Thursday, October 30, 2014

Parenting, The Shining and The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie and The Shining share more in common than you think. Stories, whether told, written or filmed, can be read in many different ways with the observer becoming part of the story through his or her interpretation. I have long loved the Shining. It is one of the few films that truly scared me. It is a great movie that people go bonkers over. With a small son sick for a weekend, I was introduced to the Lego Movie. It is a children's movie. For a children's movie, it is tolerable for adults. After the fifth viewing of it with my son, the simple "Working dads, you be good to your kids" message could be eye rolled quick enough to think about the movie's weird "the lego is alive" section. The Lego Movie and the Shining are about the same problem, the gifts fathers and sons share, yet the Lego Movie is about a reconciliation of its duo's awareness of said abilities while the Shining is about a split.

This could very easily become stupid, so if you are wary of it, stop reading and enjoy the rest of your day.

In the Shining, Jack and Danny both have a gift. They can both Shine. We know Danny can because the cook explains the secret to us. Without the cook, every ghost moment where Jack or Danny interact with something is purely in their minds. Jack has the gift, just like the cook and his gramma. Danny has the shine amped to '11'. Wendy runs around the hotel spooked out by things, yet never gets cobwebs from the skeletons on her closes or has any splotches of blood from the elevator. The father and son react differently to the evil hotel built on an Indian burial plot. As I wrote recently, their shine mingles with the Overlook, and they react differently. Jack discovers his son has the same abilities as him, and does not want him to ruin his paradise. They love each other, but Jack loves what the hotel does for him. It seduces him, and takes his soul.

In the Lego Movie, the son and father both are gifted Lego builders. They are creative, smart, and organized. It is all a kid's tale to make a nobody who doesn't feel special suddenly important in the eyes of lord business (Daddy, pay attention!). There is a weird little catch though. The lead Lego guy, Emmett, moves on his own in the real world. Maybe it is psychic powers. Maybe it is purely frustrated energies between the father and son. This is a grown man pushed into his basement to play with kids toys. This is his fun zone. His son tramples on his enclave and fantasy world. He recognizes the expert and innovative creativity that his son has, which he has himself. He also sees the improvisational skills his son has that do not require following instructions. He recognizes the limitations he has placed on his son. They can reconcile this ability, their ability. They love each other, and the father decides to accept his son and share the experience.

Your kids are a part of you. Many of your strengths and weaknesses will be their strengths and weaknesses. People worry about not being as good as mom or dad at something. That is small potatoes. A true crisis is what does an adult do when the child proves to be superior. That is a fully formed, adult ego a child or teen is crushing. The parent can always pat a struggling child on the head, "there there, it's okay, not everyone can be awesome". What happens when Junior can destroy dad at his favorite game or is a better singer than mom? The Great Santini shows what happens, and it is not pretty. Jack yelling at Wendy to not ruin this job for him because she might secretly want him doing humiliating work is nothing compared to the reaction Jack has about Danny possibly taking away the world of the Overlook from him. How dare he. It's his retro-paradise where everyone needs him and values him. The Shining is one of the best horror films made and the Lego Movie is a cute children's film. There is no evil hotel to meddle with the family in the Lego Movie, but at its core, the movies deal with a similar conflict. It's a conflict most parents will face.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Overlook Hotel Pulls Them In

This week's horror/thriller review is the final one. I started with the mindgames and masculinity issues of Vertigo, then the mystery of Mulholland Drive, then the link to our time in the retro horror classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Let's send the month of right.

Halloween is this very week. As the nights get longer and air crisper, the scary movies start screening in my home. My wife loves horror films as do I. Old black and whites as well as newer films make an appearance on our television. An all time favorite is "The Shining". It legitimately creeps me out. I wrote about the obsessive individuals who make up the narrators in the documentary Room 237. They see some wacky things in the movie. Like any piece of art, it hits everyone differently. It is all up for interpretation, but really what is this specific horror story about? Stephen King did not like what Kubrick did with his material, and when you look at the horrible King books turned movies that King had creative veto power over compared to the Shining, you have to wonder if he did not like it because Kubrick told a better story. This is not about King's book as it has explanations, more back story and a different ending than Kubrick's reinvention of The Shining. What is the story and what does it tell us? Let's take a ride with Kubrick.

A man takes his family to a hotel, working as the caretaker in the off-season. He and his son start seeing ghosts of sorts in what turns out to be a maliciously haunted. The ghosts then make physical contact with them, seduce dad, threaten son, expose themselves to mom. The spirits eventually claim dad as he dies while son and mom flee, leaving the hotel standing victorious. The nutty folks in Room 237 have crazy interpretations of the film's message, but there are some nuggets of viability in each one (except the moon landing one). One they overlooked is the simple crisis of post-scarcity, post-sexual liberation masculinity. Jack is jobless. He has a schleppy wife. He bums around with odd jobs to take up the caretaker role that he doesn't really perform. He explicitly yells at Wendy about her messing up this opportunity and sending him back to crummy jobs like she has ruined his life. He is a writer. Of course it was Stephen King's avatar (right down to lame wife, drinking problem + one kid at the time). What does he need to do though in society? We have an overabundance of everything? He wants the party life, s3x with a desirable woman and freedom. He does not want responsibility. "All work and no play". Wendy and Danny move along fine without him. Wendy ends up doing the caretaker work. Can we even nail down when Jack grabbed Danny and hurt his shoulder? Wendy and Jack refer to that moment as happening at a different spot in time (jack when talking to the bartender, Wendy when talking to the doctor). Are either of them trustworthy? Does Wendy care? When Jack came back from Room 237 and said he found no one so Danny must've done it to himself (a lie but still she can't verify), Wendy automatically sides with her kid who has some weird tendencies, not Jack. In the very end, Wendy and Danny do not even look back abandoning the husband and father who has gone crazy. They do not flinch.

