Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is topping critics' lists this year, and it is a good film, to be sure. It had inspired me to write a rather long-winded and self-important essay concerning the problem with wars like the one in Iraq, but, as is usually the case, a bit of research quelled my zealous aims (maybe sleeping on it helped too), so I'll just write a review instead.

Let me get the grievances out of the way. I wish the distributors would have had the good sense to push this film with the same confident misdirection that characterized the marketing of District 9. Rob Woodrum pointed out that D9 is really a genre action film through and through, but what kept it from being predictable was a genius bit of casting (by using an unknown as the protagonist) and by making trailers that caused you to think that he was not the protagonist.

The Hurt Locker also benefits from a great bit of counter-intuitive casting, but the trailer gives away the game by revealing the protagonist and key dialogue scenes that feature him, so you know what is going to happen in the first scene when an A-list actor shows up as the would-be protagonist, and later you know the film's real main character cannot die in scenes that would otherwise be up-in-the-air because he still hasn't spoken certain lines of dialogue. When will filmmakers realize the creative potential trailers pose? Why not shoot scenes for a 2 minute short that could suffice as an awesome teaser to the film without giving away the game?

Second problem: while the film shows a good deal of restraint politically, the filmmakers just can't help themselves with a couple jabs that kind of took me out of the picture for just a minute or two. David Morse shows up as a Colonel who cartoonishly tells a soldier to let a wounded Iraqi die. It's not that such a comment is out of the realms of possibility, but it is not earned and feels very much like a forced political comment. And then there's Colonel Cambridge. What would a war movie be without the pencil-pushing commander who sits behind a desk and never sees action? Uh...a lot less predictable. As soon as his counselee Specialist Owen Eldridge tells him that he should join them in the action to see what it's like, know what comes next. But even worse, they have Colonel Cambridge telling the local people to leave a dangerous area, but with this absurdly caricatured mispronunciation of Imshi: “Ishmi!” “Ishmi!” he exclaims. Okay, we get it, he doesn't know what he's doing. He's an ugly American.

These are very picky critiques, I know, but it is because the film is so effective elsewhere that it should render such blatant commentary unnecessary. And to be fair, as many critics have already pointed out, this film is perhaps the first Iraq film that has succeeded in keeping ideology out of the limelight. Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips probably said it best, “Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, … have made the first fictional feature about American soldiers in Iraq that doesn't fall apart, or preach to a choir, or turn into a position paper. 'The Hurt Locker' plays it right down the middle politically, staying remarkably free of cant or polemical blather, focusing -- as any good procedural should -- on the incremental details of one person's line of work.”

My only other qualm with the film is that, once again, the nefarious influence of the anti-tripod coalition have convinced the director that shaky is always better at communicating agitation and tension. And while there are scenes that work in this way, there are others that just feel like the director is trying too hard to make you feel “like you're there.”

Taking these criticisms into consideration, is The Hurt Locker as good as everyone is making it out to be, or are critics just so hungry for a good Iraq film after being subjected to the last ten years of cinematic gruel that they would latch onto anything with an ounce of merit?

Even with my qualms, I'll go ahead ad get my ticket punched to ride on the bandwagon because unlike District 9 (which I really liked) this film does not follow genre conventions. This film is not just an action movie; it's not just a war movie or buddy movie. It is all of those things, but it is more.

I wanted the film to give me a climactic battle scene here, honestly. It had earned the right to do so, but the film stayed honest with the subject matter. The Iraq war does not allow for such romanticism. There is no Hitler pulling the strings of these insurgents. There is no absolute evil that can be identified easily and hunted down.

This war is waged against faceless enemies, a war in which the suicide bomber may be an unwilling weapon, not a nefarious villain bent on destruction.

So the film stays honest and refuses to use the Iraq War as a springboard to Hollywood endings. The heroes do not have the luxury of storming the gates of hell to stop more bombs from being produced. They must simply deal with the task at hand and disarm a seemingly endless supply of impersonal killers: Improvised Explosive Eevices (IED's-also known as Roadside bombs). In doing research for this piece, I found this chart depicting the number of IED's that have been deployed in Iraq since 2004, and I was surprised to discover that the numbers in 2009 are the lowest they have been in five years (

The Hurt Locker meticulously details how this came about: tireless, determined, and, in this particular case, obsessive attention to a job that is both thankless and deadly.

The film does not give any easy answers. It applauds the hard work these men are willing to do, but explores the limits of heroism and reminds us that even the best intentions can yield unintended casualties.

