Turkey – Ephesus

In 262 AD, having already raided large portions of Asia Minor, a Goth force descended upon Ephesus. Outnumbered (and by this point probably also outclassed) the Roman military was unable to offer any substantial opposition. The Goths sacked Ephesus and burned the Temple of Artemis to the ground. One of the Seven Wonders of the World ceased to exist alongside many other major structures within the city. It’s likely that a substantial portion of the population was killed, scattered, or enslaved. Ephesus never recovered.

It is as if aliens descended upon Europe tomorrow and sailed up the Thames or Seine to gut Paris or London alongside millions of people and all their major landmarks. Only in Aleppo could you find a rough template today to compare this to. Except that with Ephesus it was a factor of time. It has taken five years to lay waste to Aleppo, it’s people, and its historical landmarks. It probably only took a few days to burn Ephesus. All that’s left now is broken stone, rubble, and a ghost of what was once one of the major cities on Earth.

Trees grow on bare grass that was the ground floor of some rich trader’s mansion. The fallen columns of one of the greatest architectural masterpieces ever made were ground down for plaster to make lesser buildings. The written knowledge and cultural history of one of the great cities of history is so completely destroyed, so burned, so reduced to waste that it’s actually disputed which year (not which day or month) Ephesus was attacked by the Goths.

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When you go back and look at places such as Ephesus I’m inclined to divide the history of the human race into two geographic categories. You either live in a town, city, or country that has been a doormat of history or you do not. Those that caught the doormat category, even to this day, have to overcome the problems that trace their roots back thousands of years.

Despite turmoil, wars, and bombing raids, London was completely destroyed only once in 60 AD by Boudica during her revolt. Paris has never been razed to the ground. Depending on how you count, Ephesus was demolished at least seven times over thousands of years. It’s hard to build a long standing, secure culture, language, commerce, and politics when somebody shows up once every few hundred years and devastates it all. I think this goes a long way to explain why Britain and France are relatively stable democracies while Turkey’s still attempting to discover its identity.

London had the Celts, Romans, Saxons, a few Vikings, even fewer Normans, all eventually melded into English. Ephesus by contrast had to deal with this journey through history:

Arzawans

Hittites

Mycenaean / Ionians

Cimmerians

Greeks

Persians

Macedonians / Seleucids

Romans

Byzantines

Arabs

Seljuk

Ottomans

Turkish

Good luck trying to wrap your brains around how all that is supposed to create a stable safe place to live for multiple generations. Sometimes a sustained melding of cultures can create a truly special blend of humanity that enriches a people. Think of the unique joining of Moorish and Christian that Spain traces its roots. But other times there is no blending, there’s just history’s great eraser that does away with the old, and sometimes never replaces it with the new.

Kemal Atatürk’s vision was that history would be undone, his country remade. He wanted to wipe away the chaos described above. Turkey would be reborn into something new. Whereas religion was the one great binding principle, Turkey would become an ultra-secular state. The Turks would even get a brand new alphabet. What people could and would wear would be dictated. Those who lived in Turkey would become singularly Turkish, one way or the other. The Kurds were oppressed and the Armenians simply liquidated.

In retrospect, it seems clear that this was never going to work. It relied entirely on the personality of one man, and the ability of those with guns to enforce it. Whenever things got out of hand the army would simply step in to preserve Ataturk’s legacy. Turkey suffered more coups than most African states. If the planet’s last hundred years or so have shown anything, it’s that you cannot build long term prosperity in a country where the chief method of civil institution is violence. Eventually things come off the rails. But in the interim, folks can generally muddle through.

So in this sense, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule is actually the direct successor to Atatürk’s legacy. In that he’s running the show simply because he controls the most guns. The recent coup, while dramatic and bloody, never had widespread military support. Erdoğan controls the army, so he controls Turkey.

Modern democracy and prosperity require many civil institutions that were built up over centuries such as freedom of speech, rule of law, freedom of the press, and so on. How exactly would these have emerged in Ephesus when every once and a while every civil institution was doused in flames?

I’ll roughly wrap up this line of thinking, because I want to talk about Ephesus’s golden age, by saying I’m not optimistic about Turkey’s immediate future.

In the short term it’s the Erdoğan Show. This week he submitted to parliament constitutional amendments to give him unchecked executive level powers. He will get them. He will get them because he wants to be Sultan and Atatürk II. He will get them because he controls the guns. And the guns control the voting, education, media, and just about every other aspect of Turkish civil society. The Erdoğan Show will continue until he dies. After that, what?