What exactly is going on? How come the hotel even bothers with Jack and Danny? One could argue that it is purely cabin fever and in Jack and Danny's head as just about every ghost interaction is suggested to Jack beforehand, and Danny might just be a psychopath. The idea of a party as well as the Grady episode was implanted by the manager to Jack. A dead young hiker is on the news before Jack's interaction with the woman in room 237. Wendy never gets blood on her despite a river of blood rolling towards her out of the elevator. I will stop. The ghosts are real. We know from the cook (Dick Halloran) that the ghosts are legit. The cook confirms that Danny is not just a kid who faints and sees things. The cook explains that the hotel knows about people who shine because he's scared of Room 237. The cook has a good reveal that Grady confirms later. The cook and his gramma both could shine. Grady's daughter tried to burn the hotel down, and Grady was in communication with the hotel. There is a genetic, inherited component to shining. The hotel does not mess with every caretaker or guest, only the ones who can shine. If a caretaker comes with family, odds are they have a kid who may catch some of those Overlook shine radio waves.

Why does the Overlook scare the kids off while pulling in the adults? Danny and the Grady daughter both get the bad juju or heebie jeebie vibes while their fathers do not. The hotel starts with little girl images and a ball rolled towards Danny, and then grows darker. The hotel says, "Come on, you belong here, it'll be a blast, you've always belonged here". It doesn't work on kids who are new to the world. That message is a strong one to middle aged men taking an off-season caretaker position that by definition is not permanent. That position is not the normal caretaker. Who would that job attract? Oddballs, guys between jobs, and with all that space, a guy with a family. A guy with a family taking odd jobs is probably hitting that mid-life crisis and lacks a steady career. Just look at how the woman in Room 237 approaches Jack vs. Danny. She attacks Danny, while approaching Jack with sex first. Is it the same ghost? We do not know. We know Danny went into the room just as Jack went into the room. The hotel can seduce easy with the mirages. Kids aren't going to be seduced by July galas and naked women in bath tubs. They are kids. They have their life ahead of them. These men need that feeling of belonging. They need to feel that they matter. Now this is completely ridiculous when they have taken a job that obviously needs their attention. The job itself is a duty, but they are seduced by the hedonism and air of the hotel. They are selfish. All of Jack's escapades are for him alone. He talks to the bartender, he walks through the gala, and he alone enjoys these things. He is the caretaker, but he never does any job duties while in fantasy land.

Playing on the idea that Jack and Danny both have the shine, and are affected in similar manners, note Jack's behavior as Wendy runs to get him about the woman who attacked Danny. She is running, wailing and panting towards Jack through an empty hotel. She is running towards a man who is facing a mirror, so he could see her coming. He doesn't. He could hear her. He doesn't.  Watch when she gets to Jack. She practically wakes him up when she gets to him. He didn't turn around anticipating her arrival. The Overlook was casting its spell on him, and similar to Danny's blackout moments, Jack was dazed as he spoke to Lloyd the bartender. Jack and Danny are experiencing the Overlook with the same illusions, but reacting differently. Jack wants to stay, while Danny wants out. Jack is told his son has a gift by Grady, and rather than talking to him about it and trying to solve the mystery, Jack just wants to eliminate the obstacle to him enjoying the Overlook. "You and I both have this gift, so why aren't you digging this? Why are you ruining this for me???" or even "I'm not going to tell mom about Room 237, but I saw the woman there, Danny. What did she look like to you?". He cannot be bothered to talk to his son about this, yet he has plenty of time to do so and no one else who knows about this to talk to.

There is something to Kubrick's Shining's interpretation that makes the horror so great. There is the horror of the external, the hotel, the world around them and there is the horror within themselves. The hotel, the very spot they are trapped in, is a beautiful yet terrifying place with a dark history. It will proactively meddle with humans. It engages people rather than the visitors entering and disrupting the environment with horrific consequences (see all slasher, monster, and ghost films). This horror is compounded by the horror of the personal. Jack and Danny are gifted with the shine, but they make choices with how to react. Danny never discusses the girls. He chooses to go into room 237. Jack, at any point, could walk away. He could choose his family over the hotel. Jack and Danny could discuss the hotel's quirks and bug out. The terrible screaming in Jack's sleep and frightened attitude when he wakes up is a conscious admission that to give in to the hotel's seduction is wrong. He still does it anyway despite crying to his wife that he does not want to do so. While the hotel's seduction works, it works because he was a willing and open target conflicted by the choice.

