What’s a Vote-Waster to Do?

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I have a confession to make. I’m one of those dreadful people who “waste” their votes. At least this is what I’ve been doing, according to what generally passes for wisdom. And I plan on doing it again this year. Many Americans would tell me that I should be sorry, but I must make one further confession: I’m not.

To authoritarian statists, there are few worse crimes. If I tied a litter of kittens up in a sack and tossed it into a vat of boiling oil, I might offend them more. OK, no, I wouldn’t. I must be careful, in fact, about making my confession around these people, because they just might stuff me into that sack, themselves.

If I lack the option of voting for the candidate I believe in, I have to wonder how much freedom I actually have.

They not only revere the authority of the state, they revere The Process. Because I’m skeptical about the concept of voting for its own sake, they accuse me of failing to appreciate this sacred American right. There are many rights that I consider more sacred, but that these people not only fail to appreciate but appear determined to throw away with both hands. Nor do I neglect to realize that it is better to be able to vote than to be denied that privilege. But as a libertarian, my understanding of what voting is, and what it should accomplish, differs from theirs to a degree so significant that when I try to explain it to them, they react as if I were speaking Neptunian.

Being presented with an artificially limited range of choices — seldom more than two — and given the “right” to choose one of them does not, to me, seem a very impressive exercise of freedom. It’s only one more option than the North Koreans get. And when I opt for a third choice, and am told that I’m wasting my vote, I must ask why. Because if I lack the option of voting for the candidate I believe in, I have to wonder how much freedom I actually have.

Truly, I believe that to vote for one of only two choices would be to waste my vote. At least this is how it stacks up if — as is almost always the case — I would prefer neither. What the conscience-stricken souls who lecture me not to waste my vote are really telling me is that I must choose their option. That I am blessed to live in a land where I can think exactly as they do. Or, more to the point, that Heaven has smiled upon me by relieving me of the burden of having to think at all.

I can only reply that this is a dotty concept of freedom. No wonder we keep getting the same rehashed nonsense every election year. The only real change taking place is that all the while, our freedoms continue to erode. America is frantically voting, on and on, and congratulating itself on its ability to exercise this sacred right, and all the while it is giving away the store. We perch proudly atop our liberty even as, slowly and stealthily, it is being pulled out from under us.

There is a world of difference between settling for a lesser evil — who is, still, evil — and selecting someone who, though imperfect, is actually pretty good.

As the self-appointed scolds keep reminding us, our vote is our voice. And whether our candidate wins or loses, those votes will be studied, tabulated, and analyzed to no end. To vote for the candidate or cause you or I truly believe in, even if we lose the contest for power, is never a waste — not if in casting that ballot, we say, as precisely as possible, what we really mean.

I would prefer the Libertarian Party candidate over whomever the Republicans or the Democrats nominate. Even if he doesn’t stand for everything I like, or says things that disappoint me, he can’t possibly be as bad as the two media-anointed main contenders. In my opinion, indeed, a libertarian candidate can’t be bad at all. There is a world of difference between settling for a lesser evil — who is, still, evil — and selecting someone who, though imperfect (as any human will be), is actually pretty good.

When anybody corners me with a guilt-trip about my “wasted” third-party vote, I’ve begun to respond with this question: when you vote, what are you trying to accomplish? And further, if your purpose is not to make your convictions the clearest they can possibly be, why do you bother? My interrogator is immediately thrown from the offensive to the defensive. It’s a position this bore is likely unused to being in, but richly deserves.

It is better to vote for a “loser,” but make your true convictions known, than it ever could be to vote for a “winner,” only to have your voice drowned out by the crowd. Far from “making your vote count,” exercising the latter option accomplishes no greater good than shouting into an empty well. If enough of us choose the third-party candidate, The System will definitely pull out all the stops to find out why. Merely going along to get along gets us exactly nowhere.

My fellow libertarians, let us never be ashamed to vote according to our own convictions. And never let us be duped into thinking that we’ve wasted our votes. We can march out of that voting booth with our heads held high. In fact, if we choose not to vote at all, we have every right to be equally proud — and, make no mistake about it, that option also lets our voices be heard.

We’re not the ones who need apologize for wasting our votes. A vote that says what we mean it to say — however cast — is the only kind that ever really matters. “Why are you wasting your vote?” I intend to ask my conformist friends. And if they don’t like being on the receiving end of that question for a change, they can just go jump into a sack full of kittens.




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None Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Looking back over the linguistic events of 2015, I wondered whether this column should offer an award for the Most Asinine Remark of the Year. The major difficulty was that there were too many candidates. Another problem was that to ensure fairness, the columnist would need to wade systematically through the reported utterances of the current presidential contenders, an adventure that would result in the columnist’s suicide.

Almost all these people talk like maniacs — and I mean that literally. Who but a maniac would say, as Jeb Bush said to Wolf Blitzer the other day, that Donald Trump disparages him, Jeb Bush, because Trump is afraid of him? Afraid of somebody who for months hasn’t achieved more than 5% in the polls, despite the heaviest possible backing from the Republican establishment, and nearly everyone’s former assumption that he was the inevitable nominee? No, that’s crazy.

What could be crazier than the things that Hillary Clinton says? Who but a crazy person would respond to the question, “Did you wipe your server?” by saying, “What, like with a cloth or something?”, and think that was funny. But then, who except a crazy person would have decided, when she was a college student, that she had to become president, and that she must therefore marry Bill Clinton (admittedly, another person with more than a few screws loose, hence a pretty good match), so that she could make him president, so that he could then make her president? It’s crazy, but that’s what seems to have happened.

Afraid of somebody who for months hasn’t achieved more than 5% in the polls, despite the heaviest possible backing from the Republican establishment? No, that’s crazy.

A less fundamental but nonetheless striking symptom of craziness is Donald Trump’s inability to construct anything like a normally coherent statement on any subject. Crazy people often shout out sentence fragments, expecting their listeners to understand what they mean; and that’s pretty much what Trump does. Like some crazy people, he then becomes upset when he’s “misinterpreted.” I have to admit, however, that the 20-minute rant in which Sarah Palin endorsed Trump for the presidency sounded much crazier than anything Trump himself has come up with. I listened to it for two or three minutes before I looked at the television and saw who was speaking; before then, I thought it was a badly acted, less-funny-than-scary comedy skit. Trump, standing beside her, looked embarrassed, as well he might.

But at least Palin isn’t running for public office. Bernie Sanders is, and he makes Palin look like the straight man in the act — supposing that it’s funny to see an angry old goat hunched over a microphone, spewing hatred of the God-damned rich God-damned bastards that are running the God-damned country. When we were kids, most of us heard that kind of oration from the crazy old bores in the neighborhood, and if you’re like me, you found that their fearless individuality seemed a lot less fearless — not to mention a lot less individual — when you noticed how obsessional it was.

Hundreds of times a day, political contenders such as all of the above compete enthusiastically in the Ass of the Year Pageant. By this time, one of them would have won the crown, if the judges — we, the people — hadn’t kept mandating higher and higher standards of performance. Put it this way: six decades ago, no one had broken the four-minute mile. Then somebody did. Now every professional runner is expected to do it. In the mid-1950s, no one, not even a politician, was required to spend his life violently asserting that the real world is utterly different from the world that other people see. That’s not easy. But today, every person in public life is expected to run up and down telling his neighbors that the planet is about to burn, that America has yet to begin a conversation about race, that guns cause crime, that capitalism creates poverty, that taxation creates wealth, and that government is the people’s only friend. If politicians don’t say such things, they have to find some way of proving that they are not insane.

Under these conditions, it’s rare that a public figure says anything that actually makes people — real people, not political hall monitors, turn and stare. No matter what he says, Donald Trump no longer excites surprise. No one marvels anymore at anything that Hillary Clinton comes out with, despite the fact that much of it is cheap, stupid, obvious lies. But even with such flamboyant competitors in the race, there’s always the possibility that someone will emerge from nowhere and make the voters gape again.

That’s what happened on January 8, when James Francis (“Jim”) Kenney, mayor of Philadelphia, stepped to the microphone and delivered a wakeup call to the national consciousness. The call was not what he intended, which was, “Listen to me! I am the voice of liberty, equality, and fraternity!” No; when it hit the eardrum it sounded more like, “What kind of idiots are we electing to public office?”

Who except a crazy person would have decided, when she was a college student, that she had to become president, and that she must therefore marry Bill Clinton?

It happened at a press conference of police and city officials that followed the attempted murder of a Philadelphia policeman by a man dressed in Islamo-clerical garb who proudly confessed that he had fired 13 shots at a randomly chosen cop because the police were deficient in enforcing sharia law. The city’s police commissioner, Richard Ross — a man with a gift, highly unusual among “police spokesmen,” for clear, perspicuous, and coherent speech — described the event as I just did. Other people associated with the police did the same. But out of the blue, the mayor stepped forward and said, with passionate intensity:

In no way shape or form does anyone in this room believe that Islam or the teaching of Islam has anything to do with what you’ve seen on that screen [presumably a reference to the videocam of the attempted killing]. That is abhorrent, it’s just, it’s terrible, and it does not represent the religion in any way shape or form or any of its teachings. This is a criminal with a stolen gun who tried to kill one of our officers. It has nothing to do with being a Muslim or following the Islamic faith.

After the mayor said that, the policemen went on discussing the culprit’s religious motivation. It was as if Kenney’s weird outburst had never occurred. But his remarks were so goofy that people all over the country sat up, took notice, and howled with laughter.

Ridicule occasioned yet another outburst from Kenney (January 14). After claiming that the motives of the would-be assassin were mere objects of speculation, which would be shrouded in mystery until investigations were concluded, he launched into a defense of Philadelphia’s Muslim population against otherwise invisible attempts to blame them all for the crime. “He [the shooter] is a criminal and they are not criminals,” the mayor declared. Well, yes; who said anything else? But when people lose their grip, they often start to hear other people saying things they actually didn’t say. Then, if the grip-losers notice that others think they‘re acting sort of crazy, they decide that those people are just projecting their own craziness onto them. Accordingly, Kenney said that the real problem wasn’t his weird remarks; it was the Republicans. Offering another answer to a question no one appears to have asked, Kenney declaimed:

Was I misinterpreted by Republicans? Yes, I think it’s pretty easy for them to do. They misinterpret a lot of things. The FBI and police have not concluded that this is an act of terrorism. They are investigating it as it could be, but I think our FBI and police know more than Rush Limbaugh.