It just depends. Sometimes a country can right itself after incompetent one man rule departs. But even if everybody realizes the nightmare was indeed a nightmare, it’s hard to fix things. Just look at what Venezuela, another broken democracy, is going through even though Hugo Chávez is long since dead. Even if Turkey’s ultimate future is bright, I think Erdoğan will ultimately set back progress by fifty years. What comes after that, is up to Turkey’s people.

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The ruins of Ephesus are at the foot of Selçuk, the modern Turkish town. In ancient times Ephesus was on the Aegean Sea. But over the centuries the Cayster River silted up and now the entire area is several miles inland. If one takes a more nuanced view of history than I describe above, you can simply make the argument that Ephesus died out once it lost access to the Aegean and was no longer able to serve as a major port.

A good first stop is the ruins of the Temple of Artemis which are a few hundred meters from Selcuk. What little is left is among the oldest of the places available for visitation. The temple underwent three phases. The Bronze Age shrine might be among the oldest on the planet. This original temple was lost to floods in the 7th Century BC and was replaced by the more recognizable Greek columned temple around 550 BC. In 356 BC a true fringe lunatic of a man burned it down. Starting in 323 BC it was slowly rebuilt to the final recognizable structure.

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Ruins of the Temple of Artemis looking northeast with Selçuk in the background. The single freestanding column is rebuilt from various wreckage they found. Imagine the size of the temple by contemplating a structure that fully filled the entirety of the basin in this photo with 127 total columns. Note the Ionic fluting on the fallen column blocks. Also see in the front of the shot the square holes cut into the eroded column blocks. Each column had a wooden centerpiece which they stacked column blocks through as they built up the height, in the case of Artemis, 60 feet high. The blocks were then fitted, sanded down, fluted, and decorated to give the column a single cohesive look meant to last for thousands of years. The problem with ancient Greek temples was they required wooden roof beams to support the marble tiles that typically sat atop. The intricate concrete roof construction one sees in say the Pantheon didn’t exist yet. This left most ancient Greek temples very vulnerable to fire, despite their stone base and columns. This was the cause of many Greek temples losses, as of course with Artemis as well.

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One of the many maps of Ancient Ephesus. To the left you can see the bulge emerging from the west of what was once the harbor inlet from the Cayster River that lead to the Aegean. The Temple of Artemis and Selçuk are off to the northeast. Note the extent of the city walls. Depending on how you count, Ephesus surely had over one-hundred-thousand citizens. Always a major city state during the Hellenic eras, it reached its cultural, economic, and political heights during Roman rule. For reference in subsequent photos, the Library of Celsus is #20. The Great Theater is #25. Harbor Street is #26.

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The Library of Celsus. A couple of things to keep in mind as you look at this. First, the façade is a complete reconstruction. Second, look back at the map. As impressive as the library is, it’s one of the smallest buildings that once called Ephesus home. Despite the building’s small size, the library was among the largest of the ancient world housing over ten-thousand scrolls. The interior was burned out by the Goth attack, the façade collapsed centuries later. How much more would we know of the ancient world if at least some portion of the library’s content had survived? Completed in 120 AD by a son to honor his father, both of whom where Roman counsels, it’s a structure that mirrored both its Greek and Roman roots.

grand-theater

Grand Theater of Ephesus. Likely the largest theater in the ancient world, it could hold a crowd of 25,000 people. Greek theater was probably performed through its history and in the later Roman years people died there for the amusement of their fellow humans. I can’t begin to describe to you, but hope to loosely capture in pictures, just how big this place is. It rivals modern stadiums in its size and scale.

grand-theater-stands

harbor-street-above

From the Grand Theater seats looking west down Harbor Street. This must have been quite the view with all the buildings and the ships back in the day. The inlet to the Aegean and the Harbor Gate would have been at the end of this road.

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theater-backstage

Backstage of the Grand Theater.

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Harbor Street. Not much is left, and so your brain is left to imagine what it would have looked like. All the way down to the harbor and the ships. The tens-of-thousands of people who walked this street and lived out their lives.

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ordinary average German citizen attains bestseller status

Can book royalties cross over to the next realm and enrich a person within Valhalla? If so, I’m not sure how this would play out. First off, I assume (I hope) that Hitler’s purpose in Valhalla is for archery practice. When he showed up on 01 May 1945 I figure the Jarls took one look at him and were like, “Ah, welcome friend, we’ve been expecting you for some time.” And Hitler smiles all sheepishly, hoping these weird next life dudes don’t really know who he is. But then four drunk thugs step up and grab him and he realizes he’s done. At this point he starts to whine like a little chipmunk, “Nein. Nein!”. They take him to the range and strap him to a post. Every day drunk thugs practice their bow skills on Hitler. He’s doomed for an eternity to die, be reborn, and die again each day. So if book royalty checks do show up, they’d probably just take the money and buy more mead with it. Hitler never sees a mark.

