The Allure of Top Gun: Maverick

Americans love the movie-going experience.  Since the invention of the motion picture, we flock to the theaters to see and experience the best stories come to life on the big screen.  And summertime brings out the best Hollywood has to offer.  This past weekend, Top Gun: Maverick premiered to an astounding $250 million payday globally, easily eclipsing its $150 million budget.  The film is the long-awaited sequel to the original Top Gun from 1986, which propelled Tom Cruise into the stratosphere of A-list actors.  

As critics and audiences submitted their reviews, they overwhelmingly endorsed the new Top Gun as worth the wait.  Movie audiences love a followup story to their favorite films, but rarely can directors and actors recapture the magic, even if the key cast members reprise their roles.  So what makes the latest iteration of Top Gun so good?  Well, warning, if you’re under 35, the appeal might not be there. 

Caution:  mild spoilers ahead (no plot reveals, promise)

The underlying themes of the film

In 1986, younger adults and children were the primary audiences for Top Gun.  The same people who truly loved the film then are the ones lining up to see the sequel, particularly my generation (the 40 and older crowd).  Some of the themes in Top Gun: Maverick caused them to love this film, but in a different way than its predecessor.

1.  The young upstarts versus the age and experience.  Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is decades older than when we last saw him.  He has a laudable career as a US Naval Aviator, including his work as a test pilot for a plane traveling Mach 10.  No one can touch his accolades, but his role in this film is more teacher than fighter pilot.  The younger pilots Maverick trains refer to him on a few occasions as ‘pops’ and believe they can challenge his skills in the air.  Viewers know how that’s going to end — with a montage of Maverick roasting the competition with the same phrase:  “That’s a kill.”

Seeing the young pilots bested by Maverick appeals to the crowds from 1986.  The children from the 1980s are now middle-aged, and they understand the annoyance of youth.  Those rascally 20-somethings mistakenly believe they have life figured out and we take a deep joy in showing them precisely how wrong they are.  Every generation learns this painful lesson and the Gen-X / Millennials are right at the cusp of this age.  We get it because it’s happening to us right now.

In a related notion, older generations might also enjoy the man versus machine conflict.  Early in the film, a new drone program threatens to replace Maverick’s test plane project.  In a few sequences, Maverick works on and flies a World War II era P-51 single prop plane. We also hear repeatedly that what matters most in success of the mission is the “man in the box.” 

The 40-somethings, as a generation, are the last to grow up without the internet and understand the value of both technology and human effort.  We’re already lamenting the changes in society and the over-reliance on technology.  And while Maverick is a generation ahead of us, we are far more likely to relate to him than the young, hotshot pilots.

2. What is my identity?  The most interesting aspect of the film is Maverick wrestling with his personal identity.  When we catch up with him at the start of the film, he’s still a captain.  That’s the same rank he was in the original film.  One of his superiors remarks to Maverick that he should be a two-star admiral by now.  This point is further driven home by the fact that Maverick’s foil from the first film, Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer), is an admiral.

Maverick wrestles with the notion that he is not a teacher, but a fighter pilot.  It’s all that he knows.  Americans in general become caught up in their work.  We often let our work define us and fear taking on a different role.  The ‘work’ consumes Maverick’s life. Every generation faces the dreaded mid-life crisis, where we question our life, our accomplishments, and the fact that we are becoming older. For Maverick, he’s avoided it as long as he can. However, his superiors in the Navy have made it clear that his tenure as a teacher of pilots will be his last stop in the service. And at some point, every American has to have asked themselves, “Is this all?”

3. Taking chances versus playing it safe.  As we grow older, life changes us with marriages, children, and greater responsibilities.  The idea of taking chances or doing things we did in our youth becomes ridiculous to even consider.  People are counting on us and we should minimize risk. 

Maverick’s role as a teacher in this film includes trying to mentor Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller) as a pilot.  Rooster’s father, ‘Goose,’ died while flying with Maverick in the first film and this provides the requisite tension in all aspects.  Rooster doesn’t fully trust Maverick, and Maverick doesn’t quite know how to teach the young pilot how to move away from his conservative flying style.

Viewers also see a changed man in Maverick with respect to his love life.  The young, brash pilot who went into the women’s restroom to score a date now finds himself alone and pondering some of the mistakes he made in the past.  Instead of hooking up with women in this film, he explores a genuine relationship with Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) — yes, that Penny Benjamin.  She’s a single mom who has a history with Maverick and to this point, cared more about Maverick than he did about her.  But he’s too old for games anymore.  Other people are counting on him.

If you know, then you know …

Maverick seems to now understand when to take chances and act more conservatively.  He’s still the guy who disobeys orders to fly an experimental plane, and he plans an audacious attack the Navy needs.  He even buzzes the tower once.  Yet, he’s not giving high fives and no witty one-liners.  (I was slightly disappointed that he did not ‘feel the need for speed.’)  Maverick doesn’t engage in trash talking, but rather lets his skill do the talking.

He’s clearly learned some life lessons.  My generation loves this because it is us.  Life slows us down.  It binds us to our responsibilities.  Yet, there’s still the part of us which wants to be daring and somehow finds the times when we need to bold.

4.  The right amount of nostalgia.  Americans are always suckers for nostalgia, remembering those good old days when everything seemed right with the world.  Part of our love for this film is rooted in the love for the first film.  Everything about the original Top Gun provided a semblance of unity amongst people.  We knew all the catchphrases and could enjoy a laugh with anyone because everyone saw the movie.  Top Gun in 1986 served up everything we loved about the country.  Military power, cocky American attitude, a common enemy, and some cool high tech gadgets that cause explosions.

Anyone who had this toy imagined that Maverick was flying it for GI-Joe

When adults over 35 watch the sequel, we think back to the 1980s and realize how good it was.  Top Gun: Maverick provides us with enough flashbacks to the original film while still standing on its own and showing the growth of the characters we loved. This includes a well done scene with Maverick and ‘Iceman,’ who clearly aren’t the same people. 

The mere existence of these characters and their world provides our generation with a great common memory about a time when the world seemed … well, better.  Social media wasn’t around to annoy us.  Friendships didn’t end over difference in political opinion.  Schools shootings weren’t a thing.  A kid could play outside.  It doesn’t matter that the 1980s had serious problems, or that the adults of that era thought the 1950s were the pinnacle of American greatness.  Just the feeling of nostalgia is enough to help us further enjoy the movie.

The Cast 

It’s important to consider the producer for this film — Jerry Bruckheimer.  This guy practically invented the summer blockbuster.  His resumé includes the Top Gun films, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, the never ending CSI television series and its numerous spinoffs, Con Air, The Rock, Armageddon, the Bad Boys films, Blackhawk Down, and the National Treasure movies.  Sure, he’s had some films which didn’t pan out well, but he hits far more often than he misses.  

Obviously, Tom Cruise carries the move, and rightfully so.  Cruise is one month shy of 60 years old and he’s stilled ridiculously fit.  Also, critics can harp on Cruise for many quirky traits, but it’s usually not for his inability to deliver in an action film.  It never hurts that Cruise performed his own stunts either.  What a showoff.  

Bob helps make the movie fun

The rest of the cast offers an array of big names mixed with some young talent.  Jennifer Connelly is great as the love interest.  Ed Harris and Val Kilmer play small but important roles, and Jon Hamm wasn’t on his ‘A’ game, but that seemed due to writing and not his acting skills.

Lewis Pullman (son of Bill Pullman) portrays ‘Bob,’ whose real name and callsign are one and the same.  He brings an element of humility to a crop of young, talented pilots who seem to have everything but.  Miles Teller plays the angry son of Goose well, and Glen Powell (as ‘Hangman’) appears to be the new version of Maverick. 

The Action

There’s no denying that this newest Top Gun film provided plenty of action and that’s what the audience expects.  The film provides great sequences of military jets flying at high speeds and high altitudes with the best ‘dogfighting’ a wannabe ace pilot could ask.  How did the Jerry Bruckheimer and his team manage to portray this?  Pretty easy.  They arranged for their actors to engage in several flight experiences in smaller plans for graduating to the military’s F/A-18s. Military officials allowed film crews to connect IMAX movie cameras to the jets to obtain the most realistic views and reactions, providing a more realistic experience for audiences.

The landing sequences on aircraft carriers never get old and viewers can’t seem to not stress out at the tone of the radar lock weapons system.  Defensive flares prevent missiles from hitting the heroes.  Tight plane formations and deft maneuvers impress us to no end.

We love action films so much because it’s a fantasy.  Few problems are solved by direct conflict and even fewer in such a timely manner.  Part of the movie’s plot includes the mission to blow up a nuclear facility in a rogue nation.  Anyone who has followed world events understands as much.  Even America, with all its military might, cannot fly into another nation without serious repercussions.  But in Hollywood, good guys take the initiative.  Less talking and more action.  And we think to ourselves, “It sure would be nice to handle problems like that in the real world, because America always wears the white hat and we know what’s best for the world.”  Deep within our own minds, we understand we cannot operate in such a cowboy manner, but it’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

Russo-Ukrainian War: where it was, is, and is going

The world expressed shock when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of neighboring Ukraine on February 24th, less than two days after sending a ‘peace-keeping’ force into regions of that nation which attempted to claim independence.  It appears that Putin has terribly miscalculated a significant number of issues related to his invasion:  the defiance and resistance of Ukrainians, the international response, and protests from within his own borders.  Putin’s invasion might signal the beginning of the end of his career.  

Why did Russia do this in the first place?

Clearly, he is not pleased with the progress of the war

There’s quite a bit of backstory to this invasion which spans the course of over 100 years.  After the Russian Revolution in 1917, communist leaders creates the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  The nation comprised of 15 ‘republics’ including both Russia and Ukraine as political entities.  Because of its sheer size, Russia dominated the Soviet Union.  

During the last 100 years, each of these republics developed their own nationalistic identities.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine declared independence and began its own path, separate from Russia, in 1991.

From his statements and actions, it is clear that Vladimir Putin has never reconciled with the end of the Soviet Empire.  He mentioned as much prior to the invasion last week, claiming, 

I would like to emphasize again that Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space. … 

Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians and Orthodox Christians. This was the case before the 17th century, when a portion of this territory rejoined the Russian state, and after. … 

… modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia. This process started practically right after the 1917 revolution, and Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely harsh on Russia – by separating, severing what is historically Russian land. Nobody asked the millions of people living there what they thought.

Putin does not believe Ukraine should exist as a geopolitical state, nor should it have ever been partitioned in such a way in 1917.  He might as well say, “It’s ours — always has been and will be.”

The invasion into Ukraine also pertains to concerns that Russia becoming increasingly surrounded by member states of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).  The alliance is a holdover from the Cold War, and has increasingly expanded eastward through Europe.  The Baltic states all are former Soviet republics, directly border Russia, and have NATO membership.  A number of other former Soviet satellites, such as Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have also joined NATO since the fall of the Soviet bloc.

In 2014, Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula, taking it from Ukraine by force.  In 2008, engaged in a 12 day war with the Republic of Georgia.  A key point in both of these conflicts?  NATO wants to incorporate these states into the fold.  

Russia’s concerns about a NATO dominated Europe are more evident than ever, particularly when the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a warning to Sweden and Finland, expressing the possibility of political and military consequences if they attempted to join NATO.

This should not surprise any of us, particularly in light of a speech Putin gave at the Munich Security Conference in 2007.  He railed against an American foreign policy which stood uncontested in the world.  Putin’s speech also hinted that other powerful nations should rally together and use their economic power to leverage against a ‘unipolar’ world as an effective counterweight to what he believed was unchecked American power.

Russia’s invasion into Ukraine undoubtedly involves access to important natural resources and a land grab akin to its 2014 incursion into Crimea.  Ukraine is the second largest country by land area in Europe and offers significant access to the Black Sea, which in turn, connects to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.

