Alex Garland’s ‘Civil War’

This is an election year. Given the two candidates and the mood of the country, the 2024 election will almost certainly entail controversy. Whoever wins, millions of Americans will be angry and disappointed by the result. There will be accusations of cheating, or voter suppression, or something.

British filmmaker Alex Garland has therefore chosen an auspicious year for the release of Civil War, a movie about a hypothetical Civil War II in the United States.

But perhaps he has made a movie that is just a little too timely. More on that shortly.

Civil War is “deliberately vague” about the exact causes and instigators of its hypothetical conflict. The movie posits four different factions, each comprised of various states.

This is where things get hinky. Garland doesn’t follow the Red-Blue formula that most of us would expect. For example, the movie portrays Texas and California in an alliance. We can all agree that this is something that would never happen in real life.

This unrealistic scenario is, I suspect, deliberate, too. Garland did not want to make a movie that blatantly picks sides in the American culture wars. Making the alliances unrealistic would be one way to do that.

Reviews and…buzz?

Reviews of Civil War are mixed. I’m not the first person to observe that the political alliances depicted in the film don’t mirror our current political divisions.

Some reviewers seem to have taken issue with that. Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post put it this way:

“Civil War’s shtick is that it’s not specifically political. For instance, as the US devolves into enemy groups of secessionist states, Texas and California have banded together to form the Western Forces. That such an alliance could ever occur is about as likely as Sweetgreen/Kentucky Fried Chicken combo restaurant.”

Oleksinski called Civil War “a torturous, overrated movie without a point”. We may conclude that he didn’t like it.

But what “point” was Oleksinski looking for, exactly? Alex Garland faced an obvious marketing dilemma here. If he had made a movie about the Evil Libs, he would have alienated half his potential audience. If he had made a movie about the Evil MAGAs, he would have alienated half his potential audience.

There is really no way to please everyone with a movie like this. Except by remaining vague. And then you irritate people because you didn’t take a stand.

I haven’t heard a lot of buzz about this movie in my own social circle, nor in my personal Facebook feed. Civil War is not exactly a movie that most people will want to see with their kids. Nor is it likely to become a date night favorite.

Civil War’s topic, and the clips I have seen of it, make the movie seem too similar to the news stories we have seen in recent years: the BLM riots of the summer and fall of 2020, and the J6 riot of January 6, 2021. The current war between two former Soviet Republics: Ukraine and Russia.

How many people want to pay good money to see a movie about something like that at the cinema?

Good question. I suspect that Civil War will find a wider audience once it moves to streaming/cable.

Could another Civil War really happen?

Alex Garland is not alone in his speculations about a Civil War II. Frankly, I have my doubts.

The First Civil War (1861 – 1865) was actually about something. Southerners were fighting to preserve their entire economic system. White Northerners were fighting to preserve the Union.

(Contrary to what many people believe, the Union did not initially wage the Civil War with the goal of ending slavery. The sainted Lincoln, moreover, would have let the Confederate states keep their slaves, if only they had not seceded.)

Blacks had the biggest stake of all, with their freedom on the line.

Whichever side you were on, there was something worthwhile to fight about.

But what about now? Are we really going to go to war over transgender bathrooms and idiotic pronoun rules? Over the self-evident question of what a woman is? Over abortion? Over the annual Pride Month spectacles? Over whether or not President Biden will force Americans to buy uneconomical and unwanted electric vehicles?

The issues that divide us now, as divisive and tiresome as they are, seem trivial by comparison.

A civil war, over all that nonsense? Hopefully, the country has not become that stupid. But you never know.

-ET

Reading John Jakes, again

I discovered the books of historical novelist John Jakes (1932 – 2023) as a high school student during the 1980s. The television miniseries adaptation of his Civil War epic, North and South, aired in 1985.

North and South was extremely well-done for a network (ABC) television production of the mid-1980s. The cast included Patrick Swayze, Kirstie Alley, David Carradine, Lesley-Anne Down, and Parker Stevenson. The sets were realistic and the production values were high.

After watching that, I decided to give John Jakes’s books a try. I read North and South (1982), plus the subsequent two books in the North and South trilogy, Love and War (1984) and Heaven and Hell (1987).

Then I delved into The Kent Family Chronicles. The books in this long family saga were published between 1974 and 1979. These are the books that really put Jakes on the map as an author of commercial historical fiction.

