Review — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Yesterday Arlys and I finally saw the most anticipated movie of 2015, the seventh and latest installment of Star Wars. I’m sure many of you have already seen it, but as a sci-fi writer and a long time Star Wars fan, I’m obliged to review it. Spoiler warning: It’s not going to be pretty.

I’ve heard a number of people rave about this film so I was prepared to be amazed. Instead I was quite disappointed. Maybe my problem was too much hype and anticipation. No, it’s not as bad as Episodes I and II (that is, the fourth and fifth releases.) But honestly, I think “Revenge of the Sith” was better. The visual effects and the acting were fine. But the writers (JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan) have apparently gone to the Dark Side – is it too much to ask for a single new plot element?

OK, I admit that strictly speaking, there are no new stories, ever. The first Star Wars movie (Episode IV) is a prime example of the “Hero’s Journey,” as defined by the great Joseph Campbell. Even if we accept originality as a relative quantity, “The Force Awakens” would score in the negative numbers. Practically everything in it is recycled: a plucky young hero(ine), a droid with an urgent message, a tiny but wise and ancient alien, a family split between the Light and Dark Sides, the death of a beloved character, and a very familiar looking doomsday weapon. And get this: the new threat to the Galaxy is a gang of Imperial throwbacks led by a guy who raves like Adolf Hitler. It’s all too familiar. The old Imperial officers did look a lot like Nazis, didn’t they?

There’s only one aspect of Episode VII that’s new to the Star Wars franchise: the character of Finn (John Boyega), a deserter from the aforementioned fascistic First Order. Sadly, the writers botched that opportunity. For someone raised from birth to be a storm trooper, Finn has a depressingly normal personality. Perhaps we can accept that such a person might develop a conscience when ordered to massacre of innocent villagers. But where did he learn to speak in wisecracks and and be protective of females? He’s never known anything but soldiering, so we’d expect him to be super-confident, fearless, humorless, and naive about human relationships. Above all, he shouldn’t have tried to run from the conflict; a man like him would need to fight for a cause, even if it meant switching sides. Instead, Finn is a reluctant hero, and yet when the fighting starts, he’s incredibly cavalier about killing his former comrades. Where’s the internal conflict? And why aren’t his new friends more suspicious of him? Double agents posing as defectors are a time-tested strategy of war.

Rey’s character (Daisy Ridley) is another unfortunate waste of potential. We’re long past the time when attractive female warriors were novel and edgey. Now they need depth, nuance and back-story, none of which Rey has. Not that she’d have had time tor character growth at the frenetic pace of this movie. Her personal “force awakening” reminded me of a childhood dream where I suddenly, without warning or context, realized I had super-powers. Yes, science fiction requires the willing suspension of disbelief, but that’s a two way street. The writers have to give us something worth believing in.

I could rant on further about the movie’s Death-Star-sized plot holes, but I’ve gone on long enough. Despite all these problems, I did enjoy it. It’s visually stunning, with a background that’s full of delightful little details of both the biological and mechanical variety. The Star Wars characters we know and love are back, even if their interaction is a bit stilted at times. Finally, it leaves us with this mystery: how did Han and Leia’s son end up looking like Severus Snape?

Out of a possible five stars, I’d give it a 2.5. George, please come back!

 

Barack Obama: Cat’s Paw of the CIA?

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A few days ago I encountered a fascinating article by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, a man whose writings I give a lot of credence. Entitled “Military to Military”,  the piece alleges that the Pentagon and the CIA have been at odds about the crisis in Syria. Hersh reports that the US Military, acting contrary to the policies of the Obama administration, shared information with the government of Bashar Assad in Syria, to help it fight the so-called Islamic State (ISIS.) The brass, alarmed about the growing influence of ISIS, decided that Assad’s regime was preferable to a Syria run by lunatic Islamic fundamentalists. General Michael Flynn openly objected to Obama’s strategy of arming terrorists and was fired; after that, General Martin Dempsey acted secretly to help Assad. According to Hersh, this secret rebellion ended with Dempsey’s retirement from the Joint Chiefs of Staff this September.

This story is a bombshell in itself, but it caused me to make a connection to numerous articles in the alternative media I’ve read about Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, having worked for the CIA. This is cited as one of the reasons for Barack’s sudden rise from obscurity to President. The Wikipedia article about Dunham says nothing about this (if Wikipedia were objective, they would have at least noted the allegations,) but it notes a long sequence of non-profit and quasi-government jobs in Kenya, Indonesia, and Pakistan. This perfectly fits the pattern of CIA cover employment. So if the mother was a CIA asset, why not the son?

I see the Hersh article as another piece of evidence of the battle between different factions in the American Deep State. On one side is the Pentagon, on the other the intelligence services. My view is that as bureaucratic, inefficient and corrupt as our military is, it is still, at its heart, a pro-American institution. We can’t say the same for the CIA, whose predecessor the OSS was instrumental in bringing Nazi scientists to America, and was almost certainly involved in anti-democratic debacles such as the JFK assassination, the 9/11 attacks and the false-flag terrorism of “Operation Gladio” in post-war Europe.

