Today’s Phrase for Latin Lovers

Rex in Regno suo superiores habet Deum et Legem.

Translation:
The King in his Realm hath two superiors: God and the Law. -- Henry Care (1646-1688) on English liberties and the Magna Carta

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Ancient History

|Pop Culture | Prudence Potpourri

Movie Review: Act of Valor

Once upon a time, Hollywood loved to splash all that made America great across the silver screen. It made our heroes larger than life, made the whole world look upon us with awe, envy and desire. We were the strong and the brave, striving to do the right thing, fighting the good fight. In times of trouble, Hollywood cheered us and rallied us, kept the home fires burning.

Then came Vietnam, and suddenly the men that put their lives on the line for us were no longer treated as heroes—they were barely even treated with respect. Not much has changed in the nearly 50 years since then. Hollywood lost touch with the common man. It went from being cheerleader to scold and naysayer.

Therefore, it’s a refreshing experience to see a movie in which America’s military is portrayed with pride. Act of Valor is one of those rare films that isn’t ashamed to be patriotic. Yet it’s not sugar-sweet; it doesn’t make battle pretty.

We go on a couple of missions with the SEALs, during which they operate with skill, precision, professionalism and honor. The incredibly difficult, tense missions pit them against tough, ruthless opponents. The SEALs don’t waver for a moment. They do their job, without apology. The film is made without apology.

While the actors were Hollywood amateurs yet military professionals (real-life active-duty Navy SEALs), they performed quite well. Some of the dialog came across as a bit hokey, a little stilted, but that was easily forgiven, in that the film was much more action-based than dialog-focused, letting the guys do what they do best.

The filmmakers packed the movie with action from start to finish. The audience was thrown into the adrenaline and confusion of a firefight, as the SEALs on screen achieved their objectives calmly and purposefully, with awesome firepower, using much of the latest weaponry and surveillance tools.

Throughout the film, the families of the sailors aren’t far from their minds or the minds of the audience. Before the men go off to battle, they say they have to make everything right at home so they have no distractions in the field. America’s military families can take pride in knowing their sacrifices, their strength and contributions, were well represented in the script.

If the movie had a downside, it was the portrayal of whom we were fighting. The terrorists were not Middle Eastern bad guys. Instead it was an odd assortment of two Russian kingpins (and a handful of babushka seamstresses sewing suicide vests), Costa Ricans, Mexicans and a few Filipinos thrown into the mix. The movie has drawn some criticism because one of the Russians, the billionaire money man funding the terrorist operation, is called out in one line of dialog as being Jewish. Islamic terrorism commentators Debbie Schlussel, Bookworm and Pamela Geller claim this makes the movie anti-Semetic. I disagree. It wasn’t a central point of the film.

I do agree it is rather stupid to make the financier of Islamic jihad a Jew. Would radical Muslims even want to take Jewish money to pay for their supposed way to heaven? I rather doubt it. By inserting this one line (“But you’re a Jew”), the filmmakers ask the audience to suspend disbelief that the money man is so down with the cause that the Muslims could overlook their religious animosity. But that premise isn’t supported at all. For one, the head Muslim honcho is a Chechen convert to Islam. No lifelong Muslim takes part in directing the operations. We’re told the Russian Jew and the Russian Muslim convert have joined forces because they were friends back in childhood. Yet they don’t seem to like each other, and they never give the audience any common goal that has now brought them together after all these years.

In fact, the billionaire tries to back out, saying he doesn’t want to be directly involved anymore though he’ll keep paying for the plans in motion. We’re never told why this billionaire, who has made his rubles as a drug smuggler, would benefit from blowing up Americans. Throughout the first part of the movie, we are left to assume he is a radical Islamist too. Later, when the Rob Reiner-looking SEAL senior chief confronts him on his yacht and mentions he is Jewish, it makes no sense.

It’s just all so preposterous, the Russians’ backstory, that it is easy to dismiss as lousy scriptwriting and forget it all when the action soon retakes the screen. And that’s the last we see of the inexplicable Mr. Russian Jew Islamic Jihadist.