Ukraine currently holds the 7th largest reserve for coal deposits in the world and the 2nd largest in Europe.  More than 1.1 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reside within Ukrainian borders, along with 3.7 billion tons of oil.  These fossil fuels alone make it an enticing target for Russia.  Additionally, large deposits of iron ore, manganese, and uranium are found there.  The most significant resource of the Ukraine, however, lies in its agricultural output.  This former Soviet state, often referred to as the ‘Breadbasket of the Empire,’ is one of the leading exporters of corn and wheat in the world.  Some estimates claim Ukrainian grains could feed the world.  

Integrating this land into Russia would be a major victory for Putin in terms of adding resources to an already powerful nation.  He would have the buffer state he wants along with stronger influence on European and global policy.

So, how’s that invasion working out for Russia?

Russian advances haven’t conquered the capital of Kyiv yet

It’s sufficient to say that Russia’s invasion is not going well.  According to many sources, Russia expected a swift victory in less than five days.  Today marks the fifth day and Ukraine appears more defiant with each passing day.  In the terms of a traditional military advance, the Russian Army has moved progressively through a significant portion of Ukraine, however, one of its main objectives is capturing the capital city of Kyiv. Russia most likely wants to remove the current Ukrainian government and establish a puppet state in its place.  These goals may be impossible to attain.  

The Ukrainian people show no signs that surrender is an option and they will not accept a Russian backed government.  Removing an enemy from a city it occupies requires quite a bit of effort and the defender in a the city always has an advantage in urban warfare.  Even if Russia does capture Kyiv, the people will never accept the occupation.  It’s a losing proposition for Russia.  This doesn’t even account for the near $20 billion per day the war costs for the invaders, or that their ability to replace war materiel has become limited now that economic sanctions are in place.

The International Response

Russia’s actions have also established an international sense of outrage not seen since perhaps the events of September 11, 2001.  Vladimir Putin’s plans included a belief that the United States and European nations would not go to war over Ukraine.  In that aspect, he was correct.  No nation has explicitly committed troops to assisting Ukraine (that in itself is a crime).  However, the backlash against Putin’s actions has been fierce.

The invasion into a sovereign nation with no plausible reason concerns all of Europe.  Nations rightly see that if Russia is willing to invade Ukraine, they could be next.  Putin’s actions represent an existential threat to Central and Eastern Europe.  Conflict also disrupts already fragile supply chains by which many European nations rely upon for important resources.  That disruption also extends to international stock markets and prices for commodities. 

The Russo-Ukrainian War has also provided the world with important insight into how social media can affect conflict.  The even faster than usual dissemination of information provided the world with a number of images, videos, and stories which have tugged at the hearts of people everywhere.  Who wouldn’t be moved by some of great stories of individuals fighting for their homeland or acting in defiance toward a hostile, invading force?

  • Former heavyweight boxing champion brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, who both have more than enough financial resources to escape the war before it started, stayed to fight for their nation.  
  • Others were awed by an elderly woman who confronted Russian soldiers with sunflower seeds, telling them that when Ukrainians kill them, their dead bodies will fertilize the ground for the seeds to bloom.
  • The internet has been wild with rumors of the “Ghost of Kyiv,” a supposed Ukrainian pilot who downed six Russian planes and two helicopters on the first day of fighting.  Is this ghost real?  Probably not, but people love a story like this — and the want to believe.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also emerged as an unlikely hero.  Just five years ago, Zelenskyy held no political office of any kind.  He originally embarked on a career in acting and comedy, only to appear on the political scene in 2018, in part, to bring a model of decency to politics in the nation.  Zelenskyy, and all 100 members of the Ukrainian Parliament, have joined the fight.  Zelenskyy also refused to leave the nation when US officials offered him help in evacuation, stating the fight was here and he needed anti-tank ammunition, “not a ride.”  This sort of active leadership is unprecedented in modern history and I know that Americans love and respect this.
  • Throughout the crisis, Ukraine has maintained an active presence on social media, routinely asking for support from other nations through financial means, pressuring Russia through tweets, and providing slickly made videos detailing how citizens are stepping up to fight.

The invasion also prompted a slew of sanctions against Russia.  Almost immediately, Germany responded by canceling their deal with Russia on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.  The underground pipeline was completed in September but not yet operational.  Germany expected to import significant quantities of natural gas annually from Russia, and abandoning this project is a serious step in punishing Russia.

President Zelenskyy has literally joined the fight

Moreover, Germany announced it would send anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and more significantly, it would invest more than €100 billion into defense spending.  This is more relevant due to the fact that it’s a reversal of previous German policy not to send weapons into a hot zone.  Newly minted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted, “The Russian invasion marks a turning point.”  Other world leaders have expressed a similar sentiment.

The European Union announced today it would be sending fighter jets to assist Ukrainians, which could neutralize the air superiority held by Russians.  Ukrainian officials would love to see a no-fly zone set up over Ukraine, and if that happens, Russia loses any hope of military victory.  

Great Britain is sending additional anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and it has given a green light to a special operations team to assist Ukrainians in military training.  

President Joe Biden has authorized $350 million in emergency spending for military aid in Ukraine, and is asking the US Congress to approve an additional $6.4 billion. 

The United States, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the nations of the European Union have placed economic sanctions with respect to trading against Russia and have also limited Russian access to banking assets.  This places the Russian government and corporations in great economic distress.  These restrictions have caused the massive sell-off in the Russian stock market and of the ruble, causing both to drop precipitously.  These companies also will not longer have access to the international ‘SWIFT’ program, a computer system which allows for easy conversions of currencies.  Russia held more than $630 billion in foreign currencies — but only digitally through the SWIFT system.  Like most of anyone’s money these days, it exists in the ether of the internet and if Russia is locked out of the ability to access that money, Russia’s problems multiply.

How will all this play out?

Much of the future depends on Vladimir Putin.  His invasion into Ukraine has altered the geopolitical balance of power in the world.  No one ever really sympathized with Russia, but now Putin’s position will only worsen each day.  

The economic sanctions against Russia will likely continue until a drastic change occurs.  A world leader, particularly from a nation like Russia, does not simply walk away from an act like this unscathed.  The United States, the European Union, and other allied nations will apply economic pressure until Putin guarantees Ukraine’s borders will remain secure, Ukraine receives membership in NATO, or Putin walks away from leadership.  

