Archive for the ‘Freedom is not free’ Category

It is easy to read too much into any movie. Especially when talking about a super hero fantasy, the genre where explosions are much more reliable than philosophical insights. However, for those of us looking for meaning in the world of banality that is Hollywood, the Dark Knight trilogy is as rich as anything else that has come out in the last many years.

Batman Begins was about fear, revenge and of how far justice can go. Through the well-known tale of Bruce Wayne and the tragic death of his parents, it shows how Wayne loses himself in the search for revenge. It also shows how good intentions can easily turn into accepting anarchy – i.e., the League of Shadows ‘burn it down and rebuild later’ idea. Actually, Wayne’s renunciation of the League of Shadows is perhaps the most defining point in Batman’s morality: the idea that justice is not an end on itself but instead a tool to save the innocent. At the end of the day this is a movie about how Batman decides to tame his own anger and how his ‘right wing’ believes are controlled by his empathy for Gotham’s citizens.

The Dark Knight is a more complex movie, which develops the theme of justice by looking at what good and evil are. The Joker is presented as the antitheses of Batman: the enabler of evil, an agent of chaos who is not interested in anything else but to disrupt society for the sake of it. It also adds Harvey Dent, the ‘white knight’ who is in many ways the ‘realistic’ version of Batman himself. The main point of the whole story line here is to show how difficult and imperfect justice is and how that justifies the existence of Batman while at the same time the existence of Batman does not solve the imperfection of justice. The Joker exploits that permanent imperfection by forcing Batman to choose between Dent and Rachel (can be seen as personal interest versus the common good). That moral conundrum is enough to completely destroy Dent: while he understands Batman’s choice he cannot accept Rachel’s death. Dent’s belief in righteousness is gone and he becomes an amoral agent who decides to act purely based on luck (“The only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair.”) The movie ends with the reinforcement of the power of symbols. Batman sacrifices good standing with society in order to save the legend of Harvey Dent.

The Dark Knight Rises is maybe the less complex movie of the trilogy but still an interesting one. The initial part is dedicated to show how Batman and Gordon are displaced by their own success (‘war heroes in peace time’). Wayne is also paying the price for all the physical damage inflicted by fighting crime for so long. The new villain is Bane, who we learn later is another incarnation of the League of Shadows and their continuous goal of destroying Gotham to ‘cleanse’ the world of its decay. Also new to the plot is the Cat Woman, who is an amoral character that goes back and forth between good and evil based purely on personal interest. She seems to thrive in this peaceful time and in the end she helps to enable the return of evil. That resurgence of evil is enough to bring Batman and Gordon back into action but they struggle to react (a message about the dangers of accommodation). There are several side plots about how different people deal differently with difficulties (Talia al Ghul versus John Blake) and also about how cat woman finally decides to help Batman (even though her amorality seems to persist).

The most interesting side note here is how Bane and Talia implement their destruction plan: by manipulating Gotham’s underclasses into revolting and destroying the current system in the name of ‘social justice’. This was an incredibly surprising move in my opinion, given the recent history of all the ‘Occupy’ movements and the pervasive left wing bias of Hollywood.

At the end of the day however, Dark Knight Rises ends in a similar way to Batman Begins: evil is eliminated, balance is re-established and justice triumphs over chaos. There’s even the usual ‘coming next’ hook with the identification of Blake as Robin.

Overall, I found the trilogy incredibly entertaining. This is really as good as it gets as far as pop culture mixing up with deeper subjects. There’s definitely a right wing overtone (maybe lefty’s see it differently?) but the beauty is mostly in the execution. I just hope we can get something else this good in the near future.

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One can only imagine how wars in the past would have looked like on TV or internet. How many kids did Genghis Khan slaughtered? How many women were raped and killed during the American civil war? We really have no idea.

We have a very skewed view of what war really is. We live in times of peace where even our wars are somewhat civilized. During the worst times in Iraq, we still had a very contained and scoped kind of violence by historic standards. Yes, beheadings are brutal but still women and children were for the most part spared (or at least not intentionally targeted). It did help that we didn’t have American citizens there but in any case, the point is that with some exceptions that war still maintained some resemblance of ‘civility’.

What we see now in Syria is a good counterpoint. Killing women and children has become the rule, not the exception. Unless something happens, I predict the situation to get even worse.

Why would we have that difference? My take is: the less military power involved, the more brutal a war is.

Think about it. What was the ‘cleanest’ war ever fought in a large scale? The cold war. Both the US and the USSR knew that the other had enough power to completely destroy them. So every time violence occurred (and it did) the level and scope of that violence was controlled by the threat of escalation. The outcome was known from the start.

