Mockingjays of the World

The words of movie heroes are now igniting real passion in the hearts of people in Thailand, moving them to take a symbolic action: raising three fingers into the air. If this goes against government wishes and leads to arrests being made then these protesters will go to jail for referencing a fictional story from a movie.

Hunger Games is shaking the world? Maybe. It is certainly not going to usher in a new era, much as we fans may wish. Why would strict governments be wary of this film, then? Because the message of Hunger Games is the immorality of tyranny, and the virtue of justified revolt.

Popular culture seems to have created a worldwide narrative of “freedom,” though it’s still as vague and hazy as the fictional sources it’s being extracted from to find its final shape. At the end of the day Katniss is a fictional character living in a fabricated world conceived of by her creator Suzanne Collins.

She is not taking real action, not facing consequences for marching in the streets, she may be the spark that lights the kindling—but the kindling has to be there to light. The heart of revolution lies in the people. Fictional characters don’t create social change, people do.

Well, that is true, although it’s nothing new or surprising. Did anyone think Winston Smith (of 1984) was actually to have an impact in Soviet Russia? Of course not! That was why Orwell set his socialist myth on the Isles, warning a free people not to relinquish authority to their government. What about Dagny Taggart (Atlas Shrugged)? Same idea, essentially.

No, fictional characters do not do the leg work. However, they do fire up the passions and steel the determination of real people, those real people who actually drive society.

China’s policy of hiding ideas from its people is screaming out the flaws inherent in their system. Can there be any quality in a society that has to shelter itself from all ideological competition? Doubtful.

In fact, one can scarcely have confidence in a system but for testing it; one of the reasons America was meant to be a federalist society. As originally envisioned, each state would try different things and discover what worked and what didn’t. Such an enterprise on the scale of our states should allow foolishness to be assuaged and wisdom to be embraced. Whether or not anyone actually learns the lessons  and discards of foolishness is another matter, I must admit…

China, though, concerned about the content of Mockingjay Part 1? Why? After all, the rebels aren’t praying in it. Is the communist government of Beijing really terrified enough to withhold a movie about rebellion? Did they ban Star Wars too?

Perhaps a state that has lived and breathed propaganda for the better part of a century can appreciate the power of an idea. Thus, for communists to retain authority, the people must remain ignorant of all which challenges communism and Chinese ultra-nationalism. If I had to guess, I would speculate that China is very wary of this film, because of how frankly it depicts the manufacturing of propaganda to support a cause, both for District 13 and for the Capitol.

China cannot let any more holes develop in their once-airtight seal on the minds of the Chinese people.

How disgraceful that so many millions have their access to alternative ideas closed off! Right?


Maybe they should ban Mockingjay Part 1 on most college campuses too… Or relegate it to the tiny free speech zones.

Maybe, just maybe, free speech is important, not so that we may all agree on everything lest someone be offended. Maybe free speech is valuable because speech which is disfavored must be evaluated in free and open debate in the marketplace of ideas.

In America, we have come to a point where many topics are avoided altogether, or if not avoided, people tiptoe around them as though a single syllable out of place could mean the end of their public image. This is not just the politicians. Many regular people quietly refuse to speak, lest someone level an accusation against them. If they speak, they take care to know what ears hear.

In America, most poor blacks who are victims of crimes are victimized by young black men who are ingrained into a thug culture. Talk about it? You’re instantly labelled a racist.

Meanwhile, protests go on for one black man who was shot by a white police officer. A tragedy to be sure, but a mere 250 miles away, the shooting of dozens of black men goes quietly unmentioned, because many of the suspects are non-white. Where is the cry to stop this tragedy?

I do not denounce the protestors, only the focus. But the moment anyone brings this up, the shouts of racist begin.

Similarly, college campuses have become stagnant. Either you agree with the modern feminist pandemonium, or you are helping rapists. No room is left for debate and polite disagreement. Agree, or else…

The environment. If you want free market solutions to the problems of pollution and congestion, you are denounced as a shill for the oil companies, and you must want to destroy the whole planet. You’re worse than a holocaust denier, your children should be taken away to re-education camp, and your house should be burned down! Sounds reasonable enough a position, right?

Everywhere in America we’re surrounded by atrociously awful bureaucracies that fail miserably at even the most basic of tasks. Some of us say that it’s probably not best to empower these chronically inept bureaucrats with the healthcare of the people. To that, we’re accused of being rich misers who want the poor to die off and work for slave wages. Never mind that those two goals are paradoxical!

Of government dependency programs, we want people to be weaned off the addicting support of government. We want social workers to see those they want to help as people, and not permanent victims. We want government to stop wasting all of the human potential of those they proclaim to help. That makes us fatcats, robber barons, and one-percenters. Never mind the fact that I have not once made $30,000 a year yet…

I could go on, but you get the idea. And you may disagree with my position on most of these specific issues, and that’s fine! However, we ought to at the very least agree that it is better to be able to talk openly and freely about these issues, without the fear of mob tactics being used to silence discussion.

Harmony is not a Mexican standoff, where no one shoots, lest everyone be shot. Harmony is not all disfavored opinions remaining unspoken, lest a savage reprisal follow a politically incorrect phrase.

Harmony is when people agree to disagree. Hear each opinion, remain civil, discuss, disagree, and go on with their lives.

Or agree.

That’s the real key to free speech! How else do you convince someone to change his opinion but to discuss and debate with him? Mere dictation of the ‘appropriate’ opinion makes you… a dictator.

Free speech means everyone needs to have thick enough skin to hear things they dislike. If you come to pieces because you dislike what someone says, then you need to go to de-sensitivity training. If micro-aggressions are your overriding concern in life, then things must be pretty peachy keen. If you unfriend every single person on Facebook who disagrees with you, are you really an open minded person? Can you really believe in free speech and refuse to hear anything that challenges your view?

One can hardly blame the people of Thailand for picking up on the simple expression of a salute, which can be imbued with as much political weight as it had in Catching Fire. I sincerely hope fans of The Hunger Games can overcome whatever repression and intimidation they face from their governments.

And I hope we in the West can refuse this nonsense about abridging the freedom of speech in the name of stopping anyone from having hurt feelings. Being polite and gentle is all well and good, but when sensitivity demands dishonesty and delusion from all of society, sensitivity becomes but a vehicle for expanded state authority.

Let us be free and civil, the world over. If you strip our freedom from us, then you shall not have our civility too.

Midnight Review of Mockingjay Part 1

I see that, after all this time, my articles on Capitalism, Communism, and the Hunger Games are still receiving many hits every day.

Perhaps it would be best for my  (spoiler free!) review of Mockingjay Part 1 to include some mentions of contemporary issues, as our times are certainly intriguing, from a historical perspective.

However, first should come my impression of the movie, which is that it is good. Really good. That said, it is not quite as good as Catching Fire was. Frankly, I don’t recall what I said specifically in my review of Catching Fire, but I do remember falling in love with it the second time through, having only found satisfaction from my first viewing.

Mockingjay Part 1 is darker. Not just in visual styling, which is necessary considering the bulk of it takes place underground. The tone of the film is darker, perhaps matched only by the incredible shadowing around Peeta’s eyes. Excellent acting by Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Liam Hemsworth finally receives the screen time that was precluded by the forced absence of his character. Stellar performance on a role that’s hard to sell, (made even more complex in delivery by the popularity of Suzanne Collins’ final Hunger Games novel).

As before, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson provide much-needed comic relief, developing their characters more fully than ever. And yet, those moments of humor quickly sink beneath a sea of despair, as the movie tracks very closely with the savagely-dramatic plot in Mockingjay.

Which is not to say that it is too dark. Only that it matches the circumstances as they play out. Perhaps Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death during filming brings some of the anguish of Mockingjay Part 1 into the real world. The film is dedicated to him, and may his soul rest in peace.

All told though, few (perhaps none) going into the theaters tonight were unaware of the plot, and so were ready to embrace a darker film. Mockingjay Part 2 (barring any rewrite for audience expansion [God forbid it!]) is sure to be even bleaker.

It works.

Mockingjay Part 1 is a fantastic continuation of the story, and when the film manages to bring some sunlight to the scene, it really splashes wonderfully amidst the ashes and piles of concrete. Solid film that sets up the potential for a powerful finish to this saga. I hold no illusions that people who are not going already, will see Mockingjay Part 1 because I recommend it. But if such a person exists, go see this film already!

Now, Mockingjay Part 1 takes place in a different world from the first two movies. When rebellion gets under way and experiences some success, there cannot but be a confusing arrangement of things between all parties concerned.

I’m saying that the politics in Mockingjay Part 1 are not involved nearly so heavily now. The chessboard tactics to manipulate enemies are ever-present, but not the maintenance of one people at the expense of others. Under threat, those with power will do whatever is necessary to keep it, and those who want to abolish it (or steal it) will likely act similarly.

Which brings us to a very clear point: no system can exist where good men are given sweeping authority to control the lives of all others. By definition, a man cannot be good and dictate to the rest of the people. Similarly, no council of men can unite goodness with absolute authority as well.

Absolute authority is not for man, but for Another, and He already has it. He only loans out temporary authority to man, because He created Free Will.

If we are to take lessons away from The Hunger Games, we would be best to understand the profound value of checks and balances, statutory limitations of authority, and local autonomy. There need not be a war, nor revolution if the Capitol and Snow would have just left the hard working people of Panem to produce and sell as they please.

The Capitol would have had to pay for everything, sure, and that might cost a bit more money. But there would have been no need to shoulder the burden of a Peacekeeper force to maintain strict control over the districts. Imagine the bureaucratic costs of recruiting, training, arming, deploying, and enforcing all of the will of the Capitol! If all of those funds could be forgone, the districts would happily produce and sell and buy. All would become richer by each transaction. That’s how free markets work; the parties involved in each transaction make each other happy, otherwise the deal is not made.

Perhaps you see the wrench in the gears of this peaceful-coexistence theory. Would President Snow have allowed tyranny to be phased out, even to bring forward a vastly-superior mode of production and distribution? No, of course not!

Why not? Because the equal distribution of personal freedom would thoroughly vanquish Snow’s totalitarian authority. If he can twist the entire nation into giving him the power and prestige he desires, the rest of the nation must suffer for the vanity of one man.

And so revolution must be had.

Who among us today can trust that the will of the people is heard in the hallowed halls of our own Capitol building? Of the offices at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Make no mistake, I am not stating that we’ve come to the point of Panem. No, certainly not. For we still have, and exercise, the vote, and in part that exercise has a result. Those who pay close attention can see that.

How often though, is that exercise flatly ignored and rejected as mere tradition? Are we a nation which has laws, under which all men are equal? Or are we a nation which is to endow good men with ultimate power?

And by endowment of ultimate power, we steal away the goodness of those men, and make the greatest bait for those of the lowest repute!

No, my friends! Good government is that which governs least, and good people are those who need least governing!

No one would say that Panem would be better off with the Mockingjay granted President Snow’s office and authority. Katniss Everdeen has at least enough understanding of power to know that she could not assume that place without becoming the very blood-breathing, vile creature she hates.

This is why she kills President Coin at the end of Mockingjay. She sees another person taking authority who, by virtue of accepting such tyranny, is undeserving of having any power whatsoever!

Let us, in America and around the world, learn the lessons of tyranny before it takes bloodshed to hack away the bonds that must accompany it.

And go see Mockingjay Part 1!

