In “Carpe Diem Nation” Bobo says here’s hoping President Obama will frame his State of the Union address in terms of the present vs. the future. Mr. Cohen has decided to explain to us all “Why ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Works.” He says the charge of inaccuracy is a poor thing measured against the potency of artistic truth. In “The ‘Die Hard’ Quandary” Mr. Nocera has a question: Can kids really watch gun violence all hours of the day and remain unaffected? Mr. Bruni has stolen another one of MoDo’s columns. In “A Spritz of Power” he giggles that if our lawmakers are going to preen, they might as well do it fragrantly. Here’s Bobo:
Europeans who settled America gave their lives a slingshot shape. They pulled back so they could shoot forward. They volunteered to live in harsh conditions today so their descendants could live well for centuries. The pioneers who traveled West did the same thing. So has each generation of immigrants — sacrificing the present for the sake of the future.
This slingshot manner of life led to one of those true national clichés: that America is the nation of futurity, that Americans organize their lives around romantic visions of what is to be.
In 1775, Sam Adams confidently predicted that the scraggly little colonies would one day be the world’s most powerful nation. In 1800, Noah Webster projected that the U.S. would someday have 300 million citizens, and that a country that big should have its own dictionary.
In his novel, “Giants in the Earth,” Ole Rolvaag has a pioneering farmer give a visitor a tour of his land. The farmer describes his beautiful home and his large buildings. The visitor confesses that he can’t see them. That’s because they haven’t been built yet, the farmer acknowledges, but they already exist as reality in his mind.
This future-oriented mentality had practical effects. For decades, government invested heavily in long-range projects like railroads and canals.
Today, Americans have inverted this way of thinking. Instead of sacrificing the present for the sake of the future, Americans now sacrifice the future for the sake of the present.
Federal spending is the most obvious example. The federal government is a machine that takes money from future earners and spends it on health care for retirees. Entitlement spending hurts the young in two ways. It squeezes government investment programs that boost future growth. Second, the young will have to pay the money back. To cover current obligations, according to the International Monetary Fund, young people will have to pay 35 percent more taxes and receive 35 percent fewer benefits.
But government is not the only place you can see signs of this present-ism. Business has slipped into this pattern, too. C.E.O.’s serve short stints and their main incentive is to make quarterly numbers, not to build for the long term.
Banks can lend money in two ways. They can lend to fund investments or they can lend to fund real estate purchases and other consumption. In 1982, banks were lending out 80 cents for investments for every $1 they were lending for consumption. By 2011, they lent only 30 cents to fund investments for every $1 of consumption.
As Robert D. Atkinson and Stephen J. Ezell note in their book “Innovation Economics,” American firms are also lagging in their commitment to research and development. Between 1999 and 2006, for example, German firms increased research-and-development spending by 11 percent, Finnish firms by 28 percent and South Korean firms by 58 percent. During that same period, U.S. spending increased by a paltry 3 percent.
Increasingly, companies have to spend their money on retirees, not future growth. Last week, for example, Ford announced that it was spending $5 billion to shore up its pension program. That’s an amount nearly equal to Ford’s investments in factories, equipment and innovation.
Why have Americans lost their devotion to the future? Part of the answer must be cultural. The Great Depression and World War II forced Americans to live with 16 straight years of scarcity. In the years after the war, people decided they’d had enough. There was what one historian called a “renunciation of renunciation.” We’ve now had a few generations raised with this consumption mind-set. There’s less of a sense that life is a partnership among the dead, the living and the unborn, with obligations to those to come.
The political debate, though, is largely oblivious to this mental shift. Republicans and Democrats are so busy arguing about the merits of government versus business that they are blind to the problem that afflicts them both.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama is apparently planning to give us yet another salvo in that left-right war, as he did in his second Inaugural Address. One of his aides, in a fit of hubris, told Politico that the president will be offering Republicans a golden bridge to ease their retreat.
But it would be great if Obama gave an imaginative speech that reframed things as present versus future.
If the president were to propose an agenda for the future, he’d double spending on the National Institutes of Health. He’d approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He’d cut corporate tax rates while adding a progressive consumption tax. He’d take money from Social Security and build Harlem Children’s Zone-type projects across the nation. He’d means test Medicare and use the money to revive state universities and pay down debt.
Would Americans buy that agenda? Maybe. Americans are neglecting the future, but I bet they’re still in love with it.
Thanks for asking me to have to go live in a refrigerator carton under the bridge and eat cat food, Bobo. While I’m eating cat food why don’t you dine on a large plate of over-salted weasel dicks? Asshole. Now here’s Mr. Cohen’s ode to torture:
“Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s movie about the epic decade-long search for Osama bin Laden, is a courageous work that is disturbing in the way that art should be. It surfaces suppressed feelings. It ushers the viewer into the “dark side” — that murky world of renditions, secret facilities and torture birthed when the United States shelved its principles and declared war on a noun, terrorism.
George W. Bush has been rightly mocked for once commenting on Bin Laden that, “I just don’t spend that much time on him.” But the truth is not that many people did. Bin Laden had vanished, perhaps he was already dead. Anyway he was best not dwelled upon. Years went by, 9/11 receded. Bigelow lasers in on those for whom finding the mastermind behind the killing of almost 3,000 Americans was an undying obsession.
Or rather she and her scriptwriter Mark Boal, a former journalist, focus on a single C.I.A. analyst, “Maya,” played by Jessica Chastain. (The film has much to say about female single-mindedness and good sense as contrasted with male huffiness and volatility.) Maya is based on a real-life agent. But she is clearly a fictionalized creation who serves an essential narrative purpose — the conflation in one attractive, patriotic woman of all the practical, police-work determination to find Bin Laden from which her country, the United States, had found myriad distractions at the mall.
The movie woven around Maya is a feature, not a documentary. It says that it is “based on firsthand accounts of actual events.” It does not say that it is a factual, unembroidered recounting of those events. Boal did a lot of reporting at the C.I.A. and at the White House. Good scriptwriters, like good novelists, research their subjects. But as one good novelist, Amos Oz, has observed, “Facts at times become the dire enemies of truth.”
Or, put another way, while reality is the raw material journalism attempts to render with accuracy and fairness, it is the raw material that art must transform. Picasso’s “Guernica” is not a factual account of what happened in a Basque village in northern Spain on April 26, 1937. It does say something eternal and essential about war.
Now I am not suggesting that “Zero Dark Thirty” is art on the level of Guernica. But it is an important movie and much of the heated debate around it is misplaced. The chief accusation is that it is inaccurate in that it exaggerates the part played by torture in securing information that led to the killing of Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.
Three senators — Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain — called the movie “grossly inaccurate.” Michael Morell, the acting C.I.A. director, opined: “Whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.”
Watching torture — the C.I.A. should abandon its ghastly euphemism — is profoundly unsettling. But Bigelow and Boal have done an important service in setting before a wide U.S. and global audience images of a traumatized America’s dark side. This happened: the waterboarding, the sleep deprivation, the sexual humiliation, the cruelty. Not exactly as depicted, but yes it did, in places that, as if in a totalitarian world, existed on no map.
And I think the movie’s portrayal of torture is truthful: It helped at times but at others did not. It provided clues that might have been gleaned by other means. And the ultimate success in finding Bin Laden occurred after President Obama had banned the methods “Zero Dark Thirty” portrays so powerfully.
In the end the case for the unacceptability of torture is not best made by sweeping assertions that it is useless. The nuance of this movie builds a much stronger case that, whatever torture’s marginal usefulness, it is morally indefensible.
The charge of inaccuracy is a poor thing measured against the potency of truth. “Zero Dark Thirty” is a truthful artistic creation, one reason it has provoked debate. Boal told The New York Times he did not want “to play fast and loose with history” — a statement held against him by several of the movie’s critics, most eloquently Steve Coll in The New York Review of Books. My sense, however, is that Boal has honored those words.
There were few more minute observers of fact than George Orwell. As Timothy Garton Ash has written, if Orwell had a God it was Kipling’s “God of Things as They are.” Yet, as Garton Ash says of Orwell: “One of his most powerful early essays describes witnessing a hanging in Burma. But he later told three separate people that this was ‘only a story.’ So did he ever witness a hanging? He annotates a copy of “Down and Out in Paris and London” for a girlfriend: this really happened, this happened almost like this, but “this incident is invented.”’
