The Twilight Samurai

The Twilight SamuraiNone of my wives or girlfriends have been big fans of samurai films. It is probably wrong to conclude from this that women just aren’t that into these kinds of films. After all, pretty much no one I know likes them. But I do think that women will tend not to like samurai films in general, because the films are very male — usually with almost exclusively male casts. But I think I have found a samurai film that would appeal more to women, and might be the first step in a long life of samurai film enjoyment.

Last month, I wrote, The Best Theoretical Action Film Ever. It was about the Bob’s Burgers episode “Hawk and Chick.” In it, we learn about a series of Japanese Samurai films that feature Hawk, as a wandering barber, and his young daughter, Chick. Everywhere they go, they run into monsters that disturb their simple lives. I believe that because of this, I started searching for Samurai films that might involve daughters. I knew about Samurai Rebellion, of course. But that wasn’t really the same thing. And of course, there is nothing similar to “Hawk and Chick.” But I was led to an amazingly good film, The Twilight Samurai.

Released in 2002, it was something of a big deal — being nominated for a the Best Foreign Language Feature Academy Award. But I had never even heard of it. And I should have, because it is a wonderful film — and in its way, a great substitute for “Hawk and Chick.” It isn’t silly and it doesn’t have any supernatural monsters. But it is about a widowed samurai who has two young daughters. And all he really wants to do is lead a simple life and enjoy watching his daughters grow. But events will not cooperate.

What most Americans do not know about samurai is that it is just a caste. Most samurai were bureaucrats, not warriors. And so samurai films often involve this fact. The protagonist of The Twilight Samurai is Iguchi — a very low level bureaucratic samurai who happens to have been a great fighter in his youth. That is all past him, however. But one day, he ends up saving his friend in a duel, and the word gets out that he’s a great fighter, so Iguchi’s clan leaders force him to go and assassinate an unreasonable samurai who refuses to commit seppuku as he was ordered. So the film features two stunning fight sequences.

But that’s not the core of the film. The main thing is that Iguchi really doesn’t have the money to take care of his girls. This gets him in some trouble. But eventually, his childhood sweetheart shows up — recently divorced from an abusive husband. All of these story threads — fighting, daughters, and sweetheart — interlink for a wonderful synergy. The result is a very special samurai film — the kind of film that works as a substitute for a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan. And it just might be the key to samurai film love.

Can Germany’s Blackmail of Greece Work?

Wolfgang MünchauForget for a moment the economic debate of the past few months, over issues such as the impact of austerity or economic reforms on growth. Instead ask yourself this simple question: do you really think that an economic reform program, for which a government has no political mandate, which has been explicitly rejected in a referendum, that has been forced through by sheer political blackmail, can conceivably work?

—Wolfgang Münchau
Greece’s Brutal Creditors Have Demolished the Eurozone Project

The Cruel and Shortsighted Rich

Unemployment InsuranceSteve M over at No More Mister Nice Blog wrote, The Conservative Ethic: Punish the Losers. It’s a comparison of two articles by Paul Krugman: one about Jeb Bush and the idea that Americans should work more, and one about Europe’s cruel treatment of Greece. They certainly are linked. The essence of conservatism is that those with power are the right kind of people and those without it are the wrong kind of people. This is what leads to hundreds of billions of dollars given to banks without a thought but protests in the streets about helping home owners.

But I think Steve trivialized the situation a bit when he wrote, “The underdogs are supposed to do all the sacrificing, because the world is divided into the deserving and the undeserving, and the deserving shouldn’t really sacrifice at all.” Certainly, that’s true on some level, but it is just how the disease presents itself. The cause is deeper. And he got at it when he summed up the thinking of the power elite, “They think of themselves as the ones who have a genuine work ethic and who are willing to delay gratification, but in reality they insist that their gratification must proceed uninterrupted, because they deserve that.”

There are two attributes of the power elite that motive them. The first is a callousness toward others. All people have a tendency to over-honor those they are around and to mistrust those they aren’t. But the poor don’t dehumanize the rich, because our entire media and entertainment system is designed to lionize the rich. For every appearance of Montgomery Burns, there is an appearance of Undercover Boss and literally dozens of “rich people as oracles” segments on the news. And that is to say nothing of rich guy superheroes like Bat Man and Iron Man. These are the images our society has of the rich. The images the society has of the poor are of unkempt and dirty street people — usually also criminals. So it is no wonder that the rich especially can disregard them as undeserving.

The other attribute of the power elite is that they are shortsighted. That is a great irony, of course. As Steve noted, they are the ones who think they delay gratification, but they do no such thing. And the best example of this is how they fight tooth and nail against anything that will help the working class. You literally cannot help the poor without indirectly helping the rich. But you can very easily help the rich without helping the poor. Helping the poor grows the economy. The rich would be richer with more equality, but that might take a couple of quarters — even years. Can’t have that!

But it also takes us back to the first attribute of callousness. To a large extent, the rich don’t care about the absolute level of their wealth. It is the relative wealth. And that is a zero sum game. The rich can’t feel rich unless the poor are doing badly. If it came down to it, I’m sure the rich would be happier being poorer if the working class did even worse, than they would be to be wealthier if the working class were to close the gap. Of course, I don’t expect a rich person to think this in the abstract, but this is the conclusion based on how they act.

So there you have it. The rich are shortsighted and callous. It isn’t that they are necessarily horrible people — at least at first. But our system of economics and politics makes them horrible. And this is why they feel very good about themselves as they call for the lower classes to work more hours or for Greece to suffer for another decade or two.

