Monday, January 21, 2013

Hollywood lies

THE film Argo tells the story of the escape of US diplomats from Iran in 1979. Zero Dark Thirty tells of the more recent killing of Osama bin Laden. Both are controversial.

Argo has understandably enraged the British ambassador in Tehran at the time, Sir John Graham, by stating as a fact that he "turned away" the fugitive American diplomats. It left him "very distressed that the filmmakers got it so wrong". The British embassy took in the fugitives and they moved on only when it became exposed to attack. One of the Americans, Robert Anders, has fully corroborated Graham's comments, saying the film "is absolutely untrue. The British made us very comfortable and were very helpful … We are forever grateful."

Zero Dark Thirty depicts CIA waterboarding as contributing to the hunt for bin Laden. Those involved claim this allegation is untrue and, worse, justifies "good cause" torture. The film's director, Kathryn Bigelow, says hers is "just a movie", not a documentary, and pleads her First Amendment right "to create works of art" and speak her conscience. She is apparently engaged in a campaign not for, but against torture.

Makers of films captioned as "true stories" claim either that fabrications do not matter because they are "just making movies", or that they are justified in a higher cause. Yet they can hardly be both. Cinema, in my view, is the defining cultural form of the age. It deserves to be taken seriously, and therefore to be criticised for shortcomings. If the most celebrated of "docudramas", Spielberg's Schindler's List, could go to lengths to authenticate its storyline, why should not any film claiming truth to history?

Commentators may be accused of choosing facts to prove their opinions, but that is different from falsification. Nor do they excuse lies as higher truth. The licence to report carries responsibilities. Inaccuracy in print is vulnerable to litigation. Plagiarism and fabrication are serious journalistic crimes. A newspaper that accused Graham of anti-American cowardice would lead to fierce rebuttal and retraction.

Journalists are told they are making "the first rough draft of history", with the implication that a proper historian will soon be along to take over. Both are now overwhelmed by a tidal wave of filmmakers, claiming the same licence to the word truth, but without any of its disciplines. French director Jean-Luc Godard declared that cinema was "truth 24 frames a second". Bigelow feels justified in using inaccuracy to advance a cause. If they got it wrong, it was art. I wish I had that get-out.

Films matter. The US critic Michael Medved once protested about Hollywood's relentless message, "that violence offers an effective solution for all human problems". He was howled down by the industry. It continued to argue that its glorification of violence and, more recently, Islamophobia, was somehow not influential. Films appeal to inner fears and chauvinist prejudices. That is why Ben Affleck had a mild dig at the British in Argo, as did Mel Gibson in Braveheart and The Patriot. It is why American movies imply America won the war, and British ones that Britain did.

Nothing should be banned, but film censors should make themselves useful and revise their categories. If "true story" appears in a film's preamble and is clearly wrong, the film should carry certificate L, for lie. We would then know where we stood.



French lessons on Marriage?

The English traditionally don't understand the French and I guess I am English in that respect.  I once read a fair bit of classical French literature before I found its moral corruption sickening and thereafter read no more of it.  So I am a bit surprised at what is related below.  The most I can make of it is that the French respect the forms if not the substance of a moral code -- JR

Perhaps the finest book ever written on the natural complementarity of the sexes and on marriage as the core building block of civil society was written by a Swiss who was then living in France.  (The book is Emile, and the author is Jean-Jacques Rousseau.)  So when Robert Oscar Lopez writes at the Public Discourse, “[F]ew could have anticipated that France would host the West’s last stand for the traditional family,” perhaps France’s salutary stand shouldn’t be altogether surprising.

Lopez writes:

“The international press was shocked on November 17, 2012, when hundreds of thousands of French citizens took to the streets to fight against a parliamentary bill redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships and legalizing same-sex adoption….

“The [movement’s] three most prominent spokespeople are unlikely characters: “Frigide Barjot,” a bleached-blonde comedienne famous for hanging out with male strippers at the Banana Café, and author of ‘Confessions of a Branchée Catholic’; Xavier Bongibault, a young gay atheist in Paris who fights against the ‘deep homophobia’ of the LGBT movement, believing it disgraces gays to assume that they cannot have political views ‘except according to their sexual urges’; and Laurence Tcheng, a disaffected leftist who voted for President François Hollande but disdains the way that the same-sex marriage bill is being forced through Parliament…”

Lopez reports:

“In France, a repeating refrain is ‘the rights of children trump the right to children.’ It is a pithy but forceful philosophical claim, uttered in voices ranging from gay mayor ‘Jean-Marc’ to auteur Jean-Dominique Bunel, who revealed in Le Figaro that two lesbians raised him….

