NPR played a clever April Fools trick this year. It posted a link on FB with the following headline: “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?.”
I’d idly heard of the movie “The Polar Express” since it came out in 2004. This year, in a fit of holiday spirit, I queued it up on Netflix and played it through my Roku. I don’t know exactly what I expected from what was clearly a children’s Christmas movie, but it had moderately good reviews from a variety of sources.
Let me say up front that the animation was impressive; they managed to clear the edge of the Uncanny Valley on the almost believably human side. I enjoyed the attention to detail in the vintage buildings and the train itself. The many voices of Tom Hanks were also enjoyable, with clear jibes at famous phrases from some of his other movie appearances.
But the story was quite disturbing. It begins with a boy who is clearly climbing out of the pit of magical thinking and beginning to apply reason to observation, vis-a-vis Santa. But then he has a dream in which he is wooed by a stranger to get into a big dark vehicle to go somewhere unknown; a good message for any child? In this train, he meets a Disney cross section of humanity: Many white kids, a pale black girl, an ostracized poor kid, and a stereotypical Bronx Jewish know-it-all. Let’s ignore what this clearly Semitic character is doing on a train bound for Santa’s workshop.
The unnamed central character of the story is given several opportunities to show that he has superior morality, which I appreciate given his clearly agnostic bent. The other kids of deeper faith are mostly lacking empathy.
Anyway, after many improbable and long sequences of cartoon adrenaline action, they pass the Arctic Circle (accurately described as 66° North Latitude or about 2/3 of the way from the equator to the pole) and can see the North Pole itself (a few train lengths or 2,000 miles, depending on what you believe).
Once there, the agnostic protagonist, the poor kid, the dark girl, and the greedy Bronx kid get lost and only can find their way by following blind faith. In the end, our hero learns that he must ignore his intelligence and embrace total faith in the magical Mr. C. in order to function properly in society. The symbol of true faith in this story is being able to hear the sleigh bells. He could feel and see them all the time. But without faith, he was deaf to their mob-inspiring siren call. Yeah, the frenzy of the adoring mob when the bells rang was truly scary. Does anyone else notice the architectural similarities between the town square and the Vatican?
Anyway, when the lad of reinvigorated faith wakes from his epiphany, he notices that his parents, people of regularly declared faith, cannot actually hear the bells. They are just playing along, presumably for the safety of blending in. Our hero, in his adult voice-over condescension, claims to still hear the bells despite his near brush with rationality at the start of the story.
Anyway, the message of the film is clear: To be happy you must believe. To survive, at least pretend.
At The Nation, Greg Mitchell has compiled a long list of things that we know, thanks to the efforts of Bradley Manning, nka Chelsea Manning. It’s a long and important list for which Manning sacrificed many years of liberty and suffered torture at the hands of the United States government. As someone who hates being lied to, I am thankful for the efforts of Manning. Here is a small excerpt from the list:
• Yemeni president lied to his own people, claiming his military carried out air strikes on militants actually done by the US. All part of giving US full rein in country against terrorists.
• Details on Vatican hiding big sex abuse cases in Ireland.
• US tried to get Spain to curb its probes of Gitmo torture and rendition.
• Egyptian torturers trained by FBI—although allegedly to teach the human rights issues.
• State Dept. memo: US-backed 2009 coup in Honduras was “illegal and unconstitutional.”
I am in Washington DC for the national conference of the National Consumer Law Center. Our special guest today was Senator Elizabeth Warren. In a blistering plain-language talk, delivered to an audience of approximately 900 consumer lawyers, Warren took aim at lobbyists, courts and the campaign finance system. [more . . . ]
Glenn Greenwald highlights a question he was recently asked on Reddit, and his response:
Glenn Greenwald: “I was also asked: “Do you see the US Democratic Party as hopelessly corrupt in terms of orchestrating progressive change? If so, what can we to do roll back abuses of surveillance state and take back system from the rich?” My reply:
“I never see any political questions as hopeless or unchangeable, but consider this:
“When I first began writing in 2005, I was focused primarily on the Bush NSA program, and I was able to build a large readership quickly because so many Democrats, progressives, liberal bloggers, etc, were so supportive of the work I was doing. That continued to be true through 2008.
“Now, a mere four [years] later, Democrats have become the most vehement defenders of the NSA and the most vicious attackers of my work on the NSA – often, some of the very same people cheering so loudly in 2006 and 2007 are the ones protesting most loudly and viciously now.
“Gee, I wonder what changed? In the answer lies all you need to know about the Democratic Party.”
“For nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements; it has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.”
Was the U.S. an anchor of global security and an enforcer of international agreements when it overthrew the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953, or the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954?
Is the world a better place because the U.S. helped overthrow Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in Chile almost exactly 40 years ago?
Is the world a better place because the United States killed 3 million people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and because we dropped 20 million gallons of napalm (waging our own version of chemical warfare) on those countries?
Is the world a better place because the United States supported brutal governments in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s, which killed tens of thousands of their own people?
Is the world a better place because George Bush waged an illegal war against Iraq and killed between 100,000 and a million civilians?
And what international agreements was the United States enforcing when it tortured people after 9/11?
Forget the Syria debate, we need to debate on why we’re always debating whether to bomb someone because we’re starting to look, not so much like the world’s policeman, but more like George Zimmerman — itching to use force and then pretending it’s because we had no choice.
Represent us has accomplished a lot in a short amount of time, including the launch of the American Anti-Corruption Act with bipartisan support, including Lawrence Lessig and Trevor Potter. 400,000 Americans have signed up to support the Act.
Here is an effort to illustrate how laws are made in Washington D.C.: