Action Comics No. 1 Found in Wall in Elbow Lake, Minn. Home
A 34-year-old man in northern Minnesota, David Gonzalex, who works in construction and remodeling, buys a dilapidated house in nearby Elbow Lake, Minn., for $10,100, with the idea of remodeling it and selling it at a higher price. While tearing out the walls, he found old newspapers used to insulate the walls. And amid those newspapers? Action Comics No. 1.
Not Action Comics No. 8. Not Detective Comics No. 96. Not Archie No. 51 but Action Comics No. 1. The magazine that introduced Superman, and thus superheroes, to the world. The most high-priced comic book in the world.
Then how awful is this? Amid the excitement about the find, his wife's aunt grabbed the comic out of his hands, and when he grabbed it back, the back cover ripped. That downgraded the comic, according to collectors from a 3 to a 1.5 in quality. (10 is mint condition.)
But how great that he shrugs it off.
Gonzalez said he has no regrets about the argument that damaged his discovery. “I am a humble working guy ... Money won’t buy you happiness.”
To be honest, I think I'm angrier at his wife's aunt than he is.
David Gonzalez (right) with the remodeling find of the year (left).
Superman Screenshot of the Day
I've been watching all of the old “Superman” movies in anticipation of “Man of Steel,” out next month, and the above is from the 15-chapter serial “Atom Man vs. Superman” (1950), starring Kirk Alyn (as Superman) and Lyle Talbot (as Lex Luthor). But I assume the above isn't Alyn. I assume it's a stuntman. I just like the look of the shot: the graininess, the hard-to-read label on the box (Explosive? Singular?), the sense of action. It feels like it's from a different time, which, of course, it is. It feels like original source material. It feels like ur-Superman. Out of our grainy past comes the Man of Tomorrow.
I'll probably do a few of these before the premiere of “Man of Steel” next month.
Quote of the Day
“To recap: Don’s real name is Dick Whitman. His prostitute mother died in childbirth; his dad, her john, beat him. His fundamentalist stepmother called him a 'whore’s child.' Then his father got kicked in the head by a horse, and the stepmother moved in with her sister, herself a prostitute, living in a brothel. The stepmother, heavily pregnant with Don’s half brother, prostituted herself to her brother-in-law, as the teen-age Don knelt outside her door. He watched them, through the keyhole, have sex. C’mon, now. This is no longer the backstory of a serial adulterer; it’s the backstory of a serial killer.
”We haven’t even got to the part where Whitman goes to fight in Korea, accidentally blows up his superior officer, Don Draper, steals his identity, forms a secret relationship with his widow (she’s motherly, yet also somewhat prostitute-like, since he pays for her upkeep), becomes a greaser, and seduces a model who is also concerned primarily with appearances. Eventually, he gets into advertising, and when his half brother, Adam, finds him, Don rejects him, and Adam hangs himself. It’s not that none of this makes sense, or could make sense; it’s just too much, overdetermined. None of the other characters has this sort of reverse-engineered psychology, and for good reason: it’s a lazy way to impose meaning.“
-- Emily Nussbaum, in her New Yorker piece, ”Faking It: 'Mad Men''s Don Draper problem," an article that is particularly smart on Don's ad campaigns at the show's beginning and now: how he avoided death with cigarettes in 1960 and how he sees it on a Hawaiian beach in 1968.
What can I say? It's all true.
Stories from the Birth of Xbox
In another life I was an STE (Software Test Engineer) at MGS (Microsoft Games Studio) during the early years of Xbox, testing, specifically, sports games. With the launch, yesterday, of the third generation of Xbox, Xbox One, I thought I'd share a story or two about those times.
Microsoft always seems to run its various groups like little Mom-n-Pop operations, as if they had no connection to this monstrous entity called Microsoft with its $49 billion in cash reserves. At meetings for Microsoft Games Studio (MGS), which occurred monthly in the cafeteria, I was always perplexed by the rah-rah high school atmosphere that pervaded; the sense that this organization was somehow the underdog, and, in the next big game, we were finally, finally gonna kick some ass and show the big boys what-for. I always wanted to say, “But you’re Microsoft!” Probably half the people in the room wanted to say that. Three-quarters. Everybody.
But in 2000 and 2001, in the gaming world, Microsoft was the underdog. They’d arrived late to the game, when industry leaders had already been established in hardware (Sony’s Playstation platform) and software (EA Games), and mere bluster didn’t count for much, and imitation wasn’t the sincerest form of flattery. It was a cause for litigation.
