How Star Trek Shaped Me As A Man & Can Shape Us As A People

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Over the many years I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve gushed so much about how much I love Star Trek, and I know you’re probably sick of it by now. But today is the 50th Anniversary of the first episode, and I just wanted to share a few personal thoughts on why the show means so much to me.

I can’t tell you how much Star Trek has meant to me as a person. I first fell in love with the show watching The Original Series in reruns after school. By the late 1980s, I was addicted to its sequel, The Next Generation. And of course, I breathlessly watched all of the movies as they came out in the theatres. It played such an instrumental part in the formation of my values and morality as a young man watching that show. It meant so much to that young boy, and to the man I’ve become. It speaks to every fibre of my being.

Star Trek captures everything about the human condition, and about all that humanity IS capable of. As dark as it sometimes can get, Star Trek is a show driven by optimism, and the hopes and dreams of one tiny planet, amongst a sea of neighbors we may not even know yet. Admittedly, we’ve got a long ways to go on our own small planet, before we can truly hope to populate space with that kind of hope and goodwill, but it all starts with a dream.

You may say you hate Science-Fiction, but despite all the tecnobabble you may hear, Star Trek was never about gadgets and science. It is about people. People from all genders, races, religions, creeds, orientations, and yes…species…all trying to get along in the Universe, and trying to find peace and common ground. It is an allegory. In the mid-1960s, television shows simply could not talk about racism, classism, sexism, etc. Science Fiction was the perfect cover, and was used as a way to address social issues in a vaguely familiar way, but set in a distant future and in a far off place. It allowed the creator, Gene Roddenberry, to tackle the injustices he saw in the turbulent world around him. And spoiler alert: the same issues which are plaguing our world today. Star Trek has used analogous alien species and fictional conflicts to address real world problems, such as sexism, racism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Cold War, bioethics, Artificial Intelligence and sentience, capital punishment, religious intolerance, bigotry, class warfare, and even drug abuse, to name a few. Star Trek is not some action-packed adventure story with ray-guns and bad prosthetics (I mean, yeah, that’s all there)! Star Trek was the most cutting edge and provocative show of its generation, and STILL CAN BE! The job is not done. Star Trek still has a vital role to play in our society.

You see, Star Trek is not about space, but about the space in between. The space between you and me, and how we can close that gap, bridge that gulf that lies between us. It’s about an idea. An idea that humankind has a future in space, and can be ambassadors of peace and tolerance. But first, we must start with ourselves. That’s not Science-Fiction. But it could be Science-FACT. It’s already within us, we just need to have the courage to be able to find it before it’s too late.

My friend Bill Doughty expressed a few thoughts on Star Trek that I’ve shared below. He meaningfully articulates some points that I may have missed. His words, like mine, are love letters. Love letters to a show that has given generations of hopeful dreamers a place to hang their hats, and hold out hope for tomorrow. A chance to boldly go where no one has gone before…

Happy 50th Anniversary to Star Trek!!!  Live Long and Prosper.

From a post by Bill Doughty from Facebook (September 8, 2016):

“I’ve enjoyed reading people’s thoughts on Star Trek today. I’ve always loved Trek for the simple reason that no matter the series or format, it has always been about one thing: look at everything we could accomplish if we could only *get over ourselves.* But at the same time, it expresses that idea a million different ways across any sort of plot, genre, or storytelling medium you can imagine. Honestly, there’s at least one Star Trek story out there to speak to every man, woman, and child on earth, and if you say you’re the exception you’re wrong amd probably just trying to impress someone.

But whether it’s a TV show, movie, book, gamw, comic, or cartoon, and whether it’s tense, moody, silly, creepy, exciting, dark, thoughtful, or, yes, occasionally stupid, that same optimism is always there, hardwired into the DNA. Accept, tolerate, embrace, and explore, and there’s little we won’t be able to accomplish.

And we’ll also get teleporters and food replicators. You know you’d be down with that.”

The Democracy of Youth

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed many of my friends rediscovering and embracing their ethnic and cultural heritage. My Jewish friends have starting going back to temple and are exposing their children to their rich Jewish heritage, my Christian friends are doing mission trips and baptizing their children, my black friends are celebrating their shared history and struggles. I am grateful to see people taking stock of their lives and finding enrichment in their cultural legacy. However, I think back to what made us friends in high school and college, and our mutual loves of theatre, or literature, or debate, or heck, even partying and having a good time. The time we spent in the dorms together, and in plays together. It didn’t seem to matter then what anyone was, or where we came from. Rich or poor. Christian or non-Christian. Gay or straight. We were students. We were friends. We were lovers. 

I know people have to grow up. I know people mature, and perhaps become more conservative. I know priorities change, and people need to start thinking of their families, their finances, and their futures.

As we find our way into middle age, children, and spouses. As we find our way back into our cultural traditions and religious institutions, and as we isolate ourselves within our pockets of friends and families who share our same beliefs and values, we must never forget those times we had together, and the people who diversified our lives and made us stronger as individuals. As we get older, we must surely celebrate where our families came from and recapture our identities as Atheists, Christians, Jews, Gays, Blacks, Asians, etc. but never forget the rich rainbow of colors we had in our youth. As we separate, and go our separate ways, we must never forget what brought us all together in the first place. As we vote in these upcoming elections, and as we look to shape the future of this country, remember the friends you’ve made along the way, and recall that you loved them once. For a reason. Don’t ever let that love go. Stand united, my friends. Let’s truly make America great for EVERYONE.diversity forum flyer graphic_0

Trump’s Thugs: An Uglier Campaign Gets Even Uglier

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Well, we certainly are seeing the character of these Trump supporters. Yelling vulgarities, spitting racist vitriol, punching out protesters, throwing up the ‘Sieg Heil ‘ salute, and generally, just being horrible human beings. THIS is apparently the way they’d like to make ‘America Great Again.’

Everyone knows I’m a liberal Democrat, but I have many conservative friends and family. I try and respect everyones’ point of view, and really don’t like the idea of invalidating another person’s opinion or censoring their freedom of speech. I’m also not a huge fan of political correctness, but for very different reasons, and I certainly find this kind of anti-P.C. crap revolting. I try to be open-minded.

And yet, I struggle to see any worth or value in these Trump supporters. I am ashamed to share a country with them. And I’m sorry, I know it’s insensitive of me, but I can’t help but wishing people like this couldn’t vote. Naturally, the democratic idealist in me believes everyone deserves a vote, but the human in me rejects all the hatred and violence they stand for AND that their collective vote could potentially destroy all the progress we’ve genuinely made in this country.

I know many of my friends are writing on their walls: “If you’re a Trump supporter, please unfriend me immediately.” I have really tried to reject saying such things, and giving such ultimatums. I think we should all have a mixture of friends, of various cultures and political beliefs. But man, it’s getting harder and harder for me to resist making the same declaration. How can I condone such hatred and violence? All I can say is, if you’re a Trump fan, we clearly have VERY different values and principles, and I pity anyone who has so much anger in their hearts.

Ignorant Bliss: The Distinction of Knowledge

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I just saw someone comment on the recent picture of the woman at last night’s Trump rally doing the Nazi salute and say, ‘Stupid, stupid woman. Of all inadequacies, ignorance is the worst.”

I take some exception to this comment, and would simply clarify a very important detail.

IGNORANCE IS A REALITY. It is what far too many people deal with all across this country and world. There are people who are poor and uneducated, and who are simply born with a disproportionate degree of ignorance. Some of them attended failing public schools, and were simply not given the privileges of knowledge and discernment like the rest of us. Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know. That’s just the way it works out sometimes. Some people are ignorant through no fault of their own.

WILLFUL IGNORANCE IS THE WORST. It’s the people who are defiantly and willfully ignorant who are the worst. These are the people who pride themselves on following authoritarian rule, are anti-intellectual, anti-science and technology, and just plain happily dumb. They eat this shit up. These are the ones who do not care about facts or the truth. When confronted with Trump’s lies, they simply respond, “It doesn’t matter. Who cares about the facts? He tells it like it is.” THIS is the way they want to make “America Great Again.” Yes, they are ignorant. But not necessarily through chance or misfortune. They are ignorant because they CHOOSE to be!

The #NoFilter Hashtag & The Masks We Wear Online

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The #NoFilter hashtag embodies everything I hate about Instagram and social media. Everyone’s so f–ing special these days — yet also so f-ing sensitive too — so we end up patting ourselves on the back for those rare occasions we peel back the artifice, shed our false masks, and actually post those rare and untouched photos. During these infrequent flashes of vulnerability, we actually reveal a glimpse of our true selves — double chins and all — and feel both naked and exhilarated at the same time.

There once was a time when we all lived unfiltered, and actually looked like we do in pictures — ugly warts and all. Our amateur photos were clumsy and artless, and no one expected our pictures to look like they were shot by Ansel Adams or your selfies to look like Giselle. We were short, we were tall, we were skinny, we were fat, and we were all painfully average and awkward. We didn’t all have manicured public personas, managed as an agent might style and craft a Hollywood celebrity. Nowadays, we’re all stars of our own biopics. We’re always crafting and shaping,  photoshopping and editing, and endlessly touching up our messy life stories and making them neat and glamorous.

 

I’d like to think I try and live a #NoFilter life not because I don’t desperately care what other people think of me, but because I care about what I think of myself. I try to be a good man, but I am deeply flawed and fail often. I am not always proud of my actions, but I’d be even more ashamed to not own them. I am painfully human, and cannot live my life any other way. That means I do a lot of apologizing, and invariably depend upon the kindness of friends and strangers. I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way, and I regret that sometimes. At other times, I realize that if they were true friends, they would have stuck around and given me the benefit of the doubt. I can’t look like I’d like to look in a selfie, but not because I can’t suck in my cheeks or add a clever filter, but because I’d know that wasn’t me. You might not. But I’d know.

