• Top Gun II Review

    June 7, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    Quick Top Gun II: Maverick movie synopsis (and spoiler alert) by the Bad Guys: Let’s build a secret base using the Star Wars Death Star plans. We’ll leave an air vent that looks like a giant bullseye where one bomb will take down the whole place.

    Good Guys: To make it a fair fight, instead of one Navy Seal throwing a grenade down that ventilation shaft, we’ll come up with a near impossible plan involving multiple airplanes flown by irascible characters. Should kill the whole two hours.
    It is some sort of anti-union move to credit people with screen writing for this movie; a good 80 percent of the script is Top Gun I with one character’s name crossed out (arrogant Iceman claiming he’s the best while finding Maverick’s rule-breaking dangerous) and someone else’s hand-written into the script (arrogant Hangman claiming he’s the best while finding Maverick’s rule-breaking dangerous) as if this movie was a tribute band version of the first. Oh sure, it is 2022 so the Top Gun cadre has more people of color and the black guys don’t have to endure “just one of the boys” call signs like Sundown, but otherwise 2022 shows its age by being less homoerotic than 1986’s. There is far less sexual tension between Maverick and his flame this time. It’s handled more like he reunites with his old Labrador who remembers him and licks his face. And by old flame I mean Goose. The new movie throws away all the buddy stuff of 1986 by having everyone switch their, um, rears, around each flight. People, in 1986 we could handle subthemes with “don’t ask, don’t tell” adding some tension.
    Even the planes are not center screen anymore somehow, the great way the machines were fetishistic characters themselves in the original Top Gun. But remember in 1986 most of us did not know yet the military could put a missile through an Iraqi window on command. So while the featured F-18 in Top Gun II is steroids on Red Bull on little bro’s Adderall to the F-14, somehow it is nostalgia that wins. The aging Tomcat Cruise gets airborne at the end is held together with duct tape the way Cruise is held together with Botox.
    What happened? Since 1986 America lost its need for speed, its desire to go ballistic with some Admiral’s daughter (Val Kilmer is one of three ex-high school principal-like Admirals in Top Gun II whose daughters we definitely are not interested in flying with at Mach 4 because they’ve gotta be like 57 years old.) America has lost its Top Gun spirit and no well-intentioned but ultimately flaccid sequel is gonna pretend otherwise.
    In 1986 when Top Gun first came out Ronald Reagan was president and it was morning in America. Today we have Joe Biden and it’s always late Sunday afternoon. In 1986 we saw the end of the Cold War coming with perestroika and glasnost, and we were winning. When the Libyans messed with us, we launched an air raid and almost caught Qaddafi in his underwear out in his Bedouin tent. Just a couple of years earlier two Libyan Su-22 Fitters fired on U.S. F-14 Tomcats and were subsequently shot down over the Gulf of Sidra even as Qaddafi still proclaimed the existence of his “The Line of Death.”  Maverick sent carrier battle groups in again to the Gulf in 1986, un-freaking-challenged with him and studs like Ice running the show. There were some dark days during Iran-Contra, but from a Top Gun point of view it sure looked like Marine Ollie North was doing the wrong thing to do the right thing. And inflation was only 1.91 percent.
    Libya became the poster child for the last two decades of Middle East policy failure. The Gipper part is now played by Joe Biden, sounding more like a globalist Karen then Reaganesque leader of the free world. Qaddafi is dead, sure, but instead of some hi-tech vengeance at supersonic speed he was sodomized on TV by a thug on the U.S. payroll. Instead of the glory days turning the Gulf of Sidra into our playground, we are shushed into not asking too many questions about another Libyan night spot, Benghazi. America spent 20 years drooling on itself with failed policy after policy in Iraq, the lost opportunities for peace with Iran, the wars in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and of course, Afghanistan. That was where Rambo III in 1988 whooped the Sovs, now in 2021 the Gotterdammerung for failed dreams of empire across five administrations. Never mind if the pattern is full, nobody in their right mind would want a flyby for that final day on the runway in Kabul.
    The bad guys in both Top Gun I and II are faceless (literally; they wear opaque black face masks) and the set up for the all the flyin’ and divin’ and going below the hard deck makes less sense than a typical Road Runner cartoon. OK, this isn’t Platoon or Private Ryan, we get it, it’s hardly even a war movie. But all that unambiguity, the we’re the good guys stuff, was a lot easier sell in 1986 than in 2022. Good news is Mav still gets ‘er done by breaking all sorts of rules though we all hope in real life security is just a tad bit tighter out at Area 51. At least the filmmakers showed a tiny bit of bravado in 2022, allowing Maverick to keep a Taiwan flag patch on the back of his leather cruise jacket, the China market be damned for now.
    Top Gun II’s America is too much like Top Gun II to stir the blood like in 1986. Today in America we worry about double-digit inflation draining our mojo. Whereas in 1986 the bet involved carnal knowledge on the premises, in 2022’s Top Gun II Mav buys a round when he accidentally leaves his cell phone on the bar top. All that macho talk about who will be who’s wingman likely took place in the Top Gun II Human Resources department, not across the locker room. The filmmaker’s even left out “You’re Lost that Loving Feeling” when any film student could have found a place to wedge it in. If Tom Cruise at nearly age 60 can still look cool with aviator glasses on a motorcycle, he can darn well sing the song to someone. But nobody took anyone’s breath away in the end. We get it, it’s all symbolic, is there really any place left in romantic-lead Hollywood for a guy like Tom Cruise?
    America in 1986 was still a place where guys slapped her others’ backsides, where the president was a roll model and political avatar. We won fights, not depended on wordplay from MSNBC to make it seem like we sorta didn’t lose again. There was no need in Top Gun I for Mav to literally throw the rule book into the trash as he does in Top Gun II. We didn’t need no stinking metaphors then.
    You get the Top Gun you deserve, America. In 1986 you were along for a real ride. In 2022 you just want to eject early.

