Thoughts on lack of Perspective

In the past few years or so, I’ve met a lot of people with, shall we say, underdeveloped attitudes to things. They don’t have a problem of lack of knowledge, but a lack of perspective, and possibly the open-mindedness necessary to correct their lack of knowledge. After all, if you’re already set in your views, no amount of new knowledge will change that. Indeed, the backfire effect might lead you to reinforce your views.

“I’m not sure that Trump is worse than Clinton because Clinton would have started a war” is something I’ve heard multiple times in Switzerland. There are many facets to this statement which are problematic, but the underlying one is that military action is thrust onto the American president regardless of who is sitting in the chair. Nevertheless, this view is usually championed by people whose perspective on American interventionism is limited to the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. They are the most current examples of American military involvement and thus get the most attention, but are only a small part of a much larger picture. One cannot assume that American military policy in Iraq is the same as it is in Korea, or South East Asia, or Europe. Generalising a specific case is, honestly, highly problematic, even within the MENA region. Libya is not the same as Iraq, or Syria, or Afghanistan. It’s just as problematic if you’re an American generalising about Muslims as if you’re a Muslim generalising about Muslims.

There are a lot of Tumblr bloggers who are mostly young Americans discovering their opinions about race in America. There is, indeed, a systemic problem of racism there and it’s an important fight. The problem is that “race” as a term implies global, human characteristics and people are therefore inclined to generalise that of course, the rest of the world also suffers from the heavy thumb of the white man. I lived in Malaysia for 6 months and racism there is a completely different picture, just as problematic but totally different and very little to do with white people. You cannot transcribe American race problems on other countries. Doing so creates a gross injustice by oversimplifying the problems of other peoples.

What people need is an open perspective, and a desire to learn. We’re so often wrong, even about ourselves, and growing up is an endless process of learning for ourselves what we can bend our principles on, and what we stand firm about. Experience teaches you what that is, and those experiences should be challenges to your worldview which help you to mould yourself.

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All this is a result of the human talent for pattern recognition, which likes to build patterns. It’s generally a good thing and was an early human survival skill, but sometimes it makes us see things which aren’t there. Just because you’re black in America and you have problems, it doesn’t mean they’re the same problems for black people in the Caribbean, or sub-Saharan Africa. Just because US military intervention is problematic at best in the MENA region, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a net benefit in others, and just because it was a relative success story in Japan doesn’t mean there weren’t many problems.

Pattern recognition is handy, but it needs testing, just like the worldviews of people need challenges. Wanting to believe in something is childlike behaviour regardless of your age, and part of the process of becoming and being an adult is understanding that everything is a lot more complicated and doesn’t necessarily care what you think. If you’re too easily convinced by something, there’s probably something wrong with it. You can take a side on an issue, but you have to recognise the realities of it.

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My Thoughts on the Concept of a Trump Presidency

Many of my American friends, and even some who aren’t, are venting their emotions on social media. Honestly, I was initially more emotionally affected by the results than I thought I would be, but my sober analytical side won out.

This isn’t my first election nor is it my first disappointment. Every election I’ve personally experienced is hyped up as the most important election ever and the message does start to wear thin. There’s often a sense of reassurance that it’s never as bad or as good as people think it will be.

And that’s probably going to be true. Obama wasn’t as good as people hoped. Trump won’t be as bad as people think. It is not the end of the world. I’m not going to be hyperbolic here. The system isn’t broken, but it has a lot of problems.

The fact that Trump is a fairly terrible person doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to offend most people. What bothers me is that he was made the voice of so many suffering people. All those uneducated white voters who supported him have real troubles and real concerns. And honestly, no one’s going to fix them, least of all him. He doesn’t represent the traditional Republican, he’s not a revolutionary; he’s a demagogue who changes his policy ideas to whatever gets the most attention and not even in the normal way of a politician. Normal politicians chase votes. He chases crowds. The comparison to Hitler is entirely unfitting because Hitler did what he believed in. He wrote a book in the 1920s and did exactly what he said he would do 10-20 years later.

So my problem with his success is that all those suffering people, insecure in their jobs and lives, terrified of where they see the country going, just got conned. And not even by a very good con-man.