This statement suggests that Kenney isn’t a standout after all. He hasn’t really pulled ahead of the pack; his weirdness is simply one part of the larger weirdness of our political era. Nothing is more common than for Democratic politicians (Kenney is a Democrat) to refer almost any question to the nefarious schemes of the other party. In the president’s imagination, the failures of Obamacare resulted from the Republicans’ reluctance to endorse it. In Mrs. Clinton’s imagination, the email scandal — every scandal — is the fault of Republicans’ inopportune inquiries. If they would stop asking questions and let her be president, as is her right, the problem would go away.

Kenney said that the real problem wasn’t his weird remarks; it was the Republicans.

The perpetually ruling party also has the idea that any embarrassing question can be deflected by a reference to some ongoing investigation. But no investigation is required to make every politician in the country, left, right, or center, an expert on the history and teachings of Islam. These authorities know everything they need to know about the subject, right now. Like President Obama, that renowned Quranic scholar, Mayor Kenney is absolutely certain that Islam has nothing to do with people or organizations (such as the Islamic State) that somehow, for no reason at all, say they are acting to promote Islam.

I am not so expert on the subject. I merely suggest, without the benefit of any comprehensive investigation, that there are qualities in all the great religions, and all the great political and intellectual movements, that are capable of corrupting personalities and inspiring wicked acts. Don’t tell me that if Christianity had never existed, people would have been burned alive for denying the existence of the Trinity. Don’t tell me that atheism had nothing to do with the cruelties of Stalin. And now that I think of it, don’t tell me that a lot of our friends would be so insufferably cocksure and self-righteous if there were no such thing as libertarianism.

William Blake said that the caterpillar lays its eggs on the fairest leaves, and that saying is applicable to every aspect of life. Some people get divorces — some people murder their spouses, for God’s sake — because they cherish high ideals of marriage and find that their companions in marriage lack those ideals. Marriage may be a good thing, but if somebody says that he killed his wife because she didn’t live up to her marriage vows, I’m not going to hurry out and proclaim that her death had nothing to do with marriage itself.

You see what I’m saying, and I doubt there are many Muslims in the world who would disagree with it. I doubt there were many Muslims in Philadelphia who rushed to thank Mr. Kenney for giving them help they did not need. And I doubt there are many people in America who aren’t tired of his kind of obscurantism and the regime of political correctness in which it is embedded.

But the problem isn’t just obscurantism, or the American political circus (which can never have too many clowns); it’s the dominance of a Western official culture that is so wrapped up in obscurantism as to accept it as a fact of nature.

Take Angela Merkel (please!). What leader in history ever responded as she has to a civil war in a distant country — a country whose folkways and social attitudes are radically different from those of the modern industrial West, a country occupying a central position in the region from which anti-Western and anti-Christian terrorism has spread throughout the world? Merkel’s response was to invite unlimited numbers of people, without regard to educational attainment, occupational skills, familial ties, social status, social attitudes, degree of suffering from war, or even citizenship in a war-torn country, to come to Germany — after forcing their way through half a dozen other countries considered less desirable because less replete with welfare — there to be supported by tax money extorted from her constituents, none of whom were consulted about any of this, until such time as the migrants succeed in becoming fully assimilated into and integrated within the society she purports to lead, the society to which they are, notwithstanding their proposed assimilation, expected to contribute their own healthy cultural diversity.

There are many ways of baffling your constituents. Information control is one of them.

What kind of leader would do this, equipped, as she was, with nothing more than a vague plan to muscle neighboring countries into accepting their “fair share” of the migrants (which they refused to do), but with no plan to keep track of who came in, where they came from, where they went, or what their fate might be? What kind of leader would refuse, over and over, even to consider setting any limit on the burdens her countrymen must bear in “welcoming” the increasingly unwelcome visitors?

The answer is: a leader who has lost all contact with reality.

Of course, when you have a job, any kind of job, even that of Chancellor of Germany, you can’t stay out of contact forever, unless something or someone gives protection to your craziness. That’s the function of your “aides,” “supporters,” “spokesmen,” and other flunkies — the Valerie Jarretts of this world, who are smarter than you, and know it, and who also know how to shape an official ideology (political correctness and the other pseudo-moral attitudes emitted by people in power) that maintains an impenetrable barrier between the exalted leadership and everybody else.

There are many ways of baffling your constituents. Information control is one of them. Stall, delay, slow walk the facts; use words with secret definitions (“comprehensive immigration reform”); summon paid employees (crony capitalists, scientists on government payrolls, consultants to commissions appointed by yourself) to vouch for your way of doing things; and, when you feel like it, lie — just outright lie. You can also follow the example of Rahm Emanuel’s regime in Chicago, in its response to the police slaying of Laquan McDonald: bury the incident so deep in bureaucratic processes that nobody will know enough about it to demand the facts. That’s what the politically correct regime of Germany did with the migrant outrages in Cologne: the police blandly declined to report the fact that hundreds of sex offenses had taken place, and the news media blandly declined to publish what they knew. Any woman interested in demanding that something be done would think she was the only one, and go away.

Perhaps the strongest barrier between the people at large and their maniacal rulers is the attitude, now growing like kudzu everywhere in the West, that all of this is normal. Hillary Clinton: sure, she lies. What of it? Barack Obama, a little man with a nasty temper: sure, what do you expect from him? Angela Merkel, sole author of an enormous political blunder: gosh, I wonder what she’ll do next?

A Reuters report from January 19 shows how bad the situation is. After detailing the critiques finally being launched at Merkel from all directions, the author concludes in this way:

There are signs that Merkel, traditionally known for her pragmatic approach, is hearing at least some of the criticism but she has remained firm in resisting a cap [on immigration].

“There are signs,” but no one can be sure about whether Merkel “is hearing at least some of the criticism.” If so, she’s “resisting.” And that’s it. You can shout and scream all you want; maybe something will get through. But the leader gets to decide about what she hears. And it seems that she doesn’t hear much.

Not since the Neanderthals have human systems of communication been so lacking in the ability to communicate. What do we need — semaphores? Esperanto? Bonfires on the mountains? Drums along the Mohawk?

Obviously, the lunatics have taken over the asylum, and they’re not giving it back.




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And the Winner Is . . .

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Who would ever have thought that a Mad Max film would earn a nomination for Best Picture from the staid and serious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? “Oh what a day — what a lovely day!” was my reaction when I heard the news (quoting a character from the film).

I wrote in my review last spring: “The characters aren’t nuanced, the storyline is one unending chase scene, and the dialogue is almost nonexistent. Still, it’s the craziest, wildest, most badass thrill ride to come to a theater since — well, since Mad Max: Road Warrior premiered in 1981.” Do I think it will win? Not a chance. But as I wrote in that review, “for pure, nonstop thrills with an undercurrent of resonant mythology and a libertarian hero just looking out for himself, Fury Road can’t be beat.”

I’ve already reviewed half of the nominees for Best Picture, including The Martian ; The Revenant; The Big Short; and Bridge of Spies, in which Tom Hanks once again heads a Best Picture cast without being nominated for Best Actor. Go figure. Here I round out the category by reviewing Spotlight, Room, andBrooklyn.

In 2002 the Boston Globe presented a story that was shocking not only in its subject but in its scope: over the course of several decades, Catholic priests had molested hundreds of children in the Boston area, and the church’s response had been to cover it up by quietly paying settlements and transferring the priests to other areas, where many of them molested other children. “Spotlight” was the name of the investigative team that uncovered the scandal, and it is the name of the film that has been nominated for Best Picture.

"Spotlight" adopts a didactic tone more appropriate to a documentary than a fictional narrative and just as dry.

There’s a risk inherent in focusing on the reporters who told the story rather than on the story itself. While we admire the reporters’ diligence, tenacity, and determination to get it right, writing — even when it entails researching and interviewing — is mostly a static pursuit. The actors do their best to make their scenes dynamic and interesting, and the writers did their best to introduce some action for the reporters: Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) jogs to work and attends a baseball game, William Robinson (Michael Keaton) plays golf, Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) does a walk-and-chat through a park with a molestation survivor (Michael Cyril Creighton), and Matt Carol (Brian D’Arcy James) runs up the street to look at a neighboring house. But that’s about it in the action department.

To me, the movie is mostly a script for talking heads. To be sure, it is a well-written script filled with the kind of loaded, eloquent dialogue that writers tend to write, and the subject is clearly important. The actors have been praised for mimicking the real reporters so well, and indeed they gesture skillfully, squint concernedly, touch their faces absently, and adopt careful postures and stances that they have observed by studying the actual reporters. But it looks staged, more artifice than art.

Spotlight also adopts a didactic tone more appropriate to a documentary than a fictional narrative and strangely (for a film with this topic) just as dry. We learn statistics about the “recognizable psychiatric phenomenon” of abusive priests and the cult of secrecy caused by forced celibacy that isn’t really enforced. We hear important opinions about how such heinous crimes could be committed against so many children without anyone stopping it, thoughts such as “if it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to abuse one,” and “lawyers turned child abuse into a cottage industry” by quietly brokering secret settlements. We also hear moments of bitter irony, as when one survivor says, “the priests preyed on us instead of praying for us,” and when Cardinal Law (Len Cariou), who represented the church in covering up the crimes, says after the attacks on the World Trade Center, “Pray for the victims, pray for the injured, pray for those who survived.” The same could be said, of course, for the children who were molested. But this didacticism is hardly original; it was all in the articles we read when the stories broke.