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    Posted in Other Ideas

    Who’s to Blame for Losing Afghanistan?

    August 28, 2021 // 14 Comments »


    Who should we blame for losing Afghanistan? Why blame anyone?

    Did anyone expect the U.S. war in Afghanistan to end cleanly? If so, you bought the lies all along and the cold water now is hitting sharp. While the actual ending is particularly harsh and clearly spliced together from old clips of Saigon 1975, those are simply details.

    Why blame Biden? He played his part as a Senator and VP keeping the war going, but his role today is just being the last guy in a long line of people to blame, a pawn in the game. That Biden is willing to be the “president who lost Afghanistan” is all the proof you need he does not intend to run again for anything. Kind of an ironic version of a young John Kerry’s take on Vietnam “how do you ask the last man to die for a mistake?” Turns out, it’s easy: call Joe.

    Blame Trump for the deal? One of the saddest things about the brutal ending of the U.S.-Afghan war is we would have gotten the same deal — just leave it to the Taliban and go home — at basically any point during the last 20 years. That makes every death and every dollar a waste. Afghanistan is simply reverting, quickly, to more or less status quo 9/10/01 and everything between then and now, including lost opportunities, will have been wasted.

    Blame the NeoCons? No one in Washington who supported this war was ever called out, with the possible exception of Donald Rumsfeld who, if there is a hell, now cleans truck stop toilets there. Dick Cheney walks free. The generals and diplomats who ran the war have nice think tank or university jobs, if they are not still in government making equally bad decisions. No one has been legally, financially, or professionally disadvantaged by the blood on their hands. Some of the era’s senior leaders — Blinken, Rice, Power, Nuland — are now working in better jobs for Biden. I’d like to hope they have trouble sleeping at night, but I doubt it.

    George Bush is a cuddly grandpa today, not the man who drove the United States into building a global prison archipelago to torture people. Barack Obama, who kept much of that system in place and added the drone killing of American citizens to his resume, remains a Democratic rock god. Neither man nor any of his significant underlings has expressed any regret or remorse.

    For example, I just listened to Ryan Crocker, our former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, on CNN. Making myself listen to him was about as fun as sticking my tongue in a wood chipper. Same for former general David Petraeus and the usual gang of idiots. None of them, the ones who made the decisions, accept any blame. Instead. they seem settled on blaming Trump because, well, everything bad is Trump’s fault even if he came into all this in the middle of the movie.

    In the end the only people punished were the whistleblowers.

    No one in the who is to blame community seems willing to take the story back to its beginning, at least the beginning for America’s latest round in the Graveyard of Empires (talk about missing an early clue.) This is what makes Blame Trump and Blame Biden so absurd. America’s modern involvement in this war began in 1979 when Jimmy Carter, overreacting to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up what was already a pro-Soviet puppet government, began arming and organizing Islamic warriors we now collectively know as “The Taliban.”

