Sunday, April 17, 2016

An Open Letter to Netflix Korea

Dear Netflix Korea,

I am upset because of you today. As you probably know, after a long day at work, people like to blow off steam and just relax. Back in the day, I used to go on pub crawls with friends but I don't do that anymore. I don't recover from hangovers quite like the way I used to, you see. These days, after work, I like to come home to watch movies or TV shows on your streaming website.

I am a man of simple tastes. A few David Attenborough-narrated documentaries, new episodes of Better Call Saul and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and a few movies here and there to help me take my mind off reality for an hour or two - these are the kinds of things that I like. Now combine that with a bottle of Guinness and, boy, at least for an hour or two out of my day, I'm as happy as a clam.

When you guys started doing business in Korea earlier this year, I knew that I wasn't going to get as many movies or TV shows like my friends do in America. I knew that licensing, bureaucratic red tape, captioning, translating, and all of that legal mumbo jumbo were going to make things slow at first. But I signed up for an account anyway because I remembered that I enjoyed using your service way back in the day when I was still in college - before Netflix started streaming and was still mailing DVDs to customers. So, you know, let this be the first lesson: customer and brand loyalty are vital.

As time went on, as I knew it would happen, more and more shows got added to Netflix Korea. Granted, I've either already seen them before or I didn't care for a lot of the shows. I'm sorry, but Zeitgeist is as much a documentary as I am a Miss Korea contestant. But occasionally, there would be a few shows that I really enjoyed. House of Cards and Brooklyn Nine-Nine were very nice additions. And so were Planet Earth and The Blue Planet. You guys even added Timur Vermes' Look Who's Back!

But today, without so much as a warning or a notice of any kind whatsoever, quite a few of those shows that I was watching or were about to watch were suddenly removed from your library. That was quite rude of you.

I've been a very understanding customer. I've been understanding that my options would be much more limited than your American customers are accustomed to and I've understood that it would take longer for the shows to arrive. But to have been given access to those shows, and then suddenly have them taken away from me without so much as an explanation despite the fact that I am a paying customer... well, how would YOU feel if you were me? If your answer is not "miffed," or any other synonymous words, you'd be wrong or lying.

Even if you had made an announcement beforehand, or left a note on the website afterwards, I would have still been annoyed, but I wouldn't have been this upset. This is why customer service is very important. Lesson two, guys. Customer service is very important. And you guys screwed it up.

I would like for you to appreciate the fact that I am writing this open letter to you guys. Typically, if I am unhappy with a business, I don't complain. I just don't go back. Considering the other options I have, I often think that complaining is a waste of time when I can just simply go elsewhere. That's why I haven't been to McDonald's since 2007. The fact that I am penning this letter shows that I really like your business. So read on because the next bit is related to what I just said.

I'm a free market kind of guy. So I fully understand that I do not have the right to your services. I cannot make demands that you are unable or unwilling to meet precisely because I have no right to your time or your services. As a paying customer, I only have the privilege. But similarly, you do not have the right to my money either. My money is mine to spend and I can spend my money, or not spend my money, in any way I please.

At this point, I would like to remind you that you aren't dealing with an American customer who has no choice but to put up with his shitty cable company that provides Internet speeds that haven't updated much since the early 2000s. I am a Korean customer who has Internet speeds so fast that if I chose to torrent all four seasons of House of Cards, it wouldn't take me more than half an hour. And it wouldn't cost me any money at all.

Personally, I don't like to torrent movies or TV shows. There's the potential of infecting my computer with viruses and even if there aren't any viruses; I don't like taking up that much space on my hard drive for things that I will only watch once. So, I don't want to waste my money buying external hard drives for something so frivolous either. And as someone who thinks that thievery and piracy are immoral, I really feel like a hypocrite when I torrent something.

However, I think the important thing here for you to know is that I've got lots of options to choose from. And so does every one else in Korea. Some who might not share my sense of morals.

I like Netflix. I really do. And as I said, I'm understanding. I'm not asking you to make every single movie or TV show that you have in your database to be made available right now. That would be unreasonable and I am not an unreasonable person. All I am asking for is a little courtesy. An explanation of why some shows were suddenly removed or a generic statement regarding when you anticipate those shows might return, if they will return, is the LEAST FUCKING THING THAT YOU CAN DO!

Consider this as strike one, Netflix Korea. So, please, don't screw over your Korean customers. It's not very nice.

