Monday, August 25, 2008
On August 23, the Sacramento Bee told us that the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's had been yanked out of a Sacramento film festival because the Asian-American community found Micky Rooney's impersonation of a cranky Japanese offensive. Here is my reaction to this:
Once again the barbarians won. Gutless Vice Mayor Cohn had no business apologizing, trying to edit and finally canceling one of the arguably twenty five best movies ever made, then replacing it with the cartoon Ratatouille.Do the barbarians who advocate censorship understand that by their rules, just about every book, every movie, every work of art should be banned? Ratatouille most certainly, as it toys with the French. Also the "Chinoiseries" of Van Gogh and Gauguin. And much of the work of Mark Twain, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Shakespeare and just about everyone else should also be banned, or at least thoroughly edited. And the one book that really needs to be banished is the Bible, especially the ancient testament, which offends women, gays, and just about every other conceivable group. Perhaps we should have a Ministry of Culture in charge of censoring bad stuff - people with the same qualifications as Goebbels, Lenin, Mao, etc.
leave comment here Read more...
WHAT IT MEANS, HOW IT WILL DESTROY AMERICA,
AND WHAT WE MUST TO DO AVOID BEING DESTROYED
August 24, 2008
There is a new movie out: I.O.U.S.A. by Patrick Creadon. The title is an obvious pun: I Owe You/USA. It is about America’s catastrophic indebtedness. The film is a parallel to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which alerted us to the danger of global warming. Now, I.O.U.S.A. tries similarly to warn Americans about the grave danger in which they are as a result of being by far the world’s most indebted people.I have been worrying about this problem for many years. I have told my students and anyone else willing to listen that nothing threatens the survival of our society more than our out-of-control national indebtedness. As often, I have felt like Diogenes. After all, how sexy is this topic compared to the media’s and politicians’ other darling issues - gay marriage, terrorism, racism, sexual abuse, crime, etc? Talking about the national debt has usually only elicited yawns.
nothing threatens the survival of our society more than our out-of-control national indebtedness.
Thanks to Creadon’s movie, it may now become a little bit more fashionable to discuss the national debt, and to worry about it. But the first responses to Creadon’s movie already suggest that the public remains as ignorant as ever. I just visited several web sites that deal with the film. Many of the comments posted show confusion and even appalling stupidity.
For example, many Americans believe that the US is still the richest country in the world and that we constantly give and lend money to everybody. In fact, we have been borrowing enormous amounts of money from the rest of the world for half a century (one of the reasons why the dollar has been imploding). Last time I checked, we ranked number #24 in the world in per capita income, right behind Malta.
Many Americans believe that the US is still the richest country in the world and that we constantly give and lend money to everybody. In fact, we have been borrowing enormous amounts of money from the rest of the world for half a century (one of the reasons why the dollar has been imploding). Last time I checked, we ranked number #24 in the world in per capita income, right behind Malta.
The most aggravating confusion is the public’s and even the media’s and so-called experts’ continued failure to understand the dual meaning of the term national deficit:
Currently, the American people spend nearly a trillion dollars more every year than they make.
The US is by far the most indebted nation in the world in two ways: (1) due to its (Federal) Governmental Deficit and (2) because of its Trade deficit. In other words, both the Federal Government and the American people as a whole are spending far more than they are making. The government (deficit #1) has been in the red for several decades, except for a brief interlude during President Clinton’s presidency. The societal deficit (#2) has been going on uninterruptedly for many decades. Currently, the American people spend nearly a trillion dollars more every year than they make.
Confusing the two deficits and discussing them together (which even the Creadon movie does) is harmful, because it then permits everyone to rail against deficit #1, which is the lesser problem, while largely ignoring deficit #2, which is much larger and more destructive.
Americans now owe $55.25 trillion to the world. That’s $176,000 per American. Each American would have to work for 4 years for no pay - i.e. be a slave or a prisoner - to repay our debt to the world.
Several of the pundits interviewed by Creadon and many of the reviews of his movie are guilty of this confusion. They speak of the “federal debt” and of the “national debt” in one breath, pegging it at $9.5 trillion. But it is only the government debt which stands at that amount. Our nation’s overall debt to the rest of the world is much worse!