Putin’s language during this crisis has alarmed world leaders for another reason.  The Russian president stated that any interference with the Russian invasion would face “consequences you have never seen.”  This immediately brought concern as a thinly veiled reference to nuclear weapons.  That fear elevated today when Putin placed his nuclear forces on high alert.  

Every move made by Putin is a form of brinkmanship, pushing nations closer to a potential third worldwide conflict and nuclear conflict.  Would Putin be so bold?  Unlikely, but at this point, if he backs down from his tough guy persona, it could be perceived as weakness within his own nation and the embarrassment of a lifetime.  Putin lacks options that allow him out of this conflict without losing face.  He’s like a gambler who is in too deep and believes doubling down is the only way out.  That attitude never pans out.

President Zelenskyy agreed to meet with the Russians at the border between Ukraine and Belarus.  It remains unclear if Putin himself will be there and the specific location has not been revealed.

Throughout more than 20 years as Russia’s leading politician, Putin has been attempting to reforge Russian military might and economic power.  He repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to use violence as a means of achieving policy goals, crushing dissent, and bringing his country to a place of prominence.  And now, we are going to remember this as indeed a turning point.  Putin’s career can’t come back from this blunder.  There’s no political spin that could save him, no regaining respect with his own supporters.

In the end, the world will remember Putin as another failed autocrat.  And we all had front row seats.  It’s sad when we consider the cost in human tragedy.  How many people did this tragedy rob of their lives?  Every nation should consider this a valuable lesson.  The Ukrainians showed us more courage than most of us thought possible.  The Russians reminded us about hubris.  And for a tiny moment, the world rallied around something good.

Olympian Simone Biles just did something, by not doing something

Yesterday, Simone Biles shocked the entire nation, and a significant segment of the world, by voluntarily removing herself from the gymnastics team competition in the 2020 (or is it the 2021?) Tokyo Olympic Games.  Biles’ reason for withdrawing from the competition was not a physical injury.  She revealed that her rationale for removing herself was due to a struggle with mental health.

As a four time gold medalist, Biles arrived in Tokyo with top billing as the star of American gymnastics (if not the entire Olympic delegation) and a clear expectation for more victories.  Americans expect their stars to deliver,  and there will no doubt be critics who lament her absence from the team competition as ‘weak’ or letting down her teammates and the nation.  However, I’m not in that crowd.  Simone Biles doesn’t deserve the criticism and there are several reasons I’m okay with her decision.

Mental health problems or mental stress inhibit the ability to perform, just like physical injuries

No one would expect Biles or any athlete to compete with a physical injury.  Why should this be any different?  Critics might argue that physical injuries and mental stress are not the same type of problem.  Even if I accepted that line of reasoning, I would argue that mental health problems are worse.  When physically injured or hurt, there are a select few athletes who find ways to mentally block out the pain of persevere through those injuries.  But it is the mind which allows them to push beyond their limits.  A person with an unhealthy mind cannot push through.

Would anyone criticize Biles for ‘letting her team down’ if she had a broken ankle?  Of course not.  We wouldn’t expect her to attempt vaults.  Our nation would understand that an athlete could not perform at her best level, and an attempt to compete when not healthy would be detrimental to the team.  The women’s team event ended with a silver medal for America, and there’s no shame in that.  What would have happened if Biles attempted to perform without a healthy mind?  The team might not have medaled.  This is one of the reasons Olympic squads carry alternates, for situations such as this.

Biles experiences a stress level high, even for Olympic standards

Simone Biles is 24 years old, and while we see her as a grown woman, this is still a relatively young age.  Since her amazing performance in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Biles has been one of the most well known American athletes.  She has endorsement deals with Kellogg’s, Nike, Hershey, United Airlines, and Beats by Dre, to name a few.  Biles competes at the highest level in the difficult and demanding world of gymnastics.  She has often stated that in middle school and high school, other students would ridicule and mock her about her body, which caused body image issues she struggled to overcome.  (Biles is only 4’ 8” and female gymnasts often have a body shape atypical when compared to other women.)  Additionally, Biles experienced trauma as a young girl when she was sexually abused by the now disgraced Larry Nasser.

Perhaps we should applaud Simone Biles for making it this far in life without experiencing a major breakdown of some kind.  As an athlete performing at the elite level in the most revered worldwide sporting competition, one would face enough stress.  But Americans add additional expectation.  We are a nation fo winners and expect nothing but the absolute best in every field of endeavor.  Biles is the face of American Olympics this year, and so many of the people will be disappointed, but they shouldn’t be.  How would any of us perform any task on the world stage?  Probably not as well as we might like to think.

Simone Biles’ actions might end up being the most important thing she could do in the sports world

When a top tier athlete admits that they, too, feel the stress and the weightiness of mental health problems, it gives others permission to admit they have a problem.  Society still has a stigma which sees mental health illnesses as only affecting the weak, establishing a self-loathing attitude that people internalize.  Those affected by mental illness also wrong believe they are somehow to blame, or incompetent or otherwise ‘less than.’ 

Biles’ actions in admitting her mental health was the reason for withdrawing from competition will impact others struggling with some form of mental illness.  She also displayed profound wisdom, commenting, “There’s more to life than just gymnastics.”  This statement might annoy some of her critics, but I believe it’s one of the most significant things she could have said.

By prioritizing her mental health, Biles is letting people know that her identity is not, and cannot be dictated by athletics.  The ‘win at all costs’ mentality that Americans have come to love takes a toll on people, and Biles appears to either have wise counsel or has learned that her time as an athlete are limited.  She’s also not alone.

In the spring of 2021, tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the prestigious French Open, also citing mental health as an issue.  She later provided more context, noting she suffered from anxiety and periodic bouts of depression.  

Mental illness nearly broke Michael Phelps, the record setting American swimmer who won 23 gold medals.  Bouts of depression, substance abuse, extreme instances of self-isolation, and thoughts of suicide plagued Phelps while he was winning gold medals in five different Olympic Games.  When the world was celebrating Phelps, he was experiencing the lowest points of his life.  Winning isn’t always enough, and it turns out there’s more to life than swimming.

