Bernie über alles

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It is no secret that I am a Democrat. I am fairly vocal about it on my Facebook page, on this site, and elsewhere. In 2008 and 2012 I donated to Obama’s campaign. In 2016 I have donated to the Bernie Sanders campaign. I have a Bernie bumper sticker on the back window of my car. If you ask me who I want to be the next President of the United States out of the current people running, I will tell you Bernie Sanders. And yet that is not enough.

Unlike many of my fellow Bernie Sanders supporters, I believe that Hillary Clinton is an incredibly accomplished woman with the best resume a Presidential candidate has had in my lifetime. I also believe that if Bernie fails to get the nomination, Hillary Clinton is a fine second choice who I will be happy to endorse, support, and help elect. This, for many, is falling short of being a True Bernie Supporter.

To add insult to injury I also feel that what the Republicans want more than anything since they failed to find a viable candidate is for Democrats to rip each other apart and so I refuse to bash Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. I do not see any reason that I should do what the GOP wants me to do unless they pay me. It would seem many Bernie supporters I personally know would prefer to work for them for free.

In the last two days I have been personally approached online and off by multiple friends of mine who are Bernie supporters. Each of them has tried to convince me that Hillary is a terrible Presidential candidate and seem genuinely upset when I refuse to agree with them. Keep in mind these are personal friends who know that I am already a Bernie Sanders supporter. Given the chance to vote for Bernie in the election I will and they know that. And yet, that is somehow not enough.

When I tell people that I feel Hillary is a near equal candidate to Bernie, far too many Bernie supporters get angry. It’s important to note that I said ‘near equal’ not ‘the same’. Bernie and Hillary while both being Democrats are very different. Hillary is a terrible substitute for Bernie. However she is a fine candidate in her own right. I could explain why, but I do not feel the need to. Plenty of others have done a far better job of that than I can.

My point in writing this is to point out that if you treat your allies (who are already voting for your candidate) like the enemy, you are failing at supporting your candidate. In November I will be voting for Bernie Sanders or I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. And I am fine with either choice regardless of how many people might want me not to be.

– Jack Cameron

UPDATE: I was reminded that there is a contingent of Bernie fanatics who believe that Bernie should run as an independent if he fails to get the nomination. This of course is the only hope for the Republican Party to get the White House in November. Splitting the Democratic vote will only help someone like Trump get in the White House. It will not result in a Sanders Presidency. When I point this out these people typically say that Trump as President will just make ‘the revolution come sooner’. These are living, breathing, and allegedly thinking Americans who genuinely want a violent revolution of the United States with apparently no regard for the loss of life that may result. The breadth of the short sighted stupidity on display in this scenario is amazing.

Luckily, Bernie Sanders himself is far smarter than many of his followers no matter how fanatical they may be. He’s said so himself that he’s not running as an independent.

When It Comes To Abortion, There Should Be No Controversy

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The last abortion clinic in Mississippi

 

Abortion is an issue that polarizes people. Anti-abortionists do their very best to restrict a woman’s access to legal and safe abortions all over the country. In Mississippi there is only one place in the state you can safely and legally have an abortion. The state has almost three million people. It also rates second in the nation in teen pregnancy.

Those who advocate for a woman’s right to choose will often argue that since it is the woman’s body and life that is most closely impacted by being pregnant, she should have the choice of what to do about it like any other health issue.

The problem is that those against abortion see the unborn fetus as a living being and think of abortion as murder and there is no argument to be made that will convince most of them that the fetus does not deserve every bit of protection we would give any other human life. This argument has been used again and again both in legislative buildings and in the defense of killing doctors who perform abortions. Given that this fundamental difference is so significant, I will not be arguing for or against it. What I am going to do instead is make an argument about abortion that I believe can be adopted by those who feel abortion is a woman’s right and those who feel it is no different than murder.

I know this sounds like a tall order, but I’m a liberal Democrat and my Dad is a Born-Again Christian who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and when I explained this to him, he and I agreed. I am genuinely hoping I am able to sway some more people with this because as I see it, there should be nothing controversial about abortion whatsoever.

Before 1973, abortion was not legal in much of the United States. This does not mean that abortions did not occur in the United States. They did. They occurred in unsterile environments with unqualified people who often left the pregnant woman permanently injured or dead. They occurred with women trying home remedies that often left them sick or dead. The only time they occurred with any semblance of safety for the pregnant woman was when the wealthy would hire a doctor to perform them. We know these things happened. We have hundreds of women and relatives of women who have bravely told these stories.

