This past Memorial Day weekend I checked in with SIFF and attended a screening Saturday night of Kirby Dick’s latest documentary “The Invisible War” which won the 2012 Sundance Audience Award. I wanted to write about it immediately but was so enraged when I walked out of the theater that I thought, better to cool off and let the poison work its way out of my system first. Yesterday I met friends for coffee and still couldn’t talk about the film without pangs on anger punctuating every sentence so I figured I’d wait until today to vent. Still angry. Heart still racing. Here goes anyhow.
Let me back up a few steps first. As you may have read, I’m not a fan of bullies. I abhor bullying in a school setting and I consider bullies in the workplace pathetic and contemptible. Football, boxing and the occasional Quentin Tarantino film notwithstanding, I’m deeply troubled by violence of any kind whether perpetrated against humans or animals. (I’m not a vegan but I’d be happy to have that discussion some other day.)
Among the many ways that so-called human beings inflict pain and psychological trauma on each other, rape, to me, is the most vile. There are countless reasons why a person might commit larceny but there’s only a single reason one rapes: an irresistible and incurable compulsion to control, humiliate and torment.
As the Catholic church has demonstrated so convincingly over the past several decades, sexual predators exist in every strata of society and as victims and their families are painfully aware, perpetrators are often among the inner circle. They’re neighbors, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and in the worst circumstances, they’re family.
As someone points out in “The Invisible War,” when the military is at its best, at it’s most optimal, it’s a single unit focused on a clearly defined set of goals with every member a valued and nurtured link in the chain. A family.
According to the film and backed up by the Department of Defense’s own statistics, America’s military family is the family most infected and infested by rape in the nation. A shocking number of women – and men – are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted every year in the military. According to the D.O.D., 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in 2010, a percentage point lower than were perpetrated in 2011. The film makes clear that the military’s attitude toward sexual assault is overwhelmingly to ‘just suck it up’ so it’s no surprise (or secret) that the vast majority of these incidents go unreported. Besides the military’s de facto acceptance of rape and sexual assault within its ranks, read more…
If you search the word ‘lavish’ today you’ll see a boatload of stories about the GSA – General Services Administration – and its 2010 training retreat in Las Vegas. It seems the agency spent $822,751 on the trip including such scandalous behavior as hiring a team-building expert who used bicycle-building as a metaphor for cooperation at a cost of $75,000.
As a result of an internal report made public this week, the GSA’s chief has resigned along with two key lieutenants and at least four other officials are at risk. The media’s been pounding the agency and the Obama administration all morning and Republicans wasted no time piling on.
The trip in question was a 5-day event for 300 people. That’s $2,742.50 per person or $548 per day. I’m not saying those numbers reflect well on government fiscal responsibility but $548/day including air travel, accommodations, all meals, entertainment and hours-long work sessions isn’t a terrible deal. Team-building (not to mention morale-building) is not a trivial matter, especially among large groups of people and particularly among a group like this whose minute-to-minute objective is to goad, encourage and force people to do more with less. Ironic, yes, but not without value. Besides, a few hundred bureaucrats returning to their desks a little less gray is unquestionably good for the country.
On the other hand, it’s been estimated that the unnecessary and fraudulently waged war in Iraq will cost America somewhere between $1-$3 trillion. On the low end, that’s over $3,225 per American citizen. (Of course, it will continue to take its toll in other ways for decades to come.)
Who’s been fired for that? Where’s the GSA report? Who do I talk to about getting my $3,225 back?
No one died as a result of the 2010 GSA team-building trip. In Iraq, over 4,400 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis died.
Then there’s Afghanistan.
And, by the way, who got fired for this and for all the billions in pork that Congress pisses away year after year after year?
My suggestion to the media and to Republicans is get your priorities straight. My suggestion to an “outraged” President Obama is save your outrage for your own deep failings thus far as President.
As for the rest of us, let’s try to light a fire today for something that actually matters.
When Google made news last week with its policy of collapsing users’ data and tracked information into a soupy Orwellian cluster fuck, the most annoying and frustrating aspect of 21st century Google search went virtually unaddressed: the best, most relevant search engine has consciously and aggressively evolved into arguably the worst.
Privacy is important and the fact that our so-called anonymous tracking information can relatively easily – and almost assuredly already has been or will be – associated with the individual user, is frightening and a bit scandalous. For me, though, any expectation of privacy and anonymity on the web went out the window years ago. I do all the obvious and some not-so-obvious stuff to protect what privacy may still be possible, but I hardly care what anyone knows about me. I have nothing to hide (well, almost nothing) and I decry online anonymity whenever possible for the insane volume of ugliness, inhumanity and pain it generates.
