Death of A Nation

Image result for sarah silverman hitler

Death of A Nation

(For Rightist Viewers:) ***

(For Leftist Viewers:) Negative 117 stars

 

This is a sad time for polite public discourse. But there is a happy silver lining: Fake News has been added to the national vocabulary.

No matter what side you’re on and what newspaper you are looking at, there’s a voice in the back of your head telling you that you’re reading some biased jerk’s opinion – not facts.

There isn’t just some Fake News, there is a ton. The primary narratives of politics are pathetically partisan.

If you listen to the Right, our former president was a peacenik communist who hated America, secretly prayed to Allah, and was super close to busting down your door to confiscate the guns. If you listen to the Left, our current president is warmonger white supremacist who willingly takes orders from Moscow and is super close to putting Muslims, gay people, and women who get abortions into government work camps.

Sadly, there are probably people reading this who believe that some lies in that above paragraph are true. Fortunately, there are also some who laughed at the absurd Fake News and know that their only chance of finding truth is with sober wisdom, not by parroting what they read in a newspaper.

The Establishment Media calls the concept of Fake News irresponsible and dangerous. That’s oddly defensive. As someone with a political column, I am grateful to know that reasonable readers don’t believe every word I say. I don’t believe every word I say. I’m a columnist, not a clergyman. I’m trying to be entertaining, not correct.

The most insidious form of Fake News is when the facts are true but the conclusion is false.

 

“Death of a Nation” is Fake News with a fun twist. Documentarian Dinesh D’Souza tells true stories of history and uses these facts to make illogical claims about present day Democrats.

First, D’Souza seeks to prove that Democrats are more racist than Republicans. I am not saying he is wrong (it is impossible to know such a thing), I’m saying that his argument is dumb.

D’Souza reminds us that the first great leader of the Democratic Party – Andrew Jackson – was a Native-killing monster and that President Woodrow Wilson extended Jim Crow in DC. Definitely true. But then he says that this proves that Democrats today are racist.

No, it doesn’t. Republican William McKinley resisted pressure from Bimetallists to back our currency with silver. But that obviously doesn’t prove that the current GOP is eagerly working to get us back on the Gold Standard.

Next, D’Souza seeks to prove that Democrats are more like Nazis than Republicans.

He shows that Antifa rioters closely resemble Hitler’s Brown Shirt thugs in their goals and tactics. And he highlights the bullet points of the National Socialist Party manifesto that are consistent with the current Democratic agenda (nationalized health care, free schooling through grad school, pointed criticism of big bankers).

Are these comparisons true? You know what, who cares? They don’t prove that Democrats are related to Nazis. And more importantly: it is unproductive, unsophisticated, and unkind to call fellow Americans Nazis just because you don’t like them.

The Ace in Hole for the GOP is that it doesn’t have hilariously hateful Hollywood hacks spouting hyperbolic half-truths on its behalf. There is no telling how many independent voters were turned off when Sarah Silverman went on Conan dressed like Hitler and Democrats didn’t roundly denounce her.

D’Souza concludes that all things good and free and patriotic are Republican and all things fascist, hateful, and dangerous to our country are Democratic.

Dinesh D’Souza movies are fun for Rightists, I get it. But we need to stop watching. “Death of a Nation” is intellectually vacant. It’s little more than 90 minutes of Fake News. D’Souza is the Sarah Silverman of the Right and he harms his cause far more than he helps.

Advertisements

eighth grade

Image result for 8th grade elsie fisher

Eighth Grade

***1/2

 

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I think that our country’s child labor laws are strict and hypocritical.

Our policy seems to be something like this:

Dear Pakistan,

We Americans are morally superior to you. In our enlightened country, we toss industrialists in federal prison if we catch them employing young people. Shame on you.

Sincerely, Old Navy

P.S. We would like to place an order for 4 million super cheap Pencil Skirts for our fall collection.