I emphasize commercial. John Jakes never strove for the painstaking historical accuracy of Jeff Shaara, or his approximate contemporary, James Michener. Jakes’s first objective was always to entertain. If the reader learned something about the American Revolution or the Civil War along the way, that was icing on the cake.

As a result, John Jakes’s novels lie somewhere along the spectrum between literary fiction and potboilers. His characters are memorable and he imparts a sense of time and place. But these are plot-driven stories.

At the same time, Jakes’s plots have a way of being simultaneously difficult to believe and predictable. Almost all of his books have a Forrest Gump aspect. His characters are ordinary men and women, but they all seem to rub shoulders with figures from your high school history classes.

That said, Jakes is one of the few authors whose books pleased both the teenage me and the fiftysomething me. This past year, I started rereading The Kent Family Chronicles, and catching up on the few installments I missed back in the 1980s. I have changed as much as any person changes between the ages of 17 and 55, but I still find these books to be page-turners.

This past week, I started listening to the audiobook version of California Gold. This one was published in 1989, after Jakes’s long run of success with The Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy.

California Gold is the story of Mack Chance, a Pennsylvania coal miner’s son who walks to California to seek his fortune in the 1880s.

I will be honest with the reader: I don’t like California Gold as much as Jakes’s earlier bestsellers. California Gold is episodic in structure, and the main character is far less likable than some of Jakes’s earlier creations. In California Gold, Jakes indulges his tendency to pay lip service to the issues of the day (in this case: the budding American labor movement and early feminism) through the voices of his characters. Most of these pronouncements are politically correct and clichéd.

Worst of all, California Gold employs sex scenes as spice for low points in the plot. This is always a sign that a writer is struggling for ideas, or boring himself as he writes. When Jakes wrote California Gold, he may have been a little burned out, after writing The Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy.

California Gold, though, won’t be tossed aside on my did-not-finish (DNF) pile. This is still a good novel. Just not the caliber of novel I’d come to expect from John Jakes. No novelist, unfortunately, can hit one out of the park every time.

-ET

**Quick link to John Jakes’s titles on Amazon

Ukraine: lost causes and military realities

In February of 2022, I was as gung-ho as anyone about pushing the Russkies out of all Ukrainian territory. For a few weeks, I even put a Ukrainian flag on my social media profile. 

Then I learned more about the background causes of the war: the true nature of the Obama administration’s involvement in the 2014 Maidan coup, via the now discredited diplomat Victoria Nuland. I learned how NATO and the EU angled to bring Ukraine into the Western sphere of influence, by hook or by crook.

I also watched, with growing alarm, as the leaders of countries that haven’t fought a real war for decades (France, Germany) or even centuries (Sweden), rattled their swords at Moscow.

France and Germany, I should note, haven’t actually won a war in centuries.

And I also saw the battlefield realities. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have died in battle in order to support NATO, EU, and American plans for Eastern Europe. The empire of liberal democracy and free markets, imposed on the lands of the former USSR at the barrel of a gun. With lots of death and destruction as the cost of doing business. 

That’s how I came to a new and difficult conclusion: The Ukraine war should be ended now, while there is still something of Ukraine and its population left.

Yes, that might mean permanently ceding four eastern oblasts and Crimea to Russia. But those areas were long Russian territory anyway. And our side is not exactly winning here, is it?

For further evidence of the desperation of the Ukrainian situation, watch the video above.  A young woman in Ukraine is running a GoFundMe in order to buy equipment for her middle-aged father’s Ukrainian Army unit. 

This is not how modern wars are fought, by any side that has a chance of winning. 

Shortly after he took office, President Biden withdrew US forces from Afghanistan. Not because he loved the Taliban, but because the war there had become too costly, in both human and financial terms.

The US withdrew from Vietnam in 1975 for similar reasons. And now–50 years later–the US and Vietnam are military allies against China. How’s that for irony? And for the pointlessness of most foreign wars?

No, I do not want to fight until the last Ukrainian, over the question of which flag flies over the Crimea or Donbass. The West needs to use its power and influence to bring about a peace settlement, rather than consuming more Ukrainian lives in a futile and destructive war. 

-ET

O.J. Simpson (1947 – 2024)

In the summer of 1994, O.J. Simpson probably killed Nicole Brown Simpson and her male friend, waiter Ron Goldman. But he got off scot-free.