You may already be aware of this, but Google now delivers a different set of results to each user no matter how exact the search words or phrases. With hundreds of millions of us relying so heavily on Google for nearly everything we know and believe about the world, the most alarming thing to me is that Google’s search algorithms no longer serve its users. Instead, they’re exclusively in service to the company’s paying customers, its advertisers.
(If you haven’t done it yet, try this: do two searches using Google. One should be your name and the other can be anything you want. Now, ask a couple of friends in other cities to do the same searches and send you the results.)
Google is a free, read more…
In the natural world, bullying is an accepted, often essential ingredient. For some species it’s a foundational component in their evolutionary journey and an acceptable if sometimes heartbreaking fact of life.
In the unnatural world – you know, the one we humans live in with our perversely outsized and underutilized brains – bullying is one of the most insidious and detestable realities. There’s nothing good or right or natural in human bullying, not for the past several thousand years anyway.
Just like hatred and intolerance, bullying is a learned behavior and in my experience, one’s home is where all bullies are schooled. Once instilled in a child’s psychological makeup, it’s virtually impossible to unlearn without intense family counseling where both parents and all siblings are fully engaged and committed to the process – and how often does that happen?
So a bully is nearly always a bully for life. Once they’re out of school, their bullying continues within their own homes – where they pass the behavior on to yet another generation – and it wafts through their social circles and work environments. Sometimes it’s called domestic violence, sometimes workplace harassment but the root cause is a lifetime of untreated, unacknowledged bullying. Unfortunately, adults who bully are as unlikely to be confronted and taken to task as child bullies.
Back in 1986 I fell in with two of the most unrepentant bullies I’d ever met. read more…
Outside of my immediate family, no one has influenced my life in a more fateful or enduring way than Bingham Ray.
One evening in 1986, Bingham phoned me in Dallas where I was living at the time and told me about a chance meeting he’d just had. Bob Weinstein had accosted him in the back of a darkened movie theater and tried to hire him as Miramax Films’ head of distribution. Bingham said he’d agreed to meet with Bob the following day but that he was going to turn down the position and suggest Bob call me.
What little I knew – or at least had heard – about Bob and his brother Harvey was that they were worth avoiding. Possibly at all cost. Crazy brothers who didn’t really know anything about the independent film business and impossible to deal with. Under the circumstances, I asked Bingham to please take the meeting and find out all he could about the company and the job before throwing my hat in the ring. He said he would. The next morning he phoned and said he’d turned down the job and Bob would be calling momentarily. Bob wasn’t as bad as his rep, he explained, and I should take the call and hear what he had to say.
Bob phoned soon thereafter and I was struck by how normal he seemed. He wanted to meet but wouldn’t fly me in. If I could get to New York, he’d make time. read more…
By now you’ve heard about the NTSB’s call for a national ban on texting and all non-emergency phone calls while driving. There can be no reasonable argument in support of texting while driving, but suggesting a ban on all phone calls is not only unrealistic to an absurd level, it’s also dead wrong.
That there remain 14 states who do not ban texting outright is scandalous. Seven of them ban texting only for new and/or young drivers. (Among these, Texas also calls out bus drivers when a passenger 17 and younger is on board and drivers in school-crossing zones.) Seven others have no laws on the books at all. All fourteen of these states should be immediately excised from the Union. Alternately, for each year they neglect to pass a ban, all residents not voting or voting no should be made to choose a family member for execution by crushing. In addition, the mandatory minimum jail sentence for texting while driving should be life without parole for a first offense.
Not quite as scandalous is the number of states who still don’t require hands-free calling. In fact, only ten states plus DC have that law on their books. A few have partial bans but a full thirty-five don’t believe it’s a good idea to have two hands on the steering wheel while driving. That’s what it comes down to. Pure insanity.
When cell phones were newly ubiquitous and hands-free devices weren’t quite up to par, it was a coin toss whether or not to penalize drivers. Today, however, even the lowest priced wired headsets deliver acceptable quality both incoming and outgoing. There’s no longer any reason for those forty states to delay banning all but hands-free conversations. The NTSB could have a positive impact here but instead, in its bureaucratic, reactionary fervor, it’s chosen to throw the baby-on-board out with the bathwater.
They’re frustrated. I get that. People are dying every day unnecessarily. But the answer isn’t to overreact. Rather than seeking an outright ban, suggest that law enforcement re-prioritize. Suggest that sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun may not be the best use of their time. That actively searching out texters or non-hands-free callers will make the roads far safer. Make the point that speeders aren’t the cause of most deaths on the road or incidences of road rage. Rather, it’s bad drivers – like those who impede traffic by refusing to keep right unless passing – who are the root of nearly all evil on the highway.
Suggest that more money can be earned through ticketing bad drivers – texters, non-hands-free-ers, impeders – than by ticketing speeders. That by ticketing – at ever higher fines – drivers who refuse to use turn signals will have their cities’ coffers overflowing with cash. That in ticketing the truly distracted – like drivers applying make-up – they’ll be making the world a safer, saner place for everyone.
