Like: TREME Episode 3 “Right Place, Wrong Time” … and the effects Malcolm Gladwell framework from “The Tipping Point”

April 28, 2010

On the plane to New Orleans this past week I finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” I’ve been meaning to read it for years and so when I saw the paperback in the airport bookstore I bought it as an impulse purchase. This moment I consider to be a bit serendipitous.  It ended up providing a fascinating sociological framework with which to approach my visit to N’awlins.  For those who haven’t read it (like me, last week) the basic conceit of the book is that little, seemingly trivial details can push huge trends and epidemics in the community wildly in one direction or another.  Of course it’s a lot more nuanced than that, but this specifically applies to the idea that context and environments play a huge role in terms of our actual behaviors, far more than we previously believed. One example he explores in great detail is the dramatic turnaround of crime prevention in New York City largely being a matter of physically cleaning up trash and graffiti on the subway. The idea: an environment that accepts simple lawlessness and petty crimes will therefore accept/encourage harsher crimes. So they changed the physical environment and crime plummeted. Context rules.

But what about more specific community traits? For example, Fist-Fighting in Boston is a largely tolerated cultural; two knuckleheads would beat each other up, the cops would show up and ask who started it, and then they’d go to the can for a night and be released. No one would sue anyone else. This happened all the time. The first thing I noticed when I moved to Los Angeles is “where are all the dudes fighting each other in front of bars?” There weren’t any. And if they did, someone for sure was getting sued. Same laws. Same country. It’s just that one place is more culturally tolerant of a behavior and the other is not. But Los Angeles is a city five times the size of Boston and bars are everywhere, so how does this happen? Maybe it’s the kind of people who live here. Maybe it’s the nice weather putting everyone in a better mood. Maybe it’s because people are wearing less clothes. Maybe it’s because people are afraid that the other person is gang affiliated or something and maybe carrying a gun (the violence situation south of the 10, and east of the 5 is far different after all). Either way, I’ve seen hundreds of fist fights in four years in Boston and none in five years in Los Angeles. The difference is the environment, and therefore the context. And context rules.

So what if the difference is about positive behavior? What if a city had a context of joy and indomitable spirit? Would the context of that that spirit really hold sway over the city’s constituents? Over the tourists? Can the overwhelming joy and kindness of a city be as contagious as Gladwell argues? My conclusion was yes. After all, context rules.

By the way, that city is New Orleans. I spent the last four days there and, prompted by the Gladwell read, I spent the entire time being fascinated by the context/environment. Every single person I met was relentless positive, affable, and engaging. Not just the cab drivers, bartenders, hotel managers and assorted folks whose jobs it was to be cheerful and welcoming. And not just the citizens of New Orleans, who always seemed to manage to say a friendly hello as they walked to work, or strike up a conversation as they stood in the doorways to beat the sweltering sun. But what contagiousness argues for best, is to look at your fellow visitors. What mood do the Tourists and the Party Folks take upon their visit? By all accounts, they were likewise celebratory, kind, affectionate. People who you couldn’t imagine dancing on the street would do just that. One wonders how so much (relative) good behavior happens with so much alcohol involved, but it’s a function of the environment. People are there to drink, enjoy music, and have a great time. It’s a kind of debauchery that lacks the animosity that seems to characterize much youthful partying these days (think woodstock 99, etc).  Especially after the storm, where it seems the desire to embrace and reignite the things that make New Orleans special have become priority #1. The environment is now one of healing and pride. And it’s frickin’ contagious.

After all, Context Rules.

So upon arriving home, I watched TREME episode 3, with a sense of… is there a word for “immediate nostalgia?” So as far as cinematics goes, here’s the good and the bad…

Good:

-Wendell Pierce plays the best drunk ever. This is inarguable.

-The episode struck me as funnier than the previous two.

-Khandi Alexander is poised to win some serious awards. Maybe? She’s putting on a clinic.

-I remembered that John Goodman can do subtlety. We’re always wrapped up in his usual gravitas and Walter Sobcheckian-yelling that we forget just how acute he can be too. The scene on the porch between him and Zahn is priceless, “Just piano lessons.”