Even worse, the men who had been molested as children — all of them — are portrayed as broken, stunted, and socially inept, not survivors at all, but victims. Sadly, I know many people who were molested as children, most of them by family members or neighbors. They have scars and sorrows, but they are neither broken nor socially inept. Most of them are strong, active, and successful. You simply would not know what they have endured. It isn’t right to portray all of these survivors in this way.

If nothing exists on the other side of the door, then there is no reason to grieve or long for release.

Spotlight tells an important story, but despite the protagonists’ success, it isn’t one of those films that makes you cheer their success. Yes, the reporters broke the story and forced the church to do something about the abusive priests. Yes, the film demonstrates journalism at its best in terms of the diligent digging, insistence on accuracy, and compassion toward the survivors interviewed. Yes, it allows hundreds of victims to tell their stories. But despite all this, it is a tedious film, and all I could feel was relief when it was over.

Room addresses a similarly horrifying topic. It’s every parent’s greatest fear: a child goes off to school and doesn’t return. Simply vanishes. Hours go by, then days. Then weeks. Has she been kidnapped? Murdered? Did she run away? Then years. Life is never the same, because you can’t even grieve — you have to keep hope alive, and that means telling yourself that your child isn’t dead, that someday she will walk back through that door, and everything will be the same again. Anything less is betrayal. To “move on” would be like killing her yourself. So you wait. Or maybe you do move on. Either one is agony.

Room tells the story of such a young woman. Joy (Brie Larson) has been kidnapped at the age of 17 and held hostage for seven years in a small shed, where she is abused by her captor every night and has no hope of escape. But if you are looking for (or have been avoiding) a lurid, prurient tale of sexual abuse, you won’t find it here. Instead, the story is told through the innocent eyes of Joy’s five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who, because he has never known any other world than “Room,” is content with his life and the characters who populate it: Sink, Bed, Wardrobe, Chair, Bathtub. The world he sees on the screen of a small television set is just a nice fantasy.

Like the whimsical father (Roberto Benigni) in Life is Beautiful (1997), who shields his little boy from the truth of their captivity in a concentration camp by making a game of it, Joy has determined to create the semblance of a normal life in an abnormal world by acting as though Room is the entire world. If nothing exists on the other side of the door, then there is no reason to grieve or long for release. Jack is content, and his presence makes her life endurable.

Nevertheless, when Joy thinks of a way for Jack to escape, she forces him to take it, no matter what the consequences might be for her. Jack’s terror as he tries to get away from a world that seemed normal to him creates the most harrowing scenes in the film. My heart was racing the whole time.

That’s about it: just a simple love triangle, the kind you might find in a Harlequin romance.

One would expect that escape from the shed would mark the climax, but it’s really just the middle. Room is told in two solid acts, and in the second we learn that there is more than one way to be imprisoned. Joy’s parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) have also been held hostage by Joy’s kidnapping, unable to move forward, unable even to change the room where Joy grew up. They are trapped by their expectations, trapped by their imaginations, trapped by their blaming and their guilt. Jack becomes trapped as well, in a world so gigantic he doesn’t know how to process it. Even more poignantly, Joy has to escape the confining expectations she has nurtured about what it would be like to leave Room and go home. The film asks us to consider what makes a woman a mother, what makes a man a father, and what makes a place a home.

Brooklyn is another Best Picture nominee that asks us to consider what “home” means. Beautifully filmed in Ireland and Brooklyn, as they were in 1951, the sweeping landscapes and nostalgic cityscapes are full of soft blues and greens that highlight the blue-green eyes of the movie’s protagonist, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan). Eilis loves Ireland and her family, but like so many Irish citizens of the period, she is a bright young woman with a drab future as a part-time shopkeeper. When a family friend arranges for an invitation and a job in America, she takes it.

There she lives in a modest boardinghouse run by a motherly woman who watches over the morals of the girls who live with her, even as she pushes them into social situations where they can find a nice Irish immigrant to marry. Eilis finds Tony (Emery Cohen), a nice Italian immigrant, instead. Tony eases Eilis’ homesickness, and they fall sweetly in love. However, when Eilis returns to Ireland for a visit, the familiarity of home wraps itself comfortingly around her. Eventually she must choose between two men who love her: the comfortable Irishman (Domhnall Gleeson) and the New World Italian.

Her choice is not so much about the man who will be her husband as it is about the style of life that goes with the man.

That’s about it: just a simple love triangle, the kind you might find in a Harlequin romance. Not your usual Best Picture fare. But the production values lift it to award-winning possibilities. The cinematography is lovely, as are the costumes and set pieces. The music is evocative, and the acting is superb, especially Eilis’ controlled, reserved passion and Tony’s Brandoesque tender exuberance.

Moreover, Brooklyn is more than a romance; it’s a classic journey tale. Eilis journeys not just from Ireland to Brooklyn but from childhood to adulthood. Her choice is not so much about the man who will be her husband as it is about the style of life that goes with the man. At one point Eilis says, “I’m not sure I have a home anymore.” She learns in the end that “Home is where your life is.” And when she chooses the life, she embraces the man.


Editor's Note: Reviews of "Spotlight," directed by Tom McCarthy. Open Road Films, 2015, 128 minutes; "Room," directed by Lenny Abrahamson. A24, 2015, 118 minutes; and "Brooklyn," directed by John Crowley. Wildgaze Films, 2015, 111 minutes.



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Credibility vs. Credulity

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Climate catastrophists are distraught. The planet is headed for hellish doom, and few of its inhabitants care enough to alter its climatological trajectory in any meaningful way. The world has ignored catastrophist demands to decarbonize its economies, and rich countries, who have caused catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW), are not doing enough to help poor countries, who are its victims. Worse yet, the climate cult is crumbling, as its science-challenged leaders struggle to wage a crusade whose viability depends on propping up a scientific hypothesis that cannot stand on its own.

Catastrophist leaders have been unable to make a convincing scientific case for CAGW, or for the solution that they propose to avert it. Decades of advancing their scientific arguments (based on, e.g., flawed climate models, blatant manipulation of climate temperature data, shrill pronouncements of unsubstantiated alarms, followed by shriller, more frequent pronouncements of unsubstantiated alarms) have failed to win public support. So have vigorous attempts to appropriate scientific authority, coerce scientific consensus, and quash scientific debate. Their most ambitious intellectual efforts (incessant ridicule of skeptics, unrelenting vilification of dissenting scientists, and threats to imprison fossil fuel company CEOs, "climate deceivers," "doubt-sowers," and others) have attracted few converts.

According to catastrophist lore, America is the problem. Americans, catastrophists say, are in denial about the coming devastation and the science that predicts it. We dismiss the ominous tweets of President Obama (e.g., "Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climatechange is real, man-made and dangerous"). We chuckle when John Kerry likens global warming to weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), skeptics to Holocaust deniers, and alternative theories of climate change to the work of "shoddy scientists." We are blind to the self-evident truths of climate warming that catastrophists see, everywhere they look: storms, floods, droughts, fires, famines, terrorism, species extinction, heatwaves, cold snaps, allergies, and diarrhea, to name a few.

The climate cult is crumbling, as its science-challenged leaders struggle to wage a crusade whose viability depends on propping up a scientific hypothesis that cannot stand on its own.

America remains doubtful and oblivious. Just how stupid can we be, wonder alarmists? Bill Clinton thinks that such skepticism makes America look like "a joke." It's "almost like denying gravity," muses Joe Biden. Have Americans become even stupidersince Obamacare, which, according to Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber, relied on "the stupidity of the American voter" for its passage?

Indeed, American ignorance is said to be behind the watered-down Paris climate change accord. Thought to be humanity's last best chance to avert otherwise certain climate disaster, the agreement was not legally binding and fell far short of catastrophist demands. Catastrophist leaders blamed the US Senate. Had that body been willing to ratify a treaty mandating US emissions reductions, then Messrs. Obama and Kerry would have been able to persuade the other 190 or so countries to mandate theirs.

The US Senate, of course, is controlled by Republicans, as is the House of Representatives. That is, the US Congress is controlled by Republicans, for whom climate change is not the most important issue of their time. Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, having been duly indoctrinated by climate science that was settled decades ago, believe that CAGW is the greatest threat to humanity. Unlike Democrats, Republicans do not understand that fossil fuel is the scourge of the planet, abetted by the industrialization, capitalism, and democracy that threaten its very existence. This misapprehension is typified by so-called Tea Party Republicans — "flat-earthers" that Obama has no time to meet with — and "climate deniers," whose ignorance of science, according to Kerry, disqualifies them from "high public office." Presumably they would have been qualified had they attended the kinds of high schools and colleges where, Kerry continued, he "learned that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and it does so 24 hours a day."

We are blind to the self-evident truths of climate warming that catastrophists see, everywhere they look: storms, floods, droughts, fires, famines, terrorism, species extinction, heatwaves, cold snaps, allergies, and diarrhea.

Which raises the question: in this intractable climate change battle, who are the actual idiots? Where is the evidence that the catastrophist elite is any smarter than the Americans, even the ordinary Americans, that it obsessively derides and belittles? Instead of asking why America is unwilling to buy their planet-saving scheme, catastrophists should ask why their leadership has been unable to sell it. Why is it that — armed with daily evidence of omnipresent climate damage, the pressure of world opinion, the unrelenting propaganda of stroppy environmentalism, the vociferous endorsement of celebrities and journalists, and the lofty, unified validation of the world's climate scientists — such luminaries as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore can't make the case? They are losing to the Koch brothers and 40 or so members of the Tea Party!

Part of the answer is that those leading the climate crusade know the least about science. Otherwise, they would be able to explain climate change issues (such as the ongoing warming pause, the elusive tropical hotspot, the pesky Medieval Warm Period, the perfervid climate models, and the profligate green technologies that are "unproven or even illusory") in a way that Americans could understand. Dr James Hansen, the father of global warming, laments Obama's inability to articulate his policies to the public. “He’s not particularly good at that," said a discouraged Hansen.