Maybe someone will read this, and bring up the more vicious mental toughness of athletes.  Last year, we all waxed nostalgic about The Last Dance, the documentary about the Chicago Bulls in their sixth and final title run in the Michael Jordan years.  Critics of Biles might look at Jordan and say, “Now that’s how you deal with the stress.”  It’s pretty clear that basketball was (and may still be) the most important thing in Michael Jordan’s life.  And he received his reward.

Personally, watching Michael Jordan in that documentary series made me feel sorry for him.  He’s perpetually living in the 1990s.  For Jordan, nothing was more important than winning basketball games.  But look at the cost.  A huge swath of people who played with and against Jordan can’t stand him.  Jordan was cruel to a number of teammates and competitors in the NBA.  Sure, it might have helped him achieve the results he wanted.  Yet, there are more important things than sports.  How a person achieves those ends matters in this life.  

Simone Biles’ actions give the world a rare glimpse into the vulnerability of an athlete.  Typically, this is seen as a weakness.  Technically, it is a weakness.  It’s precisely what the world needs to see because the rest of us are weak, too.  We don’t want to admit it, and we definitely don’t want our heroes to admit it. But Biles did the right thing, for herself, her team, the nation, and the world.

Great Cinema: Four Films Worth Watching

Films are one of my favorite parts of modern culture.  They tell us so much about our society, people, and ourselves.  Good films, like any piece of art, should make the audience feel something.  And if a two hour film can somehow draw out emotion, that’s an accomplishment.  

In this post, I want to provide you with five films I have very much appreciated for making me consider my own humanity and feelings.  In no particular order … 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) 

This is a unique film for the list for a number of reasons, but notably that it’s in Chinese (subtitles did not bother American moviegoers in the least).  Adapted from a novel, Crouching Tiger stars Chow Yun-fat as master swordsman Li Mu Bai.  Co-star Michelle Yeoh plays Yu Shu Lien, the partner of Li and long time friend.  

The story opens with Li explaining his decision to retire from his life as a swordsman, giving his famed sword (known as ‘the Green Destiny’) to a nobleman and benefactor.  Shortly after the nobleman takes possession of the sword, we quickly learn the culprit is Jen (a very adept Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of the nobleman and secret student of Jade Fox, a known assassin.  

Li, the famed warrior, wrestles with significant conflict in terms of his complex feelings towards his long time partner Yu (who was once engaged to his best friend before his untimely death), tracking down the assassin Jade Fox, and his desire to take on Jen as a student.

The film also dives into the backstory of Jen, and how the daughter of a wealthy noble becomes a warrior.  We are treated to a number of flashback scenes where Jen had once been held hostage by bandit named Lo, whom she comes to better understand and eventually fall in love with.  

Despite the martial arts, this film explores two love stories and juxtaposes two would-be couples.  Li and Yu are older, more reserved, and hesitant to act based on custom and tradition.  Jen and Lo find themselves swept away by passion and have little use for the opinions of the world.  Moreover, the romantic scenes between the couples don’t feel at all forced or gratuitous.  

This film also provokes other elements of our human nature.  Li seeks to kill Jade Fox because she killed his former teacher.  The assassin herself struggles when she realizes her disciple’s skills exceed her own.  Jen feels smothered by her life as a noble and the expectations that come with it (which do not include running off with a bandit or fighting).  There’s a great deal of internal conflict brewing throughout the film and by the end of it, Li has wondered if he has wasted some important opportunities.  

Of course the human emotion matters profoundly, but the other key elements of the film all click.  The actors, many with significant prior Hollywood experience, play the roles well.  Few of the main actors knew Mandarin coming into the film, which makes it more impressive .

The action scenes are phenomenal and the film didn’t shy away from the ‘wuxia’ genre of the novel (a Chinese form of fantasy literature).  We see characters make superhuman moves, but not so much that it takes away from the movie.  In fact, it feels believable.  The music paces well with a number of the action scenes, and famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed solos.  The visuals from the movie are buoyed by great sets. The Gobi Desert and other provinces in China, showing a variety of climates and regions.

Since its release in 2000, other films in the genre have tried to recreate the magic of Crouching Tiger, but it just hasn’t happened.  Story, action, romance, music, and dynamic characters.  Makes for a fantastic movie.  

Jojo Rabbit (2019) 

When a friend initially recommended this film, my knee-jerk reaction was “I dunno.”  But Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell provided all the credibility I needed go give this a chance.  It did not disappoint and Jojo Rabbit easily makes my list of films people should see. 

The story revolves a 10 year old boy named Jojo (portrayed by Roman Griffin Davis), who must face harsh truths about growing up in Nazi Germany.  Living in a Germany heavily laden with propaganda, Jojo believes in Nazi cause, the greatness of Hitler, and stereotypes about Jews.    Though Jojo has the patriotic fervor you might expect in a young boy, his mother Rosie (played by Johansson) recognizes her son is still a sweet child who only parrots what he’s been told.  (Older boys in the Hitler Youth give Jojo the nickname Jojo Rabbit because of his inability to kill a rabbit to show his worth.)

Jojo doesn’t have many friends and a short, ill-fated stint in the Hitler Youth proves maybe he isn’t cut out for serving the Reich like most other German boys.  To compensate for a lack of friends, Jojo creates an imaginary goofball version of Adolf Hitler (director Taika Waititi becomes a very believable Hitler).  Throughout the film, we see the imaginary Hitler as an incarnation of the propaganda which has bombarded Jojo for his life.

The film slowly alludes to Rosie’s involvement in an anti-Nazi resistance group and low-key efforts to correct the misperceptions of her son.  Jojo must confront his own perceptions about Jews when he finds out that his mother has secretly harbored a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie).  The banter between Jojo and Elsa provides interesting exchanges that vacillate between the serious and comedic.

In fact, one of the unique aspects of Jojo Rabbit is the fact that find yourself laughing one minute, cheering for the small victories of each character, and feeling the weightiness of Nazi persecution.