“Bunel states in Figaro that such a shift [‘from “child as subject” to “child as object”’] violates international law by denying the right of children to have a mother and a father. Bunel writes:

"I oppose this bill because in the name of a fight against inequalities and discrimination, we would refuse a child one of its most sacred rights, upon which a universal, millennia-old tradition rests, that of being raised by a father and a mother. You see, two rights collide: the right to a child for gays, and the right of a child to a mother and father. The international convention on the rights of the child stipulates in effect that ‘the highest interest of the child should be a primary consideration’ (Article 3, section 1).

“Bunel suggests that laws allowing gay people to create unnecessary same-sex households for unwitting children should be brought to Europe’s high court of human rights.”

John Locke actually makes a similar rights-based argument on behalf of children in his Second Treatise of Government (italics in original):  “Conjugal Society is made by a voluntary Compact between Man and Woman: and…their common Off-spring…have a Right to be nourished and maintained by them, till they are able to provide for themselves.”

Lopez concludes:

“It is time for Americans to follow France’s lead.  Frigide Barjot, Laurence Tcheng, and Xavier Bongibault have presented us with a game changer.  They have given us the necessary rhetoric and republican logic to present a strong case against redefining marriage.  They have provided us a playbook for mobilizing across party lines.  They’ve presented colorful characters whom we can emulate.  I will keep translating the news as it comes in, in the hope that American defenders of the family will be inspired to do as the ‘march for all’ movement has done.”

But Lopez’s isn’t the only recent piece in the Public Discourse worth reading.  Ryan T. Anderson recently wrote, in the spirit of Rousseau:

“Redefining marriage would abandon the norm of male-female sexual complementarity as an essential characteristic of marriage. Making that optional would also make other essential characteristics — such as monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence — optional….

“That…sounds like the abolition of marriage. Marriage is left with no essential features, no fixed core as a social reality — it is simply whatever consenting adults want it to be.  Some who see this logic, thinking that marriage has no form and serves no social purpose, conclude that the government should get out of the marriage business.

“If so, how will society protect the needs of children — the prime victims of our non-marital sexual culture — without government growing more intrusive and more expensive?”



How will Obamacare affect your tax bill?

by John C. Goodman

In these blog posts and in my book Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, I have focused on the effects of the new healthcare law on quality and access to care. But what about the hidden economic cost to you? Let’s look at some of the taxes that have received too little public attention.

You will join other Americans in paying more than $500 billion in nineteen new types of taxes and fees over the next decade to fund health reform.[1] Some of the new taxes will be indirect and will be passed on to you in the form of higher prices, higher premiums, or lower wages. You will pay other taxes directly. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, about 73 million taxpayers earning less than $200,000 will see their taxes rise as a result of various health reform provisions.[2]

Tax on Medical Devices

These taxes will reach everything from surgical instruments and bedpans to wheelchairs and crutches. Even pacemakers and artificial hips and knees are taxed. All told, the tax on medical devices will collect nearly $20 billion over the next decade.

Tax on Insurance

A $60 billion tax on health insurance, beginning in 2014, will ultimately be reflected in higher premiums. For example, the Senate Finance Committee’s Republican staff estimates the new taxes—including taxes on medical devices, taxes on drugs, taxes on insurers—could ultimately push up health insurance premiums for a typical family of four by nearly $1,000 per year.[3]

Tax on Drugs

A new tax on drugs will collect about $27 billion. In anticipation, some drug makers have already started raising their prices.[4] These taxes and the changes in the treatment of medical savings accounts have been called the “medicine cabinet tax.”

Tax on Medical Savings Accounts

If you have a Flexible Spending Account, a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) or a Health Savings Account, you are no longer able to use these tax-free accounts to purchase over-the-counter drugs. That means you will have to buy such items as Claritin, aspirin, or Advil with after-tax dollars (making the cost to you 30 percent higher or more for a middle-income family). In addition, tax-free contributions to an FSA will be capped at $2,500 annually. People setting aside funds for chronic care, corrective eye surgery, or other out-of-pocket medical expenses will be limited to $2,500, regardless of medical need. Taken together, these two actions are expected to cost consumers $18 billion over the next decade.