The Only Admirable Way

I wrote this back in June, and it has sat since then. Given the madness surfacing in various parts of this great nation, I thought perhaps a few of these lines will seem poignant. That is for the reader to decide.

What a terrible mess of justice we make,

When for an idea, society we break.

Once setting out, spurred by truth’s yearning,

Crushed to powder and buried, under a mountain of ‘learning’.

Embracing foolishness; ‘imagine men and women the same’,

Unable to see anything, except through the insane

Chains of hard iron; rusty, discarded, and broken,

Reforged anew, willingly worn, shouting “token!”

As though any difference at all is unjust,

Among people infinitely unique, and thus,

Every foundation must be shattered anew,

Because compared to an idea, nothing else will do!

Many who improve their lot are then hated,

Whoever may seek, so mercilessly berated,

As acting white, chauvinistic, or prudish,

Wealthy one percent, apartheid Jewish.

Unrelenting fealty to the mob, this demand.

No whisper of dissent is permitted to stand.

Holding up conversation as necessary and right,

While murdering any else, blaming them for all blight.

And those going quietly about their own way,

Working to provide, serving their families each day,

Whose ethic is mostly subconscious but fair,

Treating people as individuals, and always with care;

They are to suffer, for an idea the only standard,

Thus, every iota of life must be gerrymandered.

In remaking the world, we must remake man.

Always, of course, assuming that we can,

Though history is replete, exhaustive with example,

Only God can work the clay of mankind and resample.

Baked, we are in His image, now hardened.

Twill shatter to reform, outside of the Garden.

The terror of orthodoxy, that furious will of the mob,

Always crashing right down, and the Blind Lady must sob.

Every gift we were given, cast uncaring aside,

All fences torn down without pause to ask why.

If they were once put there, was it only for greed?

How can we possibly assume such a simplistic creed?

After all, we must make the world so complex,

Only an educated mind can be wrapped in this hex.

None who think clearly would interpret this way,

But the degrees and the peers entitle some to say,

Only this and not that, but both when we look,

And need to justify her, as we make him a crook.

For one is a victim, because the other has oppressed,

In our very definitions of poverty and success!

Embrace the unnatural, sown with pure will

Virtue by power, Correctness made shrill

What makes a thing good, is merely that it works

And we want it and do it, ignoring the quirks.

Yet, who defines what ‘working’ means?

Who sets the rules of these hellish machines?

Still the crowd screams vile rage into the wind,

Howling as though a hurricane’s gale shall rescind.

And denying payday’s oncoming storm,

Our recycled delusions tailored to conform,

Until all of any worth is lost,

And every single soul we accost,

And over our easy lives a frost,

And forever through the ages

Our demise is embossed,

Onto the ash heap of history we’ve tossed,

The only admirable way.

Graceful Disagreement

How does a healthy society react to disagreement?

We have seen a variety of reactions to this Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, who has been caught in clearly racist behavior. Magic Johnson recommended Clips players refuse to play. Bryant Gumbel compared Sterling to a “vicious dog” that would eventually bite. Larry Johnson even called for a separate league for blacks.

My own reaction was nearer to that of Charles Barkley, who said Sterling is an idiot and a relic of a long-distant past. But then again, that’s also my reaction to Larry Johnson’s recommendation of re-segregation.

We used to have segregated leagues in the past, most notably the Negro Leagues in baseball, including some of the greats like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck O’Neil. Many of us see these as the golden days of baseball, but only in spite of the enormous rift in America between blacks and whites.

It was great because of the way it was played and the people who played it. An integrated League was to follow when the New York Dodgers started Jackie Robinson in 1947, which brought about dramatic changes in baseball, and in some small way contributed to the ultimate desegregation of the United States. (Incidentally, I hear that 42 is great, although I haven’t seen it. The movie chronicles Jackie Robinson’s tough trial in breaking the color barrier in MLB.)