This horror of the external and the personal is critical in amplifying the tension of the movie. The audience gets more invested. The protagonists actually mattering is something all filmmakers and screenwriters understand except M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan just sets up a weird situation and maybe the leads matter to solving the problem or maybe they do not. However well written their story arc is outside the main situation is what will pull you in. Signs and The Village are horrible alien and monster movies that could've been awesome in the post-9/11 fear of the unknown era, but Shyamalan wastes the idea. Kubrick makes it clear Jack and Danny trigger the Overlook. Jack and Danny matter, and Jack and Danny have a choice. Giving in involves some horrific acts. Acts that one would never do or claim to never want to do. Jack will tell Lloyd the bartender that he would not hurt a hair on his kid's head, but by the end of the film, he's chasing him through the snowstorm with an axe in hand to kill him. Danny may resist the horrible hotel, but dad may come to get him.

Besides the story, the Room 237 narrators all look for the visual clues to their interpretations. They are comical in some respects but entertaining. American Indian genocide, the Holocaust, the Moon landing and minotaurs all sound a bit goofy. They look for clues in tiny little things like typewriters, cans of food or posters on walls. I too enjoyed the visuals of the film. The vast space of the sets for the hotel added to the "all alone" creepiness. The Overlook itself is a character. In To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf spends several pages describing the process of nature taking back the summer house. It is the personification of the house itself into a character in the book, not just a setting. The fools Wikipedia editors must not have read the actual book. The Overlook is a character that you can buy because Kubrick painstakingly worked the visuals. Those empty hallways were just begging for Danny to turn a corner and bump into something scary, which is accentuated by the decision to use a "big wheel" camera angle. Set design was important for this film because Kubrick had to nail the personification of a hotel that conjures ghosts out of thin air and is malicious. The hotel has to be a living thing and should look appropriate. A viewer is not going to buy ghosts popping out of the walls of a standard issue hotel. A pre-fab Holiday Inn from 1980 doesn't look the part of a hotel that could be considered enchanted and seductive. If the walls are going to talk, they better be interesting walls. That is part of the seduction of the place. Rooms are large with huge bathrooms (room 237). There are interesting Indian patterns and design. Gigantic rooms for all sorts of parties are there at the Overlook. The hotel itself, barring some room color choices, is a bit out of time compared to the 1980 production date. This adds to the setting of illusions.

Kubrick is an interesting film maker, and he reworks King's The Shining well. Bad things happen at the Overlook causing it to shine per Dick Halloran, but is he ignorant of the Overlook's construction? He might be. If he is, he's missing the first mover: the hotel is built on an Indian burial ground. Stephen King loved that cliche. Must have been the rural Mainer in him. I grew up hearing tales of the Saco River Curse (3 whites will die each year in the river), and King, growing up in the forest in Durham, Maine, probably heard a tale or two about stepping onto sacred Indian spots. Now it is easy to slip that into the interpretation that this is about American Indian massacres. Is it? Is it more about the primary, foundational conflict here. Putting a swanky hotel on top of an Indian burial ground is an alien group forcing civilization and a place used for leisure on top of the natives' most sacred spot. It is a massive trespassing for those who believe in anything holy. That crime will be punished by the spiritual side, and those who can see, those who tap into that world, those who "shine" will be witness. If drawn in deep enough, participate.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Counter to German Claims

I have a lot of respect for Germans. When I have interacted with them in an academic or business setting, their behavior has always been courteous, sharp and after a while, friendly. They are not warm, but I have had plenty of nice chats with Germans. Sometimes World War Two has come up, allowing for really interesting stories from the other side. One thing that strikes me is how almost all of them mention how crazy Hitler took them down the path to destruction and that the White Rose society was bigger than recorded. If only that bomb had not been moved 5 feet before going off, the war would have ended sooner. Unconditional surrender aside, had the Germans understood how to cripple their war machine, they would've killed persuaded Speer and Krupp of the futility of carrying on the war effort.

Scholars are split on the Nazi state and Holocaust in the camp of Crazy Hitler-Himmler types made it happen or that it was an institutional issue where the bureaucracy was set up to one up each other and execute on what had been decades of ups and down in anti-semitic or anti-other feelings. Seems that run of the mill Germans like to use the Crazy Hitler excuse. That discounts decades of pogroms and other anti-semitic actions. That discounts the fact that Germans loved their Fuhrer up until he started losing. It also discounts how the German officers disagreed on strategy but no one mentioned surrender. It is self-serving lies on a national scale.

