Friday, June 24, 2016


"Let me say here once and for all: [Jar Jar Binks] was the best damn character in any of the six movies. He was by far my favorite."
-George Lucas

So I was watching the Star Wars commentary track recently.  This is sometimes very interesting and informative, but sometimes very unfortunate.  For example: Die Hard track, pretty great.  James Bond tracks: terrific.  But I almost shot myself after listening to the endless stupidity and sermons on diversity on the Lord of the Rings commentary tracks, and it turns out that Kirsten Dunst is dumb as a bag of wet sand based on the Spider-Man commentary track.  I lost IQ points listening to her.
The technical guys are terrific.  They have lots of details of how they set up a shot, what they used to get an effect, how the sound was designed, costuming, on and on.  They never disappoint.  But the directors and actors are usually vapid and pompous at best, and it goes downhill from there.  I've lost tremendous amounts of admiration and respect for directors and actors from having to sit through their self congratulation and grossly overblown sense of significance and meaning.
Star Wars was no different.  I didn't have a very high opinion of George Lucas to begin with.  I mean, he's a great idea guy and he really pushed the boundaries of film making technology, but he's an idiot and a terrible director and writer.  The guy claims he had this huge overarching story worked out in the same breath as explaining that they had to make stuff up to fill in the movies because the original script and story idea for Star Wars was so limited.
Basically he wrote a story for Star Wars, then rewrites and better writers cleaned it up, so he used unused parts for concepts for the later movies.  He never had a huge long story in mind, just one Saturday Matinee-style space opera/fantasy.  Then he started thinking he was as cool and important as his fans said.
But what really struck me was how morally immature and lost Lucas is.  He's really an infant when it comes to issues of ethics and morality, almost completely unconsidered but absolutely certain.
George Lucas went on at some length about the significance of costuming and coloration in the Return of the Jedi commentary.
He said that it was significant that the Empire wore black and white, because they were so absolutist, and the rebels all wore earth tones, because they were so organic.  Now putting aside the bright red Imperial guard in that film, and the various grays the pilots wore in the Empire, putting aside the pure white costume Leia wore in the first film, consider.
This statement on "organic" vs "absolute" was repeated overtly in the dialog of Revenge of the Sith with Obi Wan quipping "Only the Sith deal in absolutes"  OK, sure, that was its self a tautology: an absolute statement denying he belives in absolutes.  But the problems go deeper than that.
George Lucas would say that the Emperor is evil.  That destroying Alderaan was an evil act.  Absolutely.  He further would not agree with the idea that "organic" morality allows us to support slave trading like Jabba the Hut engaged in.
The same writer that made the stupid "absolutes" statement also had Yoda quip in a faux zen statement "there is no try.  There is only do and do not."  Again, an absolute statement, in direct contradiction to Anakin's childish line.
This moral confusion and lack of awareness continues through the entire commentary.  Lucas makes some grand statements about redemption and moral redemption in the Han Solo character arc where he goes from allegedly cold-hearted mercenary to heroic savior in A New Hope.  But there's no arc.  he just suddenly shows up Deus Ex Machina style when he's needed.  There is no explanation, no scene showing his transition, no moment of realization.  There's no story to it.  He just suddenly cares more about his friends than money and his own life.
Lucas goes on about this, comparing the Lando Calrissian character to Han Solo: both are self focused, both are money hungry cold men, then become better men through a story arc of redemption.  Yet again, Calrissian has no such story.  The deal he made to save his friends falls through with Darth Vader, so he takes action against the Empire.  There's no transition.  He doesn't change his mind.  If anything, he's just being consistent.
Lucas doesn't have any idea what it takes to depict morality or redemption, because he doesn't understand good and evil or what redemption really even means.
Consider his depiction of Anakin Skywalker's fall in the latest trilogy, episodes I-III.  There's no real story of how he goes evil.  The kid is just a lucky kid in the first movie, a petulant brat in the second, then an apparently insane individual who almost murders his own wife out of the fear that she'll get hurt, then joins with the man who caused her danger because... well its never really explained.  he just is, because that's how he ends up in Episode IV, as Darth Vader.
Lucas doesn't understand the whole idea of corruption beyond a term.  Anakin doesn't naturally and "organically" end up as Darth Vader.  He ends up that way not out of a character progression, but out of the necessity for the story to end that way.
The most significant moral scene in the films is the Cave scene in the Swamps at Degobah.  Plato had his analogy of the cave trying to explain the depth of meaning and how only through enlightenment by someone else can a person understand more than what they see around them.  Lucas uses the cave to... well it depends on who you ask.
Lucas thought the cave scene was obvious.  Yoda tells Luke he won't need his weapons to go into the cave, but Luke isn't so sure.  Yoda looks sad.  Lucas makes a statement about how clearly this was him showing weakness, that his need of a gun showed how weak and small Luke was.  
Lucas further went on to say how clearly it was if he took the gun into the cave, then he'd need to fight.  Obviously.  Then he met Vader, who showed that the violence in his heart was making him more like Vader, who he might turn into!
Except... nobody else got that out of the scene.  Not because its an implausible explanation, but because its not explained or even hinted at.  Yoda is disappointed, but why?  Because Luke doesn't trust him?  Because Luke doesn't rely on the force (the explanation most commonly given) instead?  Because Luke is too rash and won't stop and listen to instruction?  There's no way of knowing.
After all its a swamp full of snakes and water monsters, who knows what is in there?  Taking a tool belt including weapons along into an unknown cave on a wild alien planet doesn't strike me as particularly rash or foolish.  It seems completely rational, only the presumption that Yoda is right, a challenging one based on his bizarrely almost childish and annoying behavior when they first meet, makes you think Luke should obey him.
I get that Lucas had a short time to establish Yoda as a wise person, but since he spent a large portion of their scenes together establishing Yoda as whimsical and annoying, that doesn't come across well.  Which is again his poor writing skills on display.

