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300: Homophobic Propaganda for Bush’s Upcoming Invasion of Iran?

The movie 300, based on the Frank Miller graphic novel, has earned $70 million at the box office, breaking some records. But if you read some of the commentary out there you might not be too interested in seeing it. All the villains are gay. All the good guys are white and the bad guys are black. The whole thing is just Frank Miller's thinly-veiled cheering for Bush to invade Iran. Etc. Now, 300 is definitely not a historical documentary. But I don't think the criticisms mentioned above are completely true-although I can certainly see why many people may have jumped to them. First off, any movie about war coming out in the year 2007 will inevitably be seen as a commentary or allegory for the current War in Iraq. That's understandable, but probably not reflective of the intent behind this particular movie. In fact, 300 (the novel) came out in 1999, well before the current Bush presidency. Ah, but isn't Frank Miller known to be somewhat right-wing, and couldn't he have updated the movie to better reflect his clash-of-civilizations views today? Miller has said that 300 is largely director Zack Snyder's film. Although he seems more-or-less pleased with the result, he plans on directing any movies based on his books himself from now on. Second, it is hard to equate 300 Spartans repelling an invasion of their homeland by a technologically and numerically superior force of Persians with the current Iraq War or any planned invasion of Iran. That is, unless you switch the metaphorical teams. The United States is clearly the superior, invading force in the Middle East. Leonidas personally leads his Spartans against Xerxes' forces and is able to succeed because of superior tactics and knowledge of the terrain. This has been the exact opposite of the current administration's handling of war. Insurgents have used their knowledge of the neighborhoods of Baghdad to their advantage, and are using asymmetrical warfare tactics with unfortunate success. Where was the scene of Leonidas getting into the Laconian Air National Guard and avoiding combat? The charges of homophobia are largely based on two things - the "boy lovers" crack about Athens and the notion that Xerxes was portrayed as gay. Many have pointed out that the Spartans most likely had just as much pederasty as the rest of Greece at the time, so the joke didn't even make sense to anyone with a little historical context. True enough. But I would like to point out that sexual relationships between men and young boys are not the same as homosexual relationships between consenting adults. You can condemn child molestation without being homophobic - in fact, many gay organizations make this point themselves. As for how whether or not Xerxes was gay - I can see where that interpretation comes from, but I guess I didn't interpret it that way. Critics cite the makeup and jewelry, but that to me seemed like obvious symbols of decadence and Xerxes' facade of otherworldliness (and therefor godhood). There is one scene where Xerxes puts his hand on Leonidas' shoulder which some have said looks like a come on - to me, the scene looked more like an attempt at paternalism on Xerxes' part. He was, after all, offering Leonidas control of Greece in return for acknowledging Persia's rule, as you would offer your son the keys to the car if he respects your curfew. This is all not to say that 300 was a perfect film. My biggest criticisms were: 1) Although the vast majority of 300 is an almost miraculously successful translation of comic art to live action, the freakish characters like Ephialtes were overdone and looked a little ridiculous. Why would the Immortals look like the orcs from Lord of the Rings? What was with the giant fat guy with axes for hands? 2) All the mentions of fighting for freedom were a bit much. I get the point, that the Greek city-states fought dearly for their freedom from external rule, but most modern viewers will think the Spartans were talking about the modern idea of freedom - that is, personal political and economic freedom. Sparta wasn't exactly a shining example of this kind of freedom, built on the slavery of serfs working the land. There was some democracy, but only for the few. 3) One of aspects of the story of this battle that made it interesting was the fact that Leonidas knew he was doomed. According to Herodotus, an oracle had told the Spartans that they would either lose their kingdom, or lose their king. So beyond the incredible odds, Leonidas would have gone knowing there was no chance of return. In 300 instead they draw a distinction between the mysticism of Persia and the rationality of the Greeks. It's an interesting choice, but I kind of missed the fatalism of Herodotus' telling. 4) I thought the scenes back in Sparta of Gorgo's attempts to get support for sending the whole army were a good addition, but it was more than just 300 Spartans fighting this war. Thespians and Thebans fought and died with the Spartans and Athens was busy preparing to fight Persia at sea. Adding a bit of larger context, even indirectly could have made this a better movie. Any film worth watching will inspire different interpretations and criticisms, but I recommend you watch 300 before taking some viewer's criticisms (including mine) to heart.