Indeed, of the two deficits, the second one, the societal deficit, is by far the more serious one. It threatens to destroy all of American society, not just immobilize its government. Collectively, Americans now owe $55.25 trillion to the world. That’s $176,000 per American. Each American would have to work for 4 years for no pay - i.e. be a slave or a prisoner - to repay our debt to the world. Our country is allowing itself to become colonized, as it is sending billions upon of billions of dollars overseas every year to finance its debt to the rest of the world.
So the term national debt can refer to (1) what the federal government owes, and (2) what American society owes. But people confuse the two deficits, either deliberately or because of ignorance. As I said, this enables most commentators who express their concern about “the national deficit” to decry the federal government’s deficit, while rarely mentioning the other, much more dangerous deficit.
The societal deficit has nothing to do with either political party....Politicians did not cause the national debt. We, the American people did. We have simply been spending ourselves into poverty.
This is exactly what many commentators do, both in the movie and on the Internet: We are told that the problem is “fiscal” and that our nation’s catastrophic indebtedness is caused by runaway entitlement programs. Many misguided people blame either Bush or the Democrats, when in fact the societal deficit has little to do with either political party. Blaming politicians is one of the few things Americans still know how to do. It is de rigueur among comedians like Jay Leno. But politicians did not cause the national debt. We, the American people did. We have simply been spending ourselves into poverty.
Instead of facing the fact that we have collectively been living far beyond our means for half a century, most commentators prefer to focus on the fact that the government spends too much (which it does). On this, Democrats and Republicans all agree. The only difference is that Democrats say that the government spends too much on things like the military and prisons, while Republicans say that it spends to much on social services. So the most often heard solution, including in the Creadon film, is to argue for a reduction in federal spending. And since most government spending is in social services (entitlements), a majority of people agree that the bulk of the cutbacks will have to be in entitlements, e.g. in Social Security, Medicare, etc.
Most of the rest of the civilized world (Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, many newly developed Asian countries such as Korea) provide social services that are far more generous than ours, and these countries are not descending into bankruptcy.
But this is wrong: Most of the rest of the civilized world (Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, many newly developed Asian countries such as Korea) provide social services that are far more generous than ours, and these countries are not descending into bankruptcy, certainly not at the rate that we are. Furthermore, many of those countries have more top-heavy population pyramids that we do. This means that they have more old people who must be supported in retirement and in sickness by a relatively small base of working and tax-paying people, than we do. So what’s our excuse?
Whatever solution is implemented, the first, last and fundamental principle to keep in mind, if we are to get out of this quagmire is simple: STOP DIGGING YOUR GRAVE. That means, stop increasing your debt, and start reducing it. How?
No other country on earth spends as high a percentage of its wealth on medicine, yet dozens of other countries are healthier than we are.
1) Stop spending nearly a quarter of your national wealth (GDP) on medicine. The AMA, the Insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies are fleecing the American people. No other country on earth spends as high a percentage of its wealth on medicine, yet dozens of other countries are healthier than we are.
Wean yourself from dependency on foreign oil. That means alternative energies, including the massive reintroduction of nuclear power plants.
2) Stop spending yourself into bankruptcy for oil. Wean yourself from dependency on foreign oil. That means alternative energies, including the massive reintroduction of nuclear power plants.
3) Stop protecting and policing the world, mostly by yourself. Cut your military budget to the same percentage of GDP as your allies, i.e. 1.5% to 2%, from the current 3.5%. America’s military budget exceeds that of the rest of the world combined, i.e. it makes up more than half of the world’s military expenditures. That’s too much. This will reduce the federal government’s annual deficit by $250 billion, i.e. half.
America’s military budget exceeds that of the rest of the world combined, i.e. it makes up more than half of the world’s military expenditures. That’s too much.
Our obsession with terrorism vastly exaggerates its importance and the magnitude of its threat. 9-11 was a tragedy and a fluke. There is no such thing as absolute security, so vigilance is good, but all in good measure. I do not advocate weakening homeland security. However, thanks to geography and history, we are relatively safer from terrorism than are the Europeans, yet we are more obsessed by it, and we spend too much on foreign wars which do little to protect us against terrorism.