There has been no measurable global temperature increase for 18 years of uninterrupted, anthropogenic belching of record quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. This is no small fissure in the CAGW theory; it is a gapping chasm that screams for resolution. Yet in May 2013, more than 15 years into the hiatus, as climate scientists frantically struggled to find an explanation of why the climate had not warmed as fast as everybody had anticipated five or ten years earlier, a clueless Obama asserted, "We also know that the climate is warming faster than anybody anticipated five or ten years ago." Three years later, still clutching a theory in need of serious modification, if not complete revision, he fatuously calls skeptics "deniers," as he remains in obstinate denial of the continuing warming pause.

After injecting over 100 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere since 1998 (one quarter of the amount that all humanity has spewed since 1750) with no temperature increase to show for it, one can understand how Americans, even ignorant Americans, would be skeptical of the CAGW hypothesis, and embarrassed by their president's habitual attribution of storms, floods, droughts, and terrorism to rising temperatures that have yet to occur.

Where is the evidence that the catastrophist elite is any smarter than the Americans, even the ordinary Americans, that it obsessively derides and belittles?

While they wait for the missing heat to appear, perhaps catastrophist leaders could use the time to explain the tropical hot spot (the signature of manmade warming, predicted by climate models). It too is missing — as is the rapidly melting Arctic ice predicted by Mr. Gore in his 2006 Academy Award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. In accepting the Nobel Prize for his climate prediction abilities, Gore warned, "The North Polar ice cap is falling off a cliff," and "could be completely gone in summer" by 2013. But in May 2015, NASA reported that polar sea ice has been increasing, and is currently about 5% greater than the post-1979 average.

As an example of another precognitive gem, in his documentary, the doltish Gore proclaimed:

Humanity is sitting on a time bomb. If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet’s climate system into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced — a catastrophe of our own making.

With only months until the bomb is scheduled to go off, the vast majority of the world’s scientists are no doubt in denial about ever having belonged to Al's "vast majority" club. Gore has become a laughingstock, and his credibility as a climate forecaster has vanished in the eyes of most climate experts — except for the catastrophist elite, who, as the case for climate hysteria crumbles before their eyes, step up the hysteria.

To Obama, "the scientific consensus" that he cites in his delusional rantings extends to an endorsement of his policies. It does not. That there is scientific authority attached to his policies is the bilge of political dogma. Unfortunately, it is this bilge that Democrats grasp as scientific truth, angrily rejecting divergent ideas as anti-science — promulgated, of course, by fossil fuel company shills. Skeptics should be prosecuted under the RICO Act, and coal company CEOs should be jailed "for all of eternity," says Robert F Kennedy Jr. Such is the preferred catastrophist method of settling science.

The climate cult has hijacked climate science for political purposes. Its hysterical claims of future havoc are disingenuously designed to scare the world into believing that eco-socialism is earth's only hope for survival. But such claims are based on the projections of severely flawed climate models. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits that “there remain significant errors in the model simulation of clouds." There is observational evidence that “water vapor feedback” used by models to amplify the warming effect of CO2 is offset by clouds. Moreover, a recent study of the earth's albedo (the fraction of incoming solar radiation reflected back into space) found that "climate models fail to reproduce the observed annual cycle in all components of the albedo with any realism" and that the inability to accurately quantify the reflection of sunlight by clouds is "one of the major obstacles in climate change predictions."

(Clouds and water vapor make up 95% of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG); CO2 comprises only 3.6%, of which only 0.117% is manmade. Catastrophists claim that this miniscule quantity will significantly raise the temperature of the entire planet.)

Even the Tea Party would agree that, through the greenhouse effect, some level of manmade warming is expected. But where is the evidence for significant warming? It's what the Global Climate Models (GCMs) tell us, catastrophist leaders insist. That is, we are being told that 0.117% of atmospheric GHGs drives our climate, and the information comes, not from scientifc observation, but from GCMs that are incapable of faithfully simulating 95% of atmospheric GHGs. We are also being told that, because we wonder about all this, we are knuckle-dragging morons who may need to go to jail.

There has been no measurable global temperature increase for 18 years of uninterrupted, anthropogenic belching of record quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Climate cultists, in their reflexive attacks against those who question the authority of mystical climate models, demonstrate their own, and more fundamental, ignorance of science. As Thomas H. Huxley long ago noted, the true scientist "absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority . . . For him, skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin."

Yet blind faith is the price of admission to the cult. Skepticism must be checked at the door. In a study reported by the Huffington Post and Mother Jones, the Tea Party is ridiculed for its skepticism. "Tea Party Members Really, Really Don't Trust Scientists," scoffs the Mother Jones headline. Based on the study sample, Democrats are the most trusting, with 83% of them believing scientists on environmental issues. Independents are next, at 63%, followed by mainstream Republicans, at 60%. The Tea Party comes in last, at 28%.

Only 1% of Democrats distrust scientists, boasts the report, compared to 43% of the Tea Party crowd. That is, Democrats are incurious, credulous lemmings, and 43% of the Tea Party seem to have passed high school physics. This would explain why the Tea Party has a few questions for climate scientists (who, after more than 30 years and untold billions spent on climate research, can't make their case), and why almost all Democrats have no questions at all.

To be fair, what could climate change gurus be expected to know about climate science? They are lawyers. For all Mr. Obama knows, the Stefan-Boltzmann Law is a racist statute, surreptitiously enforced in the South. Harry Reid's total knowledge of global warming is that the Koch Brothers are behind it; they "own that ugly tar stuff in Canada." Harry probably thinks that a CO2 absorption band is an undergarment worn by Al Gore when being theatrically elevated by a pneumatic scissors lift, as he was in An Inconvenient Truth.

John Kerry's closest brush with science was the clean room "bunny suit" that he donned at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to promote his 2004 presidential campaign. It was an experiment that went awry: photographs of the event portrayed Kerry as a goofy ass; the Kerry campaign blamed NASA for leaking them to the media; NASA's General Council ordered the removal of all images of Kerry's KSC visit from all NASA websites. Some might consider the removal to be censorship, while others might view it as a scientific contribution — since the display of John Kerry in a bunny suit would have scared dozens of promising space camp kids away from pursuing a career in science.

Climate cultists, in their reflexive attacks against those who question the authority of mystical climate models, demonstrate their own ignorance of science.

Nowadays, as an international climate change star, Kerry imparts climate science wisdom to world leaders, urging them to exploit "the small window of time that we have left in order to be able to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from already happening." At home, when he is not pondering time-travel, Kerry advises the American public about "shoddy scientists" and "extreme ideologues" whom we should not allow "to compete with scientific fact" — fact such as the idea that climate change is the "most fearsome WMD," that Canadian tar sands are a "hydrogen bomb," and that "those who continue to make climate change a political fight put us all at risk," all notions plucked from the meditative, objective, non-ideological mind of John Kerry.

In reality, climate cult leaders are boisterous dilettantes who are distressingly ignorant of science, except for its shameless use as bunting for their political ambitions. Hillary Clinton, who has even less scientific credibility than Kerry, is suddenly, and furiously, following his "small window of time" advice — now that she is running for president. She cannot explain why she thinks that only manmade CO2 causes global warming, that only catastrophic warming will ensue, or that only solar panels and windmills can stop it, but to win the Democrat nomination, she promises to install a half-billion solar panels by 2027, enough, supposedly, to power every American home. Depending on the polls, the theatrics of Gore and Kerry would not be beneath her. With Obama blaming global warming for droughts, and Biden blaming it for forest fires, Clinton could start showing up at tornado sites, wearing a green pantsuit and a whirling, funnel-shaped hat, spinning in proportion to her feigned outrage.

In the Democrat debates, let's just hope that no one asks Mrs. Clinton about the tropical hotspot. She might reply, after a grating cackle, that it's a nightclub on a Caribbean island where Bill goes to sate his albedo. The enraged catastrophist elite would attack the moderator, accusing him of being a denier, a climate-deceiver. "Go to jail, oil company shill," would cry the big government shills. On the other hand, at a Democrat debate involving climate science, only 1% of the audience would doubt her answer. Where credulity reigns, dilettantes have credibility.




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Paul Ryan and the Extreme Populist Establishment

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When it comes to the Republican Party’s base, there isn’t “an establishment” — there are two. The Realistic Conservative Establishment (the RCE) consists of those in power (in the media and industry) who speak to and for those Republicans who embrace free market capitalism and limited government (the free movement of goods, labor and capital globally). The Extreme Populist Establishment (the EPE) consists of those in power who speak to and for those Republicans who embrace populist economics (opposition to free trade, to immigration across the board, and to companies moving operations abroad to avoid America’s corporate taxation and regulation).

The two establishments are fighting to get the Republican base to nominate their preferred candidates and pursue their preferred policies. The focus now is on the presidential primary, with the EPE generally supporting Donald Trump, with the backup position of Ted Cruz or Ben Carson. The RCE support is split among the remaining candidates (except Rand Paul, who is more the libertarian choice). But nowhere is the split between the two Republican establishments more clear than in their respective treatments of one of the unsung heroes of our time, House Speaker Paul Ryan.

You should measure the success of a negotiation not merely against what you get, but against what you get facing the opposition you have.

Ryan only recently took over after then-Speaker John Boehner resigned from a controversial tenure, a bitterly disappointing one to the populist base and the EPE. After weeks of turmoil, Ryan reluctantly agreed to become speaker. He met with deep skepticism by the EPE. Now Ryan has accomplished several things, and the EPE has attacked him furiously. As a classical liberal, I am angry at the short-sighted EPE commentators attacking what I perceive as major accomplishments.

Consider Ryan’s recently negotiated budget deal. EPE hero Rush Limbaugh was outraged at it, saying it gave Obama everything, and the conservatives nothing, and opining that “what has happened here is worse than betrayal.” Others echoed this sentiment. But I contend that the Ryan deal is in fact a good one, especially considering the fact that the Democrats still have the power to stop bills in the Senate and hold the White House. I mean, Earth to EPE pundits: you should measure the success of a negotiation not merely against what you get, but against what you get facing the opposition you have. Let’s look at some of the major provisions of the deal so condemned by the EPE.