We also know the lengths that some pregnant women will go to in order to have abortions because there are states where anti-abortion laws are so strict that women have had to go to great lengths to get an abortion, including driving out of state, trying one of those home remedies, or getting butchered by an unscrupulous doctor. This is not something that only happened in the past. It happens today.

It is curious to me that the same conservatives who tell me that gun control will not work because criminals don’t follow laws are under the impression that laws restricting abortion will stop abortions. There’s a certain cognitive dissonance there. But if we know laws will not stop or lower abortions, maybe it is time to look at what we know works.

For starters we need to look at the cause of every single abortion ever performed: pregnancy. If we can limit the amount of pregnancies, we limit the amount of people who might want an abortion.

A popular idea among conservatives is to just tell anyone who does not want a baby to not have sex. This is a roundabout way of imposing antiquated religious beliefs on poor people. Sex is not simply for baby creation and it is not something you should only do if you have enough money. Sex between consensual partners is a human right. More to the point, we know that telling people to abstain simply does not work.

If we look at states where abstinence-only sexual education is mandated we find that there is a significant increase in teen pregnancy and STDs. This is because getting teenagers to avoid something by telling them not to do it, is like putting a steak in front of a dog and telling him not to eat it. It doesn’t work. It does not take an expert to understand why those with little cash and lots of hormones might engage in sex. It also does not take an expert to understand why a young woman who becomes pregnant who is poor might choose to have an abortion.

I would love to point to a state where there is solid nonjudgmental, non-religious sexual education, but there really isn’t one. So instead let’s take a look at Sweden where sexual education has been mandatory since 1956. Sweden’s pregnancy rate per 1,000 people is less than a third of ours.

It is clear to anyone paying attention that giving children accurate sexual education helps lower the pregnancy rate and as mentioned earlier, less pregnancies means less abortions.

Even when people are properly informed and educated about sex, they may still engage in unsafe sexual activity, especially if it is difficult to get birth control. This is why we do not just need good sexual education. We need access to free and low cost birth control. Studies have shown that when women have access to free birth control unwanted pregnancies go down. These two things lower the pregnancy rate dramatically and when there are less unwanted pregnancies, there are less abortions.

Now, let’s review:

  • Abortions happen whether or not they are legal.
  • Illegal abortions often put the life of the pregnant woman in danger.
  • Nonreligious, non-judgmental sexual education and access to free and low-cost birth control lowers the abortion rate more than anything else.

Given these facts the only logical thing to do is provide good sexual education, free birth control, and offer safe, legal abortion services for those women who choose to have abortions.

Any other alternative either increases the abortion rate or puts the pregnant woman’s life in danger. In either case, you can’t call yourself ‘pro-life’ while putting a woman’s life in danger or deliberately blocking something you know will lower the abortion rate.

Nothing I have said here is opinion. Each of the things said here can be verified. I’ve included links and there is more information out there if you are so inclined to find it. I welcome discussion, but if you are going to say that anything in this article is not true, please cite your sources.

Ultimately, those in favor of cutting funding to Planned Parenthood or creating new laws that restrict a woman’s right to choose are at best misguided and at worst simply anti-woman. Hopefully this article helps make sense of an emotional issue.

– Jack Cameron

Other Sources:
http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/597-abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs-ineffective-unethical-and-poor-public-health

Eye In The Sky Movie Review

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A suicide bombing is going to happen. It will kill at least eighty people and seriously injure dozens more. You know who is going to do the attack. You know where they are right now. And you have the opportunity to destroy the house they are residing in. You can stop the next headline before it happens. The only catch is that you can only do it using a missile and that missile will kill not only everyone in the building. It will kill an innocent child. What do you do?

This is the situation depicted in Eye In The Sky, a movie starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul. Eye In The Sky is a fascinating movie in that it’s basically one long scene happening all over the planet at the same time. British intelligence have a plan to capture some terrorists using surveillance provided by a local spy on the ground in Kenya, a drone operated by the Americans from Nevada, and facial recognition provided by a base in Hawaii. As we bounce between these places we watch as various parties determine the best course of action.

I imagine that they chose British intelligence for the driving force behind this because anyone who knows anything about drone warfare done entirely by Americans would know that there would be no debate about what should be done. We would simply kill the bad guys and to hell with the collateral damage. (Anyone who thinks I’m mistaken about this should check out what we did in 2009 in al Majalah.)

I didn’t go into this movie expecting much. It’s directed by Gavin Hood who did Wolverine: Origins. Though he also did Rendition. Eye In The Sky is much like Rendition in that it takes a page out of our questionable foreign policy actions and explores it a bit. Unfortunately, much like Rendition, it’s fairly forgettable. Part of this is because it never bothers to humanize the terrorists. We barely hear a word out of their mouths. They are just bad guys putting together suicide vests. It never gets into who they are or why they’re doing what they’re doing. Eye In The Sky asks the important question, ‘Should we be willing to kill innocents in order to save more innocents?’, but it doesn’t ask or answer, ‘Who are these people who are so willing to kill themselves in the name of radical Islam?’

