Archive for June, 2004

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Unreciprocated Fair-mindedness

June 28, 2004

Michale Moore’s controversial new movie Fahrenheit 9/11. Yes, I saw it. Last Friday, opening night. Sam and Chris and I bought advanced tickets and showed up an hour early. There was a small line when we arrived. Before long, however, the line stretched out behind us across the lobby of the large theater building. I was glad to see such a strong turnout. As you may remember, I at one point had concern that the operators of the theater would succumb to pressure to censor the film. That didn’t appear to happen, thank goodness. F911 was showing at four theaters within 20 miles of my house.

What did I think of it? Let’s be honest here. I am in agreement with much of what Michael Moore has to say about political issues: Bush is a bad president, the war in Iraq was unnecessary, etc. He’s a liberal. So am I. Perhaps the fairest way for me to criticize his film is by dividing it into three areas: his point, his methods and the entertainment value.

First, the point. Moore makes several in this film, most of which I am in agreement with: Mr. Bush is a bad president, his rush to war in Iraq had little or nothing to do with terrorism, his administration is engaging in crony capitalism and giving away favors to their wealthy corporate constituents. That kind of thing. He does, however, make some innuendoes that I myself would not be comfortable making with such certainty: that Bush went to war for money, for example. I’m just not that cynical. Yet. But for the most part, his message isn’t what I take most issue with.

Next, the method. Moore is a propagandist. He has a strongly held opinion. He amasses facts which support his position (and leaves out ones that don’t). He presents them in the most emotionally impactful way possible. I, on the other hand, am an intellectual. I like subtle, complex and well-reasoned arguments. It’s useful when trying to understand the subtle and complex reality of the world we live in. I Have a natural aversion to sloganeering and propaganda. It must be said, however, that people like myself do not significantly impact public opinion, nor could we ever get elected to any high public office. Therein lies the rub. I don’t feel entirely comfortable with Moore’s propagandistic methods, yet I recognize that these methods may be the only effective ones available to secure the defeat of Bush and a return America to a more sensible course both domestically and abroad. I could not make this film. I would not feel comfortable signing my name to it. But I can’t say that I’m displeased that it’s doing so well. In fact, I’m delighted. I hope that a billion people see it and that it helps elect John Kerry in November. Perhaps the end really does justify the means sometimes, but I have to admit that I feel conflicted.

Finally, let’s consider Moore’s film as entertainment. Frankly, I may need to see this film again to really judge this aspect of it. Perhaps I’ll rent it for a second viewing at some point in the future. At first blush, however, I’d have to say that it wasn’t as engrossing or as entertaining as Bowling For Columbine. In fact, it seemed a little long in the middle. And I couldn’t possible characterize the clips of dead and dying people as “entertaining.” Still, it did have its moments. The shots of the Bush administration as the characters from Bonanza were hysterical.

In conclusion, Moore’s movie is moderately entertaining, his basic points are ones I largely share, and I feel somewhat uncomfortable with his propagandistic methods. But it’s this last bit is the most important for me. I have misgivings about the way in which Moore influences people, even if I approve of the direction in which he influences them. Still, there’s a part of me that feels very silly and naive about my trepidation because Moore doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For years people like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and other conservative media pundits have saturated this country with outright lies. My high-minded solicitude with regard to Moore and his methods amounts to nothing more than unreciprocated fair-mindedness; I don’t see anyone on the other side of the aisle engaging in any public hand-wringing about the methods of their own cabal of ultra-right sideshow barkers. Maybe Moore is exactly what the left needs in this country. Someone who can fight fire with fire. Besides, if you need more justification, stop and think: people like Limbaugh and Coulter are outright liars in addition to being horrible human beings. At least Moore sticks to the facts in his effort to manipulate public opinion. I may not be comfortable doing this myself, but I can’t bring myself to be sorry that someone else is doing it.

I suppose that’s just a chickenshit way of saying that I am willing to turn a blind eye to Moore’s methods because I support his mission.

So what did you think of Fahrenheit 9/11?

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Move America Forward

June 28, 2004

Not long ago I discovered an infuriating web site called “Move America Forward.” I’m not providing a link to it because I don’t want to help them climb the rankings in search engines like google. If you find the site on your own and read their main page you’ll get a good idea of what they’re about. Here is my off-the-cuff reply.

