Monday, August 30, 2010

Smart Villains, Smarter Heroes.

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I've been talking a lot of politics the last few months, I hope someone actually read one or two of those write-ups. The next series I plan on doing will be on economics, ranging from "where currency gets its value" to "how financial bubbles occur", but that's many many weeks away and in the interim I'll blab on whatever comes to mind.

I dabble in screenwriting, and back in 2004 this led me to a website called wordplayer.com, which is a fantastic resource for screenwriters, because it's run by two very successful writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Shrek, to name a few). One of their articles spoke of having smart villains, but smarter heroes. It's an art that's often lost on good stories, because there's nothing interesting about a story where a bad guy keeps getting lucky, or when a good guy is just cursed with bad luck.

The great example they used was in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the opening scene you had Indy escaping dangers galore for an archaeological treasure, only to find upon his exit that the villain was waiting for him. In fact, the entire movie is filled with what Ted & Terry refer to as "epic failure", Indy for all his intelligence never really succeeds in the entire film, and it's only through the success of the villains do they find their own downfall, but Indy was smarter than them so he survived their fate. (I'm trying to not spoil it for those who may have ignorantly not seen it :)

Nothing makes for great writing quite like having your hero fail in epic fashion, yet still keep his wits to tunnel his way out of dire straits. I'm not saying that dumb villains aren't interesting as well, as can be seen in "Gladiator", where you have a bitter & ruthless villain who manages to do nothing right, but the writing is true to that character in that he never is bailed out with a dash of written luck, his brash decision making is his ultimate downfall.

At the heart of a well written film should be the feel that characters discover and make their own paths, and these paths are carved according to their character. The other side of this coin would be where someone has thought up "cool" scenes and simply filled in the characters to meet the criteria without adjusting for the characters themselves. A recent example would be the atrocious film "Knight and Day", where serendipity floods the entire movie, and at few points does anything happen that feels organic. The bad guy dies not because he was truly outwitted by the hero, but because the director needed to end the film with a bang. We were plagued for two hours with a dumb antagonist, and a dumb protagonist.

A good story leaves you with the feeling that you've learned something you didn't know, and a well written hero/villain combo leaves you feeling like they were the ones who created their circumstances, and it was a battle for the last laugh. Luck should be used sparingly, and then only against the hero. Nothing cheapens victory more than good old "Deus Ex Machina".

Monday, August 23, 2010

Who cares about a mosque in New York?

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I don't care that a mosque is being built close to ground zero. There's a number of reasons for this, allow me to enumerate:

1. It's a property rights issue
I'm fairly sure mosques aren't illegal. It's not as if they said "We're building a terrorist training center and drug factory." But I guess even those things would be fine as long as they received the proper labels like "CIA" or "Pharmaceuticals". If a group buys land, and they follow local law, I don't see any reason they can't build whatever they wish.

2. Religious Tolerance
I'm not Muslim, but that doesn't mean I need to take a stance of defiance against the entire Muslim community. Seeking to shut down the construction of a religious place of worship flies in the face of our deepest roots, the freedom to worship free of persecution.

3. Freedom of speech
Dr. Laura recently resigned from her radio talk-show. She took a call from a black woman who was looking for advice about her white boyfriend using the "n" word, so this loving "Christian" woman goes on a tirade of dropping the "n" bomb 11 times. Naturally this resulted in advertisers pulling out and a fallout from listeners, in response to all of that she stated that she was on a mission to regain her "1st Amendment Rights". Dr Laura is an idiot, the constitution is our contract with the government, not with citizens, so when someone no longer wishes to subscribe to your show because you're an unabashed idiot then that's our freedoms being properly exercised. However, if the state shuts down the Mosque that would be the opposite, and a very troubling precedent. But if the Muslim community decided to listen to New Yorkers and shut it down on their own volition, then that too is a proper exercise of freedom.

4. Islam is not the enemy
I'd like to be amazed at how utterly stupid media personalities can be, but that ship sailed a while ago. The fact is that we are not at war with Islam, despite what is preached from the airwaves. There's an enormous difference between being at war with an entire religion, and being at war with a group of people who *mostly* share a particular religion. If we're at war with Islam then shouldn't we be rounding up Muslims and assassinating them? That would be completely sick and irrational, because we aren't at war with Islam, and perpetuating these illogical prejudices is only going to result in the persecution of more innocent people.