The O.J. Simpson case had heavy racial overtones, at a time when America was going through yet another hand-wringing moment over race. Two years prior, the white LAPD officers who beat black suspect Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of the charges against them. The Los Angeles Riots of 1992 were one result of that misguided decision. But not the last result.

At least one O.J. Simpson juror has speculated that the majority-black Simpson jury decided to acquit the former football player as “payback” for Rodney King. One juror, a man named Lionel Cryer, gave Simpson a Black Power salute in the courtroom after the verdict was read.

That’s all I’m going to say about the O.J. Simpson murder case of 1994, and the trial that finally ended in October 1995. It was a long time ago. Everything that possibly can be said about it has probably been said in the years since then.

Before the 1994 murders, former football player O.J. Simpson also had a lucrative career as a brand spokesperson. That came to an abrupt halt in 1994.

I was 26 years old in 1994, the same age as Nicole Brown Simpson’s male friend, Ron Goldman. I watched O.J. Simpson’s low-speed run from the LAPD, and his surrender on television, along with the rest of America. I followed his drawn-out trial sporadically.

The 1990s were a peaceful time, at least compared to the 2020s. That was an era in which a celebrity murder trial could become the top item on the news, and remain so for a stretch of months.

Nowadays, I suspect, we would have a lot less bandwidth for the O.J. Simpson murder trial. We have far more to worry about.

Orenthal James Simpson is now beyond earthly justice. Did he kill Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1994? Like many people old enough to remember it all, I think so.

But I don’t know for sure. I will therefore fall back on those lines from Romans 12:19: “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

O.J. Simpson, 76, R.I.P.

-ET

Joe Biden at 30? Me at 4? Wow

The news segment below shows President Biden as a young senator in 1972. Biden was then 30 years old.

In 1972, Richard Nixon was President of the United States. The Vietnam War was winding down, but US troops were still active there. Leonid Brezhnev was the General Secretary of the Soviet Union. Iran, still under the Shah, was a staunch US ally.

The two highest grossing movies of 1972 were The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure. Disco had yet to make an appearance. Robert Flack, the Rolling Stones, and Cat Stevens all had best-selling albums. 

And, of course, 1972 was the year of Don McClean’s American Pie.

Yeah, 1972 was a long time ago.

On a personal note: I will turn 56 this year, and Joe Biden has been in government since I was 4 years old. Make of that what you will.

Some readers will necessarily interpret this as a subliminal political statement: “Don’t vote for Biden…he’s really old!” But Biden’s age is no secret, and it’s doubtful that anything you read here is going to change your mind…however you plan to vote in November.

No, this is just a reflection on how much time has passed: for the president, but also for yours truly. In 1972, Joe Biden was in the prime of his early adulthood, and my life had barely begun. Tempus fugit. How time flies. For all of us.

-ET

 

 

 

Swedish military mobilization

Sweden remained neutral in World Wars I and II. Sweden also held itself aloof from NATO during the Cold War. 

The last time Sweden was a primary belligerent in an actual war? The War of the Sixth Coalition, 1813 to 1814. That was one of the Napoleonic Wars.

But Sweden joined NATO last month, thereby surrendering its sovereignty to Jens Stoltenberg, the saber-rattling Secretary General of NATO. 

Since then, the country best known to outsiders for Volvo and ABBA has embarked on a program of rapid militarization. War fever has gripped the nation…or at least the government. There was a widespread panic in Sweden earlier this year, as politicians warned citizens that Russia (which has shown little interest in Sweden so far), may be landing Spetsnaz forces in Stockholm any day now. 

Watch the video above. These young people are certainly sincere, and–as the cliché goes–at least some of them are more articulate in English than the average American teen/twentysomething. But I seriously hope that Sweden’s blundering government doesn’t get them into an actual war. 

-ET

Republicans and abortion realism

The Supreme Court of Arizona has just confirmed a 160-year-old ruling that bans almost all abortions in the Grand Canyon State. The Democrats and their mainstream media shills are making the most of it. Did you expect otherwise?

I try to be a realist where the real world is concerned.

Take the present war within the former USSR. I really wish that NATO hadn’t goaded Russia into calling in its historic claims on portions of southern and eastern Ukraine.

