Friday, January 16, 2015

American Sniper - an eye opener of a film

Bradley Cooper (right) as Chris Kyle, the American Sniper.
What to write about this movie?  I don't even know where to begin because this film is so excellent on so many levels.  American Sniper should win every Academy Award out there because of the brilliant quality of the film.

This is a war film right up there with the best:   The Hurt Locker, Saving Private Ryan, Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Coming Home,The Longest Day.  Add American Sniper to the list and Clint Eastwood as its brilliant director.  This is above all the best film Eastwood has directed ever.

I was captivated and engaged, in fact, glued too the film screen.  This film portrays the guerrilla war our soldiers are engaged in over in Iraq and Afghanistan twenty-four hours a day.  It is tough, gritty, and honest.   It portrays the soldier's lives as always on the line; they can never put the gun down.  If they do, they are gone in an instant.

And the hits just keep coming from all directions.  It could be Al Queda, ISIS, the Taliban, the Sunni's, the Sharia or anyone else fighting for control of Iraq.  And, sadly and most difficult to watch are the women and children these factions use to fight the U.S. soldiers. They tote guns, they throw bombs, they become suicide bombers.  And our soldiers always must be diligent in defending themselves from all the number of people that surround them in the war zone trying to kill them.  

The soldiers try to create relationships with the Iraqi people in this war zone only to be betrayed and the enemy brought to their doorstep.

Of course, this film is about one soldier in particular, Chris Kyle, who was a sniper and the best sniper at that; the best in American history.   His job was to save as many American soldiers as possible in picking off the enemy before they could shoot their weapons.  It is kill or be killed.

Throughout the movie we learn what, how and why Chris was motivated to become an "American sniper."  He made more than 160 successful sniper killings.  Chris had to assess the situation and decide in a blink of a moment whether to shoot to kill the young boy holding a grenade, or a young boy struggling to carry a SAM, or the mother or father just walking with their child from one building to another.

Kyle was a phenomenal shot from his time as a child hunting with his father.  He realized he had a gift for sharp shooting and felt it his patriotic duty to serve four tours of duty in Iraq to protect U.S. soldiers in harm's way.

Yes, he had a wife and children he left behind in Texas as he struggled with his conscience over the duty he felt he had to save our soldiers.  Bradley Cooper playing Chris is phenomenal and he should win the Best Actor Academy award for his performance.  It is nuanced, honest and he becomes the character, Chris.

Sienna Miller portrays the wife of Chris Kyle.

Sienna Miller as his wife also gives a phenomenal performance.  She wants her husband back to stay not to return to the U.S. only to return back to Iraq.  We watch her anguish and alarm when Chris is able to phone her literally from the battle field and she hears the shouts, gunfire, grenades, bombs and sounds of the war field. She, too, should win an Academy Award for her performance.

Their relationship together is very touching and loving and shows the struggle both went through during the time Chris was in Iraq and also when he was at home stateside.

In between tours, we see Chris struggle with PTSD, and another different and nuanced performance by Cooper. 

On Chris' fourth tour of duty, he finally is able to take out his nemesis:  the enemy's sniper, an Olympic medal sharpshooter.  From one mile away, Chris is able to take out this enemy sniper and save more lives.  It is the culmination of his time in Iraq.

I can't say enough good things about this film.  I urge everyone to see it as their American duty.  It is a real eye opener to see what our soldiers are going through in our fight to bring democracy to the middle east.  Is it even worth it?  

It was to Chris Kyle who bravely did his duty to save so many U.S. soldiers.  He was a legend in his own time.  When he returned from Iraq for good, he continued to help soldiers but in a different manner.  He bonded with them and helped the wounded warriors by showing them how to sharp shoot.

Ironically and tragically, after surviving four tours of duty in Iraq, Chris was killed by a wounded warrior (probably suffering from PTSD) that he was trying to help.  

The end of the movie shows Chris' funeral and the thousands of U.S. citizens that lined his funeral route to salute such a great American hero.  When the film ended and the credits were scrolling in silence, the theater audience also remained silent and emptied the movie theater in complete silence in respect for Chris Kyle.

May he rest in peace.