Monday, June 13, 2016


A butterfly with broken wings 
Is falling by your side 
The ravens all are closing in 
And there's nowhere you can hide 
Please wake me 
-Pink Floyd, "Cymbaline"

I have experienced a couple of earthquakes in my life.  Most of them were so tiny I didn't notice, but a big one happened in Scotts Mills, about 15 miles from the home in 1993.  The quake was 5.6 on the richter scale, and did some damage around the town, although little if any that I could see in the house.
I left the house when it started, in my bathrobe.  At just before 6:00 it was just getting light in March and cool outside, but I was alone.  I stood there, as the rumbling stopped and the movement died down staring at the ground.
What was once so solid and trustworthy, wasn't any more.  All the terms you use to describe something absolute and reliable: rock solid, rock bottom, foundation, all of them presume the place you can go for safe stability is the earth its self.  Now it was moving around, it couldn't be trusted.  Suddenly the world felt... untrustworthy.  I was filled with a queasy sense of unease and uncertainty.  There's simply nowhere else to go when you can't trust the solidity of the planet beneath your feet.
Welcome to 2016, where the entire nation of the USA is feeling that.
For decades now, the extreme left has been successfully pushing culture and society ever more radicalized and leftward.  But in the last few years, its accelerated to the point of madness.  In just a few years, many solid, reliable, absolute, and trustworthy things about society have been removed, replaced, or reversed.
What was once laughable and unthinkable has become mandatory.  What was once reliable and comfortable has been banned or shamed.  What you could just last year freely say or do is now considered hateful and horrific.
Now, putting aside whether these changes are good and proper or not, consider the state of a nation where this keeps happening over and over.  The very definitions of basic foundational fabric-of-society concepts such as marriage, gender, and language have been uprooted suddenly and radically.
When you combine that with the contrast between what the economy is like down on the streets and what we're told its like in the media and by pundits, people are more than confused.  Add to that continual murderous attacks by Islamic radicals which we're told aren't really radical or Islamic.  Americans are looking at the ground with suspicion and accusation. 
That fundamental distrust of the world and what was comfortable and predictable has hit everyone - even the people who basically support these changes.  Needing to shift from, say, thinking a guy dressing as a woman is silly to stating unequivocally that this is now a woman and heroic for doing so costs a person psychologically.
In the past, big changes of this sort tended to either be accompanied by huge upheavals of another kind (war, famine, etc) or were slow and organic.  New generations tried out an idea, and over the generation it became standard.  As the older generations died out, no one really remembered the difference.  That's something a culture can absorb and people can comfortably adapt to.
But this sudden, almost violent radical change - a series of one after another, after another - that's very difficult for an individual to absorb, let alone entire cultures.
You can see this all around us.  People are on edge, easily angered, easy to take offense, easy to fight.  There's an unease around us among everyone that people are seeking solutions for.  Most people, perhaps the vast majority, don't even know exactly why they wake up feeling as if things are not quite the same color as last night.  As if they've stepped into another, very slightly different world where all the furniture was moved 1cm while they slept.
There are some who aren't affected by this.  Some who are comfortable and feel no disruption or change.  They are rich, powerful, comfortable, and surrounded by all the same things they always were.  Their jobs are safe, they know no one who is in trouble.  These people are isolated from what the bulk of society goes through and knows.
The last time I saw this was when Jimmy Carter was demolished in the general election by Ronald Reagan.  The pundits were sure Carter was an easy win, because Reagan was an idiot and a radical and a fire breathing bigot.  Things were kind of tough, but not so bad, and voters understood Carter meant well.
The first politician that taps into this sense of unease and gives people what feels like - not seems or logically proves to be - a solution, that politician wins, and wins big.  It doesn't even matter if they have any actual solutions.  Just the feeling that this person gets it and can handle things is enough.  Just the sense that someone like that can bring us back to what Reagan campaigned on -- "normalcy" -- can win.
What that means for this year's election or the nation's future I don't know.  All I know is, this situation is not something that can continue indefinitely.