I do occasionally agree with Obama’s foreign policy initiatives; his support of the nuclear deal with Iran and normalization of relations with Cuba are two of them. It seems to me, however, that both of these have the same motivation as the coup in Ukraine and Islamic terrorism in Syria – an attempt to marginalize and otherwise punish the un-cooperative leaders of the Russian Federation. To risk nuclear war by way of Machiavellian maneuverings is exactly the kind of treason the CIA is known for. As we near the end of the immensely unpopular Obama administration, it’s well worth thinking about.

Illustration from www.freeimages.com

Islamophobophobia

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From ‘Tim’ on http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive: Graffiti from Hamburg, Germany in 2006. The caption reads: “Hallo Mittelalter ’06” — “Hello Middle Ages ’06”.

Call me callous, but I’ve been enjoying the media shit-storm (sorry, but no other word describes it better) over Donald Trump’s proposal to put a moratorium on Muslim immigration to the US. In their self-righteous fit of hysteria, the mainstream pundits have displayed their complete ignorance and hypocrisy. Is Trump as bad as Hitler? Or is the reality more nuanced? Though I’m not a Trump supporter, I am dismayed by this lack of respect for the man’s honest opinion, whether one agrees or not. Furthermore, I have three questions for those who want Trump disqualified, deported, or worse for his so-called “hate speech.”

1. Why the fuss over immigration when the US has killed literally millions of Muslims since it became the “unipolar power” at the end of the Cold War? For example, America’s embargo on Iraq in the 1990’s caused the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqi children. Madeleine Albright, former US ambassador to the UN, stated on national TV that this was “worth it” if there was even a chance of toppling Saddam Hussein. Where was the media outcry over such callous indifference to human life? Where also, is the media when our Nobel Peace Prize-winning President conducts drone strikes against “targets” (that is, human beings) with neither a properly declared state of war nor due process of law?

When the US military bombs hospitals; it’s called an ‘accident,” or ‘collateral damage,’ When it bombs Afghan wedding parties, all deceased males between 15 and 55 are classified as ‘terrorists.’ So I ask the mass media: how dare you make such a fuss over religious discrimination, as bad as that may be, when you ignore mass murder?

2. Why don’t Western nations have the right to determine what sorts of immigrants will be most likely to assimilate into their cultures? All Middle Eastern governments do that. Not only does Saudi Arabia not admit Christians and Jews, it hasn’t even tried to help resettle the Syrian refugees – people made homeless by its clandestine support of ISIS. Where’s the media outrage over that? Even Israel, America’s most beloved ally, favors Jews as immigrants, refuses re-entry to Palestinians it has ejected, and won’t acknowledge the authenticity of black Jews from Ethiopia. Where is the furor over this bald-faced racism?

Yet America and its European allies are expected to accept anyone and everyone, and in massive numbers, regardless of the effects on their own citizens. The Internet is abuzz with stories of refugees from Islamic countries committing a hugely disproportionate number of sexual assaults against Swedish women – though of course the government and media suppress this fact. I am not saying that all male Muslims are rapists (unlike Trump, I don’t believe in  sweeping generalizations,) but through the lens of Islamic culture, independent Western woman are viewed as whores whom it is acceptable to abuse. Where is the outrage from feminists over this horrific injustice? Why do they instead focus on the video gaming community (“Gamergate”), making these hapless nerds out to be evil misogynists because of their verbal harassment of a single untalented female hack?

3. Why is Islam the darling of the progressive left? I don’t believe more than 1% of these people have ever read the Koran. One needs to consider the Islamic scriptures in their entirety, not from the cherry-picked quotations of propagandists. Yes, the Koran has calls for tolerance, but its also exhorts Muslims to “smite the infidels,” to force them into conversion, slavery, or at best second-class (“dhimmi”) citizenship. Under Islamic law, a woman is worth half as much as a man, and gays are to be executed immediately. Any white European religion that advocated any of these would be rightfully shunned and condemned as evil. Perhaps most outrageous is the fact that a Muslim man can marry girls as young as 9 years old. Remember the public reaction to people like David Koresh and Warren Jeffs, who practiced and condoned the forced marriage of underage girls? Americans were, in my view, righteously outraged. Where is the outrage over Islam?

I’m not saying that all Muslims are evil, or that there aren’t progressives among them. In fact, I strongly favor granting refugee status to those Muslims who have been condemned for ‘heresy’ by fundamentalist governments such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. These so-called heretics are the people who will, if we assist them, allow Islam to adapt to the 21st Century. However, I am an unapologetic bigot against conservative Muslims who believe in Sharia law, as practiced in those countries. If I were ever to hire employees, I would no sooner consider hiring (or doing business with) a Wahabbist Sunni or a Khomeini-following Shiite than a Nazi or KKK member. Yet under current US labor laws, I’d be subject to prosecution.

