Archive | January, 2009

Abercrombie & Fitch Ad a Tour de Force

30 Jan

Abercrombie & Fitch’s new advertisement (available here), filmed in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, is a tour de force of sociological documentary filmmaking.  While some critics may see the spot as just another attempt to sell shirts by exploiting sexy models and the retro rhythm and blues of Duffy’s “Mercy,” in reality the piece underscores the dire economic conditions and resulting anomie facing the region.

The opening shot of stately coastal homes and sailboats establishes a seemingly exclusive and monied setting.  However, this feint is followed by a reel of hard-hitting economic reality.   The black and white format adds  the existential gravity of film noir.

The lack of a shirt on the male character immediately symbolizes a grave issue facing young people in Maine today.  There is an undeniable lack of well-paying jobs for those in the “recently graduated” demographic. Many of our educated youth are forced to leave the state in search of employment in Boston, New York, or even the West Coast. Those who stay often can’t afford clothes. It may come to down to a choice of wearing a shirt or pants.

There are shots of the young man hauling a row boat to the shore, an indictment of the dying fishing industry. Subsequent scenes of him running with his dog show how Maine men have been reduced to their most primitive state: That of the pre-historic hunter-gatherer who domesticated wolves to aid his survival.

The young woman in the piece also reinforces the theme.  Her first extended scene shows her driving.  She is coming from somewhere else, both in place and in opportunity. Her face is serious and determined. She knows the hardship her man is facing. The film ends with the couple embracing in a field, though it is clearly established that he will be leaving with her.  Oppurtunity and hope exist where she lives.  There he will be able to afford pants and a shirt.

Dick Cheney Wheeling Out of Office

20 Jan

 

"I knew I should have let the butler take the box from Halliburton."

Cheney: "I knew I should have let the butler take the box from Halliburton."

Dick Cheney will be in a wheelchair as he leaves office today, due to pulling a muscle in his back while moving boxes into his new home in McClean, Virginia.

That Halliburton gold must be heavy.

The George W. Bush Years: Retrospective and Legacy

12 Jan

Most of those analyzing George W Bush’s years as President will offer a legacy of questionable decisions, confusing policy, and abject failure.  But the evaluation of any administration should be rooted in actual results.   A historical comparison reveals that the Bush years might not be the disaster they seem.

I, George W

Both conservative and liberal media have hammered aspects of George W Bush’s reign, including the war in Iraq, economic disparity, unwarranted firing of federal judges, increasing national debt, the failure to capture Osama Bin Laden, etc..,.   The list could continue until my hands cramped.  However, if the W. Bush presidency is looked at through the prism of the Roman Emperor Claudius (10BC-54AD), the subject of Robert Graves’ seminal historical novels I, Claudius  and Claudius the God, one realizes that Bush may deserve more credit than he is generally given.

Parallels between Claudius and George W are evident.  Claudius was a stammering, afflicted member of a royal family who considered him unsuitable for governing.  George W also possesses a certain lack of grace with spoken language.  And while Claudius was left to study history (a laughable undertaking for a “royal”) at the outskirts of his family, George W founded several oil exploration companies, all funded by family and friends, all of which lost money.  Bush persevered, however, and was elected Governor of Texas.  He then won the presidency in an unlikely manner, as it was his opponent who had garnered the most votes.  In his ascension, Claudius was named Emperor by Palace Guards just hours after Caligula, the sitting Emperor, was stabbed to death.  It helped that Claudius was the last surviving member of the ruling line. 

Claudius, however, had little desire to be Emperor.  He hoped for a restoration of the Roman Republic over the dictatorship that his family had engineered two generations earlier.  According to Graves, Claudius had a plan to insure that restoration.  He would govern so poorly that the Roman Senate would have no choice but to rise and re-establish the Republic.  Instead, Claudius found an assemblage who for the most part did not care how they were governed as long as there was money to be made and food to eat.  Although Claudius ultimately failed to reinstate the Republic, his attempt was a noble one.   

