“Fire at Sea” (“Fuoco Ammare”, directed by Gianfranco Rosi) is a compelling is somewhat loosely structured two-hour docudrama portraying life on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, actually closer to Africa than to Italy, of which it is legally a part – as the military, medical people, and ordinary townspeople deal with the nightly arrival of migrants from Africa.
Many of the migrants arrive seriously ill from exposure to diesel fuel on the boats, which mixed with sea water and can produce disfiguring chemical burns. Most of the burn victims are women (and children), because they tend to sit in the lower portions of the boats as the men surround them to “protect” them.
The migrants describe having come from as far away as Nigeria (through Niger), fleeing Boko Haram, and then being chased out of Libya.
The Italian Navy patrols the waters and does take their distress calls. The townspeople are used to being expected to help them.
A major subplot of the film concerns the 12 year old boy Samuele, who enjoys playing with his slingshot. His dad wants him to learn to be more helpful to other people, including the migrants. For example, Samuele gets seasick when he walks on the pontoon, but his father lectures him about toughening his stomach. At one point he has an exam with a doctor who simply finds hypochondria and anxiety, as well as a “lazy eye” which is slowly improving. In a climactic scene near the end, Samuele goes out into the woods alone at night to encounter a bluebird in the bush.
The DVD contains a brief commentary by the director in English, a QA at the New York Film Festival, and a 30-minute interview with Dr. Pietro Bartolo, who describes some changes to the film before the Berlin Silver Bear festival (to make the people seem more sympathetic), and then describes the medical horrors of the boatlift. One pregnant woman’s water broke, and she could not deliver the baby for two days, but the baby girl turned out OK. Bartolo says that Europe needs migrants, and he believes these migrants pose no security threat and take the jobs White Europeans don’t want or can’t do. He comments on white Europe’s low birthrate and aging population, and economic need for immigrants.
After reading the (libertarian) Foundation for Economic Education op-ed “’Logan’ eviscerates War and Demographic Planning” by Dan Sanchez, I “gave in” and saw a late show of the Marvel film last night. Yes, even Anderson Cooper like the “X-men” franchise.
Sanchez summarizes the plot pretty well, and I’m not sure all of his parallels hold. But it’s true, that the “corporate state” (Transigen) had created the mutants as weapons and now regards them as threats the way the all-right views both Hispanic and Muslim migrants.
Hugh Jackman(now 48) looks grizzled, and maybe ready to return from exile or retirement. The plot of this 135-minute bash concerns Logan’s road trip to rescue his 12-year-old daughter Laura (Dafne Keen) with Wolverine-like powers.
Structurally, the film is a bit like my “Tribunal and Rapture” manuscript, a long road trip (finally leading to planetary evacuation on a spaceship) by a retired FBI agent, who finds he has some subtle powers of his own – I finally decided that this sort of story works better for me when told through the eyes of the younger heroes, whose “powers” aren’t usually obvious and whose appearance is wholesome (even if that idea betrays my own erotic prejudices).
The film journeys into Oklahoma, then sidetracks to Reno (I wanted to see Taylor Wilson make a cameo and pitch his plans to save the power grids), before getting to North Dakota, with some scenery that resembles the Teddy Roosevelt badlands – but actually a lot of the film is shot in New Mexico, with mountains in the background. The mixture of old and new technologies is interesting (like the winch and pulley in the North Dakota scene. The mutants, by blowing liquid nitrogen breath, can freeze opponents’ limbs and break then off. So heads, arms and legs roll in this film. (In Dallas, Joe Bob would have said “check it out.”)
To appreciate the film, you have to know some of the pre-history, of characters like Trask, with their pre-occupation with the alt-right notion of “demographic winter” and the idea that “majority” people don’t have enough kids now. (That’s why Vladimir Putin allows the persecution of gays.) I’m reminded of Representative Steve King’s (T-IA) doubled-down comments that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” (story).
Patrick Stewart seems to impersonate me (as he usually does) as Charles, and Boyd Holbrook is notable as Pierce.
I’m reminded of another escapist adventure, “Logan’s Run” (1976), set around the Zale Building on Stemmons Freeway in Dallas, a building in which I worked in the 1980s, where you wonder how the twenty year-olds know think they can eliminate the thirties without facing the same fate themselves soon.
