Kedi (cat)

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Kedi

(Cat)

***

 

Everybody knows about the love that parents have for their children. Everybody knows about the loyalty that dogs and their owners have for each other.

America’s love affair with our cats is less well-known. That is because cats are mostly hidden behind closed-doors. You only see a cat-lovers’ beloved baby if you go into her house. And, even if you are in her house, the cat may have run away and hidden from you.

For nearly 40 years, cats weren’t even on my radar. I didn’t know anything about them. And I certainly had never loved one.

My feelings have changed in a big way since I’ve been living with my wife’s cats Lucy and Felicia. Now they are my cats, too. They are my children. The cats make our apartment a home.

During our toughest times as a couple, our cats have been there to comfort us and to remind us that we are a family.

In my few years of being a cat daddy, I’ve learned that cats are not as smart as dogs. They don’t understand the concepts of gratitude or guilt or the dignity of labor.

But what they lack in sophistication, they more than make up for in love. A large portion of their tiny little brains are devoted to love – the love they feel for you.

In America, only us lucky cat people fully understand the magic of felines. In Istanbul, everybody does.

 

In Istanbul, there are no housecats. There are just cats.

During the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul was one of the busiest international trading ports in the world. Back then, it was common for trading vessels to have a cat on board to kill mice. Often, those cats would get off the boat and make their home on the streets of the city.

When Istanbul built its sewer system, large rats became a dreaded problem. Neighborhoods eagerly welcomed feral cats to help clean up their communities.

Organically, a unique system was created. The city has tens of thousands of cats on its streets, and millions of owners in its houses. The local cat is no one’s property. It is everyone’s pride and joy.

All the locals interviewed for “Kedi” have different stories about how cats impacted their lives. But they all have the same philosophy: it is wrong to keep a cat locked up; they belong to the city and they belong being free.

They are free, but doesn’t mean they are unloved. Some cats crave human affection even more than they crave Fancy Feast.

For the people in Istanbul who are lucky enough to be chosen by a cat as their primary human friend, there is a special pride and gratitude.

Several Turks interviewed explain how they used to be overwhelmed by the city and close to depression and madness. But their relationship with a neighborhood cat grounded them and gave them positivity, perspective, and purpose.

Cat-lovers will adore “Kedi.” The film explores the fundamental truth about cats that we have discovered: with their quiet, mysterious companionship, they help us more than we could ever help them.

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1945: The Savage Peace

Image result for albert einstein on gandhi

1945: The Savage Peace

***

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

-Jesus, about the people killing him

 

The way we treated the Japanese during World War II is unfathomably heartless. We all apparently agreed that it would be great if every Japanese person was shot, burned, or blown up.

Yes, a few hundred Japanese soldiers attacked Pearl Harbor. But Pearl Harbor isn’t exactly Putney; it was a military base located 2500 miles away from the US.

On paper, that doesn’t feel like a reasonable justification for the relentless mass murder of Japanese civilians; but that’s exactly what we did.

We claim to be a Christian country. Theoretically, we follow the teachings of the man who told us to “turn the other cheek.” In practice, we are no more moral or mature than a seven-year-old boy shouting “he started it” after we beat up a kid we don’t like.

Vengeance is not a moral justification for violence. Wrath is a deadly sin; it’s the most terrible and destructive deadly sin of all.

 

“1945: The Savage Peace” is not your father’s World War II program.

It exposes – in unflinching detail – the mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Germans.

At the war’s end, it was decided that all 12 million ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe would be removed as quickly as possible. Coming up with a humane way to make this happen was not high on the list of priorities for the victors. “These are Germans, after all,” they thought. “The very people who started all of this.”

Czechoslovakia was probably the least ravaged of any Eastern European country. Nevertheless, the proud Czech people did not care for the fact that they had been ruled by Germans. Soon after the Nazi regime fell, new Czech president Edward Benes called for “the Final Solution to the German question.”

This was as bad as it sounds. Armed bands of semi-sanctioned vigilantes rounded up German citizens and harassed, beat, or killed them. The Sudetenland had been largely German for generations. The millions of residents were kicked out of their homes and forced to march to Germany.

As with everything in WWII, things in Poland were worse. The least fortunate Germans were shipped to the USSR as “reparations labor” and never seen again.

The hundreds of thousands sent to Concentration Camps didn’t fare so well, either. It’s a little known fact that soon after Nazi Concentration Camps were liberated, they were repopulated with ethnic Germans.

East Prussia had been German for all of modern history. Suddenly, the region was part of western Poland. Millions of Germans were uprooted and forced to move west with nothing but the clothes on their backs. No one knows how many died of starvation and disease along the way. And nobody cared.

 

We are quick to separate groups of people into Us and Them. And once someone from the Them group hurts one of Us, it is disturbingly easy to start thinking ourselves as the good guys and them as the bad guys. Then all bets are off.

That’s why Czechs and Poles were comfortable slaughtering Germans. That’s why our grandparents were comfortable fire-bombing Japanese cities. That’s why no one seems to care that our government is blowing an Arab’s limbs off with a drone this very afternoon.

Vengeance is never noble and never morally defensible. It’s just another type of murder.

Until we all agree to forgive our enemies instead of hate them, humanity is doomed to perpetual violence.

Tokyo Idols

 

Image result for tokyo idol with fan

Tokyo Idols

***

 

One of the strangest aspects of our society is that it’s normal for young women to fanatically obsess over pop stars. From the Beatles to the Backstreet Boys to Bieber, young women have been screaming together at concerts for our entire lives. And we all just shrug our shoulders and accept it.

I’m not ready to accept it. It is collective madness. For years, I assumed that it has something to do with the female psyche since we never see men going to concerts together and screaming for Beyoncé or Pink.

Well, I was dead wrong. It isn’t just women who go insane for pop stars. In Japan, men do it too.

“Tokyo Idols” is an educational, eye-opening documentary. It teaches us about a different culture’s pop music scene. And it explores the troubled psyches of people who devote their lives to it.

 

Right now, there are hundreds of teenage girls in Japan who call themselves Idols.

The Idols perform upbeat pop performances at clubs. If they get big enough, they record songs and music videos. They make most of their money by participating in well-organized meet-and-greet events, where they chat one-on-one with passionate supporters.

This all sounds pretty normal and pretty American, right? Absolutely not. All of the fans at the Idol meet-and-greet are men. Mostly older men.

You would think that a documentary about Idol culture would condemn the participants or at least make fun of them. Director Kyoko Miyake does neither.

You can’t help but respect and root for Rio. When we meet Rio, she is 19. She is an aging elder statesman in the business and she knows it. Rio is trying to parlay her Idol fame into a serious singing career.

At her core, though, she is a sensible hard-working young woman with a loving family and a growing bank account. Good for her.

Life is not going so well for her fans.

Kyoko Miyake could have easily said: “Hey, look at these creepy old men who may or may not be pedophiles! They can’t tell the difference between an animé character and a real girl. Let’s judge them!”

But to her credit, Miyake helps us understand how a normal Japanese man could grow up to become an Idol groupie.

Rio’s fans all have similar backstories. When they were Rio’s age, they were trying to lead a normal life. They had girlfriends, and they were trying to get promoted at work and save enough money to marry and start a family. Somewhere along the line, they gave up and dropped out of the Tokyo rat race.

They couldn’t handle the cost or the responsibility of taking care of a family. But they can handle the lesser challenge of filling a studio apartment with Idol merchandise and going to shows every night.

By the end of “Tokyo Idols,” I didn’t think most of the fans are creepy. They are just sad, lonely human beings. They are grasping onto the one thing in their life that brings them joy.

 

In the end, I have to admit that there is nothing fundamentally wrong about going to concerts and screaming for your favorite pop star, whether you’re male or female. It is ridiculous and undignified, but it doesn’t hurt anybody.

If you are still doing it at age 25, however, you probably need to reassess your life.

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%.