We live in a society which increasingly demands us to be skinnier, grow taller, have higher cheekbones, and craft our online personas to comply with what society expects of us. These days, we must all be models, professional photographers, gifted writers, star athletes, and of course, have adorable children and cute pets. Our marriages must be happy and visibly vibrant. While single men over 30 are broken and suspicious, childless women are objects of pity. We all have fascinating and well read blogs, clever Pinterest walls, professional and elegant websites, sexy and endlessly interesting online dating profiles, and humble-brag status posts which remind the rest of Facebook that we’re still winning the Internet and always happy always. Happy. And damn, do we look good…

This is me with #NoFilter and perhaps it is why I am single and childless, but I don’t know any other way to live. If that means I fail the Internet, and am a dinosaur of the digital age, so be it. I still manage to sleep at night.

My Brother’s Keeper: Being The Change You Wish To See in the World

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I’ve come to begrudgingly accept that there may fundamentally be two types of people in the world — those who venture boldly into society driven by a curious and open mind, a compassionate heart, a commitment to lifelong learning, a desire to see the world, an urge to meet new and unique people, be exposed to new cultures, and learn from everyone they meet. These are the goodwill ambassadors of peace, justice, and service to those in most need of our care.

Then there are the rest. 

These are the souls who were raised in a way that places little value in education and seeking out facts and verifiable truths in the world. They view society with suspicion, see terror around every corner, and demonize those who are different or challenge their rigid and narrow-minded view of the world. These types are often guided by an inflexible and intolerant belief system and strict ideology. They operate from a place of fear, distrust, willful ignorance, selfishness, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, provincialism, anti-intellectualism, fervent nationalism, aggressive patriotism, an ‘I got mine — don’t expect a thing from me’ attitude, irrational and misguided fears of foreign cultures, a lack of empathy, outright hostility towards science and academia, and a hypocritical condemnation of the values and dissolute lives of those they disapprove of.

Naturally, the world is wide and diverse, and people fall at all different points on this spectrum. And yet, I am convinced humans are raised and/or genetically predisposed to generally fall into one category or another.

John Lennon once sang:

‘You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.’

I’d rather be naive and idealistic, with the possibility of forging friendships and building lasting peace, then approach the world with fear, aggression, and rabid mistrust. What those in the second category don’t realize is that the very fear and malicious attitude they direct at Muslims and those who are different is the very behavior which breeds enmity and gives rise to radical Islamic terrorism in the first place. People aren’t born terrorists. They learn it. They are driven towards it. And more often than not, we taught it to them. The quickest way to make a terrorist is attack his nation unprovoked, seize his oil and government, and occupy his land for years — taking away his autonomy and ability to self-govern. ISIS didn’t exist until we invaded Iraq. The only weapons of mass destruction there was us. If you want to see more radicalized Muslim attacks in this country, then by all means, threaten the welfare and livelihood of Muslims, and make them feel unwelcome in their own country. It’s remarkable what a little dignity and respect will earn you. And frightening what a little oppression can provoke.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

A House Divided: How Hatred Aimed At Any Group, Is an Assault On Us All

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I’m sorry, but you have no credibility when you preach faith and scripture out one side of your mouth, and then horrid, intolerant, bigoted, and racist rhetoric out the other. Over the past several days, I have seen nothing but vitriol and hateful fear-mongering in countless memes posted by people I once knew in high school, relatives, and even people I thought I knew better than that. Words matter. Facts matter. Hell, even spelling and grammar matter! These hastily assembled Right-wing propaganda screeds are sloppy, factually inaccurate, full of grammatical and spelling errors, and solely designed to work the faithful flock into an absolute frenzy.
 
Make no mistake, these posts are racist, bigoted, intolerant, uninformed, and hateful, and yet those who spew this garbage somehow justify their offensive behavior by claiming it’s for the good of the country, about national security, their God-given right to bear arms and their last defense against a tyrannical government, or about the very preservation of the Christian values and principles this country was built on. As they see it, only THEY are the true Americans, and somehow, groups of people who may have been here for years (generations), and are loyal and assimilated citizens are outsiders. Outsiders in their own country! They point to homegrown terrorists to prove that even the most seemingly assimilated Muslim families can produce radicalized Islamic terrorists, and no American is safe, with Muslims amongst us. They strenuously object to letting in any Syrian refugees, for fear there will be Islamic extremists among them. Of course, they fail to account for the other 99.9% of homegrown domestic terrorism, perpetrated chiefly by radicalized white Christian males, and compromising the hundreds and hundreds of mass shootings that have occurred increasingly at an average rate of one a day, since 9/11. It is far more likely that an American will be killed by someone who looks like them, than they will of becoming a victim of Islamic terrorism. But that doesn’t fit their narrative. You see, the inconvenient truth is that many of those lone gunmen who shoot up abortion clinics, black churches, schools, and peaceful protests are one of them, and come from out of their ranks….their churches…their anti-government separatist movements, etc. And the rest are severely mentally ill individuals, who somehow fell through the cracks and we failed to see the signs and the writing on the wall.
 
However, it’s important to remember that many in the GOP and Religious Right fail to take responsibility or even recognize their culpability in those ideologically driven shooting sprees, because they fail to see the connection between their angry, divisive, and reckless rhetoric and the actions of those who are undeniably influenced and radicalized by their uncompromising, polarizing and extremist views. Many of these killers are motivated by irrational fears and a sense of duty to avenge and fight on behalf of combatting abortion, protecting gun rights, reversing Obamacare and death panels, targeting blacks and POC in America’s race war, preventing immigrants from entering this country and deporting those already here, and punishing sinners who live gay and alternative lifestyles, among many other sinful and secular offenses.

Those in the far Right media have made careers out of spewing vitriol, hate, and indoctrinating generations of conservatives to hate liberals and progressive, and distrust academics, scientists, environmentalism, the media, Hollywood, those dedicated to social justice and progressive causes. While I agree that there is certainly a liberal bias in the media, at least there is diversity and degrees within that viewpoint. Whereas the Right has a small handful of extremely biased and skewed news sources, starting with the “fair and balanced” Fox News, and heading Right on the spectrum towards bombastic and wildly inaccurate methods of reporting and unapologetic propaganda, with the likes of the Drudge Report, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others. They know full well that their loud and hateful rhetoric is hyperbolic and provokes and stirs up their viewers and listeners, and the more sensational they get, the more it seems their followers…follow.

The problem is, much of this language is inflammatory and incendiary, and potentially very dangerous. It often gets so hateful and strident, it walks a very fine line between inspiring the faithful in common cause and downright inciting a riot and a literal call to arms. This kind of reckless language is perfectly protected by the First Amendment — as it should be — but responsible journalists and media personalities would know there are limits not only to good taste, but to ensuring heated rhetoric doesn’t rise to the level of violence and vengeance. Sadly, there are undoubtedly many unstable followers who don’t have the mental wellness and capacity, nor the tools to decipher talk from action, and right from wrong. With conservative candidates using harsh and antagonistic language, and decrying the Left for its decadent and permissive ways, the GOP dehumanizes their opposition, and paints liberals in very broad strokes. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect to such vitriol and demonizing, is that it doesn’t allow for compromise or negotiation, but rather, sets up the Left as an immoral and devious straw man, who must be stopped and defeated at all costs. This is where the dangerous rhetoric of religious dogma comes into play, and political disagreements and differences of opinion become cast in the much more black and white world of good vs. evil, and the righteous and the wicked. Liberals are cast as the sinful and decadent libertines, awash in their luxuriant lifestyles of sex and permissiveness, and it is these very unbelievers who are the root cause of all of society’s moral decay and the undermining of fundamental Christian values and a virtuous way of life.

It is at a crossroads, where the Religious Right demonize and blame liberals for all the ills of the world, and suggest that the only way to return America to greatness again is to defeat those on the Left, where the real danger lies. It’s in their epic and inflammatory language, the summoning of religious and moral tropes, and a calculated incitement of terror that promises a proverbial (if not literal) apocalyptic end of days if liberals continue to pollute society, where those unstable individuals among us might find fuel for their fires. When liberals are depicted as grotesque murderers of innocent babies, and accused of harvesting fetal tissue for profit and unethical scientific experimentation, what kind of message does that send to the party faithful? Sure, the reasonably well adjusted and sane may be able to condemn such actions without resorting to violence, but what about that small percentage who simply don’t have the capacity to separate committed political action from overt acts of physical violence and bloodshed?

What about that minority of viewers and listeners who are emboldened by inflammatory rhetoric and such savage and self-righteous condemnation from the Right? The lines become blurred in such cases, and those are the instances where the language has simply become too combative and threatens public safety. In no way am I suggesting we curb free speech, but I’m simply pointing out that this divisive language is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It has no place in a civil society. Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. What kind of world do these individuals want to live in, where every chance for compromise and bipartisan cooperation is met with scorn, contempt, and scorched earth defiance and an unwillingness to meet half way? Do they wish to vanquish all Democrats, minorities, and dissenting opinions? It sure seems like there is no end game here, apart from absolutely obliterating the opposition or converting all wicked foes. It’s literally my way or the highway.

There’s a tricky and seemingly intractable obstacle when dealing with those who are fundamentally motivated by faith above reason, fear above facts, exclusion over inclusion, vengeance over forgiveness, exacting justice and punishment over rehabilitation, are distrustful of science, have uncompromising attachments to personal freedoms and civil liberties over the needs of the many, prefer cultural homogeneity to plurality and diversity, and have an unwavering belief in their own righteousness and higher purpose. The most daunting and challenging aspect of dealing with individuals guided by an inflexible — and often misguided — reading of the Bible is that they are convinced to their core that their beliefs are divine and infallible, and any variation from the text is the path of the wicked and dissolute. For example, if we were talking about logic, reason, measurable and quantifiable science, or fact checking and deduction, we would have to necessarily allow time and empirical evidence to dictate the course of our research and the theories we draw. Facts and figures may seem finite and immovable, but in practice, truth and reason are incredibly fluid and compromising. As a general rule, with knowledge and exposure to cultural diversity, it becomes a lot harder to fear, distrust, demonize, oppress, or mistreat our fellow human. Reason, experimentation, and research lead us to such conclusions. However, for those who are compelled by faith alone, we might as well be speaking a different language. That is where the difficulty lies. Their capital T-Truth is unyielding and often quite literally writ in stone. How can you argue with faith? You can’t. It seems we’ve yet to discover the Rosetta Stone that translates between Faithful obedience and science and reason. We are quite honestly speaking two different languages. It’s no wonder we cannot come to a consensus.

