Cooking The Books

It isn’t hard to imagine Senator Tom Barrasso or Yahoo columnist Edward Morrissey becoming, how shall we say it, irritated were this blog to claim that they were guilty of felonies. If I were to use this space to make the unequivocal statement that Barrasso was using his authority to route money into private accounts, or that Morrissey was embezzling millions from Yahoo, they might be tempted to legal action against me.

And why not; we have freedom of speech to be sure, but we have never had the unbridled license to specifically, carefully, and with no reservations call someone a crook without having proof.

Or maybe we do. Maybe in the new United States, freedom of speech means that anyone can say anything, regardless of validity, regardless of harm done, and get away with it…providing of course that they have better lawyers, more money, or their target has a reason to not file suit themselves.

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Blazing Symbols

It is farcical, really, the level to which some manufactured controversies rise. Mel Brooks could not write a movie more ridiculous than what we endure every year. Thanks to a ploy for ratings over at Fox News, the holiday season in the United States is now ground zero in the artificial battle over symbols known as the “culture wars.” And once again, the wars are fueled by a thorough lack of historical knowledge, and a willful lack of context. At the central front in the culture wars, the mythical war on Christmas fought by Fox is built around two concepts:

Taking Christ out of Christmas by saying or writing “Merry Xmas”…

Saying, writing, or wishing someone “Happy Holidays”

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The Tangled Web Of Free Speech

I watched Duck Dynasty once…for about ten minutes. As a guy from the West Coast, fond of city life and far from comfortable with anything Southern, I changed channels. One of the advantages of living in the United States is a reasonably high level of choice in entertainment. As I could tell fairly quickly that the Robertson family and I would not be birds of a feather, I exercised that choice to leave.

It is easy to imagine many millions of Americans feeling the same way about Phil Robertson and his “reality” show (which, like all reality shows, is produced and semi-scripted.) The popularity of the show is relative, in the same way that the popularity of cable news is relative. Fox News likes to crow about its ratings, and MSNBC likes to crow about its ratings gains in the key demographic, but “popular” shows on cable just aren’t seen by a large number of Americans. The show about Louisiana outdoorsmen and their families is watched by an average of 14 million folks every week.

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The Desolation of Tolkien’s Text

When politics inevitably drives me to the brink of insanity, I retreat into the faraway realms created by good writers and filmmakers. For almost thirty years, my favorite getaway has been the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien in his The Hobbit and its follow-up, The Lord of the Rings. One can imagine my sense of joy and anticipation when I heard of a full length, live action trilogy of movies depicting LOTR and coming to the screen in the first year of this century.

I tempered my excitement with the knowledge that fully rendering Tolkien’s text in three movies was an impossible task; there is just too much ground to cover. I knew going in that my favorite chapter (The Scouring of the Shire), for example, lay after one of many possible cinematic endings and was thus unlikely to make the final script. I knew also that many characters would find their way into the film only in the form of composites. In other words, I embraced realistic expectations as a guide to viewing these films.

And initially I was not disappointed. Peter Jackson’s work on The Lord of the Rings was visually stunning, gifted with an impressive score, and captured many of the grand scenes of the text in ways that matched or satisfied the visions of my mind’s eye. But as I watched the films and thought about what I had seen, I became ever more angry at a number of the choices made by Jackson and his team; choices I felt were the result of hubris rather than necessity.

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Call Of Duty

I was thinking about my annual Memorial Day post, reading Facebook memes and historical pieces on the origin of the holiday, when I ran across an advertisement. The video game, Call of Duty, was reminding fans and potential fans of its existence. A so-called first-person shooter, Call of Duty is challenging, engrossing, and fun. It also features the type of realism that pleases the cynics and worries society. Or should worry society, at any rate.

It only requires a brief period of listening to the comments of players engaged in virtual combat to understand the depth of hostility and hatred that the game seems to capture and focus. From the mouths of babes and adults alike come an endless stream of death threats and a stunning variety of racial abuse. The line between fun and violence glorification has clearly been breached for many in games like these, and many critics have questioned what harm first-person shooters can do to society. I have questioned it myself, as one who has played (and enjoyed) the franchise, and as one who has fired (and enjoyed firing) an assault rifle.

But I don’t believe the game is the cause, and I don’t believe that random interpersonal violence is the dangerous effect.

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