Friday, December 19, 2014

Give Us "The Interview" or Give Us Death!

I’m hopping mad. The FBI has just confirmed that North Korea tore into Sony the way lions sometimes tear into gazelles. NK’s bad behavior stems from the fact that Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un hates Sony’s guts. Those guts, by the way, are now on display for all the world to appraise.

But that’s not what infuriates me. I’m mad because theaters won’t be showing Sony’s The Interview, the Seth Rogen movie that many believe is behind Kim Jong-un’s unseemly bile.

Li’l Kim* is mad because The Interview doesn’t treat him with the respect he feels he deserves. He believes he deserves to be revered as the world’s greatest leader, author, warrior, holy man, artist, basketball player and golfer. On this last point, Kim reports that he made eleven holes-in-one while shooting a score of 34 the first time he ever picked up a golf club. The Interview, on the other hand, treats him as a vile yet pompous megalomaniac who dies when his head explodes.

Nobody at Sony or in Pyongyang seems to have come up with a compromise that could bring the two sides together on this issue.

But the all-around chickening out on showing The Interview is bullshit, and that’s what has me steamed.

I admit that national leaders are usually treated with more respect than The Interview grants Kim. When Charlie Chaplin mocked Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator (1940), he created a phony character who was obviously a Hitler parody, but he didn’t identify the character as Hitler himself. And, he didn’t portray his head exploding.

              Chaplin's Dictator, Adenoid Hynkel

Still, even granting that The Interview does not exhibit the best of taste, can we name anyone else on the planet that more richly deserves to be mocked than does Kim Jong-un? For a while Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe gave him a run for the money, and Syria’s Bashar Al Assad is still a contender, but I’d have to say that as of now, Kim Jong-un is front runner in the finals for The World’s Biggest Asshole award.

And that’s what galls me. Why should this humongous asshole keep Americans from seeing The Interview, no matter how cheesy it may be? George Clooney has tweeted that he wants us to all stand up to this bully and I agree. I also agree with Joe Scarborough, the right-wing host of “Morning Joe,” when he says Sony should show the premier in New York, as planned, and have the theater ringed with police. It’s unlikely the Democratic [sic] People’s [sic] Republic [sic] of Korea actually has the ability to carry out an act of violence there, and by backing down, Sony and the theaters are letting it get away with some pretty low cost terrorism

Kim Jong-un is the third leader of the Kim dynasty and his interest in Hollywood films comes to him legitimately. His father, the late Kim Jong-il, was said to have amassed a huge DVD collection and also showed a keen interest in upgrading North Korea’s movie-making capabilities, albeit through unorthodox methods. (Father Kim Jong-il, by the way, according to North Korean officials, was born on the slopes of Paektu San, Korea’s most sacred mountain, under a shining star and a double rainbow. Jesus, you may recall, only had a star.)

Anyway, in 1978, Kim Jong-il, dissatisfied with the quality of North Korea’s film directors, decided to kidnap Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean director of proven ability. In order to pull off the caper, Kim had agents first kidnap actress Choi Eun-hee, the ex-wife of Shin, and a woman for whom he still had feelings. When Ms. Choi mysteriously disappeared from the streets of Hong Kong, Shin flew there to investigate, whereupon Kim’s agents nabbed him and spirited both him and Ms. Choi off to Pyongyang.

Kim had the couple remarry and then, after a prison term following a failed escape attempt by Shin, put them to work making movies for the DPRK. They played along until they were able to elude North Korea’s clutches while attending a film festival in Vienna. When they failed to return to Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il promptly denounced the United States for kidnapping them.

Yes, the Kims are an interesting family. But dammit, I want my movie back. In line with George Clooney and Joe Scarborough’s recommendation, Culture World hereby declares its willingness to defy Supreme Leader Kim no matter what the consequences.

To do so, I offer the following pictures, the first of which is of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

 The second one is of a head exploding. Is it Kim Jong-un’s? Culture World can neither confirm nor deny.