-Melissa Leo, high marks all around. She’s perfectly cast.

-Zahn. Not as manic as the first episode. A bit more manic then the second. But still finding balance and had some real nice moments. Even his doucheyness is starting to be charming, which seems to be the point. He mostly works as a great foil for Kim Dickens.

Bad:

-Meanwhile, Sonny is the douchiest douche in douchetown. How are we supposed to feel about him again? Are we supposed to like this guy? Because he’s giving hipsters and even badder name. Drinking his girlfriend’s birthday present because she got a surprise big-deal-gig and just happened to be busy for a little bit? And Sonny got to go to the gig too?! What is he, fucking five? Shut up Sonny you whiny little brat. For the record, I find most complaints of hipsterism and/or emo to be inane, simplistic, and often just plain irrelevant, but dear lord Sonny. Come on man. You’re actually justifying all of those diminutions. And yet, because this is David Simon, I will wait patiently. Maybe we’re suppose to hate this douchebag in the long run. My guess though is that his seemingly pretentious stories of saving people in his boat (the ones that people can’t seem corroborate) will actually end up being true. And really he’s just working out his shit or some other backstory. I dunno.

-His girlfriend Annie is far more tolerable, except she makes a face when playing fiddle that looks like she’s passing stones.

-There’s a fine line in film/tv between something that feels real and something that feels forced. This seems obvious, but authenticity is such a rarity in entertainment that we’ve learned to embrace the ridiculous as an alternative. Meanwhile, Simon’s shows (Homicide, The Corner, The Wire) have built a reputation on being authentic above all else. So in regards to the scene in episode 3 where the cops suddenly go ape-shit on Antoine for, like, no reason… well, it immediately set off my bullshit detector. Which is odd, because I’ve seen that exact same kind of horror go down in real life multiple times. But if it is something that’s painfully real, what’s the problem? The problem is the “how” of course. Since DO THE RIGHT THING(1), we’ve seen the no-reason-police-beating many, many times in our cinematic experience, and many of these immitations are often done for contrived/imitative/knee-jerk reasons. Unfortunately, we can’t help but bring all those negative connotations with it. This scene in episode 3, however, builds up beautifully; Antoine drunkenly sings with Annie and Sonny as the police car slides carefully into the backround. They finish their song. He starts to drunkenly walk forward. You slowly feel it coming. It’s perfect film-making. Then the second his horn taps the cop car, the police are instantly on top of him and within a second are beating the shit out of him, spewing the kind of dialogue we see in “evil cop” movies. Even the style of the scene changes, as it ultra-edited and with multiple angles to accentuate the violence.(2) You sense the filmmakers wanted to show how quickly things can turn and how impacting real police violence can be, but in doing so they’ve created a scene that achieves in the exact antithesis of what it was achieving when it started. In this culture of stylistic violence you need to be doubly careful. Even the shaky cam has a action-movie connotation now. You need the same kind of unblinking de-stylization that made the action of The Wire so heartbreaking.

Anywho it’s just something to look out for in future episodes, as it’s the crux of what makes a David Simon show work.

And I swear I’m going to have have another “It’s not just who but when” post up this week, it’s almost done.

(1) – It goes back further of course, but the scene of Radio Raheem remains the last major touchstone for a lot of us.

(2) – In comparison to the normal Simon standards, not, like, Michael Bay.


Don’t Like: The New York Post’s Decision To Post Erin Andrews Spy Video Pictures and Including A Distasteful Cartoon As Well

July 23, 2009

(note: this is not page with the picture… I’m not going to do that)

Ragging on a rag like The New York Post (eh, get it?) seems like a waste of time. It’s a nonsense paper, with a nonsense agenda, designed to make money, and it does. Fine.

I’m also not here to get political. That would be pointless. Dismissing a sensationalist paper for it’s politics completely misses the point as they are inherently designed to piss people off or go the extra step out of bounds on a given angle (politically speaking of course). Does it potentially have a negative effect? Sure. Do I like that so many people read it? No. It’s just doesn’t make sense to rail against this because it’s an inherent reality of the mud slinging business. And most of their gossip rag stuff is completely trashy, but appropriately trashy in the larger sense. In other words it’s exactly the kind of nonsense you’d expect to find in any magazine like that.

So then The Post went along the other day and ran a story on page 1 referencing the now unfolding and infamous Erin Andrews story. If you have not heard, the ESPN sideline reporter was recently filmed with a peephole camera as she was changing in her hotel room. It is a significant offense. Highly illegal. And rotten to the core. Honestly, I did not find that it happened that surprising. Erin Andrews has a vehement, vocal, and often juvenile fan base, stemming from the fact that she is an attractive, capable woman and is a member of the sports world, particularly college sports. That lends itself to a certain kind of attention. She is also a decent sideline reporter (my qualms are more with actually sideline reporting and not her performance itself). The problem with having this kind of celebrity-like admiration is that she also a sideline reporter and NOT a giant celebrity with security and protection and all the like. Honestly, I’ve worried for her safety in a variety of situations.  Sure, she seems tough and no nonsense and all that good stuff; she’s probably perfectly capable of taking care of her self… but still. I worried about, I dunno, something like this.

Most of the major papers have and simply abstained from referencing the story all together… but The Post? They ran an article about her outrage… including a screenshot from the video (a barely censored one).

This is absolutely deplorable.

More than than that it is actually illegal. They are posting a pic which was from an illegally shot video. Admittedly, I do not know the finer points of the law concerning this issue, but I know that that kind of act is illegal and grounds for legal action. The Post have since taken it down on the website version of their paper. But probably more because people are pissed (even within their regular readers). This sentiment is also not to imply that I, or some of the people who complained, are some kind of prude or believe that sexuality has no place in modern media. Who can’t understand why a lot of people would want to see a naked video of someone famous? Particularly an attractive famous person.  It’s just that I recognize the inherent difference of a video obtained through such incredibly dishonest and violating means. Not helping matters is that some people are confusing the release of this video with the “release” of some other famous celebrity videos; they don’t understand what the big deal or difference is and why this video can’t legally be posted.

There isn’t even a comparison. Those videos were released with pre-made deals and financial compensation. It was planned. This video was not.

Which leads to something else The Post happened to do in that edition of the paper. They printed this cartoon.

07222009

There are three possible meanings you can take from this cartoon. The first is that modern corporate/celebrity culture uses sex and personal stuff to sell sell sell. Which would be valid. But that would be giving a lot of credit. See the problem is those 5 blatant ESPN signs, which means the second possible meaning and perhaps most obvious is that ESPN planned or wanted this video to come out. Or is somehow glad. Which is malicious and implies they are a morally bankrupt organization… which I find to be anything but the case for the company. It also completely discounts the fact they’ve been running around like crazy suing websites and LEGITIMATELY trying to shut it down. If anything ESPN has been the one major sports coverage unit that has really, and truly tried to abstain from sexualizing sports. They consider themselves a family network. They really do and seperates themselves from Fox Sports, which has no qualms about doing so (the great irony of this being that Fox sports is 1000 times more likely to have the kind of behavior/viewpoint shown in this cartoon). The third meaning, and most offensive, is that Erin Andrews was in on it. Which if that is the intent, is probably the most heinous, sexist, cynical, violating tone I can think of for a situation like this.

Once again… this is absolutely deplorable.

Yes the cartoon probably falls under free speech and probably has the legal standards to run… but then I have the right under free speech to say this probably should never have seen publication and if I ran a paper it wouldn’t… ever.

This sounds like I’m getting all high and mighty and holier than thou… I know… I’m sorry. True, should I expect anything less from society? Is this really THAT big a deal? I’m not sure. But sometimes I get tired of being cynical. I get tired of just ignoring shitty behavior just because humans are inclined to be shitty sometimes. But every once and awhile it’s okay to call a duck a duck. Their actions are egregious. It deserves to be called out.

