Saturday, April 10, 2010

Democracy - the best choice statistically

With the ever increasing rancor in the US Senate (over Healthcare, over appointments, etc.), it got me to thinking about the best forms of government - specifically that with all of its seeming inefficiency, democracy is the most statistically stable type of government out there. By statistically stable, I do not mean to suggest that monarchies or military dictatorships are inherently unstable, for we’ve seen many monarchies that last longer than the US democracy and there’ve been many long ruling military dictatorships. And out of many lessons of the US Civil War, one would certainly be that one has to work just as hard to preserve a democracy as one does a monarchy, either militarily or politically or both.

What I specifically mean is that as far as the type of leadership is concerned, democracies tend to lead to much more statistically even keeled leaders over time than do the monarchies or dictatorships. Certainly, there may be certain monarchs who are universally acknowledged as being great leaders who had done great works for their countries in a much shorter time span than would have been possible under a democracy – Elizabeth I of England, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great of Russia come to mind (none-withstanding the many negative things they might have done). While these “Greats” are the peaks as far as rulers, there are many leaders who are the “Horribles,” the deep valleys on the statistical chart – the leaders whose sheer ineptitude or malice seem mindboggling, to the point where one almost wishes for an inept rulers when faced with shear horror unleashed by the likes of 20th Century dictators (see Hitler, Stalin, and their imitators all over the world). As the saying goes, nothing is dangerous as power with impunity. One can never be sure with a monarchy how great the sons (or daughter, in some cases) will be and one can never be sure if the next successor in a dictatorship will be as enlightened as the former one made himself out to be.

Thus, when faced with these peaks and valleys of rulers, one has to appreciate that for all the seeming ineptitude of some our leaders in Washington, D.C., the statistical chart for a democracy is much flatter. Granted it doesn’t have the great peaks (due in part to the democratic system – e.g., US’s three branch government), but it doesn’t have the great deep valleys either. Some US presidents might have been very good leaders and some were very poor or stupid, but there really haven’t been any presidents who rose to the level of being called “The Great” and any presidents who truly rose to the level of being called “The Horrible” – despite what recent memory might push our still heated passions to say. And that’s because there was (and is) always other branches of the government to keep the presidents from either rising to the levels where one would truly be called “The Great” and the same is true for the other side of the spectrum (especially in the past 50 years, when it seems that one party always hold the presidency while the other holds the Congress with few years worth of exceptions). While we might not get the sense of security and rapid advances produced by a truly enlightened ruler, as many people in Bhutan felt for their monarchy, we will also, hopefully, never have to go through the horrors of a successor who is truly insane or truly a moron. That’s why in Bhutan, the ruler recently decided to step down in order to move his country toward a democracy. The monarch in Bhutan recognized that while the people of Bhutan were lucky enough to get two enlightened leaders in a row, with Bhutan’s people being some of the happiest in the world, the streak of great rulers might change with the next successor, no matter the current monarch’s best intentions or the fact that the new monarch would have been his son.

In a nutshell, the seeming mediocrity of democracy is in fact its strength. While we may curse or praise the current government, always remember that a flat rolling countryside is preferable to the Himalayas of monarchy. And as ever, I eagerly await your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Striving too much?

It does appear that directors who dream of making a particular movie are often the last persons who you'd want to make these movies. Case and point: the 2000s versions of Superman and King Kong. Both films were made by directors whose dream it was to make these movies. It was Peter Jackson's dream to make King Kong because he was such a fan of the 1933 version. While the original was a visual breakthrough at the time, the "brand new" version brought nothing new to the story, aside from CGI, which aside from King Kong himself wasn't even that good (case and point, the dinosaur stampede). Say what you will about the 1976 version, but at least that one added something original to the story that was relevant to the times - the search for oil with the plot revolving around an oil tycoon searching for a large oil deposit and when failing that, settling on King Kong instead. You might not have liked the 1976 version (it'll always hold a special place in my heart as the first movie I ever saw in theatres), but at least it wasn't trying to duplicate the original move for move. Peter Jackson's dream made him unable to add anything that was uniquely his to the movie. Without a unique addition, the movie should have been tilted "1933 King Kong with today's CGI - come take a look at what I can do on my computer." Not something that one sees more than once or that makes for a great movie. Same thing for the Superman update. The 1978 original was of course one of the greatest movies of all time, at least for superhero fans (with the sequel being even better).

The 2006 Superman Returns, however, was once again a stinker. It was Bryan Singer's dream to make Superman. He left the X-Men franchise to make it. End result: His film wasn't very good. First, while it may be argued that box office results don't mean a lot, they do show that a not that good of a X-Men 3 easily made more money than Singer's Superman - a movie that one may say meant more to more people than another X-Men sequel. People grew up with 1978 original Superman and one would think that a new Superman film would bring all those fans back repeatedly. While there may have been repeat business, it wasn't a lot. As with Jackson and King Kong, Singer was trying too hard to pay tribute to the original film by making it about stunning visuals and Superman flying around and lifting things and blowing on things and shooting his laser/heat beams. Sorry, nothing new. Add to that a boring script and plot and even the best Christopher Reeve look-alike isn't going to do it for the audience. Yes, Lex Luther is a bad guy, but do we really need to see him again doing the exact same thing - land grabbing. Yes, at least Singer substituted nuclear weapons for crystals and switched up the seacoast (from the West coast to the East coast), but the plan is basically identical with Luther again being swarted by his assistant as much as by Superman himself. And don't even get me started on the Superman's kid. So, all in all, we got better CGI, but given all of Superman's rouge's gallery, we should have had a much better movie. My point is that directors who say that it is their life-long dream to make something should not be allowed within a mile of whatever film they name. Yes, it may be cruel, especially after Lord of the Rings and X-Men success (Jackson and Singer, respectively), but it's better this way than the audience sitting through torture.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Race and Film

Does watching a movie that one likes makes one less likely to see issues with race? Case in point, while watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the racism jumped out at me. On the other hand, while watching Avatar, I completely missed what people are pointing out as racism. Is that true for others? Is doing or watching something you like makes you blind to other points of view? Perhaps.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tower of Babel anyone?

Is it me or does the new world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, look a lot like the Tower of Babel? Heck, it's even in the right region of the world. Let the conspiracy theories begin, re 2012 and all that nonesense.