The other thing it avoids is mentioning that all Hitler did was take over a state that had a fully functioning and orderly bureaucracy, military and history of being led by a monarch. Like Stalin becoming the Red Tsar, Hitler became the People's Kaiser. Had the German leadership truly wanted to end the war, they could have talked Krupp and Speer into their camp. Krupp was the genius leader behind Krupp industries. Alfried Krupp was so valuable that despite overwhelming evidence, after the Anglo-Soviet split, the Americans found a way to release him from prison after three years and get the German economy moving again. Good thing he had a senile father to blame the worst of the war crimes on. Speer had turned the German war economy into an efficient machine despite Allied bombings. Peaceniks mention how Allied bombing did not reduce German economic output. True. What is also true is that Speer took over from Goering the industrial organization of the economy and made everything more efficient. Goering was an idiot who spent more time comparing blues for his dress uniforms than looking at getting iron in the air. In some instances, Speer's changes were as simple as having multiple shifts at a factory. Krupp and Speer both wondered why the Allies never concentrated bombing strategies and seemed to bomb in odd, scattered patterns. Targeted bombings at critical points could have ended their manufacturing in a heartbeat. Likewise, had the German leadership involved in the July 20th plot to kill Hitler just talked Krupp and Speer into their camp, the war would've been over immediately.

We will still hear German claims of "shucks our leadership fooled us". Their speeches were out in the open. They had millions of supporters and millions of mitlaufers. To paraphrase what Speer wrote, at a certain point you don't even have to write speeches because you know exactly what the audience wants because what you are saying is not what you are thinking or believe but what they think and believe and want to hear. World War Two was really resolving who would be the dominant 20th century European model to impose on the world: British parliamentarian politics or German autocracy. Germans wanted their system to win. They can blame Hitler, but another autocrat would have taken his place had he died in World War One. The fortunate thing for Germans is they have the biggest of boogeymen to blame everything on. In a world with a decreasing number of people willing to look deeper, this provides the Germans with a renewable cover story.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Pardons Reveal

Pardons are a presidential power that usually generate interest as a president leaves office. Pardons were at the heart of the Nixon Watergate situation as Nixon would not promise a pardon or would dangle the promise of a pardon in front of men. Gerald Ford famously pardoned Nixon despite Nixon not being convicted of anything. George W. Bush never pardoned old Scooter Libby, which many pundits expected. Bill Clinton pardoned some minor figures and then Marc Rich. Rich's ex-wife had donated millions to the Clinton library. No corruption there. Clinton and Bush both pardoned, individually, two men involved in a smuggling crime from the '40s. No media outcry or much attention, yet it reveals more about America's geopolitical stance today.

Charles Winters and Al Schwimmer were buddies involved with smuggling three B-17 bombers from the US to newly formed Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Winters claims that he did this because of his friend Schwimmer for what he felt was right and received no compensation. These bombers were credited with helping the Israelis win the war and acted as the start of their air force. Schwimmer was the father of the Israeli Air Force and Winters the Godfather. Once the smuggling was discovered, Winters and Schwimmer were punished. Winters went to jail for eighteen months, Schwimmer was fined but never spent time in jail. These are pretty lenient sentences for violating the neutrality act and smuggling bombers to another nation. While there was a strong push within the US for recognizing Israel, Truman debated this and waffled on it. Even when he signed recognition, there are scratch marks on what exactly was the name of the nation he was recognizing. America had an Arabist and a Zionist wing to foreign policy. Fifty years later, the pro-Israel side had won out. While Schwimmer himself never sought a pardon, Clinton gave him the pardon. Despite being dead for over a decade, Bush pardoned Winters. It was symbolic. Israel, the US has your back, always.

Times had changed. What changed exactly? These two men broke a law. The law enforcement of their time punished them, if lightly, and did not pardon them when the crime was fresh. They were not pardoned even after the US had bailed Israel out in Nixon's day. Nothing about the law changed. What changed was AIPAC's stranglehold on Congress. What changed was the idea of Israel being the source of multiple questions at presidential debates. What changed was that breaking the law for Israel was not such a bad thing as long as it did not put the US at risk. These men are dead. The pardons have little tangible meaning but plenty of symbolism. Touchdown celebrations have no value except to taunt the other side. It is okay to get outraged by the pardon of Marc Rich. It is okay to wonder if Bush would pardon old crony Scooter Libby. Just don't discuss the history, the odd push and the lobby behind the pardon of two old smugglers.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Ukraine Narrative Fell Apart

Exactly how much of the Ukraine propaganda is being flushed down the toilet? The media appears to be pulling the plug on this propaganda campaign. It has been a little over a month after the truce was enacted that Putin designed. The EU is backing away from a trade pact with the Ukraine. The NY Times released an article that the Ukrainians did use cluster bombs as Putin alleged. The Germans just cleared the Russians of downing MH 17. Another leak shows that Putin did not offer parts of a carved up Ukraine to Poland ("overinterpreted") as the former Polish foreign minister alleged. American media has, once again, revealed that nearly everything they claimed and trumpeted in the past is false, and that which they called lies is truth. There will be no consequences. There never are. The better question is why is this happening?

Europe's economy is a mess and sanctions actually hurt them. It does not hurt the entire realm, but it hurts the heavy hitters doing the pulling to keep their whole system afloat. Russian gas fuels German industry, and the Germans, idiotically after Fukushima, decided to shut down their nuclear reactors. Where's the cheap electricity now, frau? Russia also made a big move that turned the natgas game in their favor. Russia inked that huge natgas deal with China, diversifying their consumer base. Providing China and possibly other Asian manufacturing centers with natgas makes Europe less important. It is not just foreign moves that matter, as this is the USG's show. If Putin starts strutting again, the situation can be restarted anytime Soros and company wants. The War Party now has their military industrial complex expenditures in the Middle East. Billions can be spent on the rapidly expanding, long slog to beat back ISIS. Ukraine itself is to blame. The Ukrainian military was so inept and terrible that they were losing to rebels on the ground and starting to look bad in the media war. Once people start seeing the neo-nazi side of the new leaders in Ukraine, it will scare them off since the media will say "Shoah", and no one wants a Shoah. Never again. It is also late October. Winter is coming. It will be cold in Ukraine without Russian gas. New governments with tentative holds on their nation fighting the perception of Washington puppets want to keep their people warm.