In response to the whole affair, ESPN has blacklisted any Post reporters from their coverage and removed their access to any ESPN broadcast. This will have an immediate effect on their coverage and will hopefully hurt them financially.

But for Erin Andrews, in a perfect world, she would sue for posting the picture and defamation of character for the cartoon. She has a legit claim with the picture, but the cartoon claim would be thrown out under free speech. And since the post is part of the News Corp empire the history of two mega corporations suing each other tells us that it would be so bogged down in various stalls and litigation as to be a complete waste of time.

So in the end, ESPN made the right call.

For me, the whole thing has no effect, really.

I will continue to never read The Post.


Like: The Dark Knight

July 21, 2008

As of Today, The Dark Knight is the #1 film of all-time on IMDB.

Fuck the Godfather, Batman rocks!

Okay, it’s impossible to deny The Dark Knight is a very good film. I’d go so far as to call many of its aspects phenomenal and can’t imagine someone not liking the films as a whole. Universal adoration is tricky feat and TDK might have pulled it off. And sure, I hope it gets some Oscar respect because it is tremendously well made and most Oscar-calibur films are bland as sin (not including last years No Country and There Will Be Blood). And like most award films, TDK features a bevy of great performances (and even one classic performance). I hope it gets its due, yada yada yada, all that good stuff.

But… we need a little appropriation and discretion here. To those swarming the boards of IMDB, it’s not the greatest film ever. Time decides those kind of things. Not internet rating systems. Not critics. Not reviews. Not awards. Only Time. And time is the very reason people still reference Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction but seem to have forgotten about forest gumps very existence (seriously, I’ve seen more references to Cast Away recently in the wake of Wall-E).

Hell, I wouldn’t even call The Dark Knight the greatest comic book movie of all time. It’s in the conversation sure, but to make the argument so clear-cut as most critics and fellow nerds have is slightly ridiculous. Tim Burton’s original Batman was just as visionary, albeit in other ways. Even Spider-Man 2 dealt with a lot of the same issues as TDK and I might say it’s even more flawless. Hell, I had just as good a time watching Iron Man as I did this film. And that’s okay folks. Serious doesn’t = better. It’s just different.

Another thing. The Dark Knight DID NOT transcend comic book movies. That’s a bold face lie propagated by a lot of reviewers and people who don’t read comics. If anything, the movies have just finally caught up to the comics after 20+ years. There’s nothing about TDK that hasn’t really been explored by Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Killing Joke. And guess what? That’s also okay. It’s been a long time coming and I sincerely appreciate the effort.

I think what makes The Dark Knight such a hit with critics and audiences is that we all collectively realize there should be a lot more films like it. Iron Man was brain candy perfected, the very thing studios have been wanting to shell out to us for years. It was sweet, fun, exciting and light. A perfect concoction really.

So why is it we all go apeshit for 3 hour crime epic on the nuances of anarchy and alternative heroism?

Easy. Because we don’t get enough thoughtfulness in our popcorn movies. The studios are looking to turn in a product they can predict and so a genuinely scary bad guy who strives of anarchy makes em a little nervous. And our cultures “serious” films are almost as flimsy and predictable as the super-hero movies. The various endings of prestige pictures have become as predictable to american audiences as “the good guy wins.”

American film-going audiences are much better than people realize. Yeah, many can’t necessarily articulate their sentiments but they are perceptive as hell. and that’s why TDK is getting so much acclaim. It’s filling a void modern movies have left in us and I love that.

So as for the actual movie… here’s some nerd analysis:

TDK was bloated. There’s no way around. It was all incredibly well executed and directed so you don’t notice it so much. But damn, a lot of stuff never really came to fruition (what was the significance of Joker breaking the Asian crime-lord guy out of jail? I think he burned him in the money pile but it was never made clear. Seriously. Messy for something that occupied a half hour+ of running time.

