out on her commitment to Aragorn at Elrond's behest. Tauriel's problem is not so much that she's there, it's that her very presence apparently causes jokes about trouser content (I'll be hanged if that didn't feel out of place), a detrimental to the story romance subplot that causes out of character behavior from everyone, an utterly unnecessary splitting of the dwarves, and thirty minutes of random nonsense that could have been spent on, say, further developing the Dol Gulder subplot, character development for the dwarves, or chronicling Bilbo's time in the elven caves--also character development. And Susan--well, while the romance subplot with Caspian isn't as bad, it still feels tacked-on and ridiculous, while the action scenes with her by herself are kind of nuts. Cool, but still--and also seem like they're there to further the romance subplot. Said action scenes are part and parcel of the next problem, which is...
The inclusion of utterly unnecessary conflict, and it is rampant in all of these adaptations. Hey, we've got a book with two possible storylines: a small band going to reclaim their ancestral home, and the driving back of a rising evil. Oooh, let's add in two different class conflict subplots and add in a romance subplot and mix it a little with one of the class conflict subplots to add to movie runtime, while also throwing in a revenge subplot that will further the romance subplot. All of this adds at least an hour of runtime to the two Hobbit movies, an hour that could have been saved or used for furthering the characters or the actual plots. But no. For that matter, we've got a book with an epic war and a quest going on. Ooh, let's have the romance subplot not be settled yet, have someone act out of character and try to derail the quest, have leaders of nations cause problems for everyone by acting like moronic dirtbags, have the returning king question whether he's supposed to be king, and have good entities act like they're neutral. Oh, wait, there's a subplot about a people coming into their own? Nah, can't fit it in. Sorry. Then, oh look, we've got two stories about those who should rule a kingdom overthrowing those who don't. Let's have the king in the first one doubt himself, then, in the next one, have the same character be an utter jerk towards his sister and the king-to-be, and get a bunch of people killed so we can have a conflict over whether to call back the previous usurper to "help" and further the shoehorned-in romance subplot with a rescue scene that would have been completely unnecessary without the raid scene. However, even all of this unnecessary conflict would have been more bearable if...

A whole bunch of characters hadn't been undermined to cause it. The romance subplots in the Tolkien adaptations turn Thranduil and Elrond into bullying jerks, while the outward conflict subplots require turning two competent and not-quite-villainous authority figures--the Master of Laketown and Denethor--into incompetent psychotic dunderheads, and two competent and awesome authority figures--Theoden and Faramir--into whiners, each a weakling in his own way. Meanwhile, the inner conflict subplots--Arwen and Aragorn--turn two confident, heroic characters into self-doubting angst-ridden teenagers. Meantime, Gandalf loses to the Witch-King so's Eowyn looks even better. Meanwhile, in Narnia, Peter, especially in the second movie, changes from the High King to the High Jerk, and does so only to provide some sort of obvious character development (a common problem, by the way--apparently no one does subtle character development anymore) as well as a source of conflict, because apparently there wasn't enough dramatic impact in fighting back attempted genocide--literally. It's almost like the directors in question didn't quite get the books...
And they didn't. This is really the overarching problem, along with a heaping dose of postmodernism. Apparently, somehow, despite the fact that the books as written are some of the biggest bestsellers of the entire late 20th century, the directors thought they could improve on them by pulling out elements like the return of Narnia to the Narnians in Prince Caspian, or the Shire to the Hobbits in Return of the King and throwing in elements to make them more "accessible" to 21st century audiences--heroes who often don't act heroic, even though they should by now, as they have already done their growing (there's the postmodernism), lack of subtlety (especially in the humor), and the belief that, because conflict is needed for a story, more of it automatically makes a story better, and the movie will also make more money. In the case of the Narnia movies, this was proven to not always be the case, as the first made hundreds of millions of dollars, while the second made much less than that. This is also true of the Tolkien adaptations--the first trilogy made it back tenfold, while the Hobbit movies have been hitting fivefold, max. Still a good return on investment, but not as good as previously. Why?

Because, not to put too fine a point on it, fixing something that isn't broken tends to make it not work as well as it used to. If a story is told well, don't assume that you know better than the original storyteller how to tell it, because you're more advanced in your thinking than he is. To think so is the height of arrogance and provincialism of the temporal kind, and will lead to trouble.