What makes something like the Syria civil war so damaging is the lack of power from both sides. Both government and rebels only have small weapons, and no side has a clear advantage. So what do they do? They escalate, trying to gain an edge. How do you escalate when you have no military power? You use terror.

The world has a very, very clear choice in Syria. We can watch as they grind into a slow, brutal carnage or we introduce a larger power in the mix. Will less people die if we intervene? Probably not, at least in the short term. Democracy is not cheap on blood. However, there is such a thing as different levels of violence. If we don’t intervene, expect to get a little glimpse of how wars in the past were fought. It will not be pleasant.

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How is this working out for you my dear bleeding-heart-Bush-lied-people-died Liberal? Can you watch all of this without a tiny bit of shame?

Clinton condemns Syria ‘atrocity’ in Houla

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When Liberals say that we should ‘divide the pie’ they are (purposely?) misleading the public into thinking that wealth is something that is just out there and can be physically divided. Even worse, the idea that wealth is a like a pie gives the false impression that the economy is a zero sum game. That is, if I am wealthy (have a large slice) someone else will necessarily be poor (have a smaller slice).

The fact is that wealth is not static. It is a continuous cycle, constantly being generated every single day. Our world would not last a month if everybody simply stopped turning the wheels. Most importantly, liberals don’t seem to understand that nowadays wealth is a lot different than what it used to be. Before the industrial revolution wealth was land. Countries went to war for it, farms (and our existence) depended totally on it. After the Industrial revolution, the equation started to change. You had small factories producing more wealth than large plots of land. Energy and information became the bottleneck. Now in the information age, people are wealth. If someone broke into my company’s office, there wouldn’t be a lot to be stolen. A few computers you can find at your local store, some desks and cheap paper. Hardly worth the trouble. My employer makes money purely on brains. Software is the closest we ever got to translating pure thought into products. There is no way to steal or redistribute that.

Therefore, what makes companies powerful nowadays is how they deploy their resources into ‘harvesting brains’. That is by the way why recessions are so powerful: it is not the direct losses from bubbles that cause the damage but the fact that companies across the board will decrease their investments in the economy (which in turn decreases jobs, which in turn decreases consumption, which in turn lowers tax collection). By the way, this is the main point in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: the fact that the world’s producers (i.e., the 1%) are the motive power behind our society.

So when Liberals go about the need to tax more, or the evils of inequality, they should ask themselves if that is really an evil in the first place. As long as they keep looking for pies to be divided, they will be missing the point. You need to teach people how to build ovens.

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I cringe every time I hear the ubiquitous ‘be yourself’ or ‘do what makes you happy’. What are we really talking about here? We all want to be happy… Is there any situation where this would be good advice or is this just a sort of wildcard rationalization that validates stupid decisions?

Even worse, there is no way for you not to be yourself. When people tell you that you should be yourself, what they are actually saying is that you should do something you know other people would not do. So the real question to be asked here is ‘why?’. Why are you trying to do something that other people won’t? Is it because you think other people are wrong? Or is it because you are simply trying to ignore the consequences of your acts?

So if I am about to spend money I don’t have in a car I don’t need, I can tell you that I am doing this because ‘it will make me happy’. Which of course is true. But then again, if a true friend tells you that you should not do that is because he understands that ultimately that car will make you miserable.

This seems all related to the one of the ill consequences of the 60s social revolution: the idea that society builds rules based on illogical assumptions and therefore all social mores should be disregarded. This seems to be in part a backlash against religion but I think it is also a consequence of our material wealth. It is very similar to all the idiot theories liberals have on economics: the fact that we are already ‘rich enough’ and that we could just stop worrying and enjoy our gains. People in the past might have needed things like marriage, hard work and saving for a rainy day… but now we are done with that. Dye your hair blue and let’s smoke some weed!

This is not a theoretical post. I am not thinking of this as some thought experiment or criticizing strangers who I see through my car window. I am close to my forties and I have seen friends and family who were either destroyed or badly wounded by these ideas. People who you always thought ‘had it together’ deciding from out of nowhere to do stupid things based on these popular rationalizations, just to realize later on that they had inflicted permanent damage to their lives (and to loved ones as well).

There are very good reasons why our society created the concept of family. There are incredibly important reasons why we are monogamous (and no, the fact that people have always cheated is not an argument against that – it is an argument in favor of it! Humans still kill each other even though we continue to strive for a society without murder). There are very important reasons why we have one male and one female parent, way beyond biological imperatives.