The film also features a lot of great political, social, and legal commentary. It’s stuff you don’t get too much of in these films and that’s shame. Sure it’s laid on a little thick, but at least it’s not politico-lite (corruption versus good! etc). It’s a nice touch (Devin Faraci did some nice work in his review comparing it to The Wire)

Honestly, I loved Aaron Eckhart (I usually appreciate his work in general) and his take on Harvey Dent. He was really the driving force of the film since the entire plot is really just a reaction to his very presence. They enforce his whole persona very much: he is our very ideals, as the oft referenced “White Knight.” It was all really nicely observed. With Eckhart being our ideals, that leaves Gary Oldman to pull off some tremendous humanity as the everyman Lt. Gordon. Considering how many baddies Oldman’s played in his time it’s a special revelation to see him like this. I liked him just the same way with his performance in Batman Begins. Maggie Gyylleennhhaallll shows why Katie Holmes not-as-distracting-as-everyone-claims performance in BB was actually much worse than I thought: with just a few more scenes she turns the Rachel character from merely servicable to fully-functional with in the world of TDK. I’m amazed how much her presence changed the dynamic, and even made the endeavor a little sexual, which is desperately needed in the dour landscape of this films. And yeah, Michael Caine is good as always. Hell, all the actors in this film are just good.

Which brings us to Heath Ledger.

With Heath’s Joker, well, you really have to just see it. There’s no real way to explain and the reason the hyperbole doesn’t get in the way is because there’s no real apt way to describe it. It’s a special performance. It’s unique. It’s easily one of the great all time villain performances. My friend Ken aptly described it as “100% nihilistic glee” but there’s more to it then that. It’s jaw-dropping in its nuance and exclamations. The Joker’s intro to the crime syndicates (not opening bank job) was electric, the entire theater just came alive watching him on screen. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen something like that. Right afterwards, I wanted to see the film again, but only just his scenes. They took what was started with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and perfected it. There’s no origin story. Attempts to throw a little pop psychology in the mix are wonderfully ridiculed by the Joker himself. As the Nolan bros put it, their Joker is “absolute.”

Which makes the whole thing a little bittersweet. There’s a line near the end where Joker looks at Batman and says “we’re going to do this forever.” It’s a tremendous nod to the endless cyclical nature of hero and villain in comics… But it won’t be going on forever. Ledger died and I think this incarnation of the character dies with him. Perhaps it’s just too good to spoil. It’s too much his own. And a part of me hates that. I hate that we won’t see more of him. Maybe it’s better that way, maybe it makes it timeless. But the very turmoil in my mind is proof-positive of the effectiveness of his performance: We want it to live forever.

You’ll also notice I haven’t made mention of Batman or Bale yet. That’s cause Batman’s boring.

Let’s get serious folks, people are attracted to Batman because he is our dark fantasy. He’s what we wish we could be, but that makes him far from human or interesting. In the better versions of the comics he’s only interesting when we get into those more difficult moral dilemmas. The film deals with that stuff tangentially but far too swiftly (I sincerely hope it’s what they address it more clearly in the next one).

But I finally came on board with this version of Batman with that memorable ending. Well, it’s memorable to me. It’s not a stunner or anything, but just a remarkable clarification of the things you realize they’ve been hitting you over the head with the entire movie. They finally get to heart of Batman’s very existence as really nothing more than an idea. Which is really the right way to go in this thing. At the very end, after we realize The Joker was really going after the White Knight Harvey Dent (Devin Faraci also did a nice comparison saying that Batman almost works as the Joker’s accomplice in anarchy), they finally bring it back to Batz. He makes a choice to sacrifice his own image, which is sometimes the one thing a hero is never seems willing to do. And by making that sacrifice, he honors his namesake:

He’s The Dark Knight bitch.


Don’t Like: Arlen Specter

May 14, 2008

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3395829

Seriously Dude? Still. You’re fucking still harping on Spygate? You want a full-on investigation like the mitchell report? FUCK YOU.

Everyone keeps digging and digging and digging and they just keep coming up with the same thing the Pats told Goodell in the beginning. He already gave them the HARSHEST penalty ever given by the NFL. What the fuck else do you want? Worse, you’re a self-professed die-hard Eagles fan and you’re getting into this over some fanboy bullshit. STOP WASTING CONGRESSIONAL MONEY.