I guess that “Logan”, directed by James Mangold with story by him, was largely developed before Donald Trump won the election, but it seems well conceived as a response to the growing appearance of the alt-right during the 2016 campaigns. The distributor, Fox, is probably closer to Ayn Rand-style conservatism.
The show opens with a “short film” (“Deadpool: No Good Deed“) about a Logan-like man challenged by a nearby mugging and a telephone booth, in the City. I’m reminded of Joel Schulmacher’s “Phone Booth” (2002), and even of Timo Descamps and his “Phone Call” or even “Like It Rough” videos. the 20 Century Fix fanfare then follows, along with TSG and Marvel, before the “feature” starts. This sort of reminds me also of Dimension Films’s “Grindhouse” in 2007 (embedded double feature and connecting short). The two short stories in my “Do Ask Do Tell III” book (2014) could be presented this way in film.
2.35:1 and Imax
When and how viewed:
2017/3/14 Regal Ballston Quarter, late, low crowd after snowstorm
Nicholas Eberstadt (“A Nation of Takers”) presented his little book “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis” at a Cato Institute forum on January 10, 2017 (writeup ) . I can gest and suggest the phrase “men without chests” from a National Review article by David Skinner in June 1999. The book is part of a “New Threats to Freedom” series initiated in 2010 by Templeton Press.
Seriously, the book documents the gradual drop on LFPR (Labor Force Participation Rate) and “Not in Labor Force” (NILF) rate among working age men 25-54 and sometimes up to age 64, over various time periods since WWII, especially since 2000. “Not in Labor Force” refers to men not only not with paid employment but also not looking for work. The charts are based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, often from special Census surveys run all the time (I have actually worked for Census on these surveys).
NILF has increased steadily in the past two decades, and not changed particularly changed (in derivative “rate of change”) during sharp recessions. Some of the factors that reduce labor force participation include education level high school or lower, criminal backgrounds, non-white, non-immigrant, single, and childless.
Men with families to support do have higher labor force participation, which seems logical. Immigrant men tend to be more desperate to work even when illegal to do so, and to want to send money home, and to move around to get work. As men become better educated, marital status and having children becomes less important. Women with kids will normally do their best to work if single because they have to.
The book notes that many NILF men indeed seem to live as mooches, spending their time as “watchers” on social media, as if that were their job. (That confounds the “No spectators” rule of the movie “Rebirth”!) The author notes that the men don’t even help take care of children (too “emasculating” biologically, as we now know) or elderly relatives. But “observing” is still a form of “economic inactivity”.
The causes of this development are many. Obviously, men with criminal records are hard to employ given the punitive culture of US justice. Globalization and automation have removed jobs for intellectually less talented men. Our culture has become more individualistic and less social, a development that men (and women) with good cognitive (and/or good people) skills benefit from (sometimes with spectacular results), but which demoralizes men who “don’t get it” and need a more consistent family and communal tribal culture.
The book contains criticisms (“Dissenting Points of View”, that is, opposing viewpoints) by Henry Olsen and Jared Bernstein. The criticisms note Donald Trump’s campaign based on the loss of many manufacturing jobs for men to offshoring. Olsen mentions military conscription as raising employment for men from 1948 to 1972, but, in a rebuttal, the author notes that many men were rejected by the draft and these men tended to be harder to employ.
My last high-paying job was eliminated at the end of 2001, when I was 58, and I held interim jobs (list) until 2011, but for various times I lived on savings, investments, and inheritance. I have not added to economic activity (which would help others find work) as much as maybe I should be expected to. There was a culture in earlier times that people could retire at 55, which is way too early given today’s population demographics. Corporate pension social security offsets were set up to assume retirement at 62, which is unhealthful.
One problem was that the jobs being pushed at me mostly involved superficially conceived commissioned sales gigs and hucksterism. I could have, for example, sold sub-prime mortgages. We need to create jobs that add real wealth, not just build ponzi-like pyramids.
“Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis“
Templeton Press, Philadelphia; 206 pages, many charts, endnotes
In late 2006, I saw, on a very big screen, Alfonso Curaon’s dour epic for Universal, “Children of Men”, with Clive Owen and Michael Caine, where the world has only one pregnant woman (Claire Hope-Ashotey) who has surfaced in a hidden location on the English coast after years of anti-immigrant dystopia. In fact, I’ve wondered if some bizarre retrovirus could evolve somewhere whose only ill effect is sterility – and it spreads surreptitiously until it is too late. How about that for a sci-fi scenario about “state interest”?
The 2013 book by Jonathan V. Last (an ironic name), “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster” does replay the right-wing demographic winter argument, and the author, while admitting his own social conservatism (and guilt feelings about his luxury lifestyle with his wife in Old Town Alexandria, VA) insists he has no intention on turning back the clock on all the various liberations of self-actualizations in the past decades. The book seems to invoke much of the same arguments made by Phillip Longman in his 2004 book “The Empty Cradle”.
And there have been plenty of criticisms that claim this “old argument” is really about having “the right babies” or “more white babies.” Last defuses that idea quickly, noting that immigrant populations, when moving into wealthier countries, gradually reduce their own fertility.
First, is there a world population problem, as we thought in the 60s? Look at Wikipedia’s article, which shows that World population is increasing. But wealthier populations in western countries are experiencing much lower fertility than in the past and are not replacing their own populations. In the United States, immigration (mostly Latino) has kept population increasing and total fertility close to replacement, but in time even Latino immigrant fertility will drop. In Europe, original populations may not sustain themselves against immigrant, often Muslim populations(as in Bruce Bawer’s “While Europe Slept”).
So the problems could involve security (as in Europe) or, more likely, the economic effects of an aging population. There are fewer workers to support more retirees, who live longer.
Before returning to this, let’s put the whole “world” into perspective. In Camelot, or the best of all possible outcomes, western technology makes the developing world peaceful, stable, and prosperous, with a climate-change-friendly infrastructure and raising living standards for all the world’s poor. Young adults today admirably often want to go overseas and help developing nations with health care, clean water, and other infrastructure. The end result would be a lower fertility rate in today’s developing countries. So world population would stabilize, and that could be a good thing. There’s probably a maximum population the planet can support, and that goes down with life expectancy. It might be like 9 billion or so. Someday, our future descendants have to learn to move to other worlds and live there. Imagine the social issues that will come up (as science fiction writers selling self-published novels on Amazon do all the time).
But for the next few decades or so, at least, declining fertility is a rea problem for relatively “richer” populations. Look at this chart on Wikipedia and it’s apparent that the “poor” countries have much higher fertility rates.
Let’s talk about Social Security and Medicare specifically. In my case, my own benefit (which I took at 62 for life-narrative reasons) is approximately right actuarially for what I (and my employers) paid into the system with FICA taxes, so I don’t feel I have a karma problem. (I add, that as a childless person who inherited a house with land, I don’t object “morally” to paying high school taxes because I am paying back for my own free public school education, and I did inherit something I didn’t completely earn.)
But Last points out, my benefits are really paid for by today’s workers, of whom there are fewer, so they pay proportionally more to support me than I did to support my elders when I was “working.” He calls that a Ponzi scheme (aka Bernie Madoff) because at some point the chain breaks (which is why chain letters are illegal – I got one with in 1964 and actually received two quarters). So you can ask, well, what if we gradually privatize Social Security, which is what George W. Bush wanted to do (and what Cato wants to do). In theory, you could replace Social Security with savings vehicles set up as annuities managed by life insurance companies (and create some more mainframe computer programming jobs at companies like Voya and Prudential, or, of course, Vantage, which rules the world). But could a private system eventually break, too, like a private Madoff-scheme?
Last seems to think that the idea of letting the government provide old-age security (I even remember an “old age” meal tax in Massachusetts from 1972 on a weekend trip) was the kickoff to decline in fertility (and in the psychological importance of family) – people no longer needed to count on their kids to support them, But his argument becomes a mirage. States do have filial responsibility laws today, although (outside of one case in Pennsylvania in 2012) they rarely enforce them – to cover custodial care (as in nursing homes), which Medicare does not cover. I was caught on the eldercare magnet, although we had the money to pay for everything in my mother’s estate (her last year of care in 2010 cost about $80,000). (There’s also the Medicaid look-back rule mess.)
