Bobby Sands: 66 Days

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Bobby Sands: 66 Days

***1/2

 

Northern Ireland could have been a lovely place to live in the 1960s and 70s. It enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. It didn’t have any problems that cooperation and togetherness couldn’t solve.

But no such luck. Of all the many virtues of the Irish people, togetherness has never been one of them. This was the time of the Troubles.

The Troubles began when gangs of young Protestant men began fighting similar gangs of Catholic men. Officially, the local police and the federal government in London was neutral in the conflict. As time passed, however, it became increasingly clear to the Catholics that the Establishment was against them. In the face of oppression, the IRA became more militant.

Though the Catholic Irish Republicans were right to think of the British as colonial oppressors, it was the British who were winning the propaganda war. Most people – even most Irish – viewed the IRA as a terrorist organization. Most people didn’t see them as revolutionary heroes; they saw the Republicans as cowards who sent letter bombs and blew up cars by remote.

If the Republicans were to accomplish anything positive, they needed to flip the script. That’s where Bobby Sands came in.

 

In 1972, Bobby Sands was a teen IRA soldier serving his first prison term. While his fellow revolutionaries were reading about Mao Zedong and Che Guevara, Sands was studying Terence MacSwiney.

Terence MacSwiney was the Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish Revolution. He had a powerful new theory about warfare. He argued that the winner is not the side that inflicts the most violence, but the side that is willing to endure the most suffering.

MacSwiney practiced what he preached. He starved himself to death in a British prison in 1920. A year later, Ireland won its independence.

During his early years behind bars, Bobby Sands was treated well. Irish revolutionaries were treated like respectable political prisoners. Suddenly, the British government decided to strip the IRA prisoners of their political status and treat them like common criminals.

Now 27 year old Bobby Sands had a cause to fight for. And he had a tactic with which to fight. On March 1, 1981, Bobby Sands began a hunger strike, demanding that the UK recognize that his men are political prisoners. Several other young men joined the Fast.

“Bobby Sands: 66 Days” does a magnificent job of teaching us about Irish history while also helping the viewer understand Bobby Sands, the brave young man who altered the fate of Northern Ireland with his martyrdom.

Republican propagandists ran Bobby Sands for Parliament to spread the word of his hunger strike. When a dying Sands won, he became a household name from Montpelier to Melbourne.

Sands’s demands were modest, but London never gave in. Unfortunately for the Fasters, Britain’s Prime Minister wasn’t known as the Empathetic Pushover Lady; she was the Iron Lady. Bobby Sands died; as did nine of his fellow Fasters.

Finally, the IRA called off the Hunger Strike.

But in death and defeat, the Republicans had learned a surprising lesson. If they could get an emaciated felon elected to Parliament, it was clear that serious political power was within their grasp. Sinn Fein began its evolution from Extreme Left mischief-makers to serious British politicians.

Replacing bombs with bon mots and Molotov Cocktails with cocktail parties led organically to The Good Friday Agreement, which finally granted Northern Ireland dignity, equality, and self-rule.

 

“Bobby Sands: 66 Days” has a happy ending, as the violence finally ended. But I don’t understand why all that that killing and bombing and maiming was necessary to begin with.

Looking back, the differences between the Catholics and Protestants were not so great as to explain or justify murderous hatred and revolutionary war.

Thank goodness we live in a country where we don’t let relatively minor difference lead us to divide ourselves and hate each other. Right?

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Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

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Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

***1/2

 

The official textbook version of the Civil Rights Movement goes something like this: Dr. King led a movement of non-violence in the South. This inspired enlightened white politicians to force naughty racists to enforce integration. And we all lived happily ever after.

I have three big problems with this official narrative.

First, it has an unearned spirit of triumphalism. It doesn’t leave room for the question of whether black Americans are truly better off now than in 1965. Today, 1 black man in 3 will serve time in prison during his lifetime. And most black children have never lived with both of their parents.

Second, the official narrative doesn’t leave any room to question whether integration was truly good for the black community. While it is clearly true that black schools in the early 20th Century were not given fair funding, they produced great doctors, towering intellectuals, and future leaders.