Schlussel, Geller and Bookworm seem to be upset that anyone engaged in terrorism could possibly be Jewish. But this guy didn’t seem very religious or very bright. (From the start, I was wondering how in the world this greasy-haired hippie could have possibly amassed a billion dollars, even in a corrupt Russia.) I could see someone who was obsessed with making money by any means could associate themselves with terrorism if they were gonna make money off of it, but this guy was funding it, not profiting from it, thereby negating that angle (and potential charge of pushing a negative Jewish stereotype).

But I ask Schlussel, Geller and Bookworm, why should Jews be excluded from being the bad guys? Are all Jews perfect angels, never driven by baser motives? Wouldn’t it be anti-Semetic to say Jews can’t be treated like everyone else? Be bad guys in action movies? Granted we would all prefer bad guys that make sense in the constructed scenario….

If I had to guess, I’d say Obama’s Defense Department had a lot to say about whom the bad guys were to be. The people that Obama has spent most of his presidency bowing to, giving apologizing speeches to, relinquishing all American military superiority to, attempting to ignore all their connections to violent terrorism, are the people that are completely left out of the movie: radical Islamist Middle Eastern Arabs.

At first glance, it seems surprising the Defense Department consented to make Russians the bad guys, no matter how bumbling and disconnected to true Islamism they were. Obama has been courting the Russians since Day One, unilaterally giving up key strategies and forsaking our allies for them. But one bad guy was a Chechen, whom the Russians don’t like anyway, so they’d be cool with that. Making the other Russian Jewish also fits with Obama’s world view of good and evil. With the animosity this current administration has shown towards Jewish people, it would not surprise me if that group would be Obama’s personal choice to make the bad guys (if he had to choose some group other than American right-wingers).

As far as the Mexican connection is concerned, hey, the Obama administration has sent Americans guns into Mexico and caused Mexican deaths and crime as a result, without giving Mexico the typical apologies they love to give to our foes, so it’s no surprise they wouldn’t care much about making them the bad guys. I don’t know what beef the Obama administration has against Costa Ricans. Perhaps they better start worrying what Obama has up his sleeve for them.

So yes, having a Russian Jew fund the operation was a dumb, unexplained twist. But it was such a minor plot point, it did not impair my enjoyment of the movie. (In fact, Bookworm retracts the charge of anti-Semetism after more consideration.)

Our military deserves to finally have a supportive film in the long 10 years of war they have endured. Films like Act of Valor and Restrepo have sadly been few and far between. In an torn America that can’t even bring itself to give our returning warriors a parade, supporting this little film feels like a fine way to support our troops.

Good job, guys. Bravo, for all you have done.

|Pop Culture | Prudence Potpourri

Oprah-Mo Backtrack on Obama: Who's Scratching Whose Back?

Could it be a sign that the Obama 2012 is feeling shaky? Politico has reported that Oprah is ready and willing to campaign for Obama again:

Winfrey, who is beginning a new chapter in life following the sunset of her monster-hit show, told POLITICO she would be “happy to be of service” to Obama for his reelection campaign.

“I supported Barack Obama in 2008 because I believed then as I do now that he is the right man for the job,” Winfrey said in a statement. “I wanted to share my enthusiasm for his candidacy in hopes that others would see what I saw in him.”

“As for 2012,” Winfrey added, “If the campaign needs me, I’m happy to be of service. I’m in his corner for whatever he needs me to do.”

Since Obama’s inauguration, Winfrey hadn’t publicly declared her intent to campaign for his reelection, even when he and first lady Michelle Obama taped an episode of the “Oprah Winfrey Show” near the end of its final season.

So now all of a sudden she is back on board, after reports in April that she was going to stay publicly out of 2012 because she had been concerned Obama boosterism would hamper her efforts to build an audience for her struggling television channel, OWN.

