Three Identical Strangers

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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.

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Whitney

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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.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

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Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

**1/2

 

In this hyper-partisan era, people on both sides are way too eager to embrace a celebrity who seems to share their opinion about the President.

It was understandable that people on the Right wanted to watch the Rosanne reboot. It was the first time that a scripted TV show presented Trump supporters as regular, sympathetic Americans. But Conservatives made a mistake when they embraced Rosanne Barr as one of their own without doing any research.

This is the same Rosanne who proclaimed that 9/11 was an inside job masterminded by George W Bush. This is the same Rosanne who went a little too far in her anti-Chick-Fil-A hatred in 2012: “Anyone who eats at ****-Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ.” Whoops. You backed the wrong horse, Conservatives.

Hey, don’t laugh too hard, Leftist readers. You may be making the same mistake with Pope Francis.

In May, 2016, Pope Francis made a thinly veiled attack on candidate Trump when he said that we should be building “bridges, not walls.” On that day, The Resistance fell in love. And the love affair continues.

The Catholic Church couldn’t believe its good fortune. “Liberals around the world are embracing the old white guy patriarch of our extremely patriarchal old boys club?” Cardinals exclaimed. “Wow! I don’t get it, but let’s roll with it.”

Since then, the Catholic Church and the Media have worked together to shine a spotlight on Pope Francis’s most Progressive pronouncements while quietly sweeping his Conservative comments under the rug.

“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” is an earnest new propaganda film that works to stoke the fire of liberal love for the current Pope. German documentarian Wim Wenders does an outstanding job.

Wenders proudly presents all of Pope Francis’s Progressive opinions, including the ones that contradict each other.

Pope Francis is explicitly anti-Capitalism. He calls it “terrorism against all humanity.” However, he also tells young unemployed Italians that they are being robbed of the human dignity that only steady work can bring.

I am definitely not defending everything about the world economy. I am with Pope Francis 100% when he criticizes our Throwaway Culture and urges us to consume less. But let’s be real: capitalism is what gave you and me a job and the free market is the best bet for those who don’t yet have one.

The people next to me in the theatre were nodding their heads vigorously when Pope Francis displayed his environmentalist cred and criticized us for ravaging Mother Earth.

But look closer, serious environmentalists: Pope Francis is not part of the solution. He actively denies that the exponential growth in human population is a problem. And he obstinately stands by the Church’s insane prohibition on birth control.

“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” is not a biography, it’s a hagiography. And the Pope’s greatest miracle is convincing Democrats that he is on their side.

What the film doesn’t mention is that Pope Francis has put the clamp down on nuns looking for any added authority or recognition (never mind priesthood). He has called the movement for gay marriage “the envy of the Devil.” He compared arguments for transgender rights to a nuclear arms race.

Pope Francis argues against gay adoption in the same language as he condemns pedophiles. Because, in his eyes, gay adoption robs children of the right to live a normal life in a “suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

 

Conservatives have had their Whoops moment with Rosanne. Liberals: get ready. Pope Francis is not your ally. The louder you support him, the more embarrassed you’ll be when he is exposed.

Take Your Pills

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Take Your Pills

*1/2

 

At the turn of the 20th Century, people had a way of staying up when they were tired, focusing on tedious tasks, saying no to food they didn’t need, and feeling up when they were down. It was an all-natural health elixir: cocaine.

Cocaine worked as advertised. But it had the troubling side effect of extreme addictiveness. For some, cocaine turns your non-high life into a bland series of meaningless events that you must endure until your next fix. There had to be something better…

In 1929, California biochemist Gorden Alles injected himself with 50mg of the synthesized chemical compound amphetamine.

Unsurprisingly, the first man to use amphetamine was quite motivated to record his experience in detail. Alles wrote that his annoying runny nose had dried up and that he was experiencing a euphoric sense of “well-being.” He also observed that amphetamine gave him a “rather sleepless night.”

There is one scientific equation that we all know is true: effective drug+America=profit.

The Netflix original documentary “Take Your Pills” educates us about a forgotten period of American history. The Benzedrine era.

Smith Kline’s Benzedrine Inhaler was a sensation. Allergy sufferers used Benzedrine as directed as a decongestant. Insecure Depression-era workers used it to impress their bosses. And students popped Benzedrine to pull all-nighters at college.

Apparently, the thought of college students getting As on their midterms was too much for the Feds to bare. Amphetamines were declared a Schedule II Controlled Substance in 1970.

But amphetamines underwent a surprising renaissance in the 21st Century. The executive brain dysfunction ADD became a known problem. And amphetamines – now packaged under the name Adderall – became the best known treatment.

“Take Your Pills” does a splendid job of telling the history of Adderall. But documentarian Alison Klayman fails miserably when it comes to convincing us that the drug is a scourge on society.