It may be that I’m asking too much of a mainstream Hollywood film. But if you’re going to get into the morality of the war on terror, I think it’s worthwhile to look at how our actions often help create the very things we’re supposedly trying to stop. It’s fairly simple to say that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and so we should just accept that innocent children are sometimes killed in order to stop worse things from happening, but such a viewpoint ignores the consequences of those actions. It ignores the part where killing a child leaves a father and a mother who will not blame radical Islam for the death of their child. They will blame the West. Imagine some attack from a foreign government killed your government and then you meet a group that wants to conduct terrorist attacks on that same government. How easy is it for you to agree to help? This movie asks important questions but it ignores questions that are just as important.

Eye In The Sky is a worthwhile movie and I was glad to see it if only to watch Alan Rickman on the big screen one last time. It was also nice to see Aaron Paul in a non-Breaking Bad role. And Helen Mirren is always a joy to watch. I just wish they would have done more with the subject matter.

– Jack Cameron

Star Wars Forever

 

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There is no other story I have loved longer than Star Wars. I have bought Star Wars action figures, trading cards, card games, comic books, novels, screenplays, sheet music, movies, TV shows on video tapes, laser discs, DVDs, BluRays, and digital recordings. I know the Ewok Celebration Song in Ewokese and the English translation. When my son was born one of the two names we had chosen for him was Ben after Ben Kenobi. Though we didn’t use the name I made sure the first thing my son ever saw on the big movie screen was the trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Yes, the movie is terrible, but you have to admit the trailer rocks.) All of this is to say that today, April 5th, 2016 Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens came out on Blu Ray.

Naturally this means I’m busy. See you tomorrow.

– Jack Cameron

Superman (1978) Movie Review

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Last night I decided to watch the 1978 Superman movie. This could arguably be considered the first serious superhero movie. At the time it was the most expensive movie that studio had ever made. They filled the movie with some of the biggest stars of Hollywood. They had Marlon Brando playing Jor-El. They had Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. They had Jackie Cooper as Perry White. The special effects were state of the art at the time. They had Mario Puzo, the writer of The Godfather writing the screenplay. And lastly they had Richard Donner directing. He had just done The Omen and would later go on to do Lethal Weapon and Goonies among others.  Superman went on to be the 6th top grossing movie of all time in 1978. It was a gigantic hit that spawned three sequels. (Four if you count Superman Returns.) But was it a good movie?

Superman takes a very linear approach to telling the story. It starts on Krypton with the sentencing of Zod and his two compatriots to the Phantom Zone followed by the Jor-El sending his infant son to Earth just before Krypton is destroyed. Ma and Pa Kent find the crashed ship and rescue the child who instantly shows that he’s not normal by lifting their truck. We then quickly move on to Clark Kent’s teenage years where we see that he keeps his abilities mostly to himself. Shortly after Pa Kent dies, Clark goes into the frozen wasteland with a mysterious crystal that builds his Fortress of Solitude. He stays here for at least twelve years and then emerges in Metropolis as reporter Clark Kent.

And this is when we first really see Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman. The first thing I noticed is how well Reeve embodied the Clark Kent character. He’s bumbling but friendly. He clearly wants to help wherever he can. When he meets Lois Lane and she doesn’t like him, he’s completely confused because the idea of being competitive just isn’t in him. We know all of these things because they were so clearly established earlier in his not playing sports though he knows he can win.

We get our first real look at Superman when he saves Lois from a helicopter crash on the roof of the Daily Planet. She falls. He catches her. And then he catches the helicopter when it falls. This particular sequence still looks great almost 40 years later. In fact it looked better than most films these days look because none of it is computer generated. The helicopter clearly has substance and weight. It’s just a weight Superman can handle. Here again the acting ability of Reeve helped sell this as he just does these things with the confidence of someone who is aware of his abilities. He’s specifically not showing off as that’s something Pa Kent would have never approved of.

There are problems with this movie. There’s a terrible song/poem recited by Lois Lane (played by Margot Kidder) while she’s being flown around by Superman. There’s also the absolutely ridiculous bit where Superman makes the world spin the opposite direction to turn back time. It’s so absurd that it totally takes me out of the movie. But while those issues are significant, the rest of the movie works wonderfully.