 

In the early 20th Century, it was fairly normal for working class children who didn’t love school to leave and join the labor market. I am not pining for a return to those days, but I am confused about the people who are passionately certain that middle school is so much better than a factory job. They must have had a different middle school experience than me.

My middle school experience wasn’t particularly traumatic. But it was terrible and worthless. All I remember was being continuously unhappy for four years. And all I remember learning was how to conjugate French verbs. Et ce n’est pas très important.

I thought it was an agreed upon fact that eighth grade is the most terrible thing that happens in every person’s life right up until she is diagnosed with a degenerative disease.

The indie hit “Eighth Grade” certainly agrees with me.

27-year-old writer/director Bo Burnham has made a startlingly insightful debut film. He tells the painfully realistic story of five average days in the life of a 13-year-old girl.

Burnham shows that the stress of adolescence is universal. And he documents how we have made growing up even more isolating for 21st Century children by getting them hopelessly addicted to their smart phones.

Formerly adorable child actress Elsie Fisher is amazing and brave as the non-heroine Kayla Day. She is exactly like an average 13-year-old and nothing like what you’d expect from a Hollywood character.

Kayla is average looking and has an acne problem. She is relentlessly impatient and unkind to her doting father. She is not smart. Her only talent is visual art, but she is not self-aware enough to know that yet.

Kayla was voted Most Quiet by her class, but she mistakenly thinks that she is articulate and that people would think she is cool and interesting if they got to know her.

Kayla records an online motivational speech every day, but nobody follows her vlog. And she says “um,” “like,” and “you know” so often that her messages are almost incoherent.

Burnham explores the exquisite anxiety of middle school. For years, you do absolutely nothing of interest or importance. And yet – to you – every day and every interaction feels stressful and fraught with potential humiliation.

What could be difficult about a pool party at a rich classmate’s house? Everything, if you’re Kayla. Burnham powerfully communicates how tortuous social interactions can be if you have no friends, nothing to say, and are uncomfortable in your own skin.

The amazing thing is, “Eighth Grade” is a positive film with a hopeful message about a girl from a great family who doesn’t have any real problems. That’s how ghastly adolescence is: even if you have zero problems, you have100% awkwardness and unhappiness.

 

For the record, I am not arguing that we need to put children to work. I am just saying that I don’t understand why people think that school is infinitely better than the workforce.

Those early 20th Century industrialists must have been exploitive jerks since we decided that sending our kids to miserable miserable middle school is superior to sending them to the factory.

Three Identical Strangers

Image result for bobby, eddy and david

Three Identical Strangers

***

 

Since the beginning of time, people have been asking themselves the same three questions:

  1. How did this all begin?
  2. What is the purpose to all of this?
  3. Do we have free will or are we mere slaves to our destinies?

 

[Spoiler Alerts ahead] In 1960, famed Freudian psychiatrist Peter Neubauer

conceived of an epic study that would answer the final question once and for all. “Three Identical Strangers” explores the extraordinary aftermath of Dr. Neubauer’s human experiment.

The first half of “Three Identical Strangers” is magnificent. British documentarian Tim Wardle tells the joyous true story of three guys who suddenly found their purpose.

In 1980, Bobby went away to college. But when he got there, people greeted him as if he was an old friend. It didn’t take long to discover that Bobby was the long-lost twin brother of gregarious Eddy.

When the New York tabloids picked up on the story, Bobby and Eddy became minor celebrities. It wasn’t long before David – who was also born on July 12, 1961 – saw what was essentially a photograph of himself in the Daily News.

The three identical strangers didn’t just reunite, they immediately became best friends.

They went on the talk show circuit – wearing the same outfit and talking about how they smoke the same cigarettes and have the same taste in women. They took advantage of being young, cute, and famous by moving to Manhattan and sharing a bachelor pad together.