For those who were unaware, the copyright held by Bavaria on Mein Kampf expired last year. So folks could publish the book again. There was serious discussion about passing a law or twisting it to prohibit further publication of the book. Thankfully this didn’t happen and the book’s on the street again. To me, history should be in people’s faces. So I’m glad they let it publish again. Let Hitler’s book sit in open view. Folks should read it (somewhat) and learn. History can’t benefit humanity when we sweep it under the rug. There are important lessons to be learned. In the case of Mein Kampf, one of the most clear is that men generally tend to mean what they say repeatedly.

Regular readers of this degenerate blog know I sure do hate the mass destruction wielded upon people by the haters for even the most minor of perceived slights. But trends become trends over time. When Sultan Erdogan said over a decade ago, “Democracy is like a train, you get off once you have reached your destination,” it would appear he meant every bit of it. There is nothing Hitler put out post 1933 that he didn’t originally write down in Mein Kampf. His distain of and future overthrow of parliamentary democracy, his intent to lay waste to Russia and the Slavs, his hatred of the Jews, it’s all in there.

For example, take these very specific passages:

“…the nationalization of our masses will succeed only when, aside from all the positive struggle for the soul of our people, their international poisoners are exterminated…”

“If at the beginning of the war and during the war twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the nation had been subjected to poison gas…”

Not much subtlety there. Hmm, I wonder what he hand in mind? It’s important to remember that at the time Germany was (and still is) a pinnacle of modern culture and technology. Germans were not dumb people. So in my mind a few things happened here:

1) They didn’t read his book

2) They read his book and didn’t think he was serious

3) They figured he wrote the book in 1926, and it’s 1933, so he’s hopefully a changed man

4) They didn’t care one way or the other, they wanted a winner to restore Germany from the gutter

All of these views were mistakes. And thus, we eventually get Hitler’s, “You, gentlemen, are no longer needed…”. And the journey was on from that point. It took twelve years to resolve the forces of that conflict. The roots of it began well before Hitler published his book, and in many ways he was just a catalyst. But also in many ways he was an extremely unique and powerful man. One wonders what would have happened to Germany and Europe had history’s fate not cursed the landscape with somebody so evil, so perverted, and yet so talented in the ways of organization and persuasive leadership.

* Because tis the inauguration season, and I hate all humanity, I’ll just throw out the caveat that nothing I’ve written above is meant to apply to Trump. That’s an entirely different situation. History has many of the same notes, but it’s a different sheet of music. Maybe I’ll write more about this later, but suffice to say, America has a far more mature and robust constitutional system than post World War One Germany, a country that had only experimented with democracy for about a decade before Hitler tore it down.

There’s a lot of the purging of history lately. A lot of smart people didn’t want Mein Kampf republished. Folks want to take former slave owners statues off the American street. I’m sure eventually somebody’s going to get around to fully censoring entire books from the school system because they offend four or five folks down by the Sizzler.

But to me, I applaud that Mein Kampf is out there. I’m glad it’s a bestseller. I want all humanity to read, learn, and remember history’s lessons. I want a former slave owner governor’s statue to sit right there. So that when a young kid asks his Dad who that statue guy is, the Dad can be like, “Well, he used to be the governor, he did some neat things, but he also owned slaves and didn’t free them so he was an asshole.” And then the son and Dad have a further good discussion about history.

manipulation and that guy’s castle

The new gig requires me to commute via train for the first time in over a decade. I suppose I’ll write more about this later, but given yesterday’s delays now’s not a good time. But lately on almost every train car wall or station ad booth are these new posters for the upcoming season of The Man in the High Castle. This is the second season of the Amazon show that I’ve heard is quite good. I’ve not yet swallowed the pill and donated my psyche to Amazon Prime so I haven’t seen it yet. It’s on my list though.

Here is an example of one of the rarer posters they’re using:

the-man-in-the-high-castle.jpg

I use the term rare, but I’d say north of 80% of them are this other poster:

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I may have a demented brain but the first thought I had when I saw this poster for the first time was the guy behind this marketing campaign is a genius. I want to conscript his talents to solve some of my more pressing life’s problems, like how to get my dryer to function more efficiently. For you see, I’m entirely certain that the 60 million Americans who voted for Hilary upon viewing this poster are going to immediately associate this visual concept with Trump.

You’ve got New York, you’ve got Nazis, you’ve got a motto about changing the future, and no other extraneous information presented to contradict this initial impression. For example, they could have shown an Imperial Japanese guy in the lower left corner too, but that would take away from the implicit message. Also, if you look very closely as I did this morning, there is a man in Lady Liberty’s head. Face-to-face with this poster, I swear it looks about as close to Trump’s face as they could make it without it being overt.