This might not go away though because of one man. George Soros is desperate. He fired off an op-ed calling Russia an existential threat, begging asking for $20 billion towards the war effort. Females in the lion pride do the hunting and fighting, but when the pride is in mortal danger, the big poppa lion comes out to fight. Soros showing his teeth in January was enough to tip off people that he was worried. This letter, demanding $20 billion from the IMF, is an angry man that knows he is losing. His word choice is closer to a despot extracting money for his war, "immediate cash injection of at least $20 billion, with a promise of more when needed. Ukraine’s partners should provide additional financing conditional on implementation of the IMF-supported program, at their own risk, in line with standard practice". Like so many other things progressives want or believe, Soros thinks if he says it enough, it will come true. It may still happen, but not fast enough for old George. One correction to the Soros letter is that Europe is broke, taking in too many toxic immigrants and drunk on hedonism facing a self-inflicted crisis.

The media is laying the groundwork for the eventual sabotaging of the current Ukraine regime and an arrangement that conforms to Russia's desires. The bad publicity right now for Ukrainian efforts combined with the positive leaks and revelations for Russia bolsters Putin's side. The rebels were reckless, the Ukrainians are using dirty weapons, Putin never made secret deals. These are all items intended to portray the eventual resolution that fits Putin's checklist as something the international community wants, too. Soros sees this and is angry. Americans will not pay attention though because they are barely registering that ISIS has been supported by our Gulf allies for years and received aid from the US when it was an anti-Assad force yet now we must bomb them. If Soros and company want to restart a fight in Ukraine once the Middle East military expenditures drop off, the stove can be turned back to high. Some fake military convoys, a shot down plane that was the only plane sent on that flight path over disputed territory, and Putin = Hitler comparisons should be enough to make the American public forget all about the systemic Ukrainian lies of 2014.

Friday, October 24, 2014

They Tried to Prog My Aunt's Funeral

This is a personal post so you can stop reading if you don't care to read ramblings on dealing with death. I had an aunt who called me monthly. I had an aunt who sent me care packages in college loaded with candy that made my rich friends envious. I had an aunt who would talk to me about anything. I had an aunt who made it a point to spend time with, welcome in and get to know my wife. I had an aunt who commented on every damn Facebook picture or video upload of my kids. I was lucky enough that I had all of that in one woman. I am from a big family full of aunts, some great and some meh, but I lost my favorite. She died in July. I was thinking of her this week when the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" was on the radio in my car, and I heard my son singing back up with a little "woo woo" in time. I instinctively thought how she'd laugh at that. Everyone grieves differently and at different paces. This is part of it for me.

My aunt had no kids but poured her heart into her nieces and nephews. My sister and I were incredibly close to her because we were the oldest grandkids, and knew her when she could walk. We both spoke at her funeral. To show how perverse people are politically now, my aunt in charge of organizing speakers told my uncle, and thru my sister me, to lay off the religious stuff because my dead aunt wasn't into organized religion. It's a funeral. If someone speaks, be thankful they shared you idiots. That side is way too left, but "just win" left unlike my aunt who was so far left that her leftness and my rightness met at the "burn the system down to start anew" point. My sister took the comedy angle, while I played the sentimental. I wasn't going to lie, and neither did my sister. I loved my aunt dearly but she frustrated me so much. She had major flaws and made some bad decisions, and she would point them out for those of us younger than her to not do. She was in a biker gang out west, had done God knows what horrible things, and yet, always found a moment to send me a letter, a post card or a box with Fool's Gold in it, and always signed "Love you". When she finally kicked her drug habit and moved home, my sister and I were so happy. I told stories to explain to our family just how much she and I shared, but I wasn't going to pretend my Harley riding, jailbird, night owl aunt did not exist 25 years earlier. I filled the eulogy with special stories. One was training my kid to say goodnight and her nickname in time for her birthday, which with his speech delay and my secrecy was a pleasant shock for her that brought her tears of joy. There were two stories I couldn't share; I'll put them here as this blog is really for my mental release.

