Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lessons Yet To Be Learned

The American public likes to think that it learned profound lessons from its experience in the Vietnam War. Don't go to war on behalf of a corrupt, weak client state. Don't oppose a foreign regime simply because it chooses a form of government other than democracy or an economy other than capitalism. Don't let the president commit US troops to a foreign country without informing the American people of his strategic goal and a reasonable timetable for accomplishing the goal. Don't uncritically accept official reports from Washington and the war zone that paint a rosy picture in spite of news reports to the contrary.

Yet here we are in 2007 and the military/political position in Iraq and Afghanistan is little better than that in 1967 in Saigon, South Vietnam. Once again, the American electorate allowed a president to unilaterally commit the armed forces to an open-ended mission in a nation where it is impossible to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. George W. Bush sounds just as insincere expressing presidential regret over casualties as Lyndon B. Johnson did forty years ago. Soldiers lose limbs and lives in Iraq for the same pointless objectives that GIs did at Khe Sanh or Nha Trang; only the place names and the terrain are different.

How does America profit from the lessons of Vietnam? The American people should demand that Congress and the president abide by the US Constitution. The Cold War is long over. If American troops are to fight overseas, the issue should receive a complete and frank airing before the people's representatives in Congress. The president's powers as commander-in-chief do not entitle him to unilaterally commit the US military to combat. Only Congress has the power to declare war, and the president must ask for that declaration.

If the president asks Congress for a declaration of war, the American people deserve to know what will be asked of them. What is the objective, in strategic terms? Vague phrases like "restoring stability to the region," and "bringing democracy to the people" is not worth American lives or American treasure.

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the United States of America is no longer a military superpower. America has limited resources to spend on war and extensive commitments to its own people. I hope either the Congress or the American public will, as Abraham Lincoln once said, "disenthrall ourselves, and then save our country."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Beatles Comic Book Revisionist History

For the Beatles fans out there...this should make you laugh. Now I know where Geoffrey Guiliano gets his source material for Beatle biographies!

I did a double-take on this one---did he say "flick" or was that the Scouse pronounciation of something else?

The notion of Lennon doing manual labor in Liverpool, much less Germany, would have been abhorrent to him. Lennon must have taken the mickey out of some unsuspecting hack journalist in 1964.

He must be a Jealous Guy.

This page exceeds even Cynthia Lennon's wildest fantasies about John as Family Man.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Camelot Awards, Part 3: The Bay of Pigs Award

Welcome back for another Camelot Award celebrating achievement or lack thereof in translating Kennedy family lore to film and video!

Now it's time for the Bay of Pigs Award, presented for the worst John F. Kennedy portrayal by an actor. Tonight, that award goes to....

Patrick Dempsey, for his lame, afterschool-special-style performance of JFK in Reckless Youth.
Kennedy was far from the shallow, passive figure Dempsey embodied in this sorry attempt at docudrama.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Camelot Awards, Part 2: The Kennedy Brothers Award

Welcome back to the Camelot Awards! Our next presentation is The Kennedy Brothers Award, for the most uncanny impersonation of Jack and Bobby in a non-JFK/RFK role.

The winner is...

Guy Williams, left, and Mark Goddard, right, as Dr. John Robinson and Major Don West in Lost in Space (1965).
The JFK/RFK stereotypes are obvious---Robinson is the taller, older, cool, detached, cerebral-type; West is the shorter, younger, impetuous, hot-headed, fiercely protective-type. In addition to acting like JFK and RFK, Robinson and West sound like Jack and Bobby. I wonder if Irwin Allen deliberately encouraged Williams and Goddard toward a Kennedyesque portrayal.
More Camelot Awards tomorrow!

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Camelot Awards, Part I

Welcome to the first annual Camelot Awards, honoring the Kennedy family on film!