Having said all that, I have a faith of my own, and value my own personal spirituality. I think that if there’s a place for science in our society, there should certainly be a place for the metaphysical and divine. Religion can play an invaluable role within a community. I begrudge no man or woman for having deep faith and personally held beliefs and values. In my immediate family, I have several Evangelical Conservative Christians, whom I love dearly, and who I respect and cherish. At the same time, I also fundamentally disagree with about 85% of their beliefs and how they choose to vote and envision a better society. I think many of their views on topics such as immigration, homosexuality, women’s reproductive rights, the death penalty, and others are uninformed, backwards, and sometimes even bigoted. The difference is, it doesn’t mean I love them any less. Nor do I go out of my way to belittle their deeply-held beliefs. Their faith is important to them, and gives them much peace and solace. It would be selfish and hypocritical of me to condemn them for something that guided their life in meaningful and purposeful ways. There’s no science that can account for faith in something greater than one’s self. It’s human nature. If my mother’s devout Evangelical faith gives her comfort and makes her life better and easier in any way, than why would I ever want to deny her that? My version of God and spirituality may not be as rigid or parochial as hers, but it is worthy of respect and consideration. Science-minded and overly-educated liberals often belittle faith and religion, and ridicule those who have it. That kind of behavior is no better than those who would deport all Muslims or make homosexuality illegal. It’s intolerance, plain and simple. We liberals must hold ourselves accountable, and always strive to take the higher road. We must not meet bigotry and contempt with the like, but must model and be the change we wish to see in the world.

Regardless of how accepting I am of various faiths and religions, I am still unrelenting in my insistence they be held accountable for their words and actions, and strive to be a positive force of good in this world, rather than a hateful breeding ground for intolerance and bigotry. And although many conservatives think that all liberals give a free pass to Islam, I am an equal opportunity enforcer of human rights, social justice, charity, empathy, equality, and all of the other egalitarian principles that should comprise any successful civil society.

There is A LOT not to like about some aspects of Islam, and particularly violent and seemingly savage passages of the Koran. It would be disingenuous to suggest that Islam is solely a peaceful religion, and divorce the text from its more ruthless and merciless underpinnings. There are many contradictory and questionable interpretations that one could make, when studying Islam. But by and large, the 99.9% of peaceful Muslims who espouse Islam as a religion of peace are also right. A text is only as useful and just as the people who use and shape it.
Every questionably point I brought up in regards to the Koran can as easily be made about the Bible. The Christian and Jewish Bible is full of numerous contradictions, ambiguous meanings, questionable decisions, far fetched allegory rather than literal truth, a sometimes wrathful…sometimes peaceful divinity, and lots of dictates that are confusing and easy to misread and well open to interpretation. And LOTS of violence and merciless punishment. The Bible can be cruel and savage itself, and again, it all depends on the people wielding that text. My best friend’s father is an Antiochian Priest, and he is very liberal, moderate, inclusive, accepting, compassionate, and uses the Bible as a tool to build bridges, not burn them. This is a man of reason, of science, and of rational dialogue. His faith and convictions are no less deep and committed as, say…a Ted Cruz…but unlike the Texas Senator, he uses his faith to bring people together, not divide them. He celebrates diversity, not condemns it. I only wish the Right had more good-faith brokers of peace and reconciliation for us on the Left to bargain and deal with. I know for a fact that the extremist, divisive, bigoted, and intolerant views of the Religious Right comprising the current crop of Republican Presidential nominees does NOT represent a vast majority of moderate, reasonable, and compassionate Christians and Jews. It says a lot about how broken our system is when a group that once numbered over 20 had essentially the same radical beliefs and ideology. Where is the diversity within the Republican party? It’s increasingly hard to find. 

Getting back to the danger of demagogues and their ability to incite violence, although I would never suggest these shock-jock provocateurs and blustery talking heads are purposefully inciting violence and strategically targeting a cadre of unstable foot soldiers to do their dirty work, and shoot up abortion providers, execute black churchgoers at a Bible study, or blow up a federal government building, that may very well be the unintended outcome. Their language is reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible, and we must hold them accountable for their lies, distortions, and demonizing of those on the Left.

I’m fully aware that the facts are being skewed on both sides of the aisle, and liberals are sometimes spewing all sorts of distorted numbers about guns, blaming firearms outright, and seemingly apologizing for Islam and tiptoeing around the reality that some Muslims are extremists and often susceptible to homegrown radicalization. Naturally, liberals are often victims of their own demagoguery and radical agendas too. The blame goes all around. However, it’s very hard to deny the fact that one side seems to be coming at it from a place of love, inclusion, and social justice, while the other is working from a place of deep pathological fear, distrust, and intolerance.

Surely we can balance national security and the safety of American citizens with the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for EVERY American, regardless of religion, creed, race, gender, orientation, etc. You wouldn’t know it from the Right though. It’s about my guns, my taxes, my land, my religion, my…my…my. That’s not the ideals this country was founded on. The Constitution is bigger than just the Second Amendment. If I can respect your right to own guns, surely we can meet somewhere in the middle to discuss how to keep them out of the hands of criminals. It doesn’t matter that these particular guns were obtained legally. The last ones weren’t, and perhaps the next ones won’t be either. And yet, this reasonable discussion can never take place, because a solid third of this country refuses to even listen to reason, and trust that we’re not even remotely suggesting we take anyone’s guns away. It’s like trying to reason with a child screaming at the top of their lungs with their fingers  stubbornly stuck in their ears.

I sure wish these same people cared as deeply about the other nine amendments as they do the Second, because maybe they’d be holding rallies to ensure the First Amendment protected its citizens from a government impeding their free practice of religion or choice not to practice, rather than erecting Biblical monuments preaching Mosaic Law or calling for prayer in schools. How do they not understand that such measures impede on other people’s freedom of religion? They can worship how they please in the comforts of their own homes and in their houses of worship. The public and municipal setting is a shared space, and one that should be inclusive of all Americans.

Yet somehow I suspect that’s the very sticking point right there. From their actions and words, it’s hard not to conclude that a good number of those on the Right simply believe themselves to be the very successors of liberty and the embodiment of all that is American. Yet, the Constitution would suggest otherwise, protecting all citizens equally under the law, and over time, refining and redefining its protections, to ensure that we are all treated equitably. Republicans are not any more American than that Muslim family who settled in America just last year. If those Muslims are naturalized citizens, they are just as American as a tenth generation white Christian from the south. America is not any one thing, it is a lot of different things, and at the moment, they are all getting mixed together, and we are in a massive state of upheaval. But it takes all kinds, and the sum of our parts must be greater than any one part. That’s what will ultimately unite us as a country. As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently wrote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Perhaps more than at any time in history, we are a country divided. The Civil War may have been fought on the battlefields of Antiedam and Gettysburg over 150 years ago, but we are still deeply divided, and the wounds are still fresh. We are currently fighting vicious and long overdue religious wars, cultural wars, race wars, gender wars, sexual orientation wars, and everything else, at a time in history where it seems one half of our nation longs for the past while the other dreams of the future. One half of America wishes we could return to an idyllic past and simpler way of life, where white Christian values dominated, and people shared similar life stories and beliefs, and the other half recognizes that that America never existed, because it wasn’t fair and just for everyone, as minorities, women, gays, and non-Christian faiths were subjected to intolerable cruelty, slavery, oppression, and worse. For this latter group of people, America is now only starting to deliver on the promise of our forefathers and those immortal words enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and the nation’s best years are actually ahead of us. This is the very nature of progressivism and the liberal movement. It is exactly that…a movement…forward, whereas the Right always seems to be looking back, always trying to recapture that elusive period when “America was Great”…just not for everyone.

 
Some liberals may have resisted calling the recent attacks terrorism, but if so, it’s not because of some conspiratorial love for those who attack America and hate freedom. Why must we hurl those unjust words at each other? Obama doesn’t hate America. Obama is not a Muslim. He is an American President, whose responsibility is to look out for all his citizens, including Muslim Americans. And blacks. And Mexicans. And White Christians. If liberals are reluctant to immediately brand a shooting Islamic terrorism less than 48 hours after the event, it’s only because it’s irrational and unproductive to jump to conclusions without having all the facts. You may recall how quick we were to pin the Oklahoma City bombing on middle eastern terrorists, only to later find out it was perpetrated by a white, agnostic, anti-governent separatist. It’s dangerous to even assume that because someone has an Arab name, they are automatically a Muslim terrorist. I have many Arab friends who are Orthodox Christian. And yet, they are STILL the victims of this anti-Muslim/ Arab witch hunt.

What I particularly hate about this macho and reactionary knee jerk finger-pointing is that it’s crass and undisciplined, and says more about the terror and insecurities of those doing the pointing, than those caught in the crosshairs. It’s not sissy or weak to wait for all the facts, and make well-informed decisions. That’s what those in science and law enforcement do every day. It should also be a virtue found in members of Congress, but one sorely lacking, I’m afraid. After all, politicians on both sides of the aisle profit from a nation gripped by terror and always looking over its shoulder. Rather than appear soft on terror, or explore the complex nuance and narrative of extremism in our world, it’s often easier for politicians to exploit America’s fears of terrorism and Islam, and evoke the specter of 9/11 to prove their own relevance and usefulness. If there ever was a country so blithely unaware of its own post traumatic stress disorder, it’s America – never able to fully forget and never able to fully recover from all that we lost that day. Our innocence was taken from us so cruelly and abruptly, and all we were left with was terror, no closure. Never one to overthink a solution, Bush Jr. struck boldly and blindly at those who we thought were our enemies, but only added thousands more casualties, trillions more debt, and destabilized a region so recklessly, we actually drove bitter and angry Muslims underground and allowed for ISIS to be born. Although we never could have anticipated it then, our unprovoked invasion of Iraq bred more radical Islamists than any mosque or imam could ever do. We are now painfully living the costs of war fought in haste, and decisions made rashly and without all the facts. There were no weapons of mass destruction, but there was a once-mighty and invincible nation reeling from attack, licking its wounds, and grieving its dead and wounded. And in no uncertain terms, fueled by the need for revenge and looking for someone to punish. Sadaam was as good a target as any, and WMD or no, Iraq was a nation long overdue for regime change. 

