Quentin Tarantino, Historical Ignoramus

In a recent interview, famed director Quentin Tarantino stated that the Confederate flag was “the American swastika” and that efforts to ban it, and symbols such as memorials to Southern generals, were long past due. In the first place, banning Nazi symbols, as most European countries and American universities have done, not only antithetical to freedom but counter-productive. It gives the extreme right wing “evidence” of a Jewish conspiracy to suppress their nationalist movements. But debating politically correct censorship isn’t the purpose of this article. Rather, it’s Tarantino’s likening of the Confederacy to Nazi Germany that is both offensive and historically wrong.

Since Tarantino has done films relating to slavery and the south, he probably fancies himself as some sort of expert on American history. I’ve seen Django Unchained and although it’s an entertaining movie, it’s hardly historically accurate. To me it seemed that Tarantino was the little boy who finds an excuse to say a forbidden word (you know the one I’m talking about) and keeps saying it again and again. I haven’t research it, but I wonder if the dreaded N-word was actually the preferred terminology in the early 1800’s. The movie Twelve Years A Slave, which is based on a historical account, showed that besides the inexcusable deprivation of the Africans’ liberty, masters were not necessarily cruel, since a slave represented a significant investment. It was Solomon’s exceptional misfortune (besides being kidnapped in the first place) to be enslaved by to the alcoholic psychopath Edwin Epps, whose addiction made him violent and irrational.

Tarantino probably believes the propaganda he learned in school, namely that the Union was good and the Confederacy was bad, when reality was far more complicated. Abraham Lincoln, despite being celebrated nowadays as an American saint, was quite unpopular in his day, and he closed newspapers and imprisoned writers who opposed him. As for his motivation in waging war on the South, consider the man’s own words, from a letter to Horace Greeley: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Lincoln was a white supremacist whose primary aim was to deport all blacks to Africa. Nowhere in his private correspondence is there any evidence that he ever gave up on this goal. It’s interesting to note that another historically oppressed people, the “civilized tribes” of Oklahoma, sided with the Confederacy.

One can easily draw parallels between the racialist philosophies of Nazi Germany and the antebellum US. (I say US because in the early 1800’s, few whites anywhere viewed blacks as equals, and many northern states had “black codes” that prevented freedmen from settling there.) However, there’s a vast difference between exploitation and extermination. If there’s a parallel to the Holocaust in America, it’s the horrific treatment of our native peoples, and toward this odious cause the generals of the victorious Union, in particular Sherman and Sheridan, were quite zealous. (I should note that Sherman was also a vicious anti-Semite who persuaded Grant to expel all Jews from his army.) American Indian reservations, where so many died from starvation and disease, can be likened to concentration camps. The biggest difference is that here in America, European microbes, such as smallpox and measles, did much of the dirty work for us, decreasing Native American populations by 90% or more. In any case, if there’s an American swastika, it would be one of the cavalry flags of the Indian Wars.

 

Fury Road WTF?

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Max

Since George Miller’s Max Max: Fury Road was released back in May of this year, this is not so much of a review as a rumination on a wider social phenomena. Namely: why the hell did this film get such good reviews?

Let’s back up a bit: my girlfriend Arlys is a dyed in the wool film buff who has introduced me to many classics, courtesy of our Netflix subscription. Her favorites are the work of the masters Hitchcock and Kurosawa. In turn she indulges my love of anime and science fiction. Understand that Arlys does not have a “girly” taste in movies; for example, she detests most romantic comedies. In addition, she loved the original “Mad Max” movies, especially the 1981 Road Warrior and 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome. Yet she hated this new one so much that she gave it a score of zero. Her reasoning: a completely implausible plot and the marginalization of the Mad Max character, who had lost all of his redeeming characteristics from the earlier movies.

I have to agree, partially. As brainless action fun, I’d give it two stars out of five. The mixed reports I’d heard about the movie gave me low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I enjoyed it more than Star Wars: The Force Awakens because the high hopes I had for that one were rudely dashed. Yes, the plot on the earlier Mad Max incarnations was thin but this last one was idiotic. As a sci-fi fan I like to have at least some degree of plausibility. My biggest issue was how did this post-apocalyptic society function? Nowhere did I see any crops or animals, except for the mutant lizard that Mad Max (Tom Hardy) munches at the beginning. The evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has enslaved some well-endowed women as milk cows, but what do they eat? The bad guys also imprison Mad Max and extract his blood but what do they feed him? One of the fattest villains is called “People Eater”(John Howard) but again, you’ve got to have something for the herd. Speaking of the herd, all around the bluffs that serve as Joe’s headquarters is a huge crowd of rabble, whom he occasionally drenches with the life-giving water that he has monopolized. These people don’t have any jugs or buckets; they just wallow in the mud. They don’t appear to have any mud huts or caves to live in. And why is Joe doing this? We know he’s a bastard, so what’s in it for him?