The real Kyles

Monday, January 12, 2015

A college education for all

President Obama announcing his free community college education plan in Knoxville, Tennessee last week.

With the tragic terror attacks in Paris last week and the outcry and rally informing terrorists we are united and not afraid of them, an important educational initiative by President Obama nearly went unheard.  It is a good initiative and should be supported by everyone in the U.S. 

Yes, even the Republican congress, the voice of "no" to any initiative by President Obama, would be smart to embrace and support this educational initiative.

President Obama, last week, traveled to Tennessee to give voice to his educational idea of providing two years of study at a community college free of charge to all American students. This is currently being done for students living throughout the state of Tennessee.

By providing this, any American student who maintains a 2.5 GPA could earn an associate degree paid for by the government.  These credits then could be transferred to a four year degree at another college or university if the student chooses to continue his/her education.

With four year degrees and college and university tuition crazily out of control, it will soon be only the rich, privileged, and elite  that will be able to pursue higher education. Higher education will not be an option for the middle and lower classes.

To obtain associate or B.A degrees today, students amass a debt anywhere from $25,000 up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that they must begin paying back a few months after the awarding of their degrees.  

Some of those who attended Ivy League Schools or the best school for their education are paying off a debt that will take clear up to their retirement from the working world to pay off.

Somethings gotta give here.

I was able to work my way through college and I paid for my tuition and books.  That is not plausible today.

President Obama's educational initiative is a good one.  I know because of the educational degrees available with the school system I retired from - the Canton City Schools in Canton, OH.

The Canton City Schools really do offer a world class education to students here in northeast Ohio.  At the high school level,  the Canton Schools offer the rigorous Early College High School to students.

Students who opt for the Early College High School, can graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time.  Students earn their high school diploma from the Canton City Schools and they earn their associate degree from Stark (county) State College, a community college in Canton, OH.

Professors from Stark State College come daily to the Timken Senior High School Campus, where the Early College High School is housed, to teach the college courses and teachers from the Canton City Schools teach the high school courses.  

Stark State College,  Canton, OH

Students work on both their high school diploma and associate degree simultaneously during their four years at the high school.    It is hard work, but worth it in the end when they march across the graduation stage and are handed a high school diploma and their associate degree.

And, who pays for all this?  The Canton City Schools pay for the student's associate degree. The student pays nothing to attain this.

Yes, I know, where does the school system get their money - partly from the federal government, partly from grants,  and the rest from property taxes.

I know, I know, no one wants their property taxes raised - they are high enough all ready. But in the end, we actually are investing our money in the education of our youth who will one day run our country.  Don't we want those running our country, as we retire, to be educated rather than not?  I do.

That is why I fully support President Obama's educational initiative to have the government pay for each student who attends a community college in the U.S. in pursuit of a degree.

By, paying for this degree now, we are insuring a better life for all of us later.  It is better to "bite the bullet," now so we don't get shot with it later down the line.

I urge everyone to support President Obama in his quest for this educational initiative because it works. Students must maintain a 2.5 GPA to have their community college education paid and this is a reasonable demand.  

I believe in our American youth.  I have worked at Canton Schools, which is an inner city school system, and those students need our help in obtaining at least an associate degree. There are students living in poverty that want out of the ghetto and the only way out is through education.  

That means less gang members and less people on welfare, which we pay for through our taxes already.  I prefer my tax dollars to go to investing in the education of our youth, not for welfare checks.

So those of you who don't like or care for President Obama, don't just say no to this because you don't like him, or because he is black, or because he is a democrat, or because he is too liberal, or because he is too intellectual, or just because you think he is arrogant and aloof.  Think about what is best for our country and our country's growth. 

Put our youth first and foremost in your minds and sights and invest in them to make our world an educated one.  Remember, the youth of today will be taking care of the rest of us in our retirement and old age tomorrow.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Inclusion rather than exclusion for Muslim immigrants

Paris demonstrations because of the murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

With the tragic deaths of cartoonists and editors at Charlie Hebdo, Paris' satirical cartoon magazine, and the deaths of hostages at the Kosher market in Paris both by Islamic religious extremists, it is apparent that a change is required in how we treat and integrate Muslims into our societies.

With every event there is a cause and we must examine what causes these Muslims to connect with religious extremism and as a result cause murder and mayhem like what has happened in Paris this week.

Why do young Muslim men and women in France, the UK, the United States and other western nations turn to the twisted beliefs of imams of radical Islamic teachings and kill and maim in the name of Allah (God) and his prophet, Mohammed?

Why are these young people attracted to terror groups, Al Qaeda and ISIS, rather than to moderate Islamic groups here in western nations?

Why do these Muslim young people want to kill and destroy rather than to build in society? This situation has become just as much a cultural conflict as a religious one.

Part of the answer is young Muslim people are disenfranchised and are not part of the main stream society in western nations.  The Kouachi brothers who killed at Charlie Hebdo in the name of Islam, turned to religious extremism because in living in their poor Muslim enclave in a suburb of Paris they were not really full members of French society.  They were excluded rather than included in French society.

What is sad is that the Kouachi brothers are second generation Algerians, born and living in France all their lives. They are French nationals, yet they identify more with being Algerian rather than with being French.

France has a stagnant economy and high unemployment which hits the poor suburbs of Paris the most, and this is where the Muslim immigrants live in poverty.  They do not enjoy the lifestyle of the middle and upper classes of Parisians who live well in the city of Paris. They are on the outside looking in, and these young Muslims become resentful.

This is true of Muslim neighborhoods in other western nations as well as the U.S.  Those Muslims that live on the fringes of society are the ones easily targeted and tapped by terror groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS as the glory of fighting and dying for Allah becomes their way of obtaining a dignified and glorified identity, something that has been missing all their lives as they live on the fringes of great societies.

Therefore, western nations are part of the problem.  While there is no excuse for murder and terrorist plots ever, western nations must begin to look within and determine what could they be doing to give cause for these Muslims to turn radical.

While no one should ever be murdered for drawing cartoons as was the radical Muslims' goal of attempting to silence freedom of speech / press, we must look at the root of why Muslim young people become radicalized to believe this is the only way to achieve dignity for themselves and their religion.

It all begins with education - teaching tolerance and understanding - and including those that are different from us rather than excluding them.  We cannot allow young Muslim people to languish on the fringes of our societies.  We must find a way of including them in mainstream society so that there is no need for them to turn to radical terror groups for their identities.

So far, in our fight against radical Islam and terror groups, western nations are playing a game of tit-for-tat.  Each side in this war of terror seeks revenge for each terror action. Western nations kill in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as they try to bring democracy to these nations,  and then Al Qaeda and ISIS seek revenge for these killings by causing terror attacks in western nations and lopping off the heads of western hostages.  Then we (the western nations) take revenge on the beheadings by killing more radical Muslims and the cycle just continues.  Killing, retaliation, killing, retaliation, more killing and more retaliation. 

Prisons such as Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay, where it has been proved that torture was used against prisoners, and against some prisoners eventually found to be innocent, this has proved to be the reason and cause also for terror attacks to western nations.

At this rate, we are in this fight for the next one hundred years.  Tit-for-tat killings just prolongs the murder and mayhem on both sides.  Where is this getting us?  Each side fights to the death in this war on terror.  

Somehow cooler heads must prevail and we (Western nations) must find a way to integrate Muslims into our societies in positive ways.  

It is easy to say that if Muslims don't like western society then they can just go back to the Middle East, but that is not being realistic.  If we include them in our western society in positive and vibrant ways and respect their religious beliefs there will be less reason for Muslim young people to turn to terrorism.

In American inner cities, we educate the poor and provide programs to help them to rise out of the ghettos and enter our mainstream society.  It is time we did the same for the Muslim immigrants who come here also.

We provide alternatives for the poor in our inner cities so that they don't have to turn to gangs for their identities.  We must do the same for Muslims.

It is only through education and tolerance that we (Western nations) can affect the lives of Muslims with their Islamic beliefs and integrate them into our societies.

While I strongly stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and the right of free speech / press, I also must look at what causes such terror acts to begin with.  If the Kouachi brothers had been part of the well employed and part of a thriving French society they would have had no reason to have been recruited by Al Qaeda in a search for their identities.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Power of the Pen

Je suis Charlie.  I am Charlie.

As I write this I stand in solidarity with all of France and the cartoonists who tragically lost their lives yesterday because of cartoons they published poking fun and satirizing Islam and Mohammed, their prophet. 

My pen is raised in the air as a message to these extremist, fundamentalist Muslims that you will never stop our freedom of the press and freedom of expression.  You can snuff out the lives of journalists, but you can never snuff out our freedom of expression, whether it satirizes your religion or not.

I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
~ Voltaire.

France's own countryman, many years ago, reminded us of what was important in freedom of speech, press, and expression.

The lives and loss of these four talented cartoonists will never be forgotten and the U.S. stands with France in fighting these jihadists wherever they may strike.

It is interesting to note that in researching the covers of Charlie Hebdo  I find that it is a magazine that is an equal opportunity satirist.  By that I mean,  Charlie Hebdo satirizes all religions:  Christianity and especially Jesus Christ, Catholicism and especially the popes, Judaism, and Islam among them.  No religion escapes the cartoonists' pen in this magazine.

Charlie Hebdo is much like our Mad magazine here in the U.S.  It focuses on satirizing politics and religion.  I don't always like what Mad magazine has to say, but like Voltaire, I support its right and freedom to say and satirize what they want.

I have never written about this before, but I too have been in the position of standing up for freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

As a high school newspaper adviser, I had one of the best high school newspaper and staff in Summit County, OH.  When I took the job as adviser I made it clear to the principal that he would have no editing or censorship privileges.  He would have to trust in me as an adviser as to what we printed in our newspaper, Paw Prints.

My students were well taught in freedom of the press and the responsibility that goes with that.  They were well schooled in press ethics.  They had to save all their notes from interviews in a special cabinet I had in the class.  They were brave to take on subjects in our high school and community that were controversial, but they handled those subjects and topics with seriousness and aplomb.

There were times when teachers or community members questioned the authenticity and truthfulness of the articles / editorials they wrote.  I mediated many meetings when my students presented their notes to me and the person questioning them.  In every single instance, when the notes and information were presented, and I asked the person if they had been misquoted or misunderstood, they sheepishly had to admit the high school reporter was correct in quoting them and the article written without a bias.

I trusted my high school reporters and in return they rose to the occasion and gave excellent reporting and writing of news articles and editorials. Several times they scooped the Akron Beacon Journal our newspaper here in Akron, OH. Even on the high school level we had freedom of the press and expression.  It is vital no matter what level of a publication even at a high school level.

Today, even as I write this, I am also involved in freedom of speech and expression in my own condominium development.  After 9/11, I posted on my front window a poster from the newspaper that depicts the American flag and the date, September 11, 2001 and the words, "We will never forget."  It has been posted in my window since the day after the Twin Towers attack and demise and is a tribute to all those that lost their lives that day.

I am a former employee of the Department of Defense and so 9/11 resonates with me as I know first hand the sacrifices our soldiers make to keep our country safe and free.  The three thousand+ Americans that died that fateful day made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and they fought their Muslim perpetrators to the end in crashing airplanes.  I can never forget their lives or sacrifice they made that day.

Several years ago a Muslim family moved into our development.  The man teaches Middle Eastern Civilization at the University of Akron.  He and his wife dress in their native clothing, but the children do not.   

It was expressed to me that this Muslim family resented my poster in the window and the constant reminder of 9/11 and they wanted it taken down.  My response was that I respected this Muslim family and their Islamic religion, and I expected their respect in return for expressing my feelings and beliefs about 9/11 with this poster.

We will never forget what was done to us and the American lives lost on 9/11 because of Islamic extremists and fundamentalists.  While I know this Muslim family is not part of Islamic extremists or fundamentalists, the poster will remain in my window as long as I live here, and freedom of expression and speech will always be a part of me and my home.

The believers in Islam cannot be allowed to dictate to us or anyone else in the world what is said, written, drawn, posted, or expressed about them or their Islamic religion.

Freedom of the press, speech and expression must prevail at all costs.  Even at the cost of the death of four cartoonists of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Je suis Charlie.  I am Charlie.