Come on, guys. We're America. Bring back The Interview.

*The apostrophe in Li’l has traditionally followed the vowel “i” as in Li’l Abner. It stands for the glottal stop some people use to replace the “t” sound of “little” (the same sound that occurs in the middle of the English expression “Uh-oh!”). Recent versions of “Lil” have the apostrophe at the end of the word - for reasons beyond Culture World's understanding.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Stop - You Guys Are Killing Us

In response to a New York Times article on whether or not those in the Bush administration responsible for torture should be pardoned, a commenter named Randy F. offered this suggestion:

“how about we give them medals for making hard decisions during a time of war – we were attacked, remember?”

What Randy F. may be forgetting is that we were attacked at Bunker Hill in 1775, at Fort Sumter in 1861, and Pearl Harbor in 1941. Yet neither General Washington nor President Lincoln nor Franklin Roosevelt suggested that we sanction torture because “we were attacked.”

In fact, our enemies, the British, burned Washington DC to the ground in 1814, and the Soviet Union threatened to annihilate us with nuclear weapons during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, yet none of these existential threats to our nation led us to play the “We were attacked, so let's authorize torture” card.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few Americans who agree with Randy F., claiming either that what our government did was not torture, or that torture under the circumstances was justified. Vice President Cheney, during a Fox News interview, argued that, “We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack,” adding, “We were successful on both parts.” He characterized the recently released report on CIA torture as “full of crap.”

Why are people like Cheney ready to throw out normal standards of decency in the face of threats far less ominous than many we have faced in the past? Is it unprecedented fear or self-serving arrogance that has brought about this new American attitude?

It is true that we were the only major power of World War II that did not suffer horrendous destruction from enemy bombing of civilian targets, so perhaps we have been singularly naïve in a way that has heightened our reactions. The shock of seeing thousands of civilians killed in terrorist attacks in the heart of two of our major cities made us suddenly mindful of our vulnerability. Perhaps Britons, Germans or Japanese would have been less shocked at such tragic losses, given their memories of World War II.

But would any American leaders have sanctioned torture in 2001, or is there something about people like Cheney that made them more likely to do so? It is true that the former Vice sometimes exhibits an attitude of,“If this doesn’t affect someone I know, then it’s not my problem.”

For example, though he is harshly conservative on almost every issue, he took a stand in favor of gay rights when faced with his daughter’s lesbianism. Republican Senator Rob Portman underwent an identical adjustment in attitude. In 2013 he suddenly declared his support for gay marriage, attributing this change to his son coming out as gay.

Similarly, John McCain, the one Republican forcefully speaking out against torture, is famous for having endured torture in Hanoi. Would he be more like Cheney and other fellow Republicans on this issue if he himself had not been brutalized during his captivity? In any case, I salute McCain for his outspoken and eloquent denunciation of torture on the Senate floor.

Whatever it was that made some of our leaders give thumbs up to torture, I hope the release of this report helps return us to our old way of thinking, the way of Washington, Madison, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy. We were unquestionably a better country when our leaders considered it profoundly immoral to waterboard, to rectally hydrate, to torture to death through hypothermia, and so on.

And what to do about our shameful past on this issue? Honestly, I have no hope for Dick Cheney, but I would be mightily impressed if George W. Bush were to step forward, admit that we engaged in these grossly immoral acts, and apologize for them.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Immigration Reform: Obama vs. Everything Good and Sacred

President Obama’s unilateral action on immigration reform has thrown the opposition into confusion. The president’s program will grant millions of undocumented aliens (1) authorization to work, and (2) protection from deportation. Those benefiting are immigrants who have no criminal record and who have been in the U.S. for at least five years. Some immigrants are disappointed with this, particularly those who have lived in the U.S. for 4 years and 364 days.