    People who want to only see trees they can chop down and purposely want to miss the vastness of the forest ahead at this point try to sideline things by claiming there never was a single entity called “The Taliban” and the young Saudis who flocked to jihad to kill Russians technically weren’t funded by the U.S. (it was indirectly through Pakistan) or that the turning point was the 1991 Gulf War, etc. Quibbles and distractions.

    If Carter’s baby steps to pay for Islamic warriors to fight the Red Army was playing with matches, Ronald Reagan poured gas, then jet fuel, on the fire. Under the Reagan administration the U.S. funded the warriors (called mujaheddin if not freedom fighters back then), armed them, invited their ilk to the White House, helped lead them, worked with the Saudis to send in even more money, and fanned the flames of jihad to ensure a steady stream of new recruits.

    When we “won” it was hailed as the beginning of the real end of the Evil Empire. The U.S. defeated the mighty Red Army by sending over some covert operators to fight alongside stooge Islam warriors for whom a washing machine was high technology. Pundits saw it as a new low-cost model for executing American imperial will.

    We paid little attention to events as we broke up the band and cut off the warriors post-Soviet withdrawal (soon enough some bozo at the State Department declared “the end of history.” He teaches at Stanford now) until the blowback from this all nipped us in the largely unsuccessful World Trade Center bombing of 1993, followed by the very successful World Trade Center bombing on September 11, 2001. Seems like there was still some history left to go.

    How did U.S. intelligence know who the 9/11 culprits were so quickly? Several of them had been on our payroll, or received financing via proxies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or were inspired by what had happened in Afghanistan, the defeat of the infidels (again; check Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mughal Empire, various Persian Empires, the Sikhs, the British, et al.)

    If post-9/11 the U.S. had limited itself to a vengeful hissy fit in Afghanistan, ending with Bush’s 2003 declaration of “Mission Accomplished,” things would have been different. If the U.S. had used the assassination of Osama bin Laden, living “undiscovered” in the shadow of Pakistan’s military academy, as an excuse of sorts to call it a day in Afghanistan, things would have been different.

    Instead Afghanistan became a petri dish to try out the worst NeoCon wet dream, nation-building across the Middle East. Our best and brightest would not just bomb Afghanistan into the stone age, they would then phoenix-it from the rubble as a functioning democracy. There was something for everyone: a military task to displace post-Cold War budget cuts, a pork-laden reconstruction program for contractors and diplomats, even a plan to empower Afghan women to placate the left.

    Though many claim Bush pulling resources away from Afghanistan for Iraq doomed the big plans, it was never just a matter of not enough resources. Afghanistan was never a country in any modern sense to begin with, just an association of tribal entities who hated each other almost as much as they hated the west. The underpinnings of the society were a virulent strain of Islam, about as far away from any western political and social ideas as possible. Absent a few turbaned Uncle Toms, nobody in Afghanistan was asking to be freed by the United States anyway.

    Pakistan, America’s “ally” in all this, was a principal funder and friend of the Taliban, always more focused on the perceived threat from India, seeing a failed state in Afghanistan as a buffer zone. Afghanistan was a narco-state with its only real export heroin. Not only did this mean the U.S. wanted to build a modern economy on a base of crime, the U.S. in different periods actually encouraged/ignored the drug trade into American cities in favor of the cash flow.

    The Afghan puppet government and military the U.S. formed were uniformly corrupt, and encouraged by the endless inflow of American money to get more corrupt all the time. They had no support from the people and could care less. The Afghans in general and the Afghan military in particular did not fail to hold up their end of the fighting; they never signed up for the fight in the first place. No Afghan wanted to be the last man to die in service to American foreign policy.

    There was no way to win. The “turning point” was starting the war at all. Afghanistan had to fail. There was no other path for it, other than being propped up at ever-higher costs. That was American policy for two decades: prop up things and hope something might change. It was like sending more money to a Nigerian cyber-scammer hoping to recoup your original loss.

    Everything significant our government, the military, and the MSM told us about Afghanistan was a lie. They filled and refilled the bag with bullhockey and Americans bought it every time expecting candy canes. Keep that in mind when you decide who to listen to next time, because of course there will be a next time. Who has not by now realized that? We just passively watched 20 years of Vietnam all over again, including the sad ending. So really, who’s to blame?


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    Posted in Other Ideas

    Seeing the Promised Land: Springsteen on Broadway, a Review

    December 18, 2018 // 10 Comments »

    Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce Springsteen’s one-man show finished its 236 performance run in New York, and arrived on Netflix December 16.