There is no way that baseball was helped by segregation. America’s long road to integration is a story truly different to those we see throughout history. And it’s a story not exclusive to blacks, or people of any race. Anyone who wants to come to America and embrace American ideals has found a wonderful home in this nation.

Is it a reasonable reaction to the disgusting statements Sterling made to recommend we go back to segregation? Does voluntarily segregating our society make it any less a repugnant concept? Why, after so many decades, do we still fail to live up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s admonition that character matters for everything in the judgment of a man, while skin color is of import only to one’s family history and cultural traditions?

I believe in free speech, which means I believe that Larry Johnson can call for whatever asinine idea he wants to, and Donald Sterling can make whatever demeaning statements he wants to. The rest of us can call them idiots and move on. But that’s not what is going on in the media.

The NBA has the right to yank Sterling’s contract, and is likely to try something given the uproar. That is a little frightening, I must say, given that we have seen a long line of these fear-the-mob reactions in recent years.

Free speech depends on more than mere non-interference by government. That is only the first part. When government is smaller, the role of the individual is bigger, and considering individuals wield the ax of the marketplace, ideas are regulated. That’s a good thing. But we are holding an ax that can sever discussion. Don’t we have an obligation to be careful about when we swing it?

What of this perpetual outrage machine? Is it really a societal disaster that some 80 year old rich guy thinks like he hasn’t changed his view since elementary school? Does anyone think he’s half a step from turning a fire hose on his team? His team that makes him a new fortune every season, not to mention pays hundreds of other people too?

Does anyone truly believe that these players are oppressed somehow? If they are, don’t we risk expanding the meaning of the word ‘oppress’ to include so much, the term is effectively useless? If oppression includes people making millions of dollars a year to play a game, despite the fact that the guy who pays them doesn’t like them personally, exactly how do we define oppression, and still have it be a bad thing?

Clearly, Sterling is not violating Title VII regulations with regards to his team. Title VII prohibits employers from refusing to hire someone based upon their race. It would be suicide for Sterling to refuse hiring blacks, even if no one knew he was doing it. His team would lose every game if he wanted to stack the ranks with only white players.

That was why Jackie Robinson playing for the Dodgers was such a big deal. When other teams realized they could reach out to some of these fantastic players in the Negro Leagues, the race prohibition evaporated effectively overnight. If you refused to hire a black player, and instead went for a white player who wasn’t as good, the other teams would get the better player, and you’d lose more often than they would. The market effectively forced racist whites to treat blacks better than they would otherwise.

Opinions are dangerous things, as they can lend support to crazy ideas, like segregation in Donald Sterling’s case, or segregation in Larry Johnson’s case. But how we react to someone’s opinion says a lot about us as well. It is better to disagree and leave it at that more often than not. We should understand that the vehemence with which we shout down one unpopular idea might make another unpopular idea remain hidden, even if it one day proves to have some merit much further down the road.

Source: XKCD. Well, yes, but is it mature to jump to insta-ban mode without a jiffy of a thought?

As I said earlier, when the government has no role in an area, the citizens own the role. There are several sides to each opinion, and a society that cannot handle a moment of exposure to what it finds disagreeable is one very near to giving up the legal right to free speech. In order to have a discussion that challenges what you think, you have to be willing to allow words you may disagree with into the atmosphere.

Creating a world where it’s instantaneous career suicide to step outside of the bounds of discourse is undermining of free speech, even if it uses a mob-mentality to accomplish that terror, rather than a governmental dictate. As participants in the market of ideas, we all have the duty to be careful how forcefully we react, on a case-by-case basis.

Whereas some Americans once suffered fire hoses and police dogs to demand the rights they legally own under the Constitution, others now are practically calling for fire hoses and police dogs to be dragged out against a single person, simply for his personal opinions. Backward as his statements are, they are just statements, and we would be a healthier society if most of us just laughed and said, “What an idiot!” and moved on. The current outrage does not merely originate with Sterling. If one lone guy can threaten the racial harmony of America, we are at a sad place in how many view their fellow Americans.