Like any good film, the strength lies in the story-driven approach to the film and the perfectly attuned cast that brings the story to life. Even the minor characters produce a memorable effect, and Jojo’s best friend Yorki (the scene-stealing Archie Yates) is a hidden gem.  Also, Rockwell’s character, Captain Klenzendorf, has a small story arc with a path to redemption, thanks to our young hero Jojo.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Ralph Fiennes leads a literal all-star cast in the story of a run-down hotel in the fictional nation of Zubrowka, under communist control but filled with wild stories from a bygone era.  

The film opens with the nation’s most wealthy man, Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham) providing a tale about how he came into possession of the The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Zero’s story focuses on the long-serving and renowned concierge Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes), who often seduced many of the older women who frequented the hotel.  While not above womanizing, Gustave is incredibly dedicated to his craft and gentlemanly conduct.

When we learn that one of the hotel’s well known patrons, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies, Gustave takes his new protégé, a young Zero (Tony Revolori) to the reading of the will.  Gustave’s long time lover Madame D. has left him a priceless painting that prompts outrage from her jealous son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and other family members.  

What follows is a bizarre yet fun sequence of events where the family tries to frame Gustave, who escapes custody with the help of Zero, his baker-apprentice girlfriend, and a secret cadre of concierges (think skull and bones society, only for concierges).

So, what makes this film so great?  What’s the buy-in?  The deeper rooted issue that drives the story is the evolution of society and the loss of a more civilized world.  How do we cope with changes which destroy a sense of decorum which had long governed our conduct?  

In the beginning of the story, one has to wonder why the older version of Zero holds on to a drab hotel which no one visits any longer.  He struggles to let go of the last remnant of a world which does not exist.  Humans love to hang on to symbols which bring about nostalgic feelings, and we often find objects which remind of us a time in our lives when everything was right with the world.  

There’s also a sense of appreciation for Gustave.  He’s something of a Renaissance man who has a wealth of knowledge and connections.  He says all the right things and knows all the right customs.  While on the run from authorities, he manages to stay one step ahead at all times. Gustave also takes in Zero, a refugee, as a lobby boy and shows him the ropes, providing him not only with a job but a place to stay.  He also makes Zero earn his keep.  Gustave is the mentor we all either had or wanted when we were young.

A number of cameos and bit roles ramp up the star power:  Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Willem DaFoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Matheiu Amalric, and Bill Murray (yes, Bill Murray) do their part in the film and no one tries to be bigger than the story itself.  

The choices for the sets, filmed mostly in Germany prove for some fantastic scenery and the costumes for Gustave, Zero, and their accomplices have an interesting vibe that meshes with the scenery and provides a nice color scheme.  The hotel’s scenery and Gustave have us wishing for a more refined time.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

This is probably not the Quentin Tarantino film you expected to see on this list (if you were expecting one at all).  Everyone lauds Pulp Fiction and it deserves the praise.  Casual moviegoers might not even be aware of this film, and if they are, may not realize it predates Pulp Fiction.  But this film merits a lot of consideration for a number of reasons beyond the great story.

The story revolves around a Los Angeles heist, organized by arch-criminal Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son, “Nice Guy” Eddie (Chris Penn).  Cabot recruits six individuals for the heist (we later learn they’re stealing diamonds) and compartmentalizes the group by not allowing any of them to use their real names.  Each man is assigned a color:  Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blonde, and Mr. Pink.  The heist is complicated by the fact that Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is an undercover police officer who is intent on bringing down the group and Cabot.  Of course, complications arise in the heist, and a sizable portion of the film transpires in a warehouse the group uses as a rallying point.  

While the plot creates a film worth watching, Tarantino’s style of story telling elevates this film to a different level.  One of the trademarks of Tarantino’s film-making is his non-linear sequencing of events.  Scenes are out of order, and yet the film makes perfect sense.  The opening scene reveals the criminals having breakfast, already acquainted with one another, preparing for the heist that day.  We quickly move to a car chase and a gun-shot victim, post-robbery.  Tarantino neatly unpacks the before, after, and in-between events as if this was the way filmmaking should have always been done.

Tarantino’s dialogue in this and his subsequent films also make this movie memorable.  He doesn’t waste words.  Almost every sentence counts and every scene reveals something about the characters.  Tarantino movies are incredibly quotable.  For instance, the opening breakfast scene has the gang of criminals, about to commit a robbery, giving Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) grief over the fact that he did not tip the waitress.  White tells the others he doesn’t “believe in” tipping.  It leads to a discussion about minimum wage and how hard the waitress works and if she should find another job.  Of course, this transpires after a drawn out discussion about the deeper meaning of Madonna’s music.

Later, we’re treated to a hilarious scene where Cabot gives each man his color alias and Mr. Pink objects.  Cabot goes into an explanation about how he tried to let guys pick their own names in the past and it just doesn’t work because everyone would argue over who gets to be Mr. Black.

Tarantino films also tend to have a solid soundtrack, and while this is not a phenomenon unique to his work, he does have a tendency to ruin a song.  And in this regard, no one who has seen this film will ever be able to listen to “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel in the same way without thinking about Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) brutally beating and torturing a captured police officer. 

Sometimes, it’s also what you don’t see that can make a movie.  Tarantino bombards us with a lot of gritty violence, interesting dialogue, and great music.  But we never actually see the heist go down.  And this fuels a lot of speculation amongst the audience (he would further use this device in Pulp Fiction because we still want to know what’s in that briefcase).  He leaves us without a piece of the story we would love to have.

This film also hits home with a number of people for demonstrating an interesting dichotomy in violent criminals.  There are traits of the criminal element which appear almost universal.  Each member of the squad wouldn’t hesitate to use lethal violence, and when the heist goes horribly wrong, they hate the idea of a ‘rat’ in their midst.  They’re all paranoid about figuring out what went wrong, and deeply suspicious of anything that doesn’t make sense.  We also see the criminals all wearing the same stand black suit, white shirts, black tie, and sunglasses for their mission.  