If you're telling a story, just tell the story, 'kay? And if you think you can't tell it as it is for some reason or other, let someone tell it who can.

'Til next time.

Adaptation Troubles (Part Three)
And now for the next installment of my quibbles and troubles with the recent adaptations of Inklings work. This one is the reason I've been saying "Inklings" instead of "Tolkien," because this post is about two of the three recent Narnia adaptations.

I did not have the stomach to watch the third. This should tell you something.

As the folks who were adapting the series did it in order of publishing rather than by order of events, they began with "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Surprisingly, given what I'm going to say about the next movie, it actually wasn't that bad. Unfortunately, the seeds of the problems in the next movie were planted in this one.

Here's what I mean. To begin with, Susan freaks out at Peter several times in the movie, most particularly during an utterly unnecessary action sequence that, while enjoyable, does not add to the characters in any way whatsoever, and actually detracts from them. At the end of said sequence, which occurs after the Father Christmas scene, Susan hollers at Peter, while they're trapped on a frozen river by wolves, something like "a fat man in red suit giving you a sword doesn't make you a hero." This response completely ignores literally everything that just happened over the past twenty minutes or so in the movie. She's not the only one who's character is undermined, however: Peter's indecision at that moment is emblematic of something else--he's self-doubting and insecure, in a way that he's not supposed to be. In the book, while Peter takes a little bit of time to grow into the role of warrior-prince, later king, he's not indecisive at any point, nor does he refuse to be the hero Narnia needs him to be, something he attempts in the movie. Now, there's a much less outwardly-troubling but still problematic--at least regarding respect for authorial intent--change that occurs in the aforementioned Father Christmas scene. Said change occurs when Susan and Lucy are given their weapons, and Father Christmas does not say to them, as he does in the book, that they are not to be in the battle, for battles are ugly when women fight. While this last bit smacks of sexism in our age of rampant egalitarianism, it is also entirely true, particularly in medieval-style combat, which is exceedingly visceral and reliant on upper-body strength. The results of this in the movie are what might be called Susan: Warrior Princess.
However, it's still not a bad movie for all that, as it sticks reasonably close to the point of the novel.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned seeds came full flower in their foulness in the adaptation of Prince Caspian, a movie that did to the original book what the Telmarines tried to do to Narnia--tore out its heart of living flesh and replaced it with a clockwork one. I'll explain now.

The book has two assassination plots--one against Caspian, and one against Miraz, his evil uncle. Unfortunately, the movie added more assassination plots, which all came to fruition, as they were being plotted by the writers. The first assassination is that of Peter's character, which the writing team took out behind a barn, shot in the back of the head, and then replaced with a mentally unstable clone. Instead of the steady, calm, rational, accepting Peter of the books, we're given an arrogant, erratic jerk who can't let go of the fact that once he held a kingdom, gets into fistfights, spends the first two-thirds of the movie undercutting Caspian at every opportunity, and who seems to forget the whole "Aslan" thing. The next assassination is that of the main plot of the novel, when Peter, due to the aforementioned differences, leads a doomed raid on Miraz's castle, where the third assassination plot is set in motion. Now, the target is Caspian, who is transformed from a sensible young royal who refuses to seek the aid of the White Witch in the face of defeat to a seething ball of rage who, after the raid, decides to take the help of one of the most evil entities to ever enter Narnia, and who requires Peter and Edmund--mostly Edmund--to snap him out of it. Meantime, out of all the things to happen, a romance between Susan and Caspian got added (tell me how that makes sense), and we got Susan: Warrior Princess again. Furthermore, instead of Aslan commencing the renaturifying of Narnia during the story, with some hilarious and pointed commentary on willy-nilly modernization, we instead get a crazy river god killing things all over the place. Perhaps it was in the movie and I don't recall it, but I don't think so.

The movie is an addled wreck of an adaptation, and I honestly don't think the same story was being told. At all.

I did not watch Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I heard it was worse.

Please bear with me. Next week I'll make clear why this isn't just me carping about how they changed it from the book.

'Til next time.

Adaptation Troubles (Part Two)
My apologies for not posting all last week. I was at an academic conference that will be the subject of a future blog post, and had very little time.

Anyway, this next part in the series will cover the rest of the Tolkien adaptations (well, the ones that have come out, anyway.)

