Sunday, November 27, 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's Returns to the Silver Screen

Hi, I'm Audrey Hepburn, and I dare you to not fall in love with me!

Breakfast at Tiffany's appeared on the big screen this Sunday November 27.  My Mom was a big fan of Audrey's, and I had never seen Audrey Hepburn on the big screen before. Somehow it is more special to see the movie stars in a larger-than-life setting as it was originally intended in 1961.  

I love this movie simply because of Audrey Hepburn.  She succeeds in winning my heart (and evidently much of America's) despite the relatively blah supporting cast and a script that lacked believability and authenticity.  

The movie is based on a novella by the great Truman Capote.  But based on the commentary offered by Turner Classic Movies as well as my own internet research, Capote was not happy with many aspects of the film.  For one, he wanted Marilyn Monroe to be Holly rather than Audrey Hepburn.  Actually, I totally agree with Truman that Audrey was completely miscast in this role!  Audrey could never
make herself believable as an American Southerner affecting an English accent.  No, we know darn well that Audrey Hepburn is English, English, English and there is no possibility that she could convince us of anything else.  Yet somehow it all worked amazingly well. 

Speaking of miscasting, according to the commentary, everyone later regretted having Mickey Rooney embarrass himself in a pathetic attempt to lampoon a Japanese landlord.  He was terrible, and apparently Truman was against it from the beginning, and director Blake Edwards and Rooney himself regretted the entire concept, rightly so. 

I hadn't seen the movie for many years and then it was on TV.   It was kind of fun to have the song "Moon River" rejuvenated and made fresh.  I had remembered it as a song for "old fogeys" and it was surprising to hear it as a new song. 

It was interesting to me that I had forgotten most of the squabbles that Holly and Paul Varjak (George Peppard) had. I mainly latched on to the positive, fun memories of parties and romance and forgot about most of the pain and humiliations that they faced.  It made me think of my own foibles over the years and times when I acted selfishly or  like a dope.  Truth to tell, I would rather forget about those as well.  But for many of us, that is part of being young too. 

Similarly, I had remembered the ending of the movie happening over what seemed like a very long time, but seeing it anew, it went by in a flash.  I couldn't believe the movie was over so quickly. 

Without Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's is simply a Hollywood cliche, the "boy meets girl"  movie. 

Ultimately, Breakfast at Tiffany's is a movie about falling in love, one of the most profound experiences that we can ever have in life.   Audrey Hepburn made us experience that feeling and that is why it is a classic film.

I don't see it as anything  like a perfect movie.  If anything, it is an amazingly imperfect movie which somehow, inexplicably triumphed and turned out to be a masterpiece despite all of the errors that were made. Perhaps that in itself is a metaphor for life.  

 How wonderful would it be to live in New York and be young and attractive and in love?  The magic of film allows us to experience it.   

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Saving ISIS--Senator McCain to the Rescue

  I am surprised and disappointed that Senator John McCain, among others, is seeking to breathe new life into former Secretary Hillary Clinton's initiative to save ISIS from military defeat in Syria. 

    I realize that Senator McCain would object vehemently to my using the term "ISIS" to describe the rebels in Syria.  Indeed, both Democrats and Republicans have sought to be "poliltically correct."  They ask us to NOT to say "Radical Islam" nor "Islamic Terrorists" nor ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), nor ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). In fact I heard somebody from the State Department chide the Trump Administration for not knowing the that there is no Islamic State presence in Syria. Instead, they should be referred to as "civilians."  So, Russia and the Syrian government are attacking "civilians" in Syria, not ISIS.

     Okay, so what DO we call the people with rocket launchers and guns who are shooting government forces. How about "The Assholes Formerly Known As Terrorists (TAFKAT)? Like the musician Prince, they are ultra-particular about what they are called, but we all know who is being spoken of.      

      Years ago, the Obama administration decided that it was in America's best interest that a Sunni government emerge to take the place of President Assad's Shiite regime in Syria.   This is not totally irrational since Sunnis are a majority in Syria.  President Obama famously proclaimed "Assad Must Go!" abandoning all pretenses of  neutrality.  But ISIS engaged in poor public relations by chopping off the heads of its hostages, making it impossible for the West to support them. 
     Hence the plan became to defeat ISIS with some third power, but not supporting Assad. The pretense is that there were viable Sunni groups that enjoyed popular support that could supplant the leadership of ISIS. 

