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By Michael Howard

 

I spent most of the Republican debate of Tuesday, December 15th, the final GOP presidential candidate gathering of the year, puzzling over how anybody could possibly take it seriously.

I also wondered whether the candidates were actually as ignorant as they presented themselves to be. Do they really have no grasp of the situation in Syria, or are they just pretending not to? Is serious policy discussion simply too much for the American public to process? I suppose it’s possible. Scratch that—it’s probable. Definitely probable.

ISIS, naturally, was the overriding topic of debate, despite there being only one quasi-ISIS-inspired attack in the United States to date. 

Every person on the stage spoke loudly and confidently about the importance of developing a “strategy” to destroy the Islamic State. But lo and behold, nothing resembling a strategy was discussed. Instead we heard a lot of vague talk about coalitions, boots (grounded or otherwise), and bombs.

Ted Cruz found himself dodging questions about his prescription to “carpet bomb” areas of Syria and Iraq currently controlled by ISIS (and packed with civilians). His response – that he only meant precision strikes on strategic ISIS positions – suggests that he either doesn’t know what carpet bombing is, or he just now realized that his proposed solution essentially amounts to genocide. I’m not sure which is more disquieting. 

Similarly, Donald Trump was asked to explain his comments about murdering the families of suspected terrorists. His response was that we need to be “tough” about this stuff. The family members of the San Bernardino attackers, he argued, "saw the pipe bombs all over the floor”—they knew what was going on, what was coming. Therefore, kill them.

But does Trump really mean that? I seriously doubt it. I think he’s someone who is so accustomed to running his mouth off without being held accountable for what comes out of it that he can’t help himself. Does he hate Muslims? Does he even dislike them? Again, I doubt it. But you know who does? A good chunk of his voter base, that’s who. And Trump, it turns out, is not afraid of being perceived as bigoted or fascist or anything else. The Donald doesn’t care. He’s a demagogue’s demagogue. 

It should be noted that, in spite of his glibness and vulgarity, Trump occasionally makes a lot of sense. The Iraq war was a shockingly bad foreign policy decision (he called it back in 2003). Nuclear proliferation is the world’s most serious issue. The U.S. does need to stop burning trillions of dollars on wars of choice. These are good, common sense points—and ones that scarcely make it into the mainstream political discourse. But, just as he couldn’t care less about coming across as racist, Trump couldn’t care less about defending and justifying the misdeeds of past Republican administrations. George W. Bush was shit—and Trump will call a spade a spade.

Which is not to write that Trump should even be running for president, let alone leading the pack. 

By Michael Howard

Much is being made of the apparent contempt for fundamental democratic values – the ones that form the bedrock of a free and heterogeneous society – emerging on college campuses across the country, and rightfully so. Legitimacy of grievances aside (and I do not doubt for a moment that, in most cases, they are legitimate), the means being employed to redress those grievances must, for the sake of everything, be subject to scrutiny.

There is a new breed of social activist being mobilized, according to whom the guarding of individual feelings takes precedence over everything else, including the essential right of people to express themselves freely and openly. In this particular bubble, the First Amendment (arguably the most primal element of our Constitution) becomes a mere technicality—something to be abrogated when doing so is expedient.

The folly of this mode of thinking is such that it should not require spelling out. But, in light of recent events, it appears that many (ostensibly well-meaning) people have totally lost the plot, their behavior typifying what has come to be known by some as the “regressive left.”

By Michael Howard

 

Considering all the media attention bestowed upon the small army of Republican candidates running for president, you could perhaps be excused for thinking that any of them stand a chance at winning a general election. But let me clarify: they don’t.

 Why don’t they stand a chance, you ask? Because they’re a bunch of twits.

 According to the latest polls, the two leading candidates for the GOP nomination are Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Neither man has held public office. Which means that, between the two of them, they have zero political experience. But that’s only part of the problem.

 Carson is a neurosurgeon who believes the world was created in six days. (How’s that for cognitive dissonance?) During last month’s CNN debate, he refused to distance himself from Trump’s boneheaded remarks about the supposed link between vaccines and autism. No such link exists, and perpetuating that myth is, in addition to being profoundly stupid, actually quite dangerous. Here was a golden opportunity for Carson to unequivocally assert that Trump’s comments were unscientific and irresponsible, and he chose not to. If that’s not considered a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, it certainly should be.

In addition to that, Carson has implicitly compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, and has all but blamed the victims of the recent Umpqua Community College massacre in Roseburg, Oregon for not being courageous enough. Since the shooting, he has been by far the loudest and most obnoxious of the gun fiends, going so far as to suggest that teachers everywhere be equipped with firearms in class.

 

By Michael Calleri

 Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin seems uninterested in either the benefits or negatives of technology. Paying attention to these aspects of our brave new world would compel him to write screenplays with depth and a modicum of intelligent interpretation, thus avoiding the mundane superficiality he brought to “The Social Network” and currently brings to the ponderous “Steve Jobs.”

 Sorkin is a playground bully, albeit cinematically. He taunts rather than thinks. As a writer, he’s a churlish brat, one willing to mock, rather than analyze.

 In “The Social Network,” a moderate hit, Sorkin pushed and shoved his viewpoint that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was a cold, insular, insufferable, and friendless bore.

 In “Steve Jobs,” which failed at the box office on its opening weekend, Sorkin again delivers a central figure, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who is a cold, insular, insufferable, and friendless bore.

 Both Zuckerberg and Jobs are infinitely more complex, and interesting, than Sorkin seems capable of handling.

 In neither movie does he dare to tackle the effects – the technological benefits (or drawbacks) – of what Zuckerberg and Jobs did, how both men helped change, certainly with the assistance of others, the way people interact and communicate.

 Writing a multi-layered screenplay about “objects” and the global desire to reach out is much more difficult than writing a screenplay that paints pictures of men who, in Sorkin’s vapid view of the world, are egomaniacal misanthropes. Essentially, they are mean little trolls, contemptuous of those around them.

 Hostile dialogue is easy to write. Context eludes Sorkin.

 Not only is “Steve Jobs” shallow, but it’s also repetitive, often mind-numbingly so. The events seen in the film take place in three sections. If this were the theater, there’d be three acts. Not much would be required to mount a stage production of the movie. It’s that mechanical.

In each part, Jobs (played well, but not great, by Michael Fassbender) is backstage at a San Francisco-area auditorium, theater, or concert hall) preparing to launch one of his early computing products. There is no exploration as to how the specific computer came to be. Sorkin only wants his film to expose Jobs’s sins, not offer insights into why he’s preparing to take a bow before a rapturous audience.

 

A young lawyer comes to town from the Boston area and with great hubris brands himself the Buffalo-pundit all the while living in suburban (white bread) Clarence and thereby gains entrance to the lucrative networking game called local politics.

The irony has not been lost on many people. Complaints about his white suburban roots are old but very real. In his political commentaries on local politics, he has taken on the role of being the white knight of “liberal” political reform.

The phrase getting Bedenkoed was coined by the answer-lady (a University Heights blogger) during a blogging feud with Belenko over his legitimacy in calling himself the Buffalo-pundit while living in Clarence. She recalled her experience of being bullied and laughingly referred to being Bedenkoed. But it got serious for her. She felt her job was being threatened. At one point when her boss asked her about her blogging and expressed disproval. (At the time she worked at a local college.)

Lots of folks have gotten Bedenkoed over the years: Pigeon, Jack Daves, Chris Collis, Crazy Carl. They usually are the enemies of the present Democratic Party leadership.

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