She's Just Not That Into You, Maverick.

Caption for this photo:
One down, one to go.


My dad was stationed at Miramar Naval Air Base in San Diego (where Top Gun was set) in the 70s, so this is one of the few movies that he saw in the theater when it came out, and saw it multiple times in the theater, and bought it on videotape as soon as that came out. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure he even bought the single of Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins (with Berlin "Take My Breath Away" on the B side?). Probably the first new music he had bought since growing bored with or deprioritizing eight-track tapes in the late 70s, earliest 80s. Or maybe my mom got the single as a gift for my Dad, I can't remember. Their record collection consisted of one album of Beach Boys songs performed by somebody other than the Beach Boys. I think it was still in the plastic, a door prize they had won at a party and probably never played, at least for a few decades.

This trip down memory lane has been brought to you by the news that Kelly McGillis came out of the closet.


How Doc Manhattan Won Vietnam

watchmen_manhattanvietartIt never occurred to me when I read the comic, but when I watched the movie with supersized Dr. Manhattan striding through fields in Vietnam, I wondered exactly what he's supposed to have done differently in order to "win" the war in Vietnam. We only have a few images from the movie or comics showing him and the Comedian in Vietnam, so I assume he's supposed to have zapped enough people, or wished them away into cornfields or whatever, to the point that the enemies of the US surrendered or reached a settlement, leaving a government in South Vietnam that the US approved of.

That kind of assumes the traditional conservative view of the Vietnam War, that US aims could have been achieved by more firepower or more bombing or a few more years of the same. They might have finally convinced the North Vietnamese to stop participating, but that would have left a lot of insurgents native to South Vietnam, who would have kept fighting against unpopular dictators there, and fighting against what they perceived as American invaders. (Getting back to the arguments over how much of the war was fought against North Vietnamese invasion forces and how much against local South Vietnamese people in a civil war against unpopular governments within South Vietnam.)

I guess at some point the resistance might have slowed to a trickle, but it probably would have required wiping out way more Vietnamese people. Dr Manhattan causing people evaporate with a glance would have been pretty Shock & Awful, so it might have terrorized some people to stop fighting. But we're talking about forces that fought against massively superior firepower of the US for 2 decades, the French for a decade before that, resisted Japanese occupation during WWII. I don't know how "hot" the war was against French occupation before that, but I remember reading that Ho Chi Minh wrote a letter to Woodrow Wilson around 1920 asking him to support Vietnamese independence from the French.

I don't want to stereotype the Vietnamese as superhuman/non-humans who would never surrender, like the stereotype of Japanese during WWII, but you have to admit, they persisted against some pretty heavy stuff in reality. All I'm saying is Doc Manhattan would need to be even heavier in order to force a surrender on Nixon's terms.

Maybe he'd announce in his monotone, "I'm sorry, but you villagers have remained in an area that has been designated a free-fire zone. This is your last chance to move your family into the nearest Strategic Hamlet." (He says it in Vietnamese, of course.) And then he annihilates the village and countryside, with a nice overhead view so we can see the massive scale that he's able to wipe out plants and birds and trees and huts and people. This is the kind of thing that was done with troops and bombs in reality, so Manhattan would just be accomplishing the same thing faster and on a larger scale.

I know, I'm taking it too seriously. "Winning" the Vietnam War is probably more plausible than Nixon being re-elected.

Screw it.

The new advertising motto from Harley-Davidson Motorcycles:
"Screw It. Let's Ride."


Memos revealing crime are worse than the crime?

Gates Voices Concerns About Release of Interrogation Memos
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressed concerns on Thursday that the release of Justice Department memorandums on harsh interrogation techniques might be used by Al Qaeda and other adversaries and put American troops at risk.

. . . 'He spoke on a visit to Marines training here for a deployment to Afghanistan, and he expressed apprehensions that the release of the information "might have a negative impact on our troops" and that the "disclosures could be used by Al Qaeda and our adversaries."
I wish there was a full quote from Gates, but here are my suggested revisions. These are not ways that the NYT needs to revise their description. They are ways that Gates should revise his thinking on the matter. Should read:
...'Gates expressed concerns on Thursday that the release of Justice Department memorandums on knowledge of the fact that CIA used harsh interrogation techniques might be used by Al Qaeda and other adversaries and put American troops at risk.'