Again, I haven’t seen this show, but I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Trump or anything related to the election. But advertising is about impressions. Once those 60 million folks decide to go check out what The Man in the High Castle is, at least some portion of them will decide to stick around and actually watch the show. I wonder how many of them will also realize that in doing so, they were being skillfully played by the Giant Octopus in Amazon.

Manipulation is a creepy thing. I’d like to think I’m not paranoid, but perhaps I am. Or perhaps I’m just insane. Or both. Every news article I read, or ad I see, or whatever, I’m constantly asking myself what the hidden message is. Because like it or not, impartiality doesn’t exist, if it ever did. Somebody wants you to do something or think a certain way for their own (or their cause’s) benefit. Free person that you are, you have to be watchful.

As another example, I’m sure most of you saw this news and social media push of the Santa who had a young boy die in his arms. What a heart tearing story for the Christmas season. Well, it turns out that it probably wasn’t true. But if you’ll remember, this was front page news earlier in the week. On only in a few places will you find the retraction. So a whole ton of people who read and believed, are never going to find out that they were played by this maniac.  I only found out it was fake because I read Deadspin for NFL purposes and this was on the margin.

fake santa.jpg

Unrelated photo of manipulator

Hey speaking of Nazis and manipulation, also in the news today was that Austria has decided to forcefully procure Hitler’s birthplace.

I guess there’s a lot of history behind this place and the lady who owns it. But for years it seems the Austrian government was paying her straight cash in an effort to prevent various modern Nazi groups from renting it to hold séances with Hitler’s ghost. So now Austria will seize it, buy out this lady, and do something with it. I’m sure they’ll either blow it up or turn it into a memorial for all of Hitler’s victims. Either option works for me, I guess. I mean, it’s just a building. It’s not actually Hitler, so who cares?

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If you ask me, let’s manipulate the shit out of this place. Oh, the modern Nazis want to use it for their rally? How about we let them. The following manipulation shall occur in designated order:

1) The Austrian government announces the property has been purchased by an obscure billionaire known only as Herr Schmidt.

2) Herr Schmidt announces on clandestine Nazi message boards that he actually worships Hitler and the property is thus now open for visits by the faithful.

3) Special keys are handed out via covert mail for those diehard Nazis who wish to visit. They are provided instructions on how to access the property.

4) When they get inside the house, various patriotic Nazi signs direct the acolytes to the special room. For example, they could just repurpose the High Castle poster with Lady Liberty. And various signs reading, “This way to worship our Fuhrer.”

5) And they all get inside the special room, and it turns out it’s just a place with a bunch of chain guns.

6) We get robots to clean up the room.

7) Repeat as required, until no longer required.

And thus, the world would be rid of the extremely small portion of humanity who are so worthless that they still believe in a Nazi message that was destroyed 70 years ago. So let’s give the Nazis what they want, and we’ll just use the house for this other purpose. It’s win-win.

The dude in the castle is not Hitler or Trump or fake Santa whatever, it’s Herr Schmidt. We are Herr Schmidt. We carry on the legacy of the war 70 years ago that made sure The Man in the High Castle concept never happened.

White Christmas?

Within the confines of the hovel at my new gig I can hear music played lightly by the gal next door. This is a new concept for me as at the last place playing music without headphones was banned under penalty of confining one to the cubicle overnight while a merger of Bieber and Kanye was played via massive loudspeaker for eight straight hours. Needless to say, nobody violated this regulation. But here it’s considered okay.

This doesn’t bother me as much as I would have expected. Half the time she plays classical music which is soothing to hear as I grind away and contemplate what’d be like to actually one day have a job I enjoy. Sometimes she plays weird pop rock or whatever and I have to break out my headphones to drown it out with music of my own. This is fine too. But being the season, she’s progressed to the occasional Christmas music.

I’m not sure if I can handle this. Christmas is a long 12 days away. A lot of Christmas music is great, classic stuff. But when you really think about it a whole bunch of Christmas music is terrible. The ones where somebody whines about their relationship during the Christmas season are the worst. Nobody cares people, dating is just as much a wheat thresher in May as it is in December. Live with it.

But also, to me Christmas music is an intensely personal experience. At the height of its powers, it evokes memories of childhood where we would all pile into the van to drive to Grandma and Granddad’s place. In the dark, cold Christmas night my Dad would invariably switch over to Christmas music on the radio for the length of the drive. These are nice memories. All my grandparents and my Dad have moved onto the next realm, so the music is especially poignant. As it is, Christmas music almost becomes kind of sad for me, like a requiem.

