Posted by: The Doge | May 15, 2012

The Facebook IPO

Well, there’s a certain amount of buzz going on regarding Facebook’s big IPO week, and whether or not Mark Zuckerberg is showing the suits on the Street enough respect, turning up with a hoodie and a cocky attitude and all….  A lot of buzz, but maybe not as much as was expected.

I don’t know, something about Facebook feels like a house of cards to me, like the Dutch Tulip Craze, when the price of tulips went through the roof in the 17th Century during a period of wild speculation, until somebody with sense stopped and said, “Hey, these are just a bunch of freaking tulips.”

The habits of people under the age of 30 may be one thing, but the wise investor may ask him or herself just what people over the age of 30 find Facebook particularly useful for.  Personally, I’ve found it quite useful in discovering the differences I’ve developed in political and religious views from some friends that I haven’t seen in decades, but I sense a lot of it has to do with the the beauty of FB stalking that allows a lot of people to say with grim satisfaction….

…which can only carry you for so far, but then again, I’m no investment genius.  Who am I to argue with 900 million people?

Posted by: The Doge | May 7, 2012

The Meaning of Mr. Hollande

As predicted by many, the Socialist Francois Hollande has defeated the sitting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In absurd fashion, the right-wing Drudge Report has tried to spin this event in its headlines as bad news for Obama because it’s a case of an incumbent being unseated.

Contrary to what Drudge might think, it’s clearly a case of people in Europe becoming fed up with IMF-mandated austerity, but what is the broader picture? It looks like it may be the beginning of the end for austerity, and possibly the end of the Eurozone itself, if France breaks with Germany in the current strategy for dealing with the debt crisis so far. Does it also mean a resurgence of the left in Europe? Maybe not. The French Socialists are known for being pragmatists rather than ideologues. Things might not change that much. Should the Socialists in France take heart at the results, or was it more a case of the French people being fed up with Sarkozy’s arrogance and buffoonery? The strong showing of the the far-right, anti-immigration National Front Party of Marine Le Pen in the first round has caused more than a little bit of disquiet.

I was reading an article in Slate the other morning, which seemed to indicate that despite the Socialist victory, the real story of these results is the resurgence of extreme right-wing parties, not only in France, but throughout all of Europe. The thesis of Yascha Mounk’s article seems to be that instead of strangling them in their cribs like they should have, center-right parties in Europe formed coalitions with extreme rightist parties over the years in order to win elections against the left, but have now lost the ability to control them.

The true winner of this election isn’t France’s left; it’s Europe’s far right…The reason is simple. In this election, France’s establishment has embraced Islamophobic ideas to an unprecedented degree… Right-wing populism, once a fringe phenomenon, has been conquering the bastions of Europe’s political mainstream with frightening speed.. It’s difficult to know whether Europe’s populists are approaching the zenith of their power or will continue their steady rise. But one thing is certain: At no point in Europe’s postwar history has the far right’s influence been as pervasive as it is now….

All of this matters beyond France because, historically, what happens in Paris often portends what will happen elsewhere on the continent. It’s not just that most Europeans think of the French Revolution as the cradle of modern democracy… Up until now, populists have celebrated their biggest successes in countries like the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland. But France isn’t as small as the Netherlands, as politically dysfunctional as Italy, or as new to democracy as Poland. The sad spectacle of the last several weeks is the culmination of a wider European trend of accommodating the far right—and it may suggest it’s about to get much worse…

Like in France, established political parties across the continent at first vowed to shun surging populist leaders like Jörg Haider of Austria or Geert Wilders of the Netherlands. A cordon sanitaire was to unite all democrats in their fight against the far right threat. But unity did not last long. As populist parties in these countries gained in strength, traditional coalition governments, especially those formed by center-right parties, lost their majorities. Center-right leaders realized that to gain or preserve power they would have to cooperate with the populists. As a result, in one country after another, center-right parties that had once vowed to fight the far right have come to rely on them to prop themselves up.

Is there something to this? I’ve been reading a book that suggests that there is less here to worry about than meets the eye, but on the other hand, the book is a few years old now. It’s called Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French. In explaining the strength of extreme parties in the first round of French presidential elections in 2002, when Le Pen’s father made it into the second round of voting, it says….