We’ll grant that an action movie can be light on world building, but I’m just getting started. How does Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) get access to Joe’s wives to rescue them? Why does the “war boy” Nux (Nicholas Hoult) strap Max to the front of his car as he pursues the fugitives? If Max is killed, the precious blood Nux is siphoning from him would be gone. Why does Max, who is tortured by flash-backs of all the people he couldn’t save in the past, attempt to abandon Furiosa and Joe’s wives to die in the desert? How can Max possibly be so young? He’s a survivor from before the nuclear war, which was clearly decades ago, especially if Furiosa has lived her whole life since that time. I could go on for pages, but I won’t.

The thing that mystifies me most is, why did the critics rate this awful movie so highly – on Rotten Tomatoes it’s 97%, higher than the audience score of 86! Don’t critics usually hate brainless action movies? Is it because this was reputed to be a “feminist” Mad Max? I say that because on the Web, I saw articles by conservatives grousing about how Max had been upstaged by a woman. If so, I don’t get it. True, Furiosa is a great female action hero, but they’re a dime a dozen these days. Most of the other female characters, the wives Furiosa is rescuing, are helpless bimbos in scanty dress. Or is this movie feminist in the politically correct “white men are evil” sense? Joe and his followers are indeed bad guys, but this is a post-nuclear wasteland. Savagery is the rule of the day. If the critics fell in line to praise “Fury Road” because they didn’t want to seem sexist, George Miller’s got one hell of a scam going on.

To be fair, I looked up the Rotten Tomatoes entries for the previous “Mad Max” movies and discovered to my surprise that the rankings for “Road Warrior” were almost exactly the same – a 98% critic score versus 85% audience. Perhaps this invalidates my theory, since that one starred racist white guy Mel Gibson. Admittedly “Road Warrior” was a far better movie than “Fury Road” but even the earlier one wasn’t that good. I’m beginning to question Rotten Tomatoes as an objective guide.

If I had made “Fury Road,” I’d have kept Charlize Theron, but I’d change practically everything else. Casting a geriatric babbling Mel Gibson as Max would have been quite amusing. Better yet, I’d call it “Furry Road” and have all the actors wear animal costumes. Furiosa would be adorable as a she-wolverine, though we’d definitely keep the robot arm.

 

Warrior Girls in Sci Fi — Too Bad-Ass to Believe?


I’m not the only one dissing the new Star Wars. Gavin McInnes has some pointed criticism, and he said it so well, I’m jealous. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s the Canadian expat writer who co-founded Vice Magazine and appears on the Fox News show “Red Eye.” In a recent article  at Taki’s Magazine, he argues that The Force Awakens is part of the anti-white-male propaganda currently infesting pop culture. It’s the phenomenon that portrays TV dads as bumbling idiots while their wives hold everything together. I’m not going to argue that point, rather, I’ll discuss a related issue: the ascendancy of the kick-ass female in science fiction.

McInnes writes that he can only stand the feminist nonsense in movies by looking for the chinks in the armor, the rare times where traditional values are affirmed, or a man is portrayed in a positive way.For example, Luke Skywalker, a white male, seems like a Christ figure when he appears at the end of The Force. My strategy is different. I short-circuit the propaganda by being a sexist fan-boy (though, given my age, I should probably say “dirty old man.”) That’s because nerds like myself find the take-charge female warriors of sci-fi to be totally hot. If you don’t get it, watch a few episodes of “The Big Bang Theory,” where some of the actresses I list below make guest appearances.

My favorite kick-ass sex symbol is River Tam (played by Summer Glau) from the “Firefly” series. In the movie Serenity, she dispatches a room full of reavers (bloodthirsty space cannibals) all by herself. We accept this, because she’s a mutant genius, an emotionally-damaged victim of secret government experiments. Another is Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhof), the whiskey-drinking blonde fighter pilot in “Battlestar Galactica.” Then there’s Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who climbs into a robotic loader exosuit to battle the alien queen in Aliens, with the ferocity of a mama bear protecting her cub. Probably the best is recent years is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, who looks fantastic in both her “flaming” evening gown and her Hunger Games battle gear. If I were Peeta, I wouldn’t have wasted the last minutes of the movie snuggling. The trilogy’s biggest sin was to have such a wimp be married to the warrior goddess.

Bad-ass as these warrior girls are, they all have weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which makes them seem real enough to be sympathetic. That’s something that Rey (played by Daisey Ridley) lacks, which was my biggest problem with her character. Everything just comes too easily for her. As a consequence she’s more annoying than appealing, despite her fresh-faced athletic looks. The worst serial offender is Angelina Jolie, whose action-move-heroine roles frequently cross over into the ridiculous. It doesn’t help that Jolie’s body is too damned perfect, with her economy-sized lips and breasts. Remember the wet suit in Lara Croft : Tomb Raider that somehow manages not to flatten out, but to accentuate those awe-inspiring mammaries? I guess Croft is so tough that she doesn’t mind the added drag while swimming.

Sexual fantasies aside, it’s all about creating a good story with interesting characters, not about following some formula, whether feminist or traditionalist. Warrior girls need more than their good looks and killer moves to make them interesting. They need to be people we actually care about.

