Actually Excited About ‘The Last Ship’

Mild spoilers…

With the wave of new shows coming out for the summer, in general I’m somewhat “blah” about the new prospects.  It takes a lot to get my anticipation of a new or returning show up these days.  It has to be on the order of The Walking Dead.  In fact, it pretty much has to be The Walking Dead.  Television just isn’t doing it for me as much anymore. Even if the show concepts are good, the execution usually stumbles.  Defiance came back for season two.  It’s on my DVR.  It was just in the OK category. A new show from Syfy Dominion premiered last week.  Don’t expect a review of it from me.  I’m not a skilled enough writer to fill an entire review with all of the adjectives to describe how stinko that show is.  OK there’s one…stinko.

Falling Skies, Under the Dome… I’ll watch them but I don’t think they’ll get me excited to watch television.  With no Walking Dead and no Game of Thrones on, TV is only just TV.

Or is it?

TNT’s The Last Ship debuted last Sunday night, and sitting down to watch it, I expected just another OK show, but this was more than OK.  This was great!  So great that on the commercial breaks I turned to my wife and said, “This is great!”  My wife, who mainly tuned in for Adam Baldwin, who plays the ship’s executive officer, agreed, “Yes, Adam Baldwin is great.”

The gist of the show is a guided missile destroyer, the USS Nathan James, is sent incommunicado to the Arctic on the twin missions of some Top Secret weapons testing and to ferry along two scientists to study birds.  Now, when you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous.  I can see either having a Top Secret weapons test or having scientists study birds, but not on the same mission. You might think that the Captain should have at least raised that question, but it apparently raises no red flags.  But then, the Captain is there just to look good.  Played by Eric Dane, who formerly played…what, Dr. McCreamy or something?  In some Young-Doctors-In-Love show, he seems to see nothing unusual in combining bird watching and highly classified missile testing.

So after the completion of bird watching/missile testing, the crew is excited to return home and restore contact with the outside world, but a sudden attack by Russian choppers makes them aware of how out of contact they’ve been for the past few months.  The Captain, via teleconference with the President (a different President then when he left) learns that almost 80% of the world population is dead, and that most governments are no longer functioning, including the Russians, and that the two scientists had known the whole time, since they were not there studying birds, but looking for a primordial version of the same virus that was decimating the planet.  With the a ship that has the two scientists who may have the information to make a cure for the virus, the course of the show is set; if they can survive long enough.

So the pilot did a good job of setting up the premise, although I do have a quibble.  The ship comes across a dead in the water Italian cruise ship.  Hoping to loot it for food and fuel (diesel doesn’t grow on trees) they send a small boarding party; who has a member exposed to the virus.  Now I think this plot point could have been handled better.  It would have been a good opportunity to show what sort of skipper the Captain is by how he would handle the situation.  Should he abandon the crewman, kill him, set up quarantine on the ship and bring him back on board?  All of those are tough calls, but instead the crewman decides to shoot himself, sparing the Captain from making any hard decisions. That was a dramatic moment lost in my opinion.  And I would be surprised if that situation doesn’t arise again and again in the series.  Not everyone is going to decide to instantly kill themselves.  Then what do you do?

Anyway, I’m apparently not the only one who liked the show.  The premiere episode garnered 5.3 million viewers, which is big for cable.  Let’s hope the excitement can continue.

 

 

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Iraq: Vietnam Redux?

I was too young to have any meaningful opinion on the Vietnam War.  I was just a kid.  But I do remember the last US troops leaving Vietnam.  Silly kid that I was, I thought that meant that we won the war.  It turned out that when the other shoe dropped, we lost the war.  The post Nixon Democratic surge in Congress killed meaningful military aid to South Vietnam, leading to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government within two months.  The North Vietnamese annexed the rest of the country, sent thousands into re-education camps, and launched a mass exodus of Vietnamese boat people. The iconic image is of US helicopters fleeing the American embassy in Saigon, a graphic symbol of our defeat and humiliation. The US suffered over 58,000 causalities, and ended up accomplishing nothing.

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U1835718 (Photo credit: tommy japan)

Here we go again.

I started to have that sinking, “here we go again” feeling back in January when Fallujah fell to the Al-Qaeda related group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Considering the effort that the US put into taking that town from Al Qaeda, that was a little heartbreaking.  For those involved in actually taking Fallujah, it’s a lot heartbreaking.

The romp across Iraq by ISIS has been stunning.  Outnumbered 20-1 by the Iraqi Army, they’ve taken Mosul and Tikrit, and are heading south, presumably for the big prize, Baghdad.  Meanwhile, back in Washington, as recently as two weeks ago the administration was still touting ending the war in Iraq and defeating Al Qaeda as their two major significant foreign policy achievements.

Of course, “ending the war in Iraq” doesn’t mean the conflict ends, only that the US isn’t playing.  I’m sure the Democratic House in the 1970’s also felt like they were ending the war in Vietnam, if of course; you count a pretty spectacular defeat as ending the war. It’s hard to believe that the Obama administration hated the Iraq war so much that they would rather have an ISIS governed Iraq rather than to try to help stop that advance.  Although they’ve already turned down requests from the Iraqi government for air strikes on militant positions. These guys just aren’t Sunni’s that want a piece of the pie, they have the serious goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate, the old Al Qaeda goal, except unlike Al Qaeda, ISIS actually controls real territory and has an actual army, not merely terrorist bombers.

Interestingly, the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was detained by US forces in Iraq and released in 2009.When he was released, he said, “I’ll see you guys in New York.” That seems a lot less of a joke and more of a promise, particularly if ISIS succeeds in establishing its own terrorist state as a launching pad for worldwide terrorist attacks.

I hope that the Obama administration can put politics aside and take this threat seriously.  When we lost Vietnam it was a devastating blow and crippled US foreign policy for decades.  Although betraying another ally after we lost interest would be devastating for US foreign policy for decades to come, at least Vietnam didn’t become a terrorist state, threatening world security. If Obama doesn’t start taking seriously his role as world leader (and there is more evidence to the contrary than not over the last 5 years), the US and the world may find itself in a far more dangerous position than it has since 1939.  Obama has a choice to be Churchill or Chamberlain in the next few days, and I don’t have much confidence he’ll make the right choice.

 

My Netfix Review: Season 2: Orange Is the New Black

Season 2 of OINB dropped into the Netflix queue on Friday, and apparently plenty of people had time to go through all 13 episodes.

Sheesh!

I’m not a binge watcher and I think it’s unfortunate that binge watching has become a thing for our time shifted TV watching.  Frankly, I just don’t see who has the time to actually sit down for that many hours on a weekend to watch an entire television season.  Are there that many people with that much free time?  Or are unemployed hipsters the new must reach TV demographic?

So I’ve only seen three episodes so far, but I think it’s enough to know that I’m going to enjoy the season.  When last we left Piper she was beating the crap out of Pennsatucky in the yard, a season long culmination of evolution from prissy upper class WASP to what she she’s been all season and just hasn’t acknowledged; just another inmate.  Piper, with no knowledge of Pennsatucky’s condition, is roused from solitary confinement and flown via con-air to Chicago, all the while with no idea why she’s been sent there or when if ever, she’s coming back to Litchfield.

Back at Litchfield, things proceed without Piper, with interesting flashbacks on Taystee and Crazy Eyes to see what began their journey that would end up in prison.  And Red confronts a new/old rival who intends to take control of the prison.

One of the things I like about the show is that none of the inmates are who we think they are, including Piper.  Our impressions undergo a convergence.  It’s not that Piper becomes like her fellow inmates, it’s that she already had a part of her that was like them, and it slowly becomes uncovered.  And the other inmates?  They were always more complicated then we gave them credit for.

Any time there is a show with a diverse cast there will be some sort of racial controversy, however  in general, the reviews are fairly positive in that regard too.  The Root has a second season review called, Today’s Best Black Show has a White Star.  NPR’s review is New Faces Keep ‘Orange is the New Black’ Humming in a New Season.  This review is written by Eric Deggans, a man whose racial sensitivity meter is always turned up to 11, also gives a positive review of the show.  In a previous incarnation as writer TV & Media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, Deggans managed to almost single handedly get a syndicated radio show kicked out of the Tampa radio market because it crossed his racial line. So are we supposed to think there is a racial agreement on the merits of the show?

Not quite.

There is the show, and then there’s the image of the show.  One of the many blogs I frequent had, not a review of the show, but a review of billboard advertising of the show.  Particularly Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba).

The gist being, based on the billboard advertising, Orange is the New Black is a minstrel show that debases and degrades the image of black women.  As Spike Lee might say, it’s “coonery and buffoonery.”  I waded into the discussion with the argument, based on watching the entire first season, that the idea that show degrades black women is a severe misreading of the show.  The intent of the show is exactly the opposite of that; however my knowledge of having watched the entire first season couldn’t counter impressions of the show made by a few images.  Normally I enjoy a good internet argument, but quickly saw that this one was already  doomed based on the way the commenter’s were taking this show personally, felt that feelings supersede actually viewing and knowledge of the show, and was told to stop by the blog owner.

