My TV Cannot Survive the Iranian Uprising

I WAS SO ANGRY, I ALMOST THREW MY SHOE AT THE TV. An entire nation had been subjugated, a people enslaved, their culture decimated, their vast wealth purloined by a totalitarian regime. The world stood by, the extent of its outrage limited to making angry faces at the aggressor.

I am not talking about Iran. I am talking about Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. When George H.W. Bush finally ordered the liberation of Kuwait, it was over so fast that everyone was stunned. They called it the "100 hour war."

Kuwait secured, our army amassed on the Iraq border. "Go get him!" I shouted at the TV. "Get the maniac who started this whole thing!" But President Bush, himself a creature of diplomacy (he had been U.S. ambassador to China) refused to do the obvious. "That is not our U.N. mandate," he said in measured tones. The Left heaved a sigh of relief ("We are not aggressors!") and the Right chucked their footwear at televisions all across America in exasperation. And so our troops came home and over the next decade, Saddam Hussein murdered more than a million of his own people before we finally removed him, at great loss of American life and treasure.

No history lesson has ever been more indelibly etched on my consciousness: When evil threatens liberty, free men must fight.

History repeats its lessons often, so even the dumbest student will eventually understand. It is doing so in Iran at this moment. A revolution not unlike our own American revolution is struggling to get traction. People are rebelling against an oppressive regime, marching in the street, using social networks to organize (twittering on the Internet instead of placing lanterns in church towers), and risking their lives.

And what does our Blatherer in Chief do? After almost a week of silence, he finally mouths a few lofty sentiments but does nothing. It is left up to individuals, including thousands of American citizens, to create ersatz servers using cell phones, so Iranians can communicate with each other. Facebook users all over the world are changing their network to Tehran, so the government doesn't know they are outside Iran and thus shut their pages down.

Yesterday, I witnessed a small, pro-Iran march in Salt Lake City. Like their Tehran counterparts, most of the marchers were college-age kids. They were clean-cut and conservative in their dress, clearly from the right side of the political spectrum; ordinary kids who came out in support of freedom, not the usual special interest politics of the Left.

And where is the Left? Where are all the people who bombarded me with e-mail about genocide in Darfur? They are silent, because while the Left is full of compassion, it has no interest in actual freedom. It wants to save the starving child but not the angry young adult. The difference is revealing: the starving child cannot survive without the do-gooder's compassion; a true revolutionary wants only the tools to secure his own freedom -- he doesn't want your compassion; he wants a gun. Thus, his needs do not coincide with the true needs of the Left, which are about obtaining feel-good, self-congratulatory mantras to intone at the next faculty mixer.

Twenty years ago, Tianenmen Square in China presented the West with the same dilemma. Should rhetoric be our only weapon against oppression? What did we do to help the protesters in that communist country? Nothing. Many died then; many are dying today in Tehran. A million died in Iraq before we finally did anything.

And this time around it's a no-brainer, because Iran is not only ready for democracy, it is almost ready to explode a nuclear device over Tel Aviv. Nuclear capability is the reason we did nothing to aid the Tianenmen Square demonstrators. North Korea (where two generations of starvation has reduced the average height to just 5'2") continues its self-annihilation because it has nuclear weapons. Why don't my friends on the Left send me e-mails about genocide in North Korea?

History repeats itself. I just wish it would shout, because we are clearly deaf.

My TV's days are numbered . . .

In the Valley of the Death of Perspective

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH is a well-wrtten, well-acted, well-made, and completely wrong-headed film that speaks volumes about the actors, filmmakers, and Hollywood executives' left-wing and anti-American world view. Out of their own mouths, so to speak.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Hank, a retired military investigator working with small town detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) to first find, then uncover the reason for the death of Hank's son Mike (Jonathan Tucker), a recent returnee from the Iraq war. They ultimately discover that Mike was murdered during a night on the town which included visiting a strip club, fighting in the parking lot, illegal drug use, and having sex with a hooker . . . you know, just a typical Saturday night for our enlisted men. The climactic reveal is that Mike was senselessly killed by one of his buddies, a combat comrade in Iraq, for no apparent reason. Indeed, said the perpetrator: "It could have easily been Mike killing me."

No wonder the $23 million film made less than $7 million in the U.S.