There’s no shame in admitting one’s fear or uncertainty. These are scary and uncertain times. But that’s why we must be even more vigilant and resolved not to surrender ourselves to fear or let suspicion guide our hand towards violence and injustice. Muslims are not an inherently distrustful group whom we must watch, register, isolate, or deport. Muslims have lived in America for nearly as long as we’ve been a nation. Over 10% of Africans brought over on slave ships were Muslims, although most were forced to abandon their faith and convert to Christianity. During the 19th Century, thousands of Muslims settled in America, many fleeing the Ottoman Empire and the East. Many have been here several generations, and there is nothing to suggest that they are any less American than anyone else whose descendents made North America their new home. It’s shameful how easy it is for some of us to forget that we were all once immigrants to this great nation, and only the indigenous Native Americans can truly claim any territorial birthright.
To that end, Muslims are irrefutably just as American as you and me, and yet, they now live in a culture of fear and suspicion, and are constantly forced to prove their loyalty and trustworthiness in their own country. To most, this is the only home they’ve ever known, and yet, they are made to feel unwelcome and criminal, just for practicing their faith in peace. There has been a disturbing uptick in violence against Muslims, including threatening phone calls, becoming targets on social media, death threats, beatings, the burning and vandalism of mosques, harassment on planes, the subject of boycotts, protests, and sanctions, and of course, the suggestion that they should be forced to register or simply deported outright. For all the misguided fear that many on the Right have of Muslims, I guarantee, most Muslim Americans are far more fearful of those who distrust them and wish them harm. 
If we allow fear and ignorance to guide our hand, we miss genuine opportunities and solutions. Furthermore, we shut ourselves off from facts and reason. Not the made up statistics and fear-mongering claims being passed off as facts in the memes I’m seeing on Facebook. Actual facts. As painful as it may be for some to hear, the truth of the matter is, there is no greater risk of disgruntled Muslims becoming radicalized and violent then your white Christian next door neighbor, with his distrust of the government, stockpile of weapons, and hatred of minorities. In fact, it is far more likely that your neighbor will be the next mass shooter than Mohammad down at the local mosque.
Where are our priorities? Why are we demonizing all Muslims, when barely a fraction of all Muslims in the world will ever be drawn into radical Islam? Why are white shooters given a free pass, and their behavior chocked up to mental illness and their violence dismissed so easily? Why aren’t we rounding up all white Christian hate groups, in an effort to head off any future violence? Why is there a double standard? The hatred and vitriol I have seen in memes and posts over the past two weeks has been disturbing. At the risk of sounding elitist (an insult often hurled at the Left), these posts have been such baldfaced examples of ignorance and bigotry, it’s hard for me to hold out hope of ever finding a rational, reasonable, and committed partner on the Right, just as committed to compromise and bipartisan cooperation as I am. I can’t help but thinking about the very DNA of our two sides, and how fundamentally different we are from each other. Sure, we’re still humans, and all have hopes, fears, dreams, and insecurities, which guide us in life. I have to believe that our shared humanity will someday be enough to bring us together. But for right now, we are a house divided, and I fear we will fall hard before we stand tall again. This culture war is nasty and divisive, but I can only foresee it getting much worse before it gets better. For now, we are speaking different languages, and one seems to be led with the heart, while the other, led by the mind. Eventually, we must learn to be led by both.

Whether Christian or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, black or white, or any of the other infinite and joyous combinations we may be, we are first and foremost…Americans. The values set down in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are egalitarian ones, and strive to provide liberty, freedom, and protection to every American. And when our Constitution failed to get it right, we improved upon it, and have amended it 27 times since it was first written. Because as it says right there in the Constitution’s Preamble, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” We must heed those words….to “FORM a MORE perfect union.” Those words imply it’s not done yet. Perhaps it will never be. But with each new amendment, each new court case won for the side of equality and social justice, and each step closer to true equality and justice for ALL, we are one step closer to the America promised in our very charter. THAT is the true America, not some fabled past when America was “great.” It’s in front of us. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we can heal our wounds and move forward as a nation. Let’s make America great for ALL! 

Why My Heart Still Won’t Open For ‘Eyes Wide Shut’

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When it comes to the film Eyes Wide Shut, I know that I’m often in the minority when I condemn it as being far and away the worst film Stanley Kubrick ever directed. Since I’m obviously writing this short review over sixteen years after the movie came out, I have had lots of time to process the film, and decide exactly what it is I don’t like about the film. About three months ago, I sat down and attempted to watch the film for the first times since I saw it in the theatre. I only made it about halfway through, before I had to turn it off. So truthfully, I have only seen this film one and a half times, but it was seared into my memory, and because I often have a photographic memory with work I judge harshly and have a strong negative response to. I know that many people are quite fond of the film, and that although my opinion aligns more closely with the harsh criticism directed its way by film critics and the media, there are many fans who have difficulty finding any fault with a Kubrick film.
I decided to write this brief review today, as a response to the article, Be Thankful For Eyes Wide Shut by Scott Wampler, and posted by my friend, Matthew Constantine on his Facebook page. My friend Joe Vincent had also liked the article, and although I have great respect for their opinions about movies, art, and culture, I knew I had to at least make an impassioned and reasoned argument AGAINST Eyes Wide Shut. As you can read in the article above, the writer takes great pains to praise the film, and make sure we understand it should be considered amongst his best. That rather than criticize the film, we should be thankful we ever got it. Especially considering Kubrick died a week after delivering the final cut. I have a very personal and visceral aversion to this film, and feel compelled to share my thoughts about the movie. I had problems with the article, and thought it was poorly written at times and did nothing to convince me to reconsider my views on Eyes Wide Shut. The writer felt young, and at times, more than a little wet behind the years. I seem to recall him mentioning being a teenager and how blessed he feels to have seen the movie on opening night. It was certainly his last, but perhaps also his first Kubrick opening. Like him, I also saw this movie opening night, but I was at the premiere, in Hollywood, while living in LA. Going into the film, I was a very big Kubrick fan, but coming out, I was severely disappointed and left with a terrible taste in my mouth.

 
This writer erroneously states that those of us who didn’t like the film, must have been uncomfortable with the subject matter, since the filmmaking was unimpeachable. This is patently false. I might not have enjoyed the story, but I had many more problems with the narrative, casting, direction, set, and execution of the film. Although some of the intrigue and murder plot elements in the context of this secretive organization were interesting to begin with, the script never seemed to gel. It never fully came together, and there was a disconnect  between this sexual dysfunctional relationship between husband and wife in their safe and small home, and the sprawling mansions of the organization, with naked flesh everywhere, and a sea of undulating sex as people  joined the larger orgy. The disparate parts of the movie felt clunky and didn’t always fit. One might argue that the relationships are broken and don’t work properly, like his marriage, and that is reflected in the structure and interactions in the film. I think this is often a cop out, and if Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman felt awkward and unnatural, it wasn’t a choice. It was a reality.

The other reality of the film is that this is a frightfully chilly and uninviting world. The characters were cold, and kept at a distance, alienating them from the viewer, and not allowing us access to anyone’s emotions, or engendering empathy in the viewers. At the holiday party, the first time we meet Sydney Pollack’s character, Victor Ziegler, he is soliciting Tom Cruise’s character, Dr. Harford’s help, to revive a naked and bleeding hooker, who just had some kind of sexual relations with Ziegler, and as well as overdosed on a mix of drugs. He naturally has a wife, and she’s presumably somewhere else in the homeI This is HIS holiday party, and he’s absent from his guests, doing drugs and banging a hooker. When she seems to be in bad shape, Ziegler is dismissive and talks of her like trash. He flops her body around like she was a rag doll, taking no care with her in the slightest. He just wants her out of there. This is our first introduction to this large character, and he is instantly unlikable. You can’t help but root for the girl. Dr. Harford is gentler with her, but still rather callous and indelicate. These are not the loving hands of a gentle family doctor, but a man pulled away from a party by one of his patients, to revive a hooker who ODed on a speedball, and to make sure they don’t have a dead hooker on their hands. Her nudity throughout the season is uncomfortable, and we the viewer feels culpable in their mistreatment of the girl. Dr. Harford is a party to all this, and becomes somewhat unsympathetic early on. As the film goes on, we meet more people who feel cold and detached. The characters are  simply too dead inside or corrupt with money or power. It’s hard to care for these characters, and without empathy, it was hard for me to care whether any of them lived or died. The film was frigid throughout. So no, I didn’t necessarily enjoy the subject matter, but not because it “challenged me” and “made me uncomfortable” — feelings he takes pains to point out that he enjoys in movies, but wildly assumes viewers new to Kubrick must not. I enjoy movies that challenge me as well, but only good movies, and not uneven ones. This film was very uneven, and although it had some great themes and motifs that pulled it together, it was cohesive as a whole. Wampler’s statement is reductive and a fallacy, because it implies that the only reason we could have to not enjoy the movie, was because of the off-putting plot.