In the French system, the main danger comes from the potential of electors to express too large a variety of points of view; This is exactly what produced the upset of the 2002 presidential elections (When Le Pen’s National Front advanced to the 2nd round). The left spread its vote across too many parties, which allowed the extreme right candidate to push the left out of the second round…. Like all European extreme right politicians, Le Pen’s platform was strongly anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, and law and order. Naturally, all of France and the entire world decried Le Pen’s first round victory, Jacques Chirac, who had come first, called the French to rally behind him and on May 1, one million people gathered in Paris to protest the extreme right.

The aftermath was interesting. Le Pen was completely isolated and hardly made any progress. On the second round, he garnered 19 percent of the vote, which was barely the sum of the total extreme right vote in the first round.

Who’s right? Have things changed significantly in the last ten years?

Posted by: The Doge | May 2, 2012

A Missed Opportunity

The Best Scene in The Passion of The Christ


A few months ago I caught an episode or two of Person of Interest, the CBS series starring Jim Caviezel. It’s not something I’d watch all the time but I think he does a pretty good job in it. He’s a solid actor.

I was glad to see this, because in the wake of the 2004 Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ, I was wondering if he was going to be caught in that Jesus part forever, as well as the culture-war imbroglio that followed it. Gibson warned him that it might harm his career, and last year Caviezel seemed to agree that this was in fact the case. I went to a Boston Catholic Men’s conference in 2005, and he was a guest speaker, parlaying off his role in the film. His talk went over well with the audience, but I recall being struck by two things. Not only was he as devout and strident as his director Mel was at the time, but he seemed just as angry as well. I’m wondering how he feels now… I hope he’s more at peace with it all.
 
During the Lenten season, I was looking at clips from some of the old Jesus films, the passion and crucifixion scenes in particular. I was amazed to see a stencil-colored one dating back all the way to 1903… but it made me remember how disappointed I was in Gibson’s film when it came out. I had really looked forward to seeing it. I’d heard some of the criticism before I saw it, and I wanted the critics to be proved wrong. Unfortunately, I found it to be dark and demonic, and not in a constructive way. Gibson was approaching the height of what seemed to be some kind of self-loathing blood fetish in those years. In retrospect I found it no surprise that it was more popular with evangelicals of a fundamentalist stripe than it was with Catholics. In a sense, they were snookered into watching a movie version of the Stations of the Cross. For their part, Catholics were snookered into watching an extremely gory endorsement of penal substitutionary atonement.
 
In any case, one bright spot was the fine performance of Caviezel in the Jesus role, particularly in the flashback episodes. The flashback scenes were the best scenes in the film, particularly this one, and the one with Jesus and his mother at home. The flashbacks were welcome breathers from the almost non-stop brutality and gore throughout the rest of the film, and I couldn’t help thinking what a lost opportunity this was; what a waste of an insightful and nuanced performance by Caviezel.
 
Credit needs to be given to Gibson for the idea of using Aramaic in the movie. That was a masterstroke. A brilliant idea. He cast it well too. If only he had done a more traditional Jesus movie, one that traced the whole arc of Christ’s ministry, like King of Kings, or The Greatest Story Ever Told. If he had, it would have been The Greatest Jesus Film Ever Made.
 

This scene, in which Jesus teaches the crowd to “love your enemies” is the best half-minute of the film in my humble opinion, but it almost wasn’t in there at all. It was done after everything else had been shot. Gibson was so piqued by the criticism he was receiving from Jewish and liberal scholars, based only on what they’d heard about the script, he included it as both a riposte and a spiritual reminder to himself. Very nicely done by Caviezel here. He’d done his research on semitic idioms, gestures, and mannerisms as well. In fact, as someone who’s done a bit of acting himself, I’d venture to guess that he’d studied some videos of a sheikh or imam or two…

Posted by: The Doge | April 15, 2009

Fox News is Out of Control

The label for Obama goes from “Socialist” to “Fascist.” It’s going to get somebody killed.

Actually, it already has. More than once.

glenn beck

As annoying as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are, it’s Glenn Beck, recently arrived from CNN, who’s completely over the top.

