Archive for May, 2011

AMC typically runs war movies all day on Memorial Day, interspersed with reminders, from Tom Brokaw no less, to honor the lives and deaths of those who serve or served our country.   This year, between scenes of movieland mayhem, they also interpolated contemporary footage of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, which was cool given that the soldiers were able to say “Hi” to loved ones courtesy of cable teevee.   One such soldier, mirabile dictu, was female.

Yeah I know, I’m a bitter old broad who sees the downside of everything.  But I’m entitled.  Because yesterday I actually watched some war films from start to finish, rather than flashing by them as I looked for something to watch on ESPN or the history channel while I eat lunch.

So what are my impressions after having sat through “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo” and “The Longest Day” and “Midway?”  First:  that’s too goddamn much teevee-watching.   My butt started to hurt about halfway through the battle of Midway and I had to keep getting up to walk around.  I’ll never do that again, even to watch the sixth season of Lost on DVD (if I ever can find a copy that doesn’t cost the proverbial arms and legs).

Second:   I devised a new rule, appropriately named “The Rule of Steely Glare.”  The rule is, if your movie is about World War II, Robert Mitchum must have a least a bit part in it.  John Wayne and Henry Fonda can also help in this regard.

Third:   according to Hollywood, anyhow, women have nothing to do with war.  War is man stuff.   One woman has a speaking role in LD–she is gorgeous, and she plays a French resistance fighter whose main job is to distract the Germans at checkpoints by riding past on her bike, decollete’, while the male Frenchies hide in a haymow.  She does (almost) get to fight in one scene, but not before she has to use her charms to distract yet another German soldier while her comrades blow up the train tracks.  The only other female in this film is the wife of a crazed French mayor, who is so happy to see the allies landing on the beach that he drinks champagne and dances around while bombs fall on his house.  His silent wife, meantime, wisely cowers under a table.

The only speaking part given to a female in “Midway” belongs to a young Japanese woman, an American citizen who has fallen in love with Charlton Heston’s son and he with her.   She and her family have been quarantined on Pearl, prior to their being sent back to Japan, and the son begs Heston, who  is a Navy big shot, to intervene.  He does so, while Heston deploys his trademark writhing and gritting of teeth to indicate his inner turmoil over committing this small treason to his country.   His character is killed at the end of the movie while trying to land a damaged plane on an aircraft carrier.  I couldn’t figure out whether this felt entirely appropriate because the character had committed (imaginary?) treason or because Heston was such a loathsome actor.

“Thirty Seconds” does feature a larger speaking part for a woman, but then, unlike the other two films, it’s mostly soap opera interspersed with actual combat footage of Jimmy Doolittle’s actual raids over Tokyo during WWII.  Van Johnson and his heroic crew have to crash land in China, where they are saved by the friendly locals who also hate the Japanese.  But the Chinese doctor, skilled as he is, cannot save Johnson’s leg and has to amputate.  When Johnson’s character finally makes it back to the US, he is afraid to see his wife, who doesn’t know.  Can you believe that?  Nobody tells her.  Anyhow, there is an appropriately teary reunion, with several nice shots of her glowing face, taken over his shoulder, as they meet again.   The end.

All in all, these films make very clear the reality that men declare war upon one another, and that men do the fighting and dying, from the grunts played by Jeff Hunter and Robert Wagner to the generals/admirals played by Fonda and Mitchum.   “Midway” features scenes of the Japanese navy leadership as they try to stage a surprise attack on the Americans, just as they did at Pearl Harbor.  These scenes are intercut with scenes of the American admirals and captains trying to do the very same things.   Whether the filmmakers realized it or not (and there is a small chance that they may have–this film was made in 1976), they show us that war-making and -waging are gender specific but not culturally bound.

Let’s face it:   where, outside of the movies and “reality” teevee, do you see women engaging in physical fights with one another?  Granted, women have finally been permitted to participate in combat, and I have no doubt they are as skilled, and as dedicated, as any soldier.  But there are no women generals or colonels who wage wars, and there is no woman president or prime minister (at the moment) who can declare them.   So, sure, we aren’t working with a representative sample.