American liberals have been doing mostly great work in being inclusive to minorities of all kinds, whether they be racial or religious, but tend to forget that American conservatives are also, well, American. You can’t just disregard people as “white trash” and think they’ll just die off. They have agency too, and they wanted to show that they still matter. It’s foolish to write them off.

So let’s start with the very real concerns. Republican majorities in basically all of Congress, with a Republican president who likely will have to cave in to a Republican cabinet, with a Supreme Court which will likely continue to be conservative… means that the Affordable Care Act, aka. Obamacare, will be repealed. This is something they’ve been trying to shoot down since before it began and it seems likely that, given the first opportunity, they’re going to cut off millions of people from the medication they need. This is a tragedy and it pains me to think of it.

Americans also tend to have heroic expectations of their presidents. It’s like they’re voting a damn Superhero. They want them to be family men, eloquent but also relatable, and seem to always want them to save the country. The irony is that the Executive branch, namely the President and their cabinet, doesn’t have that much influence on domestic issues. Congress does that. The president’s job is much more to do with foreign policy, and that is a tremendous worry.

There’s a backlash in America right now, from both extreme Right and extreme Left, against globalisation. It’s become popular to trash free trade deals. I find it ironic that people do their bitching from smartphones made relatively cheap and accessible by the global supply chain, but I digress. There have been winners and losers from globalisation, and the whole Western would could do a much better job spreading the benefits… but that doesn’t make it worth closing borders and trade. The costs are much higher than people seem to realise.

No, it would be a terrible thing to shut down NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership. It’s horribly selfish to just think of American jobs. The negotiations for the TPP have been taking place for years, and in the words of the South Korean president, you can’t just abandon it now because it’s unpopular at home. All those countries in Asia also had to sell these trade deals domestically. But, you know, Americans and international awareness don’t entirely coincide.

What most people seem to worry about though, is the idea of a victory of hate over love. I dislike this notion because it’s a gross oversimplification and, again, denigrates all those suffering rural voters to haters, racists and misogynists. That said, it still is a symbolic victory.

Now, I’m pretty damn sure they aren’t going to repeal gay marriage. Issues like this are a shitstorm nobody wants. What it does do, however, is legitimse the problematic people and their problematic views. Lots of people who supported Trump weren’t racists… but racists did support him. Just like after the Brexit vote, racists have had their views legitimised by victory. This means their voices and actions will be more open. It won’t just be YouTube comment sections anymore.

This doesn’t make discrimination legal though. It just makes it more likely to happen.

I’ve always felt that, in a rather “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” sense, the main job of the President, as far as the world is concerned, is actually just being the face of America. Whatever hard work they do behind the scenes, they are held responsible for everything during their term in office. Thanks Obama.

So in a way, Trump is representing America in a somewhat suitably perverse distortion of the American dream and, in that way, all the problems with that dream. He’s rich by none of his own efforts, has a supermodel trophy wife, and apparently gets away with everything. In that sense you can feel that the trappings have finally come away from how false the dream is.

All in all, I’d say that most things people are worried about, they shouldn’t. What they should do, if they’re American, is write their congressman and implore them not to repeal Obamacare. Millions of sick people are the first, and real, casualties. Everything else depends on how things go.

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Dan Reviews: So I watched “The Nice Guys”

TL,DR: It’s pretty great. Possibly not as great as “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” but the closest to it.

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I’ve been looking forward to this movie since it was announced, because I really like Shane Black’s work. He wrote the original “Lethal Weapon,” which defined the buddy cop genre. He directed “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” one of the most original and creative films of the last 15 years. He also wrote and directed “Iron Man 3” which people seem to either love or hate, and I find it actually my favourite Iron Man movie and among my favourite Marvel movies. Fun fact, he also shows up in “Predator.”

So you know how I said “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” was original and creative? It also featured the highlights of a buddy cop movie, then featuring the talents of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in a way that works wonderfully. However, it’s more of a cult classic. It didn’t make that much money, but it’s well loved by those who know it.

So 10 years later, cult classic under his belt, Shane Black makes another movie about a pseudo-buddy-cop duo solving a mystery with hilarious chemistry. How well does it do?

