Posts Tagged Iran

In Skyfall, James Bond fights for Queen, Country, and Aesthetics

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Skyfall, or you did see it, but only in an alternate quantum universe, this post may ruin your day.

Skyfall posterSkyfall was a great way to mark 50 years of 007, and not just because it was a great movie. In this author’s opinion, Skyfall ranks among the best Bond films ever made, but it also shows why this franchise has persisted for 50 years, and why it deserves to keep going. The world of espionage is becoming more efficient, but also less interesting, and that’s why we need Bond.

In Skyfall, all 007 wants to do is shoot his enemy in the face, but said enemy, a rogue former MI6 agent named Raoul Silva, prefers hacking over high explosives. The new hipster Q is also convinced that digital espionage is the wave of the future.

Silva points to a room full of servers and says they are all he needs to commit acts of terror, while Q brags that he can do more at home in his pajamas than Bond can do in the field.

This new attitude isn’t just a writer’s way of triggering sentimentality, either. Cyber warfare is a developing tactic in the espionage world. The Stuxnet worm, for example, has done a better job of slowing down Iran’s nuclear weapons program than any human spy.

That all may be true, but that doesn’t make it interesting to watch. Anyone who has seen previous Bond films will sigh along with 007 when Q hands him nothing but a gun and a radio. An Aston Martin with machine guns might be less realistic, but it’s also much cooler.

No one wants to spend two hours watching someone furiously type on a keyboard, either. Q could probably do 007‘s job remotely using a drone, but he would lose the interest of movie audiences along the way. Bond remarks that, eventually, someone has to pull the trigger. He’s right, if for no other reason than that it creates more drama.

Since Skyfall is, after all, a movie about James Bond, Q and Silva are forced to relent. Q lets Bond take M to Bond’s ancestral home in Scotland for protection, and Silva surrounds and destroys it in spectacular fashion.

That ending has little in common with the real world of espionage. In fact, almost nothing in Bond’s 50-year career of boozing, womanizing, and killing has. Nonetheless, Bond’s defense of good old fashioned bullets highlights an important  issue in the way the world is depicted in the arts.

The digitalization of life is making it harder to depict the real world in an interesting way in fiction. While its true that many aspects of life are mundane, depicting life lived through the filter of digital technology compounds that mundanity with artificiality.

The science-fiction subgenre Cyberpunk has grappled with this problem, and the response is often to dial up the fiction. The business of hacking is jazzed up with augmented reality interfaces, like the dream world of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, or the uber-Internet “Metaverse” of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The protagonist of Snow Crash, appropriately named Hiro Protagonist, is also a swordsman. That helps.

Like the Bond films, no one ever accused Cyberpunk of being a totally realistic depiction of hacking and computer programming. Both use a real-life activity as the basis for good fiction, but the more time people spend sitting in front of computers, the less likely it will resemble the reader’s world in any way.

It’s important for fictional stories to give their readers something to relate to, but we may be pushing the boundaries of what we can do with the reality we have. Pulling a trigger will always be more interesting than clicking a mouse.

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Mitt Romney: Do as I say, not as I do

map of the Middle EastI was finally able to vent my near-homicidal rage against television journalists and concentrate on the issues (imagine that!) in the final presidential debate Monday night. As usual, I was left wondering if Mitt Romney actually hears the words that come out of his mouth.

Twice, the former Massachusetts Governor told President Obama that, “Criticizing me is not a foreign policy.” That seems like a noble statement, except Romney spent almost the entire debate criticizing the President while offering only a vague phantasm of what he would actually do if he wins on November 6.

Romney criticized nearly every aspect of Obama’s foreign policy, from the drone strikes that killed al Qaeda’s leadership, to his use of economic sanctions on Iran, to when he “skipped Israel” during a trip to the Middle East.

Obviously, debates are all about criticism, but if Romney wanted the President to say something constructive instead of just attacking, why didn’t he?

Instead, Romney went for semantics. He said he would put tougher sanctions on Iran, and label China a “currency manipulator,” which is apparently more severe than actually prosecuting China for trade violations, as Obama has done.

When asked what he would do if Israel decided to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, Romney begged off saying he wouldn’t answer a hypothetical question like that. Instead, he used the time to attack Obama… again.

Perhaps it was because Romney didn’t know how long it would take Israeli planes to reach Iran: earlier in the debate, he said Syria was an important ally for Iran because it gave the latter access to the sea. Iran has its own coastline, and the two countries do not share a border (Iraq is in between).

So much for building a foreign policy on ideas instead of criticism. Obama, on the other hand, gave specifics, as he always does. He outlined the aforementioned cases against China, and reminded Americans who was responsible for eliminating their arch enemy, and a dictator that even the Republicans’ favorite president, Ronald Reagan couldn’t take down.

With regards to Iran, Obama, said he would put every option on the table. That sounds a lot more presidential than Romney’s “answer.”

Conservatives probably have their own criticisms regarding Obama’s policies, but what I want to emphasize here is Romney’s “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. If attacking your opponent doesn’t help build a foreign policy, then stop wasting time attacking your opponent. It goes both ways.

Romney doesn’t seem to think the laws of language apply to him; he thinks that he can say one thing and have it mean something else. That is one of many reasons why he is unfit to be our president.

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When it comes to gas prices, people have short memories

It’s amazing how short people’s memories are. The media is talking about $5.00/gallon gas this summer, which means that there will be $5.00/gallon gas this summer, and many people think President Obama is not doing enough to stop the increase in prices. Obviously, the president should try to lower gas prices but, as a certain Texas Republican will tell you, it’s not like he has a magic wand.

According to a recent Times/CBS News poll, many Americans think Obama has the power to lower gas prices. Fifty-four percent of respondents believed that a president can do a lot to control gas prices, while 36 percent believed they are beyond a president’s control. That is completely different from the majority view a few years ago.

Gas prices may be rising from $3.50 to $4.00/gallon under Obama, but they shot up from roughly $1.50/gallon to $3.00 under the George W. Bush administration. Bush, however, got a pass. When asked what he was doing to lower the cost of fuel, Bush claimed he was powerless, saying that he wished there was a magic wand that could lower prices, but that things weren’t that simple. No one argued with Bush. Remember that, America? It was only a few years ago.

The president does have some ability to control prices. He can institute a system of price controls, possibly offering tax credits in exchange for price caps. However, this probably wouldn’t gain much traction with Republicans, who would probably view it as socialism, fascism, or both.

Of course, oil prices are not determined solely by the companies that sell the stuff. Events in oil-producing regions like the Middle East can disrupt the production and transportation of oil, cutting off the supply and driving prices up. Again, there is a lot the president can do. He can assist in the overthrow of a dictator, like Muammar Qaddafi, and open up a new source of oil for Western markets. He can also dispatch U.S. Navy carrier strike groups to show Iran that closing the Straight of Hormuz is a bad idea. Hasn’t Obama already done that?

It is perfectly reasonable for people to expect their president to solve the country’s problems, whatever they may be. It’s just a little odd that Americans think the president holds sway over gas prices when, a few short years ago, they didn’t. After all, if a former oil man can’t lower gas prices, who can? Obama should try to bring prices down, but if he can’t, that doesn’t make him a failure.

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