Friday, March 18, 2011

Staying Safe the American Way

I guess there’s no way to explain the lack of critical thinking skills in the American population other than to say it must come from lousy education in the public schools. Case in point. Americans drive down the freeway at 70 mph while texting, and think they’re safe in doing this. Then they feel the need to pop down iodine tablets to protect themselves from Japanese radiation. Give me a break.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Looting in Japan

It’s been three days since the catastrophe in Japan, and now it’s time to look at the incidence of looting and violence there. We all know the familiar pattern. After a devastating calamity— whether in the United Sates (Hurricane Katrina), or Haiti (the 2010 earthquake), or South America (the mudslides in Brazil)— the widespread looting begins even before the first bodies have been recovered. It’s probably just a coincidence, but the U.S., Haiti, and Brazil would all say that their primary religion is Christianity. So how much looting has taken place in Japan? Zero. Zilch. Notta. In three days there hasn’t been a single reported incidence of looting. Not one. And it’s a sure bet that, if it takes a decade to recover from the destruction there, the looting incidence will still be zero ten years from now. Japan is a Buddhist society.

Buddhists don’t believe they will have everlasting life because they’ve been “born again” (whatever the hell that means). Buddhists don’t believe they’ve been “saved” because they’re washed in the blood of the Son of God (I don’t get the meaning of that, either). And Buddhists don’t believe there has been “atonement” for their sins and the sins of all mankind because some self-righteous, self-proclaimed messiah got the cookies pounded out of him by a middle-level Roman bureaucrat two thousand years ago. So what DO Buddhists believe? They believe that it’s wrong to go into somebody else’s home or place of business and take stuff that doesn’t belong to them. Furthermore, they believe that if something is wrong, then you just don’t do it. Period. In their belief system, there’s no divine forgiveness or atonement or any of that crap.

I suppose it was to be expected, but already a few Evangelicals are saying that Japan’s troubles are God’s retribution for their failure to accept the Savior. If you can buy into the Jesus thing, you can convince yourself of anything.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Americans Don’t Want to Pay for the Government They Want

Ron Schiller’s departure from NPR is probably a plus for everybody. His remarks in the undercover “sting” video show that he just doesn’t “get it” when it comes to the Tea Party. The Tea Party probably has a racist or two in its ranks, but to explain away the Tea Party by calling it a racist organization is to miss the point. Racist organizations are despicable and socially unacceptable, but racism doesn’t have the power to drive the world’s biggest economy into bankruptcy. Things would be so much better if the Tea Party was the new KKK because the reality is much worse than that.

Last Friday night (actually it was on PBS) commentator Mark Shields said the smartest thing I’ve heard in years. He said “The American people don’t want to pay for the government they want.” That’s the problem in a nutshell, and leading the charge in this direction is the Tea Party. When you see Tea Party members gleefully registering their passion about this complex problem, they always look like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney who have just been told that the big high school play is finally going to be a musical. America’s financial crisis— if it can be solved at all (and I doubt that it can)— will be solved, not by passion from well meaning, enthusiastic amateurs who think you can change things with torches and pitchforks, but by informed and committed intellectuals who understand that the U.S. is not above slipping into third world status.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

And the Winner is— the Film, Not the Movie

It’s been six days since the 2011 Academy Awards, and I wanted to wait a week before making my comments to avoid a sudden knee-jerk reaction. Over a twenty year period, in film study lectures, Roger Ebert personally taught my wife and me the difference between films and movies. Films are intellectual. Films are made for “mature” audiences (which doesn’t necessarily mean old geezers) and they can often be on-screen versions of literate Pulitzer Prize novels. They star actors like Colin Firth, Paul Giamanti, Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, and Helen Mirren (notwithstanding her embarrassing role in RED). All of this is in contrast with movies, which are made for viewers in the 18 to 30 age bracket. Movies are more heavily advertised than films which explains why they usually make more money. Movies star actors like Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Nicholas Cage can go either way, although he’s primarily a movie guy.

Here’s the important distinction between films and movies. Movies are ONLY made to make money from younger viewers. Films are made to be an artistic statement, and many of them are made with the Oscar in mind. As a result, the Oscar— the Academy Award— is only given to the best film in a group of films which are nominated. Movies don’t get nominated. So it comes as no surprise to hear that younger theater goers in the 18 to 30 year old age bracket are not major viewers of the Oscar ceremonies each February. Why should they watch the awards when they haven’t seen the films? They go to movies.

And this finally brings me to James Franco and Anne Hathaway who co-hosted the Oscars last Sunday. The official story line was that the Academy Award producers were reaching out to younger audiences (who usually never see the nominated films). If youth was the objective, then why not Justin Bieber instead? Most people who’ve grown up with the Oscar ceremony over many years agree that Bob Hope was the best there ever was at hosting the Oscars. I think he did the job 19 times. For those too young to remember him, he was a witty, funny grownup who could make it through the whole night wearing the same tuxedo (in stark contrast to host, Anne Hathaway). There’s the model, the template, the prototype— Bob Hope. The Oscar producers didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. They just needed to find another Bob Hope, and Franco and Hathaway were not the answer.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Following the Will of the People

I’m not an expert on finance or monetary policy. I’m not a businessman, and I’m certainly not a politician, although I do vote in most elections. The one thing I’ve got going for me is that I’m smart enough to know what things I DON’T know, and one of the things I don’t know is how to save America from bankruptcy. So when a politician proudly proclaims that he or she is just following the will of the voters, then we’re all in trouble, because most voters are just like me and don’t have a clue. If the Founding Fathers had wanted politicians to follow the will of the voters, they would have given us a democracy. Instead, the U.S. Constitution gave us a republic, which means that elected representatives are supposed to learn enough to gain insight about problems and situations, and then make their own governing decisions based on their own knowledge and judgment. To put it less delicately, the Founding Fathers knew that most voters were imbeciles and would always be imbeciles, and if the elected representatives followed the will of the voters, then the nation would be governed by imbeciles.

What the Founding Fathers could never have foreseen is our modern public education system which turns out graduates who think that a billion is twice as much as a million, and a trillion is three times as much as a million. This leads to constituent voters who are thrilled when their elected representative proposes cutting one billion dollars from National Public Radio to solve a trillion dollar deficit problem. Voters figure that’s two-thirds of the way toward balancing the nation’s checkbook. But here’s the really, REALLY, scary part. There’s no evidence to show that the elected representatives don’t share the same mathematical misconception and ignorance.