One of the things I couldn’t help but notice after watching both Superman movies from Zack Snyder is that not only is Richard Donner’s Superman in this first movie not lethal, he’s practically non-violent. He restrains himself over and over again throughout the movie. Even with dealing with Lex Luthor himself, Superman drops him off in the prison yard with hardly one mark on him. This Superman is about helping and protecting, not beating people to death. He’s….what’s the word I’m looking for? A hero.

Synder could also learn a thing or two about franchising from Donner’s 1978 Superman. This was a movie made at the same time as Superman II. We meet Zod and his companions in the opening scene. We see them flying through space in the Phantom Zone as infant Kal-El heads to Earth. And that’s it. There’s no 15 minute scene in the middle of the movie that makes no sense. There’s no one looking at pertinent files in the middle of the action to give upcoming clues to something. It’s just two very small scenes that establish who the baddies are for the next movie without obstructing this movie even a little bit.

This Superman movie had its faults, but it managed to feel like Superman throughout the entire movie and most of the movie still holds up today almost four decades later.

– Jack Cameron

Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

It’s really nice to see a live action version of the conflict between two classic and iconic superheroes. One dresses in red and is known for truth and justice. The other dresses in black and is a vigilante who takes down street level criminals. One has powers. The other relies on his own particular set of skills and weapons. Each has a very clear code they live by. Each is a fully developed three dimensional character both in the comics and on screen. Their conflict is obvious, inevitable, and amazing to watch. I am of course talking about Season 2 of Daredevil and Daredevil’s battle with the Punisher.

In Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice almost none of that is true. Superman played by Henry Cavill stands around posing and acting as if he gets paid less every time he says a word. Batman played by Ben Affleck is clearly doing his absolute best with what little he has to work with. Both characters look as amazing as their characters are hollow. BvS is a very beautiful movie. Many shots look like they should be posters. Zack Snyder clearly has an eye for iconic imagery. He simply fails to understand what icons are or what they represent.

BvS begins the way Man of Steel ended. It revisits the final fight between Superman and Zod in which thousands of people are killed. It turns out that one of the dozens of destroyed buildings in Metropolis belongs to Bruce Wayne and that someone named Jack was in the building when it was destroyed. Jack clearly means something to Bruce, but it’s hard to say who he was to Bruce or what he means because Zack Snyder never gives us any context to know that.

We also get to see a flashback to Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered. Again. This is a scene I have personally seen on the big screen three times now in three different movies. This was the least dynamic and least interesting version of it. Not only because it added nothing that wasn’t scene in 1989 in Batman or 2005 in Batman Begins, but because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Batman in this movie. Ben Affleck’s Batman seemingly has no problem with killing or with guns. Whatever problems he may have had with these things in the past he is clearly over them.

There is also an extended dream-within-a-dream sequence that has nothing to do with anything that happens in the rest of the entire movie. It’s clearly there as a ham-fisted building block for the DC Cinematic Universe. It has a bunch of stuff that looks really cool but makes no sense. And I get that this is supposed to be intriguing and make us ask questions, but the first question I thought to ask was, “Is the digital file they’re using corrupt or something because this scene seems like it’s come out of nowhere?”

Batman wants to take down Superman because he’s an alien who helped destroy most of a city. Superman wants to take down Batman because he’s a vigilante who brands people or something. Later on it seems the screenwriters realized this was a weak reason and decided to have Lex Luthor blackmail Superman into fighting Batman. Lex happens to do this on the same night that Batman chooses to openly challenge Superman to a fight though Lex and Batman aren’t working together it’s just a fantastic coincidence.

Lex, by the way is played by Jesse Eisenberg who seems to be playing Lex like a cross between his Mark Zuckerberg character from The Social Network and Tweek from South Park. He apparently has some sort of beef with God, but since he can’t kill God, he’s going out of his way to find a way to kill Superman.

Have you noticed how each paragraph of this review makes sense on its own and fits with a movie review of Batman Vs. Superman but none of it seems to flow together very well? That’s pretty much how Batman Vs. Superman is constructed. It’s a series of scenes that try to tell a story but doesn’t do it very well and at times it’s jarring. I think there is a very simple reason for this: Zack Snyder doesn’t know how to tell a story well.

In a well written story the characters have clear motivations, clear goals, and clear obstacles to those goals. Through the process of overcoming these obstacles and trying to attain these goals the characters change and we learn who they are. To explain this further I will use the example of the movie Lethal Weapon.

In Lethal Weapon, Martin Riggs is a suicidal cop who misses his wife who was recently killed. Murtaugh is a 50-year-old cop who feels he’s getting too old for the street. In the course of the movie Riggs learns to connect with someone by becoming friends and partners with Murtaugh. And Murtaugh learns that he’s still got what it takes to work the street. Through that first movie we get a clear idea of who each of our main characters are and though they start out with a lot of animosity towards one another, the story propels them through changes that make them friends for life.