That’s not to say that CNN no longer has its own share of demagogues left after the departure of Beck. Lou Dobbs was frantically sounding an indignant cry of alarm just as loudly as Fox the other night about the Department of Homeland Security’s recent warning regarding right wing extremists. On Dobbs’ show and on Fox they wanted the Department to provide the names of the people they were worried about or to shut up… Did anyone know Timothy McVeigh’s name before Oklahoma City?

OK, to be as fair as I can here… This does go both ways to a certain extent. There have been plenty of cases over the last eight years of people on the left calling George Bush an idiot and an incompetent, and calling him and Dick Cheney war criminals. Plenty of people have pointed out their opinion that “W” drove the country into a ditch. Ruined it, in fact. But there’s something about the new desperation and stridency, the absolute declaration of war on this administration by Fox and other conservatives that is especially troubling. All pretense of objectivity has been dropped, as if there was much of one to begin with… Do they even bother with the “Fair and Balanced” tag-line anymore? They’re more partisan than they were during the electoral campaign. During the campaign it was all talk of impending socialism. Now, in the wake of the election, it’s shifted to hysterical warnings of impending fascism. How did they get there? What do they want? An actual civil war?

Granted, I admit I don’t watch FOX, CNN, or MSNBC as often as many people do. I happened to be cleaning the basement on Sunday and I had Fox on in the background. All of a sudden Glenn Beck came on with four authors with a show called Destined to Repeat(?)

troosevelt1I had to sit down. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears as Beck, surrounded by authors who presumably should have known better than to be involved with something like this (what some people will do for fame and a buck), explained to the audience that the people who started the movement to drive The United States of America onto the road to ruin, who betrayed the Constitution as laid out by the founding fathers, were none other than Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, of all people! They were champions of American Progressivism, you see…

Wow. If Fox is turning on Republican heroes like Teddy Roosevelt now, we’re really in for a bumpy ride.

Next came a diatribe by Beck on Obama’s budget and stimulus plan, and how it will certainly lead to hyper-inflation. This harangue turned to the example of Weimar Germany’s skyrocketing inflation in the 1920s and 1930s which led directly to… you know… fascism.

Never mind the fact that it was an effort to keep up with the crippling and unpayable war reparations laid upon the Weimar Republic by the victorious allied powers, and not financial ruin brought on by unregulated speculators, which led to the printing of excess money and hyper-inflation. Never mind that it was not the supporters of the Weimar Republic itself that turned to fascism, but alienated, autocratic military men and bigoted, resentful lower middle-class thugs who provided the muscle for the brownshirt movement. The very types who are appreciative of, and susceptible to, the kind of demagoguery that Beck provides.

See AlterNet’s article The Rise of Glenn Beck’s Bizarre Media Militia.

During a March 18 Webcast of FoxNews.com’s proudly paranoid “Freedom Watch,” Andrew Napolitano introduced a segment about “what the government has done to take your liberty and your property away.” And with that, he welcomed onto the show “the one, the only, the great Alex Jones,” who began ranting about “exposing” the New World Order and the threat posed by an emerging “global government.”

“I appreciate what you’re exposing,” Napolitano assured his guest.

Waving around a copy of his Obama Deception, Jones warned Fox News Webcast viewers about Obama’s “agenda” for gun confiscation and the new president’s plan to “bring in total police-state control” to America.

Jones also noted with excitement that Fox News’ Glenn Beck had recently begun warning about the looming New World Order on his show, just like Jones had for years. “It is great!” cheered the conspiracist. (Like Jones, Beck recently warned viewers that the Second Amendment is under fire.) Concluding the interview, Fox News’ Napolitano announced “it’s absolutely been a pleasure” listening to Jones’ insights.

We don’t know if Poplawski tuned in to watch Jones’ star turn for Fox News last month. But is there any doubt that Fox News is playing an increasingly erratic and dangerous game by embracing the type of paranoid insurrection rhetoric that people like Poplawski are now acting on?

By stoking dark fears about the ominous ruins that await an Obama America, by ratcheting up irresponsible back-to-the-wall scenarios, Fox News has waded into a territory that no other news organization has ever dared to exploit.

What Fox News is now programming on a daily (unhinged) basis is unprecedented in the history of American television, especially in the form of Beck’s program. Night after night, week after week, Beck rails against the president while denouncing him or his actions, alternately, as Marxist, socialist or fascist.