The President Takes Responsibility – Or Not

A lot of people thought invading Iraq was a bad idea.  A lot of people thought the invasion and occupation plans were unrealistic and wrong-headed.  With the results of the war so far, you might think those people were right. When President Bush addressed the nation this evening, no one thought he would outright admit to the gigantic series of mistakes this war has been.  No one who has watched this administration seriously expects the President to take responsibility for a problem, take the blame, or apologize. But he did!  At least, according to some news reports.  Bush Takes Blame in Iraq, Adds Troops, says the San Francisco Chronicle.  Bush's new strategy includes rare public contrition, says the Seattle Times. Quite frankly, I did see the speech so when I saw the headlines, I was shocked.  I had to check the transcripts to be sure.  In his address to the nation, the President said:
The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people -- and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.
Since when does "where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me" count as taking the blame or public contrition?  It doesn't pass the mom test - if you broke a neighbor's window, and your mom found out and marched you over to their doorstep to apologize, do you think you could get away with "where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me?" To be fair, it is nice to see Bush talking about some specific problems with the occupation and moves to address them.  This is a far cry from the "Mission Accomplished," "turning a corner," "greet us as liberators" style that has been pursued so far. There was one more part of the speech I had to mention:
Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.
Oh really? Mission Accomplished

George Bush is in Listening Mode

Many, many Americans have been wondering - how can we win the War in Iraq? Up until recently, the President was not one of them. He knew exactly what needed to be done. But times have changed. The President is officially in listening mode. [youtube]7qKkCS58j0Q[/youtube] The Daily Show, on Comedy Central, continues to have better journalism than the rest of the cable news channels. Jon Stewart funny and insightful. Vibrate mode! But there's one thing they didn't point out that I think is important to note. Bush expects to be praised for listening to other people. Like it's a difficult thing to do. Like doing actual research, talking to people who have studied the Middle East for their entire careers, or (god forbid) actually talking to military personnel are all accomplishments. Congratulations, Mr. President! You are doing very well on your listening skills. Next we will work on using your "inside voice," and then on to shapes and colors.

How to Win the War in Iraq

What do you do When you find out you are wrong? Not just wrong about one thing, or a little bit wrong. What do you do when you find out you are very wrong, and consistently wrong, and there are really big consequences? President Bush, after three years, seems to finally realize he has been wrong. Well, not really. But he has finally acknowledged the big consequences part. Part of the problem has been that he has only gotten advice from those willing to tell him what he wants to hear. So the formation of the Iraq Study Group was a good thing, right? Finally, some independent experts would weight in, and tell the President some things he wouldn't like to hear. Except they weren't really experts. And their advice has little to do with Iraq. And Bush isn't really listening anyway. So how do we win the war in Iraq? Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't hurt to ask the real experts - the military people actually in Iraq. In fact, one of our troops has given us a PowerPoint presentation. That's right, it's even in the preferred format of upper management everywhere. Seriously, go there right now and watch the presentation, it's only 18 slides. It's a revelation. Not because this one soldier, Capt. Travis Patriquin, is a military genius, or that his ideas are a silver bullet that will magically solve all problems. It's amazing because Patriquin's presentation actually talks about the reality on the ground. He presents actual ideas, grounded in reality, that could actually be tried. This is a amazing. Think about it - this administration has spent years propping up non-ideas (like staying the course) as if they were ideas. They have spent more time and effort denying reality than dealing with it. I had almost forgotten what ideas taste like. It has been so long. Unfortunately, this presentation is the last insight we will get from Capt. Patriquin. He was killed last week. His "How to Win the War in Al Anbar" may go down in history as the first PowerPoint presentation to make a positive change in the world. Or maybe it will be ignored. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, but based on 6 years of the Bush administration, my guess is it will be the latter. You know what this reminds me of? This reminds me of every large company or organization I've ever worked for or dealt with. The people at the top are so disconnected from the people at the bottom that they begin to congratulate themselves for the disconnect. "I don't need to know how widget X works, in fact I shouldn't know at all. I need to think about strategic business decisions." We don't want to waste the chief executive's time with tactics, he has strategy to strategize about. We can lay off engineers, they just have domain knowledge, they don't contribute to the bottom line like sales. We need programmers with 5 years of Java and J2EE, don't worry about anything else, it's just business logic. We can outsource our call centers to India or Kansas or where ever - all they need is a script to work from, hire a consultant to develop the script. We need professional project managers, certified experts in the art of scheduling and tracking--they don't have to understand the project they're managing, what are you daft? Tactics matter. Actual information that reflects reality matters. They say it's not what you know, but who you know. That might be true in job hunting and getting political appointments, but apparently it doesn't win wars.