The Korean Foreigner

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Movie Review: Batman v Superman - Dawn of Justice

WARNING: The following review contains a lot of spoilers. If you have not yet seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and wish to do so without having the plot given away, then do not read this.

Image Source

I want a refund. And I don’t just mean the 8,000 won that I paid for the ticket or the two-and-a-half hours for which the movie ran. I want back every moment that I had been excited and hyped for this movie since it had been announced in 2013.

Yes, the movie was that bad. Which was so tragic, considering the fact that I actually liked Man of Steel.

Some critics complained that the movie took itself too seriously. Perhaps there is some truth to that charge, but I didn’t mind it. Seeing how Marvel has decided to make their movies bright and colorful and optimistic, I understand why Warner Brothers wanted to make their movies a bit differently. Yet others said that the characters were too grim. I didn’t have a problem with that either. When Man of Steel ended, the fight between Superman and Zod destroyed entire city blocks and the Kryptonian World Engine probably caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. You don’t get to make a movie where everyone sings a happy tune and skips down the road while holding hands after something like that.

“People died? That’s hilarious!”
Image Source

The problem that I had with the movie was that the story was, plain and simple, stupid.

It starts out with a good enough premise. The movie starts with the last movie’s climax - Superman and Zod are duking it out and Bruce Wayne aka Batman witnesses all of the destruction it causes with human eyes. It is at this moment that he realizes that Superman is so incredibly powerful that he must do whatever he can to kill Superman.

That sounds fine but as the movie progresses, you have to wonder what kind of cognitive dissonance is going on in Batman’s mind. According to Batman lore, one thing that Batman never does is kill. He knows that he can kill but he chooses not to because that would make him no different from those psychopaths that he punches to a pulp every night. That’s why he never kills Joker. Except that in this movie, Batman does kill. A lot. Yes, Michael Keaton’s Batman killed, too, but not like Ben Affleck’s Batman.

Considering the way Ben Affleck’s Batman drives, uses the Batmobile’s automatic weapons, and the fact this Batman actually carries a gun (another big no-no in Batman lore), he definitely kills dozens of people in this movie. Oh, and he also snaps people’s necks. The only thing that differentiates Batman from Superman is that Superman kills a lot more people simply because he is an all-powerful alien.

Which is another thing. At the start of the movie, Batman thinks that Superman has to be taken out because he is too powerful and tens of thousands of people die whenever Superman uses his power. That’s fair. Truthfully, I thought that that the destruction that superheroes and supervillains cause is something that is glossed over too frequently in the Marvel universe. So when Snyder decided to bring the focus to the deaths of innocents, I thought that was a story worth exploring.

But then when Batman realizes that both he and Superman’s moms have the same name and that Superman’s mom was kidnapped, he literally tells Martha Kent that he is her son’s friend. Never mind that they were trying to kill each other just minutes ago! And then to insult everyone’s intelligence, Batman still likes Superman and doesn’t really think that he is a bad guy anymore at the end of the movie despite the fact that Superman’s fight with Doomsday caused even more destruction than his fight with Zod in Man of Steel. What changed?! We are literally back to where we started!

The only thing that changed was that Superman had died. Sure, at this point, unlike the audience, Batman doesn’t know that Superman will come back to life. Does that mean that all Superman had to do was keep doing what he did, caused wanton destruction in the name of saving humanity (Team America has nothing on Superman) and then just die to gain Batman’s sympathy and friendship? Holy cognitive dissonance, Batman! World’s greatest detective, my ass!

And then there’s Lex Luthor. Gene Hackman’s Luthor was campy but so was the original Superman movie. But as campy as it was, it was still Gene Hackman, which brought gravitas to the role. Kevin Spacey’s Luthor was menacing and unhinged. As different as Hackman’s and Spacey’s versions were, what both versions of Luthor had was the ability to communicate their ideas. Yes, they were bad guys, but at least they were not inarticulate.