When “NFL Fever” was launched in November 2001, for example, it was immediately compared to the industry leader in football console games: EA’s “Madden NFL.” “Fever”’s graphics were better, and the gameplay, at times, was better, but in the end it was simply too similar for gamers to abandon what they’d always known. Early PC buyers were willing to abandon the Macintosh OS for the similar-looking Windows because, with IBM-compatible hardware, Windows was cheaper. “Fever” wasn’t cheaper, it was just similar. This was the Microsoft mindset. Maybe it's the mindset of most corporations. I remember testing “NFL Fever” in the summer before it launched, and for a month butting heads with the UI developer over a particular issue. The Project Manager and Game Designer always came down on his side. Then another tester told me, “Check to see how ‘Madden’ does it.” I did. They did it my way. I added this to the bug. It was fixed the next day.
In 2001, Bill Gates was just giving away Xboxes. Kidding. People waited all night to buy one for $299.
Milestone: 400 Parts Per Million
“A lot of what’s known about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be traced back to a chemist named Charles David Keeling, who, in 1958, persuaded the U.S. Weather Bureau to install a set of monitoring devices at its Mauna Loa observatory, on the island of Hawaii. By the nineteen-fifties, it was well understood that, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, humans were adding vast amounts of carbon to the air. But the prevailing view was that this wouldn’t much matter, since the oceans would suck most of it out again. Keeling thought that it would be prudent to find out if that was, in fact, the case. The setup on Mauna Loa soon showed that it was not.
”Carbon-dioxide levels have been monitored at the observatory ever since, and they’ve exhibited a pattern that started out as terrifying and may be now described as terrifyingly predictable. They have increased every year, and earlier this month they reached the milestone of four hundred parts per million. No one knows exactly when CO2 levels were last this high; the best guess is the mid-Pliocene, about three million years ago. At that point, summertime temperatures in the Arctic were fourteen degrees warmer than they are now and sea levels were some seventy-five feet higher.“
-- Elizabeth Kolbert, in her piece, ”Lines in the Sand," mostly about whether Pres. Obama will approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska. Her arguments against, including an explanation of what tar-sands oil is, start in the 7th paragraph.
If I were the I.R.S., I would be investigating Tea Party claims, too. From Jeffrey Toobin's post, “The Real I.R.S. Scandal,” on the New Yorker site:
It’s important to review why the Tea Party groups were petitioning the I.R.S. anyway. They were seeking approval to operate under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. This would require them to be “social welfare,” not political, operations. There are significant advantages to being a 501(c)(4). These groups don’t pay taxes; they don’t have to disclose their donors—unlike traditional political organizations, such as political-action committees. In return for the tax advantage and the secrecy, the 501(c)(4) organizations must refrain from traditional partisan political activity, like endorsing candidates.
I don't get why this isn't the story.
On the other hand, this may be a boon: a call to visit your local Tea Party office if you're ever in need of social welfare. I'm sure, as a social welfare organization, they'd be willing to help.
Quote of the Day
“I understand there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: 'Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.' Well, we’ve got no time for excuses. Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil — many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did — all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned. (Applause.)
”Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too."
-- Pres. Barack Obama in his commencement speech to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., yesterday.
Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Various thoughts while watching “Star Trek Into Darkness”:
- What’s the U.S.S. Enterprise doing underwater? And that was the plan?
- Crap, they still have alarm clocks with annoying beeps in the 23rd century.
- Cars, too. Even with transporter devices? Why not just beam to the grocery store? Why not just beam your groceries to you? Why not replicate them?
- Seriously, are there no homely admiral’s daughters?
- You can use a communicator across the galaxy? From Earth to Qo’noS? That seems a bit of a cheat.
- God, Benedict Cumberbatch is good. Is he doomed to play superior beings from now on? Indubitably.
- Wait, did he say Khan … or Kai?
- So if the goal was to start a war with the Klingons, why relieve Kirk of command? Isn’t that who you want in charge? The reckless, think-with-his-gut captain?
- OK, so it’s like “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan” but reversed. Where Kirk does what Spock did and Spock does what Kirk did.
- I wonder how many takes “KHAAAAAAAN!” took? That’s like redoing “Stella!”
- Right, the tribble. Thank God. I don’t think I could’ve taken “Star Trek III: The Search for Kirk.”