Ross Perot Didn’t Get Bill Clinton Elected

Ross PerotI guess it is time for a little Political Science 101. Some conservatives are freaking out at the prospect that Donald Trump will lose the Republican primary and then go on to become an independent candidate and act as a “spoiler” in the 2016 campaign. That could certainly happen. The problem is that people are relating it to Ross Perot’s 1992 run for president. Donald Trump himself recently told Washington Examiner, “I think every single vote that went to Ross Perot came from Bush. Virtually every one of his 19 percentage points came from the Republicans. If Ross Perot didn’t run, you have never heard of Bill Clinton.” Oh those wonderful conservatives and their myth making!

The main thing for me is just that the economics predicted that Clinton would win. The economy was tanking and so the election was Clinton’s to lose. And he could have lost if he had made the election about foreign affairs or something. But he didn’t. Remember, “It’s the economy, stupid!”? So Bush was toast. I suspect that if Perot hadn’t ever entered the race, Clinton would have won by more than he did. The whole thing shines a light on one of the great Democratic myths, too: that it was all about his “Sister Souljah” moment and his conservatism. Hogwash.

But for those of us who lived through it, this conservative narrative of Ross Perot acting as a spoiler is clearly wrong. Perot did not appeal to one party. What was claimed about the Tea Party was actually true of the Perot’s Reform Party. It really did include people from the center: conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans who were very much concerned about the national debt. And that’s why the Reform Party wasn’t able to last as an important movement past Perot: the group had nothing to hang onto. (It eventually became a tiny party that nominates people almost randomly.) The Tea Party does, because it is now and always has been the base of the Republican Party.

Steve Kornacki released 21 tweets the other day that go through the history of this. It really isn’t complicated. Clinton led the polls throughout the last months of the campaign. And those polls showed that Perot supporters’ second choice candidates were evenly divided because Bush and Clinton. But even more than that, there is that odd bit during the campaign where Perot dropped out because, he claimed, people were threatening his family or something. And as the polls suggested they would, the Perot voters split about evenly for Bush and Clinton.

All this stuff about personalities in elections is fun. But it doesn’t mean much to the final vote. It certainly is true that Donald Trump would hurt the Republicans if he ran an independent campaign. He’s positioning himself as the Pat Buchanan candidate — the one who tells the base the “painful truth” that they are so right to hate minority groups. The people who would vote for him skew heavily toward the Republican Party. But as such, I doubt Trump could make the kind of go of an independent campaign that Perot did. The truth is that while the Republican base might love hearing Trump in his campaign of speaking bigotry to weakness, they know that the policies of Scott Walker would be just as good as those of Trump. So why split the bigot vote?

Morning Music: Bette Midler

Bette MidlerI was doing some research for tomorrow’s Morning Music. What I wanted was to find a live version of Joni Mitchell doing the song “Twisted.” It’s an interesting song. It is based upon a saxophone solo by Wardell Gray in a session with Al Haig. Annie Ross took the solo and molded it into the classic song we all know today. But since I couldn’t find a Mitchell version of the song, I went searching for Bette Midler because I knew she did it on her self-titled album.

All I could find was a version of the song that Midler did with Rosie O’Donnell on her show. It’s not exactly a great version, but it’s fun. I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who likes O’Donnell. I don’t know what it is about her, but far too many people have an attitude toward her. Whatever. But as she will admit, she isn’t a great singer. She does, however, make up for it with a raw love for music that many greater musicians would be well served to copy.

But the real reason I knew I had to share this clip is the guy at the piano: Marc Shaiman. What the hell was he playing piano for a daytime talk show? The only reason I know what he looks like is that years ago I watched Broadcast News and he played one of the composers who come into the studio to preview the new theme. It turns out that Shaiman has worked with Midler a lot. Anyway, here it is:

Anniversary Post: Five Airplane Crashes

TAM Airlines Flight 3054On this day, there were a lot of airplane crashes. Maybe this is true of every day. The truth is that I don’t pay so much attention to things that have happened recently. If I can find things to write about that took place hundreds or even thousands of years ago, I would prefer to. But today, there was nothing too interesting in the way back. So I was looking at the last century, and I noticed all these plane crashes.

Let’s start with 1933, when the Lituanica flew all the way across the across the Atlantic Ocean. It was a little bitty airplane. The two pilots took off from New York and thirty some hours later, they flew over Ireland. And then they crashed in Poland, less than 400 miles from their destination. Both pilots died.

Skipping ahead 20 years, 40 NROTC students and 6 crewmen were taking a USMC R4Q Packet from Corpus Christi to Norfolk. But the plane lost power on takeoff, slamming into a bunch of trees a mile past the runway. Shockingly, six people actually survived the initial crash, although three of them died soon after.

In 1996, TWA Flight 800 was on its way from New York to Rome. Twelve minutes out, the airplane exploded. It is believed that there was a short circuit in or near the fuel tank, and that was that. It killed all the passengers and crew: 230 people.

In 2007, TAM Airlines Flight 3054 was going from Porto Alegre to São Paulo in Brazil. On landing at the very stormy São Paulo airport, the plane overran the runway, and slammed into a nearby warehouse. Not only were all 187 people on board killed, so were 12 on the ground.

And then last year, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in Ukraine. We still don’t have an official account of this. But we do know that all 298 people on board died.

And yet, on this day in 1955, Disneyland was opened. A coincidence?