 Detroit

Image result for anarchy is bad

Detroit

***

 

The 1967 Detroit Riot was hideously destructive.

More than 1000 people were injured. 43 died. More than two thousand buildings were destroyed.

After five days of looting and anarchy, the combined forces of police, National Guard, and army troops were finally able to enforce the 9pm curfew and reestablish order.

Thank goodness for those armed men in uniform. They maintain order and save us all from the destructive forces of anarchy.

Without the cops and troops, just imagine what would have happened to Detroit. At best, the riot would have reduced the city to ashes. At worst, there could have been an armed war between the city-dwellers and suburbanites, with 10 Mile Rd as the Front Line.

If you think that is far-fetched, that is because you have lived your whole life in a well-policed country. As soon as legitimate order breaks down, chaos ensues. Look at the situation in Somalia and Libya and Venezuela. Anarchy isn’t just a theoretical fear; it is the natural state of man.

If you think that many cops are on a power trip, you’re right. If you think that many cops use excessive force, you’re obviously right. If you think that many cops are racist, you couldn’t be more right.

If you think you would be better off without the police, you’re preposterously wrong. And you know it. That’s why you haven’t moved to Somalia.

 

 

“Detroit” is a well-made, entertaining, gripping, outrageously biased film about one ugly incident that happened during the 1967 Detroit Riot.

It began innocently enough, with a black guy firing a loud starter pistol in the direction of some cops. The officers did not know that it was just a starter pistol and they hideously overreacted.

A handful of rogue cops busted into the building from which the shots were fired, lined everyone up against the wall at gun point, and proceeded to terrorize everyone until they got a confession.

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigalow (“The Hurt Locker”) is a master of violent suspense. As entertainment, “Detroit” is first rate. As a horror movie, “Detroit” works on every level. As a political statement, “Detroit” is a dubious achievement at best.

Making a film about the Detroit Riot and making it all about police brutality is an odd spin indeed. It’s kind of like making a film called “Nazi Germany” and telling the heart-warming story about Hitler’s relationship with his loyal German Shepard Blondi. On one hand, the movie would be 100% true. At the same time, it would be laughably biased and expose the filmmaker’s ugly political agenda.

 

“Detroit” is the right movie set in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Riots are the times where we need cops the most.

Our country has a lot of problems. But none of them are as bad as anarchy.

  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.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

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Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

***

 

In 2012, the news gossip site Gawker posted part of a video that showed Hulk Hogan in bed with his best friend’s wife.

Hulk Hogan was so ticked off that he could have torn his shirt off in anger. So, what did he do about it?

He successfully sued Gawker and its publishers for $140 million that they definitely did not have. Hogan knocked Gawker out of business faster than he knocked out the Iron Sheik.

Brian Knappenberger – director of the passionate, thought-provoking, outrageously biased documentary “Nobody Speak” – considers the Hulk Hogan trial to be the beginning of the end of America’s free press.

Knappenberger argues that the verdict violated Gawker’s Constitutional Rights. That is pretty far-fetched. Again, Gawker shared a recording of an old tan dude who was cuckolding his pal. If you think that’s specifically covered by the First Amendment, then you have an interesting notion of the kinkiness level of our Founding Fathers.

Knappenberger argues that the annihilation of Gawker is a warning sign that power in America is shifting away from reporters and into the hands of billionaires.

Apparently, the brains and the money behind Hogan’s lawsuit was Silicon Valley tycoon Peter Thiel. The tech billionaire had a grudge against Gawker because the site outed him in 2007.

Using $10 million to hire a team of A-list lawyers, the billionaire used the legal system to destroy his enemies. This sets an ugly precedent.

 

And if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. “Nobody Speak” also explores another way that billionaires can threaten the free press.

Sheldon Adelson is a casino tycoon and influential Republican donor. Apparently, he didn’t care for the way the Las Vegas Review-Journal was portraying him. So he bought the paper, made obnoxious rules about how much the staff columnists could write about him, and solved his problem.