Now, I don't intend to say much about An Unexpected Journey, but I would like to at least mention the movie in here, largely because it has a...somewhat random subplot. Specifically, Azog. In the movie, Azog is the leader of the Orcs who wants Thorin Oakenshield's head. In the originals, while I can't quite recall if he is even mentioned in The Hobbit, he is mentioned in the Appendices, where his death at the hands of Dain Ironfoot (king of the Iron Hills) is the crowning achievement of the battle before Moria. Also, the massive power upgrade given to Dol Gulder is mostly there to drag out that subplot, and the whole Radagast (aka "Wizard on marijuana and LSD") thing is also largely padding. Fact is, there is a certain logic to all this nonsense--specifically, providing tension and action and whatnot, never mind its effect on the point of the story, the characters, or the plot itself. It is my contention that there is plenty of that in The Hobbit, (and that the only reason for half the subplots is padding screentime) but what do I know?
Now, for the LOTR movies themselves.

I really don't have a lot of complaints about Fellowship, beyond the fact that it messed up several characters. Merry and Pippin got this the worst and for no particular reason--while I do think the Two Stooges are hilarious, I rather like the fact that, in the book, they and Sam planned to go along with Frodo the entire time (such characterization also helps make more sense of their more serious moments). Also, I really don't much like self-doubting Aragorn, and think that king-in-waiting Aragorn is a much better character. That being said, I can't really quarrel with some of the changes made--I like Tom Bombadil, but he really is kind of random, and the movie was already three hours long. Also, I can't say as I minded bringing the Aragorn/Arwen romance out of the appendices--although their first scene in the movie is ridiculous. Regarding Arwen: Warrior Princess: It rubs me the wrong way a little to throw out Glorfindel, who's a pretty awesome guy, but I understand that explaining that would take time (more time than the addition mentioned below.)

Two Towers is where I start frothing at the mouth a little--and is, in my opinion, the worst offender out of the original trilogy. This is largely because of the characterization problems that occurred with, in one case, a subplot. First, Theoden, who in the movie, is transformed from Wormtongue's puppet into a half-panicked wuss with anger management issues, as opposed to the books, where he's an offensive minded horse lord who only retreats to Helm's Deep when he learns the river line has fallen. Also, the exile of Eomer and the refusal to recall him is a fantastically stupid move--in the books, Theoden simply jails him. Resolving other reinforcements showing up would have taken two sentences. Also, Faramir. Book Faramir is an awesome guy who does awesome things, including rejecting the Ring without a second thought. Movie Faramir is significantly less awesome, as he just decides to take Frodo and the ring to Denethor, then, after several minutes of running around Ithilien because of it, just decides to let him go. Also, the Ents in the movie refuse to move until they've seen the devastation of Isengard, while in the books, they're ready to go--well, as much as Ents are ready to do anything suddenly. Also, the entirely PJ-invented conflict within Arwen over whether to go to the Undying Lands or stay with Aragorn, while book Elrond dealt with his issues with it by telling Aragorn to reunify the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, while in the movie Elrond is all kinds of jerk.

Return of the King is also bad, although closer to Fellowship than Two Towers in terms of poor adaptation. However, characterization troubles still abound, this time with Denethor, who goes from desperate and tired old man to verging on the psychotic, while Faramir gets hit with the daddy issues hammer and leads his men in a suicidal charge. We also get the resolution of the really stupid "Will they/Won't they" between Aragorn and Arwen. Fortunately, we finally get to see king-in-waiting Aragorn after he gets his sword back. Also, the scene where Gandalf loses to the Witch King in a fight (if you don't remember this from the movies, it was in the Extended Editions) is really kind of ridiculous. Eowyn's already awesome just for killing the book Witch-king, did you have to throw Gandalf in over his head when there is nothing that is over his head at that point. Meantime, Frodo goes completely OOC, kicks Sam out at Gollum's behest, and goes into Shelob's lair alone, thereby adding more unnecessary runtime. This was runtime that could have been used for...drumroll please...The Scouring of the Shire, which is a truly excellent ending, because it really shows just how much the four main hobbits, and the Shire, have matured, and gets the point across that sometimes you have to clean up your own house.

Unfortunately, that was far too nuanced for PJ and crew.