This upheaval reveals a number of things, that we're all still reeling over what our country suffered through, and that the media is being used by politicians to play on these emotions. Look long and hard at anyone so blatantly declaring Islam the issue, these people are manipulators or stupid. Neither of which need to be humored. If you allow one religion to be persecuted, be prepared to have the same done to your own sacred beliefs.

Monday, August 16, 2010

US Foreign Policy part 11: Conclusion

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When you consider that people are killing themselves to get us off of their land. That a war with a tactic can never end. That our CIA undermines foreign governments, raises & supports hostile factions such as Saddam's, Bin Laden's and the Taliban. That we torture people who have been given no due process or trial, the same things we abhor other countries doing to our citizens (Vietnam anyone?). That we allow our President to go to war with anyone without a proper declaration from Congress. That we preemptively attack nations who have not attacked us while claiming moral high ground. That we destroy nations and the lives of non-combatants and hundreds of thousands of children through sanctions. Is it really so hard to understand the blowback?

When you consider how tyrannical our foreign policy is, how destructive, manipulative and vast it is, can you not see how our finances cannot sustain it?

Our military is a *national defense*. Not the policemen of the world who need to enforce our ways onto others. I believe our American soldiers should be used to protect American lives, to do otherwise is flat out wrong, no matter how good the cause.

I agree with Saint Augustine, who among with others created the philosophy of a true Just War, a war in which you are justified in waging, in which there are 4 criteria:
1) The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
2) All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
3) There must be serious prospects of success;
4) The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

Iraq and Afghanistan fail in all of those categories. War should no longer be waged, we should bring our troops home, not only from those countries but from all places abroad. End the imperialism. Stop fabricating dangers abroad and giving people reasons to attack us.

For reference, here are all 10 parts of my US Foreign Policy write-up:
part 1: Blowback
part 2: Sanctions
part 3: Just-War
part 4: Preventive War
part 5: Declaration of War
part 6: Torture
part 7: Finances
part 8: CIA
part 9: War on Terror
part 10: War on Terror part 2, Suicide Terrorists
part 11: Conclusion

Monday, August 9, 2010

US Foreign Policy part 10: The War on Terror pt. 2: Suicide Terrorists

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Last week I discussed how our foreign policy is targeting a tactic, terrorism, and said that in doing so we are actually creating terrorists. I thought it helpful if I secluded this section in picking apart some of the rhetoric about mainstream beliefs regarding terrorists/terrorism.

For instance, it's commonly spouted that it's a religious war. That we're hated for our own beliefs and differences. As if the "Qu'ran or the sword" approach is what is behind the terrorist philosophy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this should shake itself out logically anyway. How would killing yourself promote your religion? I've read one belief that Islamic fundamentalists believe the world is evil and that by killing people you're ridding the world of evil, including themselves. Mainstream media, or propagandists, would want you to believe in some kind of barbaric nature of Islamic followers, (and I hope no one would assert such a blanket statement of ignorance to an entire people group) that their deep conviction of righteousness is reason enough, or that their desperate need to belong to a group is so thoroughly desirous that they're looking for the opportunity to kill themselves. I'm not saying none of that is possible or maybe even an influence, but it's shy of the center of the target.

For one thing. Did you know that the largest group of suicide-terrorists aren't even Muslim? They're Hindu. Not only are they Hindu, but they're fighting against Buddhists! They're called the Tamil Tigers and they were *fighting over land* in Sri Lanka, to create their own independent state in northern Sri Lanka. This all ended last May (2009) after military defeat, but the war was waged for nearly 40 years, which shows you how passionate people are about land. It was actually the Tigers who invented the suicide vest.

While there was a difference in religion, that wasn't the driving reason. It's hardly isolated to Sri Lanka.