Or better yet, Gates expressed concerns that harsh interrogation techniques torture could inspire Al Qaeda and our adversaries to also torture.

How about 'Gates expressed apprehensions that the release of the information the fact that CIA tortured people "might have a negative impact on our troops" and that the "disclosures fact could be used by Al Qaeda and our adversaries."'

Let's say Ferris Bueller is accused of murder. He claims to have killed in self-defense. For the purpose of this hypothetical situation, you're not going to receive a God's-eye view of the situation from your humble narrator objectively stating that self-defense applies or that Bueller should get off the hook.

Now it could be dangerous to Bueller's family or community if a journalist reveals details of the disputed crime, because angry people might retaliate against the family or community. It might even endanger Bueller directly, in as far as it might get him convicted.

Who is more to blame for these potential dangers: the person who revealed details about the alleged murder, or the person who allegedly committed murder? Which should be more worrying: potential retaliations that haven't happened yet, or the alleged crime that already happened?

Should Bueller's family and community be angry at the journalist who revealed the details, or at Bueller who took those actions and brought shame on his family and community?

Bueller = CIA torturers. If you're a US citizen, then you = a member of the community that includes CIA torturers, represented by CIA torturers. If you're reading this at work, some of your time is now generating money to pay for the salaries of the CIA. And I'm probably being too generous by emphasizing the possibility of "self-defense" or some legal argument that would get them off the hook for breaking these laws. American police and Japanese military have been convicted of crimes in US courts for using the same "harsh interrogation techniques". It is only unfair to call the CIA's actions "torture" if it was unfair for those policemen and Japanese officers to be convicted, if they were only carrying out "harsh interrogation techniques." Then again, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was arguably consistent with The Bush Doctrine of preventive war, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. That Obama would stand by it is somewhat surprising.

Gates talks about reluctantly approving the release of memos, concern that the memos will provoke a reaction, and the importance of protecting accused torturers (preventing justice). The memos should provoke reactions -- not a violent reaction, but if you felt a violent reaction was appropriate, you'd be consistent with US policy in these kinds of sitations.

If Gates trusted the justice system and didn't think that their actions could be interpreted as criminal, then he wouldn't need to beg for their protection or immunity. It would just be a matter of convincing prosecutors or judges or juries that no crime was committed. Either he doesn't trust the justice system to work like it's supposed to, or he's afraid that it will work like it's supposed to.


Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle Susan Boyle Susan Boyle. Mz Boyle. Boyle, Susan. Sue! Sue Boyle. Susan Boyle? Susan Boyle Susan Boyle Susan Boyle.

I mean, at least that's my take on the whole thing.

Susan Boyle. SuBo. Subrangelina. Sue.


Facing the Paradox

Just before I watched Facing the Giants, I happened to skim through a book of Zen koans* I picked up at Goodwill. The movie has the same paradox that a lot of Zen koans do (or maybe that Buddhism in general has?).

A formula for the most boring koans goes like this: Monk asks master how to achieve Buddha thought, or enlightenment. Master's response is to fart or bark or throw teapot to the floor, or talk about the weather.

In some cases, we're told the monk became enlightened. Sometimes it's presented as a true story of a real monk's process of enlightenment. Other times, the monk might not get it but we're supposed to, we the readers.

The moral of some of the koans is that if you stop wanting enlightenment so desperately, then you'll suddenly get what you wanted. Perhaps I assume too much when I assume that's the moral. The master says or does something irrelevant, distracting, to demonstrate that students (and readers) must distract themselves from their goal in order to achieve the goal. Like Douglas Adams's knack to human flight: all you have to do is throw yourself at the ground and miss, which only happens when you distract yourself.

In order to achieve the state of mind that these monks seek, they need to stop wanting it, stop wanting anything, and then they'll have it. If "Buddha thought" or enlightenment is a state of no longer wanting, then is anyone pleased or fulfilled when they attain it? Meanwhile, the masters and monks apparently still have things they want. Why do they remain monks or continue following rules unless these are things they want? If you continue to sow fields and prepare meals and treat wounds, aren't you demonstrating your desire for self-preservation?

It's not exactly the same, but you see this in some modern Christian parables too, like Facing the Giants. A decent movie, as formulaic as any secular football movie you're likely to see. Act One sets up a depressing situation for the main character, the football coach for a small Christian high school in the South (Georgia?). His car breaks down repeatedly, appliances that he can't afford to fix go on the fritz. He can't have children because of a medical problem. The last straw comes when his career is threatened because he hasn't won a state title in six years.