Lots of people aren’t in the Christmas spirit either this year I guess. Go ahead and read anything online or in the papers recently and apparently the universe is over. Earth is finished. Christmas is cancelled. You’re a walking bleached skeleton. By June of this year, machines or aliens (or both) shall be our masters, dogs and cats will have lived together and procreated creating a master race of pet, The Walking Dead will have somehow become a good television show, and Trump will have become that guy in Star Wars with the wrinkled creepy monster face.

Gee wiz, I had no idea we were that doomed? Though I sadly suppose it’d be the same hysteria regardless of what loser won this last election. Hey you know I didn’t vote for either of them, both of them were terrible, but I never (and still don’t) had it in my mind that either one of them could actually destroy anything. Go read the Constitution, or contemplate how little Obama has been able to accomplish after eight years.

The way I look at, is to default back to my Grandma and Granddad. For you see, they did four Christmas days at war. Think living under Trump or Clinton would have been bad? Trying living through Christmas Day 1942. Unless you happen to live in Syria, we cannot comprehend the struggle and terror of those Christmases where whole cities and countries were being swallowed whole. My Granddad did Christmas Day 1944 under fire at the front within the Battle of the Bulge. Merry Christmas! Signed, your friend, Adolf.

This was a war that killed 300K Americans, probably around 100 million worldwide. One in nine Americans served in uniform. The equivalent number today is if four years from now 30 million Americans were in the military. This is beyond our comprehension.

So later on in their lives I have this idea that Christmas 1956, 1972, or 1986 was always very special for them. They could go back and look at their kids and grandkids and remember just how bad it’d been. Instead of all that nightmare, they could lean back on the couch, sigh deeply, and truly appreciate the joy of Christmas that surrounded them. More than anything, that war defined a whole lifetime’s existence.

Of this, I offer as further evidence the 1954 movie White Christmas. If you haven’t seen this movie, gather the kiddies and those you love, and watch this movie. It’s just too wholesome good not to watch. It’s got a great fun plot, decent music, good dancing, and is basically just an enjoyable time. But at its heart this is a movie about two guys who got shelled together doing everything they can to aid their former general and his failed business. And they get hundreds of their war buddies to help out. It’s a story where memory of the war bleeds through.

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I think that White Christmas connection lasted about seven decades. In an equally godawful presidential election of 1972, you could have voted for Nixon (liar, lunatic) or McGovern (dreamer, lunatic). But regardless of who won, you would have remembered that after Christmas 1943, it couldn’t be much worse.

And indeed, Nixon rightly got his ass kicked out of office and the country somehow didn’t implode. And if your neighbor in 1973 had voted for the other guy, then that was okay because they’d been 19 miles to your left on the front lines and so they were an alright dude regardless of who they voted for.

Now, 75 years later that type of deep societal connection is just about gone. There is literally nothing holding the vast majority of the American psyche together. This is another bother for me with Christmas music. All the good ones were written with this 1956, 1972, or 1986 mindset. These songs were written for people who’d literally been through hell, and could fully enjoy the Christmas meaning and spirit.

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“Merry Christmas, Motherfuckers!”

Who would write an appropriate hit Christmas tune today? No Kanye rapper or Bieber-like-man-child has it in them. Even if they did, would anybody listen or would people just hear it and get sad because they’re too mentally wrapped up in what Trump said about the percentage of glycerol in Twinkies on Twitter?

Do you hate your neighbor and fellow human? Maybe you should. Let’s hate everybody! Christmas spirit? Nonsense! Christmas is yet another day on the calendar to contemplate how awful everything is.

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“Hmm, 60 million have had Christmas ruined because I should never have run.  Hmm, eh, fuck it.”  [lights cigar with $1K bill inside $27.3M mansion]

I have in mind, to write this Star Trek episode. It’s a Christmas episode special. In it, Kirk, Picard, Spock, and Data roll down to some waste planet accompanied by four Red Shirts. They go exploring around. Red Shirt 1 accidently blows himself up with his own phaser. Red Shirt 2 dies from food poisoning after last night’s failed turkey mole dish (true story). Red Shirt 3 gets dragged behind a rock by what the audience sees as a crab-like shadow.

Red Shirt 4 whilst walking upon a ledge gets scared by a monster neither he or the audience can see, and he falls off the cliff to his death. So then there are Kirk, Picard, Spock, and Data investigating the ledge where Red Shirt 4 fell.

Data scans the area and he’s like, “Captain, my scans show there to be zero evidence of alien activity in this sector. It is thus reasonable to conclude, that Ensign Timmy was alone here. Before he fell.”

