Oklahoma City

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Oklahoma City

                   ***1/2

          When the media talks about a terrorist, they are supposed to say that he is a brainwashed coward. Yup. According to the talking heads on CNN and Fox, every terrorist is the same: cowardly and crazy.

          I don’t know why it is against the rules of society to be honest about terrorism.

          The truth is that some terrorists are not cowards. They put themselves at risk to be arrested, killed, and/or damned to further a cause that they sincerely believe in.

          The truth is that some terrorists have a well-thought out system of beliefs that they share with a lot of people. It’s just that most people who share those beliefs aren’t willing to kill.

          “Oklahoma City” is a thought-provoking documentary about an American terrorist and gun lover – Timothy McVeigh – who murdered a bunch of people for reasons that are not crazy.

          Director Barak Goodman does an amazing job of showing us the four things that motivated the Oklahoma City bomber.

1.     Operation Desert Shield

What better place for a young gun lover than the US Army? Timothy McVeigh was a proud, happy soldier until he was sent to Middle East.

McVeigh thought that killing enemy soldiers would be thrilling. Instead – he recounts from prison years later – he felt like the Arab men he was murdering were just like him. And it made him sick. McVeigh began to realize that Uncle Sam is a bully.

At least the government wasn’t bullying Americans back home…

2.     Ruby Ridge

In the 80s, Randy Weaver decided to move his family as far away from society as he could. He was living on the top of a mountain in northern Idaho with no electricity or plumbing. It is hard to be less of a menace to society than Mr. Weaver. The Feds had a different idea.

          When Randy Weaver missed a court date in 1992 for weapons charges, the ATF and the FBI moved in. Before the standoff was over, US Marshals had killed Weaver’s wife, his 14 year old son, and his dog.

3.     Waco

Christian minister/cult leader David Koresh and his followers were living apart from society, in an isolated compound outside of Waco, Texas. Their crime was not bothering or hurting any outsiders; it was buying weapons illegally.

Koresh’s followers fought off an ATF raid and killed four federal agents. The government responded by busting in with tanks and tear gas. On April 19, 1993, Koresh’s compound caught fire. 76 people were killed.

4.     The Brady Bill

Looking back, The Brady Bill was little more than a rare, minor legislative loss by the NRA.

To already angry Timothy McVeigh, it was the final straw. First, the government had forced him to murder Arabs for no reason. Then, Uncle Sam had killed a bunch of gun owners who were minding their own business. Now, it seemed , US Marshals were probably going to bust down HIS door and take his guns.

On April 19, 1995 (the anniversary of Waco), Timothy McVeigh detonated a homemade bomb on the bottom floor of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

Timothy McVeigh was proud and unapologetic. He was executed by lethal injection in 2001.

The Oklahoma City bomber’s intentions were as clear as his actions were monstrous. McVeigh was inspired by….White Supremacy!

Wait! What? In the final act, director Barak Goodman throws us an absurd, politically-motivated curve ball. His conclusion is that Timothy McVeigh was a natural culmination of the White Power movement. Never mind that McVeigh never attended a White Power meeting and, based on prison interviews, wasn’t concerned about race at all.

Fortunately for us and unfortunately for Mr. Goodman, he accidentally told the truth for most of his film. The truth is that Timothy McVeigh was furious about Federal overreach and Washington’s willingness to kill whomever it pleases – here and abroad.

I don’t know why the truth about terrorism is so hard to stomach. The truth is that some terrorists are rational people with reasonable anger over legitimate issues. The only difference is: they think it is right to kill for their beliefs while we know it is evil.