He prays on it, studies the Bible, listens to advice, and concludes that he needs to make Jesus first in his life, in everything. He convinces his team that they must praise God whether they win or lose. When the coach does this, everything turns around for him. When he helps the team do it, they beat the state champion Giants.

It's not that they're supposed to stop wanting things in Christian parables, but their desire to be proper Christians is supposed to be a higher priority than everything else. Like monks in koans, they're often shown getting what they want as soon as they distract themselves from wanting it.

Maybe the message is a little muddled in this parable. Are we supposed to come away thinking that all things other than Jesus are comparatively unimportant, or that making Jesus first in your life will bring you the things you want (a better career, prestige, spontaneously fixed medical problem, the state championship, even a new car)? As if those things should still be important to you, just slightly less important than getting yourself right with Jesus.

There's probably some technical term for Christians who believe that good things happen here on Earth to people who believe in Jesus (to people who believe the "right" way). I realize that's not all Christians. But for the rest of us, including Christians who believe that bad things sometimes happen to good people on Earth, that rewards might come later but not necessarily on Earth, we have to figure out how to survive depression and low moments. The alternative is suicide or apathy or continued sadness.

We have to be able to push past bad times, even when we might know that more bad times are still to come. A parable showing someone achieve that state of mind would be a person keeping a positive attitude in the midst of bad times.

A better example, if they're trying to communicate this moral, would be the story/joke/parable/koan about a monk chased off a cliff by a tiger. He manages not to fall to his death by grasping on a strawberry vine halfway down the cliff. Did I mention the other tigers circling at the base of the cliff below him? As the vine begins to come loose by the roots, he notices a beautiful strawberry, plucks it and enjoys it. The end.

In as far as we're left thinking/knowing that this protagonist is going to die soon, it's not a conventionally "happy ending." But in the versions I've heard, it ends on a happy moment, the monk able to enjoy the strawberry and ignore anxiety about his impending doom.

What we see too often in Christian inspirational stories and in this movie is that people keep or attain a positive attitude, and then good things happen to them. It's a story of people with good lives overall, surviving through temporary low moments.

Will they really be able to keep positive the next time they go through bad moments? Or do we pretend they’re never going to suffer bad events again?

I suppose in their larger scheme of things, this is supposed to represent Christians living through low moments on Earth, receiving the payoff later in Heaven. But it requires going out of your way to interpret that message from it. Taken literally, it just looks like people having better experiences while they're still on Earth because they acted like proper Christians. Maybe I don't know any "proper" Christians, but it doesn't seem to be borne out in what we see around us here on Earth.

* Is there something especially zen about making a tiny paperback book with fewer pages than your average magazine?


Big Trouble in Little China 1936

Old public domain serials vs. Big Trouble in Little China. Starring John Wayne as Jack Burton, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi as Lo Pan, with cameos appearances by Herman Brix and Noah Beery, Jr.

Clips are taken from:
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Shadow of The Eagle (1932)
The Hurrican Express (1932)
Shadow of Chinatown (1936)
Ace Drummond (1936)
Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934)
Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)
Three Musketeers (1933)
Revolt of the Zombies (1936)
Undersea Kingdom (1936)
The Spring River Flows East, Part 1 (1947)
Singing Wheels (????)
A Study of Educational Inequality in South Carolina (1936)

Many of those may be available for streaming or download on The creeky, attempted Chinese-sounding music from the start and end are taken from "Shadow of Chinatown". Most of the rest of the music and audio are taken from the actual Big Trouble in Little China (1986). I'd have prefered to use Thirties incidental music throughout the thing, but some of the best lines from the original BTILC had Eighties soundtrack music running through it, so I had to roll with it.

Don't miss these slightly less popular entries in the "Big Trouble" series from the Thirties and Forties:
Big Trouble in Little Italy
Big Trouble in the Casbah
A Little Trouble in the Big Top
Big Trouble in Chattanooga
Big Trouble in Little Atlantis


Folkways Podcast

The Folkways Collection, a podcast series from Smithsonian Folkways and CKUA Radio. 24 x one-hour long programs covering music and documentaries recorded on Folkways Records. Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Phil Ochs, Lightnin Hopkins, Roosevelt Sykes, Doc Watson, The Carter Family, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes. Nuff said. Full songs, not just excerpts.