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Spock nods, and he’s like, “I agree, Captain. Fascinating. It is thus logical to conclude, that whatever Ensign Timmy saw, was contained solely within the confines of his mind.”

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Then Picard, looking straight at the camera, earnestly, with campy Christmas music playing, in a scene worthy of 1979 says, “Why, it would seem, that even in this Christmas season, our darkest fears can overcome us, blind us, and lead us across a fatal line. Perhaps, it is time, during this season above all, to look deep within ourselves. For our own optimism, our own guidance, our own Christmas joy.”

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And all four guys nod happily at this revelation as the music reaches its crescendo.

Then, out of nowhere a giant crab monster jumps out from behind a rock. It attacks Kirk and rips open his shirt.

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Then the crab pulls a knife.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ9FdpLfL98

Kirk spends four and a half minutes going hand-to-hand with the crab monster, ultimately beating him to death with a rock. And Kirk’s screaming and panting over the mangled crab monster corpse. Picard, Data, and Spock are just looking at him, like, “Dude, calm down.”

Eh, either way.

White Christmas? My friends, it is your choice. In the next 12 days you’ll be bombarded with the black, the dark, the unpleasant. Choose the White. Choose optimism, to love your neighbor, to be kind even to your enemies. This is what it’s about. We need more of it. Now more than ever.

Sicario – the film that hits you repeatedly with a plastic bat

You hear a movie’s great. Then you see it and didn’t like it. What does that say? Well, a couple of options are in play:

1) Everybody else is right, the movie’s great

2) You’re too stupid to completely understand the movie

3) Aliens and/or alcohol drugged you so much you couldn’t follow the movie properly

4) Everybody else is wrong, the movie’s complete garbage

At any given point, all or one of the above apply to my movie viewing experiences. But for Sicario, I’m going with option (4).

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Blunt, Brolin, and del Toro view the film creator’s designs for the most pristine of plastic bats.

Everybody loves this movie. It’s some kind of award winning masterpiece. And I’ll admit, it has some top notch features. It’s well shot, has a beautifully dark score, contains mostly interesting scenes, and has swell acting. I think this is why folks think the movie is awesome. On the surface it’s well done. But when you peel back the onion everything underneath is just wrong. It’s like those onions that bring the fruit flies into your humble abode.

If I could name one key gripe with this flick, it’s the unjustified suspension of reality. Not all movies need to be knife edged real. Movies are all about escapism. They take you somewhere special, or they bend the truth to make a point, or explore possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t exist. But Sicario makes it clear almost immediately that it has a larger purpose. It’s a running commentary on the war of drugs, American policy, morals, etc, etc. About 1/3 of the way through the movie I said to mine doggies, “This flick is Syriana II”. And so it is. And Syriana sucks too.

In order for you to buy the film’s message that our reality is wrong, you’d think the movie would have to be grounded in some kind of its own reality, right? Otherwise the message would get clouded by lunacy? Nope.

Kindly observe this limited list so that you can understand why I think this movie hits you repeatedly with a plastic bat and asks you to not think. They just want you to admire the beauty of the film, swallow the message, and not think too much.

1) In the first five minutes we’re asked to accept that one can store 40 corpses in a suburban Arizona home if only you hide them behind drywall. There’s even three guys just hanging out in there like it’s nothing. Eh, I’m pretty sure drywall aside, that this home would smell like five blocks away. But it’s dramatic, so they put it in there.

2) Juarez is depicted as a vacation spot worse than Mosul. Blunt looks on from a nighttime El Paso roof to see the Juarez skyline alight with explosions and machine gun tracer fire. Eh, I looked at that skyline almost every night I was in El Paso for years. I never saw any of that nonsense. In the years I was out there, I never heard one gunshot. Contrast that with my fairly standard east coast suburban hovel where I’ve heard at least a dozen gunshots over the years. Granted, most of those shots are jackasses shooting trees in the small woods adjacent to my back yard, but the comparison remains valid.

3) Blunt, del Toro, and Brolin alongside a dozen stereotypical American commandos (scruffy beards included) erase eight cartel gunmen and one corrupt Mexican cop on the Bridge of the Americas in front of several hundred people. We the audience are then treated to a throwaway line via the team radio about how this incident is so common it won’t even be news in El Paso. Oh, how cynical! This movie is so darkly intriguing. Give those geniuses an award. Eh, I’m pretty sure if nine men die on the Bridge of the Americas that the whole planet would know in about four minutes.

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Gee, I wonder what occupation these bearded gentlemen must have?