In many schools today, black students aren’t treated like young community leaders, chemical engineers, and CEOs. They are treated like potential threats who have to walk through metal detectors

Third, and worst of all, the official narrative gives much of the credit to white people and the government. This attitude is patronizing, paternalistic and preposterous. White America couldn’t empower black people even if it wanted to. And it has never wanted to. Only the black community has ever had the power to do that.

The Black Panthers almost succeeded.

 

About fifty years ago, a group of guys in Oakland decided that they had enough of police harassment in their neighborhood. They grabbed some guns and hit the streets. They followed police around and simply stood near them – guns drawn.

The first Black Panthers were right. By standing ominously near traffic stops, cops were far less likely to get physical. And they were right that as long as their weapons were not concealed, they were not breaking any laws.

Naturally, the laws had to be changed.

There is an amazing scene in 1967 where a bipartisan team of legislators and Gov. Reagan publicly and proudly passed a gun control bill aimed at the Panthers. Meanwhile, the Panthers themselves were there at the Capitol to stand up for the Second Amendment.

The sight of young black men proudly packing in broad daylight was striking enough to make the nightly news. Overnight, the Black Panthers were a national sensation.

While the guns grabbed headlines, the Black Panthers did a lot more charity work than killing. The organization founded neighborhood-based health clinics and soup kitchens that gave out free breakfasts to schoolkids. The Panthers were bringing black communities together just as the Welfare State and Prison Industrial Complex were beginning to tear them apart.

Apparently, the sight of empowered black men and nourished black schoolchildren infuriated J. Edgar Hoover. He concluded that the Black Panthers were the greatest threat to American order and he conceived of a plan to destroy them.

The FBI coerced vulnerable federal prisoners into joining the Panthers and spying for the government. Government agents raided Panther headquarters in city after city, arresting the rank and file while assassinating leaders.

Hoover and his G-Men stamped out a thriving organization in just a few years. Today, the Black Panthers are known for their signature style but not for their black power philosophy or their tangible accomplishments.

 

History is written by the winners. And, accordingly, history is sometimes little more than triumphalist propaganda.

The official history of the Civil Rights Movement urges us to rejoice because White America and the government did the right thing. I’m not buying it. Believing that white people and the government teamed up to liberate Black America is like believing that the fox and the farmer teamed up to free the chickens from the Hen House.

 

I don’t know what it will take to bring equality to the races. But I’m sure it will look less like the Civil Rights Movement and more like the Black Panthers.

Project Censored

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Project Censored

****

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

-Noam Chomsky

 

We’ve heard a lot about Fake News recently. But “Project Censored” exposes an even bigger problem than Fake News: Real News.

The news is pure trash. The only possible way that an American can understand what is going on in the world is to turn off the news for good.

The powerful and important documentary “Project Censored” explains why the news is so harmful and offers an exciting alternative to the nightly propaganda.

The film likens the Corporate Media to a magician. The news is a big, showy misdirection. Elites uses the news to avert your eyes away from the real world and the real issues that the Establishment doesn’t want you to think about.

Strategy #1 – the film says – is to feed us a daily dose of Junk Food News.

Junk Food News is scandal, fluff, and celebrity gossip. While it is certainly true that we are less-informed and worse off due to Junk Food News, I think that the problem is our fault more than it is the Media’s.

We need to get together as a society and decide that the personal lives of politicians, sports stars, and celebrities are none of our business. We need to say: “Tiger Woods didn’t know about it when my marriage was falling apart and Tiger Woods didn’t judge me that time that I drove to the store after taking a prescription pill. So I have no right to know about his love life or judge him for his bad decisions.”

Strategy #2 – the film says – is to practice News Abuse.

News Abuse is a more insidious problem. This is where the Media takes an important current event but twists it so much that we end up ignoring the important core issues.

For example, “Project Censored” reminds us of the Jessica Lynch story. For a few weeks in 2013, Jessica Lynch was the face of the Iraq War. She was an adorable army private who was captured by the enemy and dramatically rescued.

The News Abuse misdirection worked like a charm. Millions of Americans were asking “did you hear about Pvt Lynch?” And few were asking the important question: “Which companies are benefitting financially from the War in Iraq? Let’s find out and boycott them until they go bankrupt.”

 

Project Censored isn’t just a movie, it is an active alt-News website that covers the substantive stories that the Corporate Media ignores.