First, Ryan secured about $700 billion in tax cuts — extending some useful deductions and making some (such as the R&D tax credit) permanent. Oh, and the tax cuts include greater expensing of small business costs, and renewable energy credits are phased out.

The second major victory the Ryan deal won was an increase of $573 billion in spending for defense, and another $163 billion for veterans’ programs. To those of us who have voted Republican as opposed to Libertarian all these years, this is huge. Realist conservatives and classical liberals view defense as the most important function of the federal government, and while the previous “sequester” deal did lower the deficit, it did so by cutting defense spending massively. Would I have preferred that this increase in defense spending not been accompanied by increases in spending for pet Democratic social programs? Sure, but defense spending has been held hostage by the Democrats, with the ransom being increased domestic spending; and that won’t change until there is a Republican in the White House. Concession on this issue was what it took to secure Obama’s signature on the compromise deal.

The third victory achieved by the deal escaped notice by the EPE commentators as much as by the mainstream media (the Progressive Liberal Establishment). The deal puts major restrictions on the highly politicized and deeply corrupt IRS. These restrictions include forbidding the use of personal email accounts for conducting IRS business (Lois Lerner’s cute little trick), as well as barring the targeting of nonprofits based upon their political or other ideological beliefs. This was a deeply satisfying victory for those of us who feel we have been politically targeted by the IRS.

This asinine prohibition was passed by a Democrat Congress and signed into law by a Republican president nearly 40 years ago, in the middle of the oil crisis.

Of course, if the Republicans can elect a president this year, I would push for that president to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Lerner — along with the dozens of IRS creeps who worked with her to annihilate the Tea Party — for violations of the civil rights of taxpayers.

But the fourth victory is one that is a profound gamechanger. It will transform not just the American economy but the politico-economic order of the whole world. Again, this victory escaped the notice of the EPE pundits no less than the mainstream media. Ryan’s deal amazingly succeeds in repealing one of the most idiotic laws ever passed — the law prohibiting American oil companies from exporting domestically produced oil. This asinine prohibition was passed by a Democrat Congress and signed into law by a Republican president nearly 40 years ago, in the middle of the oil crisis. Really, how stupid is it to attempt to get the country’s oil companies to drill for more oil — by walling them off from the world market? The policy guaranteed that the major oil companies would focus on oil exploration abroad. So it sent more American jobs abroad, made us even more dependent on foreign oil, and sent vast billions of dollars out of the country, to enrich our enemies. The ill-considered law no doubt delayed our oil fracking revolution by decades. Ryan’s compromise not only suspends this law, but permanently repeals it.

The elimination of the export ban is massive. We can now compete head-to-head with the Middle Eastern and Latin American oil states, along with Russia. We can help Europe become completely free from dependence on Russian energy, thereby dramatically weakening Putin’s power to cause mischief. By keeping world prices low, we starve Putin of petro-dollars with which to build up his military. In fact, the continuing low price of oil has drained Russia’s reserve fund by 30%, and it is projected to be empty by the end of the year. We can become Asia’s number one supplier of fossil fuels, keeping our friends (Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea) close and our enemy (China) closer. Moreover, by selling them oil and natural gas, we can lower our trade deficit enormously. Finally, we can cut the Venezuelan socialist regime off at the knees.

Indeed, just a few days after the deal was signed, the first two tankers carrying American domestic crude for ports abroad. The first ship left Corpus Christi, Texas, bound for Trieste, Italy, loaded with oil drilled from the Eagle Ford Shale field by ConocoPhillips. The second ship left Houston carrying oil to Marseilles, France. The shipping should ramp up rapidly: the Corpus Christi terminal alone is capable of sending out 400,000 barrels a day (BPD) as is, and developments under way will boost that to 575,000 BPD in the near future. The CEO of ConocoPhillips suggests that the demand from foreigners for our oil will hit 2,000,000 BPD by 2020. If the price of oil recovers and moves into the $50 range, exportation should just explode. So much for “peak oil” and eternal dependence on the OPEC thieves.

We can now compete head-to-head with the Middle Eastern and Latin American oil states, along with Russia.

This is a success that was way beyond the dreams of us who believe that our fracking revolution will make us energy independent. But the only way to get anti-fossil-fuel Democrats in Congress and our global-warming-obsessed president to agree was to offer them all a lot of useless spending — such as renewing subsidies temporarily for unproductive forms of energy such as wind and solar power.

Of course, should the Republicans win the White House in 2016 and hold both chambers of Congress, these subsidies can be easily ended. But should the Democrats keep the presidency and take back the Senate — which they will surely do if Trump gets the nomination — it would be almost impossible for them to reinstitute the ban on exporting oil.

In fine, Ryan outfoxed the Democrats magisterially — amazing for someone who just stepped into the job.

What peeves the EPE commentators about the deal? Their stated objections are obviously weak. They complain that in the bill Ryan negotiated, ObamaCare was not eliminated, the taxes intended to pay for it (such as the steep tax on “Cadillac” health care plans) were deferred for two years, funding for Planned Parenthood was not ended, and the budget deficit increased. The replies are simple. If Ryan had put the elimination of ObamaCare in the bill, it would not have passed, or if it did, Obama would not have signed it.

Should the Democrats keep the presidency and take back the Senate — which they will surely do if Trump gets the nomination — it would be almost impossible for them to reinstitute the ban on exporting oil.

Ironically, soon after getting this bill done, the ever-clever Ryan was able to put through Congress bills repealing ObamaCare outright and ending funding of Planned Parenthood and place them on the desk of the president, who of course immediately vetoed them. Ryan thus kept his promise to force Democrats to vote publically on the issues, and put them on the desk of the president to veto. But for this, the long-time EPE pundit Lou Dobbs bashed Ryan, saying that getting those bills through Congress was mere theater.

What really angered the EPE crowd is that Ryan dared to cut a deal at all. The EPE crowd would rather be right than be president. And that’s the way they will continue to play it.




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Alive! It’s Still Alive!

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In 1823 Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and explorer, was mauled by a bear and left for dead by the soldiers who were ordered to remain with him until he either recovered or died naturally. One of these guardians was 19-year-old Jim Bridger (yes, that Jim Bridger, who would become a significant explorer of the American West). Alone and without any weapons or supplies, Glass managed to set his own broken leg, dress his own wounds, and drag himself 200 miles to Fort Kiowa, where he vowed revenge against those who had abandoned him. His story became the stuff of wilderness lore for nearly two centuries, and provided material for numerous articles, books, and movies, including Man in the Wilderness (1971) with Richard Harris in the title role.

In the hands of director Alejandro González Iñárritu, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass, this story outshines them all. A 19th-century romantic sensibility runs through the film, beginning with the cinematography that mimics the Hudson River School of art with its soaring landscapes overshadowing the humans; at one point Glass is a mere speck in an ocean of snow, barely visible between two towering mountains. Romanticism also appears in the film’s reverence for nature and the “noble savage,” its presentation of spiritualism and the occult, and its celebration of rugged individualism. The film is an exquisitely beautiful paean to nature. All this occurs through the artistry of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who could be experiencing a hat trick at the Oscars, after taking home the award for cinematography (Gravity, Birdman) the past two years. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s musical score, with its deep somber strings resonating with sorrow and grief, is also masterly.

Most of all, though, it’s a thrilling story with many heartstopping moments. I heard myself shouting, “Oh no oh no oh no!” as I felt myself plunging headfirst over a cliff. I also hurtled down rivers and over waterfalls, endured bloody hand-to-hand combat (including a fight with that bear), encountered stunning dream sequences, and could swear the overhead fans swirled icy air through the theater whenever Glass was nearly freezing to death.

At one point Glass is a mere speck in an ocean of snow, barely visible between two towering mountains.

Three main storylines intertwine to develop the plot. First, a group of fur trappers must make its way to safety at Fort Kiowa, after being attacked by Indians and losing most of its men. The group is led by Glass and his Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) until Glass is mauled by a grizzly protecting her cubs. It’s one of the most terrifyingly realistic animal encounters I’ve ever seen on film. I don’t know how DiCaprio had the courage to make this scene, and I don’t even want to know how they did it; I just want to believe it. Second, in a reverse allusion to John Wayne’s The Searchers (1956), the Indians are searching for their leader’s daughter, who has been kidnapped by a group of white men. Finally, a group of French fur traders contributes to the problems encountered by both of the other groups.

At the center of the conflict is Glass’ personal vendetta against John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the man who has killed his son and then abandoned Glass to a premature grave. Fitzgerald is an illiterate adventurer whose backwoods accent is so thick it’s sometimes hard to understand his words. But there’s no misunderstanding his pragmatic survivalism. When Bridger (Will Poulter) reminds him to think of his life, Fitzgerald responds, “Life? I ain’t got no life. All I got is livin’.” With no hope for a life beyond trapping, he is motivated only by his animalistic need for protection, food, and shelter. But Glass does have a life, or at least he did; he had a son. His desire for revenge motivates him to keep moving when others would have given up and died. He emerges from his grave as a man emerging from the womb of the earth. Wrapped in the skin of the bear that mauled him, he becomes the bear, avenging the cub he could not protect.

As did the romantic artists and writers of the era in which this film is set, The Revenant champions rugged individuality. Iñárritu does this by contrasting pack mentality with the personal choice and actions of individuals on their own. For example, an early scene shows the fur trappers skinning hundreds of animals and leaving behind stacks of bloody carcasses to demonstrate the wanton waste and brutality of their trade. Soon after this scene we see Glass and his son Hawk stalking and killing a moose that they intend to eat, and we feel respect for their skill and their reverence for nature. Indeed, the men of all three groups are kept alive in the frigid winterland by wearing bearskin coats and hats. Later, a pack of wolves chases down a bison calf and kills it, and we feel horror for the calf. But when Glass catches a fish barehanded and bites its head off, straight out of the water, we feel how famished he is and again respect his skill. Similarly, when whites or Indians are in groups, they massacre each other’s villages viciously. But when Bridger sees a lone Indian woman in one of those massacred villages, he leaves behind a packet of food for her, and when a Pawnee Indian comes upon Glass in the wilderness, he shares his food, dresses Glass’ wounds, and gives him a ride. In short, groups are tyrannical, individuals are kind. I don’t know whether it was Iñárritu’s intent to demonstrate the tyranny of the masses vs. the nobility of the individual, but I found this aspect of the film quite satisfying.