Passing On the Legacy

In a recent article from Science Magazine‘s website, there’s this:

“This fabulous work opens the eyes of people like me and other researchers,” says Foster, who plans to use LiDAR in his future investigations of forest ancestry in Massachusetts. It shows “that with relatively little effort, you can generate a completely new data set of information about the landscape.”

Just taking a shot in the dark here, but isn’t a Laser system, that can map out details this refined, from a satellite orbiting the Earth rather complex? Not to be too facetious, but it sounds like more than a “little effort”.

Oh wait, I forgot that little “relatively”.

It’s incredible that we’ve come to a period of technological innovation where something like this can be considered effortless. Futurists like Michio Kaku (okay, he’s a PhD physicist, but he’s a futurist too) guess that the future will be an ever-more-seamless integration of technology into life, until everything we understand now disappears into a brilliant fog of… something new, some hyper-ized lifestyle and culture that we just can’t predict. In many ways that is fascinating and enticing, but in many others I am humbled by the enormous moral hurdles that will inevitably follow. That’s a discussion for another day.

This is a great book, by the way. Even if the cover is reminiscent of 1950s sci-fi magazines... which... really fouled up their predictions of the future.

This is a great book, by the way. Even if the cover is reminiscent of 1950s sci-fi magazines… which… really fouled up their predictions of the future.

We ought to take a few minutes and consider all that has come before to provide for what we see as relative ease in life, especially when disruption in that condition can rapidly bring bitterness and anger.

One hundred years ago, the primary modes of transportation were the steamship, the coal-engine train, and the horseback/carriage. One hundred years before that, the train had yet to be invented. One hundred years before that the ocean was traversed with wind, skill, and providence. One thousand years before that (714 A.D.), transportation was still operating on essentially the same forces. And a thousand years before that, and a thousand more?

I’m slowly becoming a bigger and bigger fan of the ‘gilded age’, that period of the late 1800s when creativity and innovation exploded with Cambrian strength and brought about the astounding technological world we have today.

Many argue that it was the Age of Reason bringing natural fruits forward, and there’s some truth to that, although the story is much deeper. Many others argue that significant changes to patent law and property rights played a significant part, and that is also beyond a doubt.

This post is more about encouraging people to appreciate the shoulders upon which we stand. Putting a satellite in space was an incredible achievement just fifty decades ago! Perhaps an even more outstanding achievement is that we have been so successful since then as to make the first spacewalk seem mundane.

If children today scratch their heads and wonder why the world would be awed by such feats, then maybe we’ve got to tell these stories better. Part of why so many truly profound people became interested in science and engineering is because they were growing up in a world that was changing fast with new marvels all the time. Richard Feynman comes to mind.

Yes, we’re past the period where science is progressed by amateur tinkerers, but that means absolutely nothing to the five year old who doesn’t necessarily care about the edge of the wave of new discoveries in particle science at the LHC. Why should the five-year-old care? He doesn’t have a context to interpret those discoveries. And he never will, if you don’t bring him to a point where he can understand those things.

That’s the great thing about the history of science and ideas. You can present the history of physics to a child and bring him slowly up from Kepler and Galilei to Pascal and Newton to Einstein and Bohr. The concepts at play build upon themselves from the basic to the complex. In many ways, science is still struggling to nail down these rudimentary concepts. Physics is tugging at the fabric of the universe to try to figure gravity out, still!

But we have to be very conscious of where we came from and maintain humility about what we have now. I almost want to say we must be reverent for the hard work that has gifted us a wonderful set of opportunities. Technology is not just something that would have happened eventually. It’s something that took the effort of countless lives. We ought not be callous in forgetting that. We should never eat a meal without giving thanks for it. The best thing we can do is to pass on this understanding to the next generation.