I have no problem with the film strictly as film. It is perfectly acceptable fare: a murder mystery. And I have no trouble with the military setting. People do terrible things everywhere. But why In the Valley of Elah was one of the first (and few) Hollywood films to be made about the Iraq war is inexplicable. Surely, no one on the Left is asserting that more than a minscule proportion of our soldiers are murderous sociopaths. No, what they're really saying is that war, especially war the way America fights it, turns decent young men like Mike into sociopaths; in other words, we're creating a whole generation of brutal murderers.

This is the "Gitmo creates terrorists" argument, for which, statistically, there is absolutely no evidence. But lack of evidence never deters a true believer. In fact, lack of evidence gives rise to a leap of faith, which is the staple of under-informed, emotionally-oriented people. "I care! Isn't that enough?" they seem to shout when contrary facts arise.

No, it isn't enough. Accuracy would also be nice. And lest anyone reject my assertion that this film is anti-American, how else do you explain the final shot, where Hank raises a weathered American flag upside down, a universal sign of distress. With this image, the filmmakers are saying America is in trouble because of the way we fight wars; we are destroying the young men and women in our military. This is also an age-old Leftist canard: soldiers are victims. (Ignore the fact that our military is 100% voluntary.) In one scene (I love how filmmakers reveal their own motivation as well as their characters'), Hank's wife Joan (uber-Leftie Susan Sarandon), chides him for his military background, saying their son Mike joined up because he was raised in Hank's home; he literally had no choice. So not only are soldiers victims, they were brainwashed into being such.

To recap, this is Hollywood's view of the military and America's foreign policy: Evil engagements abroad (always for ultimately nefarious reasons, e.g. "blood for oil!"); CYA coverups by the military (the liaison, Lt. Kirklander (Jason Patric) is an unlikeable, insensitive company man); immoral behavior by our troops (the inciting incident in the film, which drove Mike "crazy" was his hitting a child on an Iraqi street with his Hummer, because there were standing "orders" to never stop a convoy for a pedestrian because that usually set them up for an ambush (sounds like a good policy to me), yet Mike never swerved or hit the horn; he just roared straight ahead, killing the child); illegal drug use, drunken fighting, consorting with hookers and murder being de rigeur behavior of soldiers on leave; yet these same soldiers are credulous children, victims of over-zealous, gung-ho parents and the corrupt militaristic American culture, which put them in the position where they have no choice: they simply must become sociopaths.

If this is the sort of film Hollywood makes to mark the Iraqi war (a war which, by the way, has been, for all intents and purposes, soundly won), then the upside-down flag is indeed apropos. But instead of the local VFW post, it should be flown over the Kodak Theater where they hold the Academy Awards.

The Labels We Wear

BENETTON. QUIKSILVER. HOLLISTER. NIKE, AMERICAN EAGLE. Signs of the times. I thought the 60s did away with the notion of kids' spending habits being manipulated by the "man" (corporate America), but I was wrong.

When I was growing up in the California surf culture of the 1970s, the label phenomenon was still in its infancy. Labels were small and discrete, like the tiny penguin logo on a polo shirt or the Levis "V" pocket stitching. But when no one complained; indeed, when everyone began proudly wearing these instant status-confirmations, the logos got larger and larger until now, the American Eagle logo fills the entire shirt. Recently, it has become so large they had to shorten "American" to "Am" just to fit it in. And justly so, for how are they going to sell a shirt outside of the USA if it proudly (and loudly) proclaims it's from America?

I watch this walking billboard phenomenon everywhere I go and it makes me sad. Combine it with the multiple piercings (and I mean everywhere!) and tattoos (ditto), and I can only be dismayed at the apparent lack of self-esteem so many people must have. Don't they know that individuality is a function of what's inside them? What they think; what they believe; what they do, is what actually differentiates a person from the crowd, not what they wear, how they cut their hair, pierce their ears, or what corporate logo they plaster across their chest.

Of course, I can understand why children like labels: it makes them feel safe. After all, one of the hallmarks of childhood (especially the teen years) is the need to fit in. I remember the "uniform" I wore as a teen: deep-pocketed corduroy shorts, horizontal-striped long-sleeved t-shirts, zorries (thongs), and long hair cut in the surfer style. I look at pictures of myself from those days and shake my head. Yet the labels I wore were the clothes, not the words on the clothes. But was there a difference, so long as we all wore the same uniform? Not really.