That’s fine, and although I feel I’m correct that the show does the opposite of what those commenters said, the fact is it probably would not have occurred to me to view those images as offensive in any case.  I’m not even attuned to my image and representation being constantly shown in a degraded light by the media; just the opposite.  Of course I have many identities and some of them I am sensitive to their portrayal.  As a dad, I’m well aware that dads have been treated as clueless idiots in TV and movies since the early 1980’s.  It’s the rare TV dad that shows the common sense, wisdom, or maturity of Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady.

I’m also sensitive to the portrayal of military veterans; again because I am one.  Frequently they are shown as damaged goods, crazy, homeless, suicidal.  That’s not the typical story of military veterans in general, but it’s common enough on TV and movies.  Of course the argument could be made (and it has been) that the show really hates men.  All the good men are weak and useless; all of the strong ones are jerks. As a man however, I didn’t really care. I think those portrayals made sense in the context of the show.  Just because a show shows dumb dads, crazed vets, or evil men doesn’t mean I won’t watch the show.

And that’s the difference, I think.  Since my image isn’t generally attacked in media, I don’t view media impressions as a personal attack on me.  Clearly the image of white men in the media is positive.  For every Django Unchained or 12 Years a Slave, there are literally hundreds of other movies in which white guys are the heroes. Even if these white guys get arrested for a crime-they-didn’t-commit, they can be assured of facing a black female judge in court.

 

Why The Administration is Surprised by the Berghdahl Reaction

All the negative reaction to the release was of no surprise to me, but the administration was caught totally flat footed by the negative reaction of the military and the American public to Bergdahl’s release.  As Obama scribe Chuck Todd reports:

 

As Obama high priest Chuck Todd stated, the administration did expect some sort of pushback by the release of these five Taliban Gitmo prisoners, but why was the Obama administration caught so flat footed by something that the entire rest of the country felt uneasy about, the effort that went into the release of an apparent deserter?

I have two possible theories on that:

Theory One:  The Left regarded him as a hero, so Obama did too.

In 2009, when Bergdahl first disappeared, it was reported that he had left post without weapons and without permission, so from the very first reportage on this issue, we’ve known that he wasn’t just captured, but that he just walked away under suspicious circumstances.  At the time I used to argue politics with a lefty who actually posted the story on his blog and was troubled by his apparent desertion as well.  All very non-partisan right?   Then came FOX.

A few days after Bergdahl’s capture/disappearance/desertion, Fox News ran an interview with its Military Analyst, LTC Ralph Peters, who had some choice words on Bergdahl:

Peters called Bergdahl a liar and possible deserter.  If the blogosphere left needed to know what side to be on in this issue, Peters showed them; the opposite side from Peters and Fox.  I saw the left reaction to that near immediately when the same lefty who first posted the blog post on Bergdahl noting that he had walked off post suspiciously and that there was a lot more to this story, suddenly switched gears and attacked Peters for dare besmirching a captured American POW.

Private First Class Bowe Robert Bergdahl, Unit...

Private First Class Bowe Robert Bergdahl, United States Army. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I assume that 180 degree reversal came about due to some talking points that felt more hay could be made by attacking Peters and Fox for daring to attack an American soldier.  And of course, a disillusioned solder is the perfect lefty military icon.

So it makes sense that to the typical member of the Obama administration, all they would know of Bergdahl is that he’s an American hero that was attacked by Fox News years ago.

Theory Two:  An excuse to empty Guantanamo Bay

A few weeks ago I caught some video of President Obama being asked about his promise to close the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.  Obama seemed really heartfelt about his regret at not closing it.  Unlike so many issues, where it feels like he’s just reading off a teleprompter (OK he is), Obama sounded very sincere about still wanting to shut down Gitmo.  This wasn’t just a campaign promise; he really wants to do it.

But Obama has been stymied by Congress, and not just “obstructionist” Republicans, but Democrats as well.  He couldn’t get Gitmo closed when Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress, so the odds of accomplishing anything via legislation appear dim.  But even if Obama can’t close Gitmo, he’s the Commander in Chief.  He could empty Gitmo.

It’s possible that trading 5 Taliban bad guys wasn’t so much a trade as Obama giving away something he wants to get rid of anyway and pretending it’s a trade.  By all indications, these are some of the “worst of the worst.”  With those guys gone, it makes releasing guys not as bad easier.  With the Afghan War winding down, it’s possible that Obama is going to pretend that’s the end of the war on terror, and just let everyone go from Gitmo.

Although such a move seems highly irresponsible, so was releasing those five Taliban commanders and he did that, in spite of the recommendations of the military, intelligence, and foreign services.  If the Obama administration intends to do a back door shut down of Gitmo, he’s already gotten the worst out of the way.

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