To Project Censored, the most important story of the 21st Century is how the Federal Government has robbed us of our 800-year-old right to Habeas Corpus. If Washington labels you an enemy combatant, you can be arrested this very day and detained for the rest of your life without ever seeing a judge.

Be warned, left-wing readers: if you’re expecting to agree with the Project Censored guys, you will be disappointed and infuriated. This film is slightly more anti-Democrat than anti-Republican.

The ultimate hero to Project Censored is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Everyone interviewed admires his selfless commitment to releasing unedited government documents that the Establishment doesn’t want you to read. They talk about Mr. Assange like he is literally Lady Liberty born into human flesh.

 

“Project Censored” is a forceful reminder that the same cadre of elites who run our government also own the Media.

On the surface, MSNBC and Fox News appear to be wildly different, but they are both on the same side. They argue back and forth about a few minor current events, while they work hand in hand to shield us from the major issues that face our world.

 

 

Offshore Incorporated

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Offshore Incorporated

***

 

A few years back, Conservatives believed in the positive power of the free market. Their fundamental mission was to keep meddling government out of the way of business.

Meanwhile, Liberals believed in the positive power of government. Their fundamental mission was to use the power of the State to keep naughty corporations in check.

Those days are gone. I don’t see that the Left and the Right have any philosophical differences anymore. We are just two tribes of sworn enemies. We are separated by the fact that we read completely different news sources.

Both sides are being bamboozled.

There is no battle going on between big government and big business; the battle is between the 1% and the rest of us. Powerful politicians and wealthy corporate elites are working hand in hand to make sure they stay powerful and get wealthier.

How do global elites rip us off while pulling the wool over our eyes? “Offshore Incorporated” shows us one of the ways.

 

Documentarian Mark Donne sheds a light on the surprisingly large problem of offshore tax havens.

What could be more boring than tax havens, you ask? Probably nothing. That’s one of the reasons why the 1% have been getting away with this for so long.

The film takes us back to the disintegration of the British Empire after WWII. While the UK let all of its major colonies break away from the Crown, London tightened its grip on three tiny territories: Bermuda, Virgin Islands, and the Cayman Islands.

These are not just independent nations with a nominal allegiance to the Crown. These three island territories need to run every governing decision by the Queen. They have less independence than the Yorkshire County Council.

These islands act as a shady legal method for British businesses and billionaires to hide their profits. The tax havens are working so wonderfully that wealthy Americans are joining the party.

While public debt in the UK and the US skyrockets, the super rich hide their money from the taxman. There is now approximately $10 trillion squirreled away in secret offshore accounts.

Offshore tax havens are a disaster for the working class. The main reason why the economy is sputtering along at 2% growth is that our surplus capital is being systemically stolen away and hidden in overseas shell company accounts.

Companies could be using all that loot to increase wages and hire more fulltime workers with benefits. Instead, it just collects dust on a ledger somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean.

 

“Offshore Incorporated” tells a story of greed that is not just destructive, it is pointless. This is money that the global elites will never live long enough to enjoy. They just want to keep it away from you.

Sadly, even though there is no reasonable person who votes to keep offshore tax havens going, there is no clear plan to shut them down. The companies and billionaires that use them are just too powerful. And we can’t expect the government to save us; government has been behind this from the very beginning.

 

You know that person in your life who supports the other party? Please hug him. Or send him a warm Facebook message. We’re on the same side. And we are all going to need to work together if we ever want to have a chance of defending ourselves from the unrelenting villainy of the 1%.

What the Health 

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What the Health

***1/2

 

Everybody has an opinion about which foods are good for you and which are bad. Most people will claim that their diet is healthy and they’ll urge you to try eating like them.

I listen to what people say. But I don’t believe them. When it comes to food, people are passionate and biased. And no one really knows for sure what the perfect diet consists of. If a really old skinny person is telling me what she eats, I’ll listen up. But, in the end, we’re all just eating what we want and hoping for the best.

 

Kip Anderson, the star of “What the Health,” isn’t just hoping for the best. He believes that he has found the perfect diet: veganism.

“What the Health” is an entertaining, relentless documentary. With a passionate fury, Kip Anderson tries to convince the world that a plant-based diet is a cure-all and that all animal-based food is poison.