Taxes on Indoor Tanning

If you plan to use an indoor tanning bed, expect to pay 10 percent more thanks to a new excise tax expected to raise nearly $3 billion.

Taxes on Cadillac Plans

A 40 percent excise tax will be levied on so-called “Cadillac” health plans for the amount in excess of $27,500 for families and $10,200 for single coverage. About one-third of health plans will be subject to the tax beginning in 2019. But since these thresholds are not indexed to increase as fast as medical costs, over time virtually all plans will be subject to the tax.

Taxes on Illness

If you have a lot of medical expenses, today’s tax law allows you to deduct from your taxable income the amount that exceeds 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Under the new law, this threshold is being raised to 10 percent of AGI—making your deduction smaller.[5] The increase is effective in 2013 for people under 65 years of age and in 2017 for those 65 years of age and older.

Additional Taxes on Wages, Investment Income, and Even Home Sales

The Medicare payroll tax will increase by almost one-third for some people—from 2.9 percent today to 3.8 percent on wages over $200,000 for an individual or $250,000 for a couple. In addition, the 3.8 percent Medicare payroll tax will be levied on investment income (capital gains, interest, and dividend income) at the same income levels. This tax is not only on the rich, however. Under some circumstances, the sale of a house could trigger the provision, making you “paper rich” for a single year and forcing you to pay a 3.8 percent levy on a portion of the appreciated value above a certain limit. Moreover, the threshold above which people must pay the higher tax is not indexed to rise with inflation. Consequently, over time more and more middle-class Americans will have to pay it.



The 40 Greatest Quotes From Winston Churchill

A selection from a selection by John Hawkins

38) “To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.”

37) “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

36) "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often."

35) “In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity.”

34) “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”

33) “This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.”

32) “When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

31) “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

30) "We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle."

29) Lady Astor: “Winston, if I were your wife I’d put poison in your coffee.”

Winston Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband I’d drink it.”

28) “When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.”

27) “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack.”

26) “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

25) “Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”

24) “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened.”

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1 comment:

Robert said...

French Lessons on Marriage ties in neatly with some things I read in The Owner's Manual:
"Now you know why Satan works so hard trying to blur the gender lines in our society: its because Yahweh, who created the sexes, likes to keep them separate and distinct. The question we should be asking ourselves is “Why?” Why is Yahweh so intent on preserving the family? Why does He want men to look like men, women to look like women, and marriages between them to last for a lifetime, fruitful and secure? It’s because the human family is designed to be a picture of Yahweh and how He relates to us. Yahweh our “Father” is our provider, our strong protector, the ultimate authority. The more intimate, tender, and personal side of God’s revelation to us comes through the Holy Spirit—Ruach Qodesh in Hebrew, a feminine term in that language. Yes, God’s Spirit is quite literally our Heavenly Mother. And as anyone who grew up close to a brother or sister can attest, there is a special bond between siblings—a oneness that can’t be achieved with a parent, no matter how warm the relationship. So Yahweh also manifested Himself as the “Son,” God existing in the form of a man—whose brothers and sisters we are if we have been adopted into the family of God. The family, then, is a metaphor for Yahweh’s self-expression on our behalf. He created us, in fact, to reflect that expression in who and what we were: men and women whose lifelong love brings children into being—families.
So from Satan’s point of view, one of the best ways to destroy this picture is to confuse the roles of the family members. He encourages men to be effeminate, women authoritative, and children rebellious. Step number one in achieving his goal of the breakdown of the family is to make men and women look the same."


"...This oft-repeated formula is the reason given for all the detailed instruction on sexual purity that would follow. It’s a reminder that Yahweh created a certain order to things: one man and one woman becoming one flesh, metaphorically in their life together, and literally in the procreation of offspring through physical union driven by mutual love. This is a picture, of course, of our relationship with God.... If we indulge in sexual relationships that violate the divine metaphor, we have defaced the priceless masterpiece Yahweh has created, like scribbling a moustache on the Mona Lisa."

Instinctively, this is kind of already understood. It does help to see it spelled out from time to time.