Truth is art’s highest calling. For it the facts must sometimes be adjusted. “Zero Dark Thirty” meets the demands of truth.
I’ll bet he got a chubby watching “24” too. Next up we have Mr. Nocera:
Later this week, the fifth installment of the “Die Hard” movies is scheduled to open in theaters across the country. “A Good Day to Die Hard” stars, once again, Bruce Willis as John McClane, a too-stubborn-for-his-own-good cop who has to stop a highly trained army of bad guys out to wreak destruction and death. It will undoubtedly be a giant hit for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the owner of the “Die Hard” franchise.
In promoting the new movie, both the Regal and AMC movie chains are holding “Die Hard” marathons on Wednesday. Starting at noon, an AMC theatergoer can spend 12 straight hours watching all five “Die Hard” movies.
That’s a lot of “Die Hard.” Among the guns used — and used, and used, and used — in just the first “Die Hard” are a Steyr AUG assault rifle, a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, and a Walther PPK pistol with silencer. McClane himself relies on a Beretta 92 semiautomatic pistol in the first three movies, and a Sig Sauer P220 in the more recent films. (He also favors the bald look in the last two movies.)
Of course, it is cartoonish violence, in the sense that rarely — in all the innumerable killings — is blood seen pouring out of the victims, or does anyone cry out in anguish and pain. Incredibly, the Motion Picture Association of America judges foul language to be more problematic for children than this kind of bloodless violence, which perhaps explains why the 2007 installment, “Live Free or Die Hard,” was rated PG-13: the normally foul-mouthed McClane barely swears in it. (The new one has reclaimed its traditional R.)
What got me thinking about “Die Hard” — and guns in the movies more generally — is, of course, the furious gun debate since the killings in Newtown, Conn. On one side are those who believe we can cut down on gun violence by, among other things, banning the assault weapons that always seem to be used in mass shootings.
On the other side are the Second Amendment absolutists, who argue that the real problem is the culture, soaked in so much violent imagery that it is virtually impossible to avoid. They add that a ban on assault weapons would be the beginning of a slippery slope that would ultimately lead to a ban on weapons of every kind.
It’s not that I don’t want to see a ban on assault weapons. I sincerely do. But after poking around the world of gun-crazed movies and other media, I have to say, the Second Amendment absolutists have a point. For instance, when you ask a spokesman for the M.P.A.A. about the real-world effect of gun imagery in the movies, he actually pushes back by claiming that “there is a predominance of findings that show there is no consistent or convincing evidence that exposure causes people to be more violent.”
This is, quite simply, untrue. “There is tons of research on this,” says Joanne Cantor, professor emerita of communications at the University of Wisconsin, and an expert on the effect of violent movies and video games. “Watching violence makes kids feel they can use violence to solve a problem. It brings increased feelings of hostility. It increases desensitization.” Every parent understands this instinctively, of course, but those instincts are backed by decades of solid research.
There is a second reason many people — indeed, many of the same people who would like to ban assault weapons — shrink from demanding changes in the culture’s tolerance for violent images. To do anything about it legislatively would likely violate the First Amendment. Just as an assault weapon ban is the slippery slope for Second Amendment advocates, efforts to restrict violent images — or pornography, for that matter — is the slippery slope for First Amendment absolutists.
Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University, told me that children who watch even something as seemingly benign as Woody Woodpecker cartoons — in which Woody often pecks on someone’s head — can become temporarily more aggressive. “If you are going to start to ban media violence, where do you stop?” he asked.
Violent video games and movies, he went on to say, are certainly not the only factor that can lead someone to commit an act of gun violence. “If someone has no other risk factors, he can play Grand Theft Auto all day and never commit a violent act. But if he has a number of the other risk factors. …” Anderson let the thought hang.
On Monday, I called an AMC spokesman to ask if his company was worried about its customers watching nonstop shootings for 12 straight hours.
“We are very excited about the ‘Die Hard’ marathon,” he replied. “It will be a great time for our guests.” He added, however, that the company had its “security measures in place.”