But after two years of relentless bloodshed and not-so-crippling economic sanctions, we must face facts. All the West is accomplishing by continuing to pour in military aid is a.) making more dead Ukrainians, and b.) raising the risks of World War III.

Ergo, I want to negotiate a settlement and end the war. Even if Ukraine loses territory as a result.

That doesn’t make me “pro-Russian”. That makes me a realist.

But what about abortion? Once again, I’m a realist. I’ve always seen some accommodation of legalized abortion as a necessary evil in an evil world.

You might say that makes me “pro-choice”. In terms of what the law should be: perhaps. But with a very big asterisk.

I doubt that the folks shrieking “My body, my choice!” in the public square would be completely pleased with my position. They see abortion as an ideal, like Freedom of Speech. I see abortion as a dehumanizing moral blight—albeit one that must be tolerated, within certain parameters. There is a difference. 

Moreover, I can see no way of outright banning abortion that doesn’t fall outside the dreaded Overton Window. Theoretically, we could do just about anything. But there are some dogs that simply aren’t going to hunt in a democratic society.

Let’s start with the law itself. (We’ll leave enforcement for another time.) Pro-abortion views predominate among a.) young voters and b.) female voters. Unless we plan to change the basic structure of American democracy (i.e., who’s allowed to vote), absolutist abortion bans will always be a sure way for a Republican candidate to go down in flames against a pro-abortion Democrat. And all Democrats are pro-abortion.

Republicans, therefore, have to face the facts. In military terms, they are the beleaguered Ukrainian army, and Planned Parenthood is the fully ramped-up Russian war machine, with Sukhoi fighter jets and hypersonic missiles.

Republicans are ahead on certain fronts in the culture wars. (I think the left’s transgender obsession has just about run its course with most of the public.) But on the abortion battlefield, the GOP has not yet captured the hearts and minds of a plurality of voters. Poll after poll, and election after election, demonstrate that.

Since the Dobbs vs. Jackson decision of 2022, Republicans in various states have [temporarily] succeeded in enacting laws that ban abortion. But these laws also fall outside the consensus views of their electorates.

The GOP often uses the courts to bring about such outcomes. (Case-in-point: the recent Arizona decision.) When Democrats do this on a divisive social issue, Republicans call it “judicial activism”.

Since the 1960s (more than fifty years now), American culture has been rotting from the inside out. And abortion would be a complicated debate in the best of times.

I understand the idealism of pro-life Republicans. I can laud it, even. But when you’re in a war zone (if I may continue that metaphor) sometimes you have to focus on triage measures. Especially when you’re losing. And conservatives are losing, at present.

***

Where the law is concerned, Republicans need to cede territory on abortion in the short run, as ground that they cannot realistically defend at the present time. They need to remember that law and politics are always downstream from culture. Republicans who are earnestly pro-life need to set about the difficult work of fixing an American culture that has spent three generations careening down the path of civilizational suicide. Good luck with that.

Accomplish that, however, and the matter of abortion will take care of itself, in the long run. Because the voters will be on board.

Fixing a broken culture is no easy thing. Perhaps that’s why Republicans have spent the last two years since Dobbs in a purely tactical mode. The GOP has been trying to manipulate and finagle voters—whom they assume to be wrongheaded—into doing the right thing. 

The voters, as we’ve seen, might be wrongheaded; but they have not been manipulated. Nor have they been finagled very much.

In the final analysis, people in a democracy have to be persuaded. Hearts and minds must be coaxed—not compelled—from the Stygian cultural darkness of the last half-century.

That’s hard work, fixing a broken culture. But if you truly want to see abortion tossed on the scrap heap of history, that’s the place to focus: hearts and minds and persuasion. Not on legal and judicial maneuvers that will be overturned in the next election cycle.

-ET

My first Atari, Christmas 1981

As noted above, there really was something special about growing up in an era when video games were not old hat, but something brand-new and on the cutting edge of the technology of that time.

I suppose I like my 21st-century iPhone and my MacBook as much as the next person, but they are tools for me, not objects of indulgence. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anything quite as much as that first Atari console I received for Christmas in 1981.

Did I have a favorite game? Of course I did. Space Invaders, hands down. Missile Command came in a close second, though.

**Shop for retro video game consoles on Amazon (quick link)**

The eclipse that wasn’t

Today’s solar eclipse was a bit anticlimactic here in Cincinnati. The local news channels all predicted a 99.2 percent eclipse in my area just outside the city. 