    Senator McCain is incensed that President Elect Trump plans to work with Russia to whale on ISIS.  Instead, he longs for ISIS (actually TAFKAT)  to be saved so that they can present a unified alliance against Russia. This is actually an amplified version of the same idea presented by President Obama and former Secretary Clinton.

McCain has basically embraced the Clinton doctrine of supporting Sunni groups hoping for a buffer against Russian and the Syrian government.

    My challenge to my friends, is that if indeed there is a group worth of our support and worth directing our military to kill for, can you name one person that we are helping? Who is that just, pro-American leader that we are bringing forward as our ally?   If you can not name one person fitting that description, it seems to me that the US should have no business supporting any one of these groups or creating a pro-American government in Syria.  We should not indulge the Cold War fantasy and hope to oppose Russia with a pro-American Sunni Islamic fundamentalist government in Syria.  If we must face the unfortunate truth, none of the groups in Syria is our ally. I'm not sure that we have a vested interest in promoting either the Shiite or Sunni side in the Syrian Civil War. However, saving ISIS, or one of its re-named successors, is one of the dumbest ideas in modern history.  To date hundreds of thousands have died in Syria during the Obama Administration's term, and the thought of prolonging that by seeking to defeat the Syrian Government and picking a confrontation with Russia is the worst idea yet.  There is nobody in Syria worth expending one American life for.  

Dr. Strange is Entertaining and Original

  Dr. Strange was interesting, entertaining and original.   Like most Marvel movies, they were willing to take some chances and eschew trite formulas from the past.
    I knew Dr. Strange mainly from reading a reprint of the original story, but never got into it that much.  Magic characters from Harry Potter on down are kind of flawed because nobody really knows what their powers are.  Here's how it works.  The good guy uses his spell to stop a bad magician.

     "Oh yeah?  Well let's see how you handle my BAD GUY SPELL!  Aluminium Recyclum!  Bwahaha!"

     "Hoho!  Too bad for you that I have an even more powerful GOOD GUY SPELL!  Sanctimonium barfitosis!" 

     ...and so on.  After a point we need a commentator to come in and tell as whether the good magician has won or lost.  It is hard to create suspense because the spell powers are so poorly defined that we just can't get excited by any threat they may pose because there is always a potential antidote spell.   

      At any rate, the movie tells the story of Dr. Strange's strange journey from being an arrogant but talented surgeon, to losing his ability due to a horrific car wreck, and his search for meaning in mystery religions in Asia.   In the comics, Dr. Strange was actually a psychedelic hippie, even before the Beatles found Guru Maharishi Yogi.  At any rate, in this movie he is able to find self help gurus beyond compare at a mysterious temple in Tibet. 

    Dr. Strange loves parallel universes.   Suffice it to say that the rules for parallel universes are as complicated as Einstein's theory of Relativity and the NFL rule book.  So you really can't figure out how all this works, you just have to wait for one of the characters to explain in more simple terms what is going on. 

    I like that in Marvel movies the characters are not one sided.  It's hard to know whether they are evil or good, or indeed whether they are capable of knowing the difference or making a choice.  We can't even be totally sure that Dr Strange is a good guy. Maybe he's not. 

     Can evil magic be used for good?  Or is it always evil, and if so, why?  What makes it evil. These are things that Dr Strange has to ask, with his genius for scholarship and his affinity for magic.  His senior fellow sorcerers and teachers also struggle to achieve a balance between good and evil. On that level, the characters are very believable.  

Dr. Strange is an arrogant me-first, ugly American visiting  a temple.  Of course when he says something stupid, as hke usually does,  the senior people like the Ancient One, pictured above, are going to kick his ass till he learns. Sometimes he gets kicked totally out of the known universe. 

How does it end?  Well, my child, of course I can not tell you that.  You shall have to view the movie yourself, and make your own judgment.  May blessings be upon you. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Will the Republicans Oppose Trump? Probably.

     About six or seven years ago, I vividly remember being at a church picnic with several of my highly educated, professional friends.  They were in hysterics because: 

   a.   President Obama was going to create a fifth branch of the US military, with allegiance sworn only to him, and not the Constitution. 

   b.  President Obama was going to outlaw all guns, and the members of the fifth branch of the military would conduct a house to house search to find and confiscate all the guns in America. 