    It is extraordinary. It is an autopsy of us, a public service, a political rally, a tally of what we need to do next as a nation. A man confesses his sins, asks for our forgiveness, tells us about an America we still might be able to become, and opens his heart about what it means to be closer to the end than the beginning.

    I saw the show live, an early winner of the ticket lottery. The Netflix version of the same show (and album, DVD, etc.) is a simple recording of what we all saw in the theater. No backstage footage, no interviews, no B-roll of Bruce grimly driving around his hometown. Someone was smart enough to focus the cameras and get out of the way. Over the year and a half run, Bruce moved a few things around a bit ,a nd added two songs, Long Time Coming and Ghost of Tom Joad. Otherwise, the show stayed pretty much the same.

    Politics is missing from the show and politics is present in nearly every line. While there are references to “the current state of affairs” and admonishments against giving in to those who probe at our differences for their own benefit, you don’t hear the name Trump, same as you didn’t hear Reagan, or Bush, or much of Obama during Bruce’s long career. Instead, you hear about the people those presidents left behind, those once the American Dream and now just what happened to it.

    Bruce signals early it is time to make amends, via spoken passages pulled from his autobiography interlaced with his music. I’d heard something like this before – at AA meetings where people working through their 12 Step Programs admitted what they’d done, the people they’d hurt, and sought redemption. Bruce stood up and apologized for allowing Born in the USA to become an anthem. Bruce is pissed off now singing, no, shouting the lyrics. He seeks amends by telling us it should have always been sung as a protest song, that it always was to him, but he let it slip away.

    So he took the song back, hitting the line “son, you don’t understand” hard, maybe directed at himself in 1984 trying to ride the tiger of fame, maybe at himself as a young man dodging the draft and later, politicized by Ron Kovic, wondering when he visited the Vietnam Memorial who was sent in his place.

    Springsteen’s politics are bigger than one passing president, same as his vision for us. He professes we need a conscience, not a party affiliation, to make America great. So the words of a nation turning its back in the 1980s on those who built it double for the words of a nation turning its back on some of its most vulnerable citizens in 2018.

    The lack of empathy which caused us to abandon factory workers in the Midwest isn’t all that different from the lack of empathy that causes us to abandon people in need today. Some manipulative politicians tell us it is all different, that we don’t need to care about old white laborers, same as others tell us we don’t need to care about poor immigrants of color. There are no deplorables here, just Haves and Have Nots, and some who Took It All. Springsteen channels, mimics, and echoes the poets who came before him and understood it, too: Whitman, Guthrie, Steinbeck, Agee, Debs, Dylan, alongside a little Holden Caulfield and Joe Dirt.

    Land of Hope and Dreams captures all this, with its signature line about a train called America carrying saints, sinners, whores, and gamblers borrowed from Woody Guthrie who borrowed it from John Steinbeck. We can be better, even if we never were better before. America’s greatness isn’t about romanticizing a past that never existed; we always pushed back against immigrants, always sent men and women to die for the wrong reasons abroad. This used to be a country that talked about dreams with a straight face; it was never supposed to be a finite place. And so Bruce amends a key line from Promised Land to warn, changing “I believe in a promised land” from his records to “I believe there is a promised land.” The danger is always in thinking we cannot be better.

    Promised Land thus is an unexpected highlight of the show, framed around a retelling of Bruce’s first trip across the great western deserts. Springsteen makes no secret the promise he saw in America then remains unfulfilled, and the answer is us. He finished the song aside the mic, singing and playing without amplification. It was as if he was singing to each of us as individuals, and it was meant to be so.

    Yet for its intimacy, much of what happens doesn’t seem like it was for us at all. We didn’t show up to see him as much as he seemed to need us to show up so he’d have someone to talk with. Bruce’s adult life has been all about crippling bouts of depression relieved only by maniacal touring. You could imagine if it was somehow possible, he would have liked to deliver this show to each of us individually, maybe in the kitchen, with little more than the light off the stove to give some space between us. Gathering everyone into a theater was a necessary but unwanted logistical thing.

    A lot of this hummed around the edges of Bruce’s performances for years; he was already working out his emotions over his unloving father on stage as a kind of rap meditation when I first saw him perform in 1978. But tonight when he imitated his father telling him to go away as a young Bruce was sent to fetch him from some bar – “don’t bother me here, don’t bother me here” – that was an eight-year-old on stage mimicking an adult. If it was Bruce acting for us, the pain was as involuntarily present as the sweat on his forehead.