Jessie Eisenberg’s Luthor, however, seems like a college-know-it-all spastic who has snorted way too much cocaine. Not only is there an absence of gravitas and menacing presence, there is also an absence of reason. Why does he want to kill Superman? Why does he want to pit him against Batman? Why does he want to create Doomsday using Zod’s deceased body? Why does he mix his blood with Zod’s deceased body to do so? None of these questions are answered. He just attempts to quote Copernicus, fails, shakes his head, gives an annoying laugh, and eats jelly beans. Jessie Eisenberg’s Luthor isn’t a menacing or formidable villain that could take on the mightiest superhero the world has ever known, but rather the weird kid next door whom everyone claims was so nice when they are interviewed on CNN because it has been revealed that he just went on a shooting spree in his school but then only managed to shoot himself in the groin.

Then there is the ridiculous manner in which Luthor tries to frame Superman for a crime. In the movie, intrepid reporter Lois Lane interviews an African warlord/terrorist but gets captured when it is revealed to everyone’s surprise that her cameraman was actually a CIA assassin. I guess Lane decided to go on this assignment because she knew that Superman would come to rescue her if things go badly, which he does. Talk about Moral Hazard!

Anyway, Superman is thundering toward our damsel in distress but for some reason, the warlord’s clearly Caucasian and clearly some-of-these-things-are-not-like-the-others henchmen begin to shoot and kill the other henchmen and other people in the village before taking off in their bikes. Superman arrives and rescues Lois and they fly back to Metropolis. But the news says that Superman killed all those people in the village - those people who were shot and killed. Did no one bother to do an autopsy to find out how these people died?

Image Source

Also, it turns out that the bullets that were used to kill those villagers and henchmen were made of some type of prototype alloy that even experts at the Pentagon were unable to identify them. And upon further digging, it’s discovered that those bullets were developed and manufactured by Lex Luthor’s company, LexCorp.

WHAT??? Not only did no one bother to perform an autopsy to figure out how those people actually died, those assassins also used prototype bullets that directly led back to their employer? Why couldn’t they have just used regular bullets like everyone else? Was that just too passé? Or why use bullets at all? After all, this isn’t the first time Zack Snyder had to frame a superhero for something. Doctor Manhattan was framed for having caused cancer to all the people who had ever been close to him in Watchmen. Was Snyder unable to plagiarize himself or did he forget that he directed that movie, too?

Later on in the movie, Lex Luthor convinces Superman to kill Batman because if he doesn’t, he will kill Superman’s mom. Yes, Luthor knows Superman’s secret identity, which he doesn’t reveal to everyone else because reasons. At this point, Superman could have beaten, frozen, burned, punched, kicked, or tickled Luthor to release his mom. He could have done anything. The guy can fly at speeds that have to be measured in Machs and shoots laser beams out of his eyes that can destroy entire city blocks and could atomize a man with a single punch. Or he could have used his super hearing like he did to save Lois when she was in trouble. Twice.

But no, Superman decides to cry “Uncle” and do Luthor’s bidding because of reasons. Kinda. Right before flying to Gotham, Superman tells Lois that he is going to ask Batman for his help.

And this is how the following conversation could have gone down. “Hey, Bruce, can I call you Bruce? Sorry, I’ve got these X-Ray vision that allowed me to see who you are underneath the cowl. I know we got off on the wrong foot, but Lex Luthor sent me to kill you because if I don’t, he’ll kill my mom. Now I don’t want to do that. So could you help me out? Peace pipe, BFF?”

But no. They meet, grunt something at each other, and then fight. For 30 minutes. Until Wonder Woman finally shows up and then tells the both of them to quit it. When Luthor realizes that his plan has failed, then he unleashes Doomsday to fight the three of them.

Yep. This isn
’t your delicate Christopher Nolan Batman who tries to use reason and logic or even your Bryan Singer’s Superman who is capable of cracking a smile now and then. At this point, the whole thing has turned into a monster bash movie and Godzilla and Mothra are telling everyone to take it down a notch.

I’m having a hard time understanding my character’s motivation
Image Source

And Wonder Woman? There isn’t much that I can say about her because there isn’t much of her onscreen anyway! Holly Hunter as the doomed senator gets more air time than Gal Gadot! Wonder Woman appears in the movie for no other reason than to serve as a teaser for the upcoming stand-alone Wonder Woman movie. But of course, there has to be a reason for her to be around, right?

So Zack Snyder comes up with a reason. If it can be called that. It turns out that both Batman and Wonder Woman need to access Lex Luthor’s heavily encrypted computer for their own individual reasons. Well, hello, meet cute! It turns out that Lex Luthor has a yellowish black-and-white picture of Wonder Woman that was taken in 1916, where she stands with a group of World War I soldiers (one of whom is Chris Pine, so I guess he’ll be in the Wonder Woman movie, too).