Last does “blame” the social changes that came with modern life: women in the workplace, sex as no longer “belonging” to marriage and procreation (controllable by “the pill”) – as contributing to an economy where people can no longer, out of self-interest, afford to bear and raise children, something that worked to the advantage of people like me, who could lowball co-workers with families. Yet, he makes no pretense that he can reverse the sexual revolution. He makes a good point in that modernity provides the individual the idea of “self-actualization” (out of Maslow) makes having children seem less important as a personal priority to many people (almost like a private afterthought, trailing more obvious success through published accomplishments).
He does discuss what works (against America’s de facto “one child policy” following China’s which was real), and what doesn’t. Generous benefits and paid family leave and various child allowances haven’t worked that well generally, partly because of the knee-jerk way things were done (especially in Japan and Singapore).
Last thinks that education needs to be streamlined and more job-oriented, so people can start working earlier and afford kids sooner. He also supports telecommuting, and supports the idea of highways over public transit to allow people to live in smaller towns and work well (does he support the electric car, and the infrastructure to support it?) He mentions Longman’s idea of allowing people with more kids to have more votes.
Early on, he mentions Eleanor Burkett’s 2000 book “The Baby Boon” and considers her reporting of complaints from the “childless” as “strident”. Put bluntly, as a childless person, I can be compelled for someone else’s “moral hazard” created by their sexual intercourse (although as a gay man, I can see how this argument could have been turned around in the 1980s with respect to HIV). Burkett even admits at one point that this may be more about “living in a community” than about “justice”, and the self-actualizing childless “accomplished” adults are “cheating the system” (subjunctive mood). It’s possible to imagine the economy indeed as punitive to those who don’t participate in family formation and raising. Last mentions gay rights once, and it’s apparent that anti-gay attitudes in Russia, particularly, are related to its own demographic Siberian winter. It’s then fair to ask, whether caring for the elderly (which can be practically legally required) or adopting children should be rewarded the same way that actually having children would be. People who have less biological passion facilitating procreation are likely to wind up paying for OPC (“other people’s children”) unless there is clear social support for alternatives.
It’s also reasonable to ask if societies can handle aging populations if their economies can keep them employed longer (and not needing benefits). It’s the idea that someone can live much longer than before with profound disability (like Alzheimer’s disease) that greatly exacerbates the problem of supporting retirees in a lower birth rate world. It’s also true, though, that older people tend to be more “risk averse” and the lack of younger workers could stifle innovation. But the greatest inventions seem to be thought up by relatively few, the most gifted, anyway, a some of the most talented don’t always seem to be “reproductively inclined”.
This is a good place to mention the book “The Natural Family” (see Index for my review) by Carlson and Mero; here’s a 2009 essay by Derek Brownl on their theories, similar to Last’s, however faith-based. Note the comment on “burdens” vs. “blessings.”
“I don’t notice men’s bods.” A young coworker, whom I had usually beaten in lunchtime blitz chess games, said to me one morning back in 1972, before my own “Second Coming (out)”. He, although engaged to marry “traditionally”, was already becoming a plump butterball.
You don’t hear men deny they feel same-sex attraction, or “SSA”, today as much as they did then. But denial or recognition of SSA (not the Social Security Administration) is a cornerstone idea of this curious little book “Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends”, by Brad Hambrick.
The title uses the same wordmark that I use for my own book series (now three), which had originally been motivated by the history of the (now repealed) “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military. I’ve never thought that a politically charged word moniker like this should be monopolized commercially (like the name “Trump”, perhaps). But this work is written to sell to a narrow niche audience – evangelical Christians, and is laid out as a handbook, with spaces to enter notes. Curiously, it ends with a sketch of a dialogue for a Christian’s responding to a gay friend’s asking him to come to the friend’s future same-sex wedding. That could make a “ten minute play” (a concept in some small towns, like a summer festival in Chestertown, MD) or a short film.
I’ve seen niche “handbooks” for gay rights before. In the 1990s,, there was a pair of books, with red “Do Ask, Do Tell” buttons on the cover (but not part of the title) by Bob Powers and Allan Ellis, two guideson sexual orientation for managers, and then family. I don’t personally write this way, because it seems to pander “baby talk”, but maybe my own saying that sounds a little contemptuous of meeting “real need”.