Ms. Klayman strangely and irresponsibly leaves out the fact that millions of ADD sufferers and their families are helped by the drug.

My wife and I used to get into terrible fights because I didn’t understand her ADD and she couldn’t control it.

My wife’s daily 10mg dose of Adderall has made my marriage more functional and harmonious. Thank you, Adderall.

Granted, most people who pop Adderall pills are not like my wife. They don’t have ADD. They are, technically speaking, abusing the drug.

However, Adderall abuse is not a major problem. Adderall abuse ruins hearts. It ruins livers. And ruins kidneys, I hear. But it doesn’t negatively impact society.

It’s a pill that helps kids study harder, adults work harder, and partiers dance harder.

I am not recommending that you start taking Adderall. I’m really not. I used to take it myself and I am happier and healthier without it. However, if you have the choice of taking Adderall or cocaine, please choose Adderall. I beg of you.

“Take Your Pills” is just wrong. Adderall is serious medicine for some people. And for druggies, it is a reliable upper that you don’t have to buy from a drug dealer and is unlikely to turn you into a junkie.

Compared to cocaine, amphetamines are a miracle of modern science.

Saving Capitalism

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Saving Capitalism

**1/2

 

The year was 1993. President Clinton nominated his old college pal Robert Reich as Labor Secretary.

Mr. Reich wasn’t just another juiced-in Friend of Bill with big pockets. Reich was a man of character and vision. He still is.

Secretary Reich understood the relationship between the government and the economy more clearly than his contemporaries.

At the time, Conservatives consistently clamored for less Federal intervention. They perceived government as the natural enemy of the free market. Liberals at the time, meanwhile, viewed government as the heroic police officer that stepped in and stopped rapacious businesses from getting their way.

Reich knew what we know now: both sides were preposterously wrong.

There is no free market. There is always government. Government sets the rules of capitalism in each country. But the rules aren’t always anti-business. Far from it. There are times when a government makes rules that are outrageously pro-business.

To Robert Reich, our economy is like an NFL game between two AFC powerhouses. There are always referees. You can’t have the game without them. But there is a serious problem when the referees rule that the go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown is an incomplete pass. Because then the refs have basically handed the game to one team. And now everyone is starting to lose faith in the sport.

The refs are the government. The New England Patriots are big corporations. And the Pittsburgh Steelers – the poor fools who had their winning touchdown stolen away in Week 15 – are the American workers.

For Secretary Reich, the solution was simple: next time there was a big rule change in Washington, he needed to make sure the new rule was NOT written by lobbyists for Bill Belichick.

Simple is not the same as easy. Reich completely failed. He resigned in quiet frustration in 1997.

Mr. Reich is too polite and loyal to explicitly say it, but he subtly admits the ugly truth: when it came to twisting the rules to give big business more power, Clinton was like Reagan on steroids. Corporate sponsored steroids.

“Saving Capitalism” – as the name suggests – doesn’t condemn capitalism at all. It states that the biggest threat to our glorious economic system is resentment caused by wealth inequality. And wealth inequality is caused by too much corporate money influencing Washington.

It’s a reasonable premise. Robert Reich is a reasonable man. I must warn you, my leftist readers, you may be horrified as he talks to Republican congressmen and lobbyists as if they are fellow human beings worthy of living. Indeed, you may faint when Reich chats with Trump voters and suggests that they are essentially on his side – the side of anti-Trust government action and populist reform.

His premise is reasonable. His dialogue with all sides is reasonable. His conclusion is idiotic.

Robert Reich concludes – quixotically – that if people get politically active we can turn the tide of history. We can boot big money out of Washington. We can change the rules and turn the Patriots into a .500 team again.

Reich is dead wrong. He was Secretary of Labor for a Democratic President with a Democrat-controlled Congress before Citizens United. And he accomplished nothing. Now he is suggesting that getting out the vote is going to solve our problems. Ha.

Cuba and the Cameraman

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Netflix Original Documentary

Cuba and the Cameraman

***1/2

 

In the 20th Century, leftists around the world were rooting for Revolutionary Cuba.

Cuba was the best chance of having a classless, Socialist Utopia in the Western Hemisphere. If Cubans could succeed while thumbing their noses at the decadent Americans at the same time, all the better.

Cuba became a political Rorschach Test. Conservative critics pointed to the thousands of political prisoners who never received a trial and the overcrowded boats filled with desperate refugees. Michael Moore, on the other hand, concluded that Cuba’s free healthcare system is more efficient and humane than our own.

Well, the debate is over. In his epic documentary “Cuba and the Cameraman,” journalist Jon Alpert has proven that Cuba is terrible. How do you know he’s right? Because he was trying desperately to prove the opposite.