 

Anderson comes right out with guns blazing: he states that virtually all illness is due to meat consumption. If you have cancer, it was due to meat. If you have diabetes, it was due to meat (not sugar. Meat). Bad bones? Meat. Bad joints? Meat. Asthma? Meat. Lack of energy? Meat.

Meat is bad due to the fat and cholesterol, due to the hormones and antibiotics, and due to the fact that piling up protein in our body does more harm than good.

How about milk, cheese, eggs, and fish? According to “What the Health,” they are just as bad. Dairy is fuel for baby cows but poison to us. Eggs are cholesterol-filled death bombs that are unsafe even in small quantities. Fish is loaded with industrial toxins and frightening levels of mercury.

 

“What the Health” does a laughably bad job of convincing us that every animal product is terrible for you. It does a disturbingly good job of convincing us that mass-produced meat is disgusting.

Factory farm animals live their miserable lives in dark, over-crowded pens. Disease is rampant. Anderson states that pigs and cows suffer from infections, inflamed abscesses, and pus-filled sores. Then he shows us the video proof that these diseased animal corpses fire right through the assembly line and into our food. It is nauseating.

 

Anderson concludes that a serious environmentalist cannot eat meat. At the very least, it is a natural fact that raising animals is an inefficient use of arable land and water resources.

“What the Health” also exposes the fact that factory farms systematically destroy rural communities wherever they can get away with it. Kip Anderson takes us to a mostly black county of North Carolina, where the unending mountains of pig poo have poisoned the air, the soil, and the waterways.

 

Okay. I’m convinced. Meat is the worst. Going vegan is the right thing to do.

“What the Health” goes from powerful to absurd in the final act. Kip Anderson goes from muckraker to evangelist and makes a series of impossible claims about the health benefits of veganism.

He says that going vegan will turn you into a superhuman athlete. He says that vegan blood kills cancers cell just by touching them. He claims to have proof that a vegan, high-sugar diet cures diabetes.

Anderson meets a 61-year-old lady who limps around her house with a walker because her bones and joints are so brittle. Then, after just a few weeks of eating vegan, she tosses aside her walker and strolls happily around her neighborhood.

This isn’t science, obviously; it is faith-healing fanaticism. It’s like they are filming the movie version of the 9th Chapter of Matthew, with a stalk of broccoli playing the role of Jesus.

 

“What the Health”’s heart is in the right place. Even though its scientific compass is all over the place. I don’t believe half of it, but I’m still glad that I watched it.

    State of Marriage

Image result for eminem if a man and another man can elope

Vermont Movie on Netflix

State of Marriage

**

 

It’s amazing how quickly and completely the Gay Marriage movement conquered the Western World.

Gay marriage activists went from a disdained minority around the turn of the century to undisputed champions by 2015.

The Gay Marriage lobby is the NRA of the Left. Like the NRA, the Gay Marriage lobby won legislative and court victories. And more importantly, they changed people’s minds. There are plenty of Democrats who quietly accept the fact that guns are legal. And there are millions of Republicans now who would be delighted to attend a gay wedding.

 

Like most people at the turn of the century, I was opposed to the State granting marriage licenses to gay people. Not for the reasons that you think, though.

Firstly, more legal marriages inevitably leads to more divorces. And I’m against anything that further enriches divorce lawyers.

I don’t think that the government should be involved in marriages at all. A marriage should be a non-legal agreement based on love, not money. It should be a vow between two people and their close friends and family. Uncle Sam should have no say in it.

I am 100% pro-gay. But, at least back in 2000, I was 101% anti-government. And I was opposed to anything that gives the government more knowledge of us and power over us.

It always seemed odd to me that the very people who usually say “stay out of our bedroom” were suddenly demanding that Uncle Sam saunter in and sanctify what they are doing in their bedroom with moderately priced legal documents.

 

With so many different groups of people opposed to gay marriage, it is astounding that change won out. ‘Change’ is easy to say but hard to accomplish. Gay Rights advocates were able to fundamentally change the definition of marriage that had existed since the beginning of recorded history. It’s an epic accomplishment.

“State of Marriage” chronicles the handful of lawyers and activists who took on the Status Quo and won. It all started right here in Vermont.

 

The undisputed heroes of this story are Vermont lawyer couple Beth Robinson and Susan Murray.

