Back from Boston

Back from Boston and catching up. I gained new knowledge in several lectures and courses, visited with friends and family, and I met some of my classmates for the first time. More on OCON later—I know I’m still behind on posts—and other stuff. I did see a movie, which I recommend: Public Enemies. Not a great film, and it’s directed by Michael Mann, who tends to portray villains as heroes and vice versa, but it’s a solid gangster movie, not too graphic, and the Marion Cotillard character holds it together. Johnny Depp plays Chicago gangtser John Dillinger with a bit too much of an ‘Elvis‘ impersonation for my tastes and Christian Bale is fine but underdeveloped (he plays the good guy), though he does pull off the movie’s most emotional scene, in which his policeman character reclaims his own moral authority from an incompetent government agency.

The role of government continues to expand. President Obama’s at it again with another attempt to nationalize an American industry—this time, the medical profession. In six months, he has quasi-nationalized banks, insurance companies and the automotive industry and his health care reform, such as and whatever it is, will undoubtedly move the nation toward economic fascism. Having written about medical policy for 15 years and having been on the forefront of protecting individual rights in medicine, I see that legislation to control each American’s medical treatment is coming. The showdown is likely to be the most crucial political battle since slavery. And socialized medicine is exactly that, so this is urgent.

One of the nation’s least important—yet overhyped—battles is the Watergate dustup, which at least gave us a decent president, Gerald R. Ford. I recently read his off-the-record thoughts and memories in Write It When I’m Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford by Thomas M. DeFrank. Covering the tense days before the former Michigan congressman became President of the United States when Richard M. Nixon resigned in August of 1974 through President Ford’s final days, DeFrank’s unique arrangement with the 38th president results in recollections and conversations that are often fascinating. President Ford was a pragmatist and he wasn’t around long enough to shape the direction of his Republican Party—which buckled to the religionist faction in 1978—or the nation. But, whether he was confronting Communists over the U.S.S. Mayaguez, refusing to bail out New York City, or granting a pardon to a disgraced former President Nixon, which was the unequivocally proper course of action, President Ford emerges as the best president of the late 20th century. Though he briefly served in the White House before narrowly losing to a “born-again” Christian fundamentalist named James Earl Carter, Jr., Jerry Ford was a great American and a good president. Write It When I’m Gone (he actually told DeFrank: “Write it when I’m dead”) shows an ambitious, deliberative and thoughtful man who generally understood the nation’s founding principles and government’s proper role. Jerry Ford’s razor-thin loss to Jimmy Carter in 1976 reminds us of the power of one’s political choices to shape history and our future.

Mixed Media

I’m pressed for time—I’m planning to attend this year’s Objectivist Conference (OCON) in Boston, which starts in a few days—and I know I’m backlogged on posts. I have to report that Fox’s third Ice Age installment is harmless and happily dialed down, so it’s suitable for smaller kids.

Sid the sloth has something of an identity crisis and thinks he’s a surrogate mother, so he’s off and wandering into a subterranean world of dinosaurs and, sparing the details, the regulars are back in action and re-bonding when one of them has a child. The series’ innocuous theme that a loving family is made, not born, comes through with fine results and an adventurous new character. Recommended for young families and those with low expectations. Again, it’s not disgusting and the 3D technology works very well. Scrat’s back in the picture, too, falling for a female equivalent and forgetting about the acorn for a while.

I will probably write a review of Warner Bros.’ My Sister’s Keeper, one of the best movies this year if you can stand its subject: a young girl dying of cancer. More on this picture by Nick Cassavetes later but the well-made movie is poignant, thoughtful, and honest. I also saw two movies at the Los Angeles Film Festival: The Stoning of Soraya M, an indictment of Iran’s Islamic fundamentalism, and an absolutely dreadful attack on a great American business, Dole Foods, called Bananas. I’m still thinking about Soraya M. But the anti-capitalist latter movie, thoroughly discredited by a judge’s ruling, is a disgrace to the L.A. Film Festival, which should have shown this trash the door.

I’m reading interesting new books and I am working on several writing projects that I am enjoying. For now, I’m off to OCON 2009 but not before I happily endorse my favorite new pop album this summer: Lionel Richie’s Just Go, a collection of 14 new tunes, mostly ballads. It’s an infectious batch of romantic piano songs, with strings, synthesizers, and softly manipulated vocals, and I’m finding it irresistible. The perfect summer album. I have more to say later—on the loss of Farrah, Michael Jackson and more—and look forward to posting.

Movie Review: ‘The Proposal’

This weekend, The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock offers a sorely needed respite from the worsening news of the nation.

The Disney comedy is defined by what it is not: it isn’t an endless stream of vulgar jokes. It isn’t an assault on the senses. It isn’t another asinine star vehicle. Though it also is decidedly not among the greatest movies made, The Proposal, featuring Craig T. Nelson (The Family Stone), Mary Steenburgen (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) and Betty White (The Golden Girls), and co-starring a young actor named Ryan Reynolds, is a delight.