George W implemented a similar strategy.  His head-scratching, imperial governing was no accident.  Instead of letting corporate interests and the moneyed elite rule in perpetuity, Bush hoped to incite the average American to reclaim the rights and powers that the Founding Fathers had bestowed him.  Every move was designed to force the masses into action.  Perhaps because of the incessant heat or a mediocre educational system, Florida wasn’t able to help George W achieve his goal in ‘04.  But after four more years of effort, Bush seems to have succeeded. We are only days away from the Obama Administration.

Clearly, George W took it upon himself to return our Democratic Republic to the people.  It is the only way that his actions make sense:  Reading The Pet Goatto school children for seven minutes after finding out the country was under attack; misleading the country into an unneeded and unwanted war; positing the executive branch above the legislative and judicial; practically ignoring one of our greatest cities in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  If not to cultivate outrage and force the American public into responsible action, then why?  George W went into his Presidency with a plan and he executed it well.  The citizenry demanded change. Mission accomplished, indeed.    

(This post contains updated content from a previous Hangover post.  Enjoy the encore presentation.)

Israeli Offensive Paves Road to Peace

7 Jan

The Israeli offensive that steamrolled into the Gaza strip on December 27th is a real step toward ending Middle East violence.   It is also a real step toward ending the Middle East.  And that is one sorry way to halt the seemingly never-ending conflict.      

In a March 2008 post, The Hangover deconstructed Israeli-Palestinian violence in sociological terms.  Conflict theory and historical perspectives were applied to understand what could bring an end to the conflict:  Creation of a Palestinian state and the conceding of occupied land.  However, Israel has once again chosen another path.  In response to Hamas rockets constantly being shot into their country, the Israelis have (ironically) launched a blitzkrieg into Gaza, an area populated by 1.1 million Palestinians, 50% of whom are children.   To date, over 600 Palestinians have been killed, a quarter of whom are confirmed civilians.  Six Israeli soldiers have also died.  One million Palestinians are without electricity, 700, 000 without water.   Yesterday, Israeli mortars took out a school being used as a shelter, killing 30.  To say that Israel has its boot on Gaza’s throat is an understatement.

The strategic objective of this attack is to end Hamas’  firing of rockets into Israel.   It’s proven effective.  Only fifteen were fired yesterday.  Apparently, progress is being made.  Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated:  

“We hope this fighting will be a swift episode.  We have no interest to endlessly drag it on, but only if two basic principles are reached we will be in a position to end it: The complete cessation of the (arms) smuggling and Hamas losing its ability to fire rockets. I have sworn not to allow our great nation to withstand any situation that will require the mercy of those who fire out the rockets.”

Once again, this is a short-sighted, brawn-over-brains policy.  To end the rocket fire under current conditions, the Israelis will need to occupy Gaza.  And there’s nothing in the history of Israel-Palestine relations that indicates a force-fueled cessation of conflict will be more than temporary.   So what will Israel gain?

Regardless of which country is “right” and which is “wrong,” each resident of Gaza will consider this offensive the same way the Polish and French regarded the Nazi blitzkrieg.  Each dead Palestinian has relatives, friends, workmates.  Each survivor becomes a potential future terrorist.  In World War Two terms, those fighting the occupiers were called “the Resistance.”

The great fear of statesmen around the world is that terrorists gain the means and  materials to create a weapon of  mass destruction.  Whether this is a nuclear, dirty, chemical, or biological weapon remains to be seen.   But as time progresses, the chances of such a device being acquired by terrorists becomes more likely (despite the efforts of the United Nations, Jack Bauer, and various intelligence agencies).  If a WMD does fall into Palestinian hands, there will be one target:  Israel.  

The current Israeli offensive will come to its definitive end when that WMD is deployed.   It might not happen next week or next year.  The bomb might not drop for decades.  But unless Israel stops fostering the conditions that perpetually create terrorists, it will happen.  All those in the region are under siege.  

At some point a Palestinian terrorist (or resistance fighter), perhaps one whose child has been ripped to pieces by an Israeli mortar, will push the button.   Maybe then—when the region is leveled, covered in radiation, or suffering from anthrax—compromise will be possible, provided there’s anyone or anything left to contest.