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So I should probably talk about the movie a bit to try and convince you to see it. Projects like this deserve support.

Set in 1977-78 the film centers on the characters played by Ryan Gosling, a private detective with alcohol problems and a penchant for lucky accidents, and Russell Crowe, a tough fist-for-hire who takes on somewhat charitable cases such as beating up the older man trying to seduce your underage daughter. They meet, clash, then partner up in attempting to uncover the mystery surrounding the death of pornstar Misty Mountains. Along the way they meet colourful characters of pornstars, sleazy teenagers, hippy protesters, and more. Of particular note is the daughter of Gosling’s character, playsed by Angourie Rice. The girl did a great job and her character is a lot of fun.

Since it’s a mystery plot, and similar to “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” a lot of the charm of the film is in its lucky accidents and character interaction, there’s no point in spoiling anything beyond that. It’s a wonderful exploration of the seedy and corrupt underculture of Los Angeles in the late 70s through the thriving pornography business and more. Gosling gives a surprisingly welcome comedic performance, and Crowe is a great straightman in contrast.

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I rewatched “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” the other night with some friends and, overall, I’d say I like it a little more than this. It’s a film which is more playful with its unreliable narrator and the visual language of film, and I’d say the pacing of humour works better. It’s also just really hard to beat Robert Downey Jr. playing a well-meaning screwup. If you haven’t seen it, go do it now.

Even so, “The Nice Guys” is one of the most welcome movies to come out all year. In a box office dominated by various CGI-loaded action-adventure movies, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s gritty, fun, and violent in ways that invite you to have fun with the world and characters. What more can you ask for?

It should be obvious, but fair warning that since there’s pornography and murder, you can expect boobs and blood. It’s all done in a way that adds to the atmosphere and humour of the film, and you frankly can’t do a movie like this without it.

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So I Rewatched “Saving Private Ryan”

Basically: Wow Spielberg is a great filmmaker. Also, Nathan Fillion shows up.

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However, it’s well established that Spielberg is one of those people born to make movies, so discussing the filmmaking isn’t exactly treading new ground. I have some extended thoughts, though, about the theme of the movie (which people seem to miss), and about the larger cultural impact of the film.

This movie kicked off the trend of mostly-realistic war movies, especially Second World War movies. Suddenly everyone was making these, along with WW2 games, all that. This is kind of odd, because I don’t entirely consider it a war movie. At least, its focus is not the war itself. The war is a backdrop to the story of an ensemble of soldiers who are ordered to do something altruistic: save the life of the last surviving son of four.

The war as a backdrop serves as a contrast. Something heroic and altruistic like this stands out against this setting in which ordinary men are used to being asked to do terrible things. With a war in which millions died, why and whether one life still matters is the philosophical question at the heart of the movie.

One weird criticism I’ve heard is that it’s unrealistic to have overweight or physically unfit soldiers, especially in the elite units (Airborne and Rangers) featured in the movie. That’s fair as far as accuracy goes, but it runs against the theme of the movie. While the Germans are mostly a distant and faceless enemy, the distance that American soldiers feel towards them feeds the sense of inhumanity about war in general. The display of a variety of American soldiers depicts the citizen soldier nature of what’s being displayed here.

Rather than professional soldiers, citizen soldiers are recruited from civilian jobs and trained to fight. Tom Hanks’ character, John Miller, is a schoolteacher in normal life. That he happens to be a good soldier is something he learned, and it visibly troubles him as, over the course of the story, he hopes to have done something decent and worthwhile despite all the death and destruction. By taking a lot of different actors (Tom Sizemore and Paul Giamatti, to name a few) as soldiers who don’t really look like soldiers, Spielberg gets to depict even further how dehumanising war is by showing that even decent American civilians-become-soldiers are capable of callous disregard for human life.

Vin Diesel, young and early in his career, plays a soldier with his sense of empathy intact. He’s disbelieving when told that American machine gunners also ensure that enemy message runners are dead, and he hopes to do something decent by taking care of a French child and he dies for it. This reinforces the theme of how altruism has little place during war.