But my main thought was of the roller coaster. Seriously, how many Spielbergian, breathless, everything-going-wrong-and-has-to-go-right-at-the-last-second moments are we going to have?
If the first J.J. Abrams-led “Star Trek” reboot reminded me of “Star Wars,” this one reminds me of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Even the cold open gives us our hero, Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), carrying a kind of idol while running from natives with spears. Meanwhile, Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is being lowered into a volcano to detonate a cold-fusion device, and winds up trapped there, as lava laps up all around him. Can Kirk and Spock be saved? Of course they can. Kirk gives up the idol (a kind of map?), which the natives bow before, and he and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) jump off a cliff and swim to the U.S.S. Enterprise, which is hiding underwater, in salt water, against the express wishes of its chief engineer, Scotty (Simon Pegg). At which point, violating the Prime Directive, the Enterprise arises, to the amazed eyes of the indigenous people, which allows Kirk and company to use the transporter to beam Spock, whose protective suit is smoking, back to the Enterprise just in time. All good!
Not really. Even before Kirk is temporarily relieved of command for violating the Prime Directive (by revealing the Enterprise), and Spock temporarily reassigned to the U.S.S. Bradbury for doing same (by preventing the volcano from exploding), we have our own questions:
- Why is Kirk hanging, disguised, among the natives?
- Why did he take what he took? Even he doesn’t know.
- Why is McCoy down there? In case someone needs a doctor?
- Do they have no Prime Directive class at Star Fleet Academy? Did Kirk and Spock skip it? Does Spock not see the logic in it?
- Biggest: Why hide the U.S.S. Enterprise underwater?????
It’s always a bad sign when one of the characters in a movie annunciates the absurdity of what is going on in the movie—as Scotty does here. “Do you have any idea,” he tells Kirk, “how ridiculous it is to leave a starship on the bottom of the ocean?” Preach it, Montgomery.
And that’s just the first, breathless, Spielbergian moment. Others include: 1) the chase from, and capture by, the Klingons; 2) shooting Kirk and Khan from one starship to the next through a field of debris while Scotty is being held at phaser-point; 3) Kirk running and climbing and battling radioactivity to get the ship’s engines online before the Enterprise burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere; 4) Spock chasing Khan all over San Francisco.
All of these scenes are well-done but they’re pointless. The point of the roller coaster is to not think about anything but the roller coaster, which is what most moviegoers want, but it isn’t what “Star Trek” fans want. They want to think. They want it to make sense, and have meaning, and maybe even some poignancy. They want Kirk and Spock to be friends, sure, but not deep friends, not best buddies, before they’ve barely had an adventure together. Episodic TV allows you to build on friendship in a way that movies, even with their interminable sequels, do not.
Sure, Abrams and Paramount toss “Trek” fans some bones (no pun intended). Simon Pegg, who’s quite good, isn’t doing Scottish; he’s doing James Doohan doing Scottish. Anton Yelchin is doing Walter Koenig doing Russian. Similarly Urban and McCoy. We even get a “Damnit, I’m a doctor …” line. No Shatner imitations yet, though. And no Star Fleet sideburns. Shame. If they’re good enough for Neil Degrasse Tyson, they’re good enough for Chris Pine.
The movie, too, is basically a critique of the Bush administration after 9/11. Because we were attacked by one group (al Qaeda), we started a war with another (Iraq). Because Earth was attacked by one group (futuristic Romulans), Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) wants to start a war with another (the Klingons). It’s up to Kirk, giving a speech before Star Fleet at the end, to warn everyone, mostly us, about the dangers inherent in revenge.
But the rest? Uhura (Zoe Saldana), despite the Klingon language skills, is wasted, spending most of her time bitching about Spock acting like Spock. And do we get any rationale for why Spock is doing what he’s doing? Why the relationship with Uhura, and why the anger at Khan, and why does he need Uhura to stop him from killing Khan? Is his half-human side that strong in this alternative universe? And is it because the planet Vulcan is no more? And what of that? How many members of the Vulcan species are left? Wouldn’t this small fact alter his trajectory a bit, get him off the Enterprise maybe, doing something else? Wouldn’t it give him a different girlfriend? (No offense, Zoe.) Doesn’t it make sense for Spock to want to propagate his species now that they’re nearly extinct? Or at least consider doing so? Or at least talk about it with someone?