The story is over. It was over after Matt Walsh contributed nothing new.

You’re the official fuck-stick of the week. Go hang out with Jay Mariotti. You should fawn over your mutual hate of the Patriots and give each other handjobs.


Don’t Like: Libertarianism

May 6, 2008

Here we go. Politics. Yikes.

Well let me start off by saying this argument is not with libertarians but with the philosophy itself and to my Libertarian friends you’re still swell folks and I love ya. Really I have no beef. Just with the philosophy itself.

Anycrap, onto the issue…

Libertarianism has somehow become the most subtle form of extremism you’ll ever see in the popular American voter base. In theory, it is really nothing more than a lofty philosophical theory about individual interactions. In practice, a Libertarian government would be so unfathomably disastrous for this country. The aforementioned “subtle” aspect stems from the fact that Libertarianism is rooted in a very simple and integral part of country’s origin: the rights of individual liberty. The phrase echoes a lot of important sentiment that I fundamentally believe in: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc. That core value of individual liberty affords the party a lot of leeway in its member’s initial leanings and why should it not? Come on, there’s a kind of inherent patriotism there that’s alluring.

But from that core belief, Libertarianism extrapolates a lot of dangerously outdated/wholly impractical models of thinking that would cripple our country; and what is intended as a vote for liberty becomes an inadvertent vote for anarchy.

More often then not, modern Libertarianism is rooted in issues with taxation. And come on, everybody hates taxes. I hate paying taxes. Everyone I know hates paying taxes. Anyone who doesn’t like watching their money go away hates taxes. But taxes help fund the critical institutions of our society. I like having police officers, and fire stations, and schools, and so on. It’s not like libertarians are AGAINST these institutions. They often recognize the importance and like them as well. But what they don’t recognize is the perpetual budget crisis of these institutions face. They don’t recognize how it is often a simple 1 to 1 between amount of taxes dollars and functionality of the system. It really is that simple.

Yet, many Libertarians think that government funding of these institutions is a waste of their money on a bloated purpose. At least both Republicans and Democrats alike recognize this and the public need for it; even though they might have differing ideas on how they should be run but both understand they do NEED to be run in the first place. Many Libertarians think that all of these institutions should be handled on the state or the local level but that’s impossible. Most of a school’s revenue is local anyway and poor communities have a hell of a time funding schools. Urban school systems are on the verge of collapse. Localization would just add to the dangerous stratification and hurt many, many American Citizens. Like I said, both Democrats and Republicans recognize this and while the disagree on how to fix it, they both recognize the inherent problem of poor-functioning educational, law enforcement, or safety institutions.

The other solution Libertarians offer for not paying taxes is the wholesale privatization of these service institutions. This would be even more disastrous than localizing them. History has proven you can communize private business and economy. It’s fundamentally wrong and just plain doesn’t work. Any communist just needs to take a look at what’s happened in global history to see that it doesn’t work. And just like that we’ve learned you can’t privatize the basic service institutions of any nation. It simply doesn’t work and fails the community. We inherently need a strong central government to run these institutions on the larger non-local level. No matter how often I try to convince Libertarians of this they just don’t believe me.

This brings us to Libertarians as individuals. Analysis shows that most Libertarians are single men, logic-based intelligent, who don’t live in cities (but will sometimes work in them). The more extreme ends of libertarians tend to live in rural areas (and often pro-militia) and are very far away from the systems their taxes pay for. In that regard I can completely understand why they don’t want to pay taxes because it is something that is not a part of their lives. But like I said this is an argument with the philosophy, not the people. While the philosophy might work for these individuals it does not work for the system as a whole. Not by a long shot. Institutions fail miserably under this kind of direction and unchecked privatization is disastrous for the average American (it’s not like the health care industry is a bloated mess… oh wait, it is!). Yet libertarianism argues it is the EXACT OPPOSITE and that their system is better for the whole. And that is my real problem here. Worst of all, the only justification Libertarianism really uses is to inaccurately cite the philosophical rhetoric of personal freedoms our country was founded on.