And I'm hitting two pages again. Next week I'll talk about the Chronicles of Narnia adaptations (the two I could stomach watching), and the week after, I'll discuss what ties all of this together.

'Til next time,

Adaptation Troubles (Part One)
I went to go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last Thursday, largely because a bunch of my friends were going and tickets were cheap--as in, $10. Anyway, I came away from the movie the most annoyed that I've ever been with one of Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth movies after a first viewing. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Also, be forewarned, here there be spoilers. Lots of them.

First, the good. As a movie, Desolation of Smaug is pretty good. The acting's good, the writing within the main plots--that is, Erebor and Dol Guldur--is good, and the characterization is pretty good as well. Also, the fight sequences are pretty spectacular, if slightly over the top at times.

Next, the bad. The subplots are cliched and feel shoehorned in, the primary added character--Tauriel: Warrior Elfess--is a walking, talking cliche, and...

But that's getting into the nature of Desolation of Smaug as an adaptation, rather than as a movie.

And that is where it falls short.

As an adaptation, it lies somewhere between LOTR: the Two Towers and Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on the awfulness list.

As to why, let's take its from the top, shall we?

1. Beorn. I understand that there wasn't run-time for this in the movie (more on that in a moment) but I liked the book's exuberant Beorn, as opposed to ex-slave Beorn. There's a certain magic to the former that is lacking with the latter, although the latter is very in keeping with the tone of Desolation, but more on that in a moment. This is, however, a minor quibble compared to...

2. Tauriel. This is the long one. To put it bluntly, she doesn't fit, and she warps the entire plot around her the moment she is introduced. I know some people in the LOTR fanfiction community, and they call characters like her and their authors all kinds of names. Why doesn't she fit, you ask? Well, start with the fact that there is precisely one named Elf in The Hobbit who actually shows up on screen: Thranduil. Putting Legolas in is bad enough, but putting in an entirely new character for no other reason than to throw a female into the story--well, this might be forgivable (much like putting in Legolas) except for the fact that she warps the characters and the plot. Here's how: the character warping starts with Kili developing a thing for her after the spider incident, and her reciprocating.

Why is this weird? Because Elves and Dwarves hate each other's guts--especially this group of Dwarves toward Elves. The whole Elf/Dwarf thing goes all the way back to the First Age of Middle-Earth in an incident with a really fancy necklace, while this particular bit of quarrel goes back to the coming of Smaug to Erebor, with Thranduil blaming the Dwarves for amassing a hoard of wealth that attracted the dragon, while the Dwarves blame Thranduil for not coming to help. The likelihood of the nephew of the grandson of the King of Erebor at that time falling for the Captain of the Guard of the king who failed to help them is--nil.

And then the plot. First, there's the entirely unnecessary battle of the barrels, as Elves hunting Dwarves end up fighting Orcs with them all the way down the river until they reach the Elvish border. During this time, Kili gets hit with a poisoned arrow. So, when Tauriel learns of this, she abandons her duties and goes after the Dwarves, at which point Legolas follows her, because, it is implied, he has a thing for her too. Love triangle. Yay? Anyway, Legolas catches up with her and we get an opportunity for her to make the standard boilerplate speech about it being their war too, blahblahblah--words that no Elf is likely to say about a Dwarf-quest, ever.

Oh, meanwhile, because of this nonsense (and, let's be real here, the only reason Kili has this problem is so Tauriel can actually do something), the Dwarves have split the party--Fili, Kili, Oin, and Bofur have stayed in Laketown, while the rest of the party goes to the Lonely Mountain. This is, of course, all so Tauriel and Legolas can swoop in and kill a bunch of Orcs who've come to kill the Dwarves, and then Tauriel can do the weird Elvish glowy-thing and chanting and heal Kili's wound with athelas. This last bit, by the way, occurs while Legolas is hunting Orcs alone.

See what I mean?

3. The Laketown subplot. While in Laketown, we're introduced to another conflict--namely, Bard the Bowman versus the Master of Laketown. In the book, the Master is a weak but amiable man with a certain weakness for flattery, while Bard is well-respected citizen of the town and a high-ranking member of the city guard. In the movie, the Master is a petty tyrant with a lickspittle toady and network of informants who interferes with everything in the town, while Bard is easily brought low by reminders of his ancestor's failure to kill the dragon. This is also, by the way, a spot to further go after Thorin, who basically cuts down Bard in front of everyone.