Iñárritu gets the kind of budgetary green lights other directors can only dream of, and for good reason: he knows what to do with it. He is one of the most visionary directors in Hollywood today and will settle for nothing less than what he envisions a film to be. He has a reputation for being demanding and uncaring toward his actors and his crew; to make The Revenant they froze, they starved, and they froze some more. You can see the exhaustion and desperation in the actors’ eyes, and it’s perfect for the film. Reportedly some crew walked off the set, saying it was too dangerous and too hard. I can’t blame them. Yet those who stayed behind had the opportunity to make something remarkable. The Revenant is a film you will discuss on many levels for a very long time. It’s long, but oh my goodness, is it gorgeous!

The Revenant champions rugged individuality by contrasting pack mentality with the personal choice and actions of individuals on their own.

Another director known for his visionary style, engaging stories and brutal scenes is Quentin Tarantino, who has lately developed a tradition of releasing a new film on Christmas Day. Now, I would never choose a bloody Tarantino film to celebrate the joy of Christmas, especially one with the title The Hateful Eight. But movies are the “gifts that keep on giving,” so I waited to see his latest offering until two weeks later.

The two films have several other characteristics in common, in addition to the distinctiveness of their directors. Both are westerns that begin with expansive snowy landscapes reminiscent of the Romantic era, with characters appearing as mere specks in the frame. Both contain gorgeous musical scores that establish the mood of each scene and carry the story forward. Both tell intense stories that lead to graphic, bloody battles. Both plots are driven by the capture of a woman, and characters in each film are driven by a desire for revenge. Both even contain characters who whimsically stick out fat tongues on which to catch snowflakes, and both have characters who lose their testicles. So what sets them apart?

Let’s turn to The Hateful Eight. This is Tarantino’s eighth feature film (if you don’t count his segments in Four Rooms and Sin City, but you do count his half of Grindhouse, and you count Kill Bill as one film, even though it was released as two separate films . . .) Maybe you get the idea. Tarantino loves to create homages and echoes and allusions, and calling this one The Hateful Eight (which he arrives at by not counting the stagecoach driver, who would be the ninth character in the film) is important to him because it allows an allusion to Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963), the title of which was chosen because Fellini had then made eight and a half films. Tarantino seems determined to make his homage fit, even if it means cutting off his toe to cram his size 10 foot into Fellini’s size 8 ½ glass slipper.

Tarantino waits a long time before the bloodbath begins, and even when it finally does, it isn’t at all what you expect.

As you can see, the homages and allusions and traditions can become a bit too precious and overbearing, but at the same time they create a certain resonance in Tarantino’s works that his fans have come to expect and enjoy. He also likes to include props and dialogue that astute fans will recognize from other films, and he has a stable of favorite actors who have become a veritable performance troupe with him. Fans also know to watch for his cameo appearance in his films, à la Alfred Hitchcock; in this one, which contains a closed setting similar to Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), he voices the narrator.

Tarantino is also known for his orgiastic use of blood, which is always over the top, and always more than necessary. Way more. But he is a masterful storyteller, and that makes the gore almost worth enduring. Almost. I suppose many viewers have become inured to it by now. I have not.

In this film Tarantino waits a long time before the bloodbath begins, and even when it finally does, it isn’t at all what you expect. The first half of the story is immediately engaging. A stranger stops a stagecoach in the gathering snow and asks for a ride into town. The stagecoach is occupied by a bounty hunter named “Hanging John” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prize, the outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The stranger turns out to be another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and after some sparring and posturing the two bounty hunters are soon making their way by stagecoach to Red Rock, Wyoming, to deliver their cargo of outlaws. Major Marquis generally chooses the “dead” option in “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and he piles his three bodies atop the stagecoach where they are as stiff and oblivious as Grandma in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). “Hanging John,” on the other hand, believes in bringing them in alive so he can watch them hang. He keeps his lucrative captive handcuffed to him until he can exchange her for the $10,000 bounty. A third stranger (Will Poulter) also appears along the snowy road and joins them in the stagecoach. Tarantino develops the suspense in these opening scenes subtly. Knowing looks are exchanged between characters, unexplained props are noticed, and skillfully written music plays on our emotions. It is eerie and highly effective.

When the stage and its passengers encounter a blizzard, they pull into Minnie’s Haberdashery, a way station where four other travelers are already ensconced and Minnie is nowhere to be seen. No one trusts anyone else, and Ruth is particularly nervous that someone is going to get away with Daisy and steal his $10,000 bounty. The men exchange stories to pass the time, and as more and more details around the Haberdashery make less and less sense, the story plays out not only as a western but as a who-done-it and a what-exactly-has-been-done. It’s part Agatha Christie’s Then There Were None, part 3:10 to Yuma, part Magnificent Seven, part Canterbury Tales, part Hitchcock’s Rope, and some Friday the 13ththrown in for good measure.

With its single setting and familiar ensemble of actors, The Hateful Eight often feels as much like a stage play as it does a movie, and the jumble of genres becomes tedious when we are trapped with the characters in the cabin. But Jennifer Jason Leigh is particularly good as Daisy, the outlaw on her way to a hanging. She doesn’t have much dialogue, but she appears in most of the scenes. Just as then-newcomer Steve McQueen drew attention to himself in the Magnificent Seven by quietly making movements in the background — fingering his hat, spinning his gun, pacing around and generally upstaging Yul Brynner — Daisy wipes her noise, pokes around in her teeth, drags her tongue over her lips, grins seductively at the men despite her filthy ugliness, and steals nearly every scene. By contrast, Kurt Russell provides an understated performance as he channels John Wayne in the cadence of his drawl.

The story plays out not only as a western but as a who-done-it and a what-exactly-has-been-done.

Ennio Morricone’s original score is probably the best part of The Hateful Eight. Morricone scored most of the Sergio Leone “spaghetti westerns” that made Clint Eastwood a star. Morricone’s symphonic arrangements recall a 1950s sensibility, while his music controls the emotion of the film and leads the story throughout. It is a score that stands alone and could be enjoyed even without the film. I am not surprised that he won the Golden Globe award for original score, even though Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score for The Revenant is also a powerful and essential part of that film.

In 2007 two westerns set in the 20th century, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, competed for the top film awards. This year we have two other westerns that were aiming for a shootout at the Oscars. Both have intense, gripping stories. Both demonstrate masterly cinematic skills. Both are long. But only one is gorgeous. The other made me want to go home and wash my eyes out with soap. There are many good reasons only The Revenant was nominated for Best Picture. Sorry, QT.


Editor's Note: Reviews of "The Revenant," directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. New Regency Pictures, 2015, 156 minutes; and "The Hateful Eight," directed by Quentin Tarantino. Weinstein Brothers, 2015, 165 minutes.



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Born That Way

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The Big Short Finds Joy

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In 2008 the United States experienced the biggest collapse in the real estate market since the Great Depression of the 1930s. While many had been talking about the expanding bubble, no one really thought it would burst. Real estate was the one sure deal, the tangible investment that everyone needed and thus would never disappear. During the upward panic to get into the market before prices skyrocketed even further, buyers were snapping up houses within a matter of days after they were listed, often engaging in bidding wars that drove the sales price higher than the asking price. “What our houses are worth now” was the gleeful topic of every cocktail party in every neighborhood, whether you were interested in selling or not. Using easy credit made easier by the “no-doc” loans that guaranteed virtually everyone a mortgage, people who had no business buying houses got into the market, and people who already owned homes risked their solvency by taking out additional home-equity loans to use for other purposes. After all, real estate was too big to fail. Prices always go up.

Until they go down. In September 2008 the bubble burst, leaving overleveraged homeowners in precarious positions — unable to sell, unable to pay, unable to forestall foreclosure, and underwater with their mortgage-to-equity figures. The Big Short attempts to explain what happened, in a film that is sassy, quirky, glib, and sometimes even right.

After all, real estate was too big to fail. Prices always go up.

In the interest of telling a good tale, the filmmakers simplify it, presenting a small portion of the story as if it were the whole story. For example, they virtually ignore the Community Reinvestment Act, which was designed to make mortgage and investment money available in “underserved” (read: poverty stricken) areas. The Act was a noble goal, but it meant that people would be granted mortgages who really couldn’t afford them, and had no cushion whatsoever to deal with repairs, upkeep, or changes in employment (read: getting fired). These were called “subprime” loans officially, but “Ninja loans” derisively (No Income, No Job, Accept Anything). It also meant that the demand for homes increased dramatically, driving prices and new construction upward in response to this new bloc of buyers. By ignoring this Act, the filmmakers suggest that all of the blame lay in the private sector of investment funds and rating services.

Instead, this film focuses on the creation of mortgage-backed securities, which is an investment vehicle that spreads the risk of foreclosure by bundling many mortgages into a single security and then selling shares of that security to a number of investors. Everyone shares in the risk and the reward. And because of that, local bankers no longer keep the mortgages they grant to individuals in the community; as soon as the signatures are dry, the mortgages are bundled away onto the secondary market. In the interest of brevity and creating a single straw man, the film blames this on the mastermind behind the mortgage-backed security, Lewis Ranieri (Rudy Eisenzopf), but this is an oversimplification of what went wrong. Many factors were involved, including Federal Reserve policy on the national level and overproduction of building permits on the local level.

Let’s face it: life is not a screenplay. But that’s how this caper is presented. A few savvy investors notice the increase in late mortgage payments and foreclosures beginning around 2004, anticipate the collapse, and figure out a way to profit from it. All these characters are based on real people. One is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who breaks the fourth wall to narrate the film in a cool, hipster tone that draws us into the web. Others include the Silicon Valley-based eccentric Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the moralistic Mark Baum (Steve Carell), and two young founders of a trading fund called Brownfield Capital, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who bring the also eccentric investment trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) out of retirement and into their deal. Working independently from one another, these traders are convinced they can make a killing by shorting the real estate market (hence the title, The Big Short).