Are you tired of the constant stream of America-bashing from the shamelessly liberal news media…

Please direct me to the liberal cable channels. I would like to subscribe to them! Please direct me to the major newspaper that didn’t breathlessly support the invasion of Iraq. Even the supposedly liberal New York Times abandoned the basic tenets of good journalism to help beat the drum. Liberal media my ass. Air America Radio is liberal. Michael Moore is liberal. CNN is just a fucking news channel. So are CBS and NBC and ABC. Just news. No agenda other than to serve their corporate masters, and that, often enough, ends up being quite in line with the GOP agenda. So stop your complaining.

…and left-wing politicians who use every negative news story to launch a political attack against our military and our commander in chief?

Clever. “…our military AND our commander in chief.” I don’t support our commander in chief. I think he’s a strutting, mean-spirited moron who has bungled the war on terror and made my country a more dangerous place in which to live. I do, however, support our military. I want them to have adequate equipment and pay. I want them to be treated with the same honor with which they serve our country. I do not want them to be on welfare. I do not want them to die for a lie. Just because I think the president is a fucking jackass doesn’t mean I don’t support the men and women in the United States Military. Impugning the patriotism of those who disagree with you politically is a cheap and disgusting attempt to stifle discussion and dissent. Unfortunately, it’s one you right-wingers engage in regularly.

Then join with the millions of Americans who are uniting to “Move America Forward” to win the War on Terrorism

I’m with you. Let’s finish what we started in Afghanistan. Let’s find and kill bin Laden and the rest of his gang. Let’s start asking our international allies (if we have any left) to help us in tracking them down. Let’s stop invading Islamic countries under false pretenses. Doing that causes people all over the world to sign up with al Qaeda and it destroys the credibility of those who would speak against such organizations.

Join our effort to stand up and support the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who are coming under constant criticism and condemnation from journalists and leftist anti-war activists.

I can only assume that you are referring to Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The men and women responsible for the mistreatment of prisoners should be court-martialed. I suspect, however, that these people would not have been doing what they were doing without someone at the top guiding and encouraging it. I want to know where this buck stops. I want this resolved so that our United States military can resume doing with due dignity the spectacular job they have always done in the past. Ignoring it won’t help the anyone. It might help the president, though, because I suspect some of his staff are responsible for this mess. And that’s why you want it to just go away. Because it makes Bush and his cronies look like the extremists they really are.

Each day there are thousands of positive things U.S. Troops are doing to better the lives of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and to make this world a safer place. We are winning the war on terrorism. But you wouldn’t know it from watching the major television networks or reading the major daily newspapers.

The military does a great job, yes. But the invasion of Iraq isn’t part of the war on terrorM, and it didn’t make us safer. It put us in greater danger than before.

Join us as we report on the “good news” you don’t hear about in the War on Terrorism and the heroic actions of our troops. Help us spread the message that we must stay strong and united in our efforts to eradicate terrorist cells around the world and here in the United States.

Sounds good so far…

And help us repel and rebuff the “Bash America” rhetoric from those who are trying to rally the public against our military, our nation’s leaders and the War Against Terror.

…I knew it was coming! If you bash Bush you bash the enlisted man. Furthermore, if you don’t support Bush you’re supporting the terrorists! This kind of cheap rhetoric really disgusts me.

Standing together and united we will prevail.

In the immortal words of Dick Cheney, and in the spirit of having a ‘frank exchange of views,’ I invite you to GO FUCK YOURSELF.

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Wonderful and Necessary Things

June 22, 2004

Sunday was father’s day here in the United States. In addition to recognizing my own father, I, in turn, was recognized by my children. It all began when I awoke to the sound of my son approaching with a plate of eggs, toast and strawberries. He was humming an ominous march from Star Wars. “Stop that!” said my wife. “You’re not bringing breakfast to Darth Vader.” I sat up in bed and ate while Paige, Dan and Angela all wished me a happy father’s day.

In addition to breakfast, I was also given two gifts. First, a copy of Wil Wheaton‘s Dancing Barefoot, which I’ve wanted for a long time. The second was four tickets to see Super Size Me at the Oriental theater in Milwaukee that very afternoon. (Reviews later, perhaps.) These were terrific and thoughtful gifts which I accepted with delight.

But late Saturday night I happened to be surfing the Web and found that my daughter had written quite eloquently about her mother and I, and about family life in general. She wrote about the “wonderful and necessary things” that nobody should have to live without. I couldn’t agree more. And it reminds me of the two best gifts of all; the two wonderful and necessary people with whom I’m glad to share my life: Paige and Dan.