Failing to provide that fascination to a child is tragic in many ways. Anyone who has ever seen the way a little boy looks at a toy dump truck and the way he looks when he sees the real thing in operation for the first time will understand.

As to this particular scientist, I’m confident his “relatively” means, compared to the alternative means of mapping these colonial farms. Still, I would put dollars against dimes that hundreds of thousands of man-hours went into creating that LiDAR system. This is obviously true if you expand to include prerequisite discoveries that were employed.

Anyhow, here’s a SmarterEveryDay video. Watch. Enjoy.

Recommended Reads #7 Back to Blood

The greatest writers are those who understand human nature and the way different people behave in different circumstances. Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Tolstoy… These men did far more than invent stories and put them on paper or stage; these were deeply intuitive and meticulous analysts of how human beings think and act. That’s what gives their writings endurance and lasting worth, because even though technology might change the world, we can see that man is still trapped in the mortal shell which constrains his behavior into certain patterns.

Tom Wolfe’s latest book Back to Blood is a powerhouse volume that will endure; there’s no other way to say it. In 720 pages, there’s room to explore different traits common in our anemic time, and yet Tom Wolfe manages somehow to surpass even those large boundaries.

Here’s a quick list of the characters whose mentalities are laid bare in clear terms:

  1. A 2nd generation Cuban refugee-turned Miami cop who tries to walk the tightrope between upholding the laws of an American city and maintaining his reputation in the Cuban-refugee community.
  2. A nurse from little-cubana Haileah (a district of Miami) who wants to live a cultured life with a strong, confident, and connected companion. Try as she might, she constantly feels like a fish out of water and ends up with men who use her for their own ends.
  3. A young, politically-correct, white reporter that is intensely cautious about offending anyone, because he truly believes it is wrong to give offense, and yet he can’t help himself, because people are thin-skinned and any interaction is bound to set them off anyway.
  4. A psychiatrist whose specialty is the treatment of pornography addiction. His obsession with climbing the social ladder, and his steep fees for treatment, bring him to break his oath and help one patient maintain his addiction, so that the doctor can keep his access to the high life.
  5. A police chief trapped between doing what is right and keeping his career. He knows he was appointed by the Mayor because of his skin color, and yet he knows he is the best man for the job. His skin color was supposed to suppress problems, and yet he cannot just let race dominate his decisions, if he is to do justice.
  6. A Russian billionaire-(editing out further description because of spoilers) who donated $70 million worth of paintings to a Miami art museum. He’s on everyone’s A list right away; the Americans love him for his generosity, the Cubans admire him for his wealth, and the Russians fear him for… what?
  7. A 1st generation Haitian immigrant struggling to instill his French half into his children. He is a professor at a college and while one of his courses is teaching creole, he despises that part of his heritage and surrounds himself with French joie de vivre. His daughter embraces Frenchness, more so than her American citizenship, but his son prefers to hang out with creole-speaking hoodlums.

And this is just a dusting. Tom Wolfe manages to explain these varying cultures, which indeed do live side-by-side in Miami (and in many American cities), and yet he does it through the characters themselves and their stories. It’s really quite amazing how he has managed to cram so many different cultural outlooks into one plot and yet no one will be confused as to why anyone is behaving in such different ways.

Most importantly, Back to Blood illustrates the division that is caused by some of these diverse groups. Bear in mind that Tom Wolfe is not trying to say that everyone should absolutely integrate, assume homogeneity, and refuse to be different; his purpose seems to be slightly different.

In America of yesteryear, there were differences, but there were also unifying segments in nearly every culture. Whereas blacks were segregated in parts of America, they sought integration, not segregation on their terms. Immigrants came to America to be American, and that still goes on. America remains the most diverse nation in the history of the world, and yet the tribalism that destroys coexistence in so many places seems ever on our horizon.

That is what Tom Wolfe is writing about, here.