 
I would argue, that in addition to the subject matter and content, I had major problems with the script, including structure, language, and style. I thought it often felt contrived, and fantastic. And characters spoke in heightened and stylistic dialogue that sometimes felt stagey and melodramatic, and often recoiled against the more natural elements of the film. The biggest problem with the film is that it’s all a much ado about nothing. Sure, there is this secret society, and a hooker does end up dead, but we don’t ever know exactly how. We never know what happens to Nick, the piano player. Did he get killed off too? The secret religious sex organization and its rituals are dark and shady, but apart from having illicit sex, what true threat are they? What are they covering up? Are they killing prostitutes regularly? It’s implied that the people under the masks are important people, but we never learn who, and therefore, we never learn how high the stakes are. Are they priests and moral religious leaders? State Senators? What it all comes down to, is for all the “atmosphere” that Kubrick provides — black cloaks, grotesque masks, spare piano cords, dark shadows, stained wood, people following Dr. Harford, drugs, illicit sex, a blindfolded piano player who gets roughed up, and more, the film actually provides little concrete action and tangible danger. Nothing really happens. The movie, therefore, feels a little like an elaborate film noir sleight of hand. It has that moody and dark intrigue, with always the constant threat of danger and menace, but rarely do we see it. Is this a movie about a man discovering a secret sex club that murders prostitutes and is filled with many important members of the community, who must remain anonymous film about a couple struggling with their marriage? The wife is having these sex dreams with a sailor, and Dr. Harford is flirting shamelessly with beautiful women, and on more than one occasion, soliciting sex from strangers and acquaintances. This couple is broken, and needs something to happen, in order for them to stay together. At the end of the film, Cruise simply falls apart with guilt. He breaks down in tears and decides to tell Alice the whole truth of the past two days. The next morning, they go Christmas shopping with their daughter. Alice muses that they should be grateful they have survived, that she loves him, and there is something they must do as soon as possible. When Bill asks what it may be, she simply says: “Fuck.” What does any of this mean? They haven’t had sex in a while, so did they have to go through this elaborate charade, in order to feel alive, and find their way back into each others’ lives? Why have we seen no emotion or crying from Tom Cruise’s character all movie, and now we see this vulnerability? It’s too little, too late. We never saw the human before, so we can’t be expected to empathize with his new-found feelings. He was trying to get laid, mixed up in murder, and treating overdoses casually, and we saw none of his guilt or pain. This is a serious oversight in the script, and the relatively stunted character arc of the character. No character in this film is allowed to grow and evolve in a natural and organic way. Tom Cruise the actor may not have the chops, or Kubrick may have directed him to play his cards close to his chest. And that’s what he did. We saw very little early on, to indicate what we would see towards the end. Kidman has even less screen time, and has these psychosexual dreams with the sailor, which are never fully explained.

The Achilles heel of Eyes Wide Shut is that it creates all this film noir, secret sex society intrigue and possible murder plot line, but then throws in all these red herrings and seeming non sequiturs. But it seems it’s all just widow dressing, because very little of it actually goes anywhere. It seems to have elements of the quirky, dark, and menacing atmosphere of a David Lynch film, or specifically, a show like Twin Peaks. Yet those shows went somewhere, and although they had their fair share of red herrings and misdirection, they also pursued the clues and leads they had dropped along the way. EWS has many scenes and unique characters that often stand out, but rarely serve practical and dramaturgical purposes. They are texture, and are included in order to establish mood and atmosphere. They’re also oddball and memorable characters, who sometimes provide levity and entertainment.

After a fight about their faithfulness to each other early in the film, Bill is then called by the daughter of a patient who has just died; he then heads over to her place. In her pain, Marion Nathanson impulsively kisses him and says she loves him. Putting her off before her fiance Carl arrives, Bill takes a walk. He meets a prostitute named Domino and goes to her apartment. Alice phones just as Domino begins to kiss Bill, after which he calls off the awkward encounter. Early on, we see Dr. Harford is wandering and lost, and seems to be looking for love, lust, affection, or something, in the arms of other women, He seems to be in search of anonymous lovers — perhaps in order to keep love out of the equation.

After learning from Nick, the piano player, about the costume party, he gets the password, and goes to a shop to rent a costume, The scene in the costume shop is surreal and absurd, starting with the owner, Mr. Milich, and his daughter, played by oversexed and underdressed Leelee Sobieski, who appears to be getting intimate with two Japanese men in the back, but almost to her delight and with her overjoyed permission. Her father gets angry at the indecency, and yells at the group. The scene is nearly slapstick absurdism, and could easily have come out of a Beckett, Ionesco, or Jean Genet play.

After Bill arrives at the mansion, and uses the password to get in, he is wandering around the large rooms, when he is approached by a woman. Although he is masked, the woman takes Bill aside and warns him he does not belong there, insisting he is in terrible danger. She is then whisked away by someone else. Bill walks through the rooms, and witnesses several acts of sex, with various people engaging, and others watching, Finding himself in the ritual room, Bill is approached by an imposing Master of Ceremonies, and asks him a question about a second password.  Bill says he has forgotten. The Master of Ceremonies insists that Bill “kindly remove his mask”, then his clothes. The masked woman who had tried to warn Bill now intervenes and insists that she be punished instead of him. Bill is ushered from the mansion and warned not to tell anyone about what happened there.

The next morning, Bill goes to Nick’s hotel, where the desk clerk (Alan Cumming) tells Bill that a bruised and frightened Nick checked out a few hours earlier after returning with two large, dangerous-looking men. Nick tried to pass an envelope to the clerk when they were leaving, but it was intercepted, and Nick was driven away by the two men. The scene could have easily been in a film noir from the late ’40s or ’50s. The circumstances, with the bruises, the two big defensive lineman-sized goons, and the desperate letter he was trying to pass, are all familiar tropes in these kind of gangster flicks.

The next we hear of Nick is when Bill is summoned by Ziegler to discuss the events of the last few days. We learn that Ziegler was one of the sex participants, and that he had Bill followed, and that the society’s warnings were meant to scare him, but that the society is capable of acting on their threats, telling Bill: “If I told you their names, I don’t think you’d sleep so well”. Bill asks about the death of Mandy — the prostitute from the beginning of the film, who it turns out, was the masked woman at the party who’d “sacrificed” herself to prevent Bill’s punishment. Ziegler insists that Nick is safely back at his home in Seattle. Ziegler also says the “punishment” was a charade by the secret society to further frighten Bill, and it had nothing to do with Mandy’s death; she was a hooker and addict and had indeed died from another accidental drug overdose. Bill clearly does not know if Ziegler is telling him the truth about Nick’s disappearance or Mandy’s death, but he says nothing further and lets the matter drop. This is one of those scenes that is so frustrating, because it’s meant to be mysterious. and plant doubt in the audience’s mind, but because we haven’t actually seen the society inflict any harm or seen anyone die, everything is suspicious. And I don’t just mean, in the world of the film, Bill doesn’t know who to believe, but I am accusing the filmmaker of being suspect. He has played with our trust and not betrayed any feelings in his characters, so it’s hard to place any real trust in the very veracity and reliability of the script and the greater film. Lots of red herrings had been dropped, lots of random colorful and suspicious characters had been introduced, but the film was over two hours now, and Kubrick may be the master of pace and creating taut and tense atmosphere, but there was only so far he could take the menace and dark foreboding of the society. It doesn’t matter how grotesque the masks are, familiarity breeds content. Set pieces and costumes lost power and the ability to scare or intimidate us. This masquerade could go on no longer. This raises major plot hole questions:

  1. It’s not clear whether the plot line surrounding the society and Bill was just supposed to fizzle out, like it appeared to
  2. Or is this scene supposed to be more intense, and it is meant to scare Bill straight, once he learns how close he might have come to being killed himself? This would actually work best, with his crying scene with Alice directly following. The problem, is that I never feel like Bill’s life is in, or was in, imminent danger. 
  3. Why doesn’t the screenwriter ever allow us to see one of the society, or threaten having one of them exposed? Their true identities is a vulnerability, that actually takes away their power in the movie, and makes them less imposing
  4. What is the connection between the society and getting back together with his wife? Nothing ever really seems to happen, and yet, he seems to break down crying as if it did. Why happened?

One of the other considerable problems I had with the film, was the very obvious set that was built to stand-in for Greenwich Village, New York City. I was thoroughly not convinced of the fake New York City set built at Pinewoods Studio, because they essentially filmed only the same corner from similar angles, and the camera never followed the actors anywhere. It felt like exactly what it was — a fake facade of a Greenwich Village street corner. We always saw the same two shops, the same street signs. Throughout history, there’s likely never been a film shot in NYC that didn’t have tracking shots, cranes, dollies, and steadicam, following the actors through the streets of New York, Instead, this set was small, tight, and claustrophobic. This film was clearly not shot in NYC and did nothing to convince me that it was. Without an authentic New York City taste, the audience is subtly taken out of Manhattan, briefly alienated from production, and asked to enter through another door, knowing they were never in New York City. That may seem minor, but those little things add up. To the discerning eye, the set looks fake and like a set. Whenever THAT happens, it can be a slippery slope from there. If they can’t buy into the set, what else won’t they believe? Will they buy into your script? How about those characters who all seem very cold and aloof, and aren’t especially likable?  Can you hold them for over two hours?  Sometimes, it can all begin with one little thread, and quickly unravel from there. I think the case can be made for Eyes Wide Shut being Kubrick’s weakest and least effective film, for many reasons, including the set and production design. No matter how expertly they dressed the block, anyone who’s ever lived in New York City, could tell that was no Manhattan block. Arguably, NO Stanley Kubrick film before this could ever have been accused of looking like a set or feeling inauthentic in any way. They had all been meticulously constructed,  fastidiously painted, and painstakingly dressed. 

Having said all that I have said, there are a number of elements which I do enjoy considerably. After all, this movie was still directed by Stanley Kubrick. Which means, even at its worst, even as HIS worst, it’s still hundreds of times better than the average movie. I would watch this easily, before I’d watch half the crap in the theatres today. Kubrick is arguably the best auteur director to ever live. This is is still a masterpiece. it just has a LOT of problems, and does not have the kind of consistent quality we’ve come to expect in a film by Stanley Kubrick. The Kubrickian techniques and elements I enjoyed were:  The isolation and loneliness of the main characters. The mystery behind ritual and darkly staged ceremony. The steady and deliberate pace. The long tracking shots. The unique framing. The brutal violence and nudity. The haunting score, and use of music, especially piano cords. The piano leitmotif of the chilling few notes. The skillful editing. The evocative costumes. The blocking and choreography was deliberate and intimidating. The nudity was slightly shocking and contributed greatly to those scenes. The taut tension and anxiety marking the scenes. The menace in the air.  The VERY talented cast of new and recognizable character actors. Reocuring motifs and thematic imagery. The homage to several film genres: absurdism, slapstick/vaudeville, psychological bedroom drama, Gangster/ Film Noir, Horror, and Drawingroom Murder Mystery, 