I couldn't share with my family the fun of being in a big family is that when a crisis hits, you see the informal networks. My sister's wedding reception table seating was like a Twitter network diagram because of who likes who and who hates who at that moment. In a big family, you can tell relatives to flip off because there are 5-10 other siblings to go buddy up with after that. My dad grew up dirt poor, and just about every dysfunction (substance abuse) or positive stereotype (hard working strivers) you associate with a poor upbringing is found in one or the other relative. My aunt and I, despite being a generation apart, were a major conduit of information. It was a back channel for approaching problems. About 8 years ago, she caught on that a younger cousin of mine, who was 13, might be gay. I had that suspicion, too. One dinner she talked to me and my wife about it, and voiced a specific concern, "with how much her mother made gay jokes, I don't see her accepting X. You're both young, you know gays. How'd your friends' parents handle it". I gave her the "things are different now" speech, and mentioned that the final confirmation of it hits anyone hard. I also said that if it happens, we still let X know that we love her, and she is still family. My aunt made a crack about her own problems in the past and people accepting her back. Years later, my cousin came out, and thanks to a decade extra of Hollywood brainwashing, it's all "super-awesome" and my cousin's parents' attitude about gays in the '80s and '90s is down the memory hole.

The other story, I had actually written into the eulogy. When I came to that part, I told them I couldn't read it because it came true and had hit me too hard. On the night I picked up my wife's engagement ring, I had a business dinner, so I had to get the ring right after work then go to the meal. As dessert came, I got a call. It was my aunt. She was in tears. I told her where I was and asked for 5 minutes. I hung up, said my good-byes to my business guests, and then spent an hour in the parking lot of the Cheesecake Factory in Burlington, Massachusetts. It wasn't a call aunts and nephews should have, but she and her husband were going through hard times (lost job, money, health, etc.). My aunt had poor health due to very poor lifestyle decisions she made and her smoking habit. I hit her with it. I told her how I was proposing, hoping to elope and that I worried she "would not live to see my children". She was in her late 40s when I said that to her. Now my aunt ended up dying a week before I brought my baby girl home to meet the big family for the first time. From the moment I heard the news of her death to when my wife arrived with the kids in Maine, I thought of how that worry came true.

When my relatives tried to prog the funeral, I thought, " Who did she call in her dark times? Not your spirit warrior prog self. Me. One of the few Christians". It's my relationship with her to share with them at that moment. They were fortunate to hear it. I am thankful for the time I spent with her. I am still angry that she missed out on my kids. I'm angry that I saw it coming and she knew that I saw this coming, but she could not kick her final habit. I will eventually let that go. Willpower was not her strength. It will sting for the near future as my kids do little things like drum solos to Pink Floyd songs or just being a 6 month old night owl that make me think of her. That pain will go away. She'll become a wild character for my kids to learn about, and for them to know that she loved them even if for a short while.

She loved Halloween, so I'm thinking of her because she loved the family costumes we have come up with (this year, it's all four of us). My aunt went out west for several years, raising hell yet always finding time to send my sister and I something. After she lost a leg, she sent a postcard that had a picture of a tombstone that said, "Here Lies the 1 Legged Bandit". She wrote on the back "Bastards have a spot picked out for me!". Always signing that she loved us. When she came back, we wondered how she'd be with us and were very happy to know the letters were real, the feelings were true, and it was what helped bring her back. She is part of why I believe in redemption, and giving people a second chance. Despite not believing in organized religion, she had seen enough to believe in the soul and that there was something out there tying us together. I know not everyone has kids. Some can be self centered, and some can make an effort to connect. After calming down and cleaning up, my aunt made a great effort to connect and love. I hope that at some point in all of your lives that someone unexpected can love you in an unexpected way.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Racism Stories Sportswriters Avoid

The media loves to talk about race. Loves to only talk about it in ways that fits the official narrative. Evil whites, oppressed blacks, nonexistent Asians and Hispanics, and nothing ever changes from 1865 unless it is a good white doing something for an oppressed black (sorry Asians and Hispanics, you don't exist to journalists). Sports writers love a good race story. The great white hope (boxing), the great black hope (quarterback), why aren't there any blacks in baseball, breaking color barriers are constant stories. One story that never gets explored is "why are blacks so racist when it comes to sports".

Just in the last month, two interesting news leaks or quotes have been out there that the media is delicately handling and not taking a moment to analyze or dig deeper. This is in comparison to the deep dive of American racism from leaked Richie Incognito texts that when fully revealed, show Incognito to be not the horrible racist the media portrayed him as and hinted at Jonathan Martin's agent knowing the media would portray it one way. Rookie Nik Stauskas said, "I understand that I'm a rookie and I'm white, so people are going to attack me at all times". After the Percy Harvin trade from the Seattle Seahawks, it has leaked that some players in the Seahawks organization feel Russell Wilson isn't black enough. Keep in mind we have a black president so white he makes Bryant Gumbel look militant.

The Stauskas comments have not created a firestorm of soul searching by NBA writers. The Russell Wilson comment is not putting blacks under the microscope for the concept of black enough. Stauskas is an NBA player voicing the idea that a white will have special focus from other players. I deliberately linked to the NY Daily News article because that writer, in true liberal fashion, managed to avoid the issue of black racism entirely and turn it into a way to talk about white racism. I tip my hat to the mental gymnastics that essay forced him to perform, and the fact that he will have to wake up knowing he is a whore in the service of progressive politics not a sportswriter. How many white kids shy away from basketball due to black behavior? How many American white males over 6'6" as a percentage of population are in the NBA compared to European white males over 6'6"?