In their 20s, they started families and opened a successful SOHO restaurant – called Triplet’s. Life was a fairy tale for Bobby, Eddy, and David. Until it wasn’t…

Investigative journalist Lawrence Wright (“Going Clear”) uncovered the dark-ish secret behind the fairy tale.

At the height of his fame and hubris, Dr. Peter Neubauer convinced an adoption agency to separate identical twins and triplets and secretly send them off to different families. Then he had his staff follow the children and carefully document their developmental growth.

Dr. Neubauer’s grand scheme was to discover – once and for all – which parts of our personality were determined by genetics and which parts were influenced by our environment and free will.

“That is like Nazi ****,” Eddy states.

No, Eddy. It’s not.

After a few years of fun and success, the triplets begin fighting with each other over their restaurant. Documentarian Tim Wardle tries to blame the experiment for the brotherly strife. That is absolutely ridiculous. Relatives who go into business together inevitably have issues, whether they’ve grown up together or not.

I agree with Wardle that secretly separating identical siblings in the name of science is arrogant and unethical. But you can’t blame every problem the triplets had on the experiment.

I think the saddest thing about the experiment is how useless it was. Reasonable people have always known that our identity is based partially on our DNA and partially on our environment. We will never know what percentage because everybody is different and we are infinitely complex creatures.

 

The reason people have been asking those same three philosophical questions since the beginning of time is that they are totally unanswerable.

If any man claims to be able to tell you how this all began, what the meaning of your life is, or why exactly you behave the way you do, don’t trust him. That guy is nothing but trouble.

Superstars, Long-term Contracts, and the Uniqueness of Baseball

Image result for chris davis contract

Superstars, Long-term Contracts, and the Uniqueness of Baseball

 

Modern sports are built on the foundation of superstars.

Even if you don’t watch the NBA, you know that Lebron James will play for the Lakers next year. And you can bank on the fact that Los Angeles will be in the Western Conference finals against Golden State.

Even if you don’t watch the NFL, you know that Tom Brady is going to dominate in 2018 unless a blitzing linebacker literally breaks him. If Robert Kraft woke up one morning with a brain ailment and traded Brady to the Buccaneers, you could bank on the fact that Tampa Bay would host at least one NFC playoff game.

Major League Baseball is nothing like this.

Alex Rodriguez was the biggest baseball celebrity superstar since Joe DiMaggio. In 2016, however, he was a terrible liability to the New York Yankees.

A-Rod signed a 10-year contract extension in 2007 and his horrible hitting and lack of athleticism had brought the entire franchise down to his mediocre level. On August 12, 2016, the Yankees forced A-Rod to leave the team, and agreed to pay him tens of millions of dollars to watch the games at home.

On August 13, 2016, a kid named Aaron Judge was brought up from the minors because the Yankees now had a free roster spot. He hit a HR in his first at-bat. With A-Rod gone, the team immediately became good again and they haven’t looked back.

At the heart of every disappointing team is a star with an insane long-term contract.

The Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs 3 out of 5 years, most recently in 2016. That’s the year they decided to torture their fans by signing first baseman Chris Davis to a seven-year contract extension. Mr. Davis has become the worst player in baseball. Literally the worst. He is batting less than .160 with minimal power.

So why doesn’t management just cut him? That’s the tragedy of long-term contracts. Mr. Davis is still due $110 million through 2022. Baltimore is stuck with him. And they are stuck in last place for years to come.

There is no star so great that he can’t sink a franchise with a foolish long-term contract. Miguel Cabrera was a magnificent hitter and he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Right now, though, the Detroit Tigers wish that they weren’t stuck with him until 2023, at $30 million per year.

The Angels have the best player in the league: Mike Trout. So how come they are only .500? Because they made the hideous mistake of giving the former best player in the league – Albert Pujols – a 10-year contract.

Only now, Mr. Pujols can’t run, play competent defense, or hit for average. He seems to have just enough energy left to sign his $30 million paychecks until age 41 while he poisons the team with his torpor.