What’s awesome about the overall arc is that all the Ranger characters eventually give in and succumb to the human desire to do something human and heroic in helping Ryan defend a bridge in order to save him and take him home… and they all die for it. The interpreter, a non-combat soldier, is easily the most human of them. The entire time he hopes to connect with the others or maintain his sense of humanity by recognising their German prisoner as a human being… until the end, when he realises it costs the lives of others in the squad.

The ironic thing about war movies is that the best ones capture both the horror and the fascination of warfare. We are repulsed by its horrors but attracted to it all the same. And so there are many people who see this movie as a collection of battle scenes which awaken that oddly human passion for violence of this sort. That’s why so many video games were made about this, and I would be hypocritical if I said I didn’t also enjoy them for similar reasons. Band of Brothers was a WW2 series shortly afterwards produced by Spielberg and Hanks, following up on the success of this film and it mostly focused on its characters and the heroism that’s a theme of the book it was based upon. It’s part of a larger American myth of the special heroic properties of that generation that went to war.

But it’s still sad to me that the overall general audience impact of war films is actually the opposite of what the filmmakers intend. Most war films don’t approve of war and they make a point of showing its debilitating effect on humanity. And yet, they excite the imaginations of people who are morbidly fascinated in it.

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Touring Zürich

It’s ironic that the last post I made was to say “It’s been a while, but I’m back” when it took another two years to post something.

Regardless, I wanted to update something.

Now, I first moved to Zürich over 10 years ago. I moved around Switzerland and around the world in the meantime, but Zürich was sort of the hub to my wheel of the world, not least because my parents were more or less based here. Over all that time, every time I thought I knew the city fairly well, I discovered more. In the past year or so, I’ve become a walking tour guide in Zürich, and now, finally, I think I kind of know the city.

I’d like to eventually work on some videos to give a real taste of some of the locations I’ve come to appreciate, but I can couple them together with written posts.

I’ll make no promises that it would happen soon, of course. There are other priorities in life as well. Even so, it’s something I want to actually work on.

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Update

I haven’t posted in this for a long, long time. So here’s a quick recap and update.

This originally started as an attempt to have an online presence, particularly in trying to build a bit of an online portfolio for my particular interests. I’ve been questioning those interests as well as the specific value of an online portfolio for what I really want to do, and hence the purpose of this WordPress blog.

I have kept a more personal Tumblr over this time, and while I like to think it isn’t a dumb place for me to write and it’s certainly more casual, there’s the occasional thought I get to elaborate on there that I really think is worth sharing more generally.

This is basically where I come back to this blog. It can still be a more formal space for the thoughts I want to share, but to be honest I’m going to end up being a lot less themed. For that purpose I might end up retweaking some of the overall design to reflect that.

This blog is going to end up being just the more developed of my thoughts, inspired by the occurrences of my life which provoke deeper thoughts which run through my brain. I’m going to try my hardest to develop them before posting them here, which means that it will be very inconsistently updated and probably lack any kind of consistent theme.

So that said, I’m back. Woo woo.

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I don’t know much about the Troy Davis case.

A lot of people seem to feel strongly about it, and it’s easy to see why. A man’s life hung in the balance.

I don’t think the issue, in the end, was truly whether there was too much doubt about his guilt, or that the state killed an innocent man.

I have the feeling it became a situation where the state would not cower to peaceful protest. There are times it must stand by its decisions in order to ensure its every potentially unfriendly action isn’t met with protest. Granted, I doubt the questions of the protesters are met with satisfactory humanity, but that’s individual callousness.

I think it’s really quaint that Americans can do this. They will raise Internet hell and protest with boards and everything, for a man they think will be killed unjustly. They talk about, now that he’s dead, how they can’t believe they live in a country which would kill an innocent man.

It must be so nice to be so innocent themselves. To never live under dictators, to never conceive of it. To never hear about secret police, political prisoners, and that talking about certain things can get you arrested. To live somewhere where sometimes people disappear and it’s a lot safer not to try and follow them. It must be nice to live in a place where you’re sure that over the course of your nation’s history, you’ve never had a Reign of Terror, or a Hitler, or a Pol Pot, or even an Oliver Cromwell.

When people talk about American positivism, this is what they talk about. People protest about things in other countries, but rarely with the same sense of innocence that hope can win.

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