But having watched three movies celebrating male skill and courage (or folly, depending on your point of view) I can’t escape the nagging feeling that men rush to war because, on some level, they want it.   Will someone disabuse me, please?


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Bob Dylan turned 70 yesterday.  I can’t believe it.  Of course I don’t believe that I’m 68 either.

It ain’t just the times that are a-changin’.

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The End is Nigh

When I was a tad growing up in Nebraska, tornadoes looked like this:

One of my earliest memories is being held by my father as he hustled both of us into a storm cellar near our house.   I remember that several people were already in the cellar, and that canned fruits and vegetables were stored there.  What I recall with most intensity, however, is that my father was afraid.   Don’t know how I sensed that, but my memory of it is very clear.  Probably because I was briefly disabused of the little kid belief that fathers are invincible or something.

I don’t remember seeing the tornado itself, but it must have been close because several people struggled to close the big doors of the cellar.   And afterward, a large tree in our front yard had been toppled so thoroughly that it lay perpendicular to the ground.   The next day the neighbor kid and I used it to play horsie in our ongoing cowboy-cowgirl fantasy world.

I did see a tornado when I was a teenager.  I was looking out the back door of our house and there it was, a big black funnel coming right at us–although it hadn’t yet touched down.   My mother slammed the door shut, grabbed me and threw me under the sink in the kitchen, which was one of those big old kitchen sinks that stood on skinny metal legs.   The thing roared right over our heads as we cowered under the sink.  I remember being unable to breathe for a second or two–it was as though the tornado sucked all the oxygen out of the air.

When I was in college, a tornado tore threw the town where I went to high school.   One of my friends–a big strapping guy, probably six feet and 180 pounds–told me that it hit just as he was running for the door into a nearby store.  He managed to grab the door handle, and the wind was so strong that he was blown off his feet and would have been blown away had he not managed to hang on to the handle.  Now this story may be 75% bullshit, but the incident seemed to have scared him sufficiently that he still looked shocked several days later.

Those of us who grew up in the lower midwest (and presumably in the southeast as well) grew up wary of tornadoes.  The warning systems and the media weren’t as widespread or efficient as they are today, and so we had to keep watch ourselves during tornado season.  We knew how the sky looked and how the air smelled just before one appeared, and nobody that I knew took chances with these monsters–everybody headed for the shelter just as soon as they could, and no one was ashamed at having bolted into the cellar on a false alarm.

Nowadays, though, storm cellars and basements (let alone kitchen sinks) aren’t sufficient to keep people safe.  Here’s one of the tornadoes that touched down in Oklahoma yesterday (courtesy ABC news):

This monster stayed on the ground for almost half an hour!

IOW, these are not my father’s tornadoes.   They are a product of climate change.   The air is warmer, thus creating more energy.  Bigger oceans contribute more moisture to the prevailing winds, and there you have a recipe for monster tornadoes like the ones that ravaged Missouri earlier this week.   And if the scientists are correct, tornadoes (and hurricanes) will become more intense the more earth heats up.  So these bastards will be even bigger next year.

As I noted in an earlier post:   Jesus don’t need no rapture.

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Come Again?

Just watched the Rethuglicans fawning all over Benjamin Netanyahu as he made a triumphal entry into Congress.  Blegh.

The only reasons Rethugs love the PM is that (a) his politics are  as far right as theirs;  and (b) he publicly rebuked President Obama.   Oh yeah:  the Christians love Israel too, and the Rethugs gotta massage James Dobson and John Hagee and all the other creeps who peddle end-times mythology, or they might get voted out of office.