I would criticize the New York Mets front-office for signing flaky and oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes to a contract extension at $29 million per year. But – you know what? – I’m not going to. I think Mets fans secretly prefer their team to be a last-place embarrassment.

Big budget franchises like the Yankees and Red Sox still have an advantage over the rest of the league. Only the advantage is not that they can sign the best free agents. The advantage is that when they mess up and sign the best free agent players to foolish contracts, they can simply pay them to not play.

Boston is happily paying Pablo Sandoval $32 million to play for San Francisco for the next few years. And New York is currently shelling out $21 million per year to Jacoby Ellsbury even though his only job is to continue making up phantom injuries that keep him as far away from the active roster as possible.

 

For years, the 2018-19 offseason has been hyped as the most important free agent class in MLB history.

I agree. The hype is real. The question is which myopic owners will sabotage their franchise by signing Manny Machado and Bryce Harper to long-term contracts. And which teams will give themselves a chance to win by saying no and sticking to the cheap young homegrown players that they already have.

Sorry to Bother You

Image result for sorry to bother you gif

Sorry to Bother You

****

 

Some people say that the American Dream is dead.

I suppose that depends on your definition of what the American Dream is. But if your dream is to find a corporate job and make solid money, the Dream is very much alive.

I have been working in the same corporate office since 2001. So the blueprint I’m going to share with you isn’t an idealistic Conservative fantasy. It is the story of people I have known.

Step 1 is to move to a region that has some major corporations and get an entry level job at one of them. Easy enough.

Step 2 is to become one of the best as the entry level job. It’s not that tough. It takes a little brains, a lot of caffeine, and a boatload of ambition. When changes come, adapt to them with a smile – never complain.

Step 3 is to discover which people have real power in your office and make a connection with a few of them. Soon you’ll be promoted and the promotions won’t stop as long as you stick to the plan.

Step 4 is the hardest part for a thinking person. Step 4 is to stop thinking about your company. Just focus on your daily tasks and maintaining relationships.

Eventually you’re going to realize that your corporation makes money by exploiting its customers while providing minimal service to society. The greatest corporate leaders never think about this or internalize the official corporate propaganda about how the company is actually good for the community. Others drink heavily to assuage the guilt.

 

“Sorry to Bother You” is an extraordinary modern fairy tale. It shows how easy and fun it is for a 21st Century man to gain the whole world – while losing his soul.

The film takes place in a slightly off-kilter and dystopian version of present day Oakland. Regular dude Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) takes a job as a telemarketer, selling encyclopedias.

The job is low-paying and dehumanizing. That is until he starts calling people with a “white voice.” With his white phone voice, Cassius quickly starts loving his job and he becomes the undisputed top performer on the floor.

Things get interesting when Cassius is promoted to the company’s Top Seller floor, where salaries are multiplied and they sell war machines and cheap labor to foreign entities. Cassius is so happy to be rich and appreciated that he is able to look past his company’s villainy.

Nothing can prepare you for the uproarious climax – where Cassius attends a debauchery-filled party at CEO Steve Lift’s mansion. “Sorry to Bother You” is the most inspired comedy of the year; it announces first time writer/director Boots Riley as a powerhouse artistic force in Hollywood.

 

Some Progressives argue that the problem with our society is that people can’t make a living anymore. That is not true. Times aren’t easy, but there is plenty of money to be had in 21st Century America.

“Sorry to Bother You” explores the more serious and existential crisis that we face:

We have visionary CEOs (Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos) with grand, irresponsible, megalomaniacal plans to alter our world. And instead of fearing them and trying to stop them, we worship them, give them more money, and help them twist reality to their whims.

Whitney

Image result for whitney houston beautiful

Whitney

***

 

First off, I feel like I should admit something: I don’t like Whitney Houston’s music. I like zero of her songs.

