Thursday, July 22, 2010

Captain America No More

I've certainly been away from blogging for several months, but one story has so thoroughly baffled me that I feel compelled to discuss it, particularly in light of all of the changes that have occurred in the United States over the past few years. And that is this one:
The Director of the upcoming Captain America film has decided their Captain America will not be a "flag waver."

Let's demonstrate how infuriatingly stupid that statement is with an image:

Not a Flag Waver

Here is a character whose name is Captain America, whose uniform and shield are essentially American flags, and who started his career by punching out Adolph Hitler and other Nazis. Please explain to me how it is possible for this character NOT to be a flag waver. Every time he moves his shield around, he will be waving the flag.

Now, a number of superheroes back in the day were walking talking American propaganda machines. Superman used to stand for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" after all. (Yes, yes I know he's a DC hero and the Cap is Marvel, you comic book enthusiasts out there.) Many of them ended up punching out Nazis themselves.

But, unlike them, Captain America's job was specifically to fight Nazis, to run around as the walking, talking emblem of American values and American might. Otherwise they would have called him something like "Captain Allies" or "Captain Freedom." Of course, over the years Captain America has evolved beyond a living breathing American slogan, but his core character believing in America and American values stayed mostly the same.

This isn't just stupid because of the obvious disconnect between trying to make a guy whose costume IS the flag into a non-flag waver, it is also stupid because over the past few years it has become a trend throughout the United States, particularly in media. And this is due to a couple of factors really.

One has to do with how Hollywood approaches making movies nowadays. It is no longer about an art form and telling an interesting story. It is now much more about an accountant sitting with a statistician attempting to determine which combination of standard elements put together in a given genre will generate the maximum amount of revenue. Since the worldwide market has become a huge source of profit for movies, the accountant and the statistician are quick to remove elements that they feel will possibly hamper that goal. That means they really don't want to potentially alienate citizens of other countries who could be offended at the notion of America being exceptional.

While that is a sad thing and the Lego-block assembly of movies today has certainly destroyed the quality of American cinema, the other reason is harder to correct and substantially more insidious. The other reason is that people in this country have got it into their heads that we must learn to fit in with the rest of the world, that we cannot be exceptional or unique or "better" than other places for the very act of doing so requires us to push them down. That idea is one small step for the mind, and one giant leap towards self-destruction.

You see, when we talk about "America", we're not talking about the chunk of land between Canada and Mexico. We're not talking about the White House or the Capitol Building. We're not talking about the President or the Congress. We're not talking about Wall Street or Main Street. We're not talking about the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

No, what we're talking an idea: that every man, every human being, every sentient life form, has the capacity to make him or herself...better. That he or she can be stronger, faster, wiser, richer, happier - no matter his or her starting point. That it is our right, our duty as sentient beings to seek out that betterment, and through that betterment others in turn will be raised up, that our children shall climb higher by standing upon our shoulders.

No matter if you were black or white, man or woman, gay or straight, educated or layman, rich or poor, you could be better than you started. And that is an idea that so rarely and so briefly appears in human history that it is a wonder we have survived 200 years with it.

Captain America himself is the very embodiment of this idea. He was a scrawny, insignificant geek who became a superhero. He took the risk of taking the Super Soldier serum in the hopes that he could become a better man, more capable of defeating evil, and he became a superhero to whom millions of people both fictional and real looked to for inspiration in their own personal quests to better themselves.

So long as that is the case, Captain America will always be a "flag waver."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nature's Rules

The Crane Technique

Most people remember Mr. Miyagi for his famous "wax on, wax off" training method, but the Karate master gave Daniel-san lots of sage wisdom about all facets of life in The Karate Kid, including one gem that has particular relevance to yesterday's Health Care Summit. You see Daniel was always in a rush to learn, and even though he had barely grasped the basics of how to throw a punch, Daniel immediately asked to be taught the advanced Crane technique when he saw Mr. Miyagi performing it on the beach. In response, Mr. Miyagi chuckled and admonished him, "First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule Daniel-san, not mine."

Like Daniel, President Obama and the Democrats are perpetually in a rush to do everything, and they always want to do the biggest thing they can. Yesterday at the Health Care Summit, the President once again reiterated his resistance to smaller and more incremental steps towards health care reform by saying, "baby steps don't get you to the place where people need to go."

What the President does not realize is that government is barely capable of standing up straight without falling on its face, nevermind taking baby steps, particularly now that it is drunk on spending. When it does manage to get moving, it does so with all the grace of a tranquilized elephant, stumbling around stepping on people and crashing into things. Thus, trying to do anything at any speed greater than baby steps is most likely going to result in pain and suffering for everyone along the way to the destination, provided one can even get there.

Unlike the President, most Americans understand life from Miyagi's point of view. They recognize that big sweeping reform rarely works out well because the more that changes, the more difficult it is to control those changes. More importantly, it can become impossible to account for and adjust to the unexpected consequences of those changes. This is a simple fact of existence.