In order for our heroes to succeed in making their millions on short sales, the entire market had to collapse, with millions of Americans bearing the loss.

W.C. Fields made famous the idea that “you can’t cheat an honest man,” and the investment bankers at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Bear Sterns, and Lehman Brothers personify that adage. They laugh conspiratorially behind the backs of these short sellers even as they take their money, so confident are they that real estate is “too big to fail.” Of course, we know that the last laugh will be on them. But the bankers will not go down without a fight. The film demonstrates the dubious shenanigans and downright manipulation they used to try to keep the market afloat and force the investors to close their short positions before they could exercise them.

If all this sounds a tad confusing, not to worry! The filmmakers explain such concepts as short selling, CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligations), ISDAs (International Swaps and Derivatives), and other potentially dry, technical terminology, using the unlikeliest characters. A glamour girl lounges in a bubble bath, sipping champagne and explaining mortgage-backed securities, while the soap bubbles and the fizz bubbles provide a sleazy metaphor for the market bubble that is brewing. A chef chops up unsellable three-day-old fish to make a marketable stew as he explains the fishy rating system that kept these mortgage-backed securities at AAA status even when their defaults were ballooning. A stripper undulates on her pole as she explains yet another investment concept. Music videos appear unexpectedly to demonstrate the euphoria of various characters. These unexpected moments, coupled with a soundtrack reminiscent at times of an Ocean’s Eleven sting, keeps the film hopping and lively.

But this is not a fun topic, and the short-selling sting was not directed against a Las Vegas gangster who deserved his comeuppance. In order for our heroes to succeed in making their millions on short sales, the entire market had to collapse, with millions of Americans bearing the loss. And their brilliant scheme would deliver a double wallop to the already precarious investment banks. According to the film, six million lost their homes, and eight million lost their jobs. Rickert puts it into perspective when he reminds Charlie and Jamie, “If we make money, it’s because ordinary people lose homes, jobs, and lives.” Banks held the prices of their securities up as along as they could, hoping for a turnaround, but in the process they simply made things worse. Regulators were in bed with the companies they regulated, creating a false sense of protection that contributed even more to the disaster. The result was almost as devastating to employees of the major investment firms as the day the World Trade Center was attacked. In its scale, the personal devastation was worse.

The Big Short is not the whole story. It might not even be the true story. But it is an important portion of the story, told with an outstanding cast in an entertaining and engaging way. Surprisingly, it does not trash big business, even though it shows collusion, fraud and manipulation at many levels. Mostly it shows individuals putting their own needs first, protecting their own jobs and security and using their influence to manipulate the bond ratings and the markets to their advantage. No one is overtly evil in this film. It tells a very personal story, one that each of us might be drawn into on a smaller scale if we aren’t careful.

Joy, another film about business, opened the same week as The Big Short, focusing not on the big dealers but on the underserved. Both have been nominated for Golden Globe Awards and both are populated by an ensemble of AAA actors, including Melissa Rivers, who in Joy does a sharp but poignant turn as her mother, Joan Rivers, in her role as a QVC spokesperson. Both films rely on nonlinear storytelling, flashbacks, and dream sequences to make some of their points. This is especially effective in Joy, where disconnected, disorienting scenes demonstrate how seemingly disconnected ideas come together in the imagination to form something new and valuable.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a creative, bright, hardworking young mother of two and valedictorian of her high school class who has been held back from success by the emotional and physical demands of her eccentric family, most of whom live in her house. Her agoraphobic mother (Virginia Madsen) spends most of her days in bed, watching soap operas; Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez), a wannabe singer, lives in her basement and can’t keep a job; her philandering father Rudy (Robert De Niro) also lives in her basement when he’s between girlfriends; and her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), who narrates the story, is the only person who believes in her.

Joy didn’t set out to make my life better, or anyone’s life better except her own. She needed to pay her mortgage, fix her plumbing, and put food on the table.

As a child Joy had big dreams of becoming an inventor, but her parents’ divorce drove her ambitions inside, much as a cicada (a recurring metaphor in the film) spends 17 years in unproductive safety underground. When she cuts her hands badly while sopping up the mess made by a broken wine glass, she figures out how to make a “wringless mop” and decides it’s time to reemerge into the light and dangers above ground to sell her invention to others.

I own this mop. I love it. It keeps my hands clean and dry while it makes my floor clean and sparkly. I also own the Huggable Hangers that the real Joy Mangano invented. They keep my silky shirts and dresses from falling onto the floor in my closet. I’m grateful that she had the spunk and tenacity to overcome all the obstacles she encountered on her way to success, and I’m glad her hundreds of household inventions have made her filthy rich, because her inventions make my life better. But she didn’t set out to make my life better, or anyone’s life better except her own. She needed to pay her mortgage, fix her plumbing, and put food on the table. And like so many other entrepreneurs, she did that by making other people’s lives better too. This is what I love most about this film.

To do it, she needed capital. She needed to conduct a patent search, apply for a patent, design molds to produce her mop, negotiate with manufacturers to make the mop, and market the mop to mass audiences. Capital is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship. Joy finally convinces her father’s latest girlfriend Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) to invest in manufacturing and marketing her invention. The rest of the film demonstrates both the elation and the devastation of entrepreneurship. Through it all, Joy never gives up — not on her invention, not on her family, and not on herself. Harry Browne fans will appreciate Joy’s advice to her young daughter: "Don't ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn't. The world doesn't owe you a thing.”

Eventually Joy creates a successful manufacturing and marketing empire that provides startup capital for other small entrepreneurs with an idea and a dream. Joy is a triumphant film about the power of persistence and innovation, desperation and conviction, and the possibility that a simple mop can change the world.


Editor's Note: Reviews of "The Big Short" directed by Adam McKay. Plan B, 2015, 130 minutes; and "Joy," directed by David O. Russell. Annapurna, 2015, 123 minutes.



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Ayn Rand — Scariest Woman in the Universe

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What in the world is causing the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes level of hysteria being directed at Ayn Rand? How has onewoman, gone from this earth for decades, managed to inspire such loathing and dread? Far from being insulted, I think she’d be proud of herself if she could witness the panic being spread in her name. Not only proud, but if she could keep her temper,perhaps even encouraged.

The author’s name has become a sort of shorthand, in “progressive” parlance, for “great big meanie.” She believed that we own ourselves, that we deserve the fruits of our labor, and that we have a right to pursue happiness. She — gasp! — even extolled the virtue of selfishness, in one of the many books most of her detractors have never read, though what I believe is salient in her philosophy is the idea that we have a greater right to run our lives than others do to run them for us. Precisely why that’s meaner or more selfish than the notion that we have no right to do this, I can’t say.

It’s precisely because they’re still reachable by rational argument that so many people are barricading themselves behind walls. It’s why they create “safe zones” in schools. It’s why they listen only to certain media, and not others. What seems like a hopeless situation is, when viewed with clear eyes, actually quite hopeful.

Most of those who abuse Ayn Rand are too ignorant to know whether what’s being said about her is true or false, too lazy to find out, and too irresponsible to care.

People don’t need to protect themselves from other points of view if they’re sure of their own. Those who come unglued when presented with competing ideas are afraid that they might possibly be proved wrong. The good news about human beings is that once we’ve become aware of an alternative that makes more sense, no matter how determined we might have been to guard against it, our minds are stretched. And a mind that has been stretched can never return to its former, constricted position, no matter how hard its owner tries to squeeze it shut again.

Ayn Rand is the ultimate political punching-bag. She’s dead, so she can’t defend herself. Most of those who abuse her, or who regard the slanders against her as credible, are too ignorant to know whether what’s being said about her is true or false, too lazy to find out, and too irresponsible to care. I disagree with some of what she wrote, but then again, I have troubled myself to become familiar with it. I would find it impossible to intelligently criticize what I hadn’t bothered to understand.

I won’t expand here on what I like about Rand’s ideas and what I don’t. My purpose is not so much to delve into her thought as to comment on thinking itself. Most particularly, on thinking about the politics of liberty — or what passes for thought on the subject. Americans don’t appear, to me, to think too deeply anymore. I’m not sure that the rest of the world does, either, but as I happen to be an American, that is my primary concern.

I still have hope that the citizens of these United States will begin to do some serious thinking again. And my reason is that those who refuse to think must still clap their hands over their ears and shout, “la la la” every time they hear an idea that causes them discomfort. It’s when most people have stopped finding that necessary, and have become such braindead droids that they no longer need to put up a defense against sound thinking, that lovers of liberty will need to be very, very afraid.




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Libertinism is Not Libertarianism

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During the past decade or so, liberty-lovers have picked up the fight for legalization of prostitution and drugs. This has often involved a good deal of context dropping and evasion of other issues.

When Stephen Harper lost the Canadian elections in 2015, some well-known libertarians celebrated, for they now anticipated complete legalization. But the biggest competency of the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is his looks and the dynasty he represents. He was voted into power primarily by those who lack self-responsibly and self-control and who want either a neverending hedonistic slugfest or mere free stuff, in what otherwise is one of the world’s so-called most educated and supposedly rational countries.

Trudeau lost no photo-ops when he greeted immigrants from Syria with open arms. Those for freedom of movement rejoiced, sometimes in nearly incredible terms. “The more [Syrian migrants] the better,” wrote one of the best known pro-liberty authors. Some antiwar libertarians, who want the US to end all entanglements in the Middle East, were also full of praise — and on this occasion, unconcerned about collateral civilian deaths — when Russia in a matter of days indiscriminately bombed parts of Syria to destroy rebel groups, including ISIS.

In a true, anti-statist, free society, prostitution and drug addiction would be tolerated, but very hesitatingly.