Just, you know, in case.
And next we’re subjected to Mr. Bruni:
It’s kind of amazing, given our politicians’ obsession with self-promotion, that we haven’t yet seen a line of Congressional colognes.
Think about it. Actors, athletes, models and singers have signature scents. Snooki has two. So why not one for the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee?
Or for …Marco Rubio?
He could deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address not just as an immigration reformer with an eye on 2016 but as the pitchman for Amnesty by Marco Rubio, the eau de toilette for the man or woman who craves a clean break, a new beginning. I imagine a top note of citrus, nodding to Rubio’s native Florida, and a middle note of tea, nodding to his party-within-a-party.
Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic majority leader, could be the face and spirit of Nevada Naughty, named for his home state and his habit of playing rough. I detect a whiff of desert wildflowers. Vanilla, too. Also some nutmeg, clove and coriander. No, wait, that’s my lentil soup recipe.
From John Boehner I’m getting tobacco. And leather. And I don’t mean his cigarette dependence or dependably tanned skin. I mean his sporty new scent, Acqua di Speaker. It comes not just in a spray and a splash but also in a shower gel, for those times when you want to wash away the stink of lobbyists and emerge feeling refreshed and smelling like Camel Ultra Lights.
And John McCain could channel his spooky fury into a fragrance for the grudge holder who has never suffered a slight that he didn’t avenge. Its name would be Payback, and it would smell of sour grapes and scorched earth.
It’s past time for lawmakers, and not just in the nation’s capital, to get in on the aromatic action. The distinction between a headliner in politics and a headliner in movies, music, fashion or sports has pretty much evaporated. It’s all show business now, all relentless marketing and meticulous brand management, and Chris Christie is just Beyoncé with shorter hair, bigger lungs and a less rigorous workout routine. She calls one of her colognes Midnight Heat. He could call his Autumn Hurricane, to capture the pummeling force of his personality and the event that made him, politically speaking, destiny’s child.
With signature scents, our designated leaders might be much more appealing. The television cameras could pan the senators, representatives, cabinet members and Supreme Court justices in the Capitol on Tuesday night and we’d see not just a snake pit of bitter enemies taking a rare timeout. We’d behold a human potpourri of nose-tickling possibility.
Why, there’s Eric Cantor, who recently joined the Republicans’ reinvention mission with talk and tweets about transcending partisanship and helping the little guy. He’s worried about immigrant kids. He’s oozing empathy for working moms. And he’s wearing Eric Cantor’s Eau de Changement, a chameleon of a cologne that makes you smell harsh at certain times, approachable at others. Eau de Changement keeps voters guessing. Paul Ryan wears it, too.
Sonia Sotomayor may turn up in the Capitol for Obama’s remarks. She’s taking a breather from the tour for “My Beloved World,” her memoir, which is just the first chapter in a new saga of Supreme merchandising. Next comes her scent, Black Robe, with currents of jasmine and bergamot, in a bottle shaped like Lady Justice.
Of course Hillary Clinton’s stratospheric approval ratings demand a cologne all her own. It should be a symphony of spices and flowers from the different continents she visited as secretary of state, a bouquet of international ambition, with a moniker to match. All our diplomats will wear Beyond Borders, or they’ll wear nothing at all.
It’ll be unisex, while Bill Clinton’s signature scent will be a musky number for men only. It’ll use cedar, incense and wormwood to rewrite history, and be called Unimpeachable.
The way I figure it, politicians aren’t making much progress in fixing the budget or saving the post office. But they just might be able to make America smell a little better. A more perfect union eludes us. Perhaps we should set our sights on a more perfumed one.
C-Span could evolve into something like QVC, where you’d see the former governor of Tennessee, now its senior senator, pop up to present a special deal on Lamar Noir, with half off the after-shave balm if you also get the soap on a rope.
And instead of showily haranguing Cabinet nominees, Ted Cruz, the Texas Tea Partier, could lend his aggrieved voice and censorious visage to a showy cologne, Cruz Control. It’s tailor-made for preening, with a top note of sandalwood, a middle note of tonka bean and a base of self-righteousness.