Could it be that Oprah’s network has now gained a sufficient share of the viewership so that she doesn’t have to worry that her liberal Hollywood politics would drive segments of her audience away? Um, not likely. About.com Media reported last week in “The Oprah Winfrey Network Falls to 73rd in Cable TV Ratings” that:

Its ranking had been 45th for the first quarter, so dropping to 73rd place for the second quarter shows that ratings are in a free fall. TV Week reports that OWN is in last place among all women-focused cable networks.

This comes after the announcement in early July that Oprah was taking over as CEO at OWN.

The About.com Media story goes on to note:

Winfrey’s issues extend beyond television. Her O magazine is faced with an advertising sales drop of more than 31%. The Media Industry Newsletter says that compares with a 7% drop in ad sales for monthly magazines overall.

So is Oprah simply willing to toss her troubled network over to assist her buddy Obama? Or is campaigning for him simply a way to get her name in the media again?

Oprah’s CEO announcement in the NY Daily News also included a little tidbit about one of OWN’s shows in development: a new talk show hosted by Rosie O’Donnell set for this fall.

Anyone afraid their endorsement of Barack Obama would damage their business would not be putting the toxic, hate-spewing Rosie O’Donnell in a prime slot on their network. Having O’Donnell gush anger and slime daily might tend to turn off more people.

Oprah can’t help herself. She’s just a lefty, now more anxious and willing to promote liberal views.

Therefore, I’d bet Oprah needs the publicity as much as Obama does. She’s gonna gamble that she’ll gain more eyeballs than lose the ones she pokes in the eye by appearing in support of Obama again.

|eCOnoMICS | Prudence Potpourri

Flashback: Big Movie v. Tax-Happy Congress

The debt ceiling negotiations are falling apart because Obama and the Democrats are demanding tax hikes—and not just tax hikes on “the rich,” which includes thousands of small businesses, but also on corporations—instead of solving the reason why we have such a debt crisis: Washington can’t stop binge spending and making promises to spend even more.

A couple days ago, Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, suggested Republicans ought to propose tax hikes on a solidly liberal industry and listen to the ensuing squawking of the plucked chickens:

WANT NEW SOURCES OF REVENUE? If I were a Republican member of Congress, I’d be proposing big excise taxes on movie tickets, DVDs, CDs, digitial movie and music downloads, etc. Then let Hollywood scream about how the tax increase would destroy American jobs. . . .

The Professor might not be aware that Congress already tried it before, and it nearly destroyed Big Movie. It’s a prime example of how Washington’s insatiable thirst for money ruins private industry, eliminates jobs and ultimately, reduces the amount of tax revenue they would have received if they would have just left everyone alone.

Amazingly, Big Movie suffered under a heavy tax burden for six long years before they came out fighting with this excellent piece of propaganda in 1953:

Summary:
After WWII, Congress was hungry for money, and they slapped a 20% admissions excise tax on the gross revenues of movie theaters. (That’s skimming right off the top before anyone else gets paid.) As illustrated in the film, this had an immediate and pernicious effect on the industry, just as they were struggling to learn to compete with the burgeoning television industry.

When they’d finally had enough, they produced this film. Note how they call out to individual Congressmen and cite how many lost theaters they have in their districts. [Rep. Dingell! That Michigan district has never learned.]

Got to love the humble “picture exhibitor” that details his meager salary in comparison to the excise tax being taken right out of the mouths of his family. The widow struggling to keep the theater going after her husband died.

The whole film is filled with folksy, down-to-earth people no central casting could ever find. Just good folks wanting to run their business without having to carry Washington on their backs.

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Now when you hear your congressman or Senator or President talking about how certain industries deserve to have to pay more, think of this film and all the real-life people down the line that those new taxes are going to hurt.

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Update 7/23/11

Welcome, Instapundit readers! (Thanks for the link, Professor.)

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Update 7/18/12: The eagle-eyed and tax-adverse Professor Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, called it to my attention that the above video had been removed. After a little research with the ever-excellent Media Research Center, I found the removal was due to a technical error. MRC quickly restored the video so we can once again shine the bright light on the “unintended” consequences of congressional meddling in business.