And if you think about it, that’s really dumb. I’m willing to accept that Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince doesn’t want the fact that she is an immortal warrior princess from a secret mythical island revealed to the rest of the world. But come on! This wasn’t a one-of-a-kind hard copy photograph. The photograph has been scanned and digitized into a jpeg file and uploaded into a computer. Did the writers forget how the Internet works? Once your picture has been digitized and uploaded onto the Internet, that’s it. You are never getting that picture back and it will be out there forever.

Whoever wrote this damned script apparently decided to make stuff up along the way and used copious amounts of alcohol for inspiration when they realized that they didn’t have a creative bone in their bodies and said among themselves, “Dude, Gal Gadot would look so fucking hot in that slinky dress, am I right? Gimme five!

Image Source

As for Batman, he’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective and be an all around super-intelligent human being. None of that is in the movie. But you get to see him do a whole Crossfit workout routine and have a bunch of dream sequences though. No, this is not your Christian Bale Batman. And gods, I miss Christian Bale.

Sound like a clusterfuck? It is a clusterfuck. I remember reading the comic books - The Death of Superman. It was emotional and gut-wrenching. Yes, I know that superheroes never die as they always come back to life but until that point, superheroes never died. Period. But by the time Superman “dies” after having fought Doomsday in this movie, I was long past caring.

Even the musical score annoyed me to hell. The score was written by the great Hans Zimmer and as usual, the music was epic. So what
s the problem? Most movies’ musical scores are in the background, oftentimes so subliminally that the audience isn’t fully aware that there is even music playing. There is no way that can happen in this movie. The score is bone-shatteringly loud, in your face, and constant. If the poorly-written script doesn’t make you feel nauseated, the musical score certainly will.

If you’ve seen the movie and you’re reading this, I think we should all collectively march to Zack Snyder’s house and pelt him with eggs. If you haven’t seen the movie and read this, why? I told you not to. But since you’ve already read it, don’t watch it. Save your money for the newly rebooted Ghostbusters movie instead when it comes out. I don’t think it will be an awesome movie or anything, but it couldn’t be worse than the crapfest that is Batman v Superman.

Personally, this one hurt. I've always been more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan. Yes, Marvel has some decent characters and stories, but they don't have Superman or Batman. But it looks like Marvel has nothing to worry about. If Batman v Superman is the foundation that all future The Justice League movies are going to be based on, Marvel and it’s parent company, Disney, can safely churn out more dumb Avengers movies and count all the money they make til their dying days because it turns out that The Justice League movies are going to be even dumber.

I give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 1 out of 5. I would have given it zero, but I liked the Batmobile.

Image Source

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Keep That Filibuster Going!

2016 is turning out to be an interesting year. Not long into the new year and we were greeted by North Korea's fourth nuclear test, another long-range rocket test, the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a ratcheting up of cross-border tension, talks of (maybe) finally installing THAAD in Korea, and now, a pending anti-terror bill in South Korea that is, as of this writing, being filibustered for the fifth day.

And it's not even March.

I remember watching Kim Dae Jung shaking Kim Jong Il's hand in Pyongyang on CNN back in 2000. Like many people at the time, I sincerely hoped that this was the beginning of a new era in inter-Korean relations and that it was the first step toward eventual reunification. But then it was revealed that the whole thing was based on a lie and everything went to hell from thereon.

Image Source

For ten years, during the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun administrations, when South Korea's policy toward the necrocratic northern regime was one of rainbows and sunshine (pun intended), the relative cordial relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang meant that for the first time in their existence, the conservatives could not use buk-pung, the North Wind -- the real and perceived threat posed by North Korea -- to influence elections in their favor.

When President Lee Myung Bak ended his predecessors' policy of providing near-unconditional aid to the North, relations soured, thus showing the world how much an idiot Kim Jong Il was. He could have kept up his charm offensive and taken advantage of the anti-American sentiment that was present in South Korea at the time and effectively caused a permanent rift between the conservatives and the voters. That North Korean leaders have always been stupid is something that I will eternally be grateful for.

However, even when the North Koreans shelled Yeonpyeongdo, the North Wind was relatively calm. I remember when Park Geun-hye was campaigning to become president, she spoke much more often about "economic democracy" than she did about North Korea and when she did talk about North Korea, she spoke of trustpolitik.