Yet, there is a gradation of these criminals despite having a code.  Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is clearly the most complex of the gang.  He developed a friendship with Mr. Orange prior to the heist and is deeply concerned when Orange may die from a gunshot wound.  Mr. White is also more irritated at the lack of control from Mr. Blonde (no doubt a psychopath), who killed a number of individuals during the heist that didn’t need to die.   

The fact that some of these hardened men have a sense of friendship and loyalty with members of the group provides dimensions to criminals we wouldn’t expect to see.  The other members of the gang fall somewhere between the controlled and thought Mr. White and the stone cold killer Mr. Blonde, but it’s clear that not all criminals value the same things.  The themes of loyalty, trust, betrayal, paranoia —  they apply no less to individuals merely because they break the law. 

Genocide: Never Say ‘Never Again’

Man’s inhumanity to man 

Makes countless thousands mourn! 

— Robert Burns

Never again.  This phrase of renown has echoed through the last 75 years of history.  After the insidious actions perpetrated by the Nazi government in Germany, the refrain of ‘never again’ echoed throughout the world.  

Years of appeasement by the powerful nations of the world allowed Hitler and the Nazis to accumulate such power that they were able to establish and implement a systematic method for exterminating an entire race of people.  The deaths of millions of Jews in concentration camps shocked the world.  

The subsequent Nuremberg Trials represent one of the most significant actions towards human rights in the post-World War II era.  The winning side of the war, the Allied Powers, established accountability for how a government treated human beings.  In 1948, the United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whereby nations recognized the inherent rights of human beings.  The UDHR, however, was a declaration, and not a binding document according to international law.  

Decades later, the United Nations created the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The treaty recognizes that citizens of signatory nations will receive fundamental rights, including freedom of speech, freedom from torture and slavery, due process, self-determination, equal protection under the law, and the inherent right to life.

In addition to these measures, the UN General Assembly approved Resolution 260 (in 1948), written by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  The UN resolution defined genocide and established punishments for this crime.

The United Nations and the international community created policies and a rallying cry for never allowing genocide to happen again, but it has failed miserably in preventing genocide.  The nations of the world either lack the power or the wherewithal to act on behalf of people who cannot help themselves.  

The late 20th century 

In 1988, then dictator Saddam Hussein ordered commander (and cousin) Ali Hassan al-Majid to utilize military power to destroy the Kurdish population living in Iraq.  Al-Majid had settlements destroyed, inhabitants deported or shot, and other regions poisoned with chemical weapons.  By the fall of that year, most of the Kurdish population had been driven away, killed, or otherwise driven underground.  Hussein’s forces only relented because they believed they had eliminated enough of the male Kurdish population to prevent the group from resisting Hussein’s rule.  The Iraqi military destroyed more than 4,000 villages, nearly 2,000 schools, hundreds of hospitals and clinics, along with numerous mosques and Christian churches.  Human rights groups believed at least 50,000 people died in concentration camps, however the number may as high as 182,000.  

Hussein and al-Majid eventually paid for their crimes, but not because of the international community’s actions.  The Iraqi dictator and the members of the Ba’ath Party were executed after the American-led Second Gulf War in 2003.  Until the ‘regime change’ in Iraq, the international community seemed to have no problem in letting the actions of Hussein go unpunished.

In 1994, the small African nation of Rwanda was embroiled in the a civil war between the majority Hutu group, and the ethnic minority known as the Tutsi.  The Hutus perpetrated acts of violence against the Tutsi that left nearly 800,000 dead while over 500,000 women were raped, all in the span of a few months.  

Remains from mass graves in Rwanda

The Rwandan genocide was particularly disturbing in its speed and brutality, where Rwandan military personnel hacked people to death with machetes and forced civilian Hutus to participate in the killing, offering the Hutus additional food or money to kill Tutsis.  The violence was so severe that mass graves are still being found.

During the genocide, the United Nations authorized a peace keeping force to maintain some actions, but the mission itself was limited in its scope and by the time it received the necessary authority to take real action, the genocide ended when the Hutu backed government collapsed.  Decades later, and very few perpetrators have been tried, let alone convicted and punished.

In the 21st century, we have seen a continued genocide in the Sudan, where state sponsored militias harass, forcibly relocate, rape, and kill villagers in the Darfur region.  The government in the Sudan responded to violence in Darfur with military force and arming multiple paramilitary groups, which escalated into a genocide against the inhabitants of Darfur.

The nationalistic makeup of the nation, ethnic differences, and religious diversity also made various people targets of various militia groups.  Accounts vary about the number of deaths, but most experts put the number at near 500,000 with countless more victims of various forms of violence.  The descriptions of the use of rape as a means of ‘ethnic cleansing’ are deeply disturbing. 

Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been convicted on corruption charges and currently awaits trial for crimes associated with genocide.

The violence in the Sudan has not stopped and now, neighboring Ethiopia is experiencing a similar wave of genocide in the Tigray Region, where the native Tigray people face the same horrible violence the world continues to ignore. 

Ongoing genocide 

In 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faced widespread criticism for economic woes, widespread unemployment, corruption, and a host of other problems (brought on by his own ineptitude).  Assad responded to large scale demonstrations with a violent crackdown, sparking a civil war which is considered ongoing.

Assad’s regime represents a minority rule in Syria, and the opponents of this government largely come from the majority Sunni Muslims living in the area.  In the last 10 years, the Syrian military has engaged in systematic killing of civilians who did not take up arms in the civil war.  

Syrian refugee resettlement

The reports of violence against civilians reads like so many of the other genocides the world has seen:  forced relocation, unlawful detentions, rape, and summary executions.  The Assad government also used sarin gas on innocent civilians, which prompted the infamous ‘red line’ from the Obama administration and former Secretary of State John Kerry.  For a very brief moment, it seemed that Western intervention might be a possibility, but Assad sidestepped that disaster by promising not to use chemical weapons again.  He didn’t cross the ‘red line,’ and seemed content to kill people through conventional weapons.

Though the US backed the Syrian rebels, it lacked the strength of a more direct involvement and the Assad regime has reestablished control of most of Syria.  Moreover, the suffering of the Syrian people has not ended.  More than 500,000 Syrians have died and millions more were displaced in a refugee crisis that saddled Turkey with 3.6 million (of the 6.7 million) people they lack the means to help.  (Incidentally, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands were the only Western nations to step up in any significant way.)