What was it like for Kirk to die as long as he died? Spock, mind-melding with a dying Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), said he felt, from Pike, four things: anger, confusion, loneliness and fear. No calm? No moving toward the light? Can Kirk confirm? Isn’t that the “Darkness” in the title? Can someone talk about any of this in a meaningful way?
Of course not. That would slow down the roller coaster ride and we can’t have that. “Star Trek” fans, who want to think, are few, and popcorn crunchers, who just want the roller-coaster ride, are many. And as Mr. Spock told us here and in the original “Star Trek II,” and as J.J. Abrams and Paramount executives and all of the numbers-crunchers in Hollywood surely believe, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Reboot of 45-Year-Old TV Series Underperforms with $70 Million Opening Weekend
“Iron Man 3” fell off by more than 50% in its third weekend but still grossed half of what “Star Trek Into Darkness” grossed in its opening weekend ($35.1 million to $70.5 million) . Or do we count Wednesday and Thursday for “Trek”? Apparently there were shows then. For some people anyway. The movie grossed $2 million and $11.5 million on those days, meaning it kind of opened at $84 million rather than $70, but the official tally will still be $70m.
Not sure why you open a movie this way. Bit by bit, I mean. Doesn’t it lessen the impact of the opening weekend numbers? Instead of a headline like “‘Star Trek’ Warps to $84 million finish,” you get “‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Can't Hit Warp Speed at Box Office.” $70 million. Chump change in Hollywood. Four years ago, the first J.J. Abrams-led “Trek,” opened at $75 million, and you never want to open lower than your predecessor.
Not that they’re not trying to spin it. Here’s what Paramount’s head of distribution Don Harris told The Wrap today:
The good news is, when you have a really good movie like this one, the word of mouth is going to bring the audience in over time. Expectations aside, big-picture we’re in a very good place, particularly when you consider how well it’s doing overseas.
How well is it doing overseas? $80 million thus far. That’s not bad, considering previous international numbers for “Trek” ($128 million for the first Abrams reboot), but chump change compared with, say, “Iron Man 3,” which, after this weekend, is at $736 million internationally, for a grand total of $1.07 billion worldwide. That’s ninth all-time. Another $50 million and it’ll be fifth. Another $250 million and it’ll be fourth. “The Avengers” is at $1.5 billion. After that it’s Cameron Country (> $2 billion), where even Iron Man can’t fly. Sorry, dude.
Meanwhile, “The Great Gatsby” fell off 53% for third place with $23.4 million. Everything else grossed less than $3.5 million. We’re putting more eggs into fewer baskets. Or fewer eggs into fewer baskets.
In the end, “Star Trek” didn't do poorly for a TV show canceled in 1969.
Movie Review: Frances Ha (2013)
Halfway through Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha,” Frances (Greta Gerwig) tells a room full of people what she wants in a relationship. She wants to be at a party and be able to lock eyes with that special person across the room and know what the other is feeling; and she and this other person will share that feeling across the room. That’s what she wants.
Near the end of “Frances Ha,” Frances does exactly this. She began the movie living with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), but then there were spats and accusations and anger. Sophie became engaged to Patch (Patrick Heusinger) and moved to Japan, while Frances, an aspiring dancer, with few friends, less money, and nowhere to live, had her dreams shot down. But by this point in the movie, Sophie has broken up with Patch and moved back to New York, while Frances is making a go with second-tier dreams. Her former dance company hires her for office work and she gets a gig choreographing young dancers on the side. This evening is her debut as a choreographer. It goes well. Unlike almost everything else in the movie for Frances, it goes well. At the reception afterwards, the director of her dance company, Colleen (Broadway star Charlotte d’Amboise), is in the midst of telling Frances how impressed she is with Frances’ original, inventive choreography. She sounds it, too. She means it. And Frances? She looks across the room … toward Sophie … and Sophie looks her way … and they’re sharing something … even though Frances is basically ignoring Colleen, whose voice gets more and more distant in Frances’ head. And in my head I’m screaming, “No! You idiot! This is your moment. Don’t give it over to Sophie!” But she does. Because that’s what Frances does. She cares too much about Sophie and too little about everyone else in the world.
I don’t get the acclaim for this movie. People keep calling it the bastard child of Woody Allen and “Girls.”
If the movie is like “Girls” it’s because it’s about girls, in New York, today, and it has Adam Driver in it. He plays a kind of lothario here. His character is more interesting in “Girls.”