That didn’t happen, not by a long shot:

Me, eagerly awaiting the full eclipse as the shadows start to lengthen
This is going to get good any minute now! I tell myself. But I am already growing skeptical.
The high point of the eclipse, at around 3:20 p.m. EST. The sun has been noticeably dimmed, but it’s a long way from dark.

What can I say? Here in Cincinnati, the local weather forecasts are right only about 50 percent of the time. Why should the eclipse forecast be any different?

This was worth walking outside for, but I’m glad I didn’t make a day of it. 

I hope the eclipse was better for you, if you live in an area that was forecast to experience it. 

-ET

What pro-Palestinian protestors can learn from the Beatles

In 1968 the Beatles released the song ‘Revolution’. This was at the height of that long-ago decade’s counterculture. The song satirized the growing excesses of late 1960s leftwing activism. 

The Beatles were no one’s idea of conservatives. But the group nevertheless recognized an iron law of all countercultural movements: they always go too far, and end up alienating the people they want to convince.

When this happens, “the movement” ends up preaching to no one but the choir. The movement becomes an echo chamber, and the rest of society simply tunes it out…or maybe tries to crush it.

‘Revolution’ is well worth listening to in its entirety, but I want to focus here on two lines only:

“If you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao

You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow…”

In the 1960s, some leftwing college protestors did, indeed, carry pictures of Ho Chi Minh and Chairman Mao. They looked like complete tools, and ceased to be taken seriously by anyone but their fellow travelers.

Back to 2024.

This past weekend, a pro-Palestinian activist named Tarek Bazzi led an anti-Israel, anti-America protest in Dearborn, Michigan. Bazzi and his assembled comrades-in-arms were protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza, and US support for Israel. 

Bazzi not only quoted the late Ayatollah Khoemeini in glowing terms, he also led the crowd in a chant of “Death to America”.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have non-trivial historic claims to the land they’ve fought over for more than a century. (The conflict did not begin with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948; it began decades before that.) Neither side has a claim that is beyond dispute, and neither side can claim a complete moral high ground. Both sides have legitimate grievances against the other.

But the Palestinians have a unique ability to make themselves unsympathetic victims. The term “likable Palestinian spokesperson” would seem to be an oxymoron. Case-in-point: Representative Rashida Tlaib.

In 2001, Palestinian crowds in Jerusalem openly celebrated the 9/11 terror attacks. That was the moment in which I was sorely tempted to lose any interest in their fate.

But 9/11 was more than twenty years ago, you might say. Okay, fair enough. On October 7 of last year, Hamas, the elected governing authority of Gaza, launched its terror attacks on Israel.

You’ve already heard and seen the accounts of the massacres and the sexual violence that Hamas loosed on Israeli civilians. In the immediate wake of those attacks, there was a chorus of cries of “Allahu akbar!” in Gaza.

Then the payback came. Gaza stopped shouting “Allahu akbar!” and began shouting to the world, “Call off the Israelis! The jihad wasn’t supposed to go like this.”

You might argue, nevertheless, that the Israeli response has gone too far, and the retribution has been too indiscriminate. Those are American bombs, moreover, that are being dropped on Gaza.

All fair points. On October 7, I was ready to join the IDF myself, even though there’s not a Jewish bone in my body. Six months later, I’m far more open to “two wrongs don’t make a right” arguments.

This is why I can’t issue a blanket condemnation of the pro-Palestinian protestors who have made the news in recent months. They are not entirely wrong, even if they are wrong on many points. Even if they are endlessly obnoxious and tirelessly unpleasant.

But its one thing to be unlikable, it’s another thing to be stupid about it. When you shout “Death to America!” in the public square, you affirm all the worst things that Americans suspect about Muslims. “Death to America!” was the chant of the Iranian radicals of 1979, after all. Surely Tarek Bazzi and his pals know that.

Back to the Beatles and “Revolution”. If I may paraphrase the Fab Four:

“If you go shouting ‘Death to America’, every American who isn’t a radical crackpot is going to tune you out and hate your guts.”

Shout “Death to America” in the public square, and you’ve lost me. Palestinians might have celebrated 9/11. I didn’t. Nor did I celebrate San Bernardino (2015), the London Tube attacks (2005) or any of the many other Islamist terror attacks carried out in the West over the last 30-odd years.