Here was the absolute deal breaker in this movie: Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s relationship and the actor’s uneven and fizzling chemistry. They were so bad, that when I tried to rewatch the film again, just three months ago, I couldn’t even make it halfway through the film. For a couple that was actually married in real life, I thought they had some of the worst onscreen chemistry I’ve ever seen. I simply did not belief that they were a married couple! It sounds almost unbelievable that an actual married couple would have such a hard time convincing an audience they were married and had chemistry. Instead, it was a weird energy, and not one that felt intimate and affectionate. So many moments felt forced and were not subtly in the least bit, perhaps none more so than the scene where Nicole Kidman smokes a joint and goes completely crazy. Nicole’s character is so over the top in this scene, she’s just chewing the scenery from the inside. I’ve often seen unskilled actors playing drunk or high, and make the mistake of “acting drunk” or “acting high” and go completely over the top. In reality, people that are drunk and high, often do whatever it takes to appear sober, so they’re actually fighting against the intoxication, and that gives an actor so much more to play with. She was staggering and stumbling like a drunken sailor, and it was painful to watch. As the story progressed, I became engaged with Dr. Harford’s pursuit of this mystery, which lies at the heart of the story (yet, we’re curiously never told exactly what it is), is a compelling one, and as he gets deeper into the mystery and intrigue, the better film became. However, Cruise is not an actor with a tremendous amount of emotional range, and so, Bill’s journey was a solitary one, and not one he shared well with the audience. He’s clearly the protagonist, and having trouble in his marriage. He’s become reckless with his life, ending up with prostitutes, followed by gangsters, frequenting a secret society of sexual fetishists, and since the film never gives us definitive answers, potentially the target of a future hit. It is most likely, that Bill caused the deaths of Mandy and Nick. She gave up her life to save his in the ritual room, and Nick gave Bill the password and told him of the costume party in the first place, leading to them finding out, exposing Nick, beating him up, and presumably, killing him. THAT might very well be our answer. THAT might very well be the slap to the face that wakes Bill up, and drives him back into the arms of his wife. That might be enough to make a grown man bawl like a baby. when held in the arms of Alice. He hadn’t known what he wanted, except for maybe vaguely sex with anonymous women. He took great personal risks, and in a fair world, Bill would have paid with his life. But he had an advocate — Ziegler — whose life he had practically saved earlier, and to whom he owed a big favor. Ziegler put his neck out there, and was admonished for his carelessness. Victor had brought Nick into the fold as a blindfolded pianist, and Nick had brought Bill into the society, with tragic consequences. Shouldn’t Bill be the one to die, since he’s the trie interloper? When Ziegler recognized it was Bill though, he had to intervene, and in so doing, he needed a sacrifice. Nick should have known better, sure, but he hardly deserved to pay with his life. It’s no coincidence, that Dr. Harford begins the movie saving Mandy’s life, and then near the end, Mandy ends up saving his. In essence, Bill saves her life at the beginning, and then he causes her death at the end. The only way for Bill to live, is if Nick becomes the scapegoat. Bill must know this, when he goes to Nick’s hotel. He at least makes an effort to save his life. He knew he was in grave danger. There’s an important element to take into consideration in all of this exchange of lives and sacrifice of strangers. And that is the socioeconomic picture. It’s easy to see that the society was made up of extremely wealthy businessmen, surgeons, politicians, lawyers, judges, heiresses, millionaires, and other titans of industry. Ziegler was an extremely wealthy patient of the presumably wealthy, Dr. Harford. These two BELONG in that mansion. They are wealthy, elite, and members of a small select few of people who run that City. State. Country. I have to wonder if they know who each other are. Do they always wear the masks? Regardless, its plain to see, who inherently didn’t belong in that setting. Nick was a poor pianist who once might have had a bright future, but he somehow ended up playing piano gigs throughout the city. He came lower middle class, if not from the poverty class. He was an artist, and he didn’t belong. Except as their entertainment. And that’s what’s Mandy was: entertainment. She was even lower status than Nick, as a prostitute. To these powerful people, she was a piece of meat, attractive as it may be, but one which you service your pleasures, and discard once you’re finished. If she hadn’t ended up strangled and lying as a Jane Doe in the Morgue, she’d have overdosed and ended up there anyway. Mandy was utterly disposable. The identity of these wealthy elite was imperative, and someone had to die. If Ziegler vouched for Bill, then it was obvious who had to be eliminated. Better two untouchables, than even a single from their own class. Which begs the question, now that Ziegler has been exposed, and made the group vulnerable, does he stay? If so, is there any possibility that Bill actually get invited to join the society? If so, is there any way that ALL of this was a test, to see how committed he was — even willing to sacrifice two people? These are questions the movie does not answer, but are certainly worth considering.

The storyline of murder, prostitution, secretive organization, and more, was engaging, but only to a point. Although I consider Kubrick’s pacing to be one of his strongest suits, I felt this movie dragged at points — running nearly three hours, I feel it is just too long. This story could have easily been told in less time.

I can’t help but return to the nucleus of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, at the very heart of this film, but never quite successful and cohesive. I know Stanley Kubrick wanted to work with a husband and wife team, but there must have been any number of actors he could have gotten for those roles. Not that they had the chops, but just to throw out some names: Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, and probably many more. Tom Cruise is a VERY limited actor, and I honestly don’t know what went wrong with Kidman — an actress whom I otherwise enjoy.

The film is very impersonal, alienating, aloof, distancing, uncomfortable, and sometimes just hard to watch. Although I cited above that I enjoyed seeing Kubrick play with many genres, I felt that also hurt the film. The movie never quite knew what it wanted to be. Was it a romance? Film Noir? Horror? Psychological Bedroom Drama? Or something else entirely? That meant, there were a lot of red herrings, but not always deliberately placed there, but rather, left there, after having fallen out through holes in the script. And there were many. The society was never quite threatening enough, and I never felt Bill was in danger. I would have liked to see him come closer to the line. If the society essentially knows who each other are, what is the big deal about having others inside see them? Presuming the society ordered the deaths of Mandy and Nick, WHY did they have to die? What is the problem between Alice and Bill, and how is so easily fixed with a “fuck” as she says at the end? Their relationship was arguably the weakest in the film, because we knew so little. All we were allowed to see from Alice was lurid sexual dreams about a sailor she fancied. Bill goes searching for women, and certainly has chances, but never quite gets there. Tom Cruise simply doesn’t have the depth to give us true insight as to what was happening in his mind. It was his story, after all. What drove him away from Alice, and what drove him back? Kubrick really could have helped the actor out here, especially by providing a script that fleshed out more of the character. The biggest problem besides not knowing exactly what kind of movie it wants to be, and having a husband and wife team who are not as strong as the script demands, is having a script with too many holes in it, and too many questions brought up, but not enough answers provided. It’s a confusing movie at times, and a few more drafts of that script, could have cleared a lot of the problems up.  If this was the work of any other director, it might be praised more than it has been. To some degree, it’s still quite a masterful film. The problem is, it’s Stanley Kubrick, and he was arguably the greatest film director the world has ever known. With an honor like that, you can be sure his body of work is profound and unrivaled. And it is. His films are unmistakable works of art, and each unique unto itself. This film, does not quite reach those heights. In fact, it falls quite short of that mark, and so we compare this film not to any other director, but against his own work and rigorous high standards. It is undoubtedly, the weakest film he ever directed. The film was not a commercial or critical success, receiving only fair to poor reviews. and has not come down through the years as a fan favorite. Most Kubrick accept the movie for what it is, but it’s not likely making anyone’s top five list. As it is, it’s a very divisive film. There are a surprising number of fans hopelessly devoted to Eyes Wide Shut, while others–such as myself — are quick to point out its many egregious flaws, and only wish it could have lived up to its considerable potential. 

The War on Truth & Intellect: Anti-Intellectualism & The Religious Right

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A reasonable person might ask, how could anyone vote for someone as stupid as Dr. Ben Carson? Why would you ever want to elect an ignorant person to the most powerful and influential job in the world? The sad fact of the matter is, not everyone in this country places such importance on intelligence as a prerequisite and qualifier for President. As much as the Right condemns those of us on the Left for having no values and attacking their faith, one of the most fundamental values we cherish is that of intellect, and the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectualism and human betterment have always been deeply held principles, and reason is central to progressive belief. There are plenty of religious people who count themselves liberals, but more often than not, they are reasonable and embrace plurality and diversity of opinion. Being a liberal or progressive does NOT preclude one from being faithful or religious.

Conservatives often rightly condemn us as elitists, but they often wear their own ignorance proudly, and as a badge of honor. As if being less intelligent and more faithful and religious was a good thing. But to them, it is. Faith will get you into Heaven, but don’t forget where Knowledge got poor Adam and Eve. Almost from the outset, some read the Bible as a cautionary tale against seeking knowledge and questioning God’s will. Asking questions and being too clever was looked at as sinful or prideful, and often severely discouraged and punished. Naturally, this is just one narrow and rigid interpretation of the Bible, but it has been led to a persistent and pervasive attitude towards education and learning that has found its way down through the ages, and into many evangelical and conservative faiths today.

The people considered fundamentalist have the narrowest view of the Bible, and are rigid in their condemnations of others for  behaviors they view as sinful. They seek to return America to its “Christian values” and fanatically believe America is being eroded by moral decay and a culture of permissiveness and sex. They are distrustful of medicine, science, technology, socialism or other types of government, non-Christian religions, minorities and laws like affirmative action, homosexuality, immigrants, Hollywood, the media, gun control, and many other hot-button issues. These are the people who vote and support candidates like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and once upon a time, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. This is a very different Republican party than Eisenhower, Nixon, and William F. Buckley inhabited. And as much as they love to claim them as their own, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt truly belonged to a party closer to resembling today’s Democratic Party. Anyone who knows the history of the parties and evolution over the last 150 years, knows as much. Over the last 40 years, the party has been hijacked by the Religious Right, and there has been a war on intellectualism. The days of Buckley’s incisive criticism and articulation of the party’s views are long gone, and the GOP is left with deeply faithful fanatical Christians, who have very little intellectual chops, but aren’t short on faith and moral outrage. They prey on fear, and use minorities, women, immigrants, and xenophobia to scare their base, and whip up the party.

People like Ben Carson can say outrageous and patently false statements, because 1) No one on the Right is going to fact check him, and 2) It doesn’t matter what facts and figures he has, because they’re not judging him on his intellect or veracity, but on the faith in his heart and commitment to fighting the culture wars from the Oval Office. They want an advocate to outlaw abortion, impose the death penalty, overthrow gay marriage, remove all environmental regulations, work to bring Creationism to schools and remove Evolution, build border walls and brutally enforce strict immigration laws, remove regulations from business and stoke a free market, cut taxes, reverse Obamacare, eliminate most social entitlement programs, and work to undo all the other progress the Left has made in this country. They care about moral crusaders and the soul of their candidates, but the mind is perhaps the least important part.