4. Gandalf goes to Dol Gulder and gets in over his head. What, seriously? Oh, hi, I'm Gandalf the Grey, I'm going to go by myself to take on an entity that I'm pretty sure is actually Sauron. Why? 'Cause I feel like it, and Peter Jackson needs another sequel hook.

Now, there is a larger point to all this, but I'm already hitting two pages here.

So, 'til next time.

Who Believes This?
For this one, you can thank/blame my sister, who tipped me off to this article’s existence.

Well, a few weeks ago, a fellow name of Reza Aslan published an article that showed up in several newspapers. The article was called “Five Myths About Jesus,” and was part of the promotion for his recently published book Zealot, which attempts to cast Jesus as a political revolutionary. Having not read the latter, I will withhold comment except to recommend that anyone who believes this should re-read the Gospels.

The article, however, contains enough half-truths and strawmen that I am disinclined to read the book. Here’s why.

His first claim is that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, on the grounds that Jesus was referred to as being from Nazareth, while disparaging the Gospel of Luke–and forgetting entirely the Gospel of Matthew, which also puts Jesus in Bethlehem for his birth. Perhaps he simply lacked the space, but come now. Really? Also, regarding the birthplace thing, let me put it this way. Technically, my father was born in Texas. His parents, however, were from Louisiana, and he spent the largest chunk of his childhood there. He is from Louisiana. Such things are commonplace, and the author ignores them. The census thing has more viability, but I seem to recall that it’s been dealt with elsewhere.

Moving on to the second part about Jesus not being an only child. Why does this matter, and why is this even a thing? Of course he wasn’t an only child, it says so in the Bible. There are some people who think that he was, though, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

As to the twelve disciples thing–yes, I agree that the supporting cast for the twelve apostles deserves better billing. And? So? This is important why, exactly? Again, I’ll get to this in a moment, so hold your horses.

Regarding the fourth thing, here Aslan has a better leg to stand on. However, he neglects the fact that the Jewish leaders practically dragged Jesus to Pilate–also, this wasn’t just another rabble rouser, this was the guy who’d had a procession into Jerusalem that very week. Kind of a big deal, here. Apparently Pilate did have kind of a rep as being a massive jerk–that being said, it’s not out of line to believe that the Jesus incident could have happened after one of this jerkier moments, when he might have been concerned about riling folks up worse. Throw in the fact that this characterization is pulled from a pair of Jewish historians of the period (and historians of the period were known for being biased), and, well…he said, he said.

As to the fifth–exceptions to the rule happen all the time. The entire point of the Gospels is a series of unlikely occurrences, beginning with a virgin giving birth. Come on, man.

Anyway, here’s the thing. Two of these “myths,” if anyone believes them, stem from a basic lack of reading the Bible. Going further, anyone who tries to tie either one of these back to some kind of Biblical unreliability has not even set up a strawman–all he has is straw.

One of these myths–the first–has some grounding, but this sort of thing has been discussed before, and has been reconciled.

Finally, the last two “myths” aren’t “myths”, unless you believe that because things don’t normally happen in a particular way that they can’t happen in a particular way. While that may make an occurrence unlikely, they do not make it impossible–and it certainly does not make the notion that such an occurrence happened a myth. To claim so is ridiculous.

Unfortunately, this discloses one of the basic problems with debunking and historiography–namely, the tendency to describe things you happen to disagree with the implications of as myths and the tendency to claim that erroneous beliefs about what you’re talking about bolster your argument–kind of like people who claim that Social Darwinism discredits Darwinian evolution.

In other words, take things seriously.

‘Til next time,

Never the Vanguard
One day, I was linked to an article on a website called 100 Reasons Not to Go to Grad School, which discusses the multifarious problems with graduate education that people may or may not be familiar with. Some of these are obvious, some are less so, and I recommend it to you.

But, anyway, one reason to read said blog is the comments section. While I realize that Internet comment sections are usually wretched hives of scum and villainy, due to the fact that most of the people on the site are either college students, graduate students, or former graduate students, the comments section is an ivory tower of scum and villainy--much more pleasant.