A phrase pops into his head from out of nowhere. “Everybody… all of them… it’s back to blood! Religion is dying… but everybody still has to believe in something. It would be intolerable—you couldn’t stand it—to finally have to say to yourself, ‘Why keep pretending? I’m nothing but a random atom inside a supercollider known as the universe.’ But believing in by definition means blindly, irrationally, doesn’t it. So, my people, that leaves only our blood, the bloodlines that course through our very bodies, to unite us. ‘La Raza!’ as the Puerto Ricans cry out. ‘The Race!’ cries the whole world. All people, all people everywhere, have but one last thing on their minds—Back to blood!” All people, everywhere, you have no choice but—Back to blood!

Back to Blood also exposes deep flaws in modern media, art, sexuality, poverty, crime, and a host of other areas. And perhaps the most important point about this book is that it is not a political book. Some of us political junkies talk about how culture is in trouble in this nation and yet so many seek to repair those problems through social policy. Quite frankly, by the time policy is enacted, any social change you wish to implement has already been passed through the culture, for the most part anyhow. Why? Because it usually takes a strong popular support behind a policy to push it through. This is even true of the civil rights acts of the 60s, contrary to popular belief.

Back to Blood mulls over these problems where the rubber meets the road. There is almost no politics in it at all, save for the lines between the police chief and the mayor. That is very important. Some may say that culture is a reflection of institutions, and certainly there is a reinforcing effect there, but even more so institutions are shaped by culture and we must keep that in mind.

Now, if there is one caveat to be offered in regards to Back to Blood, it is that there are several scenes depicting very plain and graphic sexual perversion. I’m confident that Tom Wolfe could have written a book ignoring this strand of society, and yet it would be dishonest in some way. The moment you have destroyed the sacred, then the most important goal becomes the sensation, the feeling. Thus the height of existential experience is sexual climax, and all other things are either unimportant or arranged around that moment. From Nietzsche inevitably came Freud… Among the problems in our society, this one is of a scale that cannot be ignored. However, if you cannot handle lengthy and graphic discussion of this cancer, steer clear of this book.

Oh, and Lou Diamond Phillips should win many awards for his outstanding performance on the audiobook version.


Lone Survivor Review

Lone Survivor releases into theaters this Friday, the true story of operation Red Wing, originally written by Marcus Luttrell. I managed to view it early. GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

When rumors began trickling out that Luttrell’s bestseller would be turned into a film, I knew it would be a long time before the production was finished. Hollywood has such a delusional mentality regarding America, America’s military, America’s wars, and… well, war in general.

But Luttrell maintained control over the depiction. After all, Lone Survivor was not so much a war story as a eulogy to great men whose stories are almost always kept under wraps due to the nature of their work. They weren’t just warriors. They were family men, friends, irascible peers, brothers, and Americans.

That’s one of the great things about this film. From BUDS (which doesn’t train SEALs so much as pound them until every ounce of quit has been wrung out of the ranks), to relationships stretched around the world, to the warrior-god confidence strangely mixed in with a thorough and rigid moral core which guides the hammer fist; Lone Survivor gives you a glimpse into real people, not the stereotypical Hollywood combat-junkie image.

It’s humbling. It’s one shade away from shaming (because there can’t be an exclusive rank without the exclusion).

But it makes you proud that America sends people like this out to fight our wars. Historically speaking, America’s overseas combat has been a model for virtue, even at greater cost to those we send.

In the book, Luttrell goes into more detail regarding the Rules of Engagement. His view is that most ROEs are catastrophically harmful to the fighting men and even too the mission. I’ve never been in the service, so I’ll recommend that you read Luttrell’s book and come to your own conclusion.

In the film, as in the book and the real event, ROEs come into powerful conflict with the real world where the worst can (and sometimes will) happen. If you are not familiar with the story, give the book and the movie a chance. Great acting performances. Astounding special effects (nothing that appeared to be CG). And a true story that every American should know about.

Oh and Marcus Luttrell is in the film, which just makes it even better.