4) True, part of the solution - but only a part - is to cut back on public (= government) spending. However, the areas where our government vastly and wastefully overspends are not the usual suspects - the safety nets for the elderly, the sick and the indigent, Social Security, Medicare, etc. No they are the military (see above) and:
Our gargantuan criminal justice system. We lock up over 800 people per 100,000, which is by far the highest rate of incarceration in the world. It is about 10 to 20 times higher than the incarceration rates of all other industrialized nations. It is higher than that of totalitarian countries such as China and Iran. Five million Americans are under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system, i.e. 1.6% of the population. America spends far more on this and on lawyers than does any other country on earth. The criminal justice system and the ABA are fleecing the American people.
We lock up over 800 people per 100,000, which is by far the highest rate of incarceration in the world. It is about 10 to 20 times higher than incarceration rates of all other industrialized nations.
5) Sell more of your products to foreigners and buy fewer products from them. The single largest part of our indebtedness is caused by our balance of trade, which has been negative for half a century.
6) Buy fewer things, period. You eat too much, consume too much, buy too many useless machines, live in houses that are too large, drive too many miles, carpool too little, walk too little. You’ll feel a lot better and live longer if you do all these things.
7) Start to save, as your grandparents did. Currently, it is not that you are not saving enough. You are actually not saving at all. Collectively, your savings rate is negative.
Buy fewer things, period. You eat too much, consume too much, buy too many useless machines, live in houses that are too large, drive too many miles, carpool too little, walk too little. You’ll feel a lot better and live longer if you do all these things.
8) The solution does not include massive cutbacks to social services. Leave those as they are. If Social Security threatens to become non-solvent in a few decades from now, the solution is simple: it is not to privatize it, as the Bush administration tried to do, urging the American people to gamble with the only secure income they can count on in old age. It is not to drastically increase contributions. No, the solution is to simply raise maximum benefit age by a year or two. After all, we live nearly two decades longer now than we did when the program was introduced by President Roosevelt. It is not much of an imposition on the population to delay fully-paid retirement by a couple of years, after which the retired population would still enjoy a far longer life in retirement than it did two generations ago.
As to other social services - Medicare, welfare, child support, unemployment benefits, sick leave, parental leave, etc. - ours are already very stingy in comparison with the rest of the developed world, so it would be unconscionable to reduce them further.
I am reminded of the 18th century British economist Thomas Malthus. While Malthus wrote about a different problem, namely the threat of world over-population, his reasoning is very applicable to the subject at hand: in his warning against the danger of over-population, he explained that we had two choices: (1) either smartly and relatively painlessly control population growth through various forms of birth control (including abstinence) or (2) let nature do it for us painfully, as it does in the animal kingdom. If humanity failed to do the first, then the painful Malthusian checks would take effect, namely starvation, war and pestilence.
We can implement the eight recommendations I have suggested, or history will take its course and solve the problem for us - painfully...The system will become unstable, there will be radical social upheaval, and the upper strata will be expropriated, forcefully.
America is at a similar crossroads. We can implement the eight recommendations I have suggested, or history will take its course and solve the problem for us - painfully. How will it do that? Well, after the American economy goes through such utter devastation as to make it unrecognizable, and the American people descend to a generalized level of hardship which we have never experienced in our history, the system will become unstable, there will be radical social upheaval, and the upper strata will be expropriated, forcefully. After all, our bills and our debts - both current and past due - will have to be paid back somehow, if necessary through the confiscation of wealth. And where else will the money be found, but in the pockets of the Warren Buffetts, Alan Greenspans, Steve Forbes and other people interviewed in Creadon’s movie I.O.U.S.A. So which way will be it?
leave comment here Read more...
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Nowhere else is political correctness more virulent than in Hollywood. The two best received movies in memory are Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Letters from Iwo-Jima (2007). This prompted me to write the following insight in February of 2007:
In many scoring systems, reviewers give four stars to the best movies, three to the next best, and so on down to zero stars for the worst films. The Sacramento Bee reproduces the scores given to movies by a sample of critics nationwide - Ebert and Roper, the New York Times, etc. Every week we can see how the latest movies have been scored by half a dozen "experts" around the country. There is hardly ever total consensus. A great movie might get four stars from half of the experts, but only three from others, etc.In all the years that I have followed these ratings, I can only remember two movies which received a perfect score, i.e. four stars from every single reviewer: Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Letters from Iwo-Jima (2007). The first of these movies is about a gay love story between two Wyoming cowboys, filmed beautifully in the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. The other one is about the battle of Iwo-Jima viewed from the Japanese perspective. It is spoken entirely in Japanese, with English subtitles. Its director is Clint Eastwood.