The Rethug man-crush on BN is an irony because Obama got a huge ovation over the weekend at AIPAC, which is essentially a congress of wealthy Jewish-Americans.  Sensible Jews, here and in Israel, understand the history of negotiations over Palestine, and hence they know that what Obama proposed (hewing to the 1967 boundaries as a starting point) is where such negotiations have always begun.  And, as the President explained at that meeting, his position allowed for “swaps,” that is, for negotiation over who gets what land–again, just as past negotiations have always assumed.

But BN and other Israeli hardliners won’t be happy until they drive the Palestinians out of Israel altogether.  In fact, some of these folks want Israel to reclaim the ancient boundaries of Palestine.  Clue phone:   no one has ever been able to hold that much land in that area for very long–not even or maybe especially your ancient ancestors, dudes.  Ever wonder why the folks you want gone are called “Palestinians?”  And if you piss off America, which has been your only reliable (and relatively wealthy) supporter since Britain washed its hands of you in the 1950s, you are indeed in big trouble.

Let’s face it:  The only reason American Christian fundies support Israel is that it plays a big role in the end times scenario.  According to them, Jesus will lead his big fierce angel armies into Jerusalem after having raptured the saved, killed everybody else, and slaughtered the Russians and the Chinese at Megiddo (depending on whose account you accept).  Tim LaHaye sez that the heavenly horses will be knee deep in blood.  Hoo boy.

The fundies believe that the only people who will be spared, aside from themselves of course, are 144,000 Jews.  Christ will give these Jews the opportunity to convert to Christianity, and if they refuse, well, the horses will be shoulder deep in blood.  In other words, for the fundies, Jews are eminently expendable.   Doesn’t that ring a bell, for some reason.

Of course, BN and the Israeli rightists know all this.  Being thought expendable is no news to them, and they are willing to put up with this crap in order to wring yet more money and bombs and guns and tanks out of America.

Where I come from, this is called a circle-jerk.  And it’s not hard to discern the jerks in this scenario.

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We’re doing fine ending the world all by ourselves.

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Trep, I know we have discussed this–probably several times–in the past.  But the question keeps bugging me:   why do men behave so stupidly when it comes to rape?  (I tried to formulate this question in a couple of other ways:   “why do men rape?”   “why do men in power rape?”–and my formulations turned out to be tautologies, or to have one simple answer:   “because they can”).

Clearly the formulation I finally settled on–“why do men behave so stupidly when it comes to rape?”–is probably equally obvious.  Some forty years after the Second Wave of feminism clarified the power issues surrounding rape, men still feel that women are not quite people, that a woman’s only purpose on the planet is to serve men, that women don’t feel pain (and if they do, they deserve it because they are women) and so on.

As most everyone knows, these beliefs belong to an ideology called “patriarchy” in feminist thought.  Patriarchy is probably the oldest ideology on the planet.  Certainly, it is the most pervasive;   it is the only ideology whose belief structure governs human behavior all over the world.   And while there are local differences in the force of patriarchal belief and behavior, its effect is always and everywhere the same:   a woman or women get hurt or killed.

One of these local differences of which I have just become aware is that while the French are more casual about sexual dalliance than are Americans, they appear to be a bit more tolerant–or confused–about non-consensual acts.  At any rate (some of) the French press seems to think that the arrest of Strauss-Kahn is a tempest in a teapot, just more “boys will be boys” stuff.  After all, he is a very powerful man while she is “just” a hotel maid, and we all know about greedy and stupid hotel maids who see their chance to cash in, bigtime.  A woman wouldn’t be a hotel maid if she weren’t just asking for it, now would she?  All those beds in all those empty rooms in all those big hotels. . . .

In other words, male fantasy quickly takes over when a woman reports a rape.  No woman on the planet was surprised by the speed with which “blame-the-victim” stories began to circulate.  Paris Match went so far as to identify the victim by name, which of course renders her available for even more punishment than has already been doled out to her.