  Dunkirk

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     Dunkirk
                     ***
   In 1939, the UK declared war on Nazi Germany. That said: the British weren’t actually in any position to fight a war.
   In spring 1940, the German army tore through the Netherlands, Belgium, and then northern France. The combined French and British armies were no match. Within just a few weeks, UK soldiers had stopped fighting. When the film begins, 400,000 men are on the beaches of Dunkirk, desperately waiting to be rescued.
   I can’t help but contrast the Dunkirk evacuation with the defense of the Soviet Union.
   In direct contrast with the UK, the USSR had no interest in going to war with Nazi Germany. Stalin was in horrified disbelief when he heard that Hitler had reneged on their non-aggression pact.
   Even though the Soviet Union wasn’t planning a war, it was darn well willing to fight one.
    “Quantity is its own quality,” Joseph Stalin said. The Red Army was inferior to the German war machine in every possible way. Inferior weapons, inferior training, inferior leaders, inferior medical supplies (the Soviets had no morphine). But the USSR was able to draft 30 million men…30 million men who knew that they would be shot if they retreated and that their parents might be shot if they deserted.
     There was no Dunkirk for the Soviets. Just sacrifice, cold, and death. Approximately ten million Soviet soldiers died in World War II. The United States and the United Kingdom lost fewer than a million combined.
     “Dunkirk” takes us to the beaches of Northern France to show how the British rescued their army from certain defeat.
     Although Dunkirk is less than 40 miles from England, the evacuation seemed impossible. The water is so shallow near the beach that no large vessel could come ashore. So the only solution was to have many, many small boats ferry small numbers of men across the Strait of Dover, with German bombers and U-Boats trying to sink as many as possible.
     In some ways, this is a straightforward war movie: loud, violent, and harrowing. But director Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight,” “The Prestige,” “Inception”) isn’t afraid to put his own artsy signature on the film at times. “Dunkirk” is the only war movie I’ve ever seen that is told out of sequence.
     If you blink you’ll miss it, but Nolan uses this Pulp Fiction-esque storytelling technique to show us characters who have been emotionally ravaged by war and then show us glimpses of the guys they were before they witnessed death.
     For some characters, seeing people die around them gives them bravery and resolve. For some characters, the trauma turns them into desperate animals. Nolan doesn’t want us to judge the cowards; he wants us to feel empathy for everyone on screen.
     For those who love war movies, “Dunkirk” is a must see. For those who are upset and stressed out by war movies (like me), I do not recommend it.
     In “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan asks a deep moral question.
     Was the UK less heroic than the USSR because the British retreated when faced with long odds while the Soviets sacrificed a generation of men in order to stop the Nazis? Or was the UK more civilized and humane because it refused to accept the premise of total war where human life means nothing?
     Nolan never answers this question. I vote for the British.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

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                   The Battered Bastards of Baseball

                                  ****

 

          Tim Tebow is one of the most famous sports figures in America.

          He is best known for being Christian, but he actually plays sports from time to time as well. Tebow was a star quarterback for the University of Florida. Then he was a lousy quarterback in the NFL. 

          This year, he made headlines with his unusual decision to become a professional baseball player. The media scoffed. I scoffed. But, strangely enough, Mr. Tebow is doing all right. He is a productive starting Outfielder for the St. Lucie Mets, a single-A affiliate of the New York Mets.

          At work the other day, a guy who saw a Tebow story on ESPN stated that Tebow is living the good life, getting paid well, and is one step away from the Major Leagues. None of that is true.

And that’s when it hit me: most people – even most sports fans – don’t know anything about Minor League baseball.  

          The annual MLB Draft has 40 rounds. A kid who is drafted is, at best, a few years away from getting to the big leagues. More realistically, he will never come close. For every Major League team you have heard of, there are at least four minor league teams that you’ve never heard of (AAA is the highest level, single A is the lowest).

          The reason why even baseball fans don’t care about Minor League baseball is that affiliated minor league teams are little more than soulless corporate factories that help a few gifted kids become Major Leaguers and weed out the Tim Tebow-esque 90%.  

         

In 1972, every single minor league team in America was affiliated with a Major League ballclub. In 1973, every team was affiliated except one.

          “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is the joyous, upbeat story of the Portland Mavericks.

          In the 1960s, Bing Russell (Kurt Russell’s dad) was best known as the Deputy Sheriff on Bonanza. But though he liked acting, he loved baseball.

Bing Russell used his own money to fund astoundingly serious and nerdy baseball coaching videos meant to teach fundamentals to little leaguers. Multiple Major League managers showed Bing’s tapes to their own players.

          When Russell founded an unaffiliated club in Portland, Oregon, the baseball world assumed that it would fail. Every other minor league team in America consisted of players drafted and paid by Major League clubs. How would The Mavericks find players? And compete?

          Bing Russell put an advertisement in The Sporting News announcing open tryouts. Five hundred men showed up. Russell himself selected the twenty-five best. Not the youngest. Not the strongest. Not the most physically gifted. The best.

          They competed pretty darn well. In their very first game, the Mavericks pitcher threw a no-hitter. And that set the stage for years of consistent dominance by the upstart Portland team.

          Their philosophy was to run the bases hard, take chances, be ridiculous, and have fun. While every other club in their league lost their best players to AA, the Mavericks became a tight family – all working hard to impress their baseball-savant boss.

          Minor League baseball is so uninspiring that the only minor leaguer that you have even heard of is a washed-up Quarterback.

           It doesn’t have to be that way. Following a baseball team is one of the most wonderful things about being an American. You get to share a magical summer with guys that you care about, watching them play a sport that you love.

“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is the feel-good baseball movie of the year. Watch it on Netflix tonight. (you know, after the game).