The Israelis, for all their missteps and hamfistedness, at least understand that you don’t gain sympathy by doing your best to be repellant at every turn. Palestinians wishing to make their case in the West might find a lesson there.

-ET

Fight until the last Ukrainian, or the (literal) end of the world?

In 2021, the Biden administration ceded the entire nation of Afghanistan to the Taliban. The US withdrawal not only doomed the people of Afghanistan to the Islamist rule of the Taliban, it effectively squandered the trillions of US taxpayer dollars and thousands of American lives lost there since 2001.

The Democratic Party cheered the end of a costly US overseas commitment. There was barely a peep from the neocon chickenhawks in the GOP. 

Yet now, three years later, those same parties claim that it’s all or nothing where Ukraine is concerned.

Few Americans have a grasp of the convoluted history behind the conflict:

  1. The disputed regions, Donbass and Crimea, were long Russian territory. Especially Crimea. Crimea belonged first to the Tatars and then to the Russian Empire. Then to the Soviets…and then to Ukraine. Crimea has changed hands many times. 
  2. Ukraine and Russia have a long, complicated history together. For example, Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the USSR from 1964 through 1982, was Ukrainian. Mikhail Gorbachev also had family ties to Ukraine. 
  3. The identity of post-Soviet Ukraine is  a matter that the West should have left to the Ukrainians. Instead, we were determined that Ukraine would become a jewel in the crowns of the European Union and NATO. So in 2014, we played midwife to a coup against Ukraine’s lawfully elected (but pro-Russian) president, Viktor Yanukovych. That is when the present troubles really began.

***

Does all that equal a justification of the Kremlin’s subsequent actions? Of course not. But it should be clear, at this point, that Russia isn’t going to be cowed by the departure of Starbuck’s and McDonalds. Two years after they were put in place, Western sanctions have failed. Miserably.

We are now faced with the following options:

  1. Fight until the last Ukrainian. At the same time, keep pouring billions of dollars into a war that cannot be won. That will enable us to cry uncle years from now, perhaps, after we have spent billions more and killed even more Ukrainians. (Assuming there are any military-age Ukrainians left by then.)
  2. Go to war with Russia ourselves. Russia is a nuclear-armed power. Are you willing to bring about the end of the world over the question of which flag flies over Donbass and the Crimea? Short of that, are you willing to send young Americans to die within the boundaries of the former USSR? That’s what going to war with Russia would mean.
  3. End the war with a negotiated settlement. Put a stop to the bloodshed. Sooner rather than later. 

***

It seems to me that #3 above is that they call the “least-worst option”. Given Russia’s demands, that will probably mean a.) ceding territory that was historically Russian, anyway, and b.) taking Ukrainian membership in NATO off the table.

(But Ukrainian membership in NATO never should have been on the table to begin with.)

***

This is the solution that former President Trump, one of the few realists in the public debate on this long and costly war, intends to propose.

Let me be clear: this is an imperfect solution for an imperfect world. But if you’re upset about ceding Donbass and the Crimea to Russia, where were you when the Biden administration was handing all of Afghanistan–and its 41 million inhabitants–to the barbaric rule of the Taliban, only a few short years ago?

First go and get Afghanistan back.  Then I’ll listen to your armchair battle cries about fighting until the bitter end in Ukraine. Otherwise, I want to settle and end the war, lest the mutual bungling of multiple nuclear-armed powers bring about the end of the world, quite literally. 

-ET

Why streaming makes me long for Blockbuster and the VHS tape

This brave new digital age, I am told, has brought us unparalleled convenience and endless options.

Those days when people had to rely on cable and Blockbuster? The Dark Ages! Or so I am told.

What about Netflix?

I know: I’m sounding like a Luddite already. But I’m not; I’ve plunked down the monthly fee for a Netflix subscription. Maybe this streaming stuff isn’t so bad, I thought. Give it a chance. Everything I’d want to see that isn’t currently playing at the cinema will be on Netflix, right?

Actually, not so much. While the vast, vast catalog of Netflix does include a handful of high-quality series and movies, the overwhelming majority of it consists of B-grade fare that is there simply for the sake of volume. There are endless series and movies from amateurish production companies in South Korea, Poland, Romania, and Colombia. Plus all the stuff that never made the top tier of the American film industry.