    The Village Elliot protested this could not possibly be true (it came from a distorted reading of a speech Obama gave praising the Peace Corps and comparing to to military service), but my friends simply dismissed me as a naive liberal.   Everyone was upset, and some of the wives were literally in tears, crying over the expected loss of their guns.  

    Now flash forward to 2016.  The conservatives have regained their sanity, and it is the liberals who are losing their minds.  Trump, you see, is going to become this supremely powerful leader and impose his will on all of us from Day 1 of his regime.  

     I don't want to impose an artificial limit on Presidential stupidity, but I doubt whether any of this can be true.  Please, let's not invent new conspiracy theories to replace the old ones.  The President can not pass legislation. He can only sign bills that the Congress gives up.  I doubt whether the Republicans can pass any meaningful bill within their own party, never mind overcoming Democratic resistance.  The Speaker of the House is Paul Ryan, who basically denounced Trump and refused to endorse him for President. I think he was hoping for a Hillary Clinton win frankly.  It is very doubtful whether a  thin majority in both Houses will allow Republicans to come together on much of anything.  I'll be surprised if they can pass a budget.  
     For 8 years, the Republicans have prided themselves on obstructing whatever the President wants to do.  Can they suddenly change, unite and start passing the Trump agenda (whatever that is)?  I doubt.  I think that obstruction has become such a strong habit, they will not be able to break it. 

    As a whole, this generation of politicians has come to regard compromise as a weakness, and they have very poor skills at negotiating and compromise.   In the Senate with 51 Republicans, they need zero defections in order to be able to pass a bill.  Good luck with that.

   What Republican Congresspeople want more than anything is to keep their job, and not get blamed for the bad mistakes that President-elect Trump will surely make.   I see major voting blocks trying to paint Trump as a pawn of the Democrats, and opposing both of them, hoping that you, dear Voter, will buy off on their story and re-elect them.   A few Republicans are actually sane and may not support tax cuts for the super-rich and things like that.   So no, I think this Congress will continue to be remembered for gridlock and deadlock.  They will not be able to overturn legislation of the past Administration, even if it's bad and needs to be overturned.  

     I just doubt they have the stomach for presenting the President with a real bill.  On anything.  And I even wonder, even with a Republican majority in both Houses, will somebody like Ted Cruz  filibuster the budget bill again?  I think it's very possible.      


Monday, October 10, 2016

Clinton, Pence Recommend Militarily Engaging Russia in Syria

   Lost amid the brouhaha over sensationally foul tapes about Donald Trump's sexual exploits, was the confirmation in the second debate that Secretary Clinton, if elected, plans a military engagement with Russia in Syria. 
    The topic was introduced because Vice Presidential Candidate Mike Pence had earlier stated his opinion that the US should use military force against the Syrian government and Russian forces in Syria, on behalf of the city of Aleppo.   Aleppo is one of the last remaining strongholds of ISIS. 
    The affable former secretary made it clear that she believes that bombings in Aleppo (including the famous picture of a four year old boy in a hosptial, in shock after being bombed) are the fault of Russia, and the US would under a Clinton Administration send military aid (though not ground troops) against Russia and Syria. Hence we would fight an air war in Syria.  She said that she would consider arming the Kurds, who represent the third largest faction in Syria at about 4%.  
       The Clinton view seems to deny that there is a civil war between Sunni's (ISIS) and Shiites (Syrian government) and believes instead that there is some other military power in the region that is worthy of US support.   Nobody knows who this mysterious pro-American military power is, but we are going to arm them.   Moreover, we are going to have to risk fighting Russia in a limited (we hope) air war in Syria in order to support this power, whoever they are.  
     Trump disagreed with both Clinton and his own Vice Presidential candidate, saying that we should support the Syrian government and Russia in opposing ISIS instead of supporting radical revolutionaries.  
     Perhaps what Clinton really hopes to do is to wrest leadership of the Sunnis away from ISIS, foolishly believing that vast numbers of Islamic radicals are just waiting for the right American leader to emerge to guide them.  This is remarkably similar to the view espoused by Dick Cheney in recommending the Iraq offensive to President Bush.   
     It is very foreseeable that the US quagmire in the Middle East is going to get much worse, as our military resources are going to be drained by trying to intervene in Muslim controversies that have existed since the year 632 AD.    By deciding to engage the Russian military if they choose not to obey our recommended no fly zone, we risk destabilizing world markets and even risking World War III, all on behalf of people who hate us, with no one grateful for our bombing and destruction on their behalf.
     I hope that this is all simply tough talk, and that when and if Secretary Clinton becomes President Clinton, she may not be so enamored with sorting out political factions in Syria after all.  Still it is very scary talk, though it seems that very little attention is being paid to it.  I suppose that most of the media would rather discuss sex tapes because they are easier to understand.     