There’s a philosophy that’s tied up with the taxation issue, and that is the idea of “limited government.” Way back at our inception, the United States was formed on certain ideals that were made to protect from the kind of British authoritarianism they found objectionable (being a colonial enterprise and all). They rejected that kind of dominating central power and in the post-revolution era, our government defined the nation by the “Articles of Confederation.” The articles were really nothing more than a lose affiliation of states rights… and a complete, unmitigated disaster. We were a large country (even then) and therefore had a lot of different regional needs, but a central system is so incredibly necessary. Since we floundered economically, socially, and politically under the articles we reformed the government with a stronger central base under “The Constitution”. It was a significant milestone and inherently responsible for our rise to prominence and eventual realization as an economic power.

Yes, the world today is much different place, but the need for a stable central government is even more critical in our age of Globalization (I’m not talking about military isolationism or “world policing” because that’s a separate issue that deals more with ethics or personal ideals). Libertarianism believes that an unregulated “free” economy is best for the system. BUT SO MANY companies operate on the national and global level that a centralized U.S. government is actually necessary for them to run both effectively and ethically. Haven’t we proven unchecked private business runs contrary to the effectiveness of the system? The entire last century has taught us that corporations cannot be trusted to do what is in the best interest of the collective. Their priority is making money and that’s more than fair. They should be allowed to make plenty of money, ungodly amounts of money even and I believe 100% in a free market economy. But a free market economy doesn’t mean “no rules”. I mean even with our current “regulated economy” corporations can pretty much afford to dump toxic chemicals and stall out the lawsuits for years so it is more cost effective. This is wrong right? I’m not a crazy person but isn’t Libertarianism woefully ignorant of this systemic reality? We need a responsible central government (no matter if it’s liberal or conservative) to enforce the national and international laws already in place. The problem is that enforcing these laws creates red tape. And yes, red tape sucks. Just like taxes suck. NO ONE likes going through red tape, especially small business that are more highly affected in time management. But it is there to help keep in check Big Business? There’s a level of hypocrisy to this too, in that Libertarianism desperately wants a free un-regulated economy, but there is nothing more detrimental to the economic freedoms of the individual than a huge, unwieldy corporation?

Imagine if we operated under local, de-centralized government what laws apply to global corporation like MacDonald’s who have restaurants in every single state? They already take advantage of different local tax laws, but their profits are funneled into a federal designation. Libertarianism argues that most taxes should be de-federalized, and thus depending on where McDonald’s put their “headquarters” they could pay entirely different taxes according to said state. And would all the tax money from that global corporation go just to the said local arena? Of course not. Most Libertarians even say that. But they also don’t offer the solution to that because Libertarianism has no answer for that… at all. Global corporations already take advantage of these kinds of international loopholes, but wildly varying tax codes among states would be disastrous and throw much of it into turmoil.

Yet, libertarians believe our government is a bloated, meaningless, and controlling mess. By “interfering” with American lives they’re ruining the country as it was intended. It’s like Libertarianism is trying to use the patriotic (and purposefully vague) language of The Constitution as a justification for bringing us back to the non-functional level of the Articles of Confederation. It’s insane.

My friend made a perfect point just the other night about the problem with Libertarianism. He stated that many libertarians seem to believe that the world exists only on a simple 1 to 1 interaction level where logic and ethics are completely discernible. It’s a view that’s completely ignorant of history, culture, and systemic reality. It looks only at the “personal freedoms” of an individual and whether the micro-decision is allowable under broad personal freedom. It pays absolutely no attention to the end result, nor any attention to the fact that most things operate outside of the 1:1. A small decision by a man running a company inadvertently affects thousands. It may be within the “right of the individual” but it completely runs detriment to livelihood of thousands of “individuals”. That’s the real crux of this whole thing. Sometimes you really do have to see the system itself as a complete culture.