And what about our own rapist-in-residence, John Ensign?   According to the report filed by the Senate Ethics Committee, Ensign at the very least harassed his victim, forcing her to have sex because she feared for her and her husband’s jobs.  What the news media doesn’t say, because there is no direct evidence of this (but every woman alive knows it is true), is that Ensign’s victim had lots of other pressures on her as well.  For one thing, Ensign’s wife had been her best friend since high school.  Imagine the agony of carrying on that relationship in the face of Ensign’s continuous, ever more forceful advances, and, no doubt, threats.   Imagine her concern for her children, whose relationship to her has now been permanently altered, if not damaged beyond repair.  Imagine her shame at being paid off by Ensign’s unwitting parents for services rendered.  She says now that her life is in ruins, and women everywhere know that she is telling the literal truth.  She is poor, alone, friendless;   most men she meets will probably think she’s little better than a whore and act accordingly.  She can trust no one.

But men like John Ensign can’t imagine any of the pain he caused Ms. Hampton and her family, because to him, women are not quite people–they are pretty toys, or worse, vessels, outlets for his desire.  Even the woman married to his best friend.  And his own wife, for that matter.   For men like John Ensign, women don’t have rights (see the Republican assault on women’s rights now underway in nearly every state) because they aren’t really people and hence are not really citizens.

Thank the goddess for strong and righteous women like Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Ethics committee.  Does anyone, anywhere, think the committee would have recommended Ensign’s expulsion if it were chaired by a man?  Let’s hope she figures out a way to bring down that asshole Coburn as well, and can make a dent in the sick joke that is C Street.

We owe much to the Second Wave.   Feminists succeeded in making rape a crime, and in making men aware of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse of women and children.  They saw to it that divorce and abortion were available to women who needed them, no questions asked.  More generally, they made Americans aware that horrible acts committed against certain groups of people–women, people of color, non-heterosexuals–are not random but are systematic, built into the system of beliefs and the power structure.

But Second Wave feminists were not able to alter male fantasy, which is all tied up (pardon) with male desire for power.  In their own minds, most men still think (“think” may not be the appropriate verb here) that women are theirs to do with as they please.   They always seem surprised when a woman calls them out.  When they are called out they often say “what’s the big deal?  She wanted it as much as I did.”  Which claim is only true in the perp’s mind.  Very few women I know are turned on by rough sex.  And even those who are detest unwanted sex, although they often have to endure it because, let’s face it, women are still bottoms in a male-dominated power structure.

Makes me want to holler.

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Applied Phlebotinum

Thanks to fans of Game of Thrones, I wandered into a wonderful site today:  TV Tropes.   Here you can find any and all turns and plays used, not just in writing for television, but in fiction, comics, movies, and games.  A faux wiki with a useful index posted on the left side of the screen, the site’s writers gleefully wallow in common plot devices, stock characters, stale dialogue, and random spectacle.  Here are a few samples to whet your appetite:

Absurdly Ineffective Barricade
When characters attempt to physically seal off access to a room, passageway or building, but are doomed to fail miserably due to poor choice of materials or bad tactical planning.

Epiphanic Purgatory
Whether it’s The Lost Woods, a Swamp, the room at the heart of a Haunted House, or an Eldritch Dark World reflection of our own, this place likes messing with your head. It will conjure up phantoms from your past to taunt and torment, force you to face your worst flaws and greatest failures, all while it moves walls and landmarks to keep you lost and trapped until you die… or Forever.

A Fete Worse Than Death

The party, prom, or wedding dinner that will inevitably turn ugly.

Kirk Summation
A speech made by the hero to the villain just before the climactic fight in which he points out exactly why what the villain is doing is wrong, and begs him to forswear his ways.

This never, ever works. Still, he had to try: that’s what makes him the hero

And oh yeah:  Applied Phlebotinum:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a completely ad-hoc plot device”
—David Langford, “A Gadget Too Far”, as a corollary to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law

Phlebotinum is the magical substance that may be rubbed on almost anything to cause an effect needed by a plot.

I dare you to spend fewer than fifteen minutes at TV Tropes.

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