Complicating the Obvious: An Engineer Responds

mad_scientist

The mad scientist persona on my Facebook author page (shown above) is somewhat appropriate because, besides being a full-time radical malcontent, my “day job” is an an engineer. A recent article by Thomas Sowell  prompted me to respond from an engineer’s perspective.

I’m a great admirer of Mr. Sowell; he’s a brilliant thinker and a great writer. To be a black conservative in this country takes a special kind of courage, and he was on the right before it was fashionable. His recent article, which appeared on January 5th on numerous websites, about the deficiencies in modern product engineering.

In general, I agree with his comments. Many if not most electronic products are over-complicated. In my defense, it’s not just a software problem. Even the labels on an over-the-counter medicine bottles are too complex. The critical information on dosage and frequency is lost in a thousand words of fine-print warnings and disclosures. Why should I have to dig out my reading glasses to find out how long I can go between doses? A similar issue applies to appliance manuals. They’re printed in three to ten languages with at least a dozen pages of warnings that no one but an imbecile should need. I’m not sure it’s due to government or to multi-cultural correctness, but this so-called “internationalization” is the impetus behind the babel of languages and the widespread use of non-textual hieroglyphic’s that Sowell detests so much.

Safety regulations make for some especially idiotic designs. You can’t buy a simple gasoline container any more, there are locks on the caps and baffles in the spout. Environmental rules can be even worse. A few months ago, when Arlys and I bought a new washing machine, we discovered that government “water conservation” regulations had rendered it almost unusable. You’re no longer allowed to choose your own water level. The machine figures that out, adding time to the cycle, and if it screws up, your clothes don’t get clean. We returned the new machine and had our old one repaired.

Though government is, as usual, our biggest nemesis, it’s not our only one. One of my mantras as a software engineer has been that a properly designed interface should be so intuitive that it shouldn’t require one. Sadly, that seldom happens. Creating a good interface costs money, something the folks in accounting don’t always appreciate. Being tangible, the hardware usually gets more attention. Yet it’s a mistake to neglect the software to save a few bucks. Ease of use can make or break a product.

Another temptation for manufacturers is to save design effort by relying on the Internet. Even if the product’s interface is too difficult for the average person to figure out, some 15-year old genius will do it, and publish how-to instructions on You-tube for free. Though streaming video is a powerful tool, I really don’t want to watch a 20-minute video by some pimply faced kid so I can work my toaster. We should save that option for more complicated products, like the cell phones Sowell complains about.

Though corporate stinginess is a problem, it’s also possible to make a bad interface by going overboard on the design. One company that puts a lot of resources into the interface design is Apple, which explains the popularity of its products. At the very least, they’re pretty, but that doesn’t guarantee ease of use. The philosophy of simplicity for its own sake can sacrifice usability. (Why a one-button mouse?) For the product to look slim and elegant in the ad is everything. In particular, the ability to repair, maintain or upgrade Apple devices (consider the I-Phone’s non-removable battery) goes out the window.

By the way, I share Sowell’s frustration with needlessly complex cell phone interfaces. Perhaps if the author gig doesn’t work out I’ll create my own Android distribution, and it will actually make sense. Any suggestions?

 

My Arcane and Esoteric Predictions for 2016

Hourglass

Everyone likes to start the new year with a bunch of optimistic forecasts but this is not that year. I have three:

  1. Donald Trump will not be President. At the rate he’s going, he could legitimately be elected, but the powers that be won’t tolerate a loose cannon like him in the White House. Not that presidents have all that much authority, anyway, but the elites need to maintain at least the facade of democracy.
  2. There will be no economic recovery. Nothing has changed since 2007. The bad actors weren’t punished, and the big banks weren’t allowed to fail. The economy needs a reset; we need to repudiate government debt, ax laws and regulations, and close our expensive and unnecessary overseas military bases. Until that happens, things won’t get better.
  3. We can expect civil unrest to expand beyond the inner cities. The American “Deep State” is a big believer in “divide and conquer” which is why they’ve pursued chaos in Ukraine and Syria. Lately I’ve suspected they want to try it here. If they can get the majority to riot, they’ve got an excuse for repression, and maybe even for repudiating some of the aforementioned debt. Consider the offenses to Christians, conservatives and Southerners: gay marriage by judicial fiat, making transsexuals a protected class, denigrating the rebel flag and destroying Confederate monuments. I’m not saying I share their outrage but I’m baffled that we haven’t seen more push-back. The clincher would be (a) forcing us to accept massive numbers of Muslim refugees, and expecting us to accommodate their prejudices, as Germany and Sweden have done, or (b) gun confiscation. This is especially likely if Hillary is elected President. The elite can make her play the bad guy, then follow up with impeachment and prosecution for her criminal past. Of course, whatever outrages she imposes upon us will stand even after she is gone. Read Machiavelli, it’s in “The Prince.”

There you have it. I hope I’m wrong. If I’m right, you all owe me a beer – if our new Muslim overlords will allow it.