In a few short years, both the Sunshine Policy and trustpolitik have died. Good riddance. It was once famously said that North Korea does not respond to pressure well, but that it does not respond to anything else. Sanctions, displays of military might, thinly-veiled threats of regime change or regime collapse -- these are the things that North Korea understands and takes seriously.

For hawks like me and everyone else who despises North Korea and all that it stands for, recent changes that have occurred in inter-Korean relations have been a much long-awaited gift. However, the conservatives seem to be determined to prove yet again that they don't need an opposition party to make themselves look like idiots as they have once again overreached with this new pending anti-terror bill.

To explain, we have to go back a few days. A few days ago, like everyone else who pays any attention to Korean news, I read that Minjoo lawmakers were filibustering the National Assembly to prevent the anti-terror bill from being passed. Admittedly, I was quite intrigued. I had heard of South Korean lawmakers turning the National Assembly into a barroom brawl on many occasions in the past, but I have never heard of them resorting to something as civilized as a a filibuster to get their point across.

I admit, however, that I did not take the filibuster very seriously beyond my initial surprise and that is because I do not take the Minjoo Party itself very seriously. Many of its members were the same ones who supported the Sunshine Policy and many of them nodded in agreement when President Roh Moo Hyun claimed that the United States was the greatest threat to peace. I also could never feel anything besides revulsion regarding the Minjoo Party's economic platforms (see here, here, here, and here).

However, as the filibuster went on for days thus breaking world records, and as the word itself became the latest imported foreign word into the Korean language, I decided to see for myself what the whole fuss was about. So, after being directed to the National Assembly's website to read the bill by Christopher Green, I could only come to one logical conclusion.

Buk-pung is back and it is back with a vengeance. And as the French would say, merde.

As I read the bill, I thought that the vast majority of it was remarkably uncontroversial. Especially after hearing incredibly disconcerting claims that the North Koreans are planning to conduct acts of terror against South Korea and plans to assassinate South Korean officials, I expected something a bit more shrill.

Instead, most of the bill explained how and what the law would consider to be acts of terror, what a terrorist group is (it's whatever the UN declares is a terrorist group) what is speech in favor of terror, how and when to freeze terrorists' assets, its plans to prevent people who are suspected of having terror ties from entering the country, etc.

They are pretty straightforward and should not and does not deserve any kinds of raised eyebrows. And one cannot but be surprised that such common sense laws don't already exist. But that was the 90% of the bill that didn't hold any surprises. The raised eyebrows came from the remaining 10%.

As it is currently written, the rest of the 10% of the bill calls for creating a new anti-terrorism unit and for it to be placed under the control of the Prime Minister. That all sounds well and good in theory, but the fact remains that the Prime Minister's office is largely a symbolic and toothless one that is hardly independent from the President. In fact, over the past eight years, there have been eight prime ministers.

Image Source

The bill also states that the National Intelligence Service will be given the authority to conduct surveillance by wiretapping people's telephones, observing their Internet communications, monitoring their bank accounts and travel logs, and delete Internet posts if the NIS deems them to be "threats to public safety" -- some of it without having to get a court order.

Although Saenuri lawmakers and President Park can claim that safeguards have been guaranteed in the bill to ensure that there is no abuse of power, the fact is that the bill promises to place only ONE person whose job will be to protect people's right to privacy. If that is not a blatant example of tokenism, then I don't know what is.

And therein lies the problem. The NIS has what could euphemistically be called a PR problem. During the presidential election, the NIS was caught trying to meddle in the election process; and during other times there have been corruption charges and arrests, deleted information and suicides, and trumped up evidence. And these are just some of the scandals that the NIS was in the middle of in the past four years. Not forty, but four years! If we go further back in time, the NIS (or the Agency for National Security Planning or the Korean Central Intelligence Agency as it was called once upon a time) has been responsible for a lot of nasty things. President Kim Dae Jung was tortured by them when he was a much younger man!

As the old saying goes, it's not paranoia if they really ARE after you. Considering the abuse of power that we have witnessed even in recent times alone, the further centralization of power in the hands of a small number of spies -- and that's what they are, spies -- who are often protected by the president and even the courts and often have their own agenda -- does not breed a lot of confidence in the public. And I've already seen what the Patriot Act has done in the United States. This is one American import that I can certainly live without!