4) We find that the CIA’s plan to assassinate a cartel boss apparently can only entail the use of a former Medellin killer who can infiltrate the bad guy’s compound to exact his revenge. Eh, this would come as comical news to the Mexican Marines who have killed or captured dozens of cartel bosses over the last decade in deadly raids. At great cost to themselves and their families.

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Mexican Marines (not depicted in Sicario), escorting El Chapo to his second opportunity to die in prison.  No matter what you do in life, you will never be as awesome as these men.

5) Ultimately, Brolin admits to Blunt in a plot twist that’s quite humorous that the CIA’s grand strategy to defeat the Mexican cartels is to help the Medellin and/or Columbian cartels regain turf because they provided more stability. Truly! In order to swallow this completely bullshit notion, you will need have never heard of the following concepts:

a) The evisceration of the Medellin cartel and the overall recovery of Medellin as a decent city

b) The capture of the Columbian drug trade by the FARC and the Columbian war against said entity

c) The belief that the Columbian cartels of the 1980’s and 1990’s were somehow not the agents of chaos and destruction that they really were

d) The very idea that an American whole-of-government operation can conduct any such secret evil plan without it ending up on the front page of the Washington Post

e) That the CIA will threaten to and/or actually suicide people who state that they’ll tell folks about this evil government conspiracy

Hey I’ve got news for all you conspiracy lunatics: Everybody talks. America is not Soviet or Putin Russia. Everybody talks. As one of my references, I draw your attention to the ultra-secret CIA run black site program conducted after 2001. This was as deep a conspiracy as you can get. Yet here we are about a decade later and you can read online and determine just about every aspect of the operation, right down to the price the CIA paid for the freaking Polish buildings.

Again, I wouldn’t bring up this absence of reality, except that Sicario takes itself so damn seriously. You’re meant to feel their message. The plastic bat is at work. You will be made to agree with this nonsense. Well, I will not. This movie is only mildly entertaining, but is overall, just not very good. My Guests and I would not recommend.

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Sorry, God’s too busy to meet your shitty movie.

why can’t this man just die?

It’s generally poor form and not beneficial to your soul and the future of the human race to wish an early expiration date upon your fellow man.  But some people are so far over the line I really don’t have a problem with it.  I thus give you the ongoing saga of how serial child slave trafficker, rapist, lunatic, murderer, Dallas Cowboys fan, and apocalyptic fanatic Abubakar Shekau is somehow still alive?  Why can’t this man just die?

For those of you who believe in conspiracy theories or conspiracy theory movies or that only fifteen families are pulling the levers of planetary power, I give you this guy.  We’re so screwed up we can’t even find and kill one single guy who really, really, really deserves it.  This is how I know that if the CIA ever teamed up with Walmart and the Illuminati to put chips into all our coffee so they could get into our brains, the plot would quickly fall apart after one of the monk bagman rear ended a street cop while texting in the rain to his boss about how he left the evil plans USB drive (unencrypted) in the changing stall at the Sears while he was buying new monk-solid-white-high-top sneakers.

I mean I get it, without credit cards, smartphone chips, a desire to drink quality beer, or any plans for the future you can fall off the grid real fast.  But you’d think that eventually we’d be able to buy off one of his buddies or spot him with a drone while he’s sitting inside his 1974 Buick Skylark outside the elementary school trying to kidnap another busload full of young girls.

You know I’ve said it many times, but there’s still something to be said about solving problems with a sledgehammer up front rather than allowing things to fester.  What if the UN had put 100K troops on the ground for a month to comb Boko Haram’s jungle paradise?  They could have stayed for a month, then left the Nigerian Army (what of it actually exists) in charge once the problem was temporarily solved and hope it somehow all worked out.  Then Abubakar Shekau and all his evil buddies would have been dead, and thus not had the ability to kidnap thousands of young boys and girls to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves.  That would have been a decade ago.  He’s still here.  Great.  But hey, at least we’ve got Twitter hashtags, so whatever, we’re good.

In the meantime, I read a few weeks ago that all the fighting has basically triggered a local famine because Boko Haram hasn’t allowed a decent crop harvest in three years.  Awesome.  Check that into the Earth win column, please.  I’m sure this issue came up last night (I kept my word and didn’t watch) as Trump and Clinton traded skilled barbs about which one has an older weathered face under $1247 of television makeup.

Uh, I need to calm down and quietly drink my coffee, I think.  I’m too cynical in my cubicle.  But at least I’m leaving this job soon.  Oh yeah, for those who have been around this degenerate blog for a long time, I’m changing jobs.  Hopefully the new one I won’t hate as much as I do this one.  But either way, in the meantime?  Abubakar Shekau, kind Sir, please just die.

