In his new documentary Bitter Lake, acclaimed British documentarian Adam Curtis takes a look at the unsettling history of Western involvement in the Middle East. The work covers the history of the Afghanistan war, and the economic motivations that caused and perpetuated it. The trailer can be found above.
Archive for February, 2015
Have you ever been driving down a country road on a pleasant fall day when all of a sudden a car drives by that makes you sick? I’m not talking simply seeing a bad car that you would never consider driving — though there are no shortage of those. I’m talking about a car that has been deliberately altered, with no small amount of effort, into a horrible, grotesque eyesore.
Maybe it’s that decade old Honda Civic that has a Vin Diesel “Fast and Furious” aftermarket body kit loosely stapled to the sides, so that it now looks comparable to a middle-aged woman after some Vietnamese plastic surgery. More often than not it’s something simple like a willfully obnoxious paint job, or perhaps a collage of terrible bumper stickers that make you want to staple your eyes shut. You see this is a real problem because for decades now the rest of the civilized world has been sniggering at America and its cars.
We’re the butt of every joke in every European auto magazine and the punchline in every episode of Top Gear. The not-so-good-natured ribbing extends all the way across the culture of American cars, the auto industry and motorsport. The cliches remain the same: Americans don’t know how to build cars anywhere near as well as the Europeans or the Japanese. Even when we manage to buy the right cars, we ruin them with stupid add-ons, and our most popular form of racing is enjoyed primarily by rubes. These time-honored stereotypes are, without question, untrue generalizations, but that does not mean that we can ignore them. Because if we do that, if we just purposefully remain ignorant of what the rest of the world is doing and what they think of us, we end up driving the kinds of cars that would be considered uncool even by North Korean standards.
Take for example the Dodge Avenger that I saw driving around recently that had been tuned up a bit, courtesy of some new red alloys that looked like they had been lifted from a Chinese rickshaw. The car was in relatively good shape — not terribly exciting or flashy, of course — there was nothing wrong with it apart from the idiotic modifications. This is the sort of thing that we can’t get away with, nobody can, but especially not Americans. Because in a month’s time or so that car is going to end up on a European auto blog, or a Japanese motoring program, and once again the eyes will roll. “Oh the Americans” they will say, “how thick can they be?” “How little must they care about driving, to do that to a car?”
When a person in England or in Italy decides to spice up his car with a spoiler that looks like it was built out of a kitchen table, they are simply dismissed as buffoons. Nothing about their stupidity is mixed in with the motoring legacy of McLaren, or Aston Martin, or Ferrari. But when American drivers fiddle with their cars like children trying to build houses out of sticks and mud, they get lumped in with the rest of us. They make it easy for the rest of the world to remind us about the horrendous re-hashed Thunderbird, the abysmal PT Cruiser and the fact that we all drive pickup trucks that handle like wheelbarrows. They make it impossible for us to say to the rest of the world: but what about the new Corvette, how good’s that?
This is not a problem of money either, though we have plenty of those. Not having a lot of money is not an excuse for driving a disgusting car. Either you care about driving or you don’t. If you don’t, buy a tan Kia or a gray Toyota, stay in the right lane, and be done with it. But do not buy something that announces to everyone around you: “Look how little I care about cars. I care so little that I’m willing to spend money I don’t have to make my car worse.” Because you aren’t just making yourself look stupid, you are making Americans look stupid.
We have enough problems in the motoring world without having to explain to everyone else, “No, they’re just a dunce, we’re not all like that.” On an end note, if you do care about driving, and all your money hasn’t been taken away by Washington to give to Bank of America, go for the Corvette. The new Z06 has 650 horsepower, styling by Michelangelo and comes standard with an exhaust note that can blow that disgusting Dodge clear off the street.