Hey NTSB, light a fire for common sense.
Judge Jed Rakoff’s heroic decision last month to face down the SEC and deny it its cowardly Citigroup settlement – at least temporarily – continues to reverberate. It’s providing a much-needed mirror into the hollow soul of the agency whose mission appears to be founded on the idea that what’s best for Wall Street is what’s best for America. If the Republican Presidential candidates want to know what appeasement really looks like, they should re-set their sights from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to SEC headquarters on F Street.
But appeasement isn’t the most troubling thing about Mary Shapiro’s SEC, it’s the agency’s apparent wholesale ineptitude.
According to Wall Street Journal sources, “Everything’s come to a halt because the SEC doesn’t know what to ask for anymore in the settlements.” If Chairwoman Shapiro and her crew are unable to distinguish between a pinprick ($285 million) and a meaningful penalty for blatantly un-American activities ( how about a minimum of a single quarter’s Citigroup profit: $3.8 billion) then perhaps they should consider something called ‘going to trial.’
The agency will argue that they can’t afford to go to trial. I contend that they can’t afford not to. We as a country can’t afford not to. Going to trial would not only remove the seemingly impossible burden of determining a fair settlement from the shoulders of the SEC, it would send a message to the American public and the world markets that we’re serious – at long last – about financial reform. Yes, it would cost some cash and it would require SEC staff to work their tails off and burn some midnight oil, but that’s their job, right? Expediency is the last thing that should be considered when faith in the government is at a record low and the will of financial institutions to circumvent rules and spit in the face of moral decency hasn’t been this strong since – well, perhaps ever.
If you’re looking for something to occupy, the address is 100 F Street.
Light *this* fire, OWS!
The reaction was intensely negative last year to my two posts in August about the inevitable demise of the modern movie house. I wrote then that of the approximately 6,000 movie theaters in the US, 5,000 would disappear within 10 years and only 100 would survive after 15 years. My prediction was largely based on the unstoppable rise of streaming media and the quickening pace of technology. In January 2011, NATO (National Association of Theater Owners) released their stats for 2010 including the fact that, even though box-office returns remained steady at around $10 billion, the number of tickets sold was the lowest since 1996.
2011 isn’t looking much better.
This past weekend’s overall box-office was the lowest since 2008. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is traditionally a dead zone and a dumping ground but, still, this is very bad news for movie theaters. It’s certainly not good news for the studios but it’s not the quality – or lack of quality – of their films that’s responsible for the drop in attendance. And the studios have other options for reaching their audience. At the moment, those options are in flux and the will to use them is rather weak in the face of threats by exhibitors who, for the moment, still have some leverage. But sooner than later, the studios will be forced to turn their backs on their exhibition partners as more and more moviegoing drifts to other platforms. It’s certainly possible that events will conspire to move things along even more quickly than I’ve predicted but not more slowly.
What will the numbers be for 2011? My guess is that the industry will see its lowest box-office tally since 2008 (in spite of ever-higher average ticket prices) and a continued drop in attendance. Whatever the results, there’s no stopping this train. Movie theaters as we know them today are going to become a thing of the past within our lifetimes. And that’s not a bad thing – except for exhibitors. For us, it’s going to result in more choices more quickly and more convenience. It will mean the end of sticky floors, obscenely priced snacks and people kicking your seat. It *won’t* mean the end of social movie-going. In fact, we’ll have more choices there as well.
Here’s another prediction: before 2015, NATO will no longer be as forthcoming with their statistics on the number of theaters and screens in the US or box-office and admission numbers.
Lighting a fire for the future!
Yup, it’s pretty hard to get anything done when you have no idea what you want or how to get it. While OWS maintains its sad trajectory toward obscurity and oblivion, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff proved again today that he’s the lone federal employee since the beginning of the global financial crisis to take meaningful positions against the banks and for the American people.
In a stunning rebuke, Judge Rakoff called the SEC out in its effort to let one of its banker overseers, Citigroup, off the hook after bilking investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Citigroup recently announced a third-quarter profit of $3.8 billion dollars yet was on the verge of getting away with a paltry $285 million dollar settlement with no admission of wrongdoing. Judge Rakoff’s smack-down of Citigroup and of Mary Schapiro’s inept SEC is the first glimmer of hope since his earlier SEC settlement ruling in 2009 that America may yet recover from the financial meltdown if not its decade-long depletion of sense, ethics and honor.
The fact that such attempts by the SEC to coddle and protect Wall Street are allowed to continue under the Obama administration is an especially stark example of why the country should be desperately seeking a viable third party candidate to run in 2012.
Keep your fire burning Judge Rakoff, and thanks.