    The evening was as necessary as a last hospital visit with an old friend. Bruce wanted to know – he asked – if he’d done OK by us, had he been a “good companion.” We’d made him very rich, allowing him as he joked to never have to hold a job in his life. Twice he accused himself of being a fraud, saying he’d never been inside a factory in his life. But it’s time now to take that long walk. We’re tired, we’re old, we’re at the point where there is more to look back on than to look forward to. So did he do OK by us? Was it… enough?

    Yeah, Bruce, it was. The show finished where things started really, with Born to Run. Everyone in the audience heard it a first time a different time since it came out in 1975, but now, 43 years passed, we had grown old together. Every one of us, and by God that had to include Bruce, heard a hundred versions of that song in that moment. We heard it on 8-track, bootleg cassette, LP, CD, MP-3, DVD, YouTube, and Netflix and had to face, together, the warm embrace and cold slap of never being 16 years old again.

    Age is omnipresent – maybe we ain’t that young anymore – right down to the construction of the song list; it’s telling a 69-year-old Springsteen chose about a third of the set from his youthful period forty years earlier. As he said on stage, there’s less blank paper left for us to write on. Maybe as a person, maybe as a nation. Maybe they are the same thing if we think on it right.

    Unlike a typical Springsteen concert, where anything less than three hours is a short cut, the Broadway show is short, tight, maybe even a bit rushed. Not like Bruce was trying to cram in everyone’s favorite songs and still get home for the news, but that he had a lot to say and knew he didn’t have a lot of time to say it. The end is coming even though we don’t know exactly when, so you listen up now.

    The weight of it all – the love lost, the hate and pain collected, a nation wavering on itself and its promise – feels heavier than it used to when there was more time. Now, Bruce seemed to say, I’m going to get these things together for you and hand them over during these hours. After that, they’ll be yours to take care of. In a way, they always were.

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    Posted in Other Ideas

    Good News! We’re Sorta Now at War in Guatemala

    August 30, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    For older readers, that headline should bring back fond memories of the 1980’s: The Breakfast Club, synthpop music, asymmetrical haircuts, cheap cocaine and of course, the US in a semi-shadow war in Central America. Why, the Gipper’s terrier Jeanne Kilpatrick said in 1981 that “Central American is the most important place in the world today for the United States.”

    So it seems like old times to learn that US Marines, obviously with free time on their hands given how nothing ever happens in Afghanistan anymore, are gettin’ ready to put them down some whoop ‘ass in Guatemala. Yes, that’s right, we’ll be a huntin’ down drug traffickers in Guatemala with some tropic thunder baby!

    Wired.com reports that 200 Marines have entered Guatemala, on a mission to chase local operatives of the murderous Zeta drug cartel called Operation Martillo, or Hammer. That operation began earlier in January, and is much larger than just the Marine contingent and involves the Navy, Coast Guard, and federal agents working with the Guatemalans to block drug shipment routes. For years, the Pentagon has sent troops to Guatemala, but these missions have been pretty limited to exercising “soft power” — training local soldiers, building roads and schools. Operation Martillo is something quite different.

    The Marines’ share of the operation involves chasing drug traffickers with UH-1N Huey helicopters. The Marine contingent has four of the choppers, and the Marines are carrying weapons. “It’s not every day that you have 200-some Marines going to a country in Central and South America aside from conducting training exercises,” Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes, the public affairs chief for Marine Corps Forces South, told Wired. It was not reported whether he concluded his statement with or without a lusty “rebel yell.”

    All foreign policy problems are now resolved by the military. Please make a note of it.

    So scorekeepers, please add Guatemala to your every-growing list of countries where the US is engaged in killing local folks (albeit non-Muslims), and stay tuned!

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    Posted in Other Ideas

    How Time Flies

    September 29, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    Just like fashion, if you hang on long enough, things come around full circle. Just like Qaddafi– 1980’s super villain freak, 2009 sticky handed friend of Condi Rice.

    Just as a reminder, in the 1980’s Saddam was our pal (shown here with a dapper Don Rumsfeld).

    And of course everybody’s favorite freedom fighters of the 1980’s the Taliban, shown here with ace face Ronnie Reagan.

    Just sayin’.

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    Posted in Other Ideas