He felt entirely comfortable pondering whether the federal government, under the auspices of FEMA, was building concentration camps to round up Americans in order to institute totalitarian rule. (It wasn’t until this week that Beck was finally able to “debunk” the FEMA conspiracy theory.) And that’s when Beck wasn’t gaming out bloody scenarios for the coming civil war against Obama-led tyranny. In just a few shorts months, Beck raced to the head of Fox News’ militia media movement…

It’s true that Beck, in response to mounting criticism, made this statement on his show:

“Let me be clear on one thing. If someone tries to harm another person in the name of the Constitution or the truth behind 9/11 or anything else, they are just as dangerous and crazy as those people we don’t seem to recognize anymore — you know, the ones who kill in the name of Allah.”

But look at the very next two lines of his monologue: “There are enemies both foreign and domestic in America tonight. Call it fearmongering or call it the truth.” That doesn’t sound like Beck was backing away from his rhetorical call to arms to fend off the Marxist — no, wait — fascist, Obama administration.

And let’s drop the idea — pushed hard by Beck himself — that he’s simply a modern-day Howard Beale, from the classic film Network, just an angry, I’m-mad-as-hell everyman lashing out at the hypocrisies of our time. Nonsense.

Beale’s unvarnished on-air rants from Network targeted conformity, corporate conglomerates and the propaganda power of television. (“This tube,” he called it.) Beale’s attacks were not political or partisan. Beck, by contrast, unleashes his anger against, and whips up dark scenarios about, the new president of the United States. Big difference.

Here’s a sampling of what Beck has been drumming into the heads of viewers, a portion of whom likely (and logically) hear his rhetoric as a call to action.

That the government is a “heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state.”
That it’s indoctrinating our children.
That we have “come to a very dangerous point in our country’s long, storied history.”
Beck is concerned that the “Big Brother” government will soon dictate what its citizens can eat, at what temperature their houses can be set and what kind of cars they’re allowed to drive.

Beck is sure “[d]epression and revolution” are what await America under Obama, and fears moving “towards a totalitarian state.” The country today sometimes reminds Beck of the early days of Adolf Hitler. Beck thinks that Obama, who has “surrounded himself by Marxists his whole life,” is now “addicting this country to heroin — the heroin that is government slavery…”

I wonder if Beck knows who Jim Adkisson is? Adkisson made headlines on July 28, 2008, when he took his sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., and, after whipping it out of a guitar case, opened fire on parishioners while a group of schoolchildren performed songs up by the altar. Adkisson killed two people and wounded several others.

Adkisson, a 58-year-old unemployed truck driver, brought 70 shotgun shells with him and assumed he’d keep killing until the police arrived on the scene and shot him dead as well. Instead, some members of the congregation were able to wrestle him to the ground and hold him for police.

When investigators went to Adkisson’s home in search of a motive, as well as evidence for the pending trial, they found copies of Savage’s Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor, by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. They also came across what was supposed to have been Adkisson’s suicide note: a handwritten, four-page manifesto explaining his murderous actions.

The one-word answer for his deed? Hate. The three-word answer? He hated liberals.

The only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets. Kill them where they gather. I’d like to encourage other like-minded people to do what I’ve done. If life ain’t worth living anymore, don’t just kill yourself. Do something for your Country before you go. Go Kill Liberals!

What Adkisson especially hated about liberals (“this cancer, this pestilence”) and what he hated about candidate “Osama Hussein Obama” was that they were marching America toward ruin: “Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they’re Marxist, socialist, communists.” Adkisson seethed over the way liberals were “trying to turn this country into a communist state” and couldn’t comprehend why they would “embrace Marxism.”

Sound familiar, Beck?

Posted by: The Doge | April 15, 2009

Why The Doge?

It does sound like a pretentious title, but there’s nothing behind that, really.  It was inspired over at Liam’s. He once posted a link to a Mob Nickname Generator.  When I entered my full and proper name it came up with:

“The Venetian.”

I liked that, because Anne and I went there on our honeymoon and we even dropped 300 bucks in Harry’s Bar for dinner one night. It’s just about the coolest place on the planet, the mood of which was captured very nicely in the 1990 movie The Comfort of Strangers… Poor Natasha Richardson. She was such a gifted actress and had a unique sort of beauty. She will very much be missed.

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