The Hurt Locker is not the feel good movie of the year, and thus should serve as a good pendulum swing from last year's endearing flight of fancy Slumdog Millionaire. Judging from the competition, the film seems to be the heir-apparent to this year's best pic Oscar, and judging from the limited amount of films I have seen so far this year, I would have no qualms with that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weekend Music Links

I've been maintaining a music-oriented blog for my place of work. I think it has some fun content. Check today's latest if you get a chance:

Weekend Music Links: Issue 5

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MTV's Exit Campaign

Okay, so I am not one to plug MTV much, if at all, but having seen Radiohead's video about child slavery/child labor, which was part of MTV's new Exit Campaign, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more.

The Exit Campaign's Website states that the program was designed to, "raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking in Europe and Asia. Since the campaign launched in 2004, MTV EXIT has created various programs and activities that informed and empowered millions of young people both from source and destination countries about the issue and take actions within their communities."

These words sound nice and genuine, but sometimes these programs end up being sounding boards that just make us feel good that we're at least thinking about doing something even if we're not really doing anything.

Nonetheless, I was convinced to link them after watching the Killers' music video they have posted on the front page. Not meant for younger viewers, but seriously, you need to watch this thing to the end. Very powerful.

MTV's Exit Campaign Home Page

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ginsburg and Eugenics?

You may not be a fan of Jonah Goldberg, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on his argument here. This point is one that is often overlooked or hush-hushed by the pro-choice camp, and I think it really needs to be addressed. Sanger was no stranger to tying birth control to eugenics, and that is a serious ethical issue that should not be taken lightly.

Goldberg's article can be found here: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a Question of Eugenics.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Letter to President Obama

President Obama,

I humbly request that you allow us to suffer. I am a citizen who has not contributed to the current financial crisis: I have not taken out risky loans or made bets on others' risky loans.

Nonetheless I believe that we all share some blame for the current situation. I am to blame for not being more vocal about responsibility. I am to blame for not raising a clarion call to rouse Americans from our current comatose state in which we have mistaken privileges for rights and luxuries for necessities.

I did not approve of these bailout measures when President Bush advocated them for the same reason I do not now: they legislate irresponsibility. The old adage that money does not grow on trees can now be rebutted with a new one, "but we can always print extra."

I know there is a high probability for dire consequences if your policies are not enacted. A depression could be the result. But I say better the loss of homes, valuables and comfort over the loss of our integrity as a nation.

America was meant to be a nation composed of citizens who were not defined by the size of their houses, the price of their cars, or the number of their televisions, but by the content of their character. I believe that in refusing to allow people to suffer the consequences for their actions, we are undermining that very principle that defines us.

Allowing this recession to run its course may hurt many, but as one who stands to take a blow from this recession, I want to go on record and say, "Let it come." I fear the consequences of these attempts to legislate ourselves out of harm's way more than I fear the consequences of the financial harm itself.

Ford Seeuws

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Destructive Interference: Issue 1

Main Page
- About This Blog
- Noise in the Abortion Debate

In order to keep the
slogan "pro-life" should
pro-lifers also oppose war,
repeal the death penalty
and become vegetarians,
or is that only part of
a much more uncomfortable solution?

The Fallacy Finder
- Fallacies in the Gay Marriage Debate
We take a look at fallacies used in two
letters to the editor from opposite
sides of the gay marriage debate.

Faith in the Real World
- A Disjointed Meditation on Roads, Maps and Jesus

Film Tangents
- Required Viewing: Lake of Fire

Closing Thoughts
- Sounding Off


Welcome to the first edition of Destructive Interference. Please take your time with the material presented before forming knee-jerk reactions. It is not my intent that you enjoy this blog in the way we might enjoy a movie or a magazine, but to challenge us all (myself included) to examine our practices of receiving and spreading information.

This is not meant to be consumable information, but hopefully the kind that will inspire contemplation, research, and interaction. For too long we have been guilty of receiving information rather than gathering it, and we, the people, have not only succumbed to the manipulations of the three branches of our government, but also to the manipulations of the fourth estate, the press.

I believe the press is corrupted by the dictates of not only its advertisers and its underwriters, but also by its ever-increasing dedication to entertaining its audience and by its myopic concern for the immediate and perennial present.

I believe the blogosphere with all its imperfections is a positive development, but one that, if unchecked, will ultimately be co-opted by the same system it has sought to bypass.

I believe that hope for this world must involve its citizens, not merely its leaders, and in order for us to contribute to the truly good, we must have a better approximation of truth.

I appreciate your input. This is only a first effort and will require much improvement.

Read Next Entry: About This Blog

Return to Destructive Interference Issue 1

About this Blog

“If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

I am not familiar with the origin of the above quote, but it has become the catchphrase for youth conventions and anachronistic church seminars dealing with the dangers of postmodernism. While it is usually the traditionalist who finds comfort in the phrase, it occurred to me recently that the concept espoused in the quote has seeped its way into broader culture’s public discourse.

While it may seem like a nice concept, if a bit oversimplified, I find it disturbing. It encourages people to make a hasty decision- “pick a side and do it quick before you get tricked.” But does it really reduce the risk of being tricked when you are in a hurry to come to a conclusion?

For the media, however, this admonition becomes very useful. Before going on I must qualify that when I refer to media here I am referring to media of all political persuasions-from Fox and Talk Radio on the far right, to MSNBC, Time Magazine, Newsweek and that one kid on Youtube on the far left to those left-leaning enterprises such as NPR and Factcheck that occupy the middle.

But regardless of their political or social persuasions, I believe that the principal problem with all the major news institutions (regardless of their political affiliation or influences) was best described by Neil Postman in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman argued that aural and visual forms of mass communication have reduced "news" to disconnected bits of information that have no bearing on one another. He summarized his theory by pointing to the way an anchor would move from one story to another wholly unrelated situation with three little words: "and now this." For Postman, those words captured the problem with the current state of news perfectly, and twenty years later so do I.

In a world of such dynamic change, staying current is paramount. The reporter must move on to the next thing-"and now this." So one day Rush is talking about Obama and Ayers, and the next day he is talking about a Youtube video exposing Democrats’ culpability in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacle. One day Terry Gross is talking with a former Guantanamo detainee and the next is bantering with Stephen Colbert.

The problem with this practice is that we are not given sufficient time to formulate accurate judgments on the information with which we are presented. So we end up having to jump to a conclusion (or else we might fall for anything):

- “Obama is a thief,” or “Rush is a moron.”
- “Democrats are solely responsible for the housing crisis,” or “Republicans’ deregulation is to blame.”
- “Guantanamo is bad,” or “This guy deserved it”
- “Stephen Colbert sure is all he’s cracked up to be,” or “Terry sure is sucking up to him.”

It may seem that I’m being unfair to these institutions and oversimplifying the situation. But, let’s imagine that for a whole week Rush were to do the following:

- Take one of Obama’s platforms and seriously discuss it with intelligent people from both sides of the debate
- Refuse to engage in his fiery and often funny rhetoric
- Carry on a civil discourse attempting to discover which side has the better argument

Would the listener be able to come to an accurate assessment of the issue at hand? While it would be no doubt better than a simple wrangling over talking points, there are people who spend whole semesters, undergraduate stints, masters’ degrees, and even doctoral dissertations on such topics and end up disagreeing on the particulars.

But keeping it simple works well for the media because if there are only two options, people must choose, which creates conflict, which gets people talking, which gets people watching, listening and reading, which makes advertisers or underwriters happy.

I hate to sound so cynical here, but I have been looking for a non-biased source for quite some time, and I have all but given up. I know pure objectivity is nigh impossible, but it sure would be nice to see someone try to be more honest about their agendas and views and truly strive for no spin.*

So it occurred to me that if no one else is doing it, maybe I could try.

Originally I was hoping to post a monthly news magazine with various sections dedicated to stripping away shoddy rhetoric and having honest conversation and debate. I wanted to take one topic and spend time with it for months, maybe even years, so that we can hear the best arguments from all sides of a debate instead of being shackled to the same old catchphrases and talking points.

Unfortunately for this idea, I have a boss, a wife, a child, and God, all of whom are higher on my priority list. So I have been putting the date of "publish" off, waiting for a time when I could release this idea upon the world, thinking of it as some kind of ideological Venus that would spring fully-formed from my disorganized mind, but this will not be the case.

Instead, I will put what I have out there in the hopes that one can day I can set up a more well-structured endeavor.

The “Blogazine” will be designed to provide an environment conducive to more than just the exchange of information and opinions, but one in which honest research and conversation will hopefully lead to a fine-tuned understanding of issues instead of superficial reductions.

The main section is Destructive Interference, which will act as both the principal blog and the portal to the other subsections. While it sounds like a name for a cheesy throwback punk band, it is actually the technical term for the process that makes noise-cancellation possible.

The purpose of this section will be to analyze stories, films, broadcasts or print of any kind that has been designed to provide disinformation and make complex issues seem simple. The goal is to remove noise from the debating process so we can actually engage in dialogue.

This brings us to the second section called Dialogue, Not Diatribe. There we will seek to engage in honest and reasoned debate instead of polemics. I do not have anything ready for this section yet, but I am working on it and will get something up in due course.