This is my prescription: If we’re going to admit Muslims freely to the US, it’s time to repeal laws against religious discrimination. Religion, unlike race (or sexual orientation) is a choice. If we do admit refugees, there should be absolutely no government support for them – let Muslim organizations raise money to help their own. As for Europe (and Canada)  – they seriously need a revolution. Barring that, these nations need to repeal all hate speech laws, reform or abolish their anti-gun laws (so their citizens may defend themselves, since the police cannot or will not), and vastly reduce the welfare state. No longer should unemployable Muslim fanatics be supported by the taxpayers of the nations they hate.

Lastly, and most importantly, the US and its NATO allies must immediately cease their military interventions in the Islamic world. Perhaps some Muslims really do hate us for our freedom, but surveys have shown that they hate us far more for killing their friends, families and neighbors in our unnecessary and inexcusable wars.

 

I’m Rational, You’re a Paranoid Idiot

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Recently while perusing the techno-geek site slashdot.org, I came across an article expressing a familiar meme that I’d like to address in this post. When I say meme, I’m not talking about a funny cat picture; I mean it in the original sense of the term as coined by Richard Dawkins, that of an idea that seems to reproduce itself like a gene. The Slashdot item referred to a December 1st article in the Washington Post, entitled “Why people think total nonsense is really deep.”

The article describes a study by Gordon Pennycook of the University of Waterloo, which measured the receptiveness of people to ascribe profundity to nonsense. In one phase of the study, a quarter of the 300 participants rated randomly generated nonsense statements as being more profound than genuine well-recognized proverbs. To me, this has interesting ramifications about the human brain’s tendency to look for patterns where there are none. This was, however, not the focus of the study. The researchers attempted to correlate this willingness to see nonsense as profound, and came to the following conclusion:

“Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions [beliefs in things for which there is no empirical evidence (i.e. that prayers have the ability to heal)] and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.”

To put it bluntly, (and this is solely my interpretation) people whose beliefs fall outside the mainstream are that way because they’re stupid. You see this attitude most prevalently in websites such as Rational Wiki, whose mission statement includes the following:

  • Analyzing and refuting pseudoscience and the anti-science movement.
  • Documenting the full range of crank ideas.

“Crank” ideas, in their view, don’t just include widely-held superstitions and religiously inspired viewpoints such as Bible-based creationism. They also include climate-change skepticism, the 9/11 Truth movement, and believers in a JFK assassination conspiracy – three categories that implicate yours truly. Now I’m not saying that the writers of Rational Wiki don’t sometimes make a good argument. But I have noticed a significant amount of editorializing and hand-waving in some of their articles – as well as the inclusion of the craziest “theories” – for example, the belief that President Kennedy was abducted by aliens – along with the more widely supported ones. What a shock! These uber-rational folks, who are dedicated to exposing flaws in other peoples’ reasoning, resort to the well-worn “strawman” fallacy, as well as the notion of guilt by association.

In this mainstream view, credulity is contextual. If you readily believe the authorities and the standard explanation for an event or phenomenon, you are rational. (Unless you live in Russia, in which case you would be one of Putin’s Brainwashed Minions.) If you are more partial to alternative theories, you’re credulous and perhaps even mentally unbalanced. Obviously, I disagree: all conspiracy theories and alternative philosophies are NOT created equal. Many if not most of them are, in my view, total bunk. But we must also consider the number of theories that went from “crazy” to accepted, such as the Copernican view of the universe, continental drift (a.k.a. plate tectonics) and evolution.

As for the notion of guilt-by-association: Some may point to the popular documentary “Loose Change” and its collection of unsupported, unrelated and sometimes contradictory theories as “proof” that all truthers are cranks, and therefore conclude that the government’s story of 9/11 must be true, Yet alternative journalist James Corbett does a really impressive job of poking holes in the official story in his brief video, “9/11, A Conspiracy Theory.” Am I contradicting myself? Not at all.

It occurred to me years ago that a secretive government agency such as the CIA could easily influence the news, planting false and misleading stories, and thus manipulate public opinion. In fact, the Agency is widely acknowledged to have done so, not just in the Communist bloc and the “third world,” but in nations considered to be our allies. Does the fact that it’s illegal for the CIA to act inside the USA mean that it won’t? Of course not: “national security” will ensure that the Agency is rarely, if ever, exposed when it does so. And if some whistle-blower does expose them, they’ll be dismissed as — you guessed it — a paranoid conspiracy theorist!

The sarcastic title aside, the point of this post is not that I’m right and “they” are wrong, but that we should all be skeptical, no matter what the source of the information. Everyone has an agenda – even the people we see as “good guys.” As for the “bad guys.” assuming they do indeed have evil motives, they would have no problem inserting disinformation into our “trusted” sources, or infiltrating their agents into “good guy” organizations. In other words, question everything – including this article!

Above “tinfoil hat” image is from http://www.clubpenguinwiki.info/wiki/Tinfoil_Hat