Monday, June 06, 2016

RETRO WATN: The Constitution

Originally, I intended this to be the start of a long series on the Constitution, covering all the amendments and sections of the document in greater detail. I did in fact get through two of the amendments, but then gave up on the effort because it was becoming increasingly clear that it would be like writing about the Magna Carta: an interesting, but old and now ignored document with no bearing on modern reality.  

Still, this is the first of the major weekend essays I wrote, which I kept doing for five or so years: one big post on the weekend and then little stuff over the course of the week.  In time I began taking both Saturday and Sunday off, writing bigger pieces as they came to me rather than holding them for the weekend.
The United States Constitution is one of the finest documents human beings have been able to develop and write in all of history. Simple, elegant, powerful, and wise, it is the foundation of liberty and democracy in the western world and the template for new countries writing their own constitutions for over 200 years. But in the United States, it is barely known any better than in any other country and it is not a requirement in any public school to have even looked at the document, let alone be conversant with it.

Original 13 StatesHISTORY
The United States were originally guided by and governed by the Articles of Confederation, which since 1781 provided for single congress to deal with matters of largely independent states - so independent they printed their own, largely worthless, money. A group of representatives from the states planned to meet in Annapolis to revise the Articles, but while some states didn't bother sending anyone, many weren't able to actually make it to the meeting in time. The delegates that met came to the conclusion that an entirely new document was needed, and a meeting of representatives from all the states would have to take part.

The primary writer of the Constitution was James Madison, the fourth president of the United States and considered the most intelligent and intellectual of the founding fathers, who were no simpletons. Starting in May of 1787, representatives of each of the 13 states except Rhode Island (the last delegate finally getting to Pennsylvania in August of that year) met at the Philadelphia Convention and voted to keep the deliberations secret and that 9 of the 13 states were required to pass the document.
However, in time, the congress voted for the constitution to be released and decided on by the states, and finally in 1787 the document was ready. Although Benjamin Franklin admitted there still were some problems with the Constitution, he admitted that it would never be perfect, and encouraged everyone to ratify the document.

The men who worked on constitution published materials in the press to help people understand what the document was about, what was meant by the different parts of it, to argue for and against it's ratification, and to explain the ideas and concepts were that behind the Constitution. Books of some of these writings are available in the form of the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers.

The Federalist Papers were a series of articles written under the pen name of Publius (in honor of Roman Senator Publius Valerius Publicola) by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. They are considered the a primary source for interpretation of the Constitution. James Hamilton in particular argued that what would eventually become the Bill of Rights was unnecessary and redundant in paper #84 (by Alexander Hamilton).

The Anti-Federalist Papers argued that it was necessary for some manner of explicit protection of individual rights be added to the constitution or the citizens were not sufficiently protected from federal power. The writers of the Anti-Federalist papers argued that the constitution was not ready for ratification as it was written, and the writers were again anonymous, and to this day are not precisely known.

By May of 1790, all 13 colonies finally voted to ratify the constitution, with Rhode Island being the last and North Carolina reversing their original opposing vote in November 1788. Several of the states voted with a recommendation of what would become the Bill of Rights as outlined in the Anti-Federalist papers be added, and the first amendments to the United States Constitution became law on December 15, 1791.

These amendments were primarily written by the forgotten founding father, Virginia Delegate George Mason, who is considered the father of the Bill of Rights, and they reflected the perceived need to protect the states from too much federal power and the people from government of any kind. Since that time 17 amendments have been added, the last as recently as 1992.

The United States Constitution was primarily written by men who were heavily influenced by such writers and thinkers as John Locke, Charles Louis deSecondat baron of Montesquieu, Fran├žois-Marie Arouet (who wrote under the pen name Voltaire), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although many of the Founding Fathers were not Christians, all were heavily influenced by a Judeo-Christian worldview which was prevalent at the time, and especially by Calvinist Christianity that was a strong influence from the time of the puritans in the 13 colonies.

These influences helped form an entirely new concept of government, a republic more pure and protective of and subject to the people than previous efforts, such as ancient Greece. The United States Constitution was written not to grant powers to the government, but instead to limit the government's powers to a specific and narrow range of areas. Each branch of the three in government is coequal and are in tension, thus protecting the people from any one branch being dominant and dictatorial.

The ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution - the final two and most forgotten of the original Bill of Rights - are the most critical and overt statements of this philosophy:
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
These amendments make the concept behind this document abundantly clear, as does the writings of the Federalist and especially Anti-Federalist papers and personal writings of men such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.