If the movie is like Woody Allen, it’s like Woody Allen after his movies became stilted and false. After they became pretentious.
If it’s like Woody Allen it’s because it uses bits from better Woody Allen movies. “Frances” opens with Frances and Sophie having a day in the city, including a play fight in the park. Later, after they’ve broken up, Frances becomes friends with Rachel (Grace Gummer), who’s a bit of a pain herself, humorless and without personality, and the two are walking and Frances tries to start a play fight with her as she always did with Sophie. It doesn’t go well. Rachel yelps and falls out of camera frame and Frances apologizes and they move on.
Lobster scene anyone?
So, yes, “Frances Ha” is a bit like the bastard child of Woody Allen and “Girls.” If Woody Allen weren’t funny and “Girls” didn’t feel painfully true.
I don’t get the Gerwig love, either. Here, and in last year’s “Lola Versus,” she has a self-consciousness about her, a self-awareness that’s not good for a screen actor. Sure, she’s goofy, but …
If a main character is unlikeable I need them to have something else to maintain interest, and Frances doesn’t have it. She’s not that smart, not that talented, not that interested in other people. She’s clueless. Not to mention the worst dinner party guest ever. She can’t ask a question of the person sitting next to her without putting ironic quotes around it. Then she spews about her own life. Then she asks to borrow the Parisian apartment of a couple she just met. Then she leaves. Whew. I would’ve paid $100 for the camera to stay in the room. So I could hear them talk about Frances after she’d gone. It was probably similar to the conversation I was having in my head. Like … who invited her?
The woman she’s enamored of? Sophie? Even more annoying. If Frances is frenetically self-centered, Sophie is confidently so. The two deserve each other. How they got all of these men interested in them I have no idea.
The first boyfriend we see, Dan (Michael Esper), asks Frances to move in with him. But she can’t. Well, she can but she doesn’t want to. She likes living with Sophie. So she gives up Dan for Sophie. Then Sophie gives up her. Sophie finds a place she likes in Tribeca, which she needs to close on now, and does, and does it without Frances, who winds up living with two men: Lev (Adam Driver), who once made a play for her, and Benji (Michael Zegen), who would like to make a play for her. He never does. Dude.
Since “Squid and the Whale,” Noah Baumbach’s titular characters have become more unlikeable: “Margot at the Wedding,” “Greenberg,” now “Frances Ha.” But at least Greenberg interested me. Frances isn’t interesting because she’s not interested. She begins the movie interested in making a career as a dancer (kinda) and being friends with Sophie (totally). She ends it interested in making a career as a choreographer (kinda) and being friends with Sophie (totally). Somewhere this is called character development.
The story of you two
I get it to some extent. Most movies are loud, awful things about people who are prettier and braver than us. They’re wish-fulfillment fantasy. So along comes a movie that seems to be about real people in real-world situations, where there’s no plot, little story, and more character. So it seems like it should matter. But the myopia Frances suffered from at the beginning (Sophie love), she suffers from in the end. “Tell me the story of us,” she asks Sophie in the first five minutes. “Again?” Sophie responds. By the end, that’s my reaction. Again? Along the way Frances realizes this great lesson: “Sometimes it’s good to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it.” But that’s only a lesson for spoiled children.
I know. I’m getting too old for this shit. The question is: Why isn’t Noah Baumbach?
The title for “Frances Ha” got two things right. It’s about a woman named Frances and it correctly recorded the numbers of times I laughed out loud.
Movie Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013)
One of the many ironies of Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” is its title. The phrase isn’t said, as one would expect, by Julian Assange or anyone in the hactivist community; it’s said by former CIA and NSA head Michael Hayden. He’s talking about U.S. government agencies but he’s reacting to the Nov. 2010 release of top secret U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks:
Look, everyone has secrets. Some of the secret activities that nation-states conduct in order to keep their people safe and free need to be secret in order to be successful. If they are broadly known, you cannot accomplish your work. I want to be very candid. We steal secrets. We steal other nation’s secrets. One cannot do that above-board and be very successful for a very long period of time.
Thus the organization that steals secrets has its secrets stolen. And thus the organization that publishes those secrets, that is dedicated to revealing other people’s secrets, becomes, itself, secretive. WikiLeaks, a small nonprofit committed to the free flow of information, winds up demanding that its employees sign Non-Disclosure Agreements. Do we all become what we fight? Do we all stare into the abyss and become the monster? Do none of us get the irony?
Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”; “Taxi to the Dark Side”; “Catching Hell”) does.
The lost boys
This is a great documentary, by the way. Most docs are 90 minutes and drag; this thing is 130 and zips. It constructs the story most of us—or at least I—have been paying attention to only peripherally.
When I became aware of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in the summer of 2010, I had the feeling he’d been on the world stage for a while, but that moment was basically his debut. He’d made a name for himself in his home country of Australia in the early 1990s, and again, among those paying attention, in Iceland in 2009 with the release of internal documents from Kaupthing Bank detailing suspicious loans to bank owners prior to default. But it wasn’t until Pvt. Bradley Manning, a nice, fucked-up kid from Oklahoma, who was stationed in Iraq and wondered what to do about the confidential—and to him, immoral—information he had access to, that we all knew Assange’s name.
More irony: Manning wouldn’t have had access to such documents without 9/11. Because relevant information was not shared between government agencies prior to 9/11, it became imperative to share it after 9/11. To make us safer. Which allowed Bradley Manning access to the information he uploaded to WikiLeaks. Which, according to some, including Hilary Clinton, made us less safe.
Will the irony never end? The first big Manning-related leak is a video of the killing of Reuters journalists by U.S. soldiers in an Apache Warship half a mile above them. They mistook a camera for an RPG, and the men for terrorists, and killed them along with several children as if it were a video game. It’s appalling what happens; the disconnect of the men doing the shooting makes it more appalling:
- “Light ‘em all up.”
- “Oh yeah, look at all those dead bastards.”
- “It’s their fault for bringing their kids to a battle.”
Yet the man who published the video, Assange, is said to have had a similar kind of disconnect—of the digital variety. He grew up interacting with the world through a computer screen.
The three main players in this story are all lost boys: Assange, Manning and Adrian Lamo, a “gray hat” hacker with Asperger’s, who, prior, was most famous for hacking into the New York Times computer network in 2002. Manning contacted Lamo via encrypted email, and the two wound up chatting on, of all things, AOL instant messaging. When Lamo realized the veracity of Manning’s situation, and the gravity of it, he didn’t know what to do. Wasn’t this a national security breach? But how could he betray Manning’s trust? In the doc, he equates his dilemma to the Kobayashi Maru test from “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan”: the unwinnable situation that tests how Star Fleet cadets deal with defeat. Ultimately he gave up Manning to the authorities, but he cries on camera for having done so. At the same time, he justifies the action with another quote from “Star Trek II”: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” Apparently he didn’t see “Star Trek III” for Kirk’s spin on the phrase.
Even so, the doc suggests that if Lamo hadn’t outed Manning, someone else would have. Manning wanted the world to know The Big Thing he’d done. One wonders, too, if he hadn’t had his own secrets that needed outing—the dawning realization that he wanted to be, or was, a woman—whether he would have outed the U.S. government’s.
Famous last words
In the aftermath of the WikiLeaks revelations, all three men were (more irony) hidden away or went into hiding. Lamo received death threats from those who idolized Manning and Assange. Manning was arrested by the military police and incarcerated in a small cell in Kuwait, then in solitary at the Mariner Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, where it’s alleged he was subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation. When Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley, a former Air Force Colonel, criticized this treatment of Manning, calling it “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,” he was forced to resign.
Assange, the main figure here, is probably the least sympathetic. Prior to going global, Assange gave access to Mark Davis, an Australian journalist and documentarian, and Davis lets Gibney use the footage. We see that WikiLeaks, an international, online, nonprofit, was basically two guys: Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German technology activist. We see Assange becoming international front-page news and how he reacts to becoming international front-page news. “I’m untouchable now in this country,” he says. A month later, in Sweden, he was charged with rape.
“Rape,” even in a worst-case scenario, is probably the wrong word. The sex, with two different women, seems to have been consensual; the use of the condom was not. That’s a crime in Sweden and in Britain, where Assange fled, and from which, for many months, the Swedish government attempted to extradict him. Why no condom? Assange has four children from four different women, so some suggest he has this need to propagate. Others call the women CIA plants or “honeypots,” a computer term for a trap set to “counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems.” These women, too, have received death threats. Maybe in the future we’ll all receive death threats.
While Assange’s supporters, with their Guy Fawkes masks, rallied around the world, Assange was imprisoned in Britain, released on bail to a posh estate in the English countryside, then took up residence, away from the authorities, in the Ecuadoran embassy. In this manner, like in a “Sex and the City” episode, the story becomes all about him. There is some indication that if Assange had merely agreed to an HIV test, which the women had requested before charges were brought, none of this would have happened. But he was a high-flying figure then, full of hubris, and he refused. Nick Davies, the great investigative journalist with The Guardian, talks about how Assange didn’t even see the point of redacting the names of Afghanis who had worked with coalition forces. “If an Afghani helps the U.S. military,” Davies says Assange said, “he deserves to die.” In 2010, we see Assange being interviewed by a TV reporter, who asks about the charges in Sweden. Assange cuts off the interview, stands up, removes his mike, and calmly delivers what’s supposed to be a cutting remark. It says more about him than her. “You blew it,” he says.
Bringing the nuance
Does Gibney let the story become too much about Assange and not enough about the ways information is gathered and revealed today? He certainly tries to strike a balance. He talks about how the U.S. government now records 60,000 emails and cellphone calls every second. The number is supposed to shock but I felt the opposite. I actually felt safety in the number.
Watching, in fact, I kept thinking of Neil Postman’s dichotomy again. I kept wondering if people like Assange, and Bradley Manning, and maybe even Alex Gibney, believe we’re living in a “1984” world, where the problem is the free flow of information, when we’re really living in a “Brave New World” world, where the problem is too much information, and where “the people,” for whom all of this is done, and who need to know the atrocities its troops commit abroad, and how the U.S. diplomatic corps really views the dictators with whom it conducts affairs, can’t even be bothered.
Be bothered enough to go see this doc. “There is no history without nuance,” Norman Mailer once wrote, and that’s part of the joy of “We Steal Secrets.” There are so many absolutist positions here: Guy Fawkes protests on one side, U.S. government press conferences on the other. And in the no man’s land between them, Alex Gibney arrives, bringing the nuance.
On the Final Episode of 'The Office'
Over on the Atlantic site, Kevin Craft has a nice piece on the final episode of the NBC series “The Office”: why it was once great, why it couldn't remain so:
Set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the sales office of a nearly obsolete paper company, the show's characters at first didn't develop as much as stagnate. Like their dead-end jobs and the dead-end lives that inevitably spring from such jobs, these people were just passing time, one prolonged meeting at a time. Just as reality television soothes a viewer's inner narcissist by telling stories of even more pronounced narcissists wreaking havoc on their surroundings, The Office made its audience feel better about their professional lives by showcasing a workplace with even drabber décor and more grating coworkers. ...
The original theme it explored—office work sucks—is only funny if the characters never grow. What made the early episodes so dryly funny and morbidly relatable was that the seasons and the names of the meetings changed, but the paper-pushing remained the same. Just-another-cog-in-the-wheel syndrome only engenders pathos if the wheel spins indefinitely and the cogs stay put. But writers can only use constructed bonding experiences, like an awkward sexual harassment training session or an impromptu “Office Olympics,” so many times to illustrate the lengths to which white-collar drones will go to survive another excruciating day. In television, things have to change.
“...the lengths to which white-collar drones will go to survive another excruciating day.” Nice.
Patricia and I watched the final episode last night but it was a bit too sweet for me. And it wasn't like the final episode of the British “Office,” in which Ricky Gervais gave you a cherry on top (Tim and Dawn finally getting together) of the shit sundae he'd been serving all that time (every other excruciatingly brilliant episode). No, this was just too sweet. A happy ending for everyone. Right? Doesn't everyone get what they want? Jim takes the dream job and gets out of Scranton (with his family, of course); Pam paints murals; Dwight gets to be office manager (and, in the only brilliant touch of the last season brilliant touch, he also becomes assistant to the assistant to the regional manager, or the direct report of his own direct report). Erin finds her parents, Andy finds fame (or infamy), Stanley gets to kick back away from everybody.
I'm with Kevin Craft here. I wanted more fourth-wall moments at the end. How did it feel once the cameras went away? How did it feel once they showed up in the first place? That's something “The Office” never really dealt with. Was it easier surviving another excruciating day because you were being filmed doing it? Did that make it seem relevant? Like you had an audience that most of us don't have? Did that change the behavior of the people there? Give me some Heisenberg principle, kids.
I know. Network TV. But we're not getting any younger. Or smarter.
Even so, farewell “Office.” You were my last network show.
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