The last time I checked, the calendar had just flipped to 2015. To put that in perspective the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago, Shakespeare’s Hamlet was penned 412 years ago, and the telephone has been around for 14 decades. We live in a world of unprecedented scientific, mathematical, medicinal, and technological advancement – yet if you take the time to read just one page of a major newspaper the dominate headlines will likely contain the words, “Beheadings, Burned Alive, and Barbaric.” What year is it again?
We live in the same period of human history where doctors can successfully transplant a beating heart from one infant to another – and where the two moneygrubbing Koch brothers can braisenly attempt to buy an entire political party by committing $900 MILLION to the upcoming 2016 election cycle. This is a moment of time where anyone can communicate, face to face, with anyone else on the planet with the touch a few buttons and an Internet connection. Yet, we’re all subjected to our “governments” capturing, storing and monitoring all of these communications with our “best interest and safety” at heart. The United States has made same-sex marriage legal in 36 states, however the religious constituents of the country still believe they own the tradition of marriage and by proxy, the human emotion of love.
What I am really getting at here is this: are we ready to move forward, leave the archaic past of human idiocy behind, and not only preserve but improve human life on this planet? Or will we succumb to those portions of humanity that are so willing to remain in the barbaric clutches of religious insanity that keep us from becoming a better planet? I sound like a god damn broken record with this – but I can’t help it. It’s beyond frustrating that something so ludicrous and horrific as beheadings is still something anyone on the planet has to concern themselves with. Instead of talking about the prospect of eradicating hate, the progression of acceptance, and a better future – we’re all stuck talking about Dark Ages type events that have been happening in the same area for the better part of three millennia. I just can’t imagine anyone on a major news network going home at night and thinking, “Whew, what a day, I’m not exhausted at all from talking about death, slaughter, tragedy, and barbarism.” I’m worn out, I’m tired, and I’m beyond sick of what seemingly dictates the way the world works at this point in history. All I’m hoping for is a change, before it is too late.
By now all American’s fall into two categories – those who have seen Clint Eastwood’s magnum opus American Sniper and those who haven’t. After this past weekend, I can now be included in the growing constituent of American’s that have paid to watch Bradley Cooper portray Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle. I had been aware of Kyle long before the film debuted, specifically the curious events surrounding his death at the hand of fellow veteran Eddie Ray Routh at a shooting range in 2013. As I sat in my comfortable theater seat, sugary candy in hand, a myriad of feelings and emotions coursed through me which led me to pen this response.
With most things in society, there are two sides to everything – and American Sniper is no exception. At present the two pre-eminent feelings regarding this powerful film are that it is an emotional piece of patriotism meant to stoke the American spirit in a time of dismay. There was a part of me that expected a “USA, USA, USA!” chant to break out after the credits, but alas it did not. Instead the theater was filled with a ominous silence that I’d never experienced after a film ended. The second dominating opinion on the film is that it is a propagandist work that is meant to only further the stereotypes, prejudice, and racism towards Muslims. After watching the film, I have no problem with either of these criticisms existing – but I cannot say for certain if either one or the other was the desired outcome. Director Clint Eastwood has stated that American Sniper, “makes the biggest anti-war statement of all.” That might be true, Clint, but you can pretty much say whatever you want when your film has raked in $250 million.
American Sniper is billed as the tale of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in American military history. The film interlaces an empty attempt at a “love story” between Chris and Taya Kyle and the sniper’s four tours in Iraq. For the most part, the plot of the movie does not follow the reality of Kyle’s life – and that would be hard for anyone to do, as Kyle was known to tell “tall tales.” One story Kyle told was that after Hurricane Katrina, he positioned himself atop the Superdome and used his rifle to thwart looters and prevent all-out chaos. All stories and doubts aside, Bradley Cooper delivers a powerful performance of a soldier enduring some of the hardest warfare scenarios imaginable – completely true or not. My opinion is that if Eastwood decided to tell this story as a fictional American soldier in the Iraq War, it would have been much more powerful, as it would have represented the battlefield experience as a whole and not through the eyes of an individual.