I’m sure there are a few hidden gems among all those lumps of coal. But who has the time to sort all of that out?

Streaming options for a random movie

Meanwhile, what about something I know that I do want to see? I’ve been wanting to watch the World War II movie Greyhound, starring Tom Hanks, since it was released in 2020.

Four years later, Greyhound is no longer a new movie. It’s actually kind of an old one. Greyhound ought to be on Netflix, right? After all, Netflix has room for all those series dubbed from Korean, Romanian, and Spanish. They ought to have Greyhound.

Netflix doesn’t have Greyhound.

If I want to see Greyhound, I have to get an Apple TV+ subscription for $9.99/month.

Wait! I already have a Netflix subscription at $22.99 per month. (Netflix recently raised the prices of all its plans.)

But if I want to see a single 4-year-old movie, I have to get an Apple TV+ subscription, too.

My other option is decidedly un-digital and unhip: I could buy the DVD on Amazon.

That’s probably what I’ll end up doing.

Streaming options for a favorite series

The Americans, a spy drama about a family of Soviet sleeper agents in Reagan-era America, is my all-time favorite TV series. The Americans originally ran on FX from 2013 to 2018.

I wouldn’t mind watching The Americans again. It was my all-time favorite show, after all.

The Americans ought to be on Netflix, right?

No, The Americans is not on Netflix.

How about Amazon Prime Video, then? (I pay $139 per year for an Amazon Prime Membership.)

Nope. The Americans is not on Amazon Prime Video, either. (BTW, neither is Greyhound.)

If I want to see The Americans, my first option is to purchase a digital copy of each episode at $1.99 per episode. There are 75 of them in total, so that comes out to $150.

I also have the option of buying a Hulu subscription. Hulu recently licensed The Americans. The ad-free Hulu subscription costs $17.99 per month.

So far, this streaming stuff doesn’t seem all that great.

Were the 1980s better?

Before we answer that question, let’s consider why the present age might be much worse.

A few years back, someone (?) decided that we all wanted to watch TV on our 6.1-inch phone screens, instead of actual televisions.

Why? Who knows? Personally, I’d much rather watch a movie on the screen of a 55-inch Sony Bravia TV, for example. I have no interest in watching a two-hour movie on the 6.1-inch screen of my iPhone. It’s a simple matter of geometry.

The infatuation with mobile devices led inexorably to streaming. We couldn’t expect people to mess with physical media anymore. Physical media was no longer cool.

So instead we now have to manage a score of monthly streaming subscriptions. Netflix has its own walled garden. Ditto for Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+, Paramount +, and many others.

Such is the price of so-called progress. We’re paying a lot of money, and often getting a lot less, just because the market has bought into the latest technology.

Technology is great if it makes life better. If technology makes life more inconvenient or expensive, then go back to the horse and buggy, say I.

RCA television print ad from the 1970s

And the horse and buggy wasn’t so bad. Now let’s look at the way we sourced entertainment in the backward 1980s and 1990s.

Movies appeared first in the cinema. Then, after a predictable period of 6 months or a year, they showed up in Blockbuster and other VHS/DVD rental outlets. For a nominal fee, you could borrow any title for 3 to 5 days.

Any TV show you wanted to watch was on cable. Most were on standard channels!

Easy-peasy. 

In those days, HBO was only for movies. HBO was a cable alternative to Blockbuster. But there was practically no movie that you could only get on HBO. Renting it on physical media for a few bucks was always an option.

Superior to streaming? They always had my favorite movies at Blockbuster, and for only few bucks.

So simple. And no—we never thought about watching a 2-hour movie on our landline, analog phones, either. Not when we had those big RCA and Zenith televisions, with their 27-inch screens.

That would have been almost as foolish as watching a 2-hour movie on an iPhone today, when you can watch the same movie on a modern flatscreen television, with a 55-inch screen.

-ET

A Kindle corporate thriller deal to last the weekend

“Business consultant Craig Walker is paid to do the dirty work of his corporate clients. But will he draw the line at murder?”

View it on Amazon

Termination Man is a corporate mystery/thriller. I wrote this story in 2012, and it was inspired by my experiences in the automotive industry.