Well, anyway, the most recent post spawned a massive discussion of the purpose of academia. I recommend using the find function to find any and all comments by a fellow name of High Arka, who is the closest thing to an out and out Marxist I've seen on the site. His (I suppose) idea was that academics should lead the charge for social change and be, in essence, the vanguard of the proletariat.

This is a terrible idea.

Here's why.

First, academics make terrible politicians--see Woodrow Wilson as the primary example in American history. The reason for this is that they are accustomed to getting their way and browbeating their opponents with intellectual arguments over fine points that literally no one but them cares about. Politics does not work that way.

Second, most of these academics tend to somehow believe that whatever society they create will somehow not have an elite that will self-perpetuate at the expense of the rest of society. If it's not merchants, it's apparatchiks. If it's not apparatchiks, it's priests. If it's not priests, it's aristocrats. And don't try and tell me that the social change they lead the proletariat in will not lead to the creation of a new society--getting a mass movement behind reforming the tax code is nearly impossible.

Third, some of these academics seem to think that they'll be the ones in charge. First off, they probably won't be. Men who make the most ruthless among them look like plaster saints will be. Second off, if they are more ruthless than non-academics, need I remind you that Pol Pot and crew were educated at one of the most prestigious universities in France?

Fourth, if you really want to be the vanguard of the proletariat, don't be an academic. Go be a community organizer, revolutionary, or a politician. That'll lead to positive social change.

After all, that's what Vladimir Lenin and Che Guevara did.

Well, except for the part where Lenin organized lots of mass killings. And was replaced by Josef Stalin, who organized even more mass killings. And who set up the Communist Party as the political and economic elite of Russia instead of the Orthodox church, aristocrats, and nouveau rich industrialists.

But hey, tens of millions of dead people is totally a fair price to pay for that change. Because, as we all know, basing political and economic clout on one's ability to mouth party doctrines while ruthlessly scrabbling for power is much better than doing so based on one's ability to utter platitudes about the nation and God while ruthlessly scrabbling for power.

Well, there's still Che, right? Darling of college leftists everywhere. Well, if you're really into nuclear war, hatred of everyone who doesn't think like you do (that does sound like academics, actually), and utter ineffectuality when acting without someone like Fidel Castro in charge, then yes, Che Guevara is a fine person to emulate.

Now here's what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that academics need to retreat to the ivory tower. What I am saying is that they need to live in the world that is, where unintended consequences exist, mankind is selfish, and the choices are not between everyone getting their fair share or some people getting more and some less, but between one group of people getting more than they deserve or a different group of people getting more than they deserve.

'Til next time,

Can't Get Away
One of the things I do on a regular basis is read Pluggedin Online, a website run by Focus on the Family that reviews movies, video games, music, and TV shows, and also comments on the culture.

Well, while reading the music reviews, I came across one for this song called "Royals," by this New Zealander calls herself Lorde. (Read the lyrics here if you like) Apparently this song is pretty popular--by which I mean it hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and has been at the top of the alternative charts for weeks.

Well, the reviewer was quite complimentary of the song's repudiation of the crass materialism of a lot of pop music, a sentiment that I can get behind. So I went to Youtube to go take a listen and watch the music video after I took a gander at the lyrics.

The reason for this was that I could ride with most of the lyrics, but this one part of the chorus kind of rankled me. "Let me be your ruler (ruler)/You can call me queen bee/And baby I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule/Let me live that fantasy."

Part of my reaction is probably due to the fact that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool republican, noncapitalization deliberate. Anyone talking about wanting to be queen or king of anykind is going to rub me the wrong way.

However, as I got to thinking about it, I realized what it was that bugged me. Lorde may have gotten away from the crass materialism of the pop music scene, but she can't completely get away from its self-aggrandizing ethos. She still kind of wants to be the queen of--what, we're not sure exactly, but we know of something.

Now, here's what I'm not saying. I'm not saying this girl is some kind of secret power-hungry maniac on an ego trip. What I am saying is that the egotistical nature of popular music even gets into the people who are trying to repudiate the utterly ludicrous nature of most of the subject matter therein.

Thing is, this is just a symptom of a much wider problem, albeit one that exacerbates the problem. Essentially, what we've got is a society--and I don't mean America, I mean the West--that understands individual wants to be much more important than group or individual necessity--the massive popularity of libertarianism being an indicator. For that matter, government intrusions, especially those into the economy, are justified as protecting individual liberty. Any attempts to justify such intrusions otherwise tend to crash and burn these days. (Note: social conservatism has a problem with this sort of thing, which one of the big reasons why it's not that popular these days.)