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Seriously, just fucking die.

we duel MacArthur and Patton

Patton selected his .357 Magnum and a baseball bat. MacArthur chose an original Model of 1911 and a bolo knife. I met their ghosts at dawn at a nondescript grassy plain somewhere alongside the Hudson River. After a bit of friendly but restrained banter, I outlined the rules of the day.

And …, wait, hold on. [shuffles papers] [unintelligible muttering] I know, hold on. [throws papers] Yeah, okay, that didn’t happen.

But what did happen is a long while back I visited MacArthur’s ivory skeleton box.

So for whatever reason I decided to rewatch Patton and then watch MacArthur the whole way through for the first time. Then I decided to compare the two, because why not. For those who have seen both movies you know how this is going to end. But this is all for fun, so why not.

All the pieces were in place from the start. Patton pulls a decent director in Franklin J. Schaffner who made some good films beyond just this one and also served in combat in said war. They got some c-grade hack named Francis Ford Coppola to write the script.

MacArthur gets stuck with some guy named Joseph Sargent and a writer known as Hal Barwood who you all will surely remember as the guiding hand behind the Oscar nominated video game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Oichalcum plot twists my ass, Hal, what the hell were you thinking? Indy wasn’t like that. [throws chair]

MacArthur also pulled a budget 1/4 less even though it was made seven years later. For whatever reason MacArthur’s creators then decide to compound the impending misery by covering a span of ten years instead of Patton’s three, all with a running time 40 minutes shorter than Patton.

In terms of MacArthur, I think a bunch of producers got together and decided to shoehorn a Patton clone, they somehow got Gregory Peck involved, and figured even though they were setting it up for failure that it’d somehow all work it and still make a bunch of gold. It didn’t.

MacArthur made a fraction of Patton’s money, lives with justifiably poor reviews, and just leaves you with sense of apathy. When you’re done with Patton you get the idea you’ve just watched something powerful. When MacArthur’s over you shut off your television and go get another beer.

Peck, who remains one of my favorite actors, touched on this:

I admit that I was not terribly happy with the script they gave me, or with the production they gave me which was mostly on the back lot of Universal. I thought they shortchanged the production.

No kidding. Yet for some reason Peck would still go on to say this was one of his most favorite roles. Maybe because MacArthur was a victorious general, famous and mostly beloved, and Peck got to do a whole bunch of long monologues.

A good example of the disparity is that Jerry Goldsmith did the music for both flicks. You can hear Patton right now, picture the light notes of the trumpet across the North African desert. You know that music. It will live forever. Now you go ahead and try and remember one note from MacArthur. You can’t because Jerry phoned it in. So did everybody else.

MacArthur is just going through the motions, they portray MacArthur’s evacuation of the Philippines in the first ten minutes of the film. It’s one of his most controversial and gut wrenching decisions and we see it immediately with no buildup, no time to establish the film. It’s jarring how quickly this scene shows up.

Conversely the movie is nearly an hour long by the time we see Patton confront his inability to keep his mouth shut and the ever eternal slapping of one of his men. These scenes have power because the movie has taken its time to build a character and story.

The crazy thing about Patton is that so many of the memorable parts we take as genius, thus making MacArthur look silly, almost never happened at all. Nobody wanted to go with the opening flag speech scene. George C. Scott wanted nothing to do with it. So Schaffner just lied to him and said it’d be filmed at the end.

Says Coppola on the commentary tack, “All you young people, bear note, that the things that you are fired for are, are often the things in later life that you are celebrated and given lifetime achievements for.

Patton also has to deal with the enduring reality that it was made without Patton’s input, family, diary, notes, and thus relied heavily on Omar Bradley. I can say what I want about MacArthur’s poor film execution, but the content at face value is likely almost entirely accurate. The same cannot be said of Patton.

If you ask me, the most controversial aspect of the film is not Patton himself but Bradley’s presence. It’s open to interpretation just how much of Scott’s portrayal of Patton’s personality is a mythical creation inside Bradley’s mind. It makes for wonderful movie, but maybe perhaps not the look Patton himself would appreciate. From my end, I think this is how Patton was, some of the time, as in an act. A deliberate act of leadership. The rest of the time he was likely the thoughtful military professional his writings depict, but that which does not make for entertaining movie.

In the end, the best part of these two movies though is that I think that bizarrely, both Patton and MacArthur got the movies they would have personally wanted. Patton got to be played by George C. Scott and seen forever as an eternal warrior monk badass. And MacArthur gets Gregory Peck, who gives a bunch of cool long speeches for two hours. In this sense, they both win the duel. As always, in their own way.

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Gentlemen! I will now count off the paces. No General MacArthur, I do not know the current exact time of day. General Patton, please wait till my countdown is completed before you wield your bat. General Patton!