The Reason-Driven Life

Some great quotes from The Reason-Driven Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? by Robert M. Price. Great minds think alike, because he makes some of the same arguments I've made, even phrases some of it similar to the ways I have in arguing with supporters of eternal suffering. (All the italics and bold below are from the original, emphasis is not mine.)

"Those who call on scripture to provide a full range of infallible answers turn out to be in no better position than the rest of us who make no such claims, for the simple reason that life always casts up new issues and shades of moral nuance never covered in the ancient books. How does the Bible give the biblicist any advantage at all when it comes to the maddening question of surrogate motherhood? Artificial insemination? White lies? Even abortion is never explicitly mentioned there. Christian ethicists have to debate these issues pretty much the same way their secular counterparts do. The claim to have a revelation is dangerous, though, since it can so easily function as an excuse for Reverend Bigmouth to claim that you don't need to evaluate his opinions as opinions, just accept them by faith."
- page 19

"I'd love to hear Larry King suddenly snap out of it and ask [Fundamentalist Pastor Rick] Warren, '...tell us, what on earth gives you the right to condemn the human race to eternal torture--all because they don't have the cozy love affair with Jesus that you do?'

"Well, you know what he'd say. It's what they all say: 'Larry, I can't help it! I don't want all those folks to fricassee in hell. But it's not my idea. I just have to go by what the Bible says. I can't change the word of God.' ... But can't you see you are evading responsibility for your beliefs? You are like Nazi soldiers who invoked the terrible defense, 'I was only following orders!' Like it or not, you are responsible for rejecting any hateful screed that damns billions of people because they don't practice your latecomer version of Protestantism. You are responsible to take a sober look at this detestable doctrine and recognize that no such belief can be the word of God, any more than the Aztecs could have really been obeying God's orders by slicing the hearts out of their sacrificial victims from another tribe. No more than it could have been the voice of God that told Saul to butcher every last Amalekite. No more than it could have been the revealed will of God that sent Mohammed Atta flying an airliner into the World Trade Center. If there is no ethical test for alleged revelations, then it is just dumb luck keeping us out of the arms of Jim Jones and Charlie Manson."
- pages 157-158

"Point to Ponder: Any God who could torment hapless mortals for failing to believe in a savior for whom there is no proof, for not belonging to a sect of whose superiority there is no evidence, is no better than the devil.

"Question to Consider: You wouldn't be a member of a club that banned Jews from membership. Is it any better belonging to a religion that bars nonfundamentalists from eternal life?" - page 159

"Then there is the 'I can't help it' defense: 'Look, I'm not happy people are going to hell! In fact, it's because I don't want you to end up there that I'm witnessing to you!' It's as if the born-again Christian agrees with you that hell is unjust, so don't blame him. But there it is, so what are you going to do about it? This is in effect the old 'good cop, bad cop' strategy. One interrogator warns the suspect to come clean now, before he has no choice but to turn him over to his out-of-control partner.

"But why is the divine 'bad cop' such a hard case? What forces him to send anybody to hell? Is he subject, like the Greek gods, to the dictates of Fate? Hasn't he satisfied his own justice on the cross? What's the matter: didn't it work? Why does he still plan on sending people to hell? Look, if he's going to force them into some post-mortem destiny they never saw coming and, despite the dodge, didn't choose, then why the heck doesn't he subject them to an involuntary, postmortem process of sanctification? Suppose Hitler and Stalin (not to mention Gandhi and all the other folks fundamentalists have booked into hell) instead woke up in heaven, surprised to be there, but awakened from the nightmare of wickedness. Who's the loser in this scenario? What's the problem? Is God a forgiving God or not? Are his followers really forgiving either?

"... Once you realize that fundamentalism, despite all its talk of love, love, love, enshrines as its ultimate paragon of morality an entity whose 'goodness' is compatible with torturing billions of people for eternity, you begin to understand those bigots holding their picket signs that say GOD HATES FAGS. They aren't exactly hypocrites. Their inconsistency, though gross, occurs on a deeper level than that. They are holding together two diametrically opposed convictions about God: he is loving and he is the Lord of Damnation. It is an unstable, schizophrenic mix. No wonder it can tip now to one side, now to the other. Once again we see the fundamentalist God of Reverend Warren and his pals as the prototype of the abusive father, he who professes his love and demonstrates it with his fists."
- pages 165-166