That fact is, this is not an entirely bad development. However, as with everything, tilting too far one way ends in a wreck. Eventually.

'Til next time.
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The Current Climate
I've heard lots of people complaining about the current climate, and I'd like to put the current complaints about attack ads and whatnot into proper perspective.

Y'see, this kind of thing has been going on practically since the founding of the Republic. For instance, the 1800 presidential election involved claims that Thomas Jefferson would set up a guillotine in Washington D.C. and execute his political opponents. While based in his support for the French Revolution in its early stages, this was still stretching things. The Federalists were denounced for being closet monarchists--a charge that, after the Alien and Sedition Acts, had some validity.

Fast forward to the period before the Civil War, when conspiracy theories spread like a cancer through the American body politic. Abraham Lincoln made a speech claiming that there was a conspiracy to spread slavery through the entire country--and this was when he was something of a contender for the Republican nomination for president. Admittedly, after the Dred Scott decision, Kansas-Nebraska, and the Gadsden Purchase, this was not entirely out of the question, but evidence of an organized conspiracy was lacking. Southerners were convinced that there was a general abolitionist conspiracy to foment a mass slave uprising in the South, and that the Republicans were in on it. John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry indicated that this theory had a grounding in truth, but there was really no evidence that anyone beyond some Massachusetts radicals were involved.

In the 1930s, rumors were spread of a "Business Plot" to overthrow FDR and install a right-wing dictator in his place--and by "rumors were spread," I mean "the man who told of the plot was invited to testify before Congress." How valid this was is questionable at best, given that while the gentleman in question, Smedley Butler, was a highly decorated Marine officer, he had become a well-known pacifist and critic of corporate America. On the flip side, there were also people convinced that FDR intended to establish a communistic or socialistic regime in America--while this may seem strange, after the court-packing plan incident, there was some reason to be concerned.

Now look, here's what I'm not saying with this. I'm not saying that the kind of complete nutjobbery that inspires people to automatically ascribe the worst sort of motives to their political opponents is a good thing--or, for that matter, isn't a significant problem. My point is, however, that this is not a problem unique to today--or, for that matter, to America, despite the fact that all of my examples are from there. This is a problem endemic to the human condition--because it's easy to say that your opponents are terrible people who want to destroy the land. At the very least, it's easier than explaining that your opponent's policy will lead to the destruction of the land, albeit unintentionally.

It also makes people feel a whole lot more heroic to oppose malevolent people as opposed to incompetent people, and makes them feel better about their own positions. The second is a little less obvious than the first, and here's what I mean by it. If someone disagrees with your political position because they don't think it works, and you accept that they believe that, then you have to explain why it works--and you might end up not being able to, which might cause you to need to rethink your ideas. If, however, someone disagrees with you because they're evil, then you don't have to explain anything to them, and you don't have to rethink anything--you also become justified in doing unethical things to them.

In other words, assume that your opponents are not malevolent until they prove otherwise--and making policy decisions that you disagree with doesn't count as malevolence.

'Til next time.

It's been twelve years, now, since nearly 3,000 Americans died in a single day by the actions of 19 men who wanted to make a name for themselves and strike a blow against the Great Satan--that is, America.

When it happened, we gathered together, and pledged to never let it occur again.

But discord began soon. There were those who said we deserved it, for some sin or another, be it sexual immorality or some kind of imperialistic arrogance. There were those who tried to use it for their own purposes, and those who thought this meant that it was all a hoax. As time went on, those using 9/11 for their own purposes were superseded by those attempting to use the legacy of 9/11 for their own purposes. Specificity is not required at the moment--left and right have been guilty of such.

This, of course, was nothing new. People are very good at learning the lessons they want to out of events and their consequences and causes.

But it's a little bit different for those of us who grew up with this. I was in fourth grade that September morn, and I know some of the readers of this blog were even younger. For those of us too young to remember Mogadishu, it was our first notion that the days when there were bad people in the world who weren't easily stopped still were going on.

Tough realization.