It's not about religion. It's about our presence. A Chicago University Professor, Robert Pape, has gathered documentation about every suicide-terrorist (regardless of location/religion/war) from 1980 to 2004 (and presumably present day, but his book he published dealt in that time frame so we'll stick to it), and in his research he learned some interesting things I'll list:

  • "95 percent of all the incidents-has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw"
  • "The evidence shows that the presence of American troops is clearly the pivotal factor driving suicide terrorism"
  • "Sudan is a country of 21 million people. Its government is extremely Islamic fundamentalist. The ideology of Sudan was so congenial to Osama bin Laden that he spent three years in Sudan in the 1990s. Yet there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Sudan."
  • "Before our invasion, Iraq never had a suicide-terrorist attack in its history. Never. Since our invasion, suicide terrorism has been escalating rapidly with 20 attacks in 2003, 48 in 2004, and over 50 in just the first five months of 2005. Every year that the United States has stationed 150,000 combat troops in Iraq, suicide terrorism has doubled."
  • "Few [suicide-terrorists] are actually longtime members of a terrorist group. For most suicide terrorists, their first experience with violence is their very own suicide-terrorist attack."
  • "Iraqi suicide terrorists are coming from two groups-Iraqi Sunnis and Saudis-the two populations most vulnerable to transformation by the presence of large American combat troops on the Arabian Peninsula."

There's even more telling information in that interview and I plan on reading his book "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism", but I would beg and plead for anyone with a heart to understand to read his interview: here.

It should be encouraging to know that we can actually be safer from suicide-terrorists by getting our soldiers out of harm's way. We save the lives of our own soldier-citizens, make our country safer, and save some money. Not a bad way to win a "war".
_________________________________________________
part 1: Blowback
part 2: Sanctions
part 3: Just-War
part 4: Preventive War
part 5: Declaration of War
part 6: Torture
part 7: Finances
part 8: CIA
part 9: War on Terror
part 10: War on Terror part 2, Suicide Terrorists
part 11: Conclusion

Monday, August 2, 2010

US Foreign Policy part 9: The War on Terror

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The most striking thing about our "War on Terror" is that terrorism is a tactic, and you can't really go to war with a tactic. And, it's a tactic we ourselves aren't above using, as indicated in my last post about the CIA supporting guerrillas in Nicaragua, "All of these terrorist instructions have the main purpose of alienating the population from the Government through creating a climate of terror and fear, so that nobody would dare support the Government", this was from Commander Luis Carrion in reference to a CIA manual given to the contras titled "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare".

In our "war on terrorism" we also are getting really good at funding warlords. In Afghanistan, freelance gunmen, militia leaders and warlords are paid as escorts and sometimes the Taliban is actually getting paid to not attack convoys.

We invaded Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks, because we were told that was the place Bin Laden's Al Qaeda was hiding out under the nose of the Afghan government which at the time was being run by the Taliban. It's important to note that Al Qaeda is the terrorist organization, not the Taliban. The Taliban is a Muslim militia who weren't involved in 9/11. Of course, after we picked a fight with them it's been a source of conflict since our invasion. It's also important to note that the Taliban & Al Qaeda both were receiving support from the US/CIA in the 80s to retaliate against the Soviets, and now we're fighting them. At least we didn't have that problem with Saddam...oh.

Anyway. We invaded Afghanistan to take out Al Qaeda, but reports now show that there's hardly any of them left in Afghanistan and that they've relocated mostly to Pakistan. Yet we're still in Afghanistan to "build democracy". It didn't work for the Soviet Union, and judging by the level of "stability" it isn't going to work for us. Even if we could "conquer" or "win" that war, it would be completely irrelevant (and fly in the face of FREEDOM) anyway, because we didn't go there to build a nation, it was a blood hunt and it failed. If our leaders really wanted to bring Bin Laden to justice then that ship has sailed, or we'll invade Pakistan, which seems to be on the horizon.

The real irony of course is that the more we go to war with terrorism, the more terrorists we create. To understand this concept all you need to do is imagine the scenario is reversed: someone invades our land, kills our friends/family/neighbors or just fellow citizens on the other side of the nation, it would invoke a great deal of national pride and would easily direct our hate to the attackers, and the more they swept through our land and killed our people the more we would desire to fight back, but you and I wouldn't call ourselves terrorists, we'd call it patriotic. What happened on 9/11 was beyond any attempt to adequately find the words to type here, yet we are inciting similar feelings in others every single time we bomb the wrong building or our drones kill their people.

In the name of fighting terror, we're creating a great deal of it.
_________________________________________________
part 1: Blowback
part 2: Sanctions
part 3: Just-War
part 4: Preventive War
part 5: Declaration of War
part 6: Torture
part 7: Finances
part 8: CIA
part 9: War on Terror
part 10: War on Terror part 2, Suicide Terrorists
part 11: Conclusion