But I was a child then; now I am an adult and I've put away labels as much as possible. I buy most of my generic clothing at Costco. Even my tennis shoes are non-descript; I haven't worn a pair of Nikes in . . . I would have to say . . . forever. To me, no pair of tennis shoes is worth more than $25 unless they can actually make me dunk like Michael Jordan.

But everywhere I look, I see adults emulating their children, though the labels get more expensive as we grow older. My first car was a VW beetle, an icon in its own right. I proudly drove my surf rack-festooned bug to the beach and back for years. For some time in the 1990s, I had a BMW 5 series sedan, which I babied. But at heart, I'm a truck guy and one day when I went into the garage, I noticed my precious Beemer was layered with a coat of dust. I hadn't driven it in a couple of weeks. I promptly sold it. I was done with labels, I guess.

Now I drive a nondescript truck. I removed the dealer logo from the tailgate and chucked the license plate frames. If I could get the Toyota sombrero logo off it, I would, but it's molded into the front grill.

If we must wear labels, wouldn't it be fascinating if we were required to wear labels that described the person we actually are? Imagine walking around the mall wearing a "Grouchy Bigot" T-shirt. (Okay, I've actually seen that one.) But what about "Zero Self-Esteem" tank top revealing all those tattoos? Or "No Time To Work Out, But Plenty of Time To Pierce My Ears" women's tops in XXL sizes?

I would hate to see the shirt I would have to wear.

There's one I hope would apply to me; one I would proudly wear: "The only limitation is your imagination."

Advice to a New Graduate

YOU'RE A GRADUATE! Congratulations on achieving this important milestone. You've heard it before, but behind every tired cliche is a grounded truth: Education is the key to properly dealing with life's most important opportunities. I remember a television ad campaign from my youth. It said simply, "To get a good job, get a good education." But life is not just about the job; it's about, well . . . life. Living. And living well. Not necessarily accumulating wealth, but more properly health -- physical, spiritual, and mental health. But how do we achieve this kind of wealth? Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let me draw a metaphor for you:

Imagine yourself in the Colisseum, like in the movie Gladiator. You are standing in the middle of the arena. Thousands of people are in the stands, watching to see what will happen next. Will you make the right choice? Or will you fail? Some of the spectators wish you ill; others hope you will make the right choice; but the vast majority are indifferent to your plight. And no one is down on the field of battle with you. You are alone; only you can make these important decisions.

You look around at your options. A tall wall surrounds the circular field upon which you stand. At regular intervals, all along that curving wall encompassing your life, are doorways. When you were born, almost all the doors were open to you, though some were already shut. For example, I was born a man and the "female" doorway was closed to me at birth. But the “male” doorway was open and on the other side of it were -- and are -- many great opportunities. The same is true of all the other doors. Take a minute and think about all the doors that were opened to you when you were born. The choices were almost limitless.

And though there were some doors closed to you at birth, they are not necessarily destined to remain so. Knowing how to drive a car is one example. Through your hard work and diligence, you opened that door yourself. I know it's not lost on you how many opportunities come to us as a result of knowing how to drive.

So consider for a moment how many doors are open to us, or remain closed to us, or that we deliberately shut ourselves, depending upon our choices.

My philosophy has always been to keep as many doors open as possible, and pry others open if I can, thus adding to the options of my life. For that reason I went to law school, though I never really wanted to practice law. I just wanted to know what lawyers know (which is, quite simply, how the world works), and now I do. That door remains open to me and is a great benefit when it comes to understanding current events and politics.

I find it amazing that at people in their twenties are expected to make decisions that will continue to be valid for the rest of their lives. I find this premise sad and untenable. Not that you should put off some of these decisions (career, marriage, etc.), but before making any life-changing decision you should remember the importance of that decision and make it in an informed manner. A proper education will make your decision much easier.

Though you are a graduate today, you have really just began your real education. It does not matter the extent of your formal training, what matters is that you make learning a priority and a habit in your life. That will keep more doors -- and more opportunities -- open to you than anything else I know of.

This is my gift to you on this important occasion. Good luck!