Though I am still surprised myself that I am saying this, Minjoo lawmakers actually have a valid point. And the fact that Saenuri lawmakers are still pushing for this bill to be made into law without any further compromise goes to show that they care for nothing besides getting reelected. Never mind the public's legitimate fears of their freedoms being taken away! They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Of course, this presumes that politicians are capable of feeling shame.

Of course, I am not under any illusion that the Minjoo Party cares about people's right to privacy either. Considering how badly they have been battered with major defections and loss of party leadership, I am sure that Minjoo lawmakers are desperately trying to do everything they can to shore up votes before the upcoming elections. It doesn't matter who the players are. It's all a game to them.

As usual, I can't bring myself to feel anything besides contempt for every political party and politician involved. But at least this one time, I fully support the filibuster and I dearly hope that this bill dies, again.

Image Source

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Movie Review: Trumbo

WARNING: The following blog post contains a lot of spoilers. If you have not yet seen Trumbo and wish to do so without having the plot given away, then do not read this.

When I first saw the trailer for Trumbo a few months ago, I knew that this was a movie that I wanted to watch. But I also knoew that this was not going to be a movie that I'd be able to watch in a theater in Korea.

Now I'm not saying that the Korean government somehow prevented the movie from being shown in Korea. There is no evidence for that. Also, there are many reasons why a movie might not play in theaters in any particular country. However, considering the fact that Korea is a country where ironic tweets can get you into trouble and where a professor can get indicted for merely holding an unpopular opinion, well, it made it all that much sadder that the movie has not made it to theaters here yet. If anyone needs to watch this movie, it's Koreans.

Bryan Cranston plays the eponymous character, Dalton Trumbo, an eccentric and witty screenwriter (whom I discovered only after having watched the movie that he had penned some of my favorite classic movies such as Roman Holiday and Spartacus) who also happened to be a member of the Communist Party of the United States of America.

Image Source

Anyone who is familiar with me and my blog already knows that I am a staunch anti-communist. So before I sat down to watch this movie, I already knew that there was going to be a part of me that would feel uncomfortable knowing that the movie's protagonist was going to be a character who held beliefs that I am fundamentally hostile to.

And there were parts of the movie when I did shake my head a bit. The first moment was early on in the movie when Trumbo explains to his young daughter that if she were willing to share her Ham and Swiss Cheese sandwich with a schoolmate who didn't have any food, that made her a communist. Obviously, in this scene, a father was taking pains to explain to his very young daughter a political opinion that he held. So, the scene would not have made any sense if Cranston's character gave a speech about the virtues of Das Kapital. However, it is obvious that this is more than just a father explaining what communism is to his young daughter. Rather, it was the filmmakers attempt at explaining what communism is to the audience. And as a member of the audience, I felt insulted.

The other moments were when the anti-communists, the bad guys – a meatheaded John Wayne (played by David James Elliott), a vicious Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren), and a slimy J. Parnell Thomas (played by James DuMont) along with other extras – were treated like two-dimensional stock villains. Was John Wayne's anti-communism a result of a him trying to compensate the fact that he did not fight in the Second World War? Was Hedda Hopper really trying to preserve American democracy from what she thought of as a threat that millions of American soldiers were fighting against or was it her way of getting back at a movie industry that forsook her because she had grown old? What about J. Parnell Thomas? Was he simply looking to gain more political power for himself or might there have been other reasons?

None of that was given much attention. That being said, I don't think that the filmmakers ought to be judged too harshly for glossing over the villains. After all, the move itself lasted for about only two hours. So it was obviously impossible to explore every individual's inner psyche. This wasn't the fault of the filmmakers but rather the fault of the medium itself. And that, I think, is all the more reason why I think television shows are becoming increasingly more popular among the audience than movies.

One thing that I think is important to mention, however, is that no one who has ever watched this movie could ever say that Trumbo is pro-communist. Aside from the first scene I mentioned and the brief scenes that Louis CK was in, there was no talk whatsoever about communist ideas. In fact, the whole idea of Trumbo being a communist was made quite silly when Cranston appears in one scene holding a bottle of champagne in each hand exclaiming We're rich!” after he sells the rights to Roman Holiday to Paramount Pictures.

If anyone watched this movie hoping to see a stirring defense of communism, they would have left feeling utterly disappointed. The fact that Trumbo was a communist was treated as though it were a mere coincidence.