I am not going to defend Sheldon Adelson; that is some childish Citizen Kane-esque nonsense. However, I don’t see how it spells the end of the free press. Mostly, it emphasizes how painfully anti-Republican this movie is.

Knappenberger spends a half hour on Adelson but no more than 10 seconds on Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post.

If there is a man who has the motivation and the wherewithal to fundamentally alter truth and liberty in America, it is Amazon.com CEO and dictator Jeff Bezos.

Bezos is already the most powerful and influential person on planet earth. While most CEOs use their company’s profits to help investors get wealthy, Bezos continues to build a massive world-wide infrastructure that is slowly wiping out all competition.

Amazon.com is revolutionizing consumerism: making it easier, more mindless, more wasteful, more globalist, and more unaccountable.

Remember last year at this time when candidate Trump stated that Amazon corporation has “a huge anti-Trust problem”? Of course you don’t; the corporate media doesn’t even want us to debate that topic.

It is troubling that during the past few months, you and your family have spent more time discussing the substance-free Russia scandal than the urgent national need to break up Amazon.com. That is in large part because the most influential newspaper in Washington is now the propaganda arm of the Jeff Bezos empire.

In conclusion: Hulk Hogan is a crybaby who should be ashamed of himself. And we desperately need to break up Amazon.com.

Oh, and the death of the free press? That obviously isn’t happening. I proved it. I just published a column tearing down the world’s most powerful man and I’m not even going to get in trouble. The Press is fine.

American Experience: The Big Burn

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American Experience: The Big Burn

***

 

We need to Save the Trees!

Deforestation has ravaged our once great forests. The dwindling tree population is choking the oxygen-starved atmosphere.

Sorry, environmentalists: I’m being sarcastic. Every word of that last paragraph is false.

First, a solid majority of new atmospheric oxygen is produced by water-dwelling pytoplankton. If you love trees and walks through the forest, that is perfect understandable. Scientifically speaking, however, we don’t need trees to survive.

Second, North America has way more trees than it had at the turn of the 20th Century. Right here in Central Vermont, deer sightings used to make the newspaper. Hubbard Park was a big, treeless field.

What happened? Did Conservationist save the day? Nope: the automobile was invented.

In the 19th Century, millions of acres of arable land were used for fields to feed horses. As horses were replaced by Model Ts, those fields became forests. Tree-Huggers should pause to hug a Ford Focus; it did more to save the trees than the US Forest Service.

Indeed, “The Big Burn” shows that the US Forest Service has been misguided from the very beginning.

In 1905, The US Forest Service was founded by patrician Progressives who valued idealism more than common sense, and trees more than people.

The fledgling Federal agency sent intrepid young men far and wide. US Forest Rangers even found their way to the remote Bitterroot region of Western Montana and Northern Idaho. When Rangers told the hearty locals that they were no longer allowed to use the vast forest for clearcutting and strip-mining, they were furious.

As the PBS documentary “The Big Burn” reluctantly admits, the Forest Service’s rules that chose trees over people ended up being a disaster for both trees and people.

 

The summer of 1910 was bone dry in the Bitterroot. When a heat-lightning storm ignited a dry patch of trees, the largest fire in the history of the Hemisphere began.

Despite its remote location, America quickly recognized the size and the seriousness of the blaze. Women and children were bustled out; Federal Troops rushed in.

Desperate men aboard the last train out of town were forced off their cars at gunpoint. Uncle Sam needed them to fight the fire, the soldiers said.

But those men were just being sent to their deaths. There was no fighting The Big Burn. By the time the blaze burned itself out, a layer of soot coated the ground as far away as Iceland. Ships in the Pacific Ocean couldn’t navigate because the air was so thick with smoke.

The only thing that could have stopped this fire in its tracks was a stretch of barren, treeless land. You know, the kind that you get when you allow people to clear cut a section of forest or build a strip mine.

In the end, the greatest boon to American forests was the invention of the internal combustion engine. And the greatest disaster was made worse by the myopic machinations of the US Forest Service.

We don’t need to Save the Trees. Take a drive down I89 and look around you. They are doing just fine without our help.