Wilson's dilemma is sad. It is partly sad due to the accusation being a slight echo of the "cornball brother" comments about RG3. RG3 was a bit conservative and had a white girlfriend that he married before knocking up. Blacks once again question the blackness of someone, not due to genetic black lineage, but due to not conforming to behavioral norms. Could a single sportswriter connect the two and maybe, just maybe, expand the idea out to the broader cultural problem of black dysfunction? Nature and nurture work to mold people, and if NFL quarterbacks will get the "you are not one of us" treatment for having white friends or being well spoken, what chance does your black friends kid have if he wants to do well in school?

These are simple questions. White kids probably do avoid some sports. It's not all of them, but at the margins. Professional sports like anything elite are a giant funnel. Fewer kids going in means not as many will come out at the end. Let's reverse this. If a liberal is going to tell you that simply the institutional legacy of slavery that ended 150 years ago can affect a modern black kid's SAT scores, why can't tribal aggression on the court influence a white kid to put the ball down? If a million dollar quarterback will get questioned about belonging, any kid can and most kids will want to belong to the crowd. Trayvon and Michael Brown both had dads in their lives, but something happened where they still felt the need to shake down convenience store owners, steal stuff at school, charge cops and/or fat neighborhood watch guys. Let's not talk about that though. Only Southern white coaches can be racist. Everyone knows that.

Cross posted at SWPL Sports Review

The Perfect Retro Horror Film for Our Era

The whole world changes around you. You're the only one to notice the change, and no one believes you. This is the premise of one third of all Twilight Zone episodes. It is well used in the 1950s classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film is a classic science fiction, horror film that holds up well for a variety of reasons. My wife fully expected a 1950s movie that would be borderline Mystery Science Theater 3000 cringe-worthy. She was surprised and enjoyed it. I have watched it multiple times, and appreciate the flick. It is helped by having only one recognizable face (the lead) and being in black and white. Invasion holds up well also because it is focused on the story and less on the effects. It is also a postcard of an America long gone. Let's think about the Invasion because sometimes it does feel like we are living in the movie today. 

Invasion was an adaptation of a science fiction novel. It differs from the book with less action fighting aliens, and less involvement by the FBI, but this was probably due to the limited budget and maybe a focus on the human element. Invasion is set in the small, fictional town of Santa Mira, California, with the small town farming feel to it combined with Main Street USA at Disney for the town center. It is set up as a frame story with a man raving about weird shenanigans. The madman is Dr. Miles Bennell, and this is his tale. Dr. Bennell returns home after being away for a while to some towns people he knows well complaining that their loved ones just ain't right. Something is the matter, but it is hard to point out. It is like they are another person, but everything appears normal. A second doctor, Dr. Kauffman, assures our hero that this is just mass hysteria, like a flu going around the town. Dr. Bennell has a love interest, Becky, a smoking hot brunette divorcee, and Dr. Bennell is divorced himself. They were college lovers, and there is plenty of flirting but it is cute 1950s kind of flirting. They even go out for a date to go dancing. "Dad, there were places people could go for dinner, drinks and classy dancing?" The film takes a turn when Bennell's friend Jack has a "thing" with his features in his home just lying around. They investigate the oddity. When Bennell returns Becky home, something she said and her father tinkering in the basement sends him back to investigate her cellar. He finds a duplicate of her in a cellar compartment, dunh-dunh-dunnnnnnnh. 

He calls the authorities, who come to find no duplicate, and the duplicate of his friend Jack (Jack's wife is played by young, bright eyed Morticia Adams) was just a madman killed in a barn later. Later Bennell finds pods out back that hatch not fully formed duplicates of him and his friends. They try to call the state capitol and the FBI, but the phone operator is one of them and won't put them through. Bennell sends his friends to make a run for it, and he and love interest try to recruit his nurse. She is one of them too, and they are installing the pods near the regular people to take over! There is a fight and they make a getaway. Eventually they get cornered by the authorities, and yes, they turned his friend Jack into one of them. See, the pod people come from spores in space, and they replace you, but you don't quite feel it. In fact, you don't feel anything. Feelings are gone. You are calm, cool and rational. No more conflict or stress. Why love? Love just leads to conflict. They place pods nearby, but the Doc has a few tricks up his sleeve. He and Becky overpower the trio. Straightforward action scene that feels more realistic than today's jump cuts and fast movement ADD scenes. Becky even helps Dr. Bennell take the trio down, but not in an obvious "this is some girl power" way, just simple strategy and fighting. 

The lovers make a run for it through the hills with pod people following. In the end, Becky falls asleep and is replaced by the pod person (vague on the replacement mechanism). She changes but not before sexy Becky says, "I don't want to live in a world without love or grief or beauty, I'd rather die". It is actually a touching scene, because they are alone. It's just them holding out. She changes though as she just could not stay awake. They get you in your sleep. Dr. Bennell must go it alone. Bennell eventually gets caught in traffic at night with the famous "You're next" scene. Do the authorities believe him? Come on, this is the 1950s. He is proven correct, and not mad, and the FBI is going to come in to tackle the problem. The pods may be on the move, but the FBI is on the case now. Aliens, watch your back. 