But the strongest backlash comes from the Republicans who are hostile to the program because it violates their most fundamental principles, the ones that say anything Obama does is un-American and evil. Quite a few of them have accused President Obama of trashing the Constitution and becoming even more of a hideous dictator than he already is.

The New York Times quoted contractor Joey Hartline of Alabama who said he wanted President Obama “…arrested and tried for treason.” According to Mr. Hartline, Obama’s reform is an act of “domestic terrorism.”

Hartline, an ordinary citizen, is merely echoing his state’s GOP leadership. Republican congressman Mo Brooks, for example, wants to throw Obama in jail for five years. Five years doesn’t really seem that long, which puts the Honorable Mo Brooks in danger of being accused of liberalism, especially when it comes on the heels of his claim that he would do “anything short of shooting” undocumented immigrants to stem the alien influx. His unwillingness to shoot immigrants places him well to the left of many Alabama Republicans.

Other Alabamans have been surprisingly unrestrained in their language. Kyle Davis, a former state trooper, angrily declared his opposition to immigration reform because “…a big majority of them’s dirty” (NYT). 

Mr. Davis obviously belongs to the Tea Party wing of the GOP, aka, the “them’s dirty” wing.

Republicans from other red states are naturally unwilling to be outdone by these Alabamans. Texas Senator Ted Cruz compared Obama to the Emperor Cataline, who tried to overthrow the Roman Republic, while Representative Lamar Smith (also from the Lone Star State) said that through his executive order, Obama had declared war on the American people. I’m pretty sure that’s against the law, so we might want to wait to see how many years Representative Smith thinks the president should spend behind bars.

Republican Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who leads the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, denounced President Obama in a bitterly partisan attack which he insisted reflected neither a Republican nor a Democratic perspective.*

The visceral hostility of Tea Party Republicans has put the GOP leadership in a bind. People like Speaker John Boehner and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want to express their vitriolic hatred of Obama, but they nevertheless recognize that immigration reform will help the people they truly care about, i.e., those people who happen to be corporations.

Cheap labor is good for profits, and cheap labor is exactly what immigrants have long supplied to the American economy. Furthermore, GOP leaders are worried that going along with the “them’s dirty” mentality of many Tea Party types makes it harder for Republicans to pretend to not be racists.

The Establishment GOP narrative agrees with the Tea Party base in claiming that Obama is both totally incompetent and an all-powerful dictator. One point this narrative makes is that, in a clumsy, doomed-to-fail Stalinist maneuver, Obama provided health care to millions of impoverished Americans.

  First, I offer zem insurance, and zen, I enslave zem!   Mwahahahaha!

So what options does the GOP leadership have? As of now confusion seems to reign, but that may not continue for long. According to my mole in the Republican Establishment (who has been known to sometimes tell me the truth) the GOP leadership is not planning to formally oppose Obama’s executive order, but will mount a major publicity campaign to ensure the loyalty of the “them’s dirty” voters. This campaign will include a constant barrage of legalistic criticism aimed at the president. Strategist Ana Navarro, for example, admitted that President Reagan granted amnesty to immigrants through an executive order. Her legalistic argument was that Reagan could do this but Obama could not because, unlike Obama, Reagan was “a trusted leader.”

My inside source also leaked to me a secret GOP plan to motivate the base with a contest in which the winner will be that voter who comes up with the most effective anti-immigrant sound bite. Previously publicized phrases such as “calves as big as cantaloupes” and “them’s dirty,” will be disqualified, but party leaders believe this still leaves plenty of room for inventiveness. The winner will receive an attractive painting on black velvet depicting Mitch McConnell kicking Cesar Chavez in the groin.

Can this two-pronged attack offer any hope of holding the GOP together until 2016? As they say in Texas ¿quién sabe?

                                    Cesar Chavez 1927-2003

*Note to politicians: never forget to follow up your partisan onslaughts with the claim that your issue is “neither Democratic nor Republican.”