When Donald Trump uses the slogan, ‘Making America Great Again,’ it’s insulting to many Americans, and so sadly misleading. When was it great to begin with? Was that during the genocide of Native Americans, and when the country stripped them of their land? Or was it during slavery, and the years the country was bitterly divided and fought a civil war? Or when the Irish were rejected work? The lynchings and Jim Crow era? Perhaps it was when women were denied the right to vote or to work, or Japanese internment camps. Or was it Vietnam and the turbulent ’60s? The point is, there was no time America was “great” because it wasn’t great for everyone. Sure, maybe if you were a white, male, wealthy, Christian landowner in the south, there might have been great times. But it sure wasn’t for their slaves and the women in their households. America is a great country, and since the lofty goals outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and added upon in the Constitution even still today, it aspired to be something greater than it was. ALL men created equal. And women, and blacks, and gays, and every other person in this great country. But there is no ‘great’ to return to, Mr. Trump. The great is in front of us, as we take steps to make this country great and free for everyone.

The truth of the matter is, Intelligence is often the biggest indicator of tolerance, acceptance, open-mindedness, and a commitment to social justice. The pursuit of egalitarian principles is most often achieved by the smart and the bold. On the other hand, ignorance is the biggest indicator of bigotry, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, jingoism, and violence and a predilection to fight. Poverty is often the leading cause of ignorance, and not surprisingly, education and a war on poverty have been two of the biggest pieces of agenda on the Democratic platform. By stamping our poverty, we stamp out so many other things, such as violence, ignorance, and bigotry. Yet the Right has proven time and again, that it would rather spend countless trillions of dollars on foreign wars of election, than on educating every American, and lifting them out of poverty. Imagine what kind of education we could have provided with all the money spent on Afghanistan and Iraq. But again, since intelligence is not valued and cherished by many on the Right, either is education. It’s apparently more important to build walls to keep foreigners out and to build bigger and better weapons to fight wars and exert dominance over the rest of the world. This is a macho, jingoistic, xenophobic, truculent, and violent mindset. One who shoots first, and asks questions later. Only a mindless cowboy seeks fights, rather than keeps the peace, and avoids them.

If this world is ever going to achieve peace and tolerance, it will have to be won by the intellectuals and reason-minded. That doesn’t mean an attack on faith or that religion has no place in a civil society. Faith can play a tremendous role in a community’s health and well-being. Religion doesn’t have to be at odds with science and reason, or intellectualism and rationalism. The two are not mutually exclusive. That is, until you make them so, and admonish intelligence, and uphold blind faith and hateful, ignorant views. The people who vote for Ben Carson are not voting for intelligence, but his eternal soul. The President represents ALL Americans, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, and every other faith and belief there is. We don’t need another devout zealot trying to shape this country back into the Christian nation it once was, because it never was. The Founding Fathers did not intend it to be, and made it abundantly clear that there was to be a separation of Church and State. So go ahead, and get angry whenever a state removes a Ten Commandments rock from the statehouse grounds or prohibits prayer in school, but then go and read the Constitution, and get a clue already. A vote for an ignorant man — brain surgeon or not — is a vote for poor leadership. This is arguably the hardest job in the world, and a President probably makes at least a hundred decisions a day. This is subtle, nuanced work, and it takes a considerable mind to process all that information, face tremendous resistance, work successfully with opposing parties, use diplomacy effectively, keep peace or judiciously wage war, and make small and large decisions that could have catastrophic results. This is not a job for the feeble-minded or anti-intellectual. We saw how well George W. Bush did with his eight mindless years in office. He took a considerable surplus and turned it into a huge deficit, he launched two costly wars which we still can’t get out of, he spent all of America’s capital and good will the world had for us, he set global warming and sustainable energy back decades, he made a royal mess of Hurricane Katrina, and made many other serious blunders. W was not an intelligent man, and as such, he was handled and manipulated by war hawks and powerful men with militant agendas.

America cannot afford another dim-witted man in the White House. And that’s the fundamental difference between those who would vote for a vacuous mind, and those who put weight in the intellectual heft of a candidate. Ben Carson fans have absolutely no problem believing Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, because they either believe it to be true, or don’t care if it’s false. Either one is dangerous. Those of us who know better should do whatever it takes not to elect those who don’t.

The Case For the Patriots As Greatest NFL Dynasty Ever

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There are several NFL teams considered dynasties, but which deserves to be called the best?
Over fifty years ago, the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Celtics all won five or more championships in a row. Those days are long behind us, and we never see major professional sports leagues dominate their sports like they used to, particularly the NFL, where Free Agency has made it difficult for teams to keep players and maintain consistency and cohesion, and where we’ve never had a Super Bowl three-peat, and have now gone over a decade without a successful title defense. And yet, pro football does have its dominant teams, and a few can be considered elite.

What makes a team a dynasty?

This excerpt, from the article, Where Patriots dynasty ranks among NFL’s most dominant franchises, says this:

“This is, to a degree, subjective. You and I might not see eye-to-eye on the importance of regular-season success vs. playoff success or Super Bowl victories vs. Super Bowl appearances. Longevity could also be considered a point of contention here, both in terms of franchises that didn’t sustain their success for very long (the 1990s Cowboys, for instance) or those that spread their success over longer stretches (the 1980s/1990s 49ers come to mind).

That last part factors in the whole quality vs. quantity conundrum, which only further complicates the whole dynasty debate.

Some tenets we might be able to agree on:

• A dynasty needs to win multiple championships within one era.

• Within said era, most of the key figures have to remain the same. The Seahawks made the Super Bowl in 2005 and then again in 2013, but those teams shared zero players and had entirely different coaching staffs. For the same reason, it wouldn’t be fair to include New England’s 1996 Super Bowl appearance in that team’s current dynasty profile.

• A dynasty can’t simply be a team that wins back-to-back championships. In other words, a third championship should be required at some point in the same era.”

Using that criteria, the teams most commonly referred to as dynasties are the Pittsburgh Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New England Patriots. Other teams often included are the Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders, but because their personnel changed and there were many years in between titles, they don’t meet the definition above, and I will be leaving them off this list.

The team that seems to get the votes for best dynasty most often is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are actually my second favorite team, and I can totally understand why people would consider them the best dynasty. There are three major reasons why the Steelers are often considered the best: 1) They are the only team to win four Super Bowls in only six years, 2) They have the most Lombardi Trophies (6), 3) They have sustained excellence for over the longest time — over 40 years, and 4.) The organization was founded by Art Rooney, and is still owned and run by the Rooney family.

These are all very legitimate arguments for Pittsburgh, and if you consider only championships, then sure, the Patriots fall two trophies short. However, I would argue that there are many other intangibles that make up a great football team, and many more factors that make for a football dynasty. And the best? That’s the argument I’d like to make now. Here are some reasons why I think the argument can be made for the New England Patriots being the best NFL dynasty ever:

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(Don’t bother making Deflategate jokes or calling the Pats cheaters, because it’s all been said before. You may hate New England, and detest them for cheating, but everyone knows they didn’t need to, and everything they earned, they earned with talent and having arguably the best coach-quarterback duo to ever play the game. If you honestly believe Tom Brady and the Patriots had 14 amazing winning record seasons, won multiple playoff games, appeared in six Super Bowls, and won four Lombardi Trophies by filming some low quality videos on opposing team’s sidelines and deflating a few footballs, then you are an idiot. If you can’t see how profoundly talented this team is, then you probably don’t know much about football, or are blinded by jealousy. You don’t have to like them, or what they might have done, but at least have the humility to accept that this hugely successful team deserves to at least be considered a dynasty.  I don’t like that they might have cheated either, and mostly because they never needed to. In this essay, I’m not looking to moralize and pick the team with the most pious character and spotless record. I’m looking to choose the team that won the most, dominated the most, had the most talented people, and did it all year in and year out. I ask that you have an open mind…)