There is really the key word in all of this: individual. No matter how Libertarianism argues it, it comes down to the advantages of individuals and those individuals are often single men, who don’t like paying taxes, and have absolutely no stake in public institutions, and don’t seem to care about whether or not firefighters get paid/or remain ignorant of it. Libertarians have told me they don’t want to give “half their paycheck to Uncle Sam.” I just smile and nod. They just don’t want to pay taxes and for some reason the removal of these federal institutions will mean that everything will be in a benevolent state of nature and it will just all work out… Right. This isn’t a lefty, knee-jerk reaction on behalf of my party, this is basic analysis of a fatally flawed political philosophy. And the biggest problem with it is that I don’t think Libertarians see the completely dysfunctional side of the equation. They don’t see the inevitable results, just what is in front of them.

Thus, all of this has a purpose. Right now, I’m really asking for a kind of honesty of Libertarianism: that it is really just Objectivism (with an ending result in muted Anarchy). I want Libertarians to admit that they’re voting just for what’s best for them and not spin me some yarn about the rights of individual, the foundations of this country, and how it’s in the best interest of the people. It’s not. It’s your best interests.

And guess what? That’s fine. Really, that’s more than fine. Just be honest about it. There’s a reason we all get a vote and they all count the same. Your vote counts just as much as mine and I’m proud of country for that… But just realize there’s also a reason Libertarians only get 4% of conservative vote at most. Most people in this country are Democrats and Republicans because we use institutions or we recognize their value.

I’m amazed how many young people are becoming attracted to Libertarianism and in particular Ron Paul. He pushed his lower-tax platform and had the allure of being a conservative against the war (when really he just has a history of being a whack-job and sees nothing wrong with bringing guns on airplanes). Or maybe young people liked the idea of lower taxes and not getting hassled by the man for having weed. Maybe they just wanted an alternative, and Libertarianism isn’t that super-hippy liberal stuff and it’s not uptight square-ism and military bent like the Republicans. Those observations may be true folks… but so is this one: Libertarianism is a political disaster, and any government that has ever behaved as such has failed miserably. I would love to show people the kind of anarchy our country would be in with all Libertarian government.

I am a Liberal. I acknowledge the inherent bloat of a Democratic system. I acknowledge the hypocrisy of many democrats being “of the people” when most politicians are rich and self-serving, or “elitist”. I acknowledge the contribution of the democrats to the annoying “thought police state” and their awful infighting is crippling their party.

But I also acknowledge the final results of the system. And that’s what matters… because whether we like it or not, we are the new British empire.


Don’t Like: Lawsuits In General

April 9, 2008

Here’s an astute observation for you: it is usually too easy to sue someone who doesn’t deserve it and it is usually way too hard to sue when it is justified. Yeah that’s not really going out on a limb there, but the amount of completely unnecessary lawsuits is crippling our justice system. Too may baseless lawsuits are brought to hearings and few people realize what a life-altering experience it is to be sued. It completely overtakes your life both in time and mindset. Even something ridiculous has to go through so many channels before it can officially be dismissed and it often results in exorbitant legal fees for the accused.  Worse, the ones that ACTUALLY MAKE IT to trial are wayyyyyyy too numerous. Why does this technically happen? I’m going to say because lawyers are good at their job. The law is flexible in it’s design and very often a lawyer can present a good precedent for a specific case even if it sounds ludicrous in the world of public opinion.

But why do we allow such flexibility? It’s simple and for good reason. People need to be able to sue corporations when they do something egregious. Most of those cases involve chemical dumping or mass neglect, but as corporations become larger and larger their interest in the ethics becomes smaller and smaller when compared to being cost effective. I guess it’s the nature of the beast. But it takes A LOT of legal flexibility to effectively sue a corporation. Corporations also have excellent lawyers who have the uncanny ability to stall proceedings. Thus, in order to sue them effectively you need a lot of legal leeway.

Which leaves the legal system in a nice little Catch 22. So what can you do about it? Nothing. Well nothing fair.

It’s just annoying and you all you can do is end up wishing people who sue people unfairly had a little more common sense.