The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Washington IrvingOn this day in 1783, the writer Washington Irving was born. I’m embarrassed to admit that last year, I wrote, “All my life, I’ve been disappointed with ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’ It just doesn’t make any sense. What exactly am I supposed to get from it? I don’t suppose it matters.” That was based upon having read it when I was a kid. As was typical for me especially then, I didn’t understand it. And I went on not understanding. It had occurred to me that if I read it again, it might make more sense. But it was only in the last year that I finally did it.

The story is actually quite clear. In fact, you might even say that it is offensively clear. The story goes out of its way to highlight the fact that Ichabod Crane is highly superstitious. So when Brom Bones seeing that Ichabod is making a bit of progress in wooing the rich Katrina Van Tassel, he sets to work bringing the “headless horseman” legend to life, causing Ichabod to flee for this life. It is a clever little story, filled with sly wit. I think it could rather easily be updated and I’m surprised that it isn’t done more often.

What makes the story difficult for me is that the characters are not well developed. Ichabod is just horrible. There is really nothing to like about him. He’s a misanthrope who’s too weak to even verbalize it. His interest in Katrina is only because of her money and status. He is less likable than Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me. As a hero, he leaves everything to be desired.

Brom, on the other hand, leaves everything to be desired as the villain. He’s just too perfect. Everyone loves Brom. It would be totally unbearable if it weren’t for the fact that we all know that kind of guy. And unlike what Irving says, he really is mean and he abuses pretty much everyone. But clearly, if someone has to win in the conflict between the two men, we would prefer Brom because Ichabod simply has no positive personality traits.

And then there is Katrina. What can we say about her? Nothing. Because Irving said nothing. Really. In 12,000 words, she might get a hundred. She is wealthy and she is pretty. And given that she is wealthy and nubile, of course she is pretty. Regardless, even if she were ugly, Ichabod and Brom would want to marry her because she is the most advantageous marriage in that area.

So there you go. A clever plot and well written. But lousy characters, at least for a modern audience. But you can definitely see why the story is still read.

Happy birthday Washington Irving!

Sabotage May Be Worst Film I Ever Saw

Sabotage filmOn Tuesday, I went to see Sabotage with my brother. Now I’m used to seeing pretty bad films with my brother. The truth is, my brother has no taste. I’m not being cute here. I mean literally that he has no taste. He’ll watch anything. So Arnold Schwarzenegger was in this film and away we went! But it was even worse than I had expected. It is very possibly the worst film that I’ve ever seen.

The basic setup is not too bad. Schwarzenegger heads a crack undercover DEA team that supposedly infiltrates drug rings and then takes them down. There is very little infiltration and lots of taking down, but whatever. This team, however, decides to steal part of the money they recover. But before they can retrieve the money, it is stolen by someone else. The rest of the film, in as much as it has a discernible plot, involves the various recriminations.

That’s all fine, I suppose; it could have been a typically bad action film but nothing too traumatic. But the story bounces all around. First there is the investigation by the DEA who think that the gang stole the money because they just happen to know exactly how much drug money there was because of “a concurrent investigation.” And then, after this six month period of time, the gang gets back together because the DEA doesn’t manage to break them. That’s when they start being murdered one at a time. And that’s when the foul mouthed female homicide detective shows up. The script plays around with making her important but can never really decide and finally just abandons her. And it only gets worse. Plus it is sandwiched inside of a most pathetic plot about Schwarzenegger’s family being tortured to death by some drug dealers.

None of this is made any better by the fact that the crack undercover DEA team looks like each member went to Dog the Bounty Hunter for fashion advice. I don’t know what’s gotten into Hollywood recently, but these guys do not look tough; they look like shower rape victims in a bad prison movie. The only one of them who really looked tough was Mireille Enos as the junkie DEA agent Lizzy. This does, I suppose, make the Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry style ending of the film ever so slightly less ridiculous. But it all does depend upon you believing that international drug lords are a bunch of puffs.

I find it constantly amazing that films about evil drug dealers portray the supposed good guys as doing nothing but drinking to excess. This movie does not only show this but very clearly shows that all the members of the gang commonly drive while plastered far past the legal limit. But as usual in these kinds of films, characters are not “good” because of their actions but rather definitionally. They are good because we say they are good. This causes the unfortunate situation where the “bad” guys are the only ones in these films who have actual motivations. But in Sabotage there is no problem because they aren’t given any motivation either.

I’m a keen observer of films. But in this one, I really couldn’t say what had happened. No film plot is without some holes, but this one was nothing but. For example, Schwarzenegger’s character allows all of his friends and many other innocent people to die in the name of getting revenge for the murder of his wife and son. But he was in a position to trade his wife and son for himself and he did not. Of the people killing the team members, one has an incredibly stupid reason and the other has no reason at all. A better name for the film would have been “Vengeance,” because according to the characters, nothing else matters besides getting revenge for wrongs done you, regardless of whether the revenge actually harms the right people.

Some people have remarked that Schwarzenegger’s acting was especially good. I thought just the opposite. Since the character is supposed to be more of a regular guy (although still a “legend” because he apparently can’t play anything else), Schwarzenegger did have to act. And it was pathetic. There was nothing subtle in the performance. He felt sad so he put his face in his hands. Mostly though, he smoked a lot of cigars. We know how much he likes cigars, so I assume his only stipulation on the film was that it dictate he smoke a lot of cigars. If that’s what qualifies as good acting, we are all doomed.

On the plus side, the film is such a mess that there are no real thematic problems with it. But that’s just because the film doesn’t focus on anything long enough to have an opinion about it. I’m sure that underneath it all is respect for the red, white, and blue and for powerful men abusing their power. There was one especially troublesome scene. The DEA team was at a strip club. The guys got out of hand and the bouncer tried to stop them. He got badly beaten as a result. Again: I guess we were just supposed to root for the “good” guys. What I thought was that the bouncer was just doing his job and the DEA guys were assholes. And that about sums up what I think of the filmmakers: witless, artless assholes.

UPS and Corporate Power Abuse

UPS - OOPSThis morning on Business Insider, I read, UPS Fires 250 Employees for Staging a 90-Minute Protest to Defend Co-Worker. It seems in February, a bunch of UPS employees went on a short strike to protest the firing of union activist Jairo Reyes over an hours dispute. UPS has claimed that they had to fire the employees because their business is time sensitive. The natural response to that is: really?!

UPS often arrives well over 90 minutes late for pickups and deliveries. It is the nature of their business. Basically, what UPS is saying is that employee protests are all fine just as long as they absolutely don’t inconvenience the company. You know, it’s like the old conservative idea of free speech: you can say anything you want as long as you don’t. UPS is sending a clear signal: any union activism will result in your being fired. And sadly, that sort of behavior has been perfectly okay with the government for over thirty years.

The story gets worse, however. The New York City Council is threatening to break a contract they have with UPS that save the company millions of dollars in reduced costs on their parking fines (a cost of business for all delivery companies). UPS, like a petulant child, responded with threats. “UPS fired back that it might need to terminate additional employees if the city alters its contract.” In other words: if you don’t let us needlessly fire employees, we will fire more.

Notice how pathetic this is. These great “job creators” are only profitable because of the special government deals they get. You have to wonder why the government is even doing business with them. There’s definitely a problem with companies setting one locality against another. But the government really needs to get its act together. New York City has the advantage here. If UPS wants to lose millions of dollars just so it can make a statement, let it. Someone else will hire the people to deliver the packages.

Coming on the heals of two weeks of constant bad political news, this just depresses me. We really have become an oligarchy. And the people can’t even manage to rise up enough to vote in midterm elections. Meanwhile, actual democratic remedies become harder and harder—not only systemically but simply because the people are spending all their time just trying to survive. The United States has become a country by, for, and of the corporation. Now it is UPS who tells New York City what to do. The people don’t matter at all.

Conservative Economic Ideal at Fox News

Sean HannityI heard that Sean Hannity recently signed a $100 million four year deal with Fox News. Arithmetic fans will notice that this is roughly $25 million dollars per year. That stood out to me because Rachel Maddow makes less than one-third of that. But while Maddow is the star of MSNBC, Hannity is at best a fading position player. So what gives?

Some would point out that even in the 25-54 demographic, Hannity still beats Maddow even though he is at a worse time. And Megyn Kelly, who is in direct competition with Maddow, crushes her. But that’s hardly an indication that Hannity or Kelly are bigger draws than Maddow. The truth is that Fox News is simply a bigger draw than MSNBC. Even Piers Morgan would out-perform Maddow if he were given a show on Fox News.

Rachel MaddowIt’s worse than this indicates, however. The main thing I got from An Atheist in the Foxhole is that of all the cable news stations, Fox News pays its people the worst. All the regular workers there dream of getting a job at MSNBC or CNN. So that’s quite a disconnect. It would be one thing if that free market cult of a television station paid everyone well. But instead, they starve their worker base and lavish their stars with money.

I think this the conservative ideal of a market economy. In fact, for years we had to listen to Mitt Romney jabber on about this. It’s a lottery approach to incentives. It doesn’t accept the idea that one can gain valuable skills and go on to have a decent job and fulfilling life. Instead it is: if you are super great, you too might get that multi-million dollar paycheck. And that is a real problem because it actually disincentivizes most workers. And the people it incentivizes are the wrong kind of people: hyper-aggressive and narcissistic.

Fundamentally, it is all about luck. I’m sure that along the way, plenty of Bill O’Reillys simply didn’t make it. Interestingly, that’s key to the Horatio Alger stories. They weren’t about people working hard and succeeding, they about young men who lucked into positions where they were able to show their stuff. No one says that Bill O’Reilly isn’t good at his job, as pernicious as his effect on society may be. But O’Reilly didn’t get his chance by being a contestant on “America’s Next Top Pundit.” Any number of random events could have derailed his career.

So Fox News appears to be the conservative economic utopia where the rich get almost everything and the poor, who support them, fight for the scraps. If conservatives were honest, they’d admit that this is the world they are trying to create. All the Fox News pundits would not go around saying that poverty would be eliminated if we just ignored it; they’d say the truth, “I’ve got mine, too bad for you, suckers!” And if the billion dollar “news” network is this way, just imagine how much worse it would be in the economy as a whole.