Before breaking a rule we should understand why we had that rule in the first place. Society is nothing but the accumulation of experiences from people who lived before you. These people from the past might look poor and stupid to you but I can guarantee you, they had a much smaller margin of error than we do. We should be grateful for the knowledge we inherited and use it well.

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So here is the deal: if no nation leads the world, many nations will lead the world. There is no ‘natural order’ of things. There is always a force behind anything that happens. It reminds me what a friend told me some time ago: I have no qualms in brainwashing my children. If I don’t do it, someone else will.

What we are seeing in Syria (and in most of all the other ‘Arab Spring’ nations) is the takeover of populist movements over old dictatorial establishment. That establishment was rotten (as all dictatorships are) but they were for the most part stable (within the region’s parameters of course).

Actually, one of the big ironies of this situation is that these populist revolts had more success in countries which were doing reasonably well (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria) and very little to no success in countries which were in some kind of crisis (Algeria, Iraq, other African countries).

What the US under Obama and all Europe are doing here is very dangerous: we are washing our hands. The one place where we did something (Libya) turned out to be a huge mess; we probably saved some rebel lives but condemned many others to torture and death (Gadhafi would tell you about it if he could). Places where we did nothing are doing even worse (Egypt and specially Syria). No one in their right mind would be able to predict what will happen in these countries. Estimates from Syria say that the death toll is approaching 8,000, with 60,000 detained and 20,000 missing. Don’t forget that this is a relatively small country (22 million people). 86 thousand Syrians are the equivalent of 110 thousand in Iraq’s population. Now do you remember the infamous Iraq’s 100k death toll story a few years ago? Guess what: 100 thousand people might have died in Libya as well and that is a country of only 5.6 million people!

But unfortunately that is not even the worst part in this whole mess: we don’t even know who these ‘rebels’ are or what they are about. For all the mayhem and blood of Iraq, we knew who was in power: us. But look at Egypt. Is it better now than it was under Mubarak? How about Libya? Could any of you name even one important figure on either government? I know I can’t.

This could be the Iranian Revolution multiplied by 10. Now, just imagine all the issues we have had with Iran since 1979 and multiply that by any factor. We can’t even decide how to deal with Iran now, so imagine how crazy it would be to deal with a collection of crazies in the same region some time in the future.

You also have to ask yourself why Russia and China are standing by al-Assad. Is it really just a business matter? Are they afraid of what these rebels would do if they gained power? Should we be?

At the same time, I keep thinking of all the stupidity that we heard during the Iraq war. All the pseudo-humanitarian concerns, all the talk about the ills of nation building… Are we really saving money and lives here by not intervening? Or is this a bill that will accrue interests big time and come back to bite us in the future? I don’t know the answers and I don’t think Obama does. His pathetic attempt to use diplomacy to solve these issues tells me that he is as clueless as Carter was in 1979. He is not alone thought – not even liberal pundits can tell you what needs to be done here. Check this one out as an example.

We will have to learn our lessons someday. Hope our kids do a better job when their turn comes up.

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Amnesty International reports: Libya: ‘Out of control’ militias commit widespread abuses, a year on from uprising

“Armed militias operating across Libya commit widespread human rights abuses with impunity, fuelling insecurity and hindering the rebuilding of state institutions, warned Amnesty International in a new report released today, a year on from the start of the February 2011 uprising.

African migrants and refugees have also been targeted, and revenge attacks have been carried out, forcibly displacing entire communities – while the authorities have done nothing to investigate the abuses and hold those responsible to account.

At least 12 detainees held by militias have died after being tortured since September. Their bodies were covered in bruises, wounds and cuts and some had had nails pulled off.

Individuals held in and around Tripoli, Gharyan, Misratah, Sirte and Zawiya told Amnesty International they had been suspended in contorted positions; beaten for hours with whips, cables, plastic hoses, metal chains and bars, and wooden sticks; and given electric shocks with live wires and taser-like electro-shock weapons.”

So where are the street protests against this? Where is the ACLU, UN, the New York Times, and all the other bastions of human freedom? Do they care only when the US is involved?

By the way, you can only imagine how much worse the situation really is. And don’t even get me started on Syria where we are watching quietly while thousands are killed or starved (including kids of course).

Is this the post-Bush doctrine for the world? We might send a few jet fighters or drones to bomb some people when is convenient, but other than that we will ‘let pieces fall as they may’? Let the strong rule. Is that the morality of the bleeding hearts?

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