These two pictures received the greatest adulation of any movie, ever. Brokeback Mountain also swept the Golden Globes and was nominated for and won numerous Oscars, as did Letters from Iwo-Jima.The unanimity of the nation’s reviewers is astounding. Were these same experts to rate today such classics as Citizen Kane, Singing in the Rain, Casablanca, Spartacus, Gone with the Wind, foreign gems like Les Enfants du Paradis, more recent masterpieces like Schindler’s List, and spectacularly entertaining movies like Titanic or Amadeus, they would not give them a unanimously perfect score.
What could account for these two movies’ stunning popularity among the opinion leaders? I am convinced that this can only be explained politically. That is, the intelligentsia saw no alternative but to unanimously declare these two movies to be the best ever - ahead of all other films ever made. Political correctness demanded this. In the case of Brokeback Mountain, giving it a perfect score was the only way to avoid the risk of being called homophobic. In the case of Letters from Iwo-Jima, the risk was being called xenophobic. So much for free and independent thought.
As for my own rating, I give Brokeback Mountain three and a half stars. It is a beautiful movie and a courageous movie. The plot is somewhat convoluted. It is good, but not the best ever.
I give Letters from Iwo-Jima three stars. It is riveting, well acted, and it renders the gruesome and bloody battle accurately.
However, in the end, it is a fairy tale, because nearly every Japanese soldier and officer is depicted as a man of courage, honor and integrity, a hero who can do no wrong. It is possible to make a balanced movie that shows the enemy’s perspective and grants him dignity while remaining realistic. Tora Tora Tora was such a movie. So was Young Lions. And there are many more.
But as I said, Letters from Iwo-Jima is a fairy tale. It is not courageous. It is opportunistic. It rides the wave of political correctness, knowing that this will produce great rewards in ultra-liberal Hollywood.
Eastwood must know that most men are flawed and that the Japanese are no exception, to put it generously. Yet the only truly beastly deed in the entire movie is committed by two American marines, when they shoot two innocent Japanese POWs. This is a cheap shot. We know from war statistics that Americans have always treated enemy POWs far more humanely than others have: When the Russians defeated the German Third Army in Stalingrad, they captured about 100,000 German prisoners. Five percent (!) of these survived Russian captivity. The survival rate of Russian prisoners captured by Germans was about the same. And what about the Japanese? Thousands of American POWs died in the Bataan death march. The Nanking massacre was pure and simple genocide. Throughout World War Two, Japanese soldiers raped and enslaved thousands of women in China, Korea, and throughout the rest of Asia.
Unlike the Germans, the Japanese have rarely shown contrition about their war crimes, and we rarely hold them accountable. Instead, the American media love to bring up the unfortunate internment of Japanese-Americans during the war. Could this double standard be because the Japanese are non-European, and criticizing them could be construed as an expression of Eurocentrism, which is one of the worst sins, accordint to the intelligentsia?
Should someone make a movie about World War Two from the German perspective? Should Hitler be mentioned in it with the same equanimity as Tojo is mentioned in Letters from Iwo-Jima?Clint Eastwood is now getting rave reviews, perhaps an Oscar, and universal adulation from Hollywood and from the intelligentsia. However, nothing becomes as dated as a fad. Remember Billy Jack? Popular at the time, a bad joke now. Or Easy Rider? Still revered by aging hippies, but embarrassing to the rest of us. The same fate may befall the latest faddish movies as well.
As an immigrant and therefore somewhat of an outsider, I am always puzzled by the unrelenting sense of guilt which plagues American liberals. They cannot, for a moment, stop flagellating themselves and entertaining the thought that their country is wrong. Letters from Iwo-Jima is one more manifestation of this unhealthy habit.
leave comment here Read more...