The first trophy we bestow is the New Frontiers in Acting Award, presented for the most uncanny JFK-like characterization by an actor in a non-JFK role. The nominees are:

Jack Lord, as Felix Leiter in Dr. No (1962) and as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-O (1968)

Guy Williams, as Dr. John Robinson in Lost in Space (1965)

William DeVane, as Gregory Sumner in Knots Landing (1979) and as Secretary of Defense James Heller in 24 (2005)

Martin Sheen, as President Josiah "Jed" Bartlett in The West Wing (1996)

...And the winner is:

Jack Lord! If JFK had lived, would he have adopted an impressive "Waikiki Wave" pompadour? Probably not, but Jack Lord was the most Kennedyesque actor never to have played Jack Kennedy. Lord had the look, the voice, the speech cadence, and accent down pat. I could see JFK in his post-presidential years retired to Hawaii, chasing dames, infiltrating Viet Cong splinter cells, and battling that Comsymp, Wo Fat.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

James Bond Is a Relic

I am convinced the producers of James Bond films live in a time warp in which it is perpetually 1963, the Cold War is still on, the sexual revolution is in full momentum, smoking and drinking are cultural norms, the British Empire still plays a part in determining world affairs, and there is actually an audience willing to pay seven dollars to see a James Bond movie set in a world in which the above conditions no longer exist.

Mike Myers conclusively proved in the Austin Powers trilogy that James Bond is an anachronism in a post-1980s world. Every aspect of the 007 genre---misogyny, promiscuity, hedonism, substance abuse, unhealthy living, snobby tastes in food and drink, and a mistaken belief that judo chops to the shoulder can induce unconsciousness---is unintentionally funny to a politically correct 21st century.

James Bond was the product of specific historical circumstances---the emergence of the Cold War, the Kim Philby scandal, British envy of American supremacy, and an overoptimistic faith in technological innovations borne out of the American space program---that do not work when superimposed on a different set of historical circumstances.

007 purists assert that the series went downhill gradually when Sean Connery abandoned the role, then suddenly after Roger Moore departed. While I agree somewhat that the actors who followed Connery were unable to reproduce his success, I also believe that Connery's performances declined in successive movies, especially in Diamonds Are Forever (the first time I saw the film I could not stop laughing because Connery gained weight and used a hairpiece with a pompadour so that he looked like Alabama segregationist George Wallace).

I think the quality of the films had less to do with casting and more to do with the producers' desperate attempts to make the post-1960s Bond films relevant to contemporary events (Live and Let Die=black power movements, Moonraker=Skylab and Soyuz, Octopussy and A View to A Kill=detente, glasnost, and cooperation between the Communist World and Free World).

Ian Fleming's books are not as adaptable as William Shakespeare's plays. Bond's natural setting---London clubland, dalliances with married women in St. John's Wood and Mayfair, the pre-tourist-and-cruise-ship Caribbean islands---is infinitely more interesting than the high-technocracy of the twenty-first century, where men like "Q" have replaced 007 as the superstars of modern intelligence agencies.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

O, the Irony!

This is what a Republican congressman had to say about the war:

"Recognizing the difficulties, the fact remains that lacking success in meeting the economic, social, and political problems, the US effort, with thousands dead and billions spent and precious time lost, could be completely wasted.

"If there is a single lesson to be drawn thus far from our experience in Iraq, it is that the United States, and, indeed, the free world, have failed thus far to develop strategies, programs, and techniques to meet the fundamentalist pressures which exist in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, point to point, early.

"We have failed to develop the capability to assist a nation requesting our aid in developing political, economic, and social stability. We have found that the today crude, World War II type responses to these new and more subtle pressures are inadequate, often ineffective, and frequently inapplicable. Without political and economic stability, without a sense of nationhood, without the forms of citizen action and responsibility, which we in this country take for granted and which have been the source of our progress, the Iraqi people will be unable to retain any measure of freedom which the United States might be able to help them achieve.

"While the committee report points out specific shortcomings in the administration and audit of current programs, it fails to point out that a complete review of US policies and programs with respect to the nonmilitary side of the effort must be undertaken if we are to reverse this trend.

"It is essential, therefore, that the United States establish policies and priorities which will meet the political, social, and economic situation as it exists. It is also essential that the United States develop the necessary management tools and administrative skills to carry out such policies and programs effectively.

"The committee investigation pointed up serious problems relating to the administration of programs of the United States in Iraq. The administration has demonstrated a willingness, although belatedly, to undertake many changes to implement many of the recommendations in this report. But this is not enough. The administration has failed thus far to undertake a broader reevaluation of our policies and approaches. No matter how efficiently the present policies are administered, the real problem is the development by the United States, preferably working in cooperation with other free nations rather than alone or almost alone at present, of programs and techniques and approaches more suitable to meeting the pressures as they exist in Iraq."

Just replace "Iraq" with "South Vietnam," "the Middle East" with "Southeast Asia," and "fundamentalist" with "Communist," and you have the words of Representative Donald Rumsfeld, October 12, 1966.