Some libertarians have taken it upon themselves to rebel against everything that Christianity, and in some cases other religions, stand for. Some encourage promiscuity and drunkenness — libertine behavior and trash-talk being the fast way for some women to rise in today’s “liberty” circles. If a woman works as a call-girl to pay for her education, this is a smart move, according to some in the liberty camp.

All of the above, particularly the pursuit of single-issue goals without thought of the larger ecology, is not a fight against the state and its tyranny but a fight against civilization and reason. Consequently it is, ironically, a fight against freedom and liberty, and must increase the size of the state.

In the past, such fights were the domain of the shallow, non-thinking, materialistic cult of the left, which plays on people’s unexamined emotions, particularly those related to the biological instincts of survival and procreation. But now cultural Marxism — and its mind-ossifying methodology of “argumentation” — has become so infused in society that many libertarians, especially anarchocapitalists, have come to see emotionally provocative, unexamined, single-issue goals as their own.

Prostitution and drugs

In a true, anti-statist, free society, prostitution and drug addiction would be tolerated, but very hesitatingly, because they present an inherent contradiction. Civilizations know that freedom comes from self-control and self-responsibility — not from giving in to impulses — and that certain conventions have evolved in societies around the world because they lead to an increase in human happiness and freedom. A free society would appreciate the fact that gluttonous sensuality is not a sign of freedom but an assertion of the anti-libertarian forces of unreason.

Liberty by its very construct must be founded on discipline, respect, self-control, and self-responsibility. Any society that lacks these virtues cannot be a free society, because its citizens will labor under a mental debility. Irrespective of the kind of written laws they have, their lack of necessary virtues will create a tyrannical state.

I dislike living in places where prostitution and drugs are rife. I have nothing personal against those who indulge in them. I have my own inner journey, and they have theirs. But I have nothing in common with them. I see virtually no channel of communication — nothing that connects us in values — open between us. Mostly we talk through each other, wasting everyone’s time.

Liberty by its very construct must be founded on discipline, respect, self-control, and self-responsibility. Any society that lacks these virtues cannot be a free society.

Those who watch too many James Bond movies, the adventures of Kim Kardashian, etc. — and even those who don’t — believe that promiscuity is a Western product and export. Quite to the contrary, it was European missionaries who found themselves horrified by the unrestrained promiscuity of most non-Western societies. This was one of the reasons they deemed the non-western societies uncivilized. Hence the widely used term “Victorian morality” — although people hardly imagine the historical implications of how this term came to exist, tending to use it only when they want to blame the English for sexual repression.

Contrary to popular belief, non-Western societies are very materialistic and impulsive, mostly because the concept of reason never got traction there. Women in vast parts of the world — in Africa, Latin America, tribal parts of India, and so on — are available merely for the asking. You see glimpses of this in the rest of Asia and Eastern Europe, too. Alas, in such sexually liberated places, women have a very low status and are treated like commodities. Also contrary to popular belief, such sexually liberated societies are no less prone to sexual crimes, for desire, when given a free rein, is a bottomless pit, offering the ever illusory elixir of happiness.

In the same vein, middle class children in India — particularly boys — are much indulged up to a certain age, precluding them from developing self-discipline in later years. Because they fail to develop inner faculties of self-control and self-responsibility, when they gain adulthood the only way to make them a productive part of the society and keep them out of crime is fear, abuse, and punishment. Such adults just cannot be an ingredient of a free society.

A libertine society is an oxymoron, for you can either have liberty or be a slave to your desires.

Even when the satisfaction of impulses does no direct harm, hedonism is eventually not satisfying. Any sophisticated society that has evolved culturally knows this instinctively. Any thinking person comes to the same conclusion. But today, hedonism (a supposed product of Western civilization) is being promoted as liberty in vast parts of the developing world. The consumption of bad, sugary food and every other kind of gluttony is increasing exponentially. Every year I return to a developing country, and it seems that waistlines there are increasing by an inch a year. Lifestyle diseases such as heart disorders and several kinds of cancer are placing forms of medicine that deal with their symptoms among the biggest growth sectors. Not too long in the future, these diseases may become the biggest crisis for humanity. Promiscuity — even where it was more restrained — is also rising exponentially.

The two religions of the desert — Christianity and Islam — train their citizens to control their desires, although the latter, having failed to underpin its beliefs with reason, still does it mostly through repression and indoctrination, leading to many other horrendous problems. But the point remains: in general, giving free reign to impulses and desires, and a culture of high time-preference, produces a lack of civilization and hence of liberty.

Drugs do destroy the mind and create chemical dependency. They make people lethargic and subliminally dependent on others. When unable to finance their habit, they take to theft, to public welfare, or, if they still retain some brains, to fraud. All these create enough cultural poison to bring in the police. A libertine society is an oxymoron, for you can either have liberty or be a slave to your desires.

Prostitution and drugs are not mere victimless crimes, as they are commonly — and rather simplistically — depicted by people who want to legalize them. For the sake of intellectual honesty, those who favor legalization (as I do) should recognize that when one increases the demand through legalization, the supply will also increase. And there is strong evidence that legalization of prostitution worsens the exploitation of women, through increased trafficking and inducements offered to gullible girls. These girls are then controlled through fear — a problem that those who grew up in happy families fail to recognize. The situation with drugs is not too dissimilar.

Immigration and religion

Then there are those who hinge their concept of a free society on unfettered immigration. They forget that while they constantly argue with people to convert them to free-thinking individuals, hoping to end up with legal structures in which liberties are respected as they were in the glorious past of the West, they also, in effect, are advocating the admission of millions of traumatized refugees, deeply indoctrinated in uncivilized and violent behavior. For such liberty-fighters with simplistic goals, culture is a blank slate on which anything can be written. But culture, alas, is virtually impossible to change, as those who want to impose institutional changes on the backward parts of the world have consistently discovered.

The compassion shown by Europeans and North Americans to recent migrants from Syria is heartwarming, and virtually unique on our planet. I have nothing against migrants. But an awareness of the fuller reality would provide some guidance about the extent to which they should be accommodated.

The evil of religion is another, single-goal target of certain libertarians. Here again, cultural context is lacking. Religions and traditions are the repository, in concentrated form, of thousands of years of our tacit knowledge and wisdom. Without the subliminal transmission of virtues and knowledge through customs and traditions, schooling — which is mostly devoid of the complexity of real life and can at best provide theoretical underpinnings — would take too long to educate people. The individual lifespan is too short. Formal education, by itself, is an extremely inefficient tool of real education. It almost completely fails to impart wisdom and sophisticated thinking. What the USSR and China created by partially destroying their cultures were minds that lacked frameworks to absorb understanding and wisdom. We need raw math and science — to provide theoretical underpinnings, a sort of objective glue — but they cannot by themselves impart wisdom. Tacit knowledge is much complex and fundamental.

Culture, alas, is virtually impossible to change, as those who want to impose institutional changes on the backward parts of the world have consistently discovered.

Contrary to their claims, many of the vociferous atheists I have known are actually devout believers in scientism — in the idea that anything that cannot be scientifically explained is not real. They believe they have perfect answers or they are very close to them. They fail to realize that despite 500 years of scientific progress our understanding of the world is miniscule in comparison to what is there to be explained. Then these believers in scientism think they are believers in reason, but reason is not final knowledge; it is a chisel, a tool to continue exploration for better and better knowledge, in full understanding that a perfect answer might, very possibly, never come. Indeed, reason has had to work continuously to chisel religions into shape. Most religions failed and became ossified. Christianity, as major religions stand today, is perhaps the only one that carries some capacity to evolve.

Most evolved people — and every such person I have known personally — had deep religious or spiritual experiences growing up, even if they became atheists later on. As an atheist, I do want religions to come out of their tribal instincts, but the reality is that the vast majority of humanity does not think, would not think, and would rather die than think. They need something to believe in. It had better be Jesus Christ or Buddha than Obama, the stupid-box, or Miss Universe. Those in the liberty movement who want religion to end — as I do — must ask themselves whether fighting against it would not result in worse problems. Destroying religions without offering something in return would produce a very bland, passionless, immoral world.

Many people, on both the Left and the Right, who have not examined what they want to fight for see an enemy and want to liquidate it. But if they don’t understand the ecology, the complex historical, social, and intellectual surroundings, they only create space for a more resistant and harmful enemy.

Several people I know voted for Trudeau in Canada because they were against what they regarded as Harper’s attempt to create a police state. Having voted that enemy out, they now realize that not only will Trudeau retain — except for some lip-service — most of the police-state elements of Harper’s regime, but he will greatly “assist” Canada in its degeneration to a socialistic, irrational, values-lacking society. Had my acquaintances understood the ecology, they might have more sensibly voted for Harper. I myself would have suggested abstention, to avoid legitimizing the state.

Fighting legitimizes the state

Would I want prostitution and drugs to be legalized? Yes. I certainly would not fight to keep prostitution and drug consumption illegal, because I do not want to interfere in other people’s lives. Moreover, the only way self-responsibility can be developed is by letting people experience the consequences of their actions. Those who are gullible will eventually be fooled by someone else anyway. But I see no reason to fight for legalization of prostitution and drugs, because I understand that my fight for liberty has many other issues to confront, and if those are not adequately dealt with, any legalization and resulting liberties will be transitory, fleeting, and illusory.

Destroying religions without offering something in return would produce a very bland, passionless, immoral world.

Similarly I would like complete freedom of travel and I won’t resist if this is enabled tomorrow, but given the many other issues involved, I abstain from a single-minded focus on fighting for free immigration. Most importantly, any fight for legalization validates the idea of the state, the most criminal of human institutions.

My fight is for self-responsibility and self-control, which are cornerstones of civilization and liberty. My fight belongs in the space of reason. In the real world, issues are much entangled with one another. In societies that lack inherent moral impulses (which is the case with virtually every society outside the West), my fight is to shake people’s souls to infuse in them the concept of reason. Even in the West, my fight is not just to end the welfare-warfare system but to stop the hemorrhaging of the concept of reason. Unless this is done, any single-goal fight will have illusory results. Most likely, indeed, it will make the situation worse.




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