In fact, Trumbo himself is probably not the first candidate that even genuine communists might choose to represent as his/her ideal hero because like Louis CK says in the movie, Trumbo talks like a radical but lives like a rich guy. Had Trumbo been a contemporary figure, I have no doubt that many people today would have treated him much like the way people treat Sean Penn (who really deserves to be treated like an idiot).

Not your grandfather's communist!
Image Source

No, the movie was not a defense of communism but rather a defense of individual liberty – especially the notion that people are free to think whatever the hell they want.

It simply does not matter what an individual thinks. The only person whom that should be important to is the individual himself. Trumbo was a communist, perhaps an imperfect communist, but he was a genius screenwriter who was able to make movies seem like magic.

That led to another theme of the movie – what a rational individual can produce with his own mind. Just like how Mel Gibson may be a racist (or maybe he is only when drunk) but he is an amazing director and actor and how Ayn Rand may have been an unpleasant harpy but she was an intellectual titan to reckon with, what truly matters is what one is able to bring to the table. Trumbo brought with him a Midas Touch. Every movie he made, even the bad ones, were made terrific because he worked on them.

What does it matter what the individual thinks in his own time when the work that the individual produces is so good that it practically loved by so many?

The fact of the matter is that what people think in the privacy of their own minds do not matter to the State. It is not something that the State should ever be concerned with. So long as people are able to produce works of beauty, and even if they don't, what does it matter what they think in the privacy of their own heads?

However, to this day, the State does remain concerned with such things. When people's lives can be made miserable over a newspaper column, it is obvious that Trumbo's fight is not over.

I don't know if Trumbo will ever be played in Korean theaters. But knowing the rate of piracy that goes on in the country, along with the rate of independent caption making that goes with pirated movies, I hope that millions of Koreans do get to watch this movie – legally or illegally. Preferably legally, of course.

For God knows that one thing that Koreans need, among many things, is the freedom of thought.

Image Source

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What's conservative or libertarian about Trump?

When I shared a recent op-ed column from the National Review about Sarah Palin's endorsement of Trump's candidacy, which was not particularly kind to either of those public figures, a friend of mine made the suggestion that the National Review seemed to have abandoned its tradition of supporting conservatives and libertarians in their fight against the Republican establishment.

I conceded that he may have been right about the National Review's change but I had to ask my friend what was so conservative or libertarian about Trump. After all, whenever I listened to his stump speeches or debate performances, it mostly seemed to be about how he, through the apparent sheer force of his will, would ban Muslims from entering the US or about how he would get the Mexican government to pay for a giant wall separating the two countries or how he got a lot of flak for talking about these problems and how he's going to continue talking about them.

Everyone loves to pretend/believe that "president" is another word for "emperor," especially during election seasons and no one loves to indulge in that fantasy more than the political candidates themselves. As far as I am concerned, however, Trump and Sanders take the cake. My thoughts on Sanders are well known; as are my thoughts on Trump. As for Trump, I am almost convinced that he is a clown who has somehow accidentally misplaced his makeup kit.

Image Source

My friend persisted, however, and told me that I ought to visit Trump's official website and read his campaign position papers so that I may judge him more objectively. 

I have to admit that I had never bothered to read his campaign position papers. As someone who has often had to tell Ayn Rand-bashers that they ought to actually read Rand's works as opposed to what Salon has to say about her work, I realized that it was hypocritical of me to pass such judgments on Trump without getting the goods straight from the horse's mouth.

After all, considering the grueling nature of cable news cycles and the even more unforgiving beast that is the Twitterverse, it is easy to magnify one moment of stupidity to paint a person as something entirely that he may not be. Can anyone imagine how much more Howard Dean's scream would have damaged him had Twitter existed at the time of his candidacy?

So I went on Trump's website and I saw that there were a total of five campaign position papers. I did not have the time to read all five of them. The topic that I chose to read was the one that matters to me most among the available topics -- the one titled "Reforming the US-China Trade Relationship to Make America Great Again."

And, folks, it was a doozy!

Image Source

Right from the bat, the paper claims that since China's entry into the WTO in 2001, "Americans have witnessed the closure of more than 50,000 factories and the loss of tens of millions of jobs."