I would recommend this just for the black and white alone. Black and white has one major advantage over color: playing with shadow and light. There are shots in this movie that use shadow in a great way to convey menace, fear or get your attention. In color, it would not be possible. In black and white, light can appear where there should be no light source. Watch Strangers on a Train for the love canal scene to see shadow in black and white used to perfection. Another great example of this black and white advantage is in Schindler's List when the kid jumps into the outhouse toilet. It's obviously dark, yet when he is down in the crap, there is a perfect circle of light on him to show how he is alone and the other kids in the crapper don't want him there. There should be no light, but this is the beauty of black and white. Powerful. If you consider film one of the arts, black and white can be when film is deployed at its best. This film holds up better than other '50s sci-fi or horror because there are no special effects beyond the pods and the hatching of the pods. This is about a story, a mind switch. The story's power and fear helps Invasion hold up better than every "man in a rubber suit" or "pie plate flying saucer" movie. 

The wonderful thing here lost on many people is that the hero still trudges onward and does not give up despite having nothing personal to save. The '60s would also change film where rebels and flipping the old order for a loop would be portrayed heroic. In essence, that is the core message of Pleasantville that was set in the '50s but made in the '90s. If Invasion were made in the '70s, the heroes would have committed suicide, died, or been defeated. Amazing coincidence, Invasion was remade in the '70s and that is exactly what happened. The futility of any heroic effort was a theme to '70s flicks that Star Wars pushed back into the cellar. Even made today, there would have to be some personal reason the hero trudged on (a kid, his lover, etc.), unlike Dr. Bennell's sole purpose of fighting on for himself and to warn society. Bennell was part of something that he wanted to preserve and save. He was facing long odds, but he was not going to give up. He was going to try despite every pod alien telling him no, telling him he'd be better converting and telling him that it was inevitable. Audiences in 1956 identified with that obligation. After all, many of them were war veterans who had grown up in the Depression. Newer films' heroes need that personal reason, because we 21st century people need that reason. Being atomized, individuals seeking self actualization does not create selfless heroes to take out aliens when you have nothing left to protect. 

Something not lost on viewers of today is the obvious messaging, but here's where the horror goes deeper for us. Academics look at this and discuss the elements of fear of subversion but harp on the echoes of McCarthyism and hysteria. Normal human beings look at this and see this for what it is, those dirty commies could be next door and you would never know because they look and talk like us but there is something off about them. The fact that the FBI is called in as a reliable force is a signal for us normies since the FBI was the sole USG entity that even attempted to go after Communist infiltration on our shores in that era. The horror is that we have academics willing to push the McCarthy angle and disregard the slap you in the face obviousness of commie invasion. Our academics are the pod people. They see McCarthyism as a hysteria in this film when really the characters with the hunch something is wrong are correct, which is like McCarthy but not the meaning they want to assign McCarthyism.

Our invasion is ongoing. Just think back to your family members telling gay jokes 20 years ago, and listen to them prattle on how much they support same sex marriage now. They will practically exile you if you are not carrying the HIV blood stained rainbow flag. "But but my dad... he's the same... same look, same voice, same memories... he was against the Iraq war on principle but now he supports droning anything Muslim that walks and overthrowing Middle East dictators... he just loves gay guys now, not romantically, but he'll fight to the death for them to marry... he doesn't even know any gay guys! Worst part is that he won't even admit that he has changed. I'm not goin' mad am I, Doc? He changed overnight and is not the same person!" The Overton Window that moves left and sucks in your loved ones still leaves them behind intact except something is off. But you're not changed, and they won't admit it. In fact, when you try to tell them anything about the change, they look at you weird and say "yeah, well we evolve, man". 

You cannot even discuss the obvious changes because the pod people stop you. Simply looking at the avalanche from our borders should stop anyone cold for the rapid changes. Look at Invasion's setting. Santa Mira is a slight change from the real life Santa Maria, California but is the stand in as the town was used for exterior scene filming. What has happened to quiet little Santa Maria that was a cute All-American town in 1956. There was an invasion. Looking at the 2010 census, the town is now 70% Hispanic, and that is up from 47% in 2000. Roughly 45% of adults now have less than high school for educational attainment. They vote much more reliably Democrat now (Gore 47% in '00, Obama 57% in '12). Crime has popped up a bit after 2000, so the generational decline Pinker discusses is not being felt here. Santa Maria's invasion was an invasion of squatters. Guess the body snatchers got to them after all. 

The America in Invasion is lost. Nothing ever stays the same, change is always constant. The body snatchers walk amongst us, but at least now they have visual markers to signal their status, making it easier for us than Dr. Bennell. The mind virus that is progressivism is a horror, and it could happen to you. You could be next. Your lover... your kids. The subversion promises the gift of no more conflict, no more worries, no more struggle. It is a lie. It is a cheap bribe. Remember, Becky says she wants grief, not just love and beauty. Struggle, pain, enduring and overcoming are what make us human and what make us whole. Those trying times develop your soul. That is what Dr. Bennell and Becky were fighting off, the removal of their souls. Keep your wits about you, and fight. Dr. Bennell saw everyone he knew and cared for replaced, but he still trucked on to warn others. You might feel alone, but you're not. There are things worth fighting for, and you do belong to something greater than yourself.