First, let me credit the author for some political libertarianism. He says that some behaviors that religion regards as immoral according to scripture should not be legislated as crimes (and indeed Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 made sodomy laws unconstitutional). He also gives a short biography of Alan Turing, recognizing Turing’s accomplishment (probably saving western civilization from Nazism) and laments how the British government subsequently treated his homosexuality in 1952, with chemical castration, leading to Turing’s suicide. He seems to understand that Turing had his own unusual kind of personal charisma. S I hope he is contemplating voting for Johnson-Weld in 2016.
He also volunteers the disclaimer at opposing an association with homosexuals is not his own personal “hill to die on”, to use a (Vietnam-era) military metaphor. One wonders why anyone would expect this of him.
For the rest of this review, I would like to play the role of that “friend” in his book, somewhere between what he would call “Christian” and “non-Christian”. As I indicated in a review of Bass’s “Grounded” on Sept. 4, I don’t experience Christianity in a personalized, emotional way of many evangelicals, but match it up with physics and cosmology.
Hambrick views men with SSA (and probably lesbians and transgender) as “suffering” because of the “fall”. He also spends a lot of space in the middle of the book analyzing some scriptures. Most pastors know that even within denominations, various churches or synods interpret specific scriptures differently. The Baptist denomination exists largely over the interpretation of adult v. child baptism, and with the denomination in the US there has always been major divisions over political questions (beginning with slavery and race). Within Christianity, there are many ways of viewing homosexuality that mainstream scholars view as academically defendable.
I can understand that people want to find guides for behavior and attitudes in specific scriptures. One way to comprehend this is to realize that with secular intellect alone, one can rationalize almost any social or political system according to what one otherwise fantasizes he wants to do. One can even, with secular thinking, rationalize fascist values, which brings up the question of the actions and caring needed from all of us to support the value of all human life in the future – although life that does not yet “exist” (not yet conceived, as with far future generations or lineage) does raise a philosophical question of its own. On the other hand (as we see with radical Islam) authoritarian religious dogma can be handed down in such a way as to justify horrible behaviors, too.
But my own SSA does not unfold as “suffering” but as an enticing, self-completing world of fantasy or alternate reality. The “suffering” came from the ostracism and discrimination early in my adulthood – being thrown out of William and Mary as a freshman in November 1961 for telling the Dean of Men that I am gay, and then undergoing “therapy” at NIH in 1962 while the Cuban Missile Crisis raged “on the outside”.
Evangelical Christians have been concerned with scriptural admonitions about the expression of sexuality, but I can provide a perspective on “what people want” from a practical perspective.
I think that Hambrick is right, that male homosexuality can be a mixture of biological influences and imprinting of cultural values. It’s more common for second sons to be gay, and this could happen because of epigenetic womb influences (but not because of Original Sin). In some cases the younger son is actually physically stronger than the straight older son. But I am an only child, so that doesn’t apply to me. I was frail and fell behind my peers physically. So I tended to equate the combination of both smarts and physical presence and various secondary sexual characteristics as equivalent to “virtue”. Again, this is rationalism for its own sake. But that “imprinting” led to my awareness of sexual arousal in the presence of a small subset of young men.
So what did people really want from me? Well, for one thing, my being an only child highlights one aspect of my circumstances: I was likely never going to experience sexual intercourse with a female and give my parents a lineage. The family would die with me, for all eternity.
What we call “homophobia” is a sliding phenomenon, rather like referred pain or vague nausea in neurology. It’s a combination of concerns about the welfare of the family, tribe or herd, considered as a whole, not about the individual. “Tribal” cultures facing external threats indeed are more likely to follow authoritarian leaders, religious teachings, and impose invasive rules on the behaviors of their members, “for the good of everyone.” As societies get richer, the need for mediating individual tastes and behaviors becomes less. But societies can lose sustainability and particularly resilience.