I have nothing against Ms. Houston personally. I just don’t appreciate songs where the singer shows off her voice at the expense of the music. I listen to a pop song because of the catchy hooks – not for some crooner demonstrating her unusual vocal range.

To me, a song is like a BLT sandwich. The percussion is the bread, the bass is the tomato, and the guitar or synthesizer is the bacon. The vocals are just the lettuce.

A Whitney Houston song is like a BLT piled high with an entire head of lettuce. On one hand, it’s kind of impressive that you could fit that much lettuce. But it makes for a bland, artless sandwich that I don’t want to consume.

 

“Whitney” is an engrossing documentary that treats Ms. Houston entirely as a human being and not as a celebrity.

British director Kevin McDonald doesn’t tell his side of the story. He lets dozens of Ms. Houston’s family, friends, and co-workers tell their side.

It’s hard to know what Whitney Houston’s childhood was like because the relatives interviewed give two completely different stories.

Some say that Ms. Houston had an idyllic childhood. Her dad was a high-powered Newark politician and her mom was a successful back-up singer who worked with Elvis. Houston’s parents could afford private school tuition for young Whitney and a big house in the suburbs.

Others say that Ms. Houston was scarred by her nightmarish childhood. With her corrupt dad wheeling and dealing and her showbiz mom always on the road, young Whitney and her brothers were shuffled off from house to house – from aunt to cousin to neighbor. One of Whitney’s female relatives molested her. With minimal supervision, drugs were part of her life from an early age.

One of the tabloid misconceptions about Whitney Houston is that her rakish husband Bobby Brown corrupted her and introduced her to hard drugs. “Whitney” tosses that lie right into the trash.

Whitney Houston, by her own admission, loved drugs. And they were a part of her life before she became famous and long before she met Mr. Brown.

Ms. Houston’s older brother states that the Houston siblings would do cocaine with Bobby Brown, but that Brown couldn’t begin to keep up. “The only time we did as much as Bobby Brown,” he chuckles, “is when we were lapping him.”

Kevin McDonald can’t give us a happy ending, of course. But he does sprinkle in some laughs along the way.

He sneaks in an unexpected dig at Al Sharpton. In 1989, Reverend Sharpton urged black record buyers to boycott “Whitey” Houston for abandoning gospel music for pop. Then, after her death, we hear a cynical Sharpton lament her passing on CNN. I guarantee you that Rev Al does not like this movie.

But everyone else will. “Whitney” is an engrossing story about a woman who got everything she ever wanted but discovered that she had wanted the wrong things.

I enjoyed it even though I didn’t appreciate any of the music. But if you happen to be the type of person who likes her BLT piled high with lettuce, “Whitney” is an absolute must-see.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Image result for mr rogers talking to handicapped kid

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

****

 

Because I write this column, I’ve watched plenty of movies over the years that I didn’t really want to see. I even break down and watch a family movie from time to time even though they are terrible.

I didn’t even enjoy the kiddie movies that everyone else liked – like “Toy Story” and “The Incredibles” and “Coraline.”

The entertainment that Hollywood makes for children is garbage. The only motivation is profit. The jokes are puns, putdowns, and potty humor. The action is always frantic, as if they are intentionally trying to erode your child’s attention span. When there is any emotion, it is nostalgic or manipulative.

 

That’s why Mr. Rogers is such a revered figure in our society.

He made wholesome, intelligent entertainment. He made shows for children – not for profit. His main goal was to help kids cope with the emotional challenges of childhood, not to help mothers enjoy twenty minutes of freedom to pour more Chardonnay.

Above all, Mr. Rogers wanted his young audience members to feel loved and capable of loving, rather than feeling like consumers in training.

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was the pace. Fred Rogers wanted to be the voice of calm comfort in a chaotic world. He took time every day to feed his fish. There’s a scene where he takes joy in watching a turtle slowly run across his carpet. There is even a clip of Mr. Rogers sitting through an egg timer to teach kids what a minute of silence feels like.