Fueled by passion and Pixy Stix, Robinson worked in her private practice by day and spent most every night putting together a case against the State of Vermont.

In Baker v Vermont (1999), Beth Robinson hardly mentioned her homosexual clients at all. Instead, she told a story of when – not too many generations ago – interracial marriage was illegal everywhere and frowned upon by all. She praised the courts of the mid-20th Century for changing America’s marriage rules for the better.

Robinson’s analogy was perfect and her legal argument was splendid. The Court sided with the Plaintiffs. (Robinson herself was appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court in 2011).

From there, Robinson, Murray, and their team successfully lobbied the Vermont Legislature to legalize Civil Unions – which gave gay couples all the rights of married couples.

Some were disappointed that the new law stopped short of granting full marriage equality. But they couldn’t see the big picture. The tide of history had turned in their favor. And there was no going back.

 

I am not opposed to gay marriage anymore. Is anyone?

Director Jeff Kaufman makes it seem like the legal and legislative victories were the only story; he ignores the victory that social justice warriors had over our hearts and minds. He interviewed too many people who were believers all along. But he didn’t interview any of the 50 million Americans who had their mind changed.

In less than a generation, gay marriage went from a fringe issue to the agreed upon standard of the Western World. I would like to see a great movie about how this revolution came to pass. Sadly, “State of Marriage” isn’t it.

  The Truth About Alcohol

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The Truth About Alcohol

                                                    **1/2

    They say alcohol is a poison. And I suppose that’s technically true. But it isn’t that dangerous a poison.

    I know this because I have been to the UK a few times. And I can tell you from firsthand experience that there are, in fact, elderly people there.

    If some British people made it to old age, then it is a proven fact that booze isn’t all that deadly. For Americans, drinking hard is a choice. For the British, it is a cultural tradition.

    In England, it is not customary to tip the bartender when she serves you a pint. This custom began years ago when it was discovered that the hundred richest women in the UK were barmaids. I made that up. But I am not exaggerating about how much the British drink.

    In the event that heavy drinking is seriously hazardous to the body, it is inevitable that British doctors will be on the cutting edge of scientific discovery.

    “The Truth About Alcohol” is a breezy, light-hearted, occasionally informative BBC documentary by British ER doctor Javid Abdelmoneim. Dr. Javid was inspired to make this film when the British Health Service suddenly lowered the recommended healthy level of alcohol intake for men to 14 units per week.

   In the US, a nerdy health-obsessed doctor would simply be a non-drinker. Dr. Javid is British, though, so he attaches a sweat-monitor to his ankle to calculate exactly how much he drinks in a normal week.

   It turns out that the doctor consumes twice the recommended weekly quotient of booze, and he didn’t even drink on four of the seven nights.

   In other words, if you drink in any serious way, you drink way too much for your own good.

Dr. Javid spends most of the film performing experiments and studies with dubious scientific merit to answer some common questions about alcohol.

         Why does a woman tend to get tipsy quickly while a tall, fit man of the same weight can hold his liquor? Apparently, it is because blood-alcohol level is determined by how much water a person has in her body. And since muscle has much more water than fat, the man will feel less drunk from the same amount of drinking.

         It’s also possible that the man lined his stomach before starting to drink. Dr. Javid does a splendid job of explaining how the digestive enzymes in your stomach begin to break down alcohol before it even gets absorbed into your bloodstream. That’s why you can drink so much more after a hearty meal.

          That seems convincing, but some of the film’s anti-alcohol claims are ridiculous.

Dr. Javid argues that booze makes you sleep poorly. But his only evidence is a one-night sleep study – featuring Javid himself and a bottle of fine whiskey. He states that alcohol makes you eat more. But he bases this on a twenty-minute study at a pub with a group of college boys. “Colin ate more crisps than Nigel. We must alert the Oxford Journal of Medicine!”

I certainly don’t know how bad alcohol is for you. But I do know this: the British have been drinking steadily and heavily since at least as far back as they learned written language.

And during those millennia, the British built a remarkable, artistic, cultured, influential society. They even conquered 1/3 of the earth one time.

The British aren’t going to drink less. And I’m probably not going to either. I plan on spending my first Social Security check on a six pack.

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).