At its heart, objection to homosexuality has a lot to do with a perceived threat to procreation for the group. There is a fear that less secure males will decide that it is not important to have children, if homosexuality is acceptable. That seems to be driving the anti-homosexual propaganda law in Russia (that has a dwindling population problem). There is also a fear that women will get the idea they do not need to receptive to men. When I was a young adult in 1972 and had already tried some passionless heterosexual dating, I was aware of the desire to “have” a family life, but I did not recognize an inherent personal value in fathering and raising my own children — in fact, I may have harbored some “reverse eugenics” in my own thinking. I had no grasp of the intimacy that could be required to tend to an expectant spouse, and remain erotically interested in her (for a lifetime) despite constant physical appearance changes.
The “demographic winter” argument has been articulated in the US among some socially conservative circles, such as by Philip Longman in his 2004 book “The Empty Cradle“, who has even written that childless adults (probably LG often) are “too preoccupied with themselves” to want or need their own children, but then it becomes harder to become socially relevant to others in times of real need.
There is also a fear that, in a smaller group, homosexual males will “scope” other men and make other men conscious of themselves. This was a concern (along with unit cohesion) in the early days of the debate over gays in the military (a mix or privacy and unit cohesion concerns), but over time it tended to fade, partly because soldiers are better educated and society as a whole is “richer”.
The idea that everyone should be expected to confine their personal experience of sexuality to traditional marriage (“until death do us part”, with openness to procreation, the traditional Vatican idea), could be viewed as an “equalizer” of sorts, even if this idea seems to be a paradox. Society might be viewed as more stable and meaningful to the otherwise disadvantaged if everyone is exposed to some of the same risks of responsibility for others. But that mediates the meaning of marriage, as much more about the community than just the couple itself.
Conservative writer George Gilder had expressed some of these ideas in a couple of now forgotten books, “Sexual Suicide” (1973) and “Men and Marriage” (1986). Gilder regarded (young) men as largely fungible (fodder for conscription) outside of marriage with kids, and presented women as inherently “sexually superior” to men because they don’t have to prove themselves by “performing”. It’s pretty heavy stuff. But he dismissed homosexuality with a phrase “the perils of androgyny” as if transgender did not exist. Gilder coined a term that describes my own psychological strategy, “upward affiliation“. That is, it is a “fatal flaw” in me that I don’t find emotional value in bonding with people who need me for adaptive purposes.
Gilder’s writing also suggests a certain herd effect in the supposed self-discipline and “opportunity cost” involved in men’s restricting sexuality to procreative marriage. If everyone else can be counted on to honor the the same rules, then the committed, life-long marital experience has more psychic value. But that also suggests the “Pharisee” problem: preoccupation with rules and order for their own sake, as a source of meaning and sometimes a sense of superiority to others in a social hierarchy.
The “herd effect” and public health concerns (about gay men) leveraged by the far right in the 1980s when AIDS exploded have been largely forgotten. But I’ve documented all of this in a few specific postings from a “McCarthyism” label on my “Do Ask So Tell Notes” blog: 1, 2, 3.
“The Vasectomist”, a long short (52 minutes) documentary film funded in Australia but not shot there, and directed by Jonathan Stack and Sarlena Weinfeld, pits rational wisdom not only against religion but instinctual love and biology.
In central Florida, Dr. Doug Stein has perfected his scalpel-free laser operation, to the pleasure of male patients who don’t completely “trust” their girl friends. But then Stein takes his procedure on the road, tyring his crusade for world population control, in poorer countries. In the film, he visits the Philippines (source of labor for a lot of US manufacturing) and Haiti (post earthquake). The documentary shows a lot of squalor.
He does meet objection. A pastor connects homosexuality, birth control, abortion, and euthanasia as one continuum of progressive immorality that devalues some human life for the pleasure of others. (Does a potential unconceived child, who cannot yet even exist, have rights?) Later, a woman resists his “rationalism” (where he talks about how many more billions of people the planet can support) with “love”. There is talk about reproduction as nature’s “vector”, and of procreation, while Stein questions the carrying capacity of the planet. The word eugenics doesn’t quite come up.
Stein offers income replacement for the day in poor countries to customers. The film sometimes shows the procedure explicitly.
I can recall, back in late 1971, a co-worker coming in on a Tuesday morning saying he had his “tubes tied” the day before, and that he felt he had been kicked. He was on this third marriage, and already had an “instant family” from his second wife, people depending on him, a source of pride. In those days, there were concerns that vasectomies could have long term demasculinizing effects.