(Special thanks to Stephen Gutowski, aka @collegepolitico, for his help. MRC does great work—not only in keeping an eye on American journalism, but also in offering a video service alternative to YouTube and its evil overlord Google.)

|Daily Tread

Introducing the Pre-Socratics

Today, we turn back the clock to 585 BC, to the time of the first philosophers.

It’s not as if no one had ever asked “Where do we come from” or “Why are we here?” before these guys came along. But scholars attribute the pre-Socratics (those who preceded Socrates) with being the first to turn it into a science.

As Jonathan Barnes writes in Early Greek Philosophy, “What, then, is the substance of the claim that the Presocratics were champions of reason and rationality? It is this: they offered reasons for their opinions, they gave arguments for their views.”

That’s a pretty low bar set for these pioneers to jump over. Many of their ideas would be considered laughable today: having all things created from air and returning to air, or all things being composed of specific numerical combinations.

Therefore, it’s tempting to just rush past them in our hurry to meet their namesake, the first philosophical rock star: Socrates. But I think that’s unfair to them and their new, raw ideas that obviously affected their successors, even if as an object of scorn.

After all, these pre-Socratics were attempting what we are doing today in our Daily Tread Society: starting a philosophical journey. Sure, their thinking is considered preposterous now, but they thought things, mulled them over, shared them with fellow thinkers who then crafted their own theories from them. They were beginners, like me, learning to crawl before they walked and to walk before they ran.

I’d like to shake off all that I know and get into their newborn mindset. To look at the world as they did, with an infant’s eyes, awakening from myths and oracles to look around and think, hey, there might be something more to all of this. I might be able to figure it out for myself.

Let’s look not just at their ultimate conclusions, but perhaps why they were thinking that way, remembering they had no solid footing under them to support them. Let’s let them inspire us to look anew at our surroundings and create hypotheses to test our new perspective. Let’s give them a chance to express themselves without ridicule, for now, because I have it from reliable sources that they are going to come into a lot of it later, especially from Aristotle.

They deserve their time in the sun, so let’s give them a little.

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As philosophy moved civilization from myth into reality, this quote from Robin Waterfield in his introduction to The First Philosophers made me consider whether we are fully divorced from myth, even here in modern 2010:

Minimally then, a myth is a traditional tale. This is a good starting point, because it reminds us that a myth is a story, and that myths evolve within traditional, often pre-literate societies. Within such societies, a myth also has clear functional relevance to some important aspect of life. But this function is not just to help the society to perpetuate itself, as one school of thought has it; it is to help explain and form consensus reality for that community, and so to help make an individual’s experience of life meaningful.

Does that quote bring a certain Southern California town to mind? You know, the one with its name spelled out in big letters on the side of a hill?

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Call for Help:

At the top of page 19, in Copleston’s volume I, he gives the definition of an intriguing concept prevalent in the pre-Socratic era that was “in close connection with the will to power.” Unfortunately, Copleston expected his readers to be more erudite than I and only gives the name of that concept in Greek.

The man who goes too far, who endeavors to be and to have more than Fate destines for him, will inevitably incur divine jealousy and come to ruin. The man or the nation who is possessed by the unbridled lust for self-assertion is driven headlong into reckless self-confidence and so to destruction. Blind passion breeds self-confidence, and overweening self-confidence ends in ruin.

Who among you out there knows the name of this concept? Please share.

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Pre-Socratic Self-Quiz

Q1. Name something factually wrong with the depiction of the pre-Socratic philospher Heraclitus in the painting above.

[Answers will be provided once we reach the end of our pre-Socratic discussions.]

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If you are new to the Daily Tread and would like to join our society, our general plan and syllabus can get you up to speed quickly. You can always click on the “Daily Tread” tab above to see the full path we have already traveled. Follow us at @DailyTread.

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UPDATE:

Per a request, here’s a scan of the Greek word I couldn’t read. (Blew it up as large as I could.) Does this shed any new light on it? Thanks!

Is this the Greek word for "hubris" or something else?