It is, as Miyagi says, nature's rule, not ours, and it cannot be simply wished away because we have an emotional reaction to sad stories of people who have had health care nightmares. The President can spend another seven hours telling health care horror stories, but that will not change the fact that we cannot simply sprout wings and fly off into the sunset. Trying to move with leaps and bounds when one can barely stand up straight is only going to result in a splitting headache and a bloody nose as face unexpectedly meets pavement.

Further, the President does not seem to grasp that while we stand there holding a bag of ice to our head, those people whom we so desire to help are still left out in the cold, and, if the injury is a broken leg instead of a mild concussion, we will be completely incapable of helping anyone. Indeed, this has been demonstrated extremely well by the last six months of complete gridlock in Congress as it fights over the health care issue to the detriment of every other challenge facing the nation.

How much more progress could have been made in the last six months if Democrats had focused on targeted, simple reforms upon which everyone could agree? Removal of restrictions against buying insurance across state lines. Health savings accounts. Tax cuts and breaks. All things that almost everyone could support if they're truly willing to put aside partisan divides. All things that could have immediate and positive effects.

Instead of taking small, careful steps like these to assist people, the President is content to continue flapping his arms in a futile attempt to fly, only to repeatedly fall on his face. One can only wonder how many more of these painful face-plants President Obama will have to endure before he realizes that while baby steps may not be as fast or as grandiose as a superhero-style flying rescue, they will at least be progress in the right direction and come with far fewer injuries...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

There Are Four Lights, Mr. President

There's a classic episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians in an attempt to glean information about Federation defense plans. Picard is given over to Gul Madred, played by David Warner, who proceeds to torture the good captain in every way imaginable (waterboarding is curiously left out) including inserting a device into Picard that can instantly cause pain and continue to do so for prolonged periods of time.

The hallmark of the repeated tortures is the test Gul Madred uses to determine if Picard has finally submitted. Madred has placed above and behind him, four spotlights. He turns them on, and then he asks Picard the simple question of "how many lights do you see?" Picard naturally counts four, only to be rebuked by Gul Madred that there are, in fact, five lights. This exchange is repeated a number of times over several days, and when Picard disagrees, Madred inflicts pain on Picard, even leaving the pain device on for hours after Picard quips "what lights?"

Eventually, the crew of the Enterprise foils the Cardassians' plot and forces the return of the captain. In one last attempt to break Picard, Madred insists the Enterprise has been destroyed and the coming guards are going to take Picard to a hellish prison, unless Picard can properly answer the question, "how many lights do you see?" Picard appears to waver, but the guards break the ruse, and in one last act of defiance Picard screams, "There are FOUR lights!"

Last night during the State of the Union, President Obama stood up and tried to convince Americans that there are five lights, not four. He wants us to ignore that which we see with our eyes and hear with our ears and reason with our logic, in favor of his fairy-tale world view, wherein everything can be fixed with the power of his very presence.


Once again, he claimed to be for transparency and openness in government, and yet this is the same man who has repeatedly stifled transparency. His administration has conducted back room deals with all of the same people he spends his entire speech deriding. He supports massive pieces of legislation upon which Congress votes prior to reading, and he proceeds to tell us how great these bills are when he, himself, cannot answer precisely what is written within those thousands of pages.

Once again, he claimed he was for cutting spending and reducing government waste, and yet he signed the pork-laden Stimulus bill, the earmark-laden Omnibus, and he would happily sign the bribe-filled health care bill that passed the Senate.

Once again, he tells us that same health care bill is something this country needs, even though it does not come anywhere near his ideal (single-payer) , contains nothing to reduce health care costs, creates a massive federal bureaucracy, and does not even cover everyone who needs insurance.

He tells us he wants to cut taxes for the middle-class, while supporting a health care bill that will force them to pay fines if they don't get health insurance commensurate with some to-be-created government panel's wishes.

He tells us he hates the bank bailouts, and then turns around to say he wants to give more money to banks, just smaller ones. Money, I might add, that came back from banks he just finished deriding, and that we, the taxpayers, owe on a loan we took out on behalf of said banks.

He claims he wants to focus on jobs, and then spends his entire speech talking about policies that will not only fail to create jobs, but will likely cause more layoffs. He wants to tax banks that we just finished bailing out and who are not lending enough as it is as if the tax will encourage them to lend more.

He says he wants us to fight Al Qaeda, and yet his administration continues to do everything possible to make it easier for Al Qaeda to operate such as foolishly trying KSM & Co. in New York City Federal Court and refusing to treat the Underpants Bomber as an enemy combatant and intelligence asset.

And, he wants bi-partisanship in all of it. Yes, the man who has let hyper-partisans like Reid and Pelosi repeatedly lock Republicans out of the process, the man who has met with Republicans fewer times this year than I can count on one hand, the man whose administration has repeatedly demonized and dismissed those who had opposing ideas as simply wanting the status quo, wants bi-partisanship.

To top it all off, he claimed he hates the fact that it's always campaign time in Washington. This from the guy who hasn't stopped campaigning on the idea that everything is Bush's fault even after taking office.

I'm sorry Mr. President, but the only thing I have to say to you after that speech is:
There are FOUR lights!

For those interested in the Star Trek episode, it is the sixth season, two part episode entitled "Chain of Command."