I also took inspiration from some of the more unsavory corporate HR practices I’d read about, including the controversial practice of “managing out” an unwanted employee. (This basically means: making the employee’s life so unpleasant that he or she will want to quit.)

Who should read Termination Man? This is a good fit for readers who already like the corporate/financial thrillers of Joseph Finder. Fans of John Grisham will find significant overlap, too.

Termination Man will be available on Amazon Kindle at a reduced price through the end of this weekend. Kindle Unlimited members can read it there gratis, too.

Finally, if you’d like to sample before you commit, you can read the first few chapters of the book on EdwardTrimnellBooks.

-ET

**View TERMINATION MAN on Amazon**

Clueless Blinken bumbles toward World War III

As if there isn’t enough trouble in the world, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has just declared that Ukraine will become a member of NATO at some undisclosed point in the future.

Given that Ukraine is at war with Russia, this will place the United States at war with Russia. Immediately.

And for what? When I was growing up, Ukraine and Russia were both part of the same country: the USSR. But that status quo wasn’t unique to my childhood. Ukraine and Russia were the same country from the 1790s through 1991: about 200 years. Throughout all that time, Crimea, Odessa, and Donetsk were Russian places, controlled by the czars and the commissars in Moscow.

Which brings us to NATO. Throughout the Cold War years (1947-1989), NATO was a necessary alliance with a reasonable scope. NATO was not there to wage a crusade within Russia’s historic borders, to go abroad looking for dragons to slay. NATO was there to keep the Soviet Union (and Soviet Communism) out of Western Europe.

Since the 1990s, however, NATO has undergone a mad-drunk orgy of expansion. Americans are now obligated to die for the boundaries of countries that very few of us could find on a map. These include: Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and North Macedonia. And many more.

This was in direct contravention of the promise we gave Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, when the last General Secretary of the USSR agreed to wink at the NATO membership of the newly unified Germany, in exchange for a halt to NATO’s eastward expansion.

It could have been so simple. But NATO, like all ravenous bureaucracies, was programmed to expand.

Russia doesn’t want Western weapons of war on its doorstep. And if you think this makes the Russkies uniquely prickly, consider that we almost went to war over Soviet weapons in Cuba in 1962. I’m talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which you’ve no doubt heard of.

And that would not be the last time.

In 1983, the Reagan administration launched an invasion of Grenada. The State Department claimed that this was done to assure the safety of 600 American medical students living on the tiny Caribbean island.

Perhaps. But it was also done to overthrow the country’s new Soviet-aligned government. We didn’t want another Soviet satellite in the Western hemisphere.

In this regard, Russia’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 bear a striking resemblance to our smaller-scale invasion of Grenada in 1983. As history shows, this is what great powers do: they defend their security interests, by force, if necessary.

But let’s get back to you, an American reading this. Probably you don’t remember the 1983 US invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury. Maybe you weren’t even born then.

Maybe you aren’t aware of the roles that NATO, the EU, and the Obama administration played in the 2014 Maidan Revolution in Ukraine. That amounted to a Western-encouraged, Western-assisted overthrow of a democratically elected (but pro-Moscow) president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Why? Yanukovych was about to sign a trade pact with Russia and Belarus, but Western business, military, and political interests wanted Ukraine as a jewel in the crowns of the European Union, and eventually NATO.

So they had a revolution. A Western-aligned government was put in place. Russia reacted.

Now, lest you think I’m a Moscow agent, I’m not. I’ve never been to Russia, and no one in the Kremlin is filling my Swiss bank account with rubles.

But I am a realist about this geopolitical stuff. I’m not about to burn the American flag because we preemptively invaded Grenada in 1983. Nor am I quite ready to declare Russia the equivalent of Nazi Germany because they launched a preemptive war.

Speaking of which—didn’t we preemptively invade Iraq in 2003? Oops!

That’s a lot of preemptive wars and invasions to keep track of.

Here’s what I will tell you: the dingbats and dullards who are currently in charge of our government have no idea what they’re doing. They’re putting us on a collision course with Russia, in which a single misstep can result in a nuclear war.

And for you folks worried about climate change: ask yourselves what a nuclear war would do to sea levels and weather patterns. Then shriek about plastic silverware at fast food restaurants.

I have been told that 80 million Americans voted for Biden in 2020. But did 80 million of us vote for World War III? As Barack Obama famously said, “Elections have consequences.” Indeed, they do.

-ET