Alpert began sneaking into Cuba by boat every few years in the 1970s. He would always meet up with the same locals to see how their lives were affected by the Castro regime.

He befriended Luis: a Havana slum-dweller. Young Luis was a happy dude in a free apartment with running water. All was well. Jon befriended the Borrego brothers: three 60-something farmers who joyfully worked the fields all day, did extra labor for the government in the late afternoon, and sipped rum at night.

Young Jon Alpert had a good reason for only wanting to see the best in Cuba. He knew Fidel Castro.

In addition to the intimate portraits of average Cubans, Jon introduces us to El Comandante. Fidel Castro comes off as eloquent, witty, kind, and even humble. Castro is so generous with Jon that it is only natural that Jon is unable to find anything bad to say about the dictator.

But history has a way of speaking for itself.

When Jon returns to Cuba in the 1990s, he finds that Castro’s Socialist Utopia has become a 3rd World nightmare.

Jon knocks on Luis’s door. Luis’s brother reports that he was dragged off and imprisoned. No one knows why.

Luis’s brother shows Jon the dilapidated state of the apartment building. There’s no more running water. The path leading to the outhouses has collapsed so now residents have to urinate in the street.

Everyone looks fatter than before. At least Castro is feeding the people well, right? Not exactly. With no supply of meat or vegetables, citizens are stuck living on rations of sugar and rice.

Incredibly, the situation is even worse for the poor Borrego brothers. They are in their 80s now and as strong and eager to work as ever. But they can’t.

The country-wide meat shortage has taken an ugly turn. Machete-wielding bandits have been raiding the Borrego farm at night. Now all of their farm animals have been stolen and slaughtered, including their two oxen. They can’t even plow their own fields. It is a heart-wrenching scene. Even Castro-pal Jon Alpert can’t put a positive spin on it.

The conclusion is unavoidable: With a steady influx of foreign money pouring in, Cubans were able to live a tolerable 19th Century existence. Left to its own devices, Cuba became a hungry dystopian police state.

The debate about Cuba is over: President Kennedy was right. And Michael Moore is full of it.

Bush and Clinton: A New World Order

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Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States

Vol IX

Bush and Clinton: A New World Order

****

 

One of the lessons from the novel “1984” is that an oppressive government needs to have an enemy.

In the beginning of “1984,” Big Brother is at war with Eurasia. Suddenly, halfway through the book, the country is at war with Eastasia.

It doesn’t especially matter whether the threat is real. The point of having an enemy isn’t just perpetual warfare; it is total control over the minds of your own people.

Only in this context is it possible to understand American foreign policy from 1989 to 2001. On paper, the US acted with foolishness and needless bellicosity. When compared to the government in “1984,” it was a splendid success.

 

The story begins with the fall of Communism and the election of George H. W. Bush.

With visionary leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Oliver Stone asserts, we had a golden opportunity to change history and make Russia our lasting ally. Our leaders didn’t want that at all, though.

To make sure we stayed arch-enemies with the Russians, we shamelessly betrayed them. In 1990, the Kremlin agreed to let East Germany reunite with NATO country West Germany. In exchange, Washington agreed to halt the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.

We what we should have done was disband NATO entirely. Its stated purpose was to guard Western Europe against the aggressive onslaught of Stalinist Communism. What the US did, however, was actively betray Moscow’s trust during its hour of weakness.

During the 90s, NATO began a belligerent advance right up to Russia’s doorstep. Today, the US is officially obligated to come to the defense of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania if Russia attacks them. Do our leaders genuinely care about the Estonians? Nah, they just want to antagonize Moscow.

Our leaders successfully ensured that the Russians continue to fear and hate us. Bravo. For their next trick, they found a way to have endless war in the Middle East.

 

In 1990, a US envoy told our old friend Saddam Hussein that he could take over Kuwait without inference. When Iraq invaded its neighbor, however, the Bush Administration changed its mind.

Operation Desert Storm was a splendid military success. But it had severe long-term consequences.

Osama Bin Laden had formerly viewed Communist Russia and the decadent Saudi monarchy as the ultimate enemies of Islam. After seeing thousands of US soldiers stationed in the Holy Land, Al-Qaeda had a new #1 target: America.

To Oliver Stone, Bill Clinton was a neo-con wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Under Clinton, our military became the ever-present policemen wherever there were Muslims misbehaving or in danger. US boots and bombs were active in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, and Iraq – often without the American people’s knowledge.

Stone argues that when 9/11 sparked the War on Terror, it wasn’t a real change; it was just a continuation of the Clinton policy of multi-theater warfare in the Muslim World.

After the Cold War, the United States could have chosen peace. Instead, it mapped out a path of perpetual conflict with Russia and Islam.

 

Essentially, we are at War with Eurasia and Eastasia. And the only winner is Big Brother.