The next section will deal with fallacies in the media. This section will be comprised of two parts- The Fallacy Finder and a Fallacy Glossary. The Fallacy Finder will examine popular logical fallacies and attempt to sniff them out wherever they may be found, (even if we catch ourselves sneaking some fallacies out of the jar!). The glossary will function as a...glossary of... fallacies. So in case you forget the difference between the “part-to-whole” fallacy and the “whole-to-part” fallacy you can check here. -once they are up:)

The next section will be my venue for engaging controversial books, articles, or movies: Orthoptic Analysis. I do not have an entry ready for this section yet, but we will first take a look at Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus. Though I have finished the book, my thoughts are a big jumbled mess, and I would to run them by a friend of mine who really resonated with the book before posting them.

The sixth section will be my space to sound off on my God-ward beliefs and how they relate to the world. I will be addressing Christianity and its place in the public sphere, and sometimes I will write about more Church-related topics.

The final section, called Film Tangents, will be my space for film reviews, essays, musings, etc. The ultimate goal is to review movies that address the topics presented elsewhere. But because this is not my job, there may be times when the content may not necessarily relate to the other topics presented. I have written numerous film reviews in the past, and they will be available through this page.

I hope this blogazine can be more than just entertainment, and more than just a pastime, but an actual vehicle that will help get us to the goal of honest and informed opinion.

It is time for thinking people to do better than “standing for something.”

Hopefully, this blog can help.

*Some of you may be screaming NPR right now, and while I do think they try harder than most and strive for professionalism, they still editorialize through subtler means, which we will explore in due course. On the other hand, some of you may be screaming Bill O, but while I respect Bill for trying, I am afraid he is a bit delusional if he thinks he is totally objective. I do, however, have more respect for him than many in the industry because I think he is genuinely trying, even if he never admits that he is spinning arguments (whether intentional or not).

Read the next entry: Noise in the Abortion Debate

Return to Destructive Interference Issue 1

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Noise in the Abortion Debate

I think this is the kind of thing Neil Postman had in mind when he warned that entertainment and news would make poor bedfellows. Just like his models on the other side of the political spectrum, many of the conservative talk show hosts, Oakley is more concerned with entertaining his listeners. We often think that people want to be liked in the media, but that is only part of it. Who gets more attention in a compelling film-the actor who plays the resilient hero, or the antagonist who kills people with stun guns? All attention is good attention in the media world, and if you can get someone to hate you, you create controversy, which may win more attention than preaching to the choir.

It may seem curious then that I would choose to analyze Oakley's arguments if I think he is only trying to stir up the pot, but the arguments he uses are so often repeated that I think they could benefit from a bit of analysis.

Oakley starts out by stating that he hates the term "pro-life" because it is an example of political framing, which is designed to portray one side more favorably than the other. He then makes the case that if someone is really pro-life then they should be against war, the death penalty and the killing of animals.

First of all, this analysis is really rather silly, because everyone knows that both the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are used in the context of the abortion issue, and both are true to a point. People against abortion are literally for the life of the fetus. People who are for choice are literally for the woman's choice.

This argument frustrates me because it only sees error in those on the other side of the debate. The term "pro-choice" is just as guilty of being an example of political framing. It is designed to make detractors look like they are against choice. If we the head-in-the-sand analysis of Mr. Oakley, we could provide this analysis:



A kid with a plaid shirt is staring at us.


You know what annoys me about politics: the term “pro-choice.”
You see, “pro-choice” is an example of political framing. Political framing is designed to define your philosophy in the best possible light. It is also designed to portray the opposition in the worst possible way, in this case making pro-life seem pro-fascist. The truth is though if you are completely “pro-choice” that means you would say that all choices no matter their circumstance or situation are good. You would say that no one should be able to say that killing another person is wrong. That’s a choice, right? And if you’re pro choice that means you think all choices are okay. You would also advocate genocide, pedophilia, the Rape of Nanking, and the choices of those fetuses being aborted. Until you are willing to legalize those choices you better shut up about being pro-choice and embrace what you really are, anti-life. Yep, slaughtering the innocents for generations!"

Do you see my point? Both sides can engage in this sort of unreasoned debate. No fool would think that someone advocating pro-choice is being hypocritical in their use of the term Pro choice, even if that person does not agree that all choices are viable.

I agree with Tyler that political framing is not good, but he is only willing to go halfway. If we want to have an honest debate then we must be willing to strip away the manipulation in our rhetoric too.

I say we do away with both terms. They are both just white-lies that intend to sway stupid people. This debate is far too complex to be reduced to four words.

Read the next entry: Fallacies in the Gay Marriage Debate

Return to Destructive Interference Issue 1

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sounding Off

So I would like to get your feedback about this blog. Do you feel the same concerns about the state of news in our day? Or am I overreacting? Do you have any critiques, ideas or ways to improve this venture?

I am looking forward to your feedback.

Thanks for reading.