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Desert Island Book

June 19, 2004

In an online forum recently I was discussing “desert island books.” These are the books you would want to have with you if you were marooned for a long period of time in some remote place with nothing to do. My initial answer was:

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Some may say it’s an adolescent choice, but I stand by it. His use of language is so deep you can drown in it, and the epic sweep of the story would be a welcome change from looking at the same palm tree all day. Besides that, it’s been a lifelong favorite and I probably will re-read it periodically all the rest of my life, desert island or no.

Other people expressed surprise at my choice and asked what I liked so much about Tolkien’s masterwork. I elaborated:

Well, [name omitted], I think there are a lot of fairly easy to understand explanations for Tolkien’s enduring popularity: epic story of good and evil, charm, whimsey, escapism, memorable characters, fantastic action, alegorical story about timeless themes… But two things stand out for me especially.

First, there’s Tolkien’s use of language. He was a philologist, or one who fusses over the origins of words. His is definitely work where you can be sure that the author chose a certain word for a very, very particular reason. Even for those who aren’t experts in this field – for us mere mortals who read and speak only one language fluently, even – there is a resonance to his work that this depth of word-meaning gives. I believe that many people have this kind of sensitivity and respond to his work on this level.

Second, his story and characters resonate very deeply on a another level; he wrote his mythology as if it were the missing narrative at the core of a lot of existing European fairy tales and legends. From Beowulf and the Kalevala, to The Cow Who Jumped Over The Moon, somehow it all leads back to Tolkien. I believe that many people – all westerners, certainly – respond almost unconsciously to this deep rootedness also.

On the down side, LOTR is nothing if not overwritten; his “how green is my valley” ramblings do get rather long in the middle. But I find it a trivial price to pay for the privilege of reading such a unique work of literature. I firmly believe in a few generations Tolkien will come to be regarded as the twentieth century master he truly was.

Your mileage may vary, of course, and no doubt there are plenty of better-read and more credentialed readers here who would vehemently disagree with me, but Tolkien still remains my favorite author of all time.

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Fahrenheit 911 Coming

June 17, 2004

Dear Marcus Theater Operators,

I am writing to express my support for the upcoming film Fahrenheit 911.  I don’t want to have to go see this film at a midnight showing at the Oriental in Milwaukee.  I would much rather see it in the comfort of my own neighborhood at Marcus Westpoint or Westown theaters.  Surely there is sufficient audience to justify your screening of Mr. Moore’s latest work there.  Please do not succumb to any pressure to censor it.

Sincerely,

Scott D. Feldstein

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Thanks to Christopher for hooking me up with the relevant email addresses 🙂

I’m not a knee-jerk Michael Moore fan, it should be noted. I thought his last movie was good, even if it was soemtimes given to cheap shots and shrill partisan hackery. I tried to read his latest book and found it too offensive to finish. Still, I’ll be in line to see Fahrenheit 911 when it’s out. They say it’s his best film yet. And, let’s be honest, he and I both hate and fear the Bush administration. With a thing like that in common, a lot can be forgiven.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the trailer for Fahrenheit 911 you should click here.

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Saddam & al Qaeda? Nope.

June 16, 2004

Saddam had no ties to al Qaeda. At least that’s what the 9/11 commission has concluded. They just issued a report, and according to CNN, “the report contradicts statements from the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda.” Someone should update Mr. Cheney.

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Still Under God

June 14, 2004

The Supreme Court of the United States of America has finally decided the case brought by Michael Newdow about the pledge of allegience. I wrote about this case before. As I understand it, Newdow basically argued that

a) The “under God” phrase makes the pledge a religious exercise, or at least an obvious affirmation of the existence of God.

b) Having government employees lead a recitation of it in public buildings violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

c) The option for gradeschoolers to “opt out” of reciting the pledge was insufficent. When you’re seven years old, having your teacher lead the class in the recitation, and having all your classmates recite it as well, amounts to coercion. This principle is well established and has been used to strike down school prayer in the past

Rather than decide the case on its merits, however, the SCOTUS simply decided that Dr. Newdow didn’t have “standing” to bring the case because he doesn’t have custody of his daughter, who according to his suit, recites the pledge daily in her public California school.

I contend that this is irrelevant. Everyone has a stake in the separation of church and state, not just the legal guardians of children in school. Therefore, everyone is harmed when this separation is violated. Anyone should be able to bring this suit.

Anyway, three justices flaty said that they would have ruled against him in spite of the technicality. I wonder what their argument would have been.