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1. The Patriots made it to all six Super Bowls and won four times with the same head coach and quarterback. Pittsburgh can’t say that. The Cowboys can, and won three in four years. So did the Patriots. And then made it to three more, and won the last. As the players around him changed, Brady has always had Belichick as his head coach, and has been blessed to have had only three Offensive Coordinators in fourteen years — Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien. Other coaches have been there for years as well. It’s easy to see what a revolving door of coaches and coordinators can do to a quarterback. The Raiders have fired seven head coaches since 2000, and had a losing record nearly every year since. The other teams that are infamous for firing multiple head coaches and coordinators are the Browns, Redskins, Vikings, Lions, Dolphins, Rams, Buccaneers and Jaguars. All have had multiple losing seasons. There have been a number of very capable quarterbacks who have suffered and faltered due to losing their coaches, and often having to learn new systems and playbooks. Many thrived under certain coaches, and shriveled under others. Look at Colin Kaepernick’s pitiful regression in San Francisco. Brady has thrived under all three offensive coordinators, but it’s obvious that much of his success comes from having a consistent coaching staff, and talented people to trust and rely on.
2. Brady has had to win games with a revolving roster of talent, and apart from Moss and Gronk, has never been surrounded by superstar, big name players. However, even despite this deficit, Brady has been able to turn those players into superstars, by making the cast around him look great, and elevating his fellow players to greatness. Brady is so good, that he has made mediocre, average, or good players look MUCH better than they are. When it comes to his receivers, Brady has made stars out of players who might not play as well otherwise. In fact, over time, we have seen several of Tom Brady’s targets go elsewhere, and have less than stellar success. Deion Branch was never as good as he was in New England, and Wes Welker was all but a bust in Denver. Who knows how good Julian Edelman would be without Tom Brady throwing to him? Obviously, Rob Gronkowski is a star, on track to have a Hall of Fame career. Randy Moss will certainly be in Canton sometime soon. But most of the average wide receivers Brady has had to make do with, have not been naturally gifted and fabulous players. If anything, he has made them so, and done it year after year. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Terry Bradshaw had Lynn Swann. Peyton Manning had Reggie Wayne, Eli Manning has Odell Beckham Jr, Phillip Rivers has Antonio Gates, Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown…and the list goes on and on. Plenty of Super Bowl winning QBs have had star receivers, but most of the time, Tom Brady has made do with what he had. And did it better than anyone, ever. As the leader and heart of that team, Tom Brady has welcomed and rallied a rotating team of misfits and malcontents, and made them look better every step of the way. He inspired them with his competitiveness, skill, and enthusiasm, and compelled them to be better and reach higher.
3. Even the years the Pats didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, they still made it far into the playoffs, and always had winning record seasons. That means that they didn’t win the Super Bowl one year, and then tank the next. Teams like San Francisco, the Ravens, and Seattle were all in the Super Bowl within the last three years, and all have struggled to win. The Patriots never have an off year. Even the year Brady got injured and missed the season, the backup QB and team went on to an impressive 11-5 record, and just narrowly missed the playoffs. In 2005, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, and the very next season, went 8-8. In 2002, they made it to the Divisional Playoffs, but the very next season, went 6-10. Last season, the Detroit Lions went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs, and this year, they are 1-7! The Patriots have been good, and competed EVERY season, and that’s something NO other team can say. They may have the occasional bad game, but never has Tom Brady and the Pats had a losing season and not had a chance at winning it all. In 2014, the Pats had a terrible game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and were massacred 41-14. The press went crazy, and everyone swore it was the end of an era, and Tom Brady’s career was over. Well, the Pats went on to finish with a 12-4 record, breeze through the playoffs, and beat dominant Seattle in the Super Bowl. The reason I bring this up is that the reason people were so quick to call for the Patriots demise, is that we just aren’t used to seeing the Patriots lose, and never by that much. It was so extreme and out of the ordinary, people naturally just assumed it meant Tom Brady could no longer play. But he can, and he is, and as long as he’s under center, this team will keep winning, season after season. Their winning percentage, and consistency at winning should make them an easy contender for top dynasty.
4. Tom Brady has won more playoff games than any other QB, and the Pats have won more playoff games this century than any other team. When it comes to the postseason, Brady is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Nobody has been more clutch when it matters, and played so many big games, and been successful. The Patriots are a team built for the postseason, and snowy playoff games in New England have become a tradition.
5. The Patriots did it all in the era of Free Agency, which meant that they often couldn’t keep great players, and never could depend on the same reliable and cohesive team from year to year, like the Steelers and other teams could. The era of unrestricted free agency has all but dismantled dynasties in professional sports, and entered the NFL in 1992. That was right in the middle of the Buffalo Bills’ streak of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, and four straight losses. It’s hard to imagine that any team could make it to the big game four times in a row today. There’s just too many moving parts. Last season, the Patriots had arguably the best cornerback in the league, in Darrell Revis. They won the Super Bowl, and then during free agency, he left and signed with the Jets. And he had already replaced arguably the second best corner in the league — Aqib Talib. In two years, we lost the two best CBs in the game, yet here we are, with a patchwork motley crew of players, and inexperienced corners, and we’re still 8-0. You think about a team that could have been a dynasty, like the Minnesota Vikings of the ’70s, who lost the Super Bowl four times in seven years, and they had one of the greatest defensive lines in the game — the Purple People Eaters. The Steelers had the Iron Curtain. These teams had the same dependable roster of players year in and year out, and could build a defense like the Steelers and Vikings had. Those guys knew each other intimately, and built solid cohesion and trust as a team. Montana and the Niners had the same consistency a decade later. Brady never has. There are zero players from the 2001 Patriots championship team but Tom Brady. He’s built all this with his hands tied behind his back, and no other quarterback or team on this list had to do quite so much, with quite so little.
6. Tom Brady may not have all the records Peyton Manning does, but he’s got as many rings as Bradshaw and Montana, and is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Others will say Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, or Montana, but Brady played in six Super Bowls, won more playoff games than any other, holds plenty of postseason records, and most importantly of all, knows how to win when it matters. Brady is more clutch than any QB to ever play the game. He not only wins, he wins big when it matters. He’ll never come close to reaching Payton Manning’s records, but Peyton has a nasty habit of losing in big games, while Brady has won more than lost. Sure, he lost two Super Bowls to the Giants, but they were close, and fluke circumstances ended up deciding both games. Other QBs may have stronger arms and throw tighter spirals, but Brady is one of the fastest releasers in the game and reads defenses masterfully. Some people argue Brady’s a system quarterback, but you needn’t look further than how lethally skillful he is at reading defense coverage, and making changes at the line of scrimmage. Only Peyton Manning is as good as Brady in this area. However, Brady is probably better at exploiting opposing team’s mistakes, and making them pay. His game has only gotten better with time, and has grown and evolved to adapt better to defenses and changes in the game. So sure, Peyton may have records, but he doesn’t have rings. Bradshaw may have rings, but he doesn’t have records. Brady has both, and may only be rivaled by Montana in this regard. But as I stated above, Tom Terrific did it in the era of free agency, and with fewer star targets at his disposal. Imagine what Brady could have done with a Jerry Rice, or even Randy Moss in his prime, and for a few more years. The thing is, unlike Montana and Bradshaw, Brady’s not even close to being done. It’s hard to see Peyton going beyond this year, but Tom could very well win for many years more. He says that he’d like to play until 48, and while that would be nearly impossible, the way he’s playing, there’s no reason he couldn’t play for another four years. He takes care of himself, and seems to be evolving and adapting his style so much, he only seems to be getting better with age. His release time is the best in the NFL, and as a result, he takes far fewer hits in the pocket. He also seems to be moving more, and willing to takes steps to clear defenders and getting better shots downfield. This athlete may be on the tail-end of his career, but he is by no means close to being done. As the face of the franchise, Brady has been the force of nature driving this team to greatness year after year, and why this Pats Dynasty is so consistently good, and arguably the best.
7. Bill Belichick is arguably the best head coach to ever lead an NFL team. Him and Brady are the winningest coach-qb combo in NFL history. He has an impressive 240-118 record, and has been to eight Super Bowls, winning four rings with New England and two with the Giants — more than any other coach. He has won Coach of the Year three times, and is often mentioned as one of the top three coaches, along with Don Shula and Bill Walsh. I think Belichick’s accomplishments in the era of Free Agency are stunning, considering he had a constantly shuffling cast of characters. What he did was nothing short of genius, constantly rearranging the pieces, and trying to make it all work. Belichick demonstrates great vision and has been so innovative as a coach, he has changed the game and inspired a lot of imitators. His dynamic approach includes using players in new and effective roles, not being sentimental and knowing when to cut aging and under-producing players (although often unpopular with fans!), designing complex offense with a large number of plays and clever tricks and maneuvers to fool defenses, and navigating and exploiting the draft to make smart trades and swap draft spots, and often drafting undervalued bargain players who often turn into great players. As the former Defensive Coordinator under Parcells at the Giants, Bill is a gifted defensive strategist, and has used the draft and solid training to always field a defense that competes and manages to get Brady back on the team. There are many more ways Belichick innovated the game, and continues to find new ways win, but perhaps it’s the special bond between him and Brady that makes the best case for why the Patriots could be the best dynasty ever.
8. The Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls, and all since owner Robert Craft bought the team. Just like the Steelers wouldn’t be the Steelers without the Rooney Family running the team, the Patriots would not be winners without Craft’s support. He has given Belichick more power than most coaches get, and hired good GMs and support staff to help Bill win championships. The Craft family are strong owners, and have fostered an atmosphere of winning.
9. New England actually ties Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl appearances with eight. Their record is 4-4. However, a team should rightfully be recognized for just getting to the Super Bowl, which is a victory in itself. These teams had great records, and played well all season and throughout the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills both went to the Super Bowl four times each, and with terrific teams, but lost each time. But we don’t call them dynasties because they never won when it counted. The Patriots have won though, and even when they lost, it was often very close. Under Brady, the Pats lost to the Giants first by 3 points and then by 4. In the Brady-Belichick era dynasty, we’ve rarely lost, and then, only barely lost.
10. The Patriots nearly matched Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphin’s perfect season record in 2007, falling one short, to go 18-1. The 1972 Dolphins went 14–0 in the regular season and won all three post-season games, including Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, to finish 17–0. However, the Pats’ season was two games longer than Miami’s, so the Pats hold the record for being the only team to win 16 regular season games, and the only team since Miami to win every game in the season. This was an incredible season, and a truly remarkable accomplishment. Naturally, Patriots fans are bitter about missing out on a perfect season, and losing such a close game, and one that they had dominated throughout. We’ll never get over that loss. But here we are, once again, at 8-0, on potentially on to another perfect season. I don’t necessarily think we’ll get there, but this is only the second time we’ve made it to 8-0, and you know when the last time was. The fact that we have such a great record, and always have one of the best records in the league, is further proof that this team deserves to be considered for number one.
11. Tom Brady and his revolving cast of characters over the last 14 years have an incredible record, and no team in the NFL has a winning record against Tom Brady. There are multiple teams that have never even beaten Brady. At home, the Patriots’ total home record, in all regular season and playoff games started by Brady, is an astonishing 108-18! Brady and company have simply dominated the league for over a decade and a half, and have run roughshod over every team in the league. There are dozens of teams that have been victimized by the Patriots, and suffered stinging losses of 20, 30, or 40 points. During the 2007 season, the Patriots were accused of showing off, because they kept scoring on their hapless opponents. Apparently, some people forget a game is 60 minutes, and we play to the end. If they had the ball, and were in a position to score, they did. No one cried foul — least of all, us — when the Chiefs put 41 points on us, but have no problem calling the Patriots out when they do it. No one likes to consistently lose to the same team, and that’s what the Pats have done to this league. Between that and accusations of cheating, it’s no wonder so many people hate the Patriots. They hated the Cowboys too. And the Raiders. If it’s not your team, everyone hates a winner. Simply put, no team has so expertly executed the field and dominated and devastated so many teams over such a long period as the New England Patriots. The Pats have been winners, and their record unmistakably reflects that.
12. It’s not over yet. As long as Tom and Bill are in New England, you can never rule out the possibility that the Pats may win more Super Bowls. I think we can all confidently say, if the Patriots were to win won more Lombardi with this duo, there could be no doubt who the greatest dynasty was. Of course, as you can see, I already think they are!