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Does John Kerry Want to Fight Russia in Syria?

Does John Kerry want to fight World War III against the Russians in Syria? If news reports are accurate, Kerry wants to help rebels in Aleppo (supposedly not allied with ISIS, but yeah, allied with ISIS) to defeat the Syrian government forces led by President Assad, and de facto allied with Russia. I can scarcely believe Kerry would be that dumb, and thankfully for the moment has been overruled by President Obama.
Nevertheless, the prevailing view is that there are pro-American democratic forces in Syria that deserve our support. I can not name a single person in Syria that fits our description and I doubt whether you can either. I think that rebels just pretend to like us so that we will give them fantastic weaponry and close air support. In reality none of these radicalized rebel groups is pro-democracy and none is our friend. Nevertheless, this view is in the minority, and our government is ready to kill in order to support these pro-American moderate forces, whoever they are. The main controversy between Democrat and Republican is how many to kill and how fast.
We can not be seriously contemplating engaging Russia in Syria, can we? Russia wants to destroy ISIS and we want to destroy ISIS whether rightly or wrongly. Nevertheless, we see Russia's fight against ISIS as a threat, and now that ISIS is on the brink of destruction, we want to oppose Russia and the Syrian government. This is a retarded strategy that fails to recognize that whoever we install in Syria will be just as bad as Assad. Moreover, the conflicts between Sunni and Shiite groups has been ongoing since the 7th Century. We are not putting an end to violence in the Middle East, we are perpetuating it.
I fear that in the incoming Clinton Administration, Kerry's views may prevail, and he and President Clinton may not back down. If so, the world is closer to World War III than it has ever been. And for what? I can't say which leader it is in Syria that we love so much, but love him we do, and we are willing to kill for him and risk destruction for him.

America has traditionally viewed Russia as its greatest threat, and the hope has been that we would become allied with Islamic rebels to oppose Russia (left).  Instead, I believe we should recognize that the US and Russia have a common enemy in radicalized Islam, and we ought to work together.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Elon Musk will Own Eight Planets

    This is so huge and pathetically simple that no one will believe it.  Most observers laugh at little SpaceX and its leader Elon Musk.   How can a little company like this out-do NASA and the national space programs of other high-tech countries? 

    Elon Musk and SpaceX are going to own eight planets.

Elon Musk can present a very simple business plan:  He can own 8 planets, and about 6 of them are way cooler than earth.  Now, who wants a piece of this?

    That's right.  Now that he has access to space, and is booking tourism for billionaire customers, the rest of story is clear.   He and his private investors will build bigger and faster space ships and they will colonize the rest of the solar system.  Planets like Jupiter and Saturn are way more interesting than earth (entire moons made out of rocket fuel, all free for the taking).   They will figure out how to live there, and then goodbye to the earth and its Clintons and Trumps and Bushes and other pathetic savages.  
     Once the investment community figures out this is real, they will throw so much money at Elon Musk and his rowdy group of billionaire friends that they will be unstoppable.  The value of eight planets (about six of which are probably better than earth) is such a huge number it is impossible to place a valuation on it.  100 trillion dollars is not out of the question. Accordingly,  if they want to, they could simply buy NASA (although truthfully the Russian Space Agency is a better bargain).  But they can make better technology by doing it their own way.  

    You may laugh, but my question is:  How can anyone stop him?  He's going to get the money, he has the know-how, and the incentive is out there.  It's going to happen.   

     I just hope SpaceX provides better government for the new civilizations compared to the old one (Earth).