Documentarian Morgan Neville isn’t trying to be as revolutionary as Fred Rogers. He’s mostly just trying to remind everyone why we all loved Mr. Rogers. And he succeeds mightily.

I want to thank my father for never crying in front of me. If not for his good influence, I surely would have sobbed in a crowded theater multiple times during “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” It’s a seriously emotional film.

 

The one blemish on this otherwise classic documentary is Morgan Neville’s foolish attempt to paint Fred Rogers (a registered Republican who died in 2003) as a committed member of the #Resistance.

Neville’s evidence is a 1968 episode where the vainglorious puppet King Friday XIII builds a wall around his castle. “Gotcha!” Neville seems to say. “Mr. Rogers hates Trump!”

Not exactly. Mr. Rogers wasn’t making a literal anti-Wall statement. King Friday represented the old guard in ’68 who were resistant to change, like racial integration. It can be argued that Mr. Rogers’s Wall metaphor is an attack on fanatical anti-Trump Establishment leaders who are fighting change in Washington at all cost.

For the record, I am not making that argument. Both arguments are equally biased and stupid. My point is that any attempt to use the memory of Mr. Rogers to attack your political opponents is nauseating and ridiculous.

 

There is no way that Mr. Rogers can save us from our current political discord.

But he can remind us that there are saints among us. And that children’s entertainment can be more than insipid corporate cartoons.

American Animals

Image result for you can't trust memory

American Animals

***1/2

 

We tell boys in our society that they are special and that they should reach for the stars.

I’m not sure we should be doing that, though.

First off, we’re not special. The little white lie that is meant to improve a young man’s self-esteem has the opposite effect of causing feelings of entitlement and disappointment.

Second, we are not doing young men any favors when we pressure them to be the best. In our society, being the best means having the most impressive-sounding job and the most stuff.

This is a problem because most people aren’t going to succeed in being wildly successful. And the men who do achieve impressive power and material wealth will learn that those things just add stress to their lives rather than joy.

Why can’t we just tell boys the truth? You aren’t special and you probably won’t achieve great things and that’s fine. You should strive to like yourself for who you are, because that will lead to more happiness and peace than everything money can buy.

 

“American Animals” is a powerful film about a couple of young men who were poisoned by thoughtless ambition and self-importance.

Spencer Reinhard and Warren Lipka were Kentucky college students in 2003. Instead of being content with the good fortune of being young middle class white guys in America, they were desperate for more.

Spencer was a painter who believed that a great artist needed a transformative experience to be great. And Warren was an obsessive thief with an intense fear of being just another suburban drone. Together, they decided to plan an art heist.

The Transylvania University library happened to have an impressive special collection, including a first addition of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and John Audubon’s “Birds of America” – the most valuable book in the world.

 

“American Animals” is a lot more intellectually ambitious than the average heist movie.

Writer/Director Bart Layton interviewed the real (now 30-something) Spencer Reinhard and Warren Lipka. We hear their perspective every step of the way.

Even though these guys were best friends sharing the most important event of their lives together, they remember every single aspect differently. Sometimes, Spencer and Warren directly contradict each other. It’s pretty funny.

This is a cautionary tale for anyone who mistakes their memories for snapshots of reality. True Story is an oxymoron. Our brains are built to assign meaning to meaningless events and to fill in the blanks rather than admit we are clueless.

The most important thing to know about the past is that literally no one ever knows what really happened. It is frightening that we still allow eye witnesses in court when people’s lives are on the line.

One more useful point of having the real Spencer and Warren narrating the heist is that we the audience can just sit back and enjoy the action. None of us have to judge them because they are already judging themselves very hard.

But they are just victims of a culture that gave them the wrong life lessons. If only they had known that they were not special and felt no pressure to achieve great things. If only they had known how unwise it is to crave more than their parents, when they definitely would have been happier with less.