But the afterwards bickering was our first exposure to partisanship and government overreach, for those of us too young to really get what was happening when Bill Clinton was impeached. We were introduced to the notion that American government officials and soldiers were fallible in the most traumatic way possible, as rumors of torture turned out to be true.

Our first war was seen as a roaring success, with some potholes from stay-behinds. Our second war to watch was a miserable quagmire. Neither one felt like an actual war, for what we'd learned in school of war spoke of national sacrifice, and enemies that could be seen and fought on an open battlefield, and who were defeated when their armies were destroyed. Even Vietnam had some kind of things like that. Not comparative normality on the home front, with a slow bleeding wound in a war that's been going for years, and a foe that will not stand and fight, and blows up cars, roadside debris, or himself to get at his enemies.

And then came the 2008 stock market crash, and American economic prosperity was hammered like a nail into an oaken board.

Now, we would have learned that what we'd been told in school wasn't the whole story eventually. But to learn it the way we did, not just as part of history but as we grew up--that's a whole 'nother thing altogether.

It's shaped our culture, it's shaped our politics, and then changed our culture through our politics. And killed nearly 3,000 Americans. That's what it means.

'Til next time.
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Sand Between the Toes Again
“Americans can be counted on to do the right thing–after exhausting all possible alternatives”–Unknown

“And will always do it when it has become the wrong thing to do”–Lowell Van Ness

Chances are very, very high that we will intervene in Syria within the next two weeks, unless someone in the administration grows a functioning neuron cluster or two.

The fact of the matter is, I was in favor of intervening in Syria two years ago, when the coalition against Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by the Iranians and by Hezbollah, was mostly Syrians who simply wanted something other than domination by a very small minority of the populace. At that point, American supply of arms to secularist groups might’ve had a shot at working, and we would’ve eliminated an Iranian ally.

That was two years ago. By now, however, circumstances have changed. Due to our extremely wishy-washy behavior with the Syrian rebels, they have received support from elsewhere, elsewhere being the Saudis, Qatar, Chechens, and various other Islamist types, almost all of whom are giving support to groups who are as radical if not more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood, also called the guys who tried to take over Egypt until Thermidor came.

By now, any intervention that we perform will result in a government inimical to our interests in Syria, unless we decide that we want to occupy another Middle Eastern country. And that has a snowball’s chance in a napalm strike of happening.

As to the civilians and what Assad might to do to them after he wins, it probably won’t be any worse than what the rebels will do after they win.

Regarding America’s already-shot credibility on the Syrian problem, this wouldn’t be an issue if the President hadn’t said that Assad needed to stop being the leader of Syria, and then pretty much did nothing about it for months. This wasn’t an exceeding big deal, though, in terms of our international reputation.

However, the President then, apparently believing that al-Assad would take him seriously, declared that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line.” While he tried to give himself an out in the next two sentences, the implications of his statement were definitely tilted toward the equation’s answer becoming “intervene.” Especially given that he made the statement to begin with.

Now, if he doesn’t intervene, no one’s going to take him seriously for the rest of his term, and the value of America’s word regarding what it will do will be further debased. This will lead to more adventurism by foreign powers and probably, in the long run, to the death of more Americans, and more people in general.

The other problem, of course, is that if the chemical weapons that were the reason for intervention in the first place fell into the wrong hands, it could lead to even more people dying.


In other words, all of our options stink to high heaven, and the only thing left is to intervene.

Now, me, I say we launch two strikes. One to take out Assad, one to take out the men who carried out the order to deploy the gas–assuming Assad gave that order. This would minimize our involvement, and the inevitable blame for the postwar slaughterhouse, while punishing the use of chemical weapons appropriately.

Unfortunately, the people in the administration who backed the Arab Spring still haven’t learned that American-style democracy is not coming to the Middle East. Blood and creed are what matter there. But the people in America’s halls of power either don’t get or don’t care that there’s not a plausible regime in Syria worth the life of a single human being. So we’re going to go to war. We’re going to install a government that says all the right things for a few months. And then we’re going to watch it all fall apart.

The main lessons to be learned are these: If you’re a political leader, keep your mouth shut about foreign policy ruckuses if you’re not willing to back up what you’re saying; don’t think that people scare easily if they’ve shown no sign of it; and remember that everything is much more complicated than it looks to be on the surface.

‘Til next time,


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