Miss Bullock portrays a hard-headed, Canadian-born businesswoman who, like most hardworking immigrants to America, is the victim of our arbitrary immigration system. She forces her secretary (Reynolds) to agree to marry her to avoid deportation, though she treats him (and everyone else) like dirt. The put-upon assistant to the boss from hell makes his own terms and conditions and the odd non-couple are off to his warm family home to keep up appearances and escape detection by a suspicious official. Yes, it’s sort of silly. But affable Ryan Reynolds balances his rising young New Yorker against her cold fish and his character’s disinterest in Miss Thing adds comic chemistry.

Their ridiculous arrangement juices the movie’s screwball sensibility and it’s good to see Sandra Bullock in a decent role again. After a week of Obama fatigue, with the President doing to a housefly what he’s doing to capitalism, do yourself a favor and say ‘yes’ to The Proposal.

Thug Worship in Iran and in America

Looters took over downtown Los Angeles the other night following a professional basketball victory.

A news radio reporter and several policemen were attacked, stores were looted, and, as far as I can tell, police stood down and allowed the looters to do the damage. After the Los Angeles Lakers won the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) championship in Orlando, Florida, a mob formed near the Staples Center, burning, vandalizing and destroying property everywhere in sight. Eight officers were injured, and 12 police cars, a sheriff’s vehicle, and six buses were damaged, according to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). One officer was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. Police said 25 arrests were made. One businessman, shoe store owner Richard Torres, told the Associated Press (AP) that he lost $100,000 when looters broke in and destroyed vintage sportswear and sneakers and the shop’s computers. “They were literally lighting stuff on fire,” Torres said. His store manager, Liz Sanchez, said LAPD did nothing.

In fact, LAPD Chief William Bratton, an ineffectual bureaucrat who routinely lectures the public on how the LAPD is underfunded, downplayed the looting and used the term “knuckleheads” to describe the criminals. The police clearly failed to protect the public and downtown L.A. will suffer and lose business.

But this mob mentality is rampant in the subculture of men’s professional sports, especially basketball, particularly the Lakers. Men of ability competing in athletic contests offers the sight of heroic action but thug worship replaced hero worship and engulfed sports long ago. Today, we are left with the spectacle of unkempt, baggy-clothed dog-killers, murderers and rapists spiking balls and sneering at the notion of civility. When Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, whom I personally believe is guilty of rape, was arrested in 2003 for felony sexual assault in Colorado, Lakers fans rushed, not to defend him based on facts (though some did) but to praise him.

Dads bought their sons jerseys with his number. I heard comments on talk radio and at parties, from educated men and women, that Kobe Bryant was like an animal that couldn’t be controlled when his sexual urges came upon him and that his accuser, a hotel worker and college student, probably deserved to be raped. Far from damaging his reputation among L.A. Lakers’ fans, the rape arrest (which did not result in conviction) elevated his stature. Thug worship is part of what fuels pro sports and it played out in downtown Los Angeles. With the dereliction of duties by the LAPD, and the consent of sports fans who sanction thug worship, the lawlessness, in the City of Angels and elsewhere, will get worse.

In Teheran, we have another example of civil unrest and I am reading the news from Islamic dictatorship Iran. I doubt that the protests against the current Islamic fascist dictator, who is controlled by the religious collective that runs Iran, will lead to fundamental change in that slave state. I support resistance to theocracy, in Iran as in America, where the Obama administration, defending the Clinton administration’s anti-homosexual Defense of Marriage Act, recently compared being gay to incest (as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pointed out in a recent broadcast). But jihadist Iran, like Nazi Germany, did not become a theocracy overnight. Predominantly Moslem Iran is infected with anti-Western ideals that are widely accepted by the people. Protest over which Islamic thug is in charge is neither a cry for man’s rights nor a demand for the only political system which supports individual rights: capitalism.

Book Marks: Science Matters

Two George Mason University science professors, James Trefil and Robert M. Hazen, have updated and expanded their 1991 book, Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy (Anchor, $ 15, trade paperback) addressing recent claims of advancements in particle physics and biotechnology. Though this is not a review, I can say that this new edition is generally well written, accessible and informative—with one glaring exception so far; they are agnostic on the abortion-related question of whether life begins at conception.

Their premise that one ought to be literate and knowledgeable about basic scientific principles is good and they hold that the universe is knowable, not random and chaotic. Chapters on faith-based assertions—doomsday claims by environmentalists and creationists alike—appear to be unbiased. The authors say they have written a book for the general reader that is equally informative as an introductory high school or college textbook and I’m inclined to agree.

They know we need remedial education. In the introduction, Hazen and Trefil write: “[S]cientists and educators have failed to provide many Americans with the fundamental background knowledge we all need to cope with the complex scientific and technological world of today and tomorrow. The aim of this book is to allow you to acquire that background—to fill in whatever blanks may have been left by your formal education.” With 19 chapters on electricity, atoms, nuclear physics, astronomy, genetics and evolution, and an epilogue, and an index, Science Matters is worth considering.