When you have a story with three dimensional characters the plot is dictated by who they are. What happens between the characters is inevitable given the circumstances that they are in. Riggs puts himself in harm’s way over and over again in the beginning of the movie because he does not care if he lives or dies. It’s not until the end of the movie that he realizes that someone cares for him. He gives his partner the bullet he was going to use to kill himself to symbolize this change in him and it tells us everything we need to know about his character.

In Batman Vs. Superman I couldn’t tell you much about any of the characters. Both Batman and Superman kill people in this movie, but neither of them kill Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor seems to want Superman dead but is only keeping tabs on people like Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aqua Man. Zod is reanimated by Lex as Doomsday but is basically a less articulate version of the Hulk with no motivation beyond being a monster. Lois Lane spends most of the movie being a damsel in distress though at one point she takes a Kryptonite spear and throws it into a pool of water for no apparently reason other than it needs to be there later for another scene. Superman will always save Lois Lane and it’s clear that they have a relationship but the lack of chemistry between the two actors along with a screenplay that barely touches on what their relationship is makes things less clear. Batman has endured more loss than any on screen Batman before him, but whether that loss changed him or not is anyone’s guess since we never see him before those tragedies.

In a couple of months Captain America: Civil War is coming out. The trailers show that this movie will pit Captain America against Iron Man. What’s the difference between this and Batman Vs. Superman? Marvel has spent seven movies with Iron Man and Captain America. We know these characters because we’ve spent time with them working together and separately. We know what each of these characters stand for and what they’re willing to do for what they feel is right. We’ve seen the escalating tension since their very first meeting in Avengers. They have built this conflict in an organic and character-driven way that is completely missing from the DC Cinematic Universe. Zack Snyder is essentially asking us to care about characters because they are named after iconic characters but he never lets us get to know them and so it’s impossible to care unless you imbue them with thoughts and feelings you already have for them. If the only way I can care about your characters is to relate them to characters they are supposedly based on from another medium, you have failed as a filmmaker.

You can call Batman Vs. Superman a lot of things, but you cannot in any real way call it a well told story and without a good story, you cannot have a good movie.

– Jack Cameron

 

 

 

The Rock 20 Years Later

therockAs anyone who knows me will attest I am a huge Aaron Sorkin fan. I own most of his movies and television shows. This includes movies where he just did some script-doctoring and is not listed as a writer. One of those movies is The Rock. I had not watched this movie in a few years and it was interesting to see what stuck out at me this time around.

For those who haven’t seen it The Rock is a 1996 movie in which Ed Harris and a bunch of rogue Marines steal a bunch of missiles with poison gas, take over Alcatraz Island and threaten to kill everyone in San Francisco if their demands for one hundred million dollars aren’t met. The good guys send in a SEAL Team and Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery to save the day.

Watching this as an Aaron Sorkin movie is a bit of a stretch but there are familiar bits. West Wing fans will notice that John Spencer is in this one. The scenes involving White House staff sound very West Wing-like. But since he only did the polish on it, it’s hard to accurately say that all the best lines in the movie are his fault. Still, sometimes it’s clearer than others.

The Rock is directed by Michael Bay. He is not one of my favorites. He likes explosions way too much. (On the commentary for Armageddon he mentions how BMW gave them money to use their car which allowed for more explosions.) However, I feel this movie is his best one.

The main reason for this is that it’s not just an action movie. The main characters grow and change. (To avoid spoilers, skip this paragraph.) Ed Harris’s General Hummel realizes he doesn’t want to kill innocent people. Nicolas Cage’s Stanley Goodspeed realizes he has what it takes to work in the field. Sean Connery’s John Mason learns to trust someone again.

Twenty years after I first saw this movie in theaters it’s still highly enjoyable. That said, in 2016 I see some significant flaws as well. There are effectively no women in this movie. Stanley has a girlfriend who we see basically complain in every single scene she is in. Mason has a daughter who is in exactly one scene and she effectively does nothing (which is too bad given that she’s played by Claire Forlani who is awesome). There’s also the problem that anyone who isn’t white is either playing a stereotype, a bad guy, or essentially an extra. None of this was strange twenty years ago, but these days it sort of sticks out as a severe diversity problem.

On the flip side, there are things in this 1996 movie that surprised me such as the President saying that we are ‘at war with terror’ and one of the terrorists having a man bun.

All in all, it was an enjoyable movie watching experience and The Rock remains a solid action movie with good three dimensional characters.

– Jack Cameron