Aside from the fact that there is no data to back up that claim, even if that number were true, this is yet another example of post hoc ergo propter hoc. That is because that claim conveniently neglects to mention the effects of the dotcom bubble burst or the Great Recession or the battering effects of high oil prices on the construction industry in the mid-2000s.

So almost from the moment I started reading, I couldn't help but frown and shake my head.

The other theme that Trump's paper continually hammers on is that America needs leadership and strength at the negotiating table with China.

The moment people hear this sort of talk, anyone with any sense whatsoever should begin to ask themselves if that truly is an original thought that no one had before. It's not (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Hell, Bill Clinton once called the Chinese government "the butchers of Beijing" before granting China "most-favored-nation" status after he became president.

Outside of the fantasyland called primaries season, neither the United States nor China can afford to be particularly difficult with one another because, whether they like it or not, the two countries share the largest trade relationship in the history of the world. A child might be able to take his toys and go home if he decides that he doesn't like his friend anymore, but that is not the way that effective international policy is made.

Image Source

Trump's other argument is that China's "Great Wall of Protectionism uses unlawful tariff and non-tariff barriers to keep American companies out of China and to tilt the playing field in their favor."

Trump says this unfair playing field puts American businesses and workers at a disadvantage -- that the game is rigged and that the outcome is for Americans to lose.

This is an old political chestnut and a dirty trick that is meant to distract people long enough to forget their own personal interests. This lie was exposed by Milton Friedman in his 1980 PBS documentary, Free to Choose. In the episode Tyranny of Control, Friedman said:

"When anyone complains about unfair competition, consumers beware. That is really a cry for special privilege always at the expense of the consumer. What we need in this country is free competition. As consumers buying in an international market, the more unfair the competition the better. That means lower prices and better quality for us. If foreign governments want to use their taxpayers' money to sell people in the United States goods below cost, why should we complain? Their own taxpayers will complain soon enough and it will not last for very long."

Image Source

Trump also thinks that declaring that China is a currency manipulator will somehow get the Chinese to think seriously about the United States. Currency manipulator! Then what the hell does that make the Federal Reserve?!

Also, the fact that people still believe in the myth of the Chinese government being "a currency manipulator" is a bad thing for the rest of the world just goes to show how desperately the vast majority of people in the world need to study basic economics. This entire myth can be punctured by just asking a few basic questions.

  • How can Beijing artificially devalue the yuan without such devaluation causing the prices of Chinese exports eventually to rise?

  • Even if Beijing could devalue the yuan for a long time, would that not raise Chinese producers’ costs of purchasing the many inputs that they buy on global markets? How could this possibly lead to economic growth?

  • Just like the case with "unfair" subsidies, how does the artificial lowering of the prices of Chinese goods harm consumers from other countries? Don't people typically like it when prices of the goods they buy fall?

In other words, isn't Trump saying that he believes that consumers should be forcefully prevented from spending their money in ways that they judge to be best for them, and instead be forced to spend their money in ways that he judges to be best for the benefit of a select few American corporations?

Image Source

Now it is true that China requires foreign corporations such as Boeing and Intel to transfer proprietary technologies to their Chinese competitors as a condition of entry into the Chinese market. However, Trump goes on to say that this is intellectual property theft.

But one has to wonder -- if Boeing or Intel felt that they were being bamboozled by Beijing, that the costs of such technology transfers were greater than the benefits of being allowed entry into the Chinese market, wouldn't those corporations voluntarily decide to cease all of their operations in China?

In other words, isn't Trump saying that if he is elected president, he will use Big Government to forcefully prevent American corporations from entering into voluntary trade agreements?

And lastly, he says that he will "strengthen the U.S. military and deploy it appropriately in the East and South China Seas."

I believe that is called the Asia Pivot.

So let's recap. Even Trump's trade policy proposals, which are supposed to be the branier arguments that take place away from the camera, are vague and can only be called economically illiterate at best or deceptive at worst. Even if they weren't unrealistic, his policies would require great expansion in the powers of the government, which is decidedly not a conservative or libertarian position.

Republicans do remember this guy, right?
Image Source

I have not read the other four papers on the website. Frankly, reading this one and explaining why it is so horrible has been enough for me. So is he a conservative or a libertarian when it comes to other topics such as immigration or gun control? I can't say. And frankly, I can't bring myself to read any more and I don't give a damn. 
But if this paper was anything to go by, I have some serious doubts about the claim.