China currently is in the midst of a genocide against the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang province.  The Uyghur people are one of the 55 recognized ethnic minorities in China, and they are a Turkic people with a predominantly Muslim religious background.

Fears of extremism caused the Chinese government to take drastic measures against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.  Police surveillance looked for ‘signs of extremism,’ such as men growing beards, or abstaining from alcohol.  These individuals were targeted and later, placed in detention centers where ‘reeducation’ occurs.  

In these camps, the Uyghur people are forced to sing songs praising Chinese communist government, learn the Chinese language, write self-critical essays, and other strategies designed to eliminate Uyghur culture and religion.  Attempts at resistance by detainees have been met with verbal and physical abuse.

Demonstrators take part in a protest outside the Chinese embassy in Berlin to call attention to China’s mistreatment of members of the Uyghur community i.

Beatings with metal prods or whips have been described as common.  Prisoners have received electric shocks.  Doctors forcibly placed IUDs in women to prevent pregnancy and injected them with various medications that would halt or significantly alter their menstrual cycles.  Forced abortions, rapes, and deaths have been commonly reported by those who have escaped from their captors.  Human rights groups estimate that around 2 million Uyghurs are living in concentration camps.  A current report of the crimes of the Chinese government can be found here.  There is no doubt of the Chinese government’s intent to destroy these people and stamp out their cultural presence.

What’s the international community doing?

The United States, Great Britain and other allies in Western Europe have called out the Chinese government for their actions through the UN’s Human Rights Council, but it appears unlikely that any direction action will come from the UN, considering that China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and could veto any serious resolution against it.  The likelihood of the General Assembly acting in any significant way seems equally unlikely.  

Newly minted Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other American diplomats have strong words for the Chinese about their persecution of the Uyghurs, but the matter has already complicated talks between the two major powers of the world.  Blinken and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, exchanged not so pleasant words in Anchorage, Alaska last week.

The meetings between the United States and China opened in a spicy exchange, where Yang noted the US needed to stop attempting to force democracy on nations when Americans don’t have much confidence in it.  He also claimed the US was the ‘champion’ of cyber attacks and critiqued the history of human rights in America.

Blinken responded, “That system [rules based diplomacy] is not an abstraction. It helps countries resolve differences peacefully, coordinate multilateral efforts effectively and participate in global commerce with the assurance that everyone is following the same rules. The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all.  And that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us.” 

In terms of diplomacy, these are strong words from both sides for an opening day salvo.  Diplomacy is a significant means of conducting business, but while the United States and other nations attempt to push China off of its current course, people are suffering in Xinjiang.  

The common theme amongst these genocides is that the world can act in a punitive fashion after the damage is done, but we are not preventing genocide.  The phrase ‘never again’ seems pretty hollow when we consider that these terrible acts have long been known to the world.  

International activity in combatting genocide responds too slowly, and the situation will not change any time soon.  Why not?

Effective deterrents do not exist.  In past instances where political leaders faced trial or some form of accountability, their comeuppance did not happen until many years after the fact, if at all.     Moreover, if anyone is held accountable, it’s often not the rank and file of a political, military, or paramilitary group who engage in the violence.   When people know they will not face accountability for their actions, they will commit evil acts of violence.

There are no incentives to intervene.  The instability and death from these genocides often takes place in lesser developed nations where more advanced nations lack any motivation to act.  Any nation must justify a military response to their own people, and these nations have decided that it’s simply not worth it to put their armed forces in harm’s way.  For many nations, they lack the personnel to even risk an intervention.  The only way to sell this to the citizens of a nation is to appeal to their humanity.  It isn’t working.

For instance, imagine being an American diplomat in the 1990s, attempting to sell the American people on the idea of intervening in Rwanda.  Citizens in more developed nations like the United States look at the economic decision making involved and decide the risk is greater than the reward.

Regional powers often prevent action.  Major powers within regions of the world often benefit from the political turmoil which results from a genocide.  For instance, the madness of the Syrian Civil War benefited Russia.  The Syrian government purchased arms from the Russians and allowed their comrades to maintain a military base within their borders.  Russia had no reason to want to see Bashar al-Assad removed from office.  It was also a tangential benefit that maintaining Assad’s government thwarted a policy goal of the United States.  

In cases such as the persecution of the Uyghur people, China is the regional power.  Their military strength, economic potency, and permanent seat on the UN Security Council make it unlikely anyone involved in their genocidal actions will answer for their crimes.  

Poor policy choices from the past.  Intervention by the major powers of the world might happen if so many poor interventions had not occurred in the past.  For instance, the United States’ actions in invading Iraq in 2003 proved to be a foreign policy mistake that tarnished our reputation and used up any political capital.  The false pretenses which led to the invasion and subsequent violence after the removal of Saddam Hussein destroyed the credibility of the American government to effectively intervene in the future.  

Any desire to help people in need have been met with skepticism.  Policy disasters like the Second Gulf War require decades to fix, if they can be repaired at all.  In the case of the Syrian Civil War, American opposition to Assad was criticized as an excuse to once again involve itself unnecessarily in the affairs of a Middle Eastern nation.  

National sovereignty matters.  One of the important facets of any nation’s existence is their own sovereignty, the power to make and enforce their own policies without outside interference.  No nation in the world is truly willing to cede their ability to govern their own people to international law.  Despite conventions, treaties, and other resolutions designed to establish a coherent body of rules, it’s mostly lip service.  This is particularly true of major world powers such as the United States, China, Russia, Great Britain, et al.  They will not allow other nations to dictate policy to them.  Their own right to rule as they see fit trumps the opinions of the world.   

These add up to one inevitable conclusion:  the international community lacks the will to act.  And maybe, for the foreseeable future, this isn’t going to change.  Until then, we should stop the talk of ‘never again’ when it seems to